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Costa Rica Travel Guide & Map to Quepos Manuel Antonio

Costa Rica, the smallest country located on the American continent, this little paradise boasts an amazing 5% of the world’s biodiversity. Located in Central America, Costa Rica serves as the bridge between the South American and North American land masses. Manuel Antonio National Park serves as the home to some 364 species of mammals, reptiles, birds, insects, and marine life, as well as numerous species of flora and fauna. Most of our rental homes are located only minutes from the beach town of Manuel Antonio, as well as only a short distance from the new Marina Pez Vela in the world-famous fishing port of Quepos. Manuel Antonio and Quepos sit in the heart of one of the richest ecosystems in the world and both are easily accessible by air or land from Costa Rica’s capital city, San Jose.

Costa Rica is famous for it’s impressive natural beauty, vast network of National Parks, Reserves and protected areas, the social stability (no army since 1949), high educational levels, and efficient infrastructure and services. All these characteristics are found in a territory roughly the size of the state of West Virginia, with easy access to both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Traveling from coast to coast takes only 3 to 4 hours by land or 45 minutes by air.

Costa Rica’s strategic position between North and South America, the government’s positive attitude towards foreign investment, its well-developed infrastructure, access to international markets, and labor quality and cost, make Costa Rica an ideal place to establish commercial operations, as well as making it a tourist haven. Over the last decade Costa Rica has successfully established itself as a regional tourism industry leader. Looking to further strengthen its image as an attractive tourism destination, the country has continued to promote nature and recreational tourism while emphasizing peace and harmony with nature and the protection of it’s natural resources.

Visas: Citizens of the United States, Canada, and most western European and Latin American nations do not need visas to enter Costa Rica. A current passport valid for a minimum of 6 months after the first day of your entry is mandatory to enter Costa Rica, and all visitors must have a round-trip ticket to be permitted into the country. You are allowed to drive with your normal driver’s license for a period of 3 months. All visitors should carry copies of their passports while traveling throughout the country, including their immigration entry stamp and the originals should be stored in safe places while exploring the country. (We recommend storing a copy online where you can access it in case of emergency.)

Departure: All travelers must pay a departure tax of approximately USD $30.00. Kiosks are found at both ends of the departure terminal, or you may pay the tax at most branches of Banco de Costa Rica (be sure to take your original passport) prior to arriving to the airport for your international departure.

Costa Rican time remains the same year round, 6 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time. Stores generally are open Monday through Saturday from 8 or 9 a.m. until 6 or 7 p.m. Some close for lunch any time between 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. Most Government offices are open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Banks are open weekdays, usually from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., or noon until 6 p.m., and some are open on Saturdays. Private banks tend to have more flexible hours and ATMs are readily available throughout the country.

Costa Ricans are a fairly mixed group of people, with the majority of the country’s more than 4 million inhabitants being descendants of Spanish immigrants. Many families originated in other parts of Central America, Europe, Asia, and Africa and in some lowlands, as well as some mountainous regions a high percentage of people are “mestizo” — possessing a mixture of European and Indigenous blood. Along the Caribbean coast, most inhabitants are of African lineage, and full-blooded Indians of various tribes inhabit much of the Talamanca Mountain Range.

Costa Ricans are commonly known as “Ticos,” as they often use the diminutive form of words to be more courteous or friendly. However, they tend to use “-ico” (example: one moment is “momento” or as they say, “momentico”) instead the more common “-ito” (“momentito”). Although “-ico” is a correct form of the diminutive, it is rarely used in other Spanish-speaking countries, so you will likely only ever hear that in Costa Rica. Hence, people from other countries started referring to Costa Ricans as “Ticos”, a nickname they wear with pride!

Ticos are famous for being very friendly and are quite happy to live up to this reputation when approached by visitors. They are a polite, well-educated, and gregarious people, who are quick with a handshake, always share a smile, and are known for their great sense of humor. They are well aware that their country is a special place and they take pride in sharing this with visitors, pointing them in the right direction when they get lost, explaining things that might seem strange to a foreigner, and helping make their visit to Costa Rica as enjoyable as possible. It is said that Ticos are the nation’s greatest asset, and once you’ve experienced their friendliness and jovial personalities you will more than likely agree.

Female visitors should realize that Costa Rica is still a bit of a male-dominated society where “machismo” can still be found. Do not be offended by the forwardness or whistles of some men. Consider it a compliment, as Ticos love women of all ages and sizes, and their attention is for the most part harmless.

