About Costa Rica

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Knowing about Costa Rica before you go!

Costa Rica is a country located in Central America that is ranked as one of the most visited international destinations. One of Costa Rica’s main sources of income is tourism. Costa Rica is a democratic and peaceful country and it has not had an army since the year 1949.


Although the country is small and it covers only 0.03 percent of the surface of the globe, it proudly shelters 5 percent of the existing biodiversity in the entire world. Twenty six percent of the country is composed of conservation and natural protected territory.

Furthermore, 2018 has become a magnet for meeting tourism with the opening of the National Congress and Convention Center (CNCC), which can welcome some 4,600 people to its meetings.


Located eight kilometers from the Juan Santamaría International Airport and just 10 kilometers from San José, the new space will bring together people from different backgrounds and cultures to exchange experiences and new businesses.

Costa Rica is also an attractive country for investment and offers great potential for the establishment of important multinational companies, thanks to the outstanding academic level of its population, as well as the high standard of modern services and social and political stability.

General information

Costa Rica is located in Central America, connecting North and South America. It borders Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south. Because of its location, warm weather predominates, but many different microclimates are found throughout the country. According to the National Statistics and Census Institute, Costa Rica has a population of approximately 4,890,379, of which 2,467,829 are men and 2,422,551 are women.

The country is divided into seven provinces (San José, its capital, Alajuela, Cartago, Heredia, Puntarenas, Guanacaste and Limón), 81 cantons and 463 districts. It stretches across 51,100 square kilometers, which is the size of the country. It is a democratic, free and independent Republic. Most of the population professes the Catholic religion and enjoys freedom of religion. Its currency is the colón, and its official language is Spanish.

One of the most important and recognized characteristics of the country was the abolition of its army on Dec. 1, 1948 by former President José Figueres Ferrer. On that date, peace became one of the main principles of Costa Rica, differentiating it from other Central American countries that utilize the military as a method of defense.

Costa Rica has national patriotic symbols that represent part of the identity and traditions of Costa Ricans, particularly the National Anthem of Costa Rica, the Shield of the Republic of Costa Rica, the National Flag, the White-Tailed Deer, the Guaria Morada (a type of orchid that is the national flower), Marimba, Oxcarts, the Yigüirro (or clay-colored thrush, the national bird), the Guanacaste Tree, The Pre-Columbian Spheres of Diquís, the manatee, the Torch of Independence and the Crestones of Chirripó National Park.

Official language:

Spanish. A large portion of the population speaks English as a second language.

Official religion:

Roman Catholic; complete freedom of religion.

Official currency:

Costa Rican Colón (plural colones) (¢)

Administrative divisions:

Costa Rica is divided into seven provinces: San José, Alajuela, Heredia, Cartago, Puntarenas, Guanacaste, and Limón. Each province is divided into cantons, which are further subdivided into districts.

The country’s marine territory consists of the Isla del Coco, a World Natural Heritage site, located 548 km from Cabo Blanco, in the Pacific Ocean. It has a land area of 2,400 hectares and a marine territory of 73,100 hectares.

National symbols:

  • The guaria morada: The guaria morada (Cattleya skinneri), a species of orchid, was declared the national flower of Costa Rica on July 15, 1939.
  • National flag: The national flag of Costa Rica. Under Decree no. 768 of October 25, 1949, National Flag Day (Día del Pabellón Nacional) is celebrated on November 12th of each year. The National Flag of the Republic is a tricolor with five horizontal bands: a red band in the center between two bands of white, each of which is followed by a blue band. The width of each band is one-sixth of the total width of the flag, with the red band in the center taking up two-sixths of the width. The coat of arms must be placed in the center of the red band on a white background.
  • Guanacaste tree: Enterolobium cyclocarpum. On August 31, 1959, it was declared as the national tree of Costa Rica.
  • Coat of arms of Costa Rica: The Coat of Arms shows three volcanoes and a wide valley between two oceans, with a merchant ship in each ocean. A rising sun is shown on the far left of the upper line, which marks the horizon. The crest is closed by two palm fronds that are united by a wide, white sash bearing golden letters that spell out “República de Costa Rica”.
  • Clay-colored thrush: The clay-colored thush (or yigüirro) was declared the national bird of Costa Rica in 1977 in the interest of the protection of this and other bird species in the country.
  • The traditional ox-cart: The ox-cart, or carreta, was declared a national symbol of labor in 1988. While they are no longer used to transport coffee, the colorful paint and the original designs made by artisans have made them famous around the world.
  • The national anthem: declared a national symbol on June 15, 1949 by Decree no. 551. The music was written in 1852 by the poet Manuel María Gutiérrez and the lyrics were written by José María Zeledón.
  • The white-tailed deer: in accordance with Legislative Decree No. 7497, it has been the national symbol of Costa Rican wildlife since June 8, 1995.
  • The Marimba: declared the national instrument par excellence by Executive Order No. 25114-C on September 3, 1996. It is considered to be the musical instrument that is associated with the most diverse popular festivals in Costa Rica.
  • The Torch of Independence: declared a national symbol on September 14, 2005 by Decree No. 32647-C. Since 1964, the torch tours Central America as a representation of the freedom and independence of Central American peoples.
  • The Crestones of Chirripó National Park: Declared a national symbol by Law 8943, published in the Official Journal La Gaceta No. 170 on September 5, 2011. The Costa Rican Tourism Board has been authorized to promote them as a tourist attraction in Chirripó National Park.
  • The manatee: was declared a symbol of Costa Rica’s marine fauna and of the hope and interest of Costa Rican children in protecting natural resources contained in the national territory by Law no. 9264 of August 7, 2014, published in the Official Journal La Gaceta no. 183 on September 24, 2014.
  • Pre-Columbian Spheres: In 2014, UNESCO chose the Diquís grouping of villages belonging to pre-Columbian chieftainships with stone spheres as a World Heritage Site. The Costa Rican Legislative Assembly declared them to be a national symbol of the country following the approval of Law no. 9265 of August 11, 2014, published in the Official Journal La Gaceta no. 201 on October 20, 2014. Archeologists believe that the stones were placed there by the indigenous peoples of the area between 300 B.C. and 300 A.D., though the sculptures have not yet been able to be scientifically dated.
  • The National Theater: On February 5 of this year, the then-President of the Republic, Luis Guillermo Solís, signed the law declaring the National Theater of Costa Rica as a National Symbol of Historical Archeological Heritage and Cultural Liberty. The law was approved in a second reading by 40 deputies.

