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GENERAL INFORMATION

Costa Rica Information

Costa Rica is a small country but, from many points of view, a country which has plenty to offer a visitor, outstanding among which are is friendly, educated people and its rich natural heritage.


THE COSTA RICANS

Costa Rica is known for its civilized way of life. It is no exaggeration to call the country an oasis of peace. This a fundamental part of the Costa Rican character. Costa Rica is the seat of the University for Peace as well as the Interamerican Court of Human Rights. This fact empathizes the trust placed in the country's political and social stability by the international community. Costa Ricans are characterized by three distinct cultural life styles; that of the peasants and farmers of the Central Valley, of the inhabitants of the plains of Guanacaste and of the Caribbeans of the Province of Limón.

Their ethnic origins are a mixture, being a blend of the native inhabitants of the area (although to a lesser extent than in other Central American countries), of the Spanish colonists and of Afro-Caribbean immigrants which began entering as of the last century. The Costa Rican is both friendly and hospitable, the obvious product of his freedom. Costa Rica is one of the oldest democracies in America, as well as being a free and independent republic. Its inhabitants not only enjoy complete political stability, but also their nation's long standing commitment to democratic freedom. Peace is the most precious possession of Costa Rica's people. The country abolished its army half way through this century, the Rural and Civil Guards being sufficient to protect the citizens. Costa Rica was twice nominated to receive the Nobel Peace Prize and this was awarded, in 1987, to the incumbent President of the Republic, Dr.Oscar Arias. This award was a truly merited recognition of the Costa Rican way of life.
The social impact of this democratic tradition is easily seen. In 1869 a compulsory public education system was established, one that involves public institutions at all levels. In this, the government supplies the necessary funds for medical and educational programs; both services having achieved outstanding successes. Due to the educational efforts, 93% of the adult population is literate. Medical services, especially in the area of preventive medicine, has reached high levels of achievement in both rural and urban areas. Life expectancy is between 72 and 75 years of age, an excellent average for Latin America.

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POPULATION AND LANGUAGE

There are approximately 3.6 million(1999) inhabitants whose native language is Spanish. However, other languages such as English, French, German and Italian are frequently spoken and the foreign visitor will find it easy to make himself understood. There are seven provinces which make up the country: San José, Alajuela, Heredia, Puntarenas, Cartago, Guanacaste and Limón. The capital, San José, is in the province of the same name, which is the most densely populated of all the provinces.

Standard of Living Indicators
Life expentancy: 76.1 years
Literancy rate: 94.7%
Student Population: in 2000(Primary and Secondary) 889 306.
Educational Institutions: 6147 primary and secondary schools
Educations expenditures: US $716M(1999), or 6.52% of GDP. Minimum fixed by law at 6% of GDP.
Population served with piped water: 99%
Public health services coverage: 90.4% of population.
Health expenditures: 27.8% of Goverment Total
Acces to telephone service: 92% of population.
According to AACCLA, Association of American Chambers of Commerce in Latin America, Costa Rica's labor force was rated as the most productive and fast learning in Latin America.
According to the United Nation's Human Development Index(HDI) for 1999, Costa Rica has one of the highest ratings for quality of human resources among developing nations.

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RELIGION

The Catholic Faith is the official religion, although the right to practice other religions is guaranteed.

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GOVERNMENT

Costa Rica is a republic with political power distributed among the following governing bodies:

  • Executive Branch: The President of the Republic, elected openly every four years to only one term in office. There two Vice Presidents. A Presidential Cabinet, made up of 22 State Ministers, is active in economic, social productive and cultural areas.
  • Legislative Branch: This is a single chambered congress, with 57 popularly elected delegates, which is responsible for passing laws.
  • Judicial Branch: Made up of the Supreme Court, consisting of four tribunals, and including high courts, local courts and civil justices in various jurisdictions.

Costa Rica's Constitution also established a completely independent body within the Republic, The Supreme Court of Elections. This court is responsible for the organization, operation and supervision of the national elections, which take place every four years.

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PUBLIC SERVICES

Electric Power

Costa Rica has a nationwide power grid standard 110 volt, 60 Hertz electricity.

Water

The water throughout most the country is pure and quite potable.

