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Guanacaste, Costa Rica

Guanacaste, Costa Rica

Lonely Planet Travel Guides Lonely Planet ®

Costa Rica is sometimes referred to as the Switzerland of Central America because of its comfortable lifestyle, peaceful democracy and overwhelming natural beauty. But is this merely the depiction on a postcard, or does it have relevance for today’s Tico (Costa Rican)?

Early in the 20th century, this view could rightly be called an optimistic caricature. At best, Costa Rica was an occasional democracy with widespread poverty and no discernible environmental protection policy. In the second half of the century, however, sustained economic growth created a viable middle class, a generous social welfare state and one of the world’s most progressive environmental movements.

To put things in perspective, consider the fact that prior to 1950, half of the country struggled with grinding poverty, and living beyond the age of 50 was an achievement in itself. Today, less than one in five Ticos lives below the poverty line, and life expectancy is on a par with the USA.

The ‘green revolution’ kicked off in the 1970s when world coffee prices dropped due to oversupply, and Costa Rica plunged into economic crisis. However, the unpredictable nature of the global commodity markets created a rather unusual alliance between economic developers and environmental conservationists. If wealth could not be sustained through exports, then what about imports – of tourists? By 1985, tourism was annually contributing US$100 million to the Costa Rican economy, and today almost one-third of the entire country is under some form of environmental protection.

Costa Rica annually attracts more than one million tourists each year, and continues to serve as testament to the fact that conservation and development need not be competing interests. Need more proof? As recently as 1980, Ticos lived on family farms, listened to state radio and shopped at the neighborhood pulpería (corner grocery store). Today, shopping at supermarkets is a matter of course, satellite TV and wireless internet are the norm, and American-style malls are all the rage.

Furthermore, with economic empowerment has come tremendous social change. More women have entered the workforce though opportunities in the tourist and service sectors. The divorce rate has increased and family size has shrunk. More Ticos are entering higher education, and they are doing so in Costa Rica. Migrant laborers from Nicaragua and Colombia work the coffee plantations, while Tico tenants seek better jobs in the city.

Given the rise in quality of life throughout the country, Ticos are generally self-content and passive about politics. But underneath the easygoing veneer is discernible pride and support for their unarmed democracy.

As stated by former President Oscar Arias Sánchez in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, ‘we seek peace and democracy together, indivisible, an end to the shedding of human blood, which is inseparable from an end to the suppression of human rights.’ This is a unique point of view – not only in Central America, but in the whole world.

Lifestyle and democracy aside, Costa Rica is mind-bendingly beautiful. Although there are certainly other countries in the world that enjoy divinely inspired natural landscapes, Costa Rica boasts a higher biodiversity than Europe and the USA combined. Its small size also means that traveling from cloud forest to coastline and from summit to savanna is quick, easy and enjoyable.

Language Spoken

Spanish

Timezone

GMT/UTC -6 (Central Time in North America).

Customs

All travelers over the age of 18 are allowed to enter the country with 5L of wine or spirits and 500g of processed tobacco (400 cigarettes or 50 cigars). Camera gear, binoculars, and camping, snorkeling and other sporting equipment are readily allowed into the country.

Visa Overview

Passport-carrying nationals of the following countries are allowed 90 days’ stay with no visa: Argentina, Canada, Israel, Japan, Panama, the USA, and most Western European countries. Citizens of Australia, Iceland, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, Russia, South Africa and Venezuela are allowed to stay for 30 days with no visa. Others require a visa from a Costa Rican embassy or consulate.

For the latest info on visas, check the websites of the ICT or the Costa Rican embassy in Washington, DC.

Extensions

Extending your stay beyond the authorized 30 or 90 days is a time-consuming hassle. It is far easier to leave the country for 72 hours and then re-enter. Otherwise, go to the office of Migración in San José, opposite Channel 6, about 4km north of Parque La Sabana. Requirements for extensions change, so allow several working days.

Onward Tickets

Travelers officially need onward tickets before they are allowed to enter Costa Rica. This requirement is not often checked at the airport, but travelers arriving by land should anticipate a need to show an onward ticket.

