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Costa Rica’s General Information

Official name (nombre oficial): Republic of Costa Rica.

Boarders (límites):
north: Nicaragua;
southeast: Panamá;
east: Caribbean sea;
west: Pacific Ocean.

Capital city (capital): San José.

Currency (moneda): colón.

Official language (idiomaoficial): spanish.
Native languages (lenguas indígenas): maleku, cabécar, bribri, guaymí and brunca.

Official religion (religión): Roman Catholic.

Territory extension (extensión territorial): 51,100 km2.

Highest peak (pico másalto): Chirripó mountain (3,820 m over sea level).

Widest crater (cráter más ancho): volcano Poás, with 1 km of diameter.

National flower (flor nacional): guaria morada.

National tree (árbol nacional): guanacaste.

National bird (ave nacional): yigüirro.

Climate (clima):
-Tropical with two seasons:
dry from december to april, and rain the rest of the year.
-Tropical con dos estaciones al año: seca –de diciembre a abril– y lluviosa –el resto del año.

Population (población):
-4,248,508: women, 2,087,838; men, 2,160,670 (1st semester of 2004).
-4.248.508: mujeres, 2.087.838; hombres, 2.160.670 (1er semestre de 2004).

Average life expectancy (esperanzadevida):
-81,1 years old for women and 76,3 years old for men (2003).
-81,1 años para las mujeres y 76,3 años para los hombres (2003).

Administrative division (divisiónadministrativa):
-7 provinces (San José, Alajuela, Heredia, Cartago, Puntarenas, Limón and Guanacaste), 81 cantons and 463 districts.
-7 provincias (San José, Heredia, Alajuela, Cartago, Puntarenas, Limón y Guanacaste), 81 cantones y 463 distritos.

Source (fuente): Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Censos (Statistics and Census National Institute).



Our people
Costa Rica has a population of 4,248,508 people, including: immigrants from Nicaragua, Cuba, Colombia, United States of America, China and others, as well as a small indigenous community of 63,876, according to the last census (2000). The majority of the population lives in the Central Valley.

Costa Rica is recognized for having a solid democracy and stability since the end of its civil war in the 1940s, and for not having a military army.

The majority of the Costa Ricans are descendants of Spanish immigrants. They are known as Ticos, because in many opportunities they use the term “ico” at the end of a word, like “chiquitico”. All over the world Ticos are known for their hospitality, courtesy and good manners. When speaking to them it is not strange to receive a sincere gesture, like a hand on your back or a gentle smile.

Something very peculiar happens in this country, the streets and avenues have no names. This is why addresses are given by taking as a reference a park, a church or shopping centers, among other things. Because of this, Ticos are always willing to help with directions.

Next you will find a small list of the main terminology used by Costa Ricans when speaking:
  • Balneario: tourist complex with swimming pools.
  • Baño: bathroom or restroom.
  • Birra: beer.
  • Bocas: snacks to accompany drinks.
  • Bombao gasolinera: gas station.
  • Bomba: a phrase or sentence recited in folklore dances and songs.
  • Cantina: a small bar.
  • Chará (or charita): too bad! or, what a pity!
  • Chicha: traditional beverage made out of corn, ginger and sugar cane. It also means to be very angry.
  • Guaro: sugar cane liquor with a very high percentage of alcohol.
  • Macho (a): a blonde person.
  • Mae: young man, equivalent to dude, in modern North American English.
  • Pulpería: very small local grocery store.
  • Pura vida: phrase used to express satisfaction and happiness, for example: “How are you?”, and the answer would be: “Pura vida!”.
  • Tope: horse parade.
  • Turnos: traditional fairs with fireworks, mechanical games and typical food.


Ticos’ favorite sport

Costa Ricans, as well as people from many other countries, have a favorite sport, soccer. It is not only a sport with male fans but also women follow the latest developments and soccer matches of the teams that participate in the national championship. Among the favorite teams are: Deportivo Saprissa (of San José), Herediano, Cartaginés y Alajuelense.