Road Network

A good network of paved roads and highways allow easy travel throughout the country. These also connect us with other Central American countries. Naturally, there is also an extensive web of secondary roads.

Public Transportation

The country has a large fleet of taxis, easily identified by their red color. In rural areas, the taxis are often 4-wheel drive vehicles in order to give easy access to farming zones. Orange colored taxis provide service to and from the Juan Santamaría International Airport. Bus services are very available, both within and between provinces, as well as internationally.

Interurban train services cover two routes, Heredia - San José. A river ferry provides regular service across the Tempisque River while a seagoing ferry service (Coonatramart) connects Puntarenas with the Nicoya Peninsula across the Gulf of Nicoya.

Banking & Currency

Both local and international banking services are available at numerous state and private institutions. Banking hours are from9 AM to 3 PM with continuos service. Evening banking services are often available from 4PM to 6PM. The national currency is the "colon" which has a varying exchange rate against the US dollar. Dollar can be exchanged at any of the National Banking System banks. Most international credit cards are accepted in many establishments throughout the country.

Office Hours

These vary with the company or institution. Most government offices open to the public from 8 AM until 4 PM while private companies tend to open from 8 AM to 5 PM. Many shops and businesses open from 9 AM to 7 PM. Other keep a 8 AM to 6 PM working day. In the capital there are even supermarkets open right around the clock.

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COMMUNICATIONS

Telephone System

Costa Rica has one of the most advanced telephone systems is Latin America. International calls can be dialed directly from almost any point in the country. There are public telephones throughout the country, and in the few rural populations where these are not available one can find operator assisted phones.

Postal System

There is a Central Post and Telegraph Office and a network of local post offices, many of which offer modern facsimile services.

Television

Television channels are available in both Spanish and English, as is true with cable television. Some hotels have their own satellite dishes.

Radio

The country has a complete complement of AM and FM broadcast stations.

Press

Costa Rica has 4 daily newspapers and several weekly publications, all in Spanish. There are also a number of weekly and monthly publications in English. Magazines covering a wide range of interesting and useful subjects are also published.

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GEOGRAPHY Central Valley

Location

Located in the Central America isthmus, immediately north of Panamá, with ports in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and 153 highway miles between them.
Our country holds a privileged place in the world, being found in the center of the Central American Isthmus. On its east lies the Caribbean Sea and to its west, the Pacific Ocean. It is bordered by Nicaragua tothe North and Panama to the South.

Climate

A small tropic country, Costa Rica lies between two oceans. This, combined with its complex mountainous topography, gives rise to a extensive variety of habitants. These range from tropical dry forest and lowland rainforest to páramo, with a corresponding difference in climatic conditions. In general, temperatures vary between 14 and 22 degrees Centigrade in the high Central Valley and between 22 and 28 Centigrade in the lowlands. Temperatures remain relatively stable throughout the year, although some slight changes take place according to whether it is "Summer" (the dry season) or "Winter" (the wet season). Summer usually prevails from December to April and Winter from May to November. These seasons are clearly defined on the Pacific side of the country but are much less noticeable on the Caribbean side where the precipitation is much more evenly distributed throughout the year.

Topography

The highest regions of Costa Rica are found in the center of the country while the lowlands, which are more extensive and flat, extend to the Caribbean Coast on the northeast and to the northwest on the Pacific side. The Pacific Coast is more dissected, forming many bays, capes, cliffs and inlets. The Costa Rican mountain ranges form an indepent group, part of the Central American massif. Three of these ranges run roughly from northwest to southeast, with a fourth (The Central Range) crossing them at the widest part of the country, thus forming a huge cross. In this Central Range lies the Central Valley (where are found the cities of San José, Heredia and Alajuela) and the Guarco Valley, in the Province of Cartago. Two volcanic ranges dominate northwestern Costa Rica. The first is the Guanacaste Volcanic Chain with its Orosi, Miravalles, Tenorio, Rincón de la Vieja and Arenal volcanos. Arenal offers fairly constant eruptions, especially breathtaking at night, while Rincón de la Vieja's activity keeps natural mud pots in its foothills, bubbling permanently. In this area we can also visit Lake Arenal; with a surface area of some 85 square km, this is an ideal spot for water sports, such as windsurfing, water skiing, motor boat racing and fishing. The second range is the Tilarán Volcanic Chain in the northwest, formed by the hills of Abangares, Aguacate and Catedral. In the transverse chain of the central highlands, Poás, Barva, Irazú and Turrialba Volcanos are more accessible for the visitor. All these volcanos form and important part of our country's natural and geological heritage. Finally, to the south, are Costa Rica's highest mountains, those of the non-volcanic Talamanca Range. Of these, Chirripó Mountain is the most impressive, being the highest mountain in the country, 3,821 meters above sea level. Also, due to the type of landscape, soil composition and the climatic conditions at the summit, its vegetation is similar to that found on the high Andes of South America still another facet of Costa Rica's incredible natural heritage.

