There are certain details about the Costa Rican everyday life that turn out very handy for tourists, as they affect directly travelers’ activities. Take a look at the following useful information so that you are not caught unaware once you are in Costa Rica.
By law, all hotels are required to add 13% sales tax to all room charges. In restaurants, a 10% gratuity and a 13% sales tax are added to the bill. You may give an additional tip if you feel the service was outstanding, but waiters’ tips are usually included in the 10% service tax. The airport departure tribute is USD $29 per person, and is payable at the airport upon departure. Bellboys at airports and hotels are usually tipped $1 per piece. Maids and housekeeping employees in the hotels will appreciate any tip you want to give in recognition of their effort. Tips for the tour guides and bus drivers usually depend on the length of the tour/ distance of the transfer, and the quality of the service. As a reference, group travelers usually tip $5 per person per day to the guides and drivers.
The electrical current throughout Costa Rica is 110 volt AC (the same as in USA). Outlets are 2-pronged. European travelers should consider bringing a voltage converter if they are planning to use 240/250-Volt AC powered items, such as electrical razors, hair driers, or camcorders battery chargers.
Telephone & Postal Services
Costa Rica has one of the most sophisticated telecommunication systems in the Americas. Many international long distance services are available, cellular or satellite phones can be rented, sending or receiving a fax is a fairly straightforward process, and internet cafés are widely available in the Central Valley and main tourist areas (beaches, mountain spots, inland towns) at relatively low costs (approximately $1 per hour in San José and surroundings, and $1.5 – $2 per hour in remote areas). Direct-dial service is efficient and available at most hotels; access to Internet and plug-in personal computers is available in international, business oriented hotels.
Post office services: the main building is located in downtown San José (Ave 1 & Street 1-3). You can buy stamps from Monday to Friday from 7:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Outside San José stamps are available only in “Correos de Costa Rica” offices. There are no mailboxes on the sidewalks, so you shall visit the post office nearest to you (during office hours) in order to get your mail sent.
All Costa Rican channels and Television Stations offer their programs in Spanish. Cable television from the US and Europe is available in most areas within the Central Valley, and is available in beach resorts and moderately priced hotels in the major tourist destinations within the country. There are more than 100 radio stations on both AM and FM dials. Daily newspapers are printed in Spanish, and there are two weekly publications in English as well as one in German. International newspapers from France, Spain, Germany, Italy and the United States can be found in specialized selling points in San José.
When you travel, take notice of these holidays. Museums, theatres and other culture & recreational centers usually close during holidays, or work on special schedules (are open less hours).
January 1st: New Year’s Day
April 11th (feast day of national hero Juan Santamaría): Commemoration of the battle of Rivas in 1856, in which Costa Ricans fought against North American Filibusters led by William Walker
Holy Thursday and Good Friday: Costa Ricans are very catholic, so you might have the chance to see some processions these days.
May 1st: Labor Day
July 25th: Guanacaste region (North Pacific) annexed to Costa Rica in 1824. During the colonial period it was an autonomous territory.
August 2nd: Our Lady of Los Angeles. Costa Ricans celebrate the day of the Virgin Patron, and go on pilgrimage to Cartago, where it is said that she appeared to a little girl in the colonial times (XVIIth Century).
August 15th: Mother’s Day. Unlike most North American and European countries, Costa Ricans do not celebrate Mother’s day in May.
September 15th: Independence Day. Central Americans from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica celebrate the Independence of Spain, which occurred in 1821.
October 12th: Day of culture encounters. On this day in 1492, Christopher Columbus arrived in the shores of the continent’s Caribbean Islands. The celebration is somewhat controversial amongst certain social/ethnic groups, especially aboriginals, but it is still a holiday. Carnivals are held in Port Limón.
December 25th: Christmas
Costa Rica is one of the safest countries in Latin America. Criminal activities tend to involve pickpocketing, and car breaking to steal luggage or personal objects. In San José you shall be particularly careful; be precautious also around beach areas. As a general rule, take care of your safety as you might do it in any big city around the world. Personal security often is a matter of common sense. Follow these simple guidelines to reduce risks as much as possible.
- When you are in San José, avoid having watches, bracelets, necklaces and earrings too visible.
- Do not carry large sums of cash with you
- Do not leave luggage inside the car
- If you walk along the streets in the main cities carrying a backpack, hold it in front of you and close to your body
- If you travel by public bus, keep an eye on your luggage, or have it put in the locked compartments
- If you are going out at night, ask the receptionist of your hotel to call a taxi cab of a recognized taxi cooperative
- If you are driving and your vehicle is bumped from behind, do not stop on the roadway or side road. Drive to the nearest public area (gas station, restaurant), and call the police for assistance
- If you are lost, stop at a gas station or public area to check your map before you continue
- The signals of emergency or police vehicles are blue or red, do not stop for flashing headlights alone.
- Park your car in well-lit areas, preferably in parking lots (you might have to pay in some of them, especially in San José).
- Be cautious when you enter ATM’s to withdraw money. Do not count it in front of other people.
- ALWAYS carry a photocopy of your passport with you.
- If you are harassed by a burglar or by a hostile individual, do not resist, do what they ask and avoid looking to this person in the eyes. Your belongings are not worth your life.
- Report every incident to the nearest police department.