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Costa Rica

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Costa Rica is a small country in Central America bordered by Nicaragua to the north, Panama to the south, the Pacific Ocean to the west, and the Caribbean Sea to the east.

Regions

Cities

Due to Costa Rica's topography and historical development, most economical growth has been concentrated in the Central Valley of the country which includes four cities: San José (capital), AlajuelaCartago and Heredia. Provincial capitals (Liberia, Puntarenas and Limón) and other towns with strategic locations have regional importance, esspecially for tourism. Some of Costa Rica's most important cities for travelers are:

  • San José - The capital.
  • Alajuela - location of Juan Santamaría International Airport
  • Cartago - Costa Rica's first capital
  • Jacó - the Central Pacific coast's largest city, among incredibly biodiversity and natural beauty, famous surf spot
  • Heredia - Coffee plantations
  • Liberia - Location of Daniel Oduber International Airport and gateway to the beaches of Guanacaste, such as SamaraNosara, Carillo
  • Puerto Limón - Main city on the Caribbean side
  • Puerto Jiménez - Small city and the hub for the South Pacific corner of Costa Rica
  • Quesada - the largest city by far in the country's North, surrounded by hot springs popular with Costa Rican vacationers; known locally as "San Carlos"

Other destinations

  • Arenal Volcano - active volcano
  • Cahuita National Park
  • Chirripo National Park
  • Cocos Island National Park
  • Corcovado National Park
  • Manuel Antonio National Park
  • Monteverde and Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserves
  • Rincón de la Vieja Volcano National Park
  • Tortuguero National Park

Understand

Since the late 1980s Costa Rica has been a popular nature travel destination, and its main competitive advantage is its well-established system of national parks and protected areas, covering around 23.4% of the country's land area, the largest in the world as a percentage of the country's territory, and home to a rich variety of flora and fauna, in a country that has only 0.03% of the world's landmass, but that is estimated to contain 5% of the world's biodiversity. The country also has plenty of world renowned beaches, in the Pacific Ocean and in the Caribbean Sea, within short travel distances between the coasts by air and land, and also several active volcanoes that can be visited with safety.

By the early 1990s, Costa Rica became known as the poster child of ecotourism. According to the Costa Rican Tourism Board, 46% of international tourists visiting the country in 2009 engaged in activities related to ecotourism, including trekking, flora, fauna, and bird watching, and visits to rural communities. However, most visitors look for adventure activities, which Costa Rica offers as well. Costa Rica was included by Ethical Traveler magazine in the 2011 and the 2012 list of The Developing World's 10 Best Ethical Destinations.

Costa Rica has managed to stay away from the political turmoil and violence that neighbouring nations still suffer from. The nation constitutionally abolished its army permanently in the 1940s. It is the only Latin American country included in the list of the world's 22 oldest democracies, and is a peaceful and politically stable nation. Costa Rica has consistently been among the top Latin American countries in the Human Development Index, and is cited by the UN Development Program as one of the countries that has attained much higher human development than other countries at the same income levels.

Costa Rica is ranked third in the world and first among the Americas in terms of the 2010 Environmental Performance Index. And the New Economics Foundation (NEF) ranked Costa Rica as the happiest nation in the world in 2009 and in 2012. NEF ranked Costa Rica as the "greenest" country in the world.

This nation has bewilderingly diverse culture, climates, flora, fauna, and landscapes. From rain forests, to dry tropical and temperate forests, to volcanoes, to Caribbean and Pacific beaches, to high mountains, and marshy lowlands.

The name Costa Rica means 'Rich Coast' in Spanish.

History

While Costa Rica shares much of its history well into the 19th century with the other central American states (and in fact gained independence on the same day as Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala) which is still visible in the blue white blue basic flag of all these countries (Costa Rica simply added a red stripe in the middle of the white one), there are some notable differences. The most visible today is that in Costa Rica European settlement mostly occurred in the Central Valley, which led to it becoming the economic and political heart of the country and the ancestry decidedly European. While the political climate until the short civil war of 1948 (won by José Figueres Ferer, who would later be president for three separate times and is one of Costa Rica's most influential politicians) was not all that different from the rest of Central America (think coups and rigged elections) it has since bettered a lot and all elections since 1949 were peaceful and up to international democratic standards. One reason for this is that Figueres upon taking over abolished the military and Costa Rica is still one of only a handful of countries without one, leading to fewer coups and more money for education and social programs. This however has led to Costa Rica being hugely influenced by the USA and being one of America's closest allies in the region.

In the 1980s almost all of Central America was embroiled in civil wars and shaky unpopular governments. Costa Rican President Oscar Arias Sanchez made a peace proposal that got almost all sides in war-torn Nicaragua to sit together and talk and achieved a lasting peaceful solution and democratic elections in 1990. However Nicaragua-Costa Rica relations have deteriorated in recent years and dominated the political agenda of Arias Sanchez' second term in the 2000s. Rio San Juan, which belongs to Nicaragua but is situated at the border, became a hot button issue. One point of contention were Nicaraguan drainage operations on the river which Nicaragua claims was to ensure safe shipping, but Costa Rica claims illegally entered their territory (Nicaragua pointed to google maps in their defense). Another point of contention is whether Costa Rica has to pay a fee for tourist excursions on the river - Costa Rica claims an old treaty guarantees both countries free navigation of the river, whereas Nicaragua maintains the only thing the treaty says is that Costa Rican ships may transport "goods" without paying a fee and people are not, in fact, goods. The whole situation was made worse by Arias Sanchez' successor Laura Chinchilla who insisted on building a controversial highway right next to the river over Nicaraguan protests, which Nicaragua claims not only harms Costa Rican nature reserves but might also overload the river with sediment. The whole issue is further complicated by a number anywhere from several hundred thousand to a million Nicaraguans living in various states of legality in Costa Rica. They are not always treated all that well. However, signs of reconciliation are also made from both sides and a new bridge now crosses the Rio San Juan near San Carlos (Nicaragua) enabling overland transport towards Los Chiles and both countries do see each other as "pueblos hermanos" (brother peoples) if sometimes bothersome and annoying brothers.

Geography

Costa Rica is located on the Central American isthmus, lying between latitudes 8° and 12°N, and longitudes 82° and 86°W. It has a total of 1,290 kilometers (800 mi) of coastline, 212 km (132 mi) on the Caribbean coast and 1,016 km (631 mi) on the Pacific.

Costa Rica borders Nicaragua to the north (309 km or 192 mi of border) and Panama to the south-southeast (639 km or 397 mi of border). In total, Costa Rica comprises 51,100 square kilometers (19,700 sq mi) plus 589 square kilometers (227 sq mi) of territorial waters.

The highest point in the country is Cerro Chirripó, at 3,819 metres (12,530 ft); it is the fifth highest peak in Central America. The highest volcano in the country is the Irazú Volcano (3,431 m or 11,257 ft). The largest lake in Costa Rica is Lake Arenal.

Costa Rica also comprises several islands. Cocos Island (24 square kilometers/9.3 square miles) stands out because of its distance from the continental landmass, 300 mi (480 km) from Puntarenas, but Calero Island is the largest island of the country (151.6 square kilometers/58.5 square miles).

Near 25% of Costa Rica's national territory is protected by SINAC (the National System of Conservation Areas), which oversees all of the country's protected areas.

Flora and fauna

Costa Rica is one of the world's most popular destinations for eco-tourists because of its biodiversity. Costa Rica has the greatest density of species in the world, and around 25% of its national territory is protected by a system of conservation areas and national parks. It has been stated in various places that Costa Rica may contain as much as 6% of the world's plant and animal species in an area the combined size of the U.S. states of Vermont and New Hampshire. Tropical plant and animal species abound in Costa Rica. Some of the more impressive plants range from huge ficus trees with epiphytes abounding on their limbs to approximately 1500 different orchids. The animals are equally as impressive, whether it's a jaguar (the largest cat in the New World), the ever-elusive Margay, or the wonderful birds like the green or scarlet macaws (lapas in Costa Rican Spanish). The amphibians are also quite impressive; the poison dart frogs with their bright colors are bound to catch your attention, or the giant cane toads.

Climate

Because Costa Rica is located between 8 and 12 degrees north of the Equator, the climate is tropical year round. However, the country has many microclimates depending on elevation, rainfall, topography, and by the geography of each particular region.

Costa Rica's seasons are defined by how much rain falls during a particular period and not to the four seasons to which the residents of the temperate latitudes are accustomed. The year can be split into two periods, the dry season known to the residents as summer, and the rainy season, known locally as winter. The "summer" or dry season goes from December to April, and "winter" or rainy season goes from May to November, which almost coincides with the List of Atlantic hurricane seasons, and during this time, it rains constantly in some regions.

The location receiving the most rain is the Caribbean slopes of the Central Cordillera mountains, with an annual rainfall of over 5000 mm. Humidity is also higher on the Caribbean side than on the Pacific side. The mean annual temperature on the coastal lowlands is around 27°C, 20°C in the main populated areas of the Central Cordillera, and below 10°C on the summits of the highest mountains.

Holidays

  • 1 January - New Year's Day (Año Nuevo)
  • 19 March - St. Joseph (Dia de San José)
  • Maundy Thursday / Good Friday - (Jueves y Viernes Santo)
  • 11 April – Day of Juan Santamaria (commemoration of the Battle of Rivas 1856)
  • 1 May – Labour Day (Dia del Trabajo)
  • 25 July – Guanacaste Day (Anexión de Guanacaste)
  • 2 August – Day of the patron of Costa Rica Our Lady of the Angels (Virgen de los Ángeles)
  • 15 August - Mother's Day (Dia de la Madre)
  • 15 September – Independence Day (Dia de la Independencia)
  • 12 October - Columbus Day (Dia de la Raza)
  • 25 December - Christmas (Navidad)

Festivals

People

Most of the people of Costa Rica are called "Ticos". Compared to many other Latin American countries, the indigenous population and their culture is small and less visible. Other notable minorities are the Afro-Costa Ricans on the Caribbean side of the country and many first or second generation Nicaraguan immigrants.

Get in

Most visitors can get into Costa Rica without a visa and can stay in the country for 90 days. Costa Rica requires Indian citizens to have a valid visa when they arrive. However, people of any nationality holding valid US, Canada, Japan, South Korea or Schengen visa do not need a prior visa. The only conditions being that the visa must be valid for 3 months and should be stamped in your passport.

Before traveling, verify the entry requirements in effect with TimaticWeb or with a Costa Rican consulate. If you have a somewhat unusual passport/visa combination, make sure to allow extra time for check-in (especially if flying with a minor airline, like InterJet, which may not have a TimaticWeb subscription, or whose staff may not know how to use it).

The entry requirements include having a return ticket. If you are doing a multi-country trip, and the return air ticket to your home country is from an adjacent country, such as Panama or Nicaragua, that would usually satisfy the immigration authorities and the airline check-in staff; nonetheless, if traveling on an itinerary like this (especially with an "unusual" passport), it may be safer to purchase a fully refundable ticket directly from Costa Rica, and cancel it once no longer needed.

Word of caution to Nicaraguan citizens traveling through the airport of San José: the thirty day tourist visa for Nicaraguans permits only one single entry. if you have a flight from San José going elsewhere make sure to double check with the embassy otherwise they will make you buy an extra flight and not let you in.

Costa Rica requires valid Yellow fever certificate if arriving from countries where that disease is prevalent (such as Panama and most South American countries). If such is not presented you would not be allowed to enter/board the flight. At Bogota airport - if you have certificate you can have it emailed to the airline and then proceed to the local vaccination authority for duplicate certificate to be issued free of charge. The critical part is to get the printed version on time. If you don't have certificate or cannot get it on time you will probably be approached by friendly police officers to arrange such for a fee. Keep in mind that the date of the vaccination should be at least 10 days prior entering the country from which you are flying.

Another way to get to Costa Rica that many people are unaware of is traveling by car and driving the Pan-American highway that stretches from Alaska all the way to the southern tip of South America (with a gap in the Darien Gap, in Panama/Columbia) - it is credited with being 27,197 miles long and passes right through Costa Rica.

By plane

Juan Santamaría Airport (IATA: SJO) is located close to the cities Alajuela (3km), Heredia and the capital San José (25km).

SJO is being remodelled, and in July 2009 its operation was taken over by the same organization that runs the airports in Houston, Texas. An otherwise pleasant airport features the normal assortment of duty-free shops, interesting souvenir and bookshops, but an inadequate selection of restaurants (Church's Chicken, Burger King, Poás Deli Cafe and Papa John's pizza). SJO is served daily by Air Transat (seasonal) American Airlines, Canjet (Seasonal), Condor, Delta, Frontier Airlines, Iberia, Interjet, JetBlue Airways, Thomas Cook, Spirit Airlines, United, Air Canada, Avianca, Copa Airlines and AirPanama. Connecting the airport with cities such as: Los Angeles, New York, Houston, Dallas, Miami, Philadelphia, Charlotte, Atlanta, Phoenix, Orlando, Chicago, Newark, Toronto, Montreal, Madrid, Frankfurt, Mexico City, Bogotá, Medellín, Caracas, Lima, Guayaquil, Quito and all Central American capitals.

There is a US$32 exit fee at the Juan Santamaría Airport. This must be paid in cash, or by Visa (in which case it will be processed as a cash advance). The fee can also be paid in advance at some hotels or banks (Banco Crédito Agrícola de Cártago and Banco de Costa Rica).