Rivers

The rivers of Costa Rica are of great interest to tourists, not only for their beauty, but also for the opportunities they provide for adventure, sport and leisure activities. On the Caribbean side is found the 145 km long Reventazón-Parismina River Systemand the 108 km long Pacuare. Both these rivers are ideal for fishing and white water rafting. Also on the northern Caribbean slopes we find the 96 km Colorado and Sarapiquí System, perfect for outings and sporting activities. The Pacific side of the country boasts numerous rivers such as the Corobicí, most noted for float trips on its gentle rapids.

This river, and many other northern Pacific rivers, empty into the great Tempisque River which stretches for 135 km to the Gulf of Nicoya. The marshes and esturies of the Tempisque Basin are important nesting grounds for numerous native bird species as well as being a sanctuary for many migrant birds.

The Caribbean Coast

The Caribbean coastline stretches for 212 km in a generally north-south direction, with the whole coast inclined to the northwest. It is divided into two distinct sections; the San Juan River on the Nicaraguan border to the city of Limón, and that which extends from the city of Limón to the Sixaola River on the border with Panamá. The first section consists of a long stretch of coastline that separates a series of estuary lagoons and waterways, fed by numerous rivers, from the sea. These make up the famous Tortuguero Canals, over 100 km long. These navigable canals are the habitat of seven species of turtles.

Located at the mid-point of the Caribbean Coast is the major port city of Limón, center of our Afro-Caribbean culture. Just off the shore, to the east of the city, lies the island of Uvita, originally named "Cariari" by Christopher Columbus who stopped there on his fourth voyage to the New World.

The Pacific Coast

The Pacific Coast extends over 1,016 km from one border to the other and offers a wide variety of geological features; islands, gulfs, headlands, coves, swamps, inlets and peninsulas. From Salinas Bay in the north to the tip of Burica Point in the south, the Pacific Beaches of Costa Rica offer an almost infinite number of beaches for tourist enjoyment.

The Santa Elena, Nicoya and Osa Peninsula are the principal ones of the Pacific side. On the northern part of the coast is Salinas Bay (where the small Murcielago Archipielago offers fantastic scuba diving), the Santa Elena Peninsula and Culebra Bay (Where the Gulf of Papagayo tourist complex is under construction.) To the south is the Nicoya Gulf which also has great tourist appeal.

The "Coonatramart" and "Tempisque" Ferries cross its waters shortening the route to the isolated beaches of the southern tip of the Nicoya peninsula. The shoreline of the gulf has many bays and promontories; the waters of the gulf are also dotted with small islands. The largest of these are the islands of Chira and San Lucas. Others of great natural beauty are the Venado, Bejuco, Caballo, Negritos and Cedros Islands, Near the port of Puntarenas (capital of the province of the same name) is the port of Caldera, the Pacific Coast's most important port. Caldera has developed into a modern facility handling both cruise ships and cargo vessels. Five hundred km out into the Pacific Ocean lies famed Coco Island, known for its legendary hidden treasures. However, its real riches turned out to be its luxuriant flora and beautiful fauna, both on land as well as in the teeming waters that surround it. These natural treasures are in need of protection from and authorized visitors to the island. Finally, the southern part of the Pacific zone has many points of interest.

The Osa Peninsula, covered by great tracts of virgin forest with the most extensive variety of native species to be found in the country, lies on the western side of the Golfo Dulce. On the mainland side of this gulf is the historic banana port of Golfito. This city is better known today for its duty freeshopping centers.

