Costa Rica Facts - Beaches, Culture & Currency
- Time Zone – Costa Rica is on Central Standard Time (US), the same as Chicago.
- When to Visit – Costa Rica has two seasons (wet and dry). The most popular time to visit is the dry season (December through April), when accommodations are more expensive and harder to come by. The wet season (May through November) is not all that wet. Expect sunny mornings with rain showers in the afternoon.
- Major Cities – The most populous city in Costa Rica is San José, with a population of about one million. Other major cities (based on population) are: Alajuela, Cartago, Heredia, Liberia, Limón, and Puntarenas.
- Entry Information – A valid passport is required to enter Costa Rica. Citizens of the US, Canada, most of Europe and several other countries can visit for up to 90 days without obtaining a visa.
- Major Religion – The official religion is Roman Catholicism, although religious tolerance is practiced both by law and in fact. Most holidays and celebrations are based on the church calendar.
Electricity – 110-volt AC service is available throughout the country. You should have a two-prong adapter, as most outlets cannot accept three-prong grounded plugs.
Pacific Coast Beaches - The beaches along the western coast of Costa Rica are popular with surfers and backpacking ecotourists on a budget. The Nicoya Peninsula, in the north, is generally considered the best for sand and surf.
Five Pacific coast beaches that should be on the top of your list:
- Conchal (northern Pacific) – a beautiful shell-covered beach with pristine turquoise water.
- Playa Grande (northern Pacific) – world class surf and also home to the greatest migration of leatherback sea turtles.
- Carrillo (northern Pacific) – a largely undeveloped stretch of beach lined with cliffs and palm trees.
- Mal País – Santa Teresa (northern Pacific) – best for extreme surf, also very popular with backpackers.
- Espadilla (southern Pacific) – beautiful white sand beach and access point to four more beaches that are accessible only by foot.
Caribbean Coast Beaches - The Caribbean coast has traditionally catered to a family or retiree style of vacation. Some of the beaches at the southern end of the coast also offer decent surf.
Costa Rican Culture is family oriented. Costa Ricans (long called Ticos by other Spanish speakers because of a linguistic quirk of the Costa Rican dialect) are welcoming and friendly people. They have a strong sense of traditional values and the importance of familial obligations.
The culture of Costa Rica is influenced by its geography and history. This is where the Mesoamerican and South American native cultures met. The northern part of the country was at the southern end of the Mayan region at the time of the Spanish Conquest, and the central and southern areas were the northernmost reaches of the Chibcha culture. African slaves were brought to the Caribbean coast during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; and large numbers of Chinese workers built the railroads. The strands of these various cultures can be teased out of the melting pot that is modern Costa Rica. For example, the Mayan and Afro-Caribbean cultures gave Costa Rica their few native musical idioms.
Costa Ricans value education. They provide free elementary and secondary education; the country has four major public universities a numerous private schools.Costa Rica Currency - The standard Costa Rican currency is the colon. US dollars are also readily accepted almost everywhere in Costa Rica.
You can readily exchange your home currency for colons or US dollars at one of the many exchange booths or banks located all throughout the country. Don’t be concerned about currency in Costa Rica. You can get by with US dollars or a major credit card almost everywhere. At small cafes, local markets, street stalls, and businesses in rural areas, you will want to have some colons handy though.
You can get currency in Costa Rica, either the local colons or US dollars, at ATMs available in most cities. As is true anywhere, getting modest amounts from an ATM is preferable to traveling with large amounts of cash.
Travelers’ checks are accepted at many establishments but they are not exchanged as favourably as cash.