  • Population: 4,810,179 (2012)
  • Population by gender:

Men: 1.902.614 – 49.94%
Women: 1.907.565 – 50.06%

Like all Latin American countries, Costa Rica is predominantly Catholic, but churches of other denominations are easily found throughout the country and there is a welcome sense of religious freedom.

Costa Rica is a progressive society, known for its peaceful tolerance and social consciousness, and is one of the oldest democracies found in the Americas. Being incredibly far-sighted, the leadership of the late 1940s demilitarized the country, disbanding it’s standing army in favor of providing for its citizens the fundamentals of equality, justice, liberty, and freedom. Even before the installation of a democratic constitution and the rejection of an active military, Costa Rica’s leaders historically provided for the health and welfare of the people. Universal health care, agricultural reforms, and low income housing programs were all in effect before the turn of the century, reflecting the country’s true heart and serving as an excellent example for other Latin American countries to follow.

For minor illnesses, prescription drugs, and emergency first aid, pharmacies are generally very competent and most have a Doctor on staff. You should, however, bring any medication you usually take at home along with a copy of the prescription. Anything more serious can be treated at local private health centers or in the vast network of government or private hospitals. Pricing is considerably cheaper than most developed nations, and the care is outstanding.

According to the World Health Organization, Costa Rica has one of the best health care systems in the world. Evidence of this is the country’s infant mortality rate, which is continually dropping while life expectancy increases.

The National Social Security System operates the majority of hospitals throughout the country. This system, established to provide universal healthcare can often be a bit tedious, though these same institutions provide worker disability, maternity, and senior citizen benefits to all its citizens or anyone in need. The impressive amount of Private Hospitals now catering to foreigners and “medical vacationers” can be found in all corners of the country, though most can be found in the Central Valley near the capital of San Jose. Many diseases common to third world countries have been successfully treated and prevented and some have been almost eradicated, such as malaria, yellow fever, leprosy, and tuberculosis. Costa Rica’s state-of-the-art facilities, the availability of technical equipment, and the high level of medical expertise have allowed the country to successfully offer heart and liver transplants, cosmetic surgery, and modern dental work at prices a fraction of what you would pay in the USA.

Often referred to by its residents as the “Land of Eternal Spring,” Costa Rica’s mild climate is the envy of many northern visitors who often choose to spend their winter months in our warm paradise. Although often mistakenly referred to as summer, Costa Rica’s dry season runs from December to April, and a rainy or “green” season runs from May to November. Being located near the equator, seasonal changes in Costa Rica are not as dramatic as they are in countries on more extreme latitudes, and even in our “rainy” season the bulk of the rain falls at night or in the late afternoons. Visitors should be beware that transitional months can often bring tropical surprises and the rainy season is not necessarily “always” wet, but since it is never cold this rarely slows anyone down. July invariably brings a temporary abatement to the afternoon rains and, in general, mornings are sunny and clear thoughout our low season months. Because of the varied topography, Costa Rica boasts a wide range of microclimates with temperatures descending as altitudes rise, so travelers who plan to explore different parts of the country should take that into account when packing.

During the dry season, San Jose and other Central Valley towns enjoy a fresh and breezy climate requiring a jacket or sweater in the evenings, while Guanacaste’s arid interior can get extremely hot during the day. Rain can occur throughout the year in high mountainous areas, rainforest locales, and above all in the Caribbean lowlands where downpours can last for several days or break into brilliant sunshine after a couple of hours. The area of Manuel Antonio and Quepos is known for its agreeable weather throughout the year.

Local currency is the colon (colones in plural). Coins range from 5c to 500c, and paper money from 1000c to 50,000c. The colon is floated against the U.S. dollar, which is the currency worth bringing and is widely accepted throughout the country. Many establishments will not accept $100 bills due to currency fraud, so bring smaller denominations. Dollars can be exchanged for local currency at banks using your original passport. Many banks have a special counter for foreign exchange (cambio), but it is recommended to not change money at the airports where the exchange rate is less than favorable. Long lines are not uncommon in Costa Rica when changing money though, so you may prefer to just use your dollars which is what most travelers now do. Euros are not common in Costa Rica and can only be exchanged at larger banks.

Credit cards are accepted in many tourist establishments, car rental and tour agencies, and most — but not all — hotels and restaurants. VISA is the most popular credit card, with MasterCard and American Express widely accepted as well. Be sure to always inform your credit card company that you will be traveling in Costa Rica to avoid a security block on your card at the time of use.