If you’re heading to Panama, Nicaragua or another Central or South American country from Costa Rica, you may need an onward or round-trip ticket before you will be allowed entry into that country or even allowed to board the plane if you’re flying. A quick check with the appropriate embassy – easy to do via the internet – will tell you whether the country you’re heading to has an onward-ticket requirement.

Telephone Overview

Public phones are found all over Costa Rica and Chip or Colibrí phone cards are available in 1000, 2000 and 3000 colón denominations. Chip cards are inserted into the phone and scanned. Colibrí cards (more common) require you to dial a toll-free number ([tel] 199) and enter an access code. Instructions are provided in English or Spanish. Colibrí is the preferred card of travelers since it can be used from any phone. Cards can be found just about everywhere, including supermarkets, pharmacies, newsstands, pulperías (corner grocery stores) and gift shops.

The cheapest international calls from Costa Rica are direct-dialed using a phone card. To make international calls, dial ‘00’ followed by the country code and number. Pay phones cannot receive international calls.

Make sure that no one is peeking over your shoulder when you dial your code. Some travelers have had their access numbers pilfered by thieves.

To call Costa Rica from abroad, use the country code ([tel] 506) before the eight-digit number. Find other important phone numbers on the inside front cover of this book.

Due to the increasing popularity of voice-over IP services such as Skype, it’s sometimes possible to skip the middle man and just bring a headset along with you to an internet cafe. Ethernet connections and wireless signals are becoming more common in accommodations, so if you’re traveling with a laptop you can just connect and call for pennies.

Internet Access

Internet cafes abound in Costa Rica, and you don’t have to look very far to find cheap and speedy internet access. The normal access rate in San José and tourist towns is US$1 to US$2 per hour, though you can expect to pay upwards of US$5 per hour in the hard-to-reach places.

Wi-fi access is on the rise in Costa Rica. If you keep your eyes open (and computer on), you’ll find wireless hot spots in San José, Alajuela, Jacó, Monteverde and Santa Elena, La Fortuna, Tamarindo, Puerto Jiménez and Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. Furthermore, the majority of top-end hotels and backpacker hostels offer secure wireless networks to their customers.

Electricity

Electrical current is 110V AC at 60Hz; plugs are two flat prongs (same as in the US).

Embassies and Consulates

Mornings are the best time to go to embassies and consulates. Australia and New Zealand do not have consular representation in Costa Rica; their closest embassies are in Mexico City. All of the following are located in San José.

  • Canada ([tel] 2242-4400; Oficentro Ejecutivo La Sabana, 3rd fl, Edificio 3, Sabana Sur) Behind La Contraloría.
  • El Salvador ([tel] 2257-7855) Head 500m north and 25m west of the Toyota dealership on Paseo Colón.
  • France ([tel] 2234-4167) On the road to Curridabat, 200m south and 50m west of the Indoor Club.
  • Germany ([tel] 2232-5533; 8th fl, Torre La Sabana, Sabana Norte) About 300m west of the ICE building.
  • Guatemala ([tel] 2283-2555; Curridabat) Casa Izquierda, 500m south and 30m west of Pops.
  • Honduras ([tel] 2291-5147; Urbanización Trejos Montealegre) About 100m west of Banca Promérica, Escazú.
  • Israel ([tel] 2221-6444; 11th fl, Edificio Centro Colón, Paseo Colón btwn Calles 38 & 40)
  • Italy ([tel] 2234-2326; cnr Av Central & Calle 41, Los Yoses)
  • Mexico ([tel] 2257-0633) About 250m south of the Subaru dealership, Los Yoses.
  • Netherlands ([tel] 2296-1490; Oficentro Ejecutivo La Sabana, 3rd fl, Edificio 3, Sabana Sur) Behind La Contraloría.
  • Nicaragua ([tel] 2283-8222; Av Central 2540 btwn Calles 25 & 27, Barrio La California)
  • Panama ([tel] 2281-2442) Head 200m south and 25m east from the antiguo higuerón (old fig tree), San Pedro.
  • Spain ([tel] 2222-1933; Calle 32 btwn Paseo Colón & Av 2)
  • Switzerland ([tel] 2221-3229; 10th fl, Edificio Centro Colón, Paseo Colón btwn Calles 38 & 40)
  • UK ([tel] 2258-2025; 11th fl, Edificio Centro Colón, Paseo Colón btwn Calles 38 & 40)
  • USA ([tel] 2220-3939; Carretera a Pavas) Opposite Centro Commercial del Oeste.