The exit fee is being progressively added to the ticket fee by many airlines, using the following schedule, the fee is already included if tickets purchased after:

  • June 2015: American Airlines, Avianca, Copa, Delta, Jet Blue, United.
  • November 1, 2015: Air Panamá
  • December 1, 2015: Aeroméxico
  • December 15, 2015: Air Canada
  • No date given: Air Alaska, Air Costa Rica, Condor, Cubana, Iberia, Southwest, Spirit, Veca, Volaris

Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport (IATA: LIR) is near Liberia in the Guanacaste province. This airport is closest to the Pacific Northwest coast. Liberia receives flights from Delta, American, United, JetBlue, Air Canada, CanJet (charter), Sun Wing (charter), and First Choice (charter). Connecting the airport with Atlanta, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Houston, Dallas, Newark, Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, London, etc. The new terminal is open and is a wonderful addition to this airport.

Tobías Bolaños International Airport (Spanish: Aeropuerto Internacional Tobías Bolaños) (IATA: SYQ) is in the Pavas district of San José about a 10-15 minute drive from the city center. This airport primarily serves as the gateway linking to local Costa Rican domestic flights or nearby international destinations of Nicaragua and Panama. This airport is the hub for Nature Air. The terminal is neat, and clean though small. There is reasonably priced cafeteria style food service on the second floor of the terminal. The terminal is not open 24 hours a day so if you have an early flight verify what time the building opens before you take the taxi. There is no comfortable place to wait near the terminal if you arrive too early.

By car

The Interamericana (Pan-American 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 (closes at 10PM, Costa Rica time or 11PM, Panamá time). Virtually all travel out of the capital (except to the Caribbean side) will involve traveling this road. The locals call the highway "Via Muerta", and after you have been on it a while you understand why — near San José and other major cities, the road is paved and has excellent signage; outside of the major cities, however, the road is gravel in places with fairly tight turns and substantial changes in elevation. You will see more large truck traffic on this road than in any part of Costa Rica. There are many speed traps along this major artery, as well as some random police checks for seat belts and, especially near the borders, for valid travel documents.

The highway speed is 80 km/h, but since the Interamericana (a.k.a. Highway #1) passes through innumerable small towns, the speed frequently drops to 50 or even 30 km/h as you suddenly find yourself in a school zone. Most of the highway is not divided. A common indicator that a police checkpoint is ahead is that oncoming cars flick their lights at you. New laws that went into effect in 2010 have greatly increased the fines; it used to be a maximum of about US$20; there are now tickets that exceed $400 for attempting to bribe an officer, and other big-ticket tickets for drunken driving, speeding, and other illegal actions including talking on a cell phone and not using seat belts. Be nice to the police if you are pulled over because, as a result of the new laws, it is possible for them to "throw the book" at you, although they generally do not. This could mean citing you for minor offenses that the new laws have instituted, such as the requirement that every car carry an emergency kit. New laws have also now enforced a 3-year prison sentence for driving with a 0.8 blood alcohol level and a $480 fine. Driving over 20 km/h over the speed limit is a $310 and losing 20 points. Police now tend to target tourists because they think that Costa Ricans don't have the money to pay the big tickets, and they're right. The police themselves earn about $500 per month, which is the average monthly wage in Costa Rica.

The good news is that there is a new highway known as Autopista Del Sol (Highway of the Sun) that stretches from the beaches around Orotina all the way into San Jose. This highway is smooth as U.S. or European highways. It was constructed by a company that is based in Spain. There are tolls along this highway but if you travel the entire stretch it will still only come out to be a few dollars in total. In 2011, problems were found with this highway and parts of it are sometimes closed for repairs.

Many Costa Rican roads are in terrible shape, and short distances can take a very long time. Even the only road in and out of popular tourist destinations are riddled with major potholes. To avoid potholes, drivers will often snake through the left and right lanes, usually returning to the right when oncoming traffic approaches. While this may seem erratic, you can become quickly accustomed to it. If you see a tree branch or pole poking out of the middle of a road, that is a "sign" that there is a deep sinkhole, pothole or manhole without a cover. Stay away from it.

Driving at night is highly inadvisable, due to the unpredictability of road conditions and lack of safety features such as guard rails on the many hairpin turns in the hills. To put safety in perspective, Costa Rica's per capita traffic death rate is comparable to that of the United States, but there are undeniably many hazards, and they are likely to be unfamiliar ones.

Many roads are unpaved, and even the paved roads have lots of unpaved sections and washed out or unfinished bridges. Bridges are often only wide enough for one vehicle; one direction usually has priority. Do not expect to get anywhere quickly; supposed three-hour journeys can turn into five or more hours easily: there are always slow cars/buses/trucks on the road. This causes 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!); 50 km/h is good over unpaved roads. Some hotels located in the mountains require a four-wheel-drive vehicle to reach the destination. Call ahead. This is more for the ground clearance than the quality of the road. Four-wheel-drive vehicles are widely available at the car rentals near the airport, but call ahead.

Navigation can prove challenging. Road signs are relatively few, and those that do exist can be inaccurate. It is recommended that you have a good road map with the small towns listed, since road signs will often only indicate the next town, not the direction of the next major city. Towns generally do not have town-limit signs; it is best to look at the names on the roadside food stores and restaurants to determine the place you are passing. Stop and ask, practice your Spanish. The center of town is usually a public park with a Catholic church across from it.

There are no formal street addresses in Costa Rica, but two informal systems exist. The first (often used in tourist information) indicates the road on which the establishment is located (e.g., "6th Avenue"), together with the crossroad interval (e.g., "between 21st and 23rd Streets"). In practice, street signs are virtually non-existent, and locals do not even know the name of the street they are on. The second system, which is much more reliable and understood by locals, is known as the "Tico address", usually involving an oriented distance (e.g., "100 meters south, 50 meters east") from a landmark (e.g., "the cathedral").

It is worth noting the particular road naming system in San Jose. Avenues run east-west and streets run north-south. The numbering is less straighforward. Starting at Central Avenue going south are 2nd, 4th, 6th Avenue, etc. while going north are 1st, 3rd, 5th, etc. Streets use even numbers going west, and odd numbers going east. This means that if you are at 7th Avenue and 4th Street, and looking for 6th Avenue and 5th Street, you are on the wrong side of town.

Gas stations are full-service and the guys there are very cool about taking dollars or colónes. The interesting thing is that Costa Rica is small so you do not burn a lot of gas getting places, even though it seems like forever. Costa Rica is also a land of traffic circles, so people from Europe should have no problem, but North Americans should make sure they know how they work. The gas stations really are full-service, and you can have your oil checked, water filled, and tire pressure topped off. The state owns a gasoline company and the private companies raise their prices to the level of the state-set price. It is recommended to always use super gas and not regular; the regular gas is soiled. If you use the "regular" gas, you will have to change the gas filter and clean the injectors after 5000 miles.

By bus

There are bus services from the neighboring countries of Panamá, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Mexico and Guatemala.

There is an extensive network of bus routes within the country with reasonable fares. Departures are very punctual, though routes often take longer than expected. Stop by the Tourist Office downtown (underneath the Gold Museum in the Plaza—ask anyone and they'll be able to help you out). The bus system is a safe and even fun way to see a lot of the country cheaply and not have to worry about car rentals. Getting around without Spanish is no problem.

San José has a remarkably large number of bus stations for a town of that size; bus departure points occasionally change. Make sure to double check the location of the terminal for the bus you want to take.

By boat

There is twice daily boat service from Los Chiles (in NE Costa Rica), former home of the Contras, to San Carlos, Nicaragua. The cost is about US$9 (payable in dollars, colones or Nicaraguan cordobas), plus a $1 fee. The boats usually leave San Carlos at 10:30AM and 4PM.

Small ship cruises carrying fewer than 100 passengers begin in Panama and end in Costa Rica or reverse. These cruises visit popular National Parks such as Manuel Antonio but also visit remote beaches and coastline not accessible by road. Prices range from US$2000–$6000 per person for 7-10 day tours.

Larger cruise ships occasionally dock or anchor at Puerto Caldera and Puntarenas for a day or so, usually to begin, end or continue cruises with itineraries through the Panama Canal to or from Caribbean or U.S. ports.

Get around

Keep in mind that Costa Rica, although it has established official street names in most cities for governmental purposes, most of the population is unaware of these names and if they are known, most streets will lack proper signs stating said names. Asking for directions from a local could result in a tedious and difficult conversation as said directions are given out based on a common or well known building, store, office or other landmark in order to find what you are looking for. As such, you would need to know important landmarks and their locations well enough to be able to get around more easily.

Keep in mind that "cien metros," or 100 meters are commonly used to refer to a city "block," which are usually 100 meters, but in some cases could be more or less. However, despite what the exact distance is, many locals tend to use 100 meters or a city block when giving out directions.

GPS Maps

  • OpenStreetMap contributors produce Garmin compatible maps that are open source and constantly updated, if possible, contribute back the tracks of your trip to the project.
  • Free GPS maps from the Cenrut project. The Cenrut maps can be loaded on Garmin devices, iPhones and Android phones.
  • Waze, the smartphone application is a favorite among Costa Ricans as a GPS with real time updates on traffic.
  • Google Maps on a cell phone or tablet can be a useful tool to locate Points of Interest (POIs) or devise a route to a destination, but it doesn't offer turn-by-turn routable directions in the area yet.

Road conditions

For the most part, Costa Rica's roads are paved but have minimal upkeep. Also, there are many narrow bridges scattered around the country. Exercise caution when traveling during the rainy season as some roads can be washed out or flooded in low-lying areas. If you plan on traveling into the mountainous regions like Monteverde, 4WD or AWD vehicles are strongly recommended. These roads are NOT paved and can be slick due to the consistent rainfall. Rockfalls and landslides are common and guardrails are sparse. Also, visibility can be low around the cloud forest areas so use caution.

Public bus

Most major tourist destinations in Costa Rica are served by at least two daily buses from and to San José. The advantages of public transportation in Costa Rica are that tickets are cheap (rarely more than US$7 US per person) and they cover most towns around the country. However, nearly the entire bus system is based on routes in and out of San José and this can add significant travel time. The buses are also not booked with a reservation system so it is possible to not have a seat on popular routes. However, many do have assigned seats once you buy a ticket at the station and so get there early to be sure you get your bus.

In San José there is not one central bus station, but rather several different ones, with each station roughly serving a different area of the country, with some exceptions. For example, most of the service to the Caribbean side of the country leaves from the Terminal Gran Caribe. Direct service to the far south Caribbean coast is provided from the Puntarenas bus station, which mostly serves the west side of the country. Still, you can still get to the Caribe side by taking a bus (on the Autotransportes Caribeños? line) from the Terminal Gran Caribe to Limón, and then transferring there to another bus south (the Mepe line). In short, do some research beforehand so you don't get lost looking for your bus. Often you can just call or email your final destination (e.g. your hotel) and they will tell you what bus to take, where to catch it and how often it runs.

Rental car

One great advantage of renting a car is that you can visit many of the secluded beaches and mountain areas. And with the power of the Internet, you can now rent just about any vehicle online and have it waiting for you when you arrive.

For US$350-700 a week you can rent an econocar/mid size 4WD. Insurance is the majority of this cost and it is not optional. Four-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. Four-wheel-drive was also useful on the Nicoya coast. (Above based on 2001 roads.) It's often possible to rent a car with a local driver from the various tour companies, if driving yourself seems a bit daunting.

Due to the condition of most roads outside San Jose, car insurance, even with a zero-deductible option, generally does not cover tires and rims. Car rental companies require a guaranty deposit from US$750 during the rental period and a credit card is necessary for this process. Using an insurance program provided by some types of gold or platinum credit cards is a good advantage, since these credit cards would cover small scratches, small dents as well as the entire rented vehicle in case of collision or theft.

You have to exercise caution when renting a car in Costa Rica; where it is not uncommon for rental companies to claim "damage" they insist you inflicted on the vehicle. It is by far the best policy to rent a car through a Costa Rican travel agent. If you are traveling on a package, your agent will sort this out. Otherwise, go into an ICT-accredited travel agent in San Jose and ask them to arrange rental for you. This should be no more expensive than renting on your own and will help guard against false claims of damage and other accusations; rental companies will be less willing to make trouble with an agent who regularly sends them clients than with individual customers who they may not see again.

Make sure to check the car carefully before you sign off on the damage sheet. Check the oil, brake fluid, fuel gauge (to make sure it's full) and that there is a spare tire with a good air pressure and a jack. Look up the Spanish word for "scratches" (rayas) and other relevant terminology first, so you can at least scrutinize the rental company's assessment. Ask them to write down all the minor damages, not just check on the drawing, and keep a copy of this document with you.

Take the maximum insurance (around US$15–20 per day); because of the country's high accident rate, you need to be covered for damage to the vehicle, yourself, any third party and public property.

Rental motorcycle

For about US$420 a week, depending on the bike and the season, you can rent a dual sport bike or a chopper. A motorcycle rental company requires a guaranty deposit from US$600 during the rental period.

Taxi

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$29 per person, for example, to get from San José to Tamarindo in April 2007) The drivers know the roads well; the vans are clean and comfortable; and they take you from door to door.

