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See the entry on San José for additional information on Costa Rica.
Juan Santamaría Airport (SJO) is located close to the cities Alajuela, Heredia and the capital San José.
SJO is currently under reconstruction. The dimly lit but otherwise pleasant airport features the normal assortment of duty-free shops but an inadequate selection of overpriced restaurants (Church's Chicken, Burger King and a fast-food pizza joint). SJO is serviced daily by American Airlines, Continental Airlines, Delta Airlines, United Airlines and US Airways as well as Taca and Copa Airlines.
Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport (LIR) is near Liberia in the Guanacaste province. This airport is closest to the Pacific Northwest coast. Liberia receives flights from Delta, American and Continental.
The Interamericana (Panamerican highway) runs through Costa Rica and is the main entry point by car. The border post in the north (to Nicaragua) is called Peñas Blancas and in the south (to Panamá) Paso Canoas. Many Costa Rican roads are in terrible shape, and short distances can take a very long time.
Lots of unpaved roads, even the paved roads have lots of unpaved sections and washed out or unfinished bridges. Do not expect to get anywhere quickly, supposed 3 hour journeys can turn into 5 or more hours easily: there are always slow cars/buses/trucks on the road. This cause a lot of crazy driving, which you begin to emulate if you are in-country for more than a day. The government does not seem to be fixing the infrastructure well (or at all!) 50km/hr is good over unpaved roads, you hit a resonance frequency where the damping factor of the suspension matches the undulations of the road and you have a smooth ride. Your car/SUV begins to feel like a boat. Cool effect.
Gas stations are full service and the guys there are very cool at taking dollars or Colón(es). The interesting thing is that CR is small so you do not burn a lot of gas getting places even though it seems like forever.
There are bus services from the neighboring countries of Panamá, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. There is an extensive network of bus routes within the country with reasonable fares and usually comfortable seating. If using the bus routes within the country, some ability to speak and understand Spanish is helpful.
Remember there is a $26.12 exit fee at the Juan Santamaría Airport. It sucks but it's there. There's a nice sign explaining where all the money goes, but it still sucks. I would rather spend it on Imperial.
Rental Car For 350-700 USD a week you can rent a econocar/mid size 4WD. Insurance is the majority of this cost and it is not optional. 4 wheel drive is good for extensive traveling outside the Central Valley, especially in the wet season. In the dry season going from La Fortuna to Monteverde via a direct route was over a boulder strewn 15-30 MPH road. 4WD was also useful on the Nicoya coast. (above based on 2001 roads)
Another easy way to get around Costa Rica is to use the services of mini-vans. At most of the hotels, the receptionist is able to assist travelers who want to travel across the country by arranging for the services of a driver. Rates are reasonable (US$20 per person, for example, to get from San Jose to Tamarindo in August, 2005) The drivers know the roads well; the vans are clean and comfortable; and they take you from door to door.
Spanish is the main language in Costa Rica. All major newspapers and official business are conducted in Spanish. English is used widely in areas populated by international tourists, and information for tourists is often bilingual or exclusively in English. A number of businesses operated by European proprietors can accommodate guests in Spanish, English and their native languages.
Some Costa Rican expressions:
The local currency is Colón(es) named after Columbus (Spanish: Colón). The rate of change is about 492 Colones for 1 US Dollar (November 2005), but note that there is a growing inflation. You may find the current value at this currency conversion site (http://wwp.greenwichmeantime.com/time-zone/america/costa-rica/currency.htm). Also note that the use of US Dollars is quite common, in fact, in the tourist setting, almost everything is priced in Dollars.
You can find ATMs in most places. They normally dispense US Dollars and Colones.
The most common souvenirs are made from wood.
You might get a discount (usually around 10%) when paying in cash.
When paying with Travelers checks, unless for hotel nights, change them first at a bank. Expect long delays with Travelers checks at the bank, lots of stamping, the higher up the official at the bank the more stamps they have. Dollars are easier.
Gallo pinto is a mixture of rice and beans with a little culantro or onion thrown in. While more common at breakfast, it can also be served at lunch or dinner.
Casado, which means married, is the typical lunch in Costa Rica, containing rice and beans with meat, chicken or fish, always served with salad and fried plantain.
Be sure to stop off at a Soda along any of the roads: a casado and beer will cost ~$3.
Refrescos are beverages made from fresh fruit (cas, guanabana, sandia/watermelon, mora/blackberry, fresa/strawberry, granadilla/passion fruit), sugar and either water or milk. All sodas (mom and pop diners) serve these.
The national drink is called guaro, which is made from fermented sugar cane. It is similar to vodka, and is usually drunk with water and lemon.
The most popular beers in the country are Pilsen and Imperial: all bars and restaurants serve both. Bavaria, "Bavaria Negra" (dark) and Rock Ice are more expensive and therefore less common.
Hotels in Costa Rica are more expensive than in its neighboring countries to the north.
You can learn Spanish in Costa Rica. Reflecting the higher living standard, it's a little more expensive compared to other countries such as Guatamala but then again, the education level of your teachers will be much higher.
After Colombia, the Spanish spoken by the Costa Ricans is one of the clearest in the region.
A lot of the eco-projects are seeking volunteers.
The local newspaper, La Nacion, has an extensive jobs listing every Sunday and Monday.
The traffic is dangerous, so take care. Roads tend to have plenty of potholes.
It is very hot in the daytime, but in the morning and evening it becomes very cool--like the Japanese autumn--so, you should bring a heavy jacket.
have to talk about the surf!
Great Pacific surf and warm waters. Beat boards can be bought down there for ~$150. Same as NoCal. Bringing your own involves extra luggage charges, ~$80 so buy and resell if you're going for >5 days.
Pavones: second longest left in the world. Great spot. Very mellow. Good crowd and hard to get to. Expect long drive over unpaved road. Mind coming off the cable ferry. The offramp can ding your car.
Playa Hermones: Nice.
Playa Tamarindo: North, dry. Unpaved road: 50km/hr is optimum speed to hit resonance. Nice open beach break.
The international calling code/country code for Costa Rica is 506.
The primary means of outside contact are through email and public pay telephones.
Internet cafes are fairly easy to find in tourist areas, with prices all opver the place. Some of these offer long distance calls over the internet.
Public phones are accessed with calling cards (tarjetas telefonicas) which can be purchased at most shops, even in outlying areas.
There are two different types of pay-phones. The first variety are older, and have been mostly replaced by the newer variety. They accept change (coins) and allow for the dialing of toll-free numbers, which means international (you may bring them from home) calling cards may be used. However, it is highly recommended that you simply buy cards in Costa Rica, as they can be used from any phone, and are actually quite a good deal even when used to make international calls. If you need to call the US, bring a prepaid calling card from a phone company that has a toll free number to call the US from Costa Rica. All of the major US long distance companies have such numbers.
Within Costa Rica, all calls are local calls. There is no such thing as long distance charges between any two points in Costa Rica. There is a surcharge for calls made to a cellular phone.
Visit Costa Rica (http://www.visitcostarica.com/ict/paginas/home.asp?ididioma=2), official page of Costa Rica's Institute of Tourism