Although you will rarely see someone in Costa Rica with their hand out, tipping is common and though not expected, it is greatly appreciated since tourism workers most often depend on tips to supplement their income. Restaurants automatically add by law a 13% tax and a 10% service charge to all consumption, so tipping is not essential in these establishments, although it too is appreciated if the service was particularly outstanding. Service in Costa Rica runs at a much more laid-back pace, so your experience will be more enjoyable if you know this in advance and embrace “Tico Time”. It is also helpful to know that in restaurants, it is common to have to ask for the check at the end of your meal. This is just a cultural difference, as the “Ticos” consider putting the check on your table as a hint that they need the space so it’s time for you to leave, so visitors will be much less frustrated if they request “la cuenta por favor” when they are ready to depart.

Visitors to Costa Rica will be happy to know that it is very easy to travel this country without speaking a lick of Spanish. Most Ticos have an excellent grasp of the english language or are not shy about doing their best to communicate with you. If you speak a little Spanish, this is the perfect place to practice, as Ticos have an infinite amount of patience and enjoy the challenge of practicing their english with you as well!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. What should I plan to pack for my vacation to Costa Rica?

Although easily purchased here, prices are much higher, so you should consider the following items for packing:

  • Sunglasses
  • Swimsuit
  • Hat
  • Sunscreen
  • Insect repellent
  • Light raincoat
  • Umbrella
  • Light jacket or sweater and long pants (San Jose nights can get chilly)
  • Clothing for hiking, touring, etc. (70-90 degree weather)
  • Good tennis shoes or Hiking Boots (if you will be in the mountains)
  • Sandals (Usually both flip flops and Teva style sandles)
  • Day pack (fanny pack or light backpack)
  • Passport Valid for at least 6 months (plus 3 copies for traveling)
  • Driver’s license if you will be renting a car
  • Credit cards and cash
  • Drugstore items (especially prescriptions)
  • Camera and plenty of space on digital chips

2. Will I need much when I pack?

Pack light as domestic flights have strict weight limits of approximately 25 lbs and honestly this is a very casual country and you will NOT need a lot to enjoy yourself in this beautiful country.

3. I'm used to my busy pace of life at home. What should I expect in Costa Rica?

Customer service is much more relaxed here. Be patient and take it easy, and you will definitely enjoy your Costa Rican experience.

4. I am considering renting a car. Is there anything I need to know?

Visitors are permitted to drive with a valid driver’s license from their issuing country for a period of 3 months. However, local traffic practices are less ordered and getting a ticket in this country can be very expensive, so be careful when driving and follow the laws and traffic signs! For your convenience, Costa Rica maps & driving directions can be requested from the car rental agencies or we are happy to send you detailed driving directions to not only our vacation rental homes, but also other areas of the country.

5. Is there a high crime rate to worry about?

Petty theft or crimes of opportunity are the most common crimes in Costa Rica. Your status as a tourist makes you an easy and obvious target, so using common sense is best. Use your home’s safe deposit box and do not leave belongings unattended at any time be it at the beach, in your car or leaving them in plain site in your rental home or hotel. Also, it is a good practice to keep valuable items in front pockets and purses within reach and sight, including while dining and there is no need to wear expensive jewelry while in Costa Rica. Also, never leave valuables or luggage unattended in public places or in rental cars if you can avoid it. Other precautions to keep in mind….it is best to be wary of individuals hanging around ATMs or overly friendly persons that might want to help you fix a suspicious flat tire on your car. Most Ticos are very friendly, but use your better judgement and keep your eyes open so your luggage does not dissappear while your attention is elsewhere.

6. Will my digital devices work in Costa Rica?

Internet and Cell Phone coverage is much more limited and slower in Costa Rica, so patience is a virtue. Costa Rica works with the GSM and 3G cell networks, but it is best to check with your carrier before traveling to this country. Roaming charges can add up quickly, so always check that your roaming is turned off. Also, cheap SIM cards can be purchased at the ICE kiosk at the international airport, so travelers may want to consider just bringing a cheapy cell phone while traveling in this country.

7. Is the water potable in Costa Rica?

Water is considered potable throughout Costa Rica and most people use the same precautions they would use in the USA when washing or eating vegetables, salads, ice creams, etc. However, if you are a delicate traverler, you may choose to stick to bottled water.

8. Are Costa Rican electrical outlets the same?

Yes, the electrical outlets in Costa Rica are the same as the USA. European adapters are easily purchased in bigger towns, or our European visitors may choose to bring their own to be on the safe side