Traveling Luck for Costa Rica

Costa Rica is located in Central America, bordering both the Caribbean Sea and the North Pacific Ocean, between Nicaragua and Panama.

Costa Rica has borders with Nicaragua for 309km and Panama for 330km.

Land in Costa Rica is coastal plains separated by rugged mountains including over 100 volcanic cones, of which several are major volcanoes.

Costa Rican land covers an area of 51100 square kilometers which is slightly smaller than West Virginia

As for the Costa Rican climate; tropical and subtropical; dry season (December to April); rainy season (May to November); cooler in highlands.

Costa Rican(s) speak Spanish (official), English.

Costa Rican National Map

Costa Rican Map

Regions of Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a Central American success story: since the late 19th century, only two brief periods of violence have marred its democratic development. Although it still maintains a large agricultural sector, Costa Rica has expanded its economy to include strong technology and tourism industries. The standard of living is relatively high. Land ownership is widespread.


Costa Rica Country Profile

Costa Rica's basically stable economy depends on tourism, agriculture, and electronics exports. Poverty has been substantially reduced over the past 15 years, and a strong social safety net has been put into place. Foreign investors remain attracted by the country's political stability and high education levels, and tourism continues to bring in foreign exchange. Low prices for coffee and bananas have hurt the agricultural sector. The government continues to grapple with its large internal and external deficits and sizable internal debt. The reduction of inflation remains a difficult problem because of rises in the price of imports, labor market rigidities, and fiscal deficits. The country also needs to reform its tax system and its pattern of public expenditure. Costa Rica is the only signatory to the US-Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) that has not ratified it. CAFTA implementation would result in economic reforms and an improved investment climate.

Costa Rican natural resources include hydropower

four volcanoes, two of them active, rise near the capital of San Jose in the center of the country; one of the volcanoes, Irazu, erupted destructively in 1963-65

Costa Rican religion is Roman Catholic 76.3%, Evangelical 13.7%, Jehovah's Witnesses 1.3%, other Protestant 0.7%, other 4.8%, none 3.2%.

Natural hazards in Costa Rica include occasional earthquakes, hurricanes along Atlantic coast; frequent flooding of lowlands at onset of rainy season and landslides; active volcanoes.

Travel Advice on Costa Rica

Costa Rica

This advice has been reviewed and reissued with an amendment to the Summary.  The overall level of the advice has not changed.

SUMMARY

  • Around 18,000 British nationals visit Costa Rica every year.  Most visits are trouble-free.  The main type of incident for which British nationals require consular assistance in Costa Rica is to replace stolen passports and travel documents.

  • Incidents of violent crime against tourists are increasing.

  • The threat from terrorism is low but you should be aware of the global risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks, which could be against civilian targets, including places frequented by foreigners.

  • The rainy season in Costa Rica normally runs from May to November, coinciding with the hurricane season in the Caribbean.  Please see the Natural Disasters section of this Travel Advice for more information.

  • We strongly recommend that you obtain comprehensive travel and medical insurance before travelling.  You should check for any exclusions, and that your policy covers you for the activities you want to undertake.  Please see:  Travel Insurance


