Language: Whilst there are still a few people who only speak their indigenous languages, Spanish is the main language of Costa Rica with English being widely understood.
Visas: British passport holders do not require a visa to enter Costa Rica, though if you fly via the USA, the ESTA is compulsory.
Health: There are no compulsory vaccinations required to enter Costa Rica.
When to go: Much of Costa Rica is covered by rainforest so you can expect rain most of the year round. The dry season on the Pacific coast runs from December to April, with the Caribbean coast tending to be drier from March through to August. Costa Rica is a fantastic destination for the majority of the year, with September and October being the only two months we would suggest not travelling.
Getting there: There are no direct flights from the UK. Iberia flies from Madrid to San José and a number of US airlines fly on a daily basis via their hubs in the USA.
Time zone: GMT -6 hours
Costa Rica is a well-known destination for green holidays and is particularly great for wildlife enthusiasts because it contains half a million species representing 4% of the world's entire biodiversity! The National Park and Reserve system is also a leading example for the rest of the world, with over 25% of the country's total land mass being protected. There are approximately 32 national parks, 51 wildlife refuges, 13 forest reserves and 8 biological reserves in Costa Rica. These parks range from the 200,000 hectares of La Amistad National Cloud Forest to the Caribbean’s immensely biodiverse Tortugero National Park, one of the world’s most important areas for the green sea turtle.
Whether you want to dive with hammerhead sharks, study hummingbirds or spend time with the creepy-crawlies in the rainforest, Costa Rica really does boast an incredible array of wildlife. Furthermore, the country is so reliant on, and understanding of, its unique biodiversity that it has developed some fantastic examples of low-impact tourism. Costa Rica has created tourism infrastructure based on the protection of its natural heritage and nearly everyone you meet will have fascinating insights into the sights and sounds of this beautiful country.
Costa Rica’s history has been shaped by its location in between North and South America. Whist there are very few archaeological remains to be seen anywhere in the country, it is known that some areas were affected by the Mayans and the Aztecs from the North, whilst the Caribbean region was known to have traded with South America.
As with its neighbours, Nicaragua and Panama, but unlike other countries in Latin America, Costa Rica’s predominant influence has long been European, which is reflected in everything from the official language — Spanish — to the architecture of the country's churches and other historic buildings. The indigenous influence is less visible, but can be found in everything from the tortillas that make part of a typical Costa Rican meal, to the handmade ceramics sold at roadside stands.
An important aspect of Costa Rica's cultural legacy is their love for peace and democracy. Almost unheard anywhere else, Costa Rica abolished its army in 1948 deciding to spend the excess money on improving the standard of living for its people.
Ever since its civil war in the late 1940s, Costa Rica has been overshadowed by the more ‘colourful’ politics of its neighbours, Nicaragua and Panama. It is a generally peaceful country and whilst Costa Rican democracy is still dominated by the old family élites, there is a common acceptance of popular protest. Costa Ricans (Ticos) have a strong pride in their passive politics and their stability compared to their neighbours. In 1950, one in two Ticos lived below the poverty line while today the number is one in five; and in 1950 average life expectancy was less than 50 years, while today it is over 75 years.
As President Oscar Arias said in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, ‘we seek peace and democracy together, indivisible, an end to the shedding of human blood, which is inseparable from an end to the suppression of human rights.’ A fairly unique point of view, not only for Central America but for the world.