Taxis are available in most large cities. They are usually inexpensive, charging only a few dollars to get most anywhere within the city. The meter is called "la maria"; ask the driver to turn it on immediately upon getting in the car, or he may leave it off and make up his own, more expensive, price when you get to your destination. Also try checking it wasn't running before you got in, the initial fare shouldn't be higher than ?600. Most drivers know familiar routes such as San Jose to Santa Ana and you can find the rate by asking "Cuanto para ir a _____" and he will tell you the flat rate. This can keep you from paying too much because the driver will not make unnecessary detours. Official taxis are red with a yellow triangle on the side. They also have yellow triangles on the side of the car which will have a number in it. If the number matches the number listed on the license plate, it is an official taxi. Do not get in if the numbers do not match. "Pirate Taxis", though sometimes cheaper, are not safe. Do not risk it. If you are alone, especially. If you are female, ride in the back seat, as riding in the front with the driver can be seen as suggestive. Caution should be exercised when using this service, extra caution. It's not recommended to ride non-red cabs.

Hitching

Hitchhiking is far more common in rural areas than in urban areas. If you choose to hitchhike, Costa Ricans are generally very friendly and helpful, particularly in more rural areas where traffic on the dirt roads can be light. As always, be gracious and offer a bit of money, which will probably be declined due to the kindness.

By plane

There are two main internal airlines that connect the major tourist towns, NatureAir and Sansa. You are limited to 25 or 30 pounds of carry-on luggage per person, depending on the airline. Nature Air allows more luggage per person, as their planes are larger and are also twin-engine. Neither of them will carry a longboard and both limit the number of short surboards they will carry. Be sure to check with airline for current limits on length of boards allowed.

By train

While the train service was closed in 1995, the Incofer (Costarrican Railway Institute) remained operational and is putting the abandoned rails to use again in the San José metropolitan area. Train service still suffers from decades of neglect and only rarely is a train faster or cheaper than a bus, but new lines and improvements to existing lines (mostly for commuters in and around San José) are planned for the near future.

There are two services, the fee is around ?500

Talk

Spanish is the official and most spoken language in Costa Rica. All major newspapers and official business are conducted in Spanish. English is used widely in most areas, especially those frequented by tourists, and information for visitors is often bilingual or even exclusively in English. A number of businesses operated by European proprietors can accommodate guests in Spanish, English and their native languages.

Some Costa Rican colloquial expressions:

  • Mae or sometimes "Maje" is used akin to the American English word 'dude'. Generally spoken among the male population, or among friends. It is as informal as the word 'dude'. Mae is mostly used by the younger population and Maje by the older population. It is pronounced 'maheh'.
  • Pura vida, literally translated as "pure life," is an expression common to Costa Rica. It can be used in several contexts, as an expression of enthusiasm, agreement, or salutation. It's pronounced 'poora veeda'.
  • Tuanis, means "OK" or "cool." Was believed to be taken from English phrase "too nice", but it is actually a word borrowed from the Código Malespín, a code developed for communication during the various Central American civil wars in the XIX century.

A prevalent version of slang in Costa Rica, and other regions of Latin America, is called "pachuco", "pachuquismo" or "costarriqueñismo" and is used by all social classes (to some degree), however, it can be at times vulgar and is considered an informal way of speaking.

For the word "you", (singular informal form), Instead of "tú", most people of the Central Valley use "vos" (as in "vos sos" - you are) which is also common to other Latin nations (Argentina, Uruguay), but the word "usted" is prominent in south Pacific Costa Rica and preferred over "vos". Either way, formal Spanish is understood and you may use any form of the word "you" you consider proper.

Costa Ricans tend to use the term Regálame, literally "gift me", instead of "get me". An example is when a Costa Rican says: "regálame la cuenta", literrally "gift me the bill", which is unusual to other Spanish speaking countries, however, it is a very common Costa Rican term. Another such case might be when Costa Ricans go out to buy something, in which case they might use the term this way: "Regáleme un confite y una Coca", literally, "Gift me a piece of candy and a Coke", but it is understood that the person asking is going to buy said things and is not expecting the other to gift him or her those things. A more precise phrase in standard Spanish would be: "Me vende un confite y una Coca", meaning: "Sell me a piece of candy and a Coke".

Limonense Creole (Mekatelyu)

As well as Costa Rican Spanish, there is also an English-based Creole language spoken in Limón Province on the Caribbean Sea coast of Costa Rica. It is called Limonese Creole or Mekatelyu. This Creole language is essentially a localized form of Jamaican patois, and is similar to varieties such as Colón Creole, Miskito Coastal Creole, Belizean Kriol language, and San Andrés and Providencia Creole. The name Mekatelyu is a transliteration of the phrase "make I tell you", or in standard English "let me tell you".

See

Wildlife

Costa Rica is world famous for having an incredibly high level of biodiversity throughout its tropical forests (this covers what you may hear referred to as rain forests, cloud forests, and dry forests). There are tropical mammals such as monkeys, sloths, tapirs, and wild cats as well as an amazing assortment of insects and other animals. There are many many birds (both migratory and resident) - more on that below. With 25% of the country being national parks and protected areas, there are still many places you can go to see the abundant wildlife and lush vegetation of the country. Just like anywhere, the farther you get off the beaten path, the more likely you are to see a wide variety of flora and fauna.

There is such biodiversity in Costa Rica not only because it's a land bridge between North and South America, but also because the terrain is so varied and there are weather patterns moving in from both the Pacific and Atlantic/Caribbean. There are impressive volcanoes, mountain areas, rivers, lakes, and beaches all throughout the country. There are many beautiful beaches - most of the popular ones are on the Pacific side but the Caribbean has many excellent beaches as well.

Bird-watching

One of the most wonderful activities for people who love nature is bird-watching. You can enjoy bird-watching in many areas of Costa Rica. Due to the great diversity of climates, temperatures and forest types in Costa Rica, there is a wonderful variety of birds, with over 800 species. Some helpful books available on bird-watching are Birds of Costa Rica by F. Gary Stiles and Alexander Skutch (Cornell University Press) or An Illustrated Field Guide to Birds of Costa Rica, illustrated by Victor Esquivel Soto. These books can be found at certain bookstores in San José or before coming to Costa Rica. They are both heavy books; many people tear out the plates of the Stiles & Skutch book to carry into the field and leave the rest of the book in their car or room. Plastic cards with the most common birds are available for many areas and are sold at gift shops.

Costa Rica's list of birds includes:

  • 16 species of parrots including the fabulous scarlet macaw.
  • 50 species of hummingbirds.
  • 10 species of trogons with the resplendent quetzal as the jewel.
  • 6 species of toucans, including the keel-billed and chestnut-mandibled.
  • Half the bird species in Costa Rica are passerines including warblers, sparrows and finches.
  • 16 species of ducks, including the fulvous whistling, white-faced ruddy and American wigeon.
  • 13 species of falcons, including the peregrine falcon, merlin and American kestrel.
  • 36 species of prey, including the gray hawk, swallow-tailed kite, solitary eagle and northern harrier.
  • 6 species of cracidae which look like turkeys.
  • 8 species of new world quails.
  • 15 species of rallideas including the rufous-necked wood-rail, American coot and ruddy crake.
  • 19 species of owls including the black-and-white, Costa Rican pygmy, Central American pygmy and striped.
  • 3 species of potoos including the great, northern and common.
  • 16 species of woodpeckers, including cinnamon, chestnut-colored and pale-billed.

The coastal list of birds includes:

  • 19 species of herons & wading birds such as the great blue heron, great egret, boat-billed heron, reddish egret and yellow-crowned night-heron.
  • 2 species of recurvirostraide which are waders and include the black-necked stilt and American avocet.
  • 2 species of jacans including the northern and wattled.
  • 34 species of scolopacidae including the short-billed dowitcher, spotted sandpiper, wandering tattler, surfbird, and red phalarope.
  • 9 species of gulls including the gray, Heermann's and ring-billed.
  • 14 species of sternidae (terns) including the gull-billed tern, Forster's tern, least tern and white tern.
  • 4 species of vultures including the king vulture.
  • 24 species of doves and pigeons.
  • 11 species of swifts including the black, spot-fronted and Costa Rican.
  • 6 species of kingfishers including the green, Amazon and American pygmy.
  • 5 species of threskiornithidaes including the roseate spoonbill and white-faced ibis.
  • 2 species of ciconiidae including the wood stork and jabiru.

Good bird-watching spots include:

  • Monteverde Cloud Forest has more than 400 species of birds, including resplendent quetzals.
  • Tortuguero National Park has 300 species of birds.
  • Santa Rosa National Park has more than 250 species of birds.
  • Cahuita National Park has toucans, parrots, rufous kingfishers; the park is on the beach.
  • La Selva Biological Station in the northern lowlands has 420 species of birds.
  • Helconia Island has 228 species of birds.
  • Corcovado National Park has 400 species of birds and 1,200 scarlet macaws.
  • Huedal Nacional Terraba-Sierpe has a myriad of birds along the coast and swamps.
  • Carara National Park has 400 species of birds.
  • Tárcoles has 400 species of birds and great river tours highlighting crocodiles.
  • Whale Marine National Park has frigate birds, boobies, ibises and pelicans.
  • La Amistad National Park has 500 species of birds including resplendent quetzals.
  • Manuel Antonio National Park has 350 species of birds and three lovely beaches.

Most hotels and tourist information centers will provide bird-watching guides, maps and other essentials for bird watching. Unless you are an experienced neotropical birder, it can be a lot more productive to go out with an experienced birding guide. Do not forget to bring a hat, rain gear, boots, binoculars and camera. In hot areas, an umbrella can be more useful than a poncho or jacket. Southern Costa Rica is generally considered the better option for bird-watching.

Volcanoes

Costa Rica is a geologically active nation. Most notable volcanoes are:

  • Arenal, (Spanish: Volcán Arenal): an active stratovolcano with lava domes and daily eruptions near La Fortuna.
  • Irazú, (Spanish: Volcán Irazú): an active complex stratovolcano situated in the Cordillera Central close to the city of Cartago. The last eruption was in 1994.
  • Poás, (Spanish: Volcán Poás): an active stratovolcano in central Costa Rica close to Alajuela. It has erupted 39 times since 1828. The last eruption was in 2012.

Do

Beaches

Costa Rica is a country with an extraordinary wealth of things to do, but regardless of your travel interests, you're going to want to spend time at one of the country's many great beaches. The Pacific coast's main beaches are located in the Central Pacific region, the Nicoya Peninsula, and in Guanacaste. Less visited but no less beautiful beaches are located in the tropical rainforest of the southern Pacific coast near Corcovado National Park, or on the exotic eco-tourism paradise of the Caribbean side in Limón Province.

In an overview, the Caribbean region of Costa Rica stands out for its variety of aquatic ecosystems and its beautiful white and black sand beaches, providing an ideal setting for activities such as sport fishing, snorkeling, and sun bathing. The Pacific coast concentrates big tourist centers and its beaches are very popular for surfing; for example EsterillosJaco, Hermosa, Boca Barranca. In the Golfito region, surfing fans can find the famous "long lefthander wave" of Pavones.

Here is a quick list of the country's biggest and most popular beach destinations, ask the locals to find tiny quiet beaches off the beaten path nearby:

  • Manuel Antonio — one of the best well know destinations in Central America, its main feature is a beautiful and tiny National Park with clear water beaches and lots of wildlife
  • Jacó — the "city of surf" of Costa Rica, holds national and international tournaments and it is conveniently located with beautiful wildlife spots such as Carara National Park to the North and Manuel Antonio to the South. Also known for its nightlife and restaurant scene.
  • Corcovado — one of the most diverse and nature dense spots in Costa Rica, the main attraction in Osa Peninsula, with black sand beaches fronted by the thick Costa Rican tropical rain forest
  • Dominical — surfing destination with a small town and good nightlife scene in the North end of the South Pacific
  • Montezuma — the bohemian option, on the Nicoya Peninsula, full of dreadlocks, surfers, and what you would expect would come along with them (known as "monte fuma" by the locals)
  • Playa Grande — this tranquil white sand beach is home to the largest nesting site for the leatherback sea turtle on the Pacific coast, as well as, one of the best surfing waves in the Guanacaste Province
  • Tamarindo — the upscale option, with beautiful beaches complemented by boutique shopping and high class dining
  • Tortuguero — caters to eco-tourists looking to explore the rainforest and spot some manatees, monkeys and birds. Tortuguero is both a small town only accessible by boat, but also the name of the National Park, dubbed "the Amazon of Central America"
  • Puerto Viejo — the main hub of Costa Rica's South Caribbean, has a nice laid-back vibe with small hotels and beautiful light sand beaches. Close by you can find Cahuita National Park and Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, attractive coastal protected areas

Rafting

Costa Rica is one of the countries with more rivers per square kilometer than anywhere else in the world. Nearly anywhere you go you will find some kind of river trip to enjoy nature from a very unique point of view.

There is a wide variety of exciting rafting trips offered in Costa Rica. For many years, the rafting Mecca of Costa Rica was Turrialba, a large town embedded in the mountains near the Reventazon and Pacuare Rivers, on the Caribbean slope of Costa Rica.

However, the Arenal Volcano area is now an increasingly-popular whitewater rafting destination with close access to the Sarapiqui and Toro Rivers, as well as the Class II-III Río Balsa which delight rafting enthusiasts in the Northern slopes of the country.