SAFETY AND SECURITY

Crime

There has been an increase in crime against tourists over the past few years in Costa Rica. Opportunistic theft of personal belongings, passports and travel documents is the main problem.  However, there has also been an increase in incidents of violent crime against tourists.  Gang muggings and armed robberies can occur even in daylight on busy streets.
You can reduce the risk of becoming a victim:
  • Do not wear jewellery or carry large amounts of cash. Avoid street moneychangers.  And avoid stopping in poorly lit or low-populated areas to make telephone calls or seek directions.
  • Watch your belongings carefully at all times and in all places.
  • Be particularly careful of your belongings when staying in hostels and hotels.  It is important that you lock valuable belongings, passports and travel documents in hotel safes where possible.  You should only leave your belongings in a safe for which you retain control of the key.  Keep the key on your person.
  • You should be vigilant when using buses.  Theft of bags from overhead compartments inside buses is a common problem and efficiently carried out.  Thieves have simple but effective ways of distracting a target.
  • Be particularly watchful of your valuables at the beach and in popular tourist destinations.
  • Avoid leaving unattended drinks in bars and places of entertainment.  There have been reports of "spiked" drinks resulting in assault and theft.
  • Only take official taxis.  Avoid using unofficial taxis – ‘taxi piratas’ - as several violent incidents involving tourists have been reported.  Official taxis are red with a triangular sticker and plastic box on the roof with the name and number of the taxi company.  Where possible use radio-dispatched taxis.  When getting into a taxi, ensure that the driver's identification number, name and photograph are clearly visible on the dashboard, and ensure that the driver indicates the meter.
Personal attacks, including rape and other sexual offences, are infrequent in Costa Rica, but there have been occurrences in 2006.  You are advised to maintain at least the same level of personal security awareness as in the UK We strongly advise lone visitors, in particular, never to accept lifts from strangers or passing acquaintances at any time.
Theft of, and from, cars is common.  Be particularly careful about leaving your valuables in hire cars and avoid leaving your belongings visible from outside the car.  It is a good idea to park in paid car parks, which have an attendant watching your vehicle.  Otherwise, park in well-lit or busy areas.  Use the car alarm, if fitted.  There have been incidents where slashed tyres have given thieves the opportunity to "assist" in changing tyres, while an accomplice steals from the car.  There has also been an increase in armed attacks on tourists leaving the airport in hire cars.
There has also been an increase in the number of short-term and opportunistic kidnapping, called "express kidnapping", occurring in Costa Rica.  Victims are normally selected at random and are forced at gunpoint to withdraw money from ATMs.  Once the ransom is paid the victim is usually quickly released.

Political Situation

Costa Rica Country Profile.

Local Travel

If you are visiting jungle areas you should be accompanied by experienced local guides.
If visiting volcanoes please pay strict attention to notices prohibiting entry to dangerous areas.  When there is the danger of eruptions the national park is closed to visitors until the danger has passed.

Road Safety

Road conditions are generally good on main routes, although potholes caused by heavy rains in the wet season are common.  Landslides in the wet season, which block the road between San José and Guapiles on the way to Limón are frequent and can cause delays.  However, they are cleared away quickly and there are longer alternative routes.  Drivers should be cautious when approaching bridges as these are often only one-way, even if the road is two-way.  Accidents in Costa Rica are usually caused by speeding or overtaking irresponsibly.  The standard of driving is lower than in the UK.  You should resist temptation to overtake without clear visibility and adhere to speed limits, as traffic police are strict.  If you have a collision when driving a car you must not move the vehicle, not even to the side of the road, until the traffic police have come to inspect it.  The Traffic Police (Transito) and the Insurance Investigator (INS) must come to the scene of the accident to complete accident reports.
Traffic Police (Transito) – 222-9330 or 222-9245
Insurance Investigator (INS) – 800-800-8000

However, you should be aware that there have been instances of deliberate traffic accidents as a means of stopping vehicles in Costa Rica, with the intention of committing robberies or other crimes against the victims.  If you have reason to suspect that the collision was a deliberate act by another driver to make you stop, you might decide it would be safer to drive on until you reach a place e.g a police station or a garage where it would be safer to stop.  In such circumstances it is essential that you are ready to explain your actions to the traffic authorities mentioned above.

Sea and River Safety

You should take special care when swimming from all beaches in Costa Rica but especially on the Atlantic coast.  Rip tides are very common.  There are normally no lifeguards.  You should seek reliable local advice.