Main distances:

  • 246 km (153 mi) by land from Puntarenas to Limón.
  • 534 km (337 mi) by land from Peñas Blancas, at the Nicaraguan border, to Paso Canoas, at the border with Panama.
  • Highest point: Cerro Chirripó, at 3,819 meters (12,529 feet) above sea level.
  • Highest volcano: Volcán Irazú.
  • Largest volcanic crater: Volcán Poás crater, with a diameter of 1,320 m (43,307 ft) and a depth of 300 m (984 ft).

Electric coverage:

97% of the national territory has electric power. Residential voltage is 110V.

Office hours

Public sector: Monday to Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. State banks: Monday to Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

Private sector

Monday to Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. The majority of businesses operate on Saturdays and Sundays until midday.

The political system is represented by three powers, which are The Executive Power, the Legislative Power and the Judicial Power. The Elections Supreme Court is considered the fourth power of the Republic. Every four years national elections are carried out. Among other positions of popular representation, the President of the Republic is elected through direct representation by secret ballot.

Capital city: San José.

Country area: 51,100 km2 (19,730 square miles).

Heritage and culture

Costa Rican culture is in many ways a reflection of its racial diversity. The predominant influence has long been European, which is reflected in everything from the official language -- Spanish -- to the architecture of the country's churches and other historic buildings. The indigenous influence is less visible, but can be found in everything from the tortillas that are a staple of the Costa Rican diet, to the handmade ceramics sold at roadside stands.

An important aspect of Costa Rica's cultural legacy is our love for peace and democracy. The Ticos proudly point out the nation is one of the few Latin American countries where a military dictatorship has not dominated politics.

The Ticos

Costa Ricans are proud to have more than a century of democratic tradition and more than 68 years without a military. With the money saved, the country is better able to focus on improving the quality of life of its citizens. This is one of the many reasons why Costa Ricans, also known as “Ticos,” are such a happy and welcoming people.

Famous for their hospitality, Ticos often go out of their way to help to visitors with directions or offer other assistance if needed. It is said that “Ticos” are the nation’s best asset. Once visitors experience their hospitality, visitors too are convinced.

Geography

Rugged highlands are found throughout most of the country, ranging from approximately 1,000 to 2,000 meters (3,000 to 6,000 feet above sea level). The Guanacaste Mountain Range, Central Mountain Range, and Talamanca Mountain Range are the main mountain ranges extending the entire length of the country. There are several active volcanoes (Arenal Volcano, Irazu Volcano, Rincon de la Vieja Volcano and Turrialba Volcano) and the country’s highest mountain (Chirripo Hill) with a height of 3,819 m/12,530 ft. The country has a relatively long coastline in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, as well as a number of rivers and streams that attract specialist kayakers and rafters from all over the world.

Climate

Costa Rica is a tropical destination. Its look and landscape changes throughout the year, and the country is in a constant state of renewal. As such, every time of the year is a great time to visit Costa Rica. Tailor your trip to your interests, and your experience in Costa Rica will be fulfilling beyond imagination.

The Costa Rican landscape is one of great variety, filled with lush vegetation and stunning displays of flora. With jungles, beaches, and a wide array of terrain and climate zones, Costa Rica is a playground for the adventurous. Whether it’s rafting, hiking, wildlife viewing or just relaxing on the beach, everything under the sun is available to you.

No matter the season or region, there is always something exciting to discover, or uncover. For those willing to go o the beaten path in Costa Rica, the rewards are endless.

Costa Rica’s richness also lies in the cultural diversity of our people. Currently, there are ethnic groups and colonies of immigrants including African descendants, Chinese, Hebrew, Lebanese, Italian, etc.; as well as the indigenous populations of the Bribri, Cabecar, Maleku, Teribe, Boruca, Ngöbe, Huetar, and Chorotega.