On the Pacific slope, the river with the largest volume, El General, is famous for multi-day adventures and for being an incredible playground for kayakers. The Coto Brus River is also part of this watershed. Further north, on the central Pacific coast, are the Savegre and Naranjo Rivers. In this area you have the opportunity to enjoy both half-day trips on the Naranjo River and 1-to-2-day trips on the Savegre River.

The Class III-IV Tenorio River near Canas, Guanacaste is a favorite among day-trippers from the beaches of Guanacaste, as well as part of shuttle-tour-shuttle services from the Arenal Volcano and Monteverde to the Guanacaste area. The lower section of the Tenorio River is widely-known for being an excellent nature float trip.

The Pacuare River (Class III-IV) is at the top of the list for 2- or 3-day adventures. If you are interested in similar trips, the Savegre River (Class III-IV) is an excellent alternative for an overnight rafting excursions.

If you want more adrenaline, the Chorro Section (Class IV+) of the Naranjo River, near Manuel AntonioQuepos is one of the most exhilarating rafting trip of the country. This section is run from December to May.

As for nature-oriented trips, the Peñas Blancas River near the Arenal Volcano provides a great look at the tremendous biodiversity of the country.

Most likely, any of these rafting trips will be the highlight of your active vacations, so don’t miss your chance to paddle one.

Fishing

Costa Rica has some of the best Sport Fishing in the world and is the first country to practice catch and release fishing. The Pacific side has incredible fishing for Sailfish, Marlin, Dorado, Tuna, Wahoo, Roosterfish, Snapper, and more. The Caribbean side and Northern regions of Costa Rica are famous for big Tarpon and big Snook. Over sixty-four world records have been caught in Costa Rica. Half day, Full day and Multi-Day Trips are available. They love to eat turtles.

Surf

Costa Rica has many surfing hotspots. The best time of year to surf is from November - August.

The Pacific coast, particularly in the Central Pacific and Guanacaste, has some of the best surfing in Central America.

In the Guanacaste region, there are several beaches to choose from if you intend to go surfing. Among them, Playa Negra and Playa Grande are two stand out breaks. Playa Negra breaks over a shallow lava reef producing fast hollow waves for advanced surfers only. Playa Grande is the most consistent break in the area with surfable conditions most days of the year. It breaks over a sandy bottom and is good for beginner and experienced surfers. Playa Nosara is another option for beginning to intermediate surfers. It's waves could be a little overwhelming for a complete novice, but for someone who has a beginning grasp on the technique, it is a nice place with a good local scene.

Tamarindo is a good beach to learn how to surf, whilst Playa del Coco offers advanced surfers the chance to surf at Witches Rock and Ollie´s Point. On the Caribbean side there are beautiful beaches, but limited surfing prospects.

The southern Costa Rica area has two very good spots for surf: Dominical and Pavones Beach. Pavones Beach has thick, heavy waves which consistently barrel and can get really big. It's little known, but picturesque and untamed; Definitely not for the light hearted.

In the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, Montezuma has one of the most beautiful beach breaks in the area, called Playa Grande. It's a short eastward walk from Montezuma village. The break is great for all surfers.

Biking

Costa Rica has great mountain biking routes, particularly near Irazu, Turrialba and Arenal Volcanoes. There is popular dirt road that connects Irazu Volcano and the foothills of Turrialba Volcano that is perfect for mountain biking, as it traverses the mountain and presents great views of the Cartago Valley (weather permitting, of course).

The area around Lake Arenal is also a great spot to bike. You can circle the lake in one long day, or break up the ride in two sleeping in Tilarán or Nuevo Arenal. The use of mountain bikes is a must, since the southern shore of the lake is unpaved.

The Nicoya Peninsula also has great riding, particularly the stretch between Sámara, Puerto Coyote and Malpais. There is a coastal road that connects these three beachtowns.

Golf

Costa Rica is also known as a haven for some of the most lush, tropical golfing environments in the world. At any course, you can expect to an ensemble of exotic, indigenous animals; jungle; mountainous terrain; and a surreal, blue ocean painting a brilliant, seclusive experience.

Courses are located in 3 major areas of Costa Rica: Guanacaste, San Jose and Mid Pacific. Due to road conditions, you should check the driving times between courses.

There are many tournaments during the year that any traveler can participate in. Most courses offer shoe and club rentals.

Other active and extreme sports

Wind surfing in the Tilarán area is some of the best in the world.

"Canopy tours" or ziplines are very popular tourist activities and are found all over Costa Rica. These typically cost between US$30–$50 depending on the company and use a series of zip-lines to travel between platforms attached to the trees, through and over the forest canopy and over rivers. The person is secured with harnesses to the metal cords, as some go very high off the ground. Be sure to ask about the zipline certification before booking and be sure to take part in the safety briefing before participating.

Another form of canopy tour is via an aerial tram which are ski lifts modified for the rainforest. These trams are slower allowing the visitor to view wildlife in the canopy. Each tram has a guide who will explain the flora and fauna. The trams exist at adventure parks near Jaco Beach and just outside Braulio Carrillo National Park and are appropriate for all ages. The trams may be combined with ziplining and often have other attractions such as medicine gardens or serpentaria so guests may learn more about Costa Rica.

Buy

Money

The local currency is the Costa Rican colón (plural, colones) CRC named after Christopher Columbus (whose name was Cristobal Colón in Spanish) sometimes shown locally as ? and sometimes shown using the more commonly available US cent symbol '¢' or ?.

Money exchange is provided at most banks, however it is recommended to do so at the state banks, especially the Banco Nacional, since they have lower rates. There is also a money exchange service at the airport, but it is outrageously expensive. But note that the use of US dollars is quite common; in the tourist setting, almost everything is priced in US dollars (but sometimes prices are cheaper in colones). When a price is quoted in "dollars", the speaker may be thinking of a dollar as 500 colones; so it is always worth checking whether this is what is meant. When paying with US dollars, you may receive change in local currency; thus, if you are about to leave the country and don't need colones any more, make sure to have small-denomination US dollar bills.

You can find ATMs in most places. They normally dispense US dollars and colones. With Visa you get money at almost all ATMs. If you have a MasterCard try the ATMs in the AM/PM supermarkets, they give you up to ?250,000 (~US$500). Another option are the ATH-ATMs but they just give you up to ?100,000 (~US$200) each transaction. EC-Cards (European) are accepted at all ATMs. The limit is usually set only by the card. In addition, drawing money with your EC-Card will almost always give you a better exchange rate than changing cash in a bank. Around payday, the 15th of the month, ATMs can be emptied of cash, especially in small towns like La Fortuna or Quepos, and some cards may not work.

It is also very common to pay even small amounts by Visa or MasterCard with Amex much less common.

You might get a discount (such as between 5% and 10%) when paying in cash, but it is not common enough to be expected. Also, it is not really necessary to get colones at the airport because you can pay everywhere in US dollars and receive colones as change. Most places except the smallest restaurants take credit cards and many places including the gas stations take American Express.

Traveler's checks are rarely used. When paying with traveler's checks, unless for hotel nights, change them first at a bank. Expect long delays with traveler's checks at the bank, lots of stamping, the higher up the official at the bank the more stamps they have. Dollars are easier.

Shopping

The most common souvenirs are made from wood. Unless it's marked as responsible (plantation grown wood), it is most likely not and may be contributing to the deforestation of Costa Rica — or even Nicaragua or Panama!

Most visitors returning home are not allowed to bring back any raw foods or plants. Accordingly, the single most desirable commodity for visitors to take home may be roasted (not green) coffee, considered by many as some of the world's best. Numerous web sites explain the fine qualities of various growing regions, types of beans, types of roasting and sources for purchase. Best prices come by purchasing several (sealed) bags of 12 ounces or so. Experts recommend buying whole beans (entero) in any kind of storage; whole beans last longer, and Costa Rican ground coffee often contains sugar, as it is preferred by locals. The stores in San Jose airport will sell you excellent coffee, but other good quality blends can be found in local supermarkets and direct from the roasters. It can be an expensive but delicious habit. If you're serious about your coffee, bring at least a partially-empty suitcase and fill it with perhaps a year's supply (web sites explain how to store it that long). Take care with tourist outlets where small quantities may cost as much as ordering on the Internet.

Eat

Costa Rican cuisine can be described as simple but wholesome. The spiciness often associated with Latin America has typically originated in Mexico, most Costa Rican foods are not spicy, but, as they simmer in a large pot, the flavors are blended.

Gallo pinto is a mixture of rice and beans with a little cilantro 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.

Plato del dia, is the 'Plate of the Day' and is often a Casado, but has the meat or fish selection of the day. Usually around 5.00 USD and includes a natural juice.

Good, fresh fruit is abundant in variety and low in cost. Mercados provide an excellent place to sample fruit and other Costa Rican fare, with many including sit-down snack bars. You are encouraged to experiment because some of the local fruits do not "travel well" as they are bruised easily and or have a short shelf life. The mango found in store in North America are much more fibrous and less sweet than the mangos found in Costa Rica. The fingerling bananas are much more creamy and less tart than the ones found in North America.

Be sure to stop off at a rest stop along any of the roads: a casado and beer will cost ~$3.

Don't forget to try the Salsa Lizano that you will surely find at any restaurant. It is a mild vegetable sauce that has a hint of curry and is slightly sweet. It's often referred to as Costa Rican ketchup. It is something of an acquired taste but Ticos eat it with almost anything. Bring some home with you! You can find smaller sized bottles at any market.

Also, as per usual in Central America, standard breakfast fare is rice and beans.

Vegetarians will find it surprisingly easy to eat well in Costa Rica.

Don't forget to tip tour guides, drivers, bellboys and maids. Restaurant bills include a 10% gratuity but leave an extra tip for good service. North Americans often get better service because they are used to tipping separately, but it's not necessary.

The beef cattle are raised on grass; the meat will taste differently from corn fed cattle. The cuts of meat at the local restaurants are also different. The taste of chicken is not discernibly distinct.

Drink

Most places have potable water, so don't worry about drinking tap water. Bottled water is also available at low prices.

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. You can also easily buy the standard international soda pops. 'Fresca', 'Canada Dry' and the local 'Fanta Kolita' (fruit punch) are recommended.

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. Note that it's not a very "clean" liquor, so exercise caution.

There are approximately 8 different national beers available (and most international), which are sold in cans, bottles and even kegs. The most common beers in the country are Pilsen and Imperial: all bars and restaurants serve both. Bavaria, "Bavaria Negra" (dark) and Bavaria Light are considered higher quality but more expensive, Rock Ice and Rock Ice Limón (lemon flavor) has a higher alcohol percentage and is less common in rural areas. Heineken is locally made under license and is more expensive as well.

Ready-to-drink coffee is excellent and considered (again) to be among the best in the world.

Sleep

You can find many places to stay all over Costa Rica, including hotels, aparthotels, condos, vacation rentals, and cabinas. Vacation Homes, Cabinas, and Condos can be less expensive than hotels and provide more flexibility in your adventure to Costa Rica. Costa Rica is known as a world leader for eco and sustainable travel and accommodations are often listed as 'eco-lodges'. They do tend to be more expensive though the government does have a well functioning certification program. Be careful of so called "motels." In Costa Rica as well as much of Latin America this term tends to refer to places more associated with short term stays by couples looking for a little privacy. The rooms are often rented by the hour.

Learn

You can learn Spanish in Costa Rica. Reflecting the higher living standard, it's a little more expensive than other countries such as Guatemala, but then again, the education level of your teachers will be much higher.

Costa Rica is a great place to learn Spanish as the "ticos" have a dialect that is easy to understand and digest for someone just starting to learn the language. There are many language schools that provide intensive instruction with group classes lasting 4 hours per day, Monday to Friday. Almost all Spanish schools will also offer host family accommodations and possibly some alternative such as a student residence or discounted hotel rates.

The key factor when going to study Spanish in Costa Rica is to decide what is the right location for you. The beach locations tend to be on the touristy side so they do not necessarily give the greatest immersion experience, however there are many Spanish schools near the beach as students like to split their time between studying Spanish in the classroom combined with activities on the beach or just relaxing on their time away from work. There is a growing trend of these Spanish schools at the beach also offering Surfing or Photography classes due to the environment around the school and the proximity to good surf.

Studying in the San Jose area has many benefits. There is the luxury aspect of city life since it tends to be much more modern than the rustic beach locations. Host families and Spanish schools tend to have nicer facilities. The school Academia Tica [1] offers good courses and personal service and is located not only in San José but also in Jacó Beach. San Jose also has fewer tourists so it is great from an immersion point of view as you can practice your Spanish in a setting where people are not automatically switching to English to accommodate your native language. It is much better that you struggle with your Spanish and force your brain to think in a different language so your communication becomes much smoother.

There are also a number of language schools that can be found throughout the Central Valley, particularly in Heredia and its surrounding cantons. These language schools typically offer only Spanish to foreign students from the United States and Europe but some, including the Instituto Norte Americano in Heredia, offer Spanish to foreign students, and English and Mandarin to local ones. Many of these language schools are also instrumental in helping the surrounding community, either through monetary donations or educational opportunities that otherwise may not have existed for the local Costa Rican population. Schools such as IAC (Instituto de Apredizaje de Costa Rica) in Manuel Antonio, La Escuela Armonia in Guanacaste, as well as the Instituto Norte Americano in Heredia have frequently acted as educational hubs for their surrounding communities, giving free English classes to teachers of nearby schools and helping to raise money for worthy causes.

