Costa Rica – Fact and travel tips

Costa Rica is a small country located between Nicaraqua and Panama en Central America. It compromises 19.653 Square miles or 50900 km2 making it slightly smaller than West-Virginia. The population of Costa Rica is approximately 6 million people.

Spanish is the official language of Costa Rica. Many Costa Ricans that work in Tourism, whether as a guide, receptionist, or waiter, typically speak at least some English and can help you with your inquiries.

The currency in Costa Rica is called colones. To compare with the $US you will need to check the current exchange rate as this increases daily. In July 2006 the exchange rate was 512 colones to the dollar. US dollars are widely accepted throughout Costa Rica at a fair rate. Larger bills such as 50’s and 100’s are sometimes not accepted, best to bring bills of less than 50. Traveler’s Checks in US dollars are accepted at many of the lodges and most banks, but can be a hassle to use or exchange at times. You will need your Passport to exchange US dollars or Traveler’s Checks at a bank and also when paying with Traveler’s Checks. Banks typically have long lines; time much better spent enjoying your vacation! No other currency is widely accepted. ATM’s accept major credit cards and are available in the cities and larger towns, be sure to have your credit card pin number available for cash advancements. The airport departure tax must be paid in cash, either in US dollars or colones.

For chargers, electrical outlets in Costa Rica are the same as the USA although 3 prong outlets are not as prevalent. Voltage is also the same as the US, 110 Voltage AC at 60 Hertz.

Public Transport
Both are readily available, taxis are not cheap and the drivers tend to be aggressive by nature.
Common sense will go a long way in arranging your taxi. Be sure and confirm your price with the driver before you set off, writing the price down is a good idea. If travelling by taxi within a city make sure that the meter in the taxi is on so there is no question as to the price. Buses on the other hand are very inexpensive though they have their inconveniences. Local buses stop frequently and often take 2 to 3 times longer to reach your destination compared to taxis. Direct buses are available in designated areas at set times, typically larger cities, and are quite comfortable to travel in. You will often need a taxi to get to and from these stations however. We recommend our private transportation as an alternative to taxis and buses, safe drivers, personal service, and with no surprises, it will only add to your enjoyment of your holiday.

Roads and driving
The roads in Costa Rica can be quite an adventure. They are not in the best of shape, poorly marked and sign-posted, and have many potholes, narrow bridges, pedestrians, and stopped buses. The driving can be described as aggressive and confusing at times, rules are often bent if not completely ignored! Airport departure tax MUST BE PAID IN CASH in the amount of $26 US$ (2008) or the equivalent in colones. No credit cards or traveler’s checks are accepted. This must be paid before your flight check-in at the airline counter. Enter the departure section of the airport, once inside turn to the right and at the far right end opposite the airline check-in counters you will find the airport tax collection counter. Health IssuesThere are no vaccination requirements in order to enter Costa Rica although some are recommended. You can look these up on the internet although the websites we have visited tend to be overly dramatic and lacking in real numbers such as “How many cases of malaria were reported in Costa Rica in 2004?” etc. If consulting your doctor regarding Malaria and other tropical diseases, keep in mind that they have to cover themselves from any health issue pertaining to diseases you may encounter in Costa Rica. They will most likely look up the same information that you can to make their decisions. Also note that most doctors in the US, Canada, and the United Kingdom know very little about tropical diseases. Not to be little them but we are often amazed at what they prescribe to their patients visiting Costa Rica. 
Malaria is an extremely low risk disease here and in our opinion not worth the side affects of the harsh medicine. Most foreigners living here find it perplexing that tourists take the anti malarial medicine when visiting Costa Rica. The two areas where Malaria does occur is near Los Chiles in the Central North on the border of Nicaragua and also an area in the Central Caribbean just inland from Limon. Neither of these areas is on any of our itineraries. Dengue Fever is also spread by mosquitoes and sometimes occurs after floods in certain areas. Hepatitis A and B are listed on most websites though we have not heard of any one or our guests acquiring this on their visit to Costa Rica. A tetanus booster may be the most worthwhile vaccination you can get. Having said that, you should know that Costa Rica has one of the highest standards of health care and hygiene in Latin America and the vast majority of people visiting Costa Rica do not experience any problems at all.

These are small mites that burrow into your skin and cause redness and itching. They are frequently encountered in the Southern US although residents of the UK may not be familiar with them. They are relatively harmless but can be a real nuisance and are abundant in the cattle pastures of Costa Rica, especially in the lowlands. Spraying your trousers, socks, shoes, and waist line with repellent such as DeepWoods Off containing Deet (N, N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide) is a good deterrent. Anti-itch cream is about all you can do for them once the redness and itching begins although we have found a swim in saltwater calms these effects. 