Safety features on small boats are not always of a good standard.  If you plan white water rafting, you should arrange this with an established company.
Emergency Contact Numbers
Police Emergency - 911
Ambulance – 911 or 128
Fire Service – 911 or 118
Police Investigative Service – 911 or 22-1365 or 221-5337


LOCAL LAWS AND CUSTOMS

You should not get involved with drugs of any kind in any way as drug trafficking is dealt with severely.  Despite what people may say, the authorities are well trained and perceptive.  The minimum sentence is eight years imprisonment.


ENTRY REQUIREMENTS

British nationals do not require a visa to enter Costa Rica and can stay as visitors for three months.  If a longer stay is required or for employment, the Costa Rican Embassy, Costa Rican Representation in the UK, should be contacted for advice.  The immigration authorities are detaining foreigners who are undocumented or tourists who have overstayed.

Under Costa Rican law, children under the age of 18 born in Costa Rica are automatically considered to be Costa Rican citizens, even if travelling on a British passport.  Notarised written consent from both parents, or Costa Rican passport, is required in order to leave Costa Rica.  The nearest Costa Rican Embassy or Consulate should be contacted for further information on laws regarding the international travel of Costa Rican children.

Prospective residents should make applications in their country of residence as it is no longer possible to apply in Costa Rica although, having applied, you may enter the country and stay for three month periods until the procedure is finalised.


HEALTH

We strongly recommend that you obtain comprehensive travel and medical insurance before travelling.  You should check for any exclusions, and that your policy covers you for the activities you want to undertake.  Please see:  Travel Insurance

Only emergency medical treatment is available without charge for visitors.
Dengue fever exists in Costa Rica and is predominant in the rainy season.  Areas affected include the Central Valley and the Capital, San Jose.  Deaths from second infections have occurred.
Malaria is also endemic close to banana growing areas. In October and November 2006, there was a significant increase in the number of cases reported in Limon Province. Before travelling to Costa Rica, you should consult your doctor about suitable anti-malarial medication, and on arrival take adequate precautions against mosquito bites. More than three-quarters of British travellers who contracted malaria in 2005 did not take preventive measures, such as malaria prevention tablets.  However, malaria can occur despite appropriate prevention, and therefore you should promptly seek medical care in the event of a fever or flu-like illness in the first year following your return from travelling to a malaria risk country.  Before travelling you should seek medical advice about the malaria risk in Costa Rica.

You should seek medical advice before travelling and ensure that all appropriate vaccinations are up-to-date.  For further information on health, check the Department of Health’s website at:  www.dh.gov.uk

NATURAL DISASTERS

Hurricanes
The rainy season in Costa Rica normally runs from May to November, coinciding with the hurricane season in the Caribbean.  Flooding can occur and heavy rains or hurricanes can cause landslides (though roads are normally cleared quickly).  You should monitor local and international weather updates from the World Meteorological Organisation.  You can also access the National Hurricane Centre.  Please also see the Hurricanes on the FCO website for more detailed information about what to do if you are caught up in a hurricane.
Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions
There is the possibility in Costa Rica of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.  The last earthquake which caused damage in Costa Rica was in 1993, and the country experiences significant tremors from time to time.
Costa Rica has 16 volcanoes, 4 of which are considered active (Arenal, Poás, Irazú and Rincón de la Viaja).  Although there has not been serious or widespread damage caused by any of these for many years the possibility of eruptions always exists.  You should follow instructions in the national parks.  Do not go into the prohibited areas, which are clearly signposted.  Any warnings should be heeded seriously.


GENERAL

If things go wrong when overseas, please see:  What We Can Do To Help
Since many trips to Costa Rica are made via the United States, it is important to note that with effect from 26 October 2004, all passport holders who wish to enter the US under the Visa Waiver Programme (See Entry Requirements in the Travel Advice for the United States USA) must present an individual machine-readable passport.  Travellers without a machine-readable passport must obtain a non-immigrant visa from the nearest US Embassy prior to travel.  Should you need to replace your passport in Costa Rica, you should apply to the British Embassy.  For further details, in particular concerning children travelling on a parent's passport, please contact the US Embassy.