In Costa Rica this sport has reached a great level. In May of 2005 Deportivo Saprissa became the champion of the Concacaf Cup, the highest regional soccer entity in North and Central America and in the Caribbean. They also classified for the World Cup that will take place this coming December in Japan. The National team has participated in two occasions in the World Cup Championship of soccer (Italia 1990 and Korea-Japan 2002). In both it achieved an outstanding participation. At this moment it is playing in the second phase to classify for Germany 2006.



Costa Rican Cuisine

It is very rich and varied. There is a great amount of typical dishes and the majority are eaten all around the country. Among the main dishes are:

  • Gallo pinto: one of the main typical Costa Rican dishes. It is a combination of rice and beans spiced with chopped onion, red pepper and cilantro. It is eaten at any time of the day and it can be served with eggs, sour cream and tortillas.
  • Arroz con pollo: is a combination of rice and chicken with chopped onion, red pepper, cilantro and spices. It is served with potato chips or french fries.
  • Casado: is a dish that includes rice, beans, plantains, salad and some type of meat.
  • Olladecarne: it is a stew made out of vegetables, meat, onions, red pepper and cilantro. It can be eaten with tortillas or bread.
  • Pozol: is a traditional indigenous corn based soup, you can add to it pork, onions, red pepper and cilantro.
  • Tamal: is made out of ground corn meal filled with meat, rice, red pepper and vegetables. It is then wrapped in banana leaves and boiled. It is usually eaten with a cup of coffee. This is a traditional Christmas season dish. Each Costa Rican family has its own unique recipe.

Typical Caribbean (Limón) dishes are:

  • Pan bon: a type of fruitcake made with cinnamon and cloves.
  • Patie: a pastrie filled with meat.
  • Rice & Beans: rice and beans mixed with coconut oil and coconut milk.

Among the most common drinks are: agua dulce –translated into English to sweet water–, it is made from brown sugar (extracted from sugar cane) and hot water. Coffee and tea are also drunk, and hard liquor and beer are the alcoholic drinks of choice.

Costa Rica also has an inmense variety of international cuisine, where you will be able to taste the flavors known everywhere. Among them we recommend, Outback Steakhouse, Samurai, Los Anonos, Chango and El Torreón.



Climate
Costa Rica is located in the Intertropical Zone. It is a region with abundant rain and warm temperatures. We have two seasons during the year, a dry season –between December and April– and a rainny season –between May and November. However, either season can come earlier or later in the year.

The average yearly temperature varies according to the altitude in respect to the sea level. The average yearly temperature is of 24°C. The coasts are very hot and humid. The Caribbean coast has an average of 21°C during the night and 30°C during the day. The Pacific coast presents an average of 19°C at night and up to 34°C during the day. In the higher regions the temperature ranges from 5º to 15ºC. The temperature can vary depending on the position of the mountains, the narrow form of the country and the arrival of the Trade Winds from the Caribbean.



Flora and Fauna
Due to its geographical position Costa Rica is classified as a biological bridge. It is a country rich in flora and fauna. We have 4% of the world's biodiversity.

This extraordinary beauty that favors us is a resource in which we base sustainable development, which originates economical and social benefits based on the protection and conservation of natural resources. With 37,000 km of road networks, the visitor has easy access to all our natural treasures.

The national conservation policies have allowed the creation of national parks, biological reserves and forest reserves, as well as wild life refuges. In these reserves live around 12,000 species of plants, 850 species of birds, 6,500 species of butterflies, 200 species of amphibians, 220 species of reptiles and 1,600 species of fish, 237 species of mammals and 1,500 types of orchids.

This natural richness and its policies of conservation have given Costa Rica international recognition. This is why more and more tourists visit us each year.

With 1,816 km of coasts, Costa Rica offers beautiful beaches, some of which are a refuge for the sea turtles that come to lay their eggs in beaches such as Tortuguero (Caribe), Playa Grande y Ostional (Guanacaste).

