Over the past twenty years, Costa Rica has risen to one of the most popular vacation and adventure-travel destinations in Latin America, with almost two million visitors each year. Despite the boom in tourists, Costa Rica remains a destination rich in culture, natural wonders and biodiversity, where you can still find yourself enjoying peace and quiet far from the crowds. The country boasts a wealth of unspoiled beaches that stretch for miles, small lodgings that haven’t attracted hordes of tourists, jungle rivers for rafting and kayaking, and spectacular rainforests with ample opportunities for hiking, biking and bird watching. Costa Rica is often recognized as the creator of the canopy tour where you can glide through the treetops viewing monkeys, birds and maybe even a sloth. In 2009, Costa Rica hosted the Billabong World Surfing Games. Whether you are a surfer, a scuba diver, sport fisherman or just a beach lover, Costa Rica offers a host of world class ocean activities.
In addition to the country’s trademark eco- and adventure-tourism offerings, you will also find luxury resorts and golf courses, plush spas, and some truly spectacular boutique hotels and lodges.
Costa Rica extends in spectacular fashion from the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean Sea; a distance of barely 200 miles that can be travelled in about six hours. It makes up only about 20 thousand square miles in total land mass.
As you travel throughout the provinces of Costa Rica, you will become aware of the many variations in its landscape and climate. Costa Rica’s territorial division includes 7 provinces, which are: San José, Alajuela, Cartago, Heredia, Guanacaste, Puntarenas, and Limón. Together they offer an attractive tourist destination, of almost limitless possibilities, that include extensive rainforests, volcanoes, rivers traveling through the mountains, beaches and natural resources safeguarded by an important organization of national parks and forest reserves.
As part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, Costa Rica’s volcanoes are among the most spectacular in the world. In fact, the present-day landmass known as Costa Rica is the result of complex volcanic activity that took place some 75 million years ago and still continues today. One of them is Arenal Volcano, listed among the 10 most active volcanoes in the world and for a good reason: It regularly puts on a spectacle, showing off with strong rumbling sounds and occasional rock avalanches, as well as smoke, ash and lava eruptions that descend its slope at speeds reaching 45 miles per hour and temperatures reaching almost 2,000 degrees farenheit.
Costa Rica´s territory is so small that it encompasses only 0,03% of the planet’s surface but is still within the top 20 richest countries in biodiversity on Earth in terms of species density. It means that it is possible to find more species in 400 square miles in Costa Rica than in the same area in countries like Brazil or Colombia. Costa Rica averages 234.8 plant species, 16.9 bird species and 4.6 mammal species in that same 400 square miles.
In fact, with only 20,000 square miles of total territory, Costa Rica has nearly half a million species, representing 4% of the planet’s expected biodiversity.
Located between 8° and 11° north of the equator, Costa Rica enjoys a temperate climate marked by two seasons: the rainy and the dry season. The rainy season, also known as the green season, runs from May until early December with April and November being months of transition. During the rainy season, mornings are usually sunny, with afternoon storms moving in later in the day. There is an average of four or more hours of sun per day during the rainy season. The dry season runs from mid-December through April.
Costa Rica does not observe Daylight Saving Time. From March through October, during U.S. Daylight Saving Time, Costa Rica’s time zone is equivalent to Mountain Standard Time. November through March, Costa Rica’s time zone is equivalent to Central Standard Time.
Costa Rica’s official language is Spanish, though a large number of its citizens are at least moderately bilingual. English, due to its status as the international language of tourists, is the most common second language in Costa Rica. In most areas frequented by tourists – hotels, restaurants and national parks – visitors will find signs in English and employees who speak it fluently. In addition, many residents along the Caribbean coast speak Patois, a Jamaican creole with English roots.
However, when you head to the grocery store or enjoy a typical meal at a family-run restaurant, you may want to give your elementary school Spanish a try. You’ll find Costa Ricans to be very accommodating and patient with your Spanish, no matter how long its been, and you’ll have a great time and might even make a new friend.
More than 75% of Costa Ricans are practicing Catholics and approximately 14% are evangelical Christians. Other religions include: Jehovah’s Witnesses 1.3%, Protestant 0.7%, other 4.8%, and none 3.2%.
The national currency is the colon (CRC) and both dollars and Euros are easily exchanged at banks. Major credit cards are widely accepted in tourist towns, but you can’t use them in some of the more rural areas. Larger hotels and restaurants will generally accept credit cards and U.S. dollars. ATMs are scattered throughout the country, and usually offer good exchange rates.
Whether you are coming to Costa Rica for vacation, adventure or healthcare services, Costa Rica has almost everything you could want. Just plan to stay a little bit longer than you thought you would!