Safety and Theft 
Common sense will go a long way in Costa Rica regarding safety and theft. Make sure that you lock your rooms when leaving, do not leave valuables exposed in your car while you go into the field, lock your rented car at all times, do not leave your camera and binoculars at the lunch table, keep an eye on your luggage in exposed areas such as at the airport, etc. Personally, we have yet to experience theft, but as anywhere in the world it does occur.Many hotels provide a lockable safe in the room or at the front desk, usually at an added expense, where you can store valuables safely. It is probably wise to carry your important documents and money with you, even into the field. Regarding your arrival to Costa Rica, if you will be taking a taxi from the airport to your hotel or lodge you should purchase your ticket at the Airport Taxi booth located after leaving customs and before entering the awaiting, sectioned off crowd. Their taxis are orange and are safe, reliable, and with competitive prices. There will no doubt be “independent” taxi drivers once you enter the crowd who will try to secure a fare from you, but this is not always a good idea even if it does save you a buck or two. A good rule to follow is to not hire taxi drivers who are pushy and in a hurry to get your fare.

While in the field, remember that though rarely encountered there are poisonous snakes not to mention the more numerous ants, wasps, and the like. Do not walk in sandals into the forest or secondary growth, especially at night, and take a flashlight along at night if you cannot see where you are stepping, etc. 

Most of the lodges that we recommend have safe tap water you can drink such as Rancho Naturalista and Savegre Mountain Lodge. If unsure, just ask at the reception of the lodge upon arrival and they will tell you if it is safe to drink. The few that do not have safe tap water such as El Gavilan Lodge and Tarcol Lodge provide bottled water from where you can fill up a bottle and take to your room. Bottled water is readily available in stores throughout Costa Rica. Salads are considered safe to eat in all of the recommended lodges but should be avoided in local roadside restaurants to be on the safe side no matter how clean the restaurant looks. Giardia is the most often encountered intestinal parasite. The local pharmacy, (farmacia), can supply you with the necessary medicine if you explain your symptoms

Items to bring
Passport: To enter Costa Rica you will need a valid passport that will not expire after 90 days upon arrival to Costa Rica. However, some International flights require a passport that is valid for at least 6 month from your departure to Costa Rica. It would be best to follow the latter to be on the safe side. Visas are not required for citizens of USA, Canada, or United Kingdom. It is always a good idea to make a copy of your passport and put somewhere separate from your actual passport. This copy will make securing a new passport at your Embassy in San Jose easier should you lose your passport. Spanish Nature will assist you in securing a new passport should this happen.

Binoculars and optional Spotting Scope with Tripod
Waterproof types are best, most guides at the lodges supply their own scope for you to use

Bird Books 
“A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica” by Stiles and Skutch or as an alternative “Field Guide
to the Birds of Costa Rica”series: Helm Field Guides by Richard Garrigues and Robert Dean.

Camera and film 
Beware of humidity problems with cameras and video equipment in the tropics. You may want to bring a compact hair dryer to remove this humidity. This should be done gently and over a period of time in order to not damage your equipment.

Long pants and long sleeve shirts are best to deter any insects and minor scratches from the vegetation. The new, lightweight outdoor variety is very comfortable and dries quickly. Shorts and T-shirts can also be useful. A lightweight jacket will be welcomed in the middle elevations, a fleece or medium weight jacket for those visiting the highlands such as Savegre Mountain Lodge. Laundry can be done at most of the lodges for those wanting to travel light.

Light weight hiking boots will be invaluable, preferably waterproof Gortex boots. Sandals are useful around the lodges and beach but should not be worn on the forest trails. Rubber boots are always an option but typically do not provide sufficient support for hiking. 

Umbrella or Poncho, whichever you feel is more practical; rain suits can be quite uncomfortable in the lowlands.

Sun Protection
Sunscreen, Hat, and Sunglasses.

Mosquito Repellent
Although mosquitoes will not be a problem in most of the areas you visit in Costa Rica it is still nice to have your own supply on hand when they are encountered. Repellent containing “Deet” works best such as Deep Woods Off. Deet is mildly poisonous but if used modestly poses no threat It is necessary to spray profuse amounts before going into the field unless you are hiking in chigger infested areas, see “Chiggers” under Info and Travel tips on the previous page. You should protect all rubberized or plastic areas of binoculars, scopes, watches, etc before spraying as repellent has a tendency to partially melt rubber and plastics. Repellent can be purchased in nearly all of the more modern supermarket types here in Costa Rica such as Mega-Super and Mas-x-Menos. 

Best to bring these with you but supermarkets in CR do carry a wide variety.

Mainly prescription items, pharmacies and supermarkets have a wide variety of over-the-counter medicines that are
quite effective. Spanish Nature will also assist you in securing any medical needs you may require while touring Costa Rica with our agency.

More information

Travel together as Friends