Some hostels offer packages that include Spanish lessons and daily home-stays with the locals (in addition to your room and board).

Costa Rica is also a good place to become proficient in ocean sports like surfing and scuba diving. There are numerous surf shops, that provide surfing lessons and surf camps throughout the coastal areas.

Work

The local newspaper, La Nación, has an extensive jobs listing every Sunday and Monday. You must be a resident or be sponsored by a company to work legally in Costa Rica. ESL teachers can find work in Costa Rica with Bachelor`s Degree and a TESOL certification. ESL teachers can expect to earn CRC226,700-566,750 (monthly) and will usually teach 8–15 hours in a week. Contracts will usually not include accommodations (the employer may help), airfare, and health-care.

Costa Rica is an open business country and investors are always welcome, so if you or your company is interested in founding a new or buying a business in Costa Rica, it is best to contact a Costa Rican lawyer about your interest in investing.

Volunteering

There are several opportunities to engage in volunteer work in Costa Rica. Volunteer projects range from turtle conservation, building houses, teaching English and community development work.

Stay healthy

Costa Rica has one of the highest levels of social care in the world. Its doctors are known worldwide as some of the best. Many people from U.S, Canada and Europe go there to be treated, not only because the quality of the service but for the cost. First class Hospitals can be found in the capital. There is a public/private hospital system. There is excellent care in each. The public system has much longer waits, while the private system has shorter waits. If you are unfortunate enough to have a very sick child requiring hospitalization, the child will be transferred to the only children's hospital in CR, located in the capital. This children's hospital is public.

There have been outbreaks of dengue fever in some areas of the country and an outbreak of malaria was reported in November 2006 from the province of Limon but just a few cases. Protection against mosquito bites is very important, wearing lightweight long pants, long sleeved shirts and using insect repellents with high concentrations of DEET is recommended by the CDC. If you are going to be in very rural areas known to be malaria-infested areas, you might want to consider an anti-malarial med. However, most travelers to Costa Rica do just fine with updated childhood immunizations and taking preventative measures against mosquito bites (rather than take anti-malarial medication).

Tap water in urban areas of the country is almost always safe to drink. However, being cautious may be in order in rural areas with questionable water sources.

Stay safe

Travel in Costa Rica is common with 1.9 million travelers visiting annually, more than any Latin American country. Still, travelers to Costa Rica should exercise caution. The emergency number in Costa Rica is 911.

  • Traffic in Costa Rica is dangerous, so be careful. Pedestrians in general do not have the right of way. Roads in rural areas may also tend to have many potholes. Driving at night is not recommended.
  • Use common sense. Do not leave valuables in plain view in a car or leave your wallet on the beach when going into the water. Close the car windows and lock the car or other things that you might not do in your own country.
  • In the cities, robbery at knife point is not altogether uncommon.
  • Buses and bus stops - especially those destined for San Jose - are frequent locations for robbery. Any bus rider who falls asleep has a good chance of waking up and finding his baggage missing. Don't trust anyone on the buses to watch your things, especially near San Jose.
  • Like any other tourist destination, watch out for pickpockets.
  • Purse snatchings, armed robberies and car-jackings have been on the rise lately. Stay alert and protect your valuables at all times, especially in the San Jose area.
  • "Smash and grabs" of car windows are very common all over the country so do not leave valuables in your vehicle.
  • Another common robbery scheme includes slashing your tires, then when you stop to fix the flat, one or two "friendly" people stop to help and instead grab what valuables they can.
  • If you are motioned to pull over by anyone, do not do so until you are at a well-lit and safe place.
  • Make use of hostel or hotel lock boxes if they are really secure – this is great when you want to swim or kick back and really not worry.
  • On a long trip, it's advised that you make back-up CDs (or DVDs) of your digital photos and send a copy back home. In the event that you are robbed, you will thank yourself!
  • When encountering a new currency, learn the exchange rate from a reliable source (online ahead of time or a local bank, preferably) and create a little cheat sheet converting it to US dollars or the other Central American currency you are comfortable with. Travel with small denominations of US dollars (crisp 1s, 5s, 10s) as back-up... usually you'll be able to use them if you run out of local currency.
  • Go to a bank to change money when possible and practical. If you find yourself needing to use the services of a person who is a money changer (Sunday morning at the border, for instance) make sure to have your own calculator. Do not trust money changers and their doctored calculators, change the least amount of money possible and take a hard look at the bills – there's lots of false ones out there. Always insist that your change be in small bills – you'll lose more at one time if a large bill is false, plus large bills are hard to change (even the equivalent of $20 USD in Costa Rica or $5 USD in Nicaragua can be difficult in some small towns, believe it or not!) Money changers do not use the official exchange rate - you are better off going to a state owned bank to exchange your currency at no fee. Also, it's impossible to change Brazilian reals, although there are a lot of Brazilian tourists in Costa Rica.
  • Do not exchange money when arriving at the San Jose airport. The exchange rate used there is not the official rate and you will get a lot fewer colones. However, the departure hall upstairs has a BCR bank with normal exchange rates. It is right next to the departure tax payment area, buy when you arrive to avoid the queue on departure.
  • Traveling alone is fine and generally safe in Costa Rica, but carefully consider what kind of risks (if any) you are willing to take. Always hike with other people and try to explore a new city with other people. On solo forays, if you feel uncomfortable seek out a group of other people (both women and men). A well lighted place with people you can trust is always a plus. A busy restaurant or hostel is a great source of local info as well as a great place to relax and recharge.

Narcotics

Marijuana traffic, distribution and commerce is illegal in Costa Rica. There is no penalty when you carry marijuana for personal use quantities only (up to 3 joints) and police could try to get money from you or keep you in the local commissary for up to 12 hours. The US Drug Enforcement Agency is also present in Costa Rica and has been known to pretend to be a tourist. There is a Costa Rican equivalent of the DEA as well. It is not advised to do illegal drugs in Costa Rica. It is also not advised to bribe a police officer. Do so at your own risk.

Prostitution

Prostitution is legal in Costa Rica and can be a destination for those looking for more than sun and surf on their vacation. San Jose and Jaco are hot spots for this activity. Prostitution with minors (less than 18 years old) is a crime in Costa Rica. The majority of sex tourists in Costa Rica are from the United States, and, if they engage in prostitution with a minor, are prosecutable by the Protect Act of 2003. This act gives the US government the power to prosecute US citizens who travel abroad to engage in sex tourism with children under the age of 18. Several other countries including France, Canada, the UK, Germany, Netherlands, and Australia have similar laws. Arrests, warrants and prosecutions are being made under these laws.

Bus travel tips

Below is a list of suggestions for traveling by bus in Costa Rica and neighboring countries. These are overcautious tips, but the bottom line is that they can help prevent being ripped off. Nearly all thefts on the bus are preventable thefts!

  • Travel with someone else when possible. A trusted friend is best, of course - not just someone you met last night at the hostel, but he or she will do in a pinch. (Trust your gut feeling with new friends – most are great, but some may be con artists!) Traveling with a friend makes the journey more entertaining and more fun... you can talk and share travel stories and each of you can take turns sleeping on long bus rides. Also, there is the fact that "two heads are better than one" and it's always good to be able to brainstorm if you aren't sure what the answer to your travel question or concern is.
  • Make sure to wear a money belt with your passport, cash, credit/debit cards and ticket (bus or plane). Even if all your other belongings are stolen, you would still be able to get to your next destination. The waist belts are best; a neck pouch can be lifted while you are asleep. A thief would really have to disturb you and your personal space to get a waist belt.
  • On any bus ride (1st, 2nd, 3rd class, whatever!) try to sit above the luggage compartment so that you can watch that your bag doesn't "walk away" when others get off the bus. Costa Rican buses usually have one compartment for those heading to the main destination, and a separate one for people getting off along the way to avoid problems. Be aware if the "destination" compartment is opened en route!
  • On routes ending in San Jose, for example from Quepos, the bus driver will ask if you are going to the airport if he sees you have big luggage with you. Say no because they are asking this so they can call their taxi friends to pick you up at a stop before San Jose and drive you to the airport. Firstly, you cannot trust this friend of his is a official taxi driver and secondly they will charge an amount a few times more than normal to cover the bus driver's share. If you are going to the airport, plan your trip ahead so you know exactly how to get from San Jose to the airport, don't leave it to chance.
  • Try not to fall asleep or take turns with a travel partner (when you are lucky enough to have one.) Best way to snooze alone is with your bag on your lap and your hands crossed over it. Don't leave valuables in outside compartments.
  • Make conversation with locals on the bus so that they can see that you are competent in Spanish and comfortable in the Spanish speaking environment. (You'll enjoy yourself plus this may make them feel friendly towards you and more willing to alert you if someone is snooping in your stuff. Or it might warn them that if they steal from you, you will talk to the bus driver and police and make a full report.) Even some Spanish is better than none – use what you have! It's great practice and the more you improve the safer you'll be!
  • Don't bring anything that you are not willing to lose. Keep your day pack attached to you at all times when traveling – the straps get wrapped around your leg and the bag squeezed between your knees or feet. You don't want to lose your travel notes, camera, etc.
  • Never leave anything in the overhead bins. Almost 100% of all thefts on buses are from the overhead bins. Keep it on your lap.
  • Buses are cheap but their quality is very basic, old ripped and dirty chairs, no toilets, nor AC so windows are usually open unless it rains.

Beaches, weather and wildlife

The coasts of Costa Rica are known for strong currents and rip-tides in some areas but most of them are great to be with the family. Costa Rica has some of the best beaches in the world. Atlantic coast is just five hours away from the Pacific one and both offer different views and landscapes. There are no signs indicating an unsafe beach due to riptides, so take precautions and listen to the locals on where it is safe to swim. The public beaches do not have life guards. A traveler should learn how to swim out of a rip tide and not swim alone. There are some active volcanoes in Costa Rica and they are dangerous, so follow the warning signs posted. The slopes of the Arenal volcano invite visitors to climb closer to the summit, but there have been fatalities in the past with unseen gas chambers. Also be wary of the climate of Costa Rica. It is very hot in the daytime, but in the morning and evening it becomes very cool, so you should bring a light weight jacket.

  • Crocodiles are quite common in certain parts of Costa Rica and, although not as dangerous as the Nile or saltwater species, are still considered occasional man-eaters and can grow to lengths of up to 20 feet. The biggest spot for them is the Tarcoles river bridge in the central pacific as posted in the Jaco wiki. It is recommended to stop the vehicle nearby and walk across it. Some locals throw chicken meat and watch them eat. Great care should be taken when swimming or snorkeling, especially near areas where fishing is common or near river mouths.

When you go to the Guanacaste beaches on the Pacific you can see some crocodiles over the Tempisque river. The bridge across this river was donated by the Taiwanese government. (Subsequently, China gave away a 35000-seat stadium after Costa Rica ended diplomatic recognition of Taiwan.)

  • While large, the beautiful jaguar is extremely rare and even most locals have never seen the very large predatory cat. They appear to be very shy and elusive; there is very little risk of attack.
  • Bull sharks share much of the same territory as the crocodiles and probably account for more shark related attacks in the world than any other species.
  • Dogs are trained to be protective of property and people (perro bravo) and there are also many strays. Dog bites are not uncommon. Do not approach an unknown dog.
  • Snakes are common in many parts of Costa Rica and it is believed that there are 139 different species. The vast majority are not dangerous to people, but as is true in most countries, there are exceptions. The venomous ones generally fall into two groups, the first being coral snakes and the second pit vipers. Coral snakes are easily recognized by their colorful banding. They have small mouths with fangs that are ill placed for biting people. Pit vipers almost always have triangular heads but may otherwise come in different sizes and colors. Most snakes including the venomous ones are shy and retiring and will go to extreme lengths to avoid people, but may strike if frightened or deliberately provoked. Snake bites are rare in Costa Rica, but even so they do happen from time to time. As usual the best course is prevention. If you are walking in the countryside or in the jungle watch your step and do not walk barefoot anywhere other than at the beach. If you happen to see a snake, remember the cardinal rule when dealing with wildlife... look but don't touch while maintaining a safe distance. In the extremely unlikely event that you are bitten by a snake, you should treat it as a potential medical emergency and seek immediate care, especially if you think it might be venomous. A few of the snakes in Costa Rica such as the notorious Fer-de-Lance and Bushmaster have extremely potent venom which if untreated could be life threatening. The good news is that, as noted above, Costa Rica has probably the best medical infrastructure in Central America. Anti-venom for all known indigenous snakes is readily available at all of the major hospitals.

Gay and lesbian travelers

Costa Rica is a very conservative and traditionalist nation. The state's official religion is Roman Catholicism and its population is quite religious. Nevertheless, Costa Rica caters to the gay and lesbian traveller and his or her needs. There is a thriving gay scene in San Jose with many gay and lesbian options for night-life (La Avispa, Club Oh!, Bochinche among others). The Manuel Antonio, Jacó, and Quepos area is also a favorite spot with several gay hotels and bars.

There are a good number of gay/lesbian or gay-friendly accommodations in Costa Rica. Accommodations seem to be of the higher quality offering a variety of services and of course, discretion. Many hotels, travel agencies, and resorts are run by gays and/or are gay-friendly.

