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Practical information Costa Rica

By Margot Millier Margot Millier Section editor

Costa Rica : Travel Information before you go!

Area

19,653 sq mi

Flights

14 hrs 20 mins. San José is some 5,420 mi from London.

Population

4,253,897

Airports

Juan Santamaria Alajuela airport is 28 miles away from San José's centre. A shuttle service takes you to the capital in 45 minutes, for 20 colón (2p) and a taxi takes around 30 minutes and costs around 2,000 colón (£2.40).

Security

A safe and peaceful country of great pacific tradition that deserves its nickname of 'The Switzerland of Central America'. Costa Rica was the first country to abolish their military forces (in 1949). Only the region of Limon is subject to crime, due to the dealing of crack, and in San José, as in any other big city, you must be aware of pickpockets. You are strongly advised to be vigilant in bus terminals, especially the one called 'Coca Cola' in San José as pickpocketing and theft are frequent there. You should also be vigilant on the Atlantic coast and in the city of Puerto Limon where drug problems are growing, as they are in San José.
If you are going to the northwest of Costa Rica, you should also be careful as the Arenal volcano erupted most recently in 2000 (600 people were evacuated and most of the hotels at the foot of the volcano were closed).
Please note that the road between La Fortuna (Alajuela Province) and Nuevo Arenal de Tilaran (Guanacaste) is only open to the traffic of the local residents of the area; you are therefore advised to call the hotels in the region to make sure they are open before you begin your trip.

Languages

Spanish is the official language. English is widely spoken, particularly in tourist hotels and restaurants, but also by the black minority of the Caribbean coast.

Required travel documents for

Passports must be valid for at least six months after the return date.
Remember, if your flight has a connection in the United States, you will need the new electronic passport, otherwise you will have to request a visa at the United States Embassy.
On your way out of Costa Rica, you will be obliged to pay the required airport tax of US $26(£18).

Religion

90% of the population is Catholic. There are around 5.5% Protestants and an Anglican community.

Currency

The official currency is the Costa Rican Colón (CRC), 'Colónes' in the plural, which is indexed to the Dollar. It is a good idea to get some cash or travellers cheques in Dollars before you leave, as pounds cannot be exchanged when you get there. There are then several options for exchanging your Dollars, including banks, exchange bureaus, hotels and certain shops. International credit cards (Visa, American Express, Eurocard and MasterCard) are accepted throughout the country. ATM machines are quite widespread. Banks are open from 9:00am to 3:00pm, from Monday to Friday, with the major branches in the cities opening until 6:00pm.

Local transportation

There are regular links between all the main cities of the country. Since an earthquake destroyed the picturesque 'Jungle Train' section, the railway network is practically non-existant. Buses run all over the country for very little money and they are the principal means of transport for 'Ticos'. Aside ffom the main road axes such as the Interamericana, the state of the roads is disasterous, especially in bad weather, so be careful and avoid driving at night as accidents are common (a 4 x 4 is often a necessity in the regions outside the central valley). However, if you want to rent a car in San José or at the airport, an International Driving License is required. If you take a taxi make sure that it has a meter, otherwise be prepared for a bad surprise. It should cost around 200 colón (20p) for the first mile, then 100 colón (10p) a mile. The average cost of a taxi ride in San José is around 500 colón (50p).

Health

No vaccine is required. However, it is preferable to be vaccinated against hepatitises A and B, typhoid, tetanus and diphtheria. The health system in Costa Rica is satisfactory. Due to timeworn pipes and the pollution of water, risks of bacteriological and chemical pollution of tap water in the capital and its surroundings is fairly high, so it is recommended that you drink bottled water.
Costa Rica is listed in zone 1 and the risk of malaria is relatively limited, however, sensitive people should follow a treatment. To protect yourself against the risks of malaria and dengue fever, plan to bring a repellent product against mosquitoes, hiking shoes and a pair of trousers and socks to protect yourself from insect bites in the forest.
Avoid consuming molluscs and seashells on the Pacific coast, especially from November to May. In case of early symptoms of food poisoning ? lip, tongue, leg, and arm numbness ? and to avoid serious complications that can prove fatal - immediately contact the ?centro de intoxicaciones del hospital nacional de ninos'. Tel: 223 10 28.
Useful numbers:
- Private clinics in San Jose (a money deposit upon entry is mandatory):
Clinica Biblica: 221 39 22 or 257 04 66
Clinica Catolica: 283 66 16
Clinica Cima: 208 10 00
Public hospitals (registered at the Social Security):
Hospital San Juan de Dios: 257 62 82
Hospital Nacional de ninos: 222 01 22
Hospital Mexico: 232 61 22
-In Cartago:
Hospital Max Peralta: 550 19 98 and 550 19 99
-In Heredia:
Hospital San Vincente de Paul: 237 59 44
- In Alajuela:
Hospital San Carlos: 460 11 76
- In Limon
Hospital Dr Tony Facio: 758 22 22
Hospital de Guapiles: 710 68 01
- In Puntarenas:
Hospital Mosenor Sanabria: 663 00 33
- In Liberia:
Hospital Dr Enrique Baltodano: 666 00 11
- In Quepos:
Hospital Dr Max Teran Walls: 777 09 22
- In Golfito:
Hospital de Golfito: 775 00 11
- In Ciudad Neylly:
Hospital Ciudad Neylly: 783 411.

Electricity

Voltage is 110 V. Bring an adapter for American type plugs (flat outlets), except in the most recent infrastructures where everything is compatible.

Tourist numbers

1.974 million foreign tourists visited Costa Rica in 2007. The main tourist market for the country is the American market, which accounts for 45% of the tourists.

Taxes and tips

Products and services include a tax of 13% and hotels add a tax of 3%. Some hotels do not include this tax in their marked price, thus it has to be added to the total amount. In restaurants, service is not included: around a 10% tip is expected.

Telephone

To ring Costa Rica from the UK, dial: 00 + 506 (country's code) + correspondent's number.
To ring Costa Rica from the UK, dial: 00 + 44 + correspondent's number.

Costa Rica : Useful addresses in the country

Before leaving

Costa Rican Embassy:
Flat 1, 14 Lancaster Gate, London W2 3LH.
Tel: (020) 7706 8844.
The embassy can supply tourist information.

At the destination

Tourist Office ICT
Av 1-2, c. 5, à San José.
Tel: 223 1733.

British Embassy:
Apartado 815-1007, Edificio Centro Colón, Piso, floor 11, San José.
Tel: 2258 2025.