This small country squeezed between Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south is well known among North Americans who have been traveling and moving here for over forty years. A mature tourism industry and a large ex-pat community make it easy for travelers to experience Latin American culture and an diverse environment.
Visitors usually arrive by air at Aeropuerto Internacional Juan Santamaría (code: SJO) which is approximately 20 to 30 minutes by taxi to the center of San Jose, the capital. Everyone pays a $US 26 fee when leaving the country by air.
If taking a bus to a destination outside of San Jose, check on which bus line you will be using as each has its own bus station. Also, if traveling during a busy time (school vacation or long weekends) buy your tickets a few days early as buses fill up fast. Bus travel is cheap by American standards and most of the country is well covered by various bus routes. Mini-van shuttles – private or shared – are usually available to and from popular tourist destinations.
Car rentals are a tricky business for many reasons: insurance is very expensive as it is a government monopoly; you may be targeted by police more than nationals are to pay fines; there is no home address numbering system and street signs are pretty rare. Driving in San Jose is simply not worth it since taxis are fairly cheap and buses are even cheaper. When taking a taxi, make sure you use only the red cars as these are registered taxis and are marked as such. You may find illegal taxis at the bus stations, malls and other venues but beware as these don’t use meters and may overcharge and most theft and kidnapping crimes occur in these unregistered vehicles.
There are ATMs (cajeros automaticos) pretty well everywhere dispensing US dollars or the local currency called ‘colones’ which is available in coins (5, 10, 20, 25, 50, 100 and 500 colones) as well as in bills of the following denominations: 1,000, 2,000, 5,000 and 10,000. Credit cards are accepted in most larger businesses but not often in small shops, markets and restaurants. Tipping is not expected except in businesses that cater mainly to tourists and some restaurants automatically add a 10% tip/service charge. Slightly torn bills are sometimes refused by businesses.
- In 1949, Costa Rica was the first nation in the world to change its constitution to abolish its army.
- The two most important agricultural crops for export are coffee and bananas.
- There are approximately 300,000 (2006 figures) expats living in Costa Rica from the USA, Canada and other Latin American countries of which some 200,000 are Nicaraguans.
- Prostitution is legal (but not pimping) and some say that makes it easier for sex and, worse, child sex tourism to flourish.