Medical tourism

According to the Costa Rica Tourism Board, about 200 medical procedures are performed every month at the nation's hospitals for medical tourists. Among the procedures done are cosmetic surgery, knee and hip replacement, cataract removal and other eye treatments, weight loss surgery and dental care. Health care in Costa Rica is attractive for international patients because of the low prices, high care standards, and access to tourist attractions. For example, a hip replacement costs around US$12,000 and a tummy tuck costs around US$4,400.

The main medical tourism centers are CIMA Hospital, Hospital Clinica Biblica and Hospital Hotel La Catolica. In turn, these hospitals use medical tourism facilitators who can arrange every aspect of your trip from beginning to end.

Connect

The international calling code/country code for Costa Rica is +506.

A postage stamp to Europe is ?125 (US$0.20).

The primary means of outside contact are through email, SIM cards for unlocked phones or public pay telephones.

Internet cafes are fairly easy to find in tourist areas, with prices all over the place. Some of these offer long distance calls over the Internet.

Call pricing

Domestic calls are quite cheap and the price is the same wherever you call. Calls to cellular phones are charged significantly more though.

International calls are fairly expensive. The cheapest way to make them is over the internet using a service such as Skype at an Internet café. But making short calls using the domestic calling cards (you can make international calls using these but the denominations of the calling cards are quite small so your call will be short!) or the international calling cards available within Costa Rica (all from the government phone monopoly ICE) is the next best deal. Certainly better than credit card calls or using a US calling card generally.

Public phones

Public phones are accessed with calling cards (tarjetas telefonicas) which can be purchased at most shops, even in outlying areas.

There are four different types of pay-phones:

  • Coin phones. Note that these only accept the older silver-colored coins.
  • Chip phones. These phones allow you to insert a chip-type calling card into them and make your calls.
  • Colibri phones. These phones have a small swipe bar for a scratch off type calling card referred to as a Colibri calling card which are available from ?500 and up. The swipes often don't work—you always have to enter the calling card access code on the keypad. Despite this, the Colibri calling card is the recommended one to buy as you can use it any of the types of phones whereas with a chip card you must search for a chip phone.
  • Multipago (multi-pay) phones. These phones accept coins, chip cards and colibri cards. Most public phones around the country have been changed for this type of phones. They also allow you to send SMS messages and emails as well.

Both types of calling cards are typically available in pharmacies and other locations where you see the sticker on the door.

Mobile phones

SIM cards and frequencies

Bring an unlocked quad or multi band cell phone that works on the proper frequencies and just get a SIM card, which can be easily purchased in almost any corner. Costaricans refer to mobile phones as celulares (cell phones).

Costa Rica cell phone frequencies and carriers:

  • Kölbi: (Part of Grupo ICE, the state run and owned public corporation which provides electricity and telecommunications services.) Kölbi has great coverage but a lot of users, which means that you will have connection all around the country but not the best Internet speed.
    • GSM/2G: 1800Mhz
    • UMTS/HSDPA/3G: 850Mhz
    • 4G LTE: 2600Mhz
    • Extra configuration:
      • Internet: APN:kolbi3g, or you can send an SMS with the word "internet" to phone number 3001.
      • Multimedia SMS: Send an SMS with the word "multimedia" to phone number 3001.
  • Claro: Second best coverage in the country, on a not so saturated network. Signal can be difficult to get in some remote areas, but not in the Central Valley.
    • GSM/2G: 1800Mhz
    • UMTS/HSDPA/3G: 900Mhz, 2100Mhz
    • 4G LTE: 1800Mhz
  • Movistar:
    • GSM/2G: 1800Mhz
    • UMTS/HSDPA/3G: 850Mhz, 2100Mhz
    • 4G LTE: 1800Mhz

There are a few other second tier carriers which are just resellers or re-branders of the previous three.

There are many plans to choose from, but on a short visit your best chance is to get a pre-paid plan, or prepago which is contract-free and you paid in advance what you will use. All of the carriers have such plans in a lot of possible combinations on minutes, SMS text messages, Internet speed and son on, even you can build your own with some carriers. Prices start at around ?2,500 (US$5).

To add value you buy a recarga (recharge card), scratch off the card to get a PIN, and text the PIN from your phone to a special number. To keep the card active, it must be recharged at least once in a 120 day period. If it is not charged within a 120 days, you have a 30 day grace period before your SIM chip is deactivated and you lose your phone number. Also keep in mind that you may have trouble getting your SIM activated on Sunday, because like many things in Costa Rica, the SIM activation system may be shut down that day. Also not all shops sell SIMs—many just sell the recharge cards. Get your SIM at the airport if you can.

Roaming

Grupo ICE through Kölbi is the major network on which roaming will occur if using a mobile plan from abroad. Using roaming plans depends on the contract acquired abroad and beyond the scope of this guide.

WiFi

Most tourist areas (hotels, coffee shops, bars, restaurants) have Wi-fi access for free. Just ask someone for the password. You can bring your smart phone loaded with Skype or Google Phone and make calls to your home country. It is an easy way to stay connected with email and social media.

The Amateur Traveler talks about adventure travel in Costa Rica. From rafting on the Pacuare river and ziplining through the Monteverde Cloud forest to snorkeling off the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica can be a great destination for adventure travel.

Felices fiestas! Happy holidays! It’s strange that, just ten days into the new year, both Christmas and New Year’s Eve feel so remote, like they happened a long time ago. Perhaps it’s because I’m so excited about 2016 and am looking forward to everything that this year has to offer.

Pin me on Pinterest!Pin me on Pinterest!We’ve just arrived in San José, Costa Rica, after a full month in Mexico. It’s been a month of work, time with friends, Star Wars, and using the sharing economy; with stays in Monterrey, Querétaro, San Miguel de Allende, and Guadalajara, as well as visits to Guanajuato and Tequila. Not to mention our Christmas and New Year’s celebrations. Slow, in other words!

Monterrey 

In order to be allowed to enter Cuba, we had to have tickets out — and all the flights out on the dates we wanted were quite expensive. We ended up choosing the cheapest option and flying into Monterrey in the north of Mexico, with vague ideas of onward flights or long bus journeys to Guatemala. Then one day I sent a Facebook message to our friends Pete and Dalene: “We’d love to see you sometime, hopefully our paths will cross in the next year or so,” and they replied: “Are you going to be back in Mexico for awhile? We head in a few weeks…”

One thing led to another, and in the end we decided to stay in Mexico and celebrate Christmas and New Year’s Eve with them in San Miguel de Allende.

First, though, we had to get out of Monterrey, which wasn’t our cup of tea at all — just too smoggy. We booked a Blablacar and thoroughly enjoyed our onwards journey with a pleasant guy called Axa. He was heading to Querétaro, close enough to San Miguel to meet our needs, and we decided to spend a week there rather than rushing on. Good decision. Querétaro is a fantastic city with a comfortable, local feeling and lots of great restaurant options. Our AirBnb host Roberto showed us around the first night we arrived, and Pete and Dalene showed up not too long after us.

Mexican foodThe food in Mexico is just so good.

Querétaro

Our week in Querétaro was great: full of work days and fun evenings. We went to the cinema to see the new Star Wars movie (so good!) and in the process tried Uber for the first time. (By the way, if you sign up to Uber and use the code craigm5124ue in the promotions tab you get a free ride and so do we… That’s what I call the sharing economy.) We also discovered the joys of gorditas, ate tacos and churros, and generally had a great time.

San Miguel de Allende

Too soon it was time to say goodbye to Querétaro’s charming cobbled streets and make our way to San Miguel de Allende. We’d organized an apartment rental (with the help of the amazing Talon Windwalker) and spent our first afternoon with the apartment’s owner, Athea, who showed us around her neighborhood and amused us with YouTube videos.

We weren’t the biggest fans of San Miguel; it just seemed a little too much like a Disney idea of a Mexican village. However, we loved spending time with Pete and Dalene, mostly playing a card game that certainly wasn’t called Soily when we first started playing it but was by the time we left.

Taco stand in San Miguel de Allende MexicoSan Miguel de Allende was great for tacos!

Mexican fiestas!

Christmas Day was a low-key affair at Pete and Dalene’s place; Talon and his son joined us for a delicious dinner, games and a bit of piñata-whacking — the sparklers we bought weren’t a success, though. We also saw in the new year at their place, with tacos and fireworks; it was a lovely end to a great day. Well, for me anyway. Craig was having problems with an eye infection and Dalene wanted to work, so Pete and I headed off to the botanic gardens to admire the local flora and rock formations. We stopped for an artisanal beer on a rooftop terrace, and on our way home let ourselves be drawn to a mobile food vendor’s stand that was selling beer-like drinks in enormous chalices. I’d been putting off trying a michelada, which is more or less beer with a spicy sauce added, because they just sounded so disgusting, but the customer who explained this particular one to us was so enthusiastic that we ordered a couple on the spot. And who’d have thought that spicy beer with seafood could be so good?

Linda and Michelada in San Miguel de Allende, MexicoYep, that’s a shrimp in my beer.

Guanajuato

Craig’s eye was still playing up a couple of days later, so he stayed behind while I headed to Guanajuato with Pete and Dalene — what a beautiful place! The highlight was climbing to the viewpoint to look out over the city, and eating chilaquiles in their favorite restaurant.

View of Guanajuato, MexicoGuanajuato is pretty!

Guadalajara

It’s not the best reason for going somewhere, but we headed to Guadalajara just to catch a flight. Sadly, we had a lot of work to do, so we didn’t see too much of the city, but we did head out for dinner twice with my language exchange friend Omar and his wife Maribel. It was great to finally meet Omar after knowing him online for almost seven years, and we got on even better in person than we had online.

Guadalajara cathedral MexicoWe did at least manage to see Guadalajara cathedral.

Tequila

The highlight of our stay in Guadalajara was undoubtedly our day trip to Tequila. Omar and Maribel picked us up early so we could have breakfast in the market before meeting their friend Carmen and joining a tour of the Jose Cuervos distillery. After a wander around town, we made our way to an enormous bar on the outskirts of town for “jarritas” (jars of alcohol) and spent two hours slowly sipping our enormous tequila-based cocktails and becoming more and more merry. This week I read that adults laugh on average only 17 times a day (compared to kids, who average 400 times). Well, we blew that number out of the water in Tequila.

Jarritas in Tequila MexicoThose jars were full of deliciousness.

It’s been a great month, full of truly excellent people and beautiful places, and we’re looking forward to returning to Mexico someday. For now, though, it’s time for Costa Rica and Panama!

Join the sharing economy

We’re really into the sharing economy at the moment: we use AirBnB all the time, occasionally jump in a Blablacar, and have just discovered Uber. Use these codes when you join, and we both get benefits:

Uber: Enter the code craigm5124ue in the promotions tab to get your first ride for free. AirBnB: Use this link for $20 off your first stay.

Pin me on Pinterest!Pin me on Pinterest!Exotic birds chirp in the trees, which are currently being buffeted by strong winds. I’ve just bought milk, cheese and yogurt from a woman who stops by every few days to make sure we have all the dairy we need. A small dog refuses to understand that he’s not supposed to be in the house and whines pitifully when I put him out…again.

This is our life in Santa Fe, Panama, where we’re halfway through a three-week housesit, and where we’ve just agreed to spend six months later in the year. Rural life is suiting us so far: we’ve made some new friends and established a good routine, and the three dogs and one cat we’re looking after have accepted us as adequate substitutes for the humans they really love.

Gorgeous views on the way to Costa Rica. One benefit of an early flight: gorgeous views on the way to Costa Rica.

Getting to Central America

Getting here was less of a hassle than we’d expected, though it certainly took a long time! From Guadalajara, Mexico, we hopped on an early-morning flight to San Jose, Costa Rica (and weren’t asked for proof of onward travel, despite my considerable stress over this point). On arrival we changed some pesos to colones at a terrible rate of exchange and caught the bus into town; an early arrival meant plenty of time to explore the city that afternoon.

Green church in a href=San José did have some pretty buildings… like this church, the iglesia La Dolorosa.

We weren’t enamoured with San Jose, and it’s a pity that we didn’t have time to see more of Costa Rica. As it was, we spent just two days in the country before hopping on a bus to David, Panama.

The Costa Rica/Panama border

We’d read a lot about crossing the border between these two countries, and while it’s certainly worth having your documents in order, we found it easier than expected. We paid our $7 departure tax at the bus station before we left San Jose, and were surprised to discover a $1 entrance tax to get into Panama — luckily we had a small stash of greenbacks with us! We weren’t asked for proof of funds or onwards tickets, but signs everywhere indicated that both of these were essential, so we were glad to have printed them out in advance.

There was an hour-long wait on one side of the border and a half-hour one on the other; we were taken into a small room with our luggage and the other travelers on our bus to engage in some communal form-filling. Although the process was long, it all went smoothly, and we arrived in David no worse for the wear.

David was just a stopping point on our journey; we didn’t see much of it even though we stayed for two nights. From there, we caught a bus to Santiago and another to Santa Fe, where John the homeowner collected us from the centre of town.

Bermejo waterfall in a href=Bermejo waterfall.

Home

John and Janet had some friends staying with them, so our first couple of days were full of company and excursions: we went out for dinner twice, headed out on a night hike up a local hill, swam in a nearby river. It was sad to say goodbye to them all on Saturday, though we stretched it out as long as possible by heading into Santiago to have a final lunch together.