Costa Rica is also well known for the diversity of species in its flora. This is because of its diversity in microclimates, which are classified according to altitude and amount of rainfall.

The humid tropical forest is typical of the low, hot and rainy lands (such are the lands of the North, the Caribbean and the South Pacific). The trees are usually very tall which blocks the entry of direct sunlight. There are also ferns, parasites and lianas. Tortuguero and Corcovado are an example of this type of forest.

The dry tropical forest is typical of the North Pacific, where bushes are high and trees shed their leaves partially or totally during the dry season, usually a short time after they bloom. This type of forest is preserved primarily in national parks such as Santa Rosa, Palo Verde or Cabo Verde.

The mixed or cloud forest, known for the presence of clouds or fog, is very humid. It is responsible for the hydrographic abundance in the country because water filtrates into the land, forming small ponds and rivers, which descend from the mountains. It has an abundance of bushes, trees and very colorful flowers.

In higher regions (more than 3,000 meters) the temperature can be below zero centigrade. Here there are small bushes with very hard and strong leaves able to resist low temperatures.



Geography
Four mountain ranges run across the country, the Guanacaste Volcanic Range, the Tilarán Range, the Central Volcanic Range and the Talamanca Range, where the Chirripó Mountain is found. Chirripó stands at 3,820 meters above sea level, the highest mountain in our country.

These mountain ranges offer beautiful landscape across the country, as well as many active volcanoes like Poás, Arenal, Irazú, Turrialba and Rincón de la Vieja. Because of the many volcanoes, our valleys and vast plains are enriched with fertile soil, making our lands into a green haven bathed in majestic rivers. These rivers end in the oceans that border our coasts, which stretch 255 km on the Atlantic side (Caribbean) and 1,103 km on the Pacific side. On these coasts you will find beautiful beaches surrounded by exuberant vegetation.



Transportation

Costa Rica is accessible by land and sea. It has two international airports, Juan Santamaría, in the province of Alajuela, very close to the capital city of San José, and the Daniel Oduber in Liberia, located in the northern province of Guanacaste. There are other airports that provide services for flights inside the country, both for tourist or commercial purposes.

The country also has seaports that fulfill international norms and requirements in the Limón (Caribbean) and Puntarenas (Pacific) provinces.

Public transportation is available all over the country at accessible prices both for national and foreign tourists. Among the different towns and cities there are bus services, which take you to the main tourist destinations. Taxis are another transportation alternative and its cost depends on the distance traveled. For this, taxis are required to use a meter that registers the cost of the service. The official airport taxis are orange and the taxis you will see on the city streets and small towns are red.

If you wish to rent a car, Costa Rica has a great number of car rental companies that you'll be able to find at the airports or in various tourist zones. We recommend you inquire at Toyota Rent a Car or at Europcar. If you want to rent private transportation, do not hesitate to consult with Interbus. If you would like to travel by bus in Central America, contact Transnica for your best option.



Communications

Costa Rica has an advanced communication system with telephone and fax services all over the country. To call or send a fax to Costa Rica from outside the country, you must dial the country code 506 before the number you plan to call. To telephone from Costa Rica to another country, you can dial 116 to use an operator or through the MIDA service, dialing 00 + country code + area code + phone number.

Another very practical service for the traveler is Roaming International. It is a service that will allow you to use the cell phone network, allowing you to keep using the same phone number you use in your country of origin. With this service you will be able to receive and make phone calls as usual, for both TDMA and GSM technologies. If you would like more information, you may call 193.

The Costa Rican Electrical Company (ICE) has at your disposal the 192 service, which provides you with tourist information about everything you will need to know during your stay. You may ask for information calling from Monday to Sunday from 7 am to 7 pm.

The traditional mail service is very reliable. There are more than 100 post offices around the country that provide you their service. Internet service is also available in the vast majority of the country.

Regarding written press, both national and international newspapers and magazines are sold around the country. You can find them in different stores nationwide.