Postal Services

Airmail letters cost about US$0.35 for the first 20g. Parcels can be shipped at the rate of US$7 per kilogram. You can receive mail at the main post office of major towns. Mail to San José’s central post office should be addressed: (Name), c/o Lista de Correos, Correo Central, San José, Costa Rica.

Letters usually arrive within a week from North America, longer from more distant places. The post office will hold mail for 30 days from the date it’s received. Photo identification is required to retrieve mail and you will only be given correspondence with your name on it.

Note that in addresses, apartado (abbreviated ‘Apdo’) means ‘PO Box’; it is not a street or apartment address.

Business Hours

Restaurants are usually open from 7am and serve dinner until 9pm, though upscale places may open only for dinner. In remote areas, even the small sodas (inexpensive eateries) might open only at specific meal times. See other business hours on the inside front cover of this book. Unless otherwise stated, count on sights, activities and restaurants to be open daily.

Money Overview

Travel costs are significantly higher here than in most Central American countries, but cheaper than in the USA or Europe. And if you’re arriving from inexpensive Central American nations, such as Nicaragua, get ready to bust that wallet wide open.

Prices in Costa Rica are frequently listed in US dollars, especially at upmarket hotels and restaurants, where you can expect to pay international prices. Most types of tours are charged in US dollars. In fact, US dollars are widely accepted, but the standard unit of currency is still the colón.

Lodging prices are generally higher in the dry season (December to April), and highest during holiday periods (between Christmas and New Year and during Semana Santa). During slower seasons, most hotels are eager for your business, so you can try to negotiate a lower rate. Some of the more popular tourist areas (Monteverde, Jacó, Manuel Antonio and many of the beaches on the Península de Nicoya) are also more expensive than the rest of the country.

Insurance

No matter where you travel to in the world, getting a comprehensive travel-insurance policy is a good idea. For travel to Costa Rica, a basic theft/loss and medical policy is recommended. Read the fine print carefully as some companies exclude dangerous activities from their coverage, which can include scuba diving, motorcycling and even trekking. You may prefer a policy that pays doctors or hospitals directly rather than you having to pay on the spot and make a claim later.

Tipping

It is customary to tip the bellhop/porter (US$1 to US$5 per service) and the housekeeper (US$1 to US$2 per day) in top-end hotels, less in budget places. On guided tours, tip the guide US$5 to US$15 per person per day. Tip the tour driver about half of what you tip the guide. Naturally, tips depend upon quality of service. Taxi drivers are not normally tipped, unless some special service is provided. Top-end restaurants may add a 10% service charge onto the bill. If not, you might leave a small tip to show your appreciation, but it is not required.

Health Overview

Travelers to Central America need to be vigilant about food-borne and mosquito-borne infections. Most of these illnesses are not life-threatening, but they can certainly ruin your trip. Besides getting the proper vaccinations, it’s important to use a good insect repellent and exercise care in what you eat and drink.

Since most vaccines don’t produce immunity until at least two weeks after they’re given, visit a physician four to eight weeks before departure. Ask your doctor for an International Certificate of Vaccination (otherwise known as the ‘yellow booklet’), which will list all the vaccinations you’ve received. This is mandatory for countries that require proof of yellow-fever vaccination upon entry, but it’s a good idea to carry it wherever you travel.

Bring medications in their original containers, clearly labeled. A signed, dated letter from your physician describing all medical conditions and medications, including generic names, is also a good idea. If carrying syringes or needles, be sure to have a physician’s letter documenting their medical necessity.

Update:

Paradisus Resorts Announce the Opening of A New Luxury Eco Resort in Papagayo Bay, Guanacaste, Costa Rica
Brand’s new five star all-inclusive luxury resort is scheduled to open July 2013, superseding the former Paradisus Playa Conchal in Guanacaste
Read more...

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