Back home, we settled into a routine of work and dog-walking, interrupted by visits from Janice providing us with milk and cheese and the fish guy selling fish off the back of his truck, plus conversations with Victorio, Janet and John’s employee. We’ve also spent a bit of time with Kim, Denny, Avril, and Derek, who are all local expats: first an evening of dinner and Farkle (a hilarious dice game), later a hike to the Bermejo waterfall.

Group hiking in PanamaOnce again, all the women were wearing blue shirts…

We’re already feeling at home here, which is great, because this will be our home for a good six months later in the year. It’s quite different from the bases we’ve chosen in the past, so should be an adventure in itself!

Boston Fourth of July

When Donald Trump announced he was running for president, we joked that he’d be done within a few months. Comedians had a field day. He couldn’t gain any serious support, could he?

Until he started leading all the polls…and winning primaries.

Holy shit. This could actually happen.

“If Trump gets elected, I’m leaving the country!”

I know. Everyone says it. But there’s no way to actually do that, is there?

OF COURSE THERE IS! You could leave the country in SO many different ways — ways that are 100% legal and ethical.

Kate on the Sydney Bridgeclimb

1) Get a working holiday visa in Australia or New Zealand.

If you’re 30 or under, you qualify to spend a year living and working in Australia or New Zealand! These are the only traditional working visas currently available to Americans.

In both countries, you can apply for the visa if you’re as old as 30; you can enter the country within one year of receiving your visa, which means you could start your year at age 31. Australia also offers the option of taking a second year if you spend three months working in “regional Australia” (rural areas and outside the most popular tourist destinations). Edit: I’ve since learned the second year is not available to Americans, sadly. Brits and Canadians can take advantage of this option, however.

You could spend your year bartending in Cairns or Queenstown, working on a winery in the Barossa Valley or Marlborough, working at a corporate job in Melbourne or Wellington, or taking on a hospitality job just about anywhere. And those are just a few of the possibilities.

For more, check out the Australia working holiday visa site and the New Zealand working holiday site.

Hongdae

2) Get a job teaching English abroad.

Teaching English abroad is one of the easiest ways U.S. citizens can get a job working abroad. Most countries only require a university degree in any field; others also require a TEFL certificate.

The most opportunity for Americans is in Asia. South Korea tends to offer the best packages: a competitive salary plus free housing and free flights to and from your home country. Many teachers in South Korea are able to comfortably save more than $10,000 per year and pay down debt or go traveling afterward.

Japan, China, and Taiwan also have great environments for teaching English with decent benefits. Entry-level teaching jobs in Southeast Asia and Latin America tend to pay only enough to get by.

While many Americans dream of teaching English in Europe, it’s extremely difficult to work in the EU without EU citizenship and the jobs are thus few. Eastern Europe and Turkey are a better bet.

Options in the Middle East tend to pay the most but have the most stringent requirements, often a teaching certification and experience in your home country and/or an advanced degree.

This is just the most basic of overviews — head to ESL Cafe to learn anything and everything about teaching English abroad.

El Tunco, El Salvador

3) Join the U.S. Foreign Service.

Dreamed of working as a diplomat around the world? The U.S. Foreign Service is your way in. If you’re able to pass the notoriously difficult Foreign Service Exam, you’ll be eligible to work two-year contracts in countries around the world.

The goal of the U.S. Foreign Service is “to promote peace, support prosperity, and protect American citizens while advancing the interests of the U.S. abroad.” Basically, you represent the United States while abroad.

There are several different tracks: Administration, Construction Engineering, Facility Management, Information Technology, International Information and English Language Programs, Medical and Health, Office Management, and Law Enforcement and Security.

You don’t get to choose your destination — you could be headed to any of 270 embassies around the world — but if you work in a hardship destination, you’ll often get preferential treatment regarding your next assignment. Like two of my lovely readers whom I met in Mexico last year — after working as diplomats in Pakistan, they got stationed in Cuba next.

Check out all the details on the U.S. Foreign Service’s website.

Bitola

4) Join the Peace Corps.

The Peace Corps is perhaps the most famous volunteer program in America, starting in 1961 under President Kennedy. Volunteers are sent around the world in primarily two-year contracts working in the fields of Education, Health, Community Development, Environment, Youth in Development, Agriculture, and Peace Corps Response.

You don’t get to choose where you go — you’re sent where your skills are needed the most. That means if you speak Spanish, there’s a good chance you’ll be sent to Latin America; if you speak French, there’s a good chance you’ll be sent to Africa.

Most people I’ve known to serve in the Peace Corps describe it as life-changing. It’s a fantastic way to serve your country and make lasting contributions toward building a better planet.

For more, visit the PeaceCorps.gov.

Koolbaai

5) Find a job abroad.

I know it sounds daunting to find a job abroad when you don’t know anything about it, but Americans do it successfully every day!

The U.S. State Department has put together a comprehensive list of resources for finding work abroad, no matter what field you’re in.

Ljubljana

6) Study abroad or get another degree.

Are you still in college? Studying abroad will be one of the most valuable (and fun!) things you do in your college career. Here are the lessons I learned from my semester in Florence in 2004.

Already have a degree? This could be a great opportunity to get your master’s abroad! Several countries offer you the option of getting your master’s in just one year, unlike the standard two years in the United States.

You probably know that several countries offer free university education to their citizens. Well, several countries offer free university education to international students as well, including Americans! Don’t speak the local language? They offer degrees given in English as well.

It was big news when Germany began offering free education to international students in 2014. Other countries include Brazil, Finland, France, Norway, Slovenia, and Sweden.

Many of these countries also offer stipends, making getting your degree infinitely more affordable than in the U.S.

London Millennium Bridge

7) If your job has an international office, see if you can transfer.

This isn’t an option if you work for a small, independent, local business. But it could work if you work for a larger company.

I used to work for a company with offices in Boston and London, and plenty of people migrated across the Atlantic in each direction. The company took care of the sponsorship and all the red tape.

Another option: if your company has an international parent company, see if you can find a job abroad in one of your parent company’s other companies.

Playa Samara

8) See if you can start working remotely.

If your job is mostly doable online, you may have the ability to start working remotely and set up shop anywhere in the world.

Note that this is something best done little by little. Start by doing exceptionally outstanding work for awhile, then ask your boss if you can work remotely one day per week. Make that your most productive day of the week. If it goes well and your company is pleased, keep negotiating for more time working remotely.

If you’re able to transition to working 100% remotely, keep in mind that you may need to stay within the same time zone or in a destination where you have excellent internet. Still, that’s a small price to pay for working from, say, a beach town in Costa Rica!

Berlin

9) Look into the German Artist Visa.

Entering the EU long-term is a major challenge for most Americans, but one of the easiest ways in (aside from getting a student visa) is to get the German “artist visa.”

“Artist” is a relative term here. In this case, it means freelancer. If you’re able to prove multiple contracts paying you enough to get by, that may be enough for you to secure this visa and live in Germany.

Most people with this visa choose to live in Berlin due to its art scene, expat scene, and relatively low cost of living (albeit one that continues to rise). Increasingly popular alternatives are hip Hamburg and artsy Leipzig.

Check out Travels of Adam’s guide to getting the German artist visa or, alternatively, a student visa.

Paris Marais

10) Become an au pair in Europe.

If you love kids, don’t mind living with a family, and want to live like a local, becoming an au pair could be an excellent option for you. Many Americans become au pairs by finding a job and family online, then registering for a student visa to give you a year in the country.

The student visa could be for as little as a few hours of language study each week; some countries, like France, are notoriously lax about whether you actually attend class and many au pairs decide to ditch the classes entirely.

Being an au pair could be the time of your life — or a complete disaster. The best thing is to know exactly what kind of experience you want — how many kids and how old? Living with the family or in your own apartment? Urban, suburban, or rural environment? Would you be expected to cook or not? — and finding a family that fits your needs well.

Ashley Abroad has a great resource for getting started as an au pair.

Christmas at JJ's

11) Save up, quit your job, and backpack the world for awhile.

Yes. You can absolutely do this. Plenty of people around the world travel for months at a time — it’s very common for people from other western countries, but far less popular for Americans.

If you want your money to go the furthest, stick to a cheaper region. Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent, Central America, and Eastern Europe are all great options. You can live in parts of these regions on less than $1000 per month if you want to (but that amount doesn’t include start-up expenses like flights, gear and insurance).

Here’s how I saved $13,000 in just seven months. That was almost enough to sustain me for six months in Southeast Asia from 2010-2011, but keep in mind prices have increased a bit since then.

Santa Cruz Atitlan Guatemala

12) Move somewhere cheap for awhile.

Not in the mood to be traveling all the time? You could just move somewhere. Many countries have visa policies that allow you to live long-term by leaving the country every few months and coming right back. (Be sure to check on your country’s latest visa regulations, as they can change at any time.)

I still think that Chiang Mai, Thailand, offers the maximum value for a great price. As a solo adult, you can comfortably get by in Chiang Mai for less than $800 per month, or even less if you’re part of a couple, and there are plenty of amenities for the many expats who live and work there.

Other popular options for expats? Oaxaca, Mexico. Ubud, Bali. Bangkok, Thailand. Medellin, Colombia. Lake Atitlan, Guatemala (particularly Panajachel and San Pedro). If you have the ability to live in the EU, consider Berlin, Germany; Lisbon, Portugal; Budapest, Hungary; Prague, Czech Republic; or any town you can imagine in Spain: Madrid, Sevilla, Granada, Barcelona.

Ragusa, Sicily

13) Get a second citizenship based on your ancestry.

Several European countries offer the option of getting a passport based on your ancestry. I’ve known Americans who have gained Irish, British, Italian, and German citizenship due to their parents, grandparents or even great-grandparents being born in those countries.

The best part? Gaining EU citizenship means you can move around freely within the EU, not just the country where you hold the ancestry! I have an American friend with new German citizenship who’s thinking about moving to London. That’s totally fine on a German passport.

Do research this first — every country is different and has its own conditions. Some don’t offer ancestry-based citizenship at all. (While my great-grandfather immigrated from Italy, I don’t qualify for Italian citizenship because he naturalized before my grandmother was born.) Here’s a guide to obtaining citizenship in European countries.

Israel also offers citizenship based on the Law of Return. You must either be Jewish by birth (meaning your mother or grandmother is Jewish) or a convert to Judaism.

Keep in mind that this could potentially take years, depending on the country. It took three years for my friend Mike to get his Italian citizenship. (Then again, as someone who lived in Italy and visits often, they are not the most organized of nations when it comes to this kind of stuff. Or anything else, frankly.)

Skellig Michael

14) Fall in love with someone from a different country, get married, and move to their country.

I know a lot of people, particularly women, dream of this — meeting a handsome fisherman on a Greek island, or a brawny Australian at a beach bar in Thailand, and falling in love and it being destiny and your friends being so jealous.

Well…as someone who has lived in another country for two different boyfriends, let me tell you that the reality can often be quite difficult, even if you have a good relationship. Living in a different country is like fighting through hundreds of cultural differences every day, and there can be a chasm in your relationship if you’re struggling while your partner is surrounded by everything he knows and loves. It’s much harder if you don’t speak the local language or you’re living in a small town.

Whatever you do, make sure you have a strong support system on the ground. Make sure you have interests, activities, and a social circle outside your partner. Most importantly, make sure your partner understands how challenging it is for you to be there, even if you’re happy most of the time. Make sure he makes an effort to travel to America, too.

You’re the one who is sacrificing here. Even if you were excited to move there. Even if he supports you financially. Even if you work online and have the freedom to live anywhere.

quebec-ice-slide-gallery

15) Just move to Canada!

Everyone says they’re moving to Canada if a candidate they hate is elected. Well, this guy actually moved to Canada when George W. Bush was elected. That link gives you an overview of ways for Americans to move to Canada today.

Pink House New Orleans

But in all seriousness…

I know this is a tongue-in-cheek list, but I seriously hope you’re not voting for Donald Trump. (I know I’m preaching to the choir here. The kind of person interested enough in other countries to read a travel blog is not the kind of person who would support a xenophobic presidential candidate.) Please do everything you can to keep him from being elected.

But there’s something else I want to say.

In the past six years, I’ve met many American travel bloggers who have said something along the lines of, “I just don’t like it in America. I don’t want to live where I could be killed in a random shooting or where I could be bankrupted if I’m hospitalized. I don’t like it here anymore, so I’m leaving.”

I get it. I was like that. Parts of me still feel that way. But not anymore.

I recently moved back to the U.S. after more than five years of travel. There were many reasons. One is because I am sick of doing nothing. I want to be here and fight to make my country better. And I’m getting started.

All of us can run away. Believe me — there’s stuff about America that keeps me up at night. Frequent school shootings and a Congress that refuses to pass any kind of reasonable legislation like closing the gun show loophole. Black Americans, including children, being killed by the police for no reason at all. The racism, both overt and subtle, that our president receives on a daily basis. Out-of-control elections and candidates supported by corporations. The possibility of a religious ideologue being appointed to the Supreme Court.

So why do I even bother? Because when you choose to be inactive, you’re giving power to the opposition.

If you choose to travel, or to live abroad, that’s wonderful! But don’t use it as an excuse to check out of America completely. Donate money to causes that will make America better. Donate your time to causes and see if you can help online. Get absentee ballots, familiarize yourself with candidates in every race, and vote in every election. These things really can make a difference.