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WATER SPORTS

Its beaches, lakes, lagoons, bays and rivers make Costa Rica a real paradise for lovers of water sports. Here one can fish to his heart's content. For fresh water sports the country's world famous rivers (over 80 km are navigable) are enjoyed by kayakers and rafters in search of challenging adventure as well as those who are ready for white water thrills for the first time. Surfers flock to internationally famous Pavones Beach which has the longest waves in the world.
Skin drives enjoy the variety and richness of the flora and fauna along the coastal reefs and headlands, while windsurfers prize the ideal conditions of Lake Arenal. Boating and water skiing are also becoming increasily popular.

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PROTECTED AREAS
It is for the nature lover and conservationist, however, that Costa Rica has become a true mecca. Because of its natural resource conservation activities, in 1992 Costa Rica was made the world headquarters of the Earth Council.
At the moment, the National Parks Service is responsible for the care conservation of 20 national parks, eight wildlife refuges and one area, declared a national archaecological monument. At the same time, the Forestry Service is in charge of 26 protected areas, nine forest reserves, seven wildlife sanctuaries and a national forest. These protected areas total 1,077, 308 hectares, 21% of the national territory, which means that Costa Rica has a larger percentage of its total are set aside in parks and preserves than any other country on Earth. The protection of Costa Rica's natural resources has implications beyond its borders because they encompass an incredible biodiversity, including numerous species on the verge of extinction. On the whole, access to these areas and facilities are freely available provided the visitor respects the need to protect them.
All of this is the reason the country has become one of the most popular destinations for visiting ecologists and biologists. These protected areas are ideal for hiking and rafting, for watching the birds and other wildlife, for camping and just for enjoying in general, their rivers, beaches, jungles, mountain forests, volcanos as well as their historic and archaecological sites. For its work in the conservation of natural resources, Costa Rica has been awarded numerous distinctions, including the Saint Francis of Assisi prize, the award given in ecology by the Association of United States Travel Agents and the prestigious Smithsonian Institute Award.

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TOURIST SERVICES

Costa Rica caters to call classes of tourists, offering services to make its visitors stay a most enjoyable experience.

Air Travel

Flights of more than 17 airlines land each day at Juan Santamaría International Airport. Domestic airline services are available between important points within the country. Air taxi and charter aircraft are also easily obtained.

Car Rental

Upon arriving in Costa Rica you can rent a car at any of the agencies at Juan Santamaría International Airport, in San José or in most provincial capitals. Considering the different terrain types and different tourist needs, car rental companies offer late model vehicle including sedans, 4-wheel drive, vans, limousines, etc.

Travel Agencies

A large number of travel agencies offer different tours in order for you to truly enjoy Costa Rica Tourist Board "I.C.T." information office will provide more details on tours, hotels and others services.

Accommodations

In Costa Rica you will find a wide range of hotel services, catering to all taste, styles and budgets. There are large hotels providing full services; swimming pools, restaurants, discotheques and conference rooms-either in the city itself, its outskirts or out in the countryside. Also you may choose from a long list of small, friendly hotels or bed & breakfasts located in beautiful, old converted homes. In addition there is a wide selection of mountain lodges and inns, beach hotels, jungle lodges and cozy cabins. May lodges offer facilities for every type of event, such as conventions, business meetings, etc.

Restaurants

Restaurants in Costa Rica offer the tourist a wide variety of international cuisine and, for those wishing to try Costa Rican cooking, there are manyplaces which serve typical regional dishes.

Crafts And Shopping

Costa Rican craftsmanship is found in a wide variety of goods which reflect the country's typical traditions and features, ranging from replicas of pre-columbian objects, or the traditional Costa Rican cart up to the modern, elegant designs. Wood and clay sculptures, pottery, leather goods, jewelry and wickerwork are also to be found. Articles can be bought in the center of San José and in other places such as Moravia, Sarchí (Alajuela) and Guaitil (Guanacaste).

I.C.T.

The Costa Rican Tourist Board (I.C.T.) is the governing body for all tourist activity in Costa Rica. The main offices are located between 5th and 7th Street and 4th Avenue, and the regional offices at the Juan Santamaría International Airport, in Plaza de la Cultura, in San José; in Peñas Blancas, on the northern border with Nicaragua, in Paso Canoas, on the sourthern border with Panamá, and in the port of Caldera.

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