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Costa Rica - Useful Information

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You have chosen a destination which offers a friendly welcome, natural wonders, secluded beaches and exciting nightlife. As a country dedicated to the preservation of nature, Costa Rica has set aside 11% of its land for national parks and biological reserves. As a fun loving, social oriented people, Costa Rican's or "Ticos" enjoy fine restaurants, discos, gambling and the theatre as well as daytime resort activities such as golf, tennis and scuba diving. We're sure that this delightful combination of nature, sports and nightlife will make your visit to Costa Rica a thoroughly unforgettable experience, and we offer the following information as you plan for your trip.

Climate And Seasons
Located just 10 degrees north of the equator, Costa Rica offers a year round tropical or spring like climate. The average temperature in the highlands is 72 degrees Fahrenheit, and the lowlands average between the high 70's and low 90's. There is a rainy season or "winter" from May to November, but the rains generally hold off until the afternoon in most areas so you can plan your activities accordingly. The dry or "summer" season is from December through April. The Tortuguero Canal area has a tropical jungle climate and receives rain throughout the year.

Clothing +
Casual clothes - slacks, jeans, shorts, bathing suits, etc. - are appropriate for almost all daytime and evenings activities outside of San José. Dress in San José is more formal with jeans or slacks appropriate for day wear and dinner clothes appropriate for most evenings out.

Useful items to include in packing list:
Lightweight plastic raincoat / umbrella
Light jacket for cool evenings (all year, higher elevations)
Small flashlight (beach excursions/animal watching)
Mosquito repellent (beach excursions/canal area)
Snorkeling equipment (beach excursions/island cruises - often available for rent but quantity and quality sometimes limited)
Beach Towel (available at most beach resorts but necessary when itinerary includes water based activities in route from one hotel to another)
Sneakers or hiking boots (jungle walks/volcano tours)
Extra pair of sneakers (river rafting/beach excursions - these may get wet and/or muddy)
Suntan lotion, sunscreen, wide brimmed hat and sunglasses
Warm jacket and heavy socks (Excursions to Chirripó Mountain or high altitude volcanos such as Poás or Irazú)
Binoculars, camera and plenty of film
For Whitewater Rafting
Rubber soled shoed (tennis or similar)
Shorts and T-shirts or Swimsuit
Sunscreen Lotion (Optional)
Complete change of clothing including shoes
* For more information regarding tours to the Osa Península and Corcovado National Park, please request our "Dear Traveler to Corcovado National Park" information sheet.

Domestic flight within Costa Rica only allow up to 30lb of luggage per person. It is handy to take a small bag for overnight excursions to the beach or to the country. We suggest a fold-up expandable type that can be carried in your large suitcase. A backpack is a necessity for those who plan to do a lot of bird watching or hiking through the jungles.

United States and Canadian citizens need a valid passport. A tourist card (approximately U.S. $2.00) is sometimes required and can be purchased at either the airline ticket counter or at immigration upon arrival in San José. Others should contact the Costa Rican Consulate for entry requirements.

Currency And Exchange Rates
The currency of Costa Rica is the Colon (pl. Colones), but U.S. dollars and major credit cards are accepted as payment in most hotels, restaurants and shops. Dollars and traveler's checks may be exchanged at banks and most hotels; traveler's check command a slightly lower rate than actual currency. The exchange rate fluctuates, so check with local tour guide upon arrival in San José for current rate. There is a "black" or "parallel" exchange market in the streets of downtown San José which pays a slightly higher exchange than the hotels or banks. However, we strongly advise visitors to avoid or use extreme caution when exchanging money in this market. The parallel market is not legal in Costa Rica.

Tips And Taxes
As in most countries, taxes are unavoidable and tips are given on the basis of the quality of service rendered. The amounts suggested for tips in this section are a guideline for appropriate tips for average to good service. Note: It is helpful to carry a small quantity of US $1 bills for tips and easy change.

Hotels: A 13.3% tax is levied on all room charges. Bellboys and maids are generally tipped for their services on the average of $ .50 per bag porterage and $ .50 to $1.00 per room per night of accommodation as a room tip for the maid.

Restaurants: There is a 10% sales tax and 10% gratuity added to all restaurant bills. It is customary to leave an additional 5 - 10% for good or excellent service.

Taxis: All taxis are metered and taxi drivers do not expect tips. Hotel taxis have set rates for specific destinations and rates are slightly higher than regular taxis.

Tour guides and drivers: On group tours, the average tip for a tour guide is $3.00 to $4.00 per person for full day tours and $2.00 per person for half day tours or 10% of tour cost. The drivers tip is usually half of what is given to the guide. For private car tours, guides generally receive at least $10.00 per full day tour and $5.00 per half day.

Airports: On international departures there is an exit tax of approximately $5.00. This tax varies according to the exchange rate and can be paid in Colones. Check at the airport or with the local tour guide for exact amount of tax.

Imported Items: Items not made in Costa Rica are sold with a 100% import tax and are much more expensive than elsewhere. Some of these commonly needed items include film and camera equipment, insect repellent, sun screen, contact lens solutions and binoculars. A word to the wise, if you use these items, bring them from home.

We suggest that while touring or shopping you leave your passport and the bulk of your money in the hotel safe; only take with you the money you intend to spend or exchange at that particular time. It is also helpful to take a copy of the picture page of your passport to carry in your wallet because it is sometimes needed to exchange traveler's checks. This copy can also be useful in the event your passport is lost or stolen.

No inoculations are required for travel to Costa Rica, and we do not find health to be a problem as a general rule. Medication for colds and stomach upset are readily available in San José, but you may want to bring along your own if your itinerary includes excursions outside the city.

Electric Current
The electric current is the same as in the United States, 110 volts AC.
Time Differences
The hour in Costa Rica is the same as Central Standard Time in the United States. Daylight savings time is not observed.

The official language is Spanish, but English is widely spoken.

Business Hours
Banks: 9:00am/3:00pm Monday - Friday
Shops and Shopping Centers: 9:00am/7:00pm Monday - Saturday
Government & Professional Offices: 8:00am/5:00pm Monday - Friday
Note: Some establishments close from 12:00pm/2:00pm for lunch.

Souvenirs And Such
Wooden and leather handicrafts are good buys and hand painted oxcarts from Sarchí are a favorite souvenir of tourists. Seasoned shoppers will want to check out the jewelry shops on Central Avenue in San José which offer reproductions of pre-Colombian creations in gold and silver. Note: Planter or bar size oxcarts cost about as much to ship home as to buy, so you will probably want to accommodate them with your luggage.

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