Communications

Most large hotels in the San Jose area have cable TV with US and European stations. Newspapers and magazines from North America and several European nations are sold in many shops and hotels in and around the capital.
Transportation

It’s easy to get around Costa Rica. Public transportation is quite inexpensive. There are bus services to just about every town and city, and high-quality buses serving the main tourist destinations. Taxis are also plentiful and inexpensive.

The standard charge for a taxi ride between the international airport and downtown San Jose is approximately $30 USD. The quickest way to get around the country is by plane and several domestic airlines offer daily flights to most of the popular tourist destinations. There are also plenty of car rental agencies, most of which rent four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Airports

The main airport is the Juan Santamaria International Airport, located in Alajuela. This airport is only twenty minutes away from San Jose.

Other important airports:

  • The Daniel Oduber Quiros International Airport, located in Liberia, Guanacaste.
  • The Tobias Bolaños Airport located in Pavas, San Jose, for local as well as international flights.
  • There are also landing fields for local flights situated in different parts of the country such as: Limon, Tortuguero, La Fortuna, Tamarindo, Samara, Tambor, Quepos, Palmar North, Golfito, and San Vito.

Water passages

The most important water passages in the country are:

  • The Tortuguero canals and Barra del Colorado, on the northern caribbean
  • The Sarapiqui river, on the northern zone
  • The Matina river, on the central caribbean
  • Part of the San Juan river, on the border with Nicaragua
  • The Cold river, the Caño Negro lagoons, and Los Chiles on the northern zone
  • The Sierpe river, on the southern zone
  • The Tempisque river, on the Gulf of Nicoya

Other rivers of great importance are:

  • On the Caribbean: Pacuare, Reventazon, Caribbean Chrripo, Estrella, and Sixaola
  • On the Pacific: Bebedero, Grande de Tarcoles, Coto, Chirripo, and Parrita

Airports

The main airport is the Juan Santamaria International Airport, located in Alajuela. This airport is only twenty minutes away from San José.

Other important airports are:

  • The Daniel Oduber Quiros International Airport, located in Liberia, Guanacaste.
  • The Tobias Bolaños Airport located in Pavas, San José, for local as well as international flights.

There are also landing fields for local flights situated in different parts of the country such as: Limon, Tortuguero, La Fortuna, Tamarindo, Samara, Tambor, Quepos, Palmar North, Golfito, and San Vito.

Highways and roads

The whole country is adequately connected by internal infrastructure. The main artery is the Interamerican Highway, which connects the two borders from Peñas Blancas all the way to Paso Canoas.

Medical services

Costa Rica has positioned itself among the countries with the highest public healthcare development in Latin America. The Costa Rican Social Security Service (CCSS) is a public service institution that has accomplished important goals regarding health issues, including pensions and social security.

This institution offers coverage and integrated health services through two types of insurance:

  • General coverage insurance, which covers 100 percent of the country.
  • Contribution coverage insurance, which covers 86.80% of the population.

Costa Rica has the highest life expectancy rate in Latin America at 77.75 years and one of the lowest infant mortality rates of 10.82 percent. It is also far more advanced in issues regarding prenatal prevention and control.

Education

Costa Rica is praised for its investment in public education that different governments have accomplished throughout the years. There are approximately 6,147 elementary, middle, and high schools and more than 50 universities in the country.

The first higher education institution to be established was the University of Costa Rica, which was the only higher educational center until 1971, when the Technological Institute of Costa Rica was founded.

In 1973, the National University of Heredia (UNA) was founded. The Distance Education University (UNED) was established in 1977, and in 1979, the first private institution known as the Autonomous University of Central America (UACA) was created, which set the example in 1986 for a large number of other private universities to open their doors in Costa Rica.

Banks and money

There is an ample number of state-owned and privately held banks in San Jose, and throughout the country.

The official currency of Costa Rica is the colon; however US Dollars are widely accepted. US Dollars and travelers’ checks can be changed in banks and hotels. Most major credit cards are widely accepted and cash advances can be obtained at banks around the country and a variety of places throughout San Jose. ATMs are plentiful in San Jose, however, not so much in the smaller towns and country side.

Business hours

Government offices are generally open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., while banks close often between 3 and 6 p.m., according to the bank and its branch. Most shops are open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., while some open at 8 a.m. and others close at 7 p.m.; most grocery stores close at 8 p.m. Some shops also close for lunch, between noon and 1 or 2 p.m.

Economy

One does not have to drive very far in Costa Rica -- past the coffee, pastures, bananas, and other crops -- to realize that agriculture is the basis of its economy. Coffee has historically been the country's most important crop and Costa Rica continues to produce some of the finest coffee in the world. However in recent years, less traditional crops have been playing an increasingly important economic role. Bananas are the second most important export crop, with vast plantations covering parts of the Caribbean lowlands.

There is also significant land dedicated to the cultivation of pineapples, sugar, oranges, rice, hardwoods, and ornamental plants, as well as raising cattle for beef and dairy products. Cocoa, for chocolate production has become a signature product.

Planning your Trip to Costa Rica

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