Costa Rica is located nine degrees north of the equator on the isthmus of Central America. The country is bordered to the north by Nicaragua, to the south by Panama, to the east by the Caribbean Sea and to the west by the Pacific Ocean.
Costa Rica is a small country, irregular in shape and less than 20,000 square miles in size. At its narrowest point just 75 miles separate the Caribbean Sea from the Pacific Ocean. From North to South the country is just 180 miles long. Geographically the many varied areas of Costa Rica provide a tremendous diversity of habitats and beautiful tropical scenery.
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Costa Rica was visited by Christopher Columbus in September 1502 on his fourth voyage to the Americas. He claimed the region for himself and his descendants believing that the land was filled with vast deposits of precious metals. Costa Rica never yielded much gold or silver but its natural beauty and perfect climate are themselves proving to be the riches Columbus had hoped for. The colonial period lasted from 1502-1821. On September 15 1821 Costa Rica declared its independence from Spain and so formed part of the Central American Federation. In 1848 Costa Rica proclaimed itself a free and independent Republic. It has since enjoyed relative prosperity, political stability and has had more than a century of continuous democratic rule.
Covering only 0.01 percent of the Earth’s landmass Costa Rica is believed to host approximately 5 percent of its biodiversity. Over 13,000 plant species can be found including 1,300 varieties of orchids like the La Guaria Morada, the national flower which usually blooms in March. More than 850 species of birds, 209 mammal species, 220 species of reptiles, and 163 species of amphibians have been identified. As for the diversity of insects and anthropoids over 365,000 species have been encountered so far.
Costa Rica’s fabulous fauna include the jaguar, puma, agouti, the leatherback & green turtle, three species of monkey, the American crocodile, caiman and the two & three-toed sloth just to name a few. Many of the habitats where all this life flourishes are under protective status.
In 1977 the Costa Ricans formed a national park system that has won worldwide admiration.
The National Parks and Wildlife Refuges of Costa Rica are managed by the MINAE, Ministerio de Ambiental y Energia. Responding to the new policies of MINAE 11 Conservation Areas were established in 1998 to oversee and manage the public lands of Costa Rica. These conservation areas are known as the Sistema Nacional de Areas de Conservacion or SINAC. The purposes of those areas are the conservation and protection of natural resources. All together over 25% of the country is protected for tomorrows generations.
In addition individuals and organisations have established reserves for conservation purposes like the Monteverde, La Selva and Tirimbina Biological Reserves.
The climate in Costa Rica varies depending upon elevation and location. The coastal plains are warm and tropical. Mountainous regions are much cooler and the Central Plateau has a spring-like climate year-round with little variation in temperature from month to month (the average daily temperature is 75 F or 25 C).
December to April is the dry season when rain used to be quite uncommon. May to November is considered the rainy or "green" season although mornings are usually quite sunny with most of the rain falling in afternoon showers.
As with climate changes the world over, the two seasons in Costa Rica are becoming more similar.
Costa Rica currently has a population of 4 million inhabitants predominantly of European (Spanish) origin. Indigenous peoples account for less than 2% of the total population. The official language is Spanish and a handful of indigenous languages have survived.
The constitution guarantees freedom of religion. Roman Catholicism is the official religion of Costa Rica and over 80% of the population considers itself Roman Catholic.
Costa Rica features a wide range of stores offering merchandise made locally or imported from other Latin American countries.
Shopping Hours Mon - Sat 9:00 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.
Weekdays 8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. Some banks open Saturdays usually from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
The Colon is the national currency although you can use the US$ pretty much everywhere.
A wide range of cuisine can be sampled in Costa Rica - from French to Chinese and local dishes as well. With two oceans as sources seafood is a Costa Rican specialty as are native dishes such as "gallos" (open-faced tortillas with beef, chicken or ham) and uniquely seasoned refried black beans. Other native specialties are hearts of palm, tamales and ceviche. Guaro is the national liquor while a variety of local rums, beers and flavored liquors are also available.
A 10% service charge and 13% sales tax are always included in restaurants bills.
Service is the same as in the U.S. 110 volts; 60 cycles. European items need an adapter and possibly a transformer.
Major international credit cards (Master Card/Visa/AMEX) are accepted at most hotels, stores, restaurants and car rental agencies -- at smaller businesses be prepared to pay in local currency or US $.
Costa Rica is one hour behind Eastern Standard Time (U.S.) and eight hours behind Central European Time. Daylight savings time is not observed.
Modern processing facilities ensure the tap water is drinkable particularly in San José and the larger cities.
Quality medical services are available in Costa Rica at a price. Many well-trained, competent doctors, dentists, ophthalmologists and specialists have offices in the principle cities. Most have studied in the United States, Europe or Canada and speak English. The capital city of San Jose has numerous modern and well-equipped private hospitals and clinics. There is also a growing market for cosmetic surgery. The public health system is underfunded can leave a lot to be desired with regard to facilities, hygiene and bureaucracy.
All flights to Costa Rica arrive at San Jose's Juan Santamaría Airport located ten miles from downtown or at Daniel Oduber International airport near the beaches of Guanacaste.
Some of the airlines serving Costa Rica are: Continental Airlines, America Airlines, Delta Airlines, United Airlines, Iberia, KLM, British Airways, Grupo Taca, Copa, Cubana, Avianca/Sam and Mexicana, Air Canada, Aeroperlas, Air Transat, America West, Martin Air, many of them with flights leaving from Europe, North and South America and the Caribbean.