Would you leave the country if Trump was elected?15 legal, ethical ways to leave the country if Donald Trump gets elected.

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This a guest post courtesy of Deanna Gregorio of TravelCuts.

So, you’ve decided you want to (literally) see the world. From the penguins of Antarctica to the Inca ruins of Peru and the foodie treats of Europe, there’s no part of this great planet that you’re willing to miss. Awesome! It’s going to take effort and dedication (and savings), but if you want this, you can make it happen. Here are our tips to make the planning process go as smoothly as possible …

Budget

Small Money Jar on a World Map

Money, money, money. No matter how you look at it, you’re going to have to be wise about how you save and spend your dollars if you want the trip of a lifetime. One of the best ways to make this easier is to participate in SWAP, so you can work AND travel. These are the destinations supported by SWAP, which we can help you book …

  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • United Kingdom
  • Ireland
  • Austria
  • Japan
  • Thailand*
  • Vietnam*

*These are specifically teaching positions

It depends on where you’re going, but a good rule of thumb is to budget about $100.00/day for Europe, Australia, & New Zealand; about $45.00/day for Asia; $35/day for South America (but this varies from country to country); and anywhere from $60-$100+/day in Africa, depending on where you are staying. These estimated budgets include your accommodation, activities, food, and transportation. Keep in mind that you can bring costs down if you have a friend or family member to stay with, or really inflate your costs by staying in luxury everywhere you go. Make sure you always pair your travel with an International Student Identity Card (ISIC), if you’re a student! It’s one of the best ways to save while travelling.

If you’re planning to work and travel, you should have about $6,000 saved up for Europe & Australia, and $4,500 saved up for Asia. SWAP requires you to have a specific amount of “support funds” saved before you leave; depending on exchange rates this may be less or more than our suggested amounts. Always be certain you have the required funds BEFORE leaving to participate in SWAP!

Besides working & travelling, there are a lot of ways to make your money go further. We’ve all heard the old adage about “the cost of a cup of coffee a day”, but it seriously makes an impact. If you take the $1.75 you’d normally spend on your daily coffee and put it into a travel fund instead, you could easily save $500 (or more, depending on your caffeine addiction) in a year. Want new clothes? Instead of going shopping, arrange a clothing swap with your friends and you can all refresh your wardrobes without spending a penny! Take this opportunity to do a few odd or freelance jobs for people you know. You’ll want to take loads of photos on your journey, so why not brush up on your photography skills by doing a few freelance gigs? The biggest tip we can give you is to invest the money you do make. Take a portion of every paycheque you get (even $100/month helps!) and invest it in a savings account. If you set up automatic deductions, you won’t even have a chance to miss the money you’re saving, and it will grow into a beautiful travel fund right before your eyes.

Where to Go

Pushpins in a British Map

So you’ve saved up to traverse the world, but where do you start? This is a big world, and you need to have a plan if you’re going to make the most of your time abroad. Here are a few suggested routes from us …

  • Start Europe, travelling West to East. Make your way to Russia and take the Trans-Mongolian train to China. From here, participate in a tour (or individual exploration) around South East Asia. From there, it’s just a hop, skip, and a jump over to the South Pacific. When it’s time to head home, you can sleep on the long flight, full of memories from the trip of a lifetime.
  • Start Australia, working abroad with SWAP. Travel over to South East Asia for a minimum of 3 months. Next, you’ll want to move on to the Middle East & Africa (if Safari is on YOUR bucket list, this is the place to do it!) before making your way to South America, and then back home. It’s only a 6-hour flight from SJO to YYZ!
  • Start Costa Rica, and take a Spanish class with SWAP! Travel through South America (starting in Colombia and ending in Brazil), then jump over to western Africa and be sure to visit Morocco on your way to Europe!

Really, the most important thing is that you decide beforehand which countries are on your MUST-SEE list, and which you’re okay with missing. There’s often wiggle room during your trip, but absolutely have your start and end point decided and confirmed before you leave. A book like Rough Guides: Best Day on Earth can help you figure out where to go and what to do!

When to Book

Young Woman on Her Cellphone

Early is ALWAYS best. If you’re taking on a trip of great magnitude, you’ll want to save every possible penny. Booking your major flights at least 6 months ahead of time will get you the best fares. The closer you get to departure date, the more you will end up paying for your flights. If you’re in London and decide to take a last minute trip to Paris, booking that flight last minute won’t break the bank (although ideally, you’d book all flights well in advance to get the best price).

When you’re booking your flights, REMEMBER to also book your travel insurance! For a year’s coverage, travelcuts has travel insurance as low as $486*. It’s a minimal cost ($1.33 per day!) and oh-so-necessary when planning a big, multi-continent trip. If something happened while travelling and you had to end your trip early, that would be heartbreaking enough on its own. But imagine all your hard work to save up going to waste as well? That would be a real tragedy. So make sure you book your travel insurance before you leave!

You’ll also want to consider the time of year you travel. If you’re starting out in Australia, you may want to start your journey during Canadian Winter. Beginning in Europe, you may want to book for Fall as it’s a less popular season for travel (thus CHEAPER), and you can be around for the Christmas Markets in December. Decide before you leave how long you want to be abroad – and save accordingly. You’ll likely be spending a year or more away from home, but it’s definitely worth it for a trip of this magnitude.

travelcuts can help you make the most of your time and money, whether you’re taking on the whole world, or just a few countries! Check out travelcuts.com and get started.

The post A Trip Around the World: Preparing appeared first on Vagabondish.

It was around the early 2000’s when we started exploring the notion of running our style of adventure trips in Peru. One of the old hands at Active, Phil Boorman, had already spent years in Costa Rica surfing and teaching, as well as guiding groups overland through South America. So, combining his local knowledge with our team’s experience guiding adventure tours in New Zealand, Active Adventures South America was born.

One of the signature itineraries, which has stood the test of time proving to be popular year in, year out, is the Ultimate Peru Adventure ‘Jaguar’ trip. Over the past 15 or so years thousands of guests have shared this 14-day experience with us, exploring Peru on foot, by bike and in a kayak. Of course, one of the bucket list destinations in Peru is Machu Picchu, and the Classic Inca Trail is the favoured way to reach this ancient citadel. The trail is well worn, which adds to the appeal, as hikers seek to follow in the footsteps of ancient Inca.

If you’re considering hiking the Classic Inca Trail yourself, don’t sit back and put it off! Lock in your spot, as hiking permits are limited and always sell out. Once you’ve got your spot secured, sit back, relax and enjoy our photo journey to Machu Picchu (and do a little hiking training to get in shape, if you’re not already!) All the photos you’ll see here are from our guests, taken during their ‘Jaguar’ trip.

The Journey to Machu Picchu begins in Cuzco

Having spent a couple of nights in Cuzco already and having hiked and biked in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, you’ll be nicely acclimatised and ready to hike! Topped up with any last minute hiking supplies, your group will leave town to make your way back through the Sacred Valley of the Incas to the start of the trail at Piscachuca.

CuscoPhoto credit: Summer Zimmer ‘Jaguar’, April 2009

Your hike begins at Piscacucho, or Kilometre 82

Eager and bristling with anticipation, there’s time for a fresh-faced group photo before the hiking begins. You’ll notice all the wooden hiking poles – those are available at the trail head, and widely used due to the ban on modern hiking poles with sharp points (as they degrade the historic track). You’ll hike through a few little villages, dip down into shaded river valleys and take in  your first views of the huge peaks that will emerge even more as you hike further.

Classic Inca TrailPhoto credit: Jen Cha ‘Jaguar’, November 2008

The trail winds its way up as you head towards Dead Woman’s Pass (4,400 metres or 14,435 feet)

Along the hike you’ll be rewarded with contrasting environments, as you gain altitude towards Dead Woman’s Pass. You’ll leave the shaded canopy of the forest and follow the winding trail up through a beautiful mountain pass with stunning panoramic views. There’s plenty of celebration as you reach the top. You’ll have worked up a thirst and will find yourself adding the layers of clothing back as breeze whips over the pass here! A short hike down the other side to Pacaymayo means a hot cup of coca tea, lunch and a chance to rest up for the remainder of the day and take in the views!

Hiking on the Classic Inca TrailPhoto credit: Stan Jacobsen ‘Jaguar’, September 2014

Time for a rest and a chance to take in views of the Rio Cusichaca

Above the tree line at Pacaymayo, you’ll want to have your sunscreen handy and plenty of water at your side. During the main season, from May to September the days are dry and sunny, ideal for hiking!

Resting on the Classic Inca TrailPhoto credit: Jane Marek ‘Jaguar’, June 2009

Along the way, admire the cobbled steps and Inca bridges, built over 500 years ago

After a cup of tea or coffee brought to your tent, you’ll be ready for the hike to Wiñay Wayna – the 3rd and last campsite on the trip. This is where you’ll enter the eastern side of the ranges that descend to the Amazon basin. There are several fascinating Inca fortresses to explore as you descend down into the cloud forest. And even the trail itself offers plenty of incredible glimpses into Inca craftsmanship, such as this bridge. There’s a sense of anticipation at Wiñay Wayna camp, as the Sun Gate and Machu Picchu are only a matter of hours away – it’s an early start the following morning!

Inca bridgePhoto credit: Mandy Gatesman ‘Jaguar’, May 2010

Arriving at the Sun Gate…

After a hearty breakfast, you’ll hike in the dawn light towards the Sun Gate. Intipunku is from the Quechua language; ‘inti’ meaning sun and ‘punku’ meaning door, hence  ‘Sun Door’ or  ‘Sun Gate’ as it’s often called.

IntipunkuPhoto credit: Carrie Lehtonen ‘Jaguar’, October 2013

… For your first glimpse of Machu Picchu, as the fog lifts

At this spot, as the fog lifts, you’ll get your first view of Machu Picchu – it’s a surreal moment and a fantastic reward for your efforts. When Machu Picchu reveals itself, it’s an incredible sight. Even our long term guides who have hiked the trail dozens of times still get a rush every time they see it.

Views of Machu PicchuPhoto credit: Rochelle Coleman ‘Jaguar’, July 2010

The day warms by the time you arrive at the ancient citadel

Once you arrive at Machu Picchu, you’ll be joined by a local guide who’ll show you around the ancient city. As you arrived early (before the visitors from Machu Picchu town below), you’ll have plenty of time to explore the many passageways and stone structures.

Triumphant at Machu PicchuPhoto credit: Marian Walrath ‘Jaguar’, April 2013

Huge smiles for a picture perfect postcard!

A trip to Machu Picchu would not be complete without a group photo!

Group celebrating at Machu PicchuPhoto credit: Rebecca Washlow ‘Jaguar’, July 2016

Explore Aguas Calientes (now known as Machu Picchu town) after hiking the Classic Inca Trail

After three nights camping on the trail, it’s a welcome treat to return back to civilisation. Here you’ll have time to pick up any souvenirs and have a look around before we board a scenic train ride back to Cuzco.

Machu Picchu TownPhoto credit: Kristy Woodward ‘Jaguar’. March 2011

See Our Peru Adventure Tours

35 of the world’s best places to travel in 2017

       

With so much negativity in the media, the world is often portrayed as risky, dangerous. And yet as travelers we learn the same lesson over and over: Preconceived notions of places and cultures are almost always wrong.

The world is, in fact, safer, more hospitable, more open and accepting than non-travelers could ever imagine. If only people everywhere could realize that on the opposite side of the globe are people not so different, so foreign, as they might believe.

Let’s make 2017 the year of traveling fearlessly. These places are just starting points. The next step is taking action. We hope to see you on the road.

       

1. Jordan

 

1. Jordan

Completely safe oasis isolated from the instability of the region

Jordan is a place of supernatural beauty. Imagine Yosemite as a desert with super luxury tented camps. That’s a bit how Wadi Rum feels. And Petra is so ancient you could use the Bible as your guidebook rather than a Lonely Planet. Beyond these obvious destinations, there’s also Al Salt, Jarash, and Amman. Travel here with an open mind, and get ready for and a hospitality that will blow away any expectations. Photo by Scott Sporleder.

       

2. Los Angeles

 

2. Los Angeles

Epicenter of Southern California with quick access to nature

LA has it all. The food options, historic sites, and outdoor access are enough to make you forget the 45-minute drives it takes to reach them. Your best bet (as always) is to hook up with locals (try travelstoke if you don’t know anyone there), and plan your travels around different neighborhoods. Photo by Scott Sporleder.

       

3. Yucatán Peninsula

 

3. Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico

No-worries area of Mexico with luxury haciendas in the middle of the jungle

Beyond Chichen Itzá are other lesser known Mayan ruins worth exploring throughout the region, along with the cenotes, as well as world-class diving (the world’s second largest coral reef after the Great Barrier Reef, is on the Carribean side of Mexico) and beaches. Of special note is Rosas y Chocolate, one of the top urban hotels in all of Mexico, pictured above.

       

4. Sisimiut, Greenland

 

4. Sisimiut, Greenland

Above the Arctic Circle, and almost like dropping off the map

Sisimiut is the second-largest town in Greenland. 5,500 people live on a tiny, rocky promontory just north of the Arctic Circle. If you are lucky enough to travel to Greenland, your goal should be connecting with locals and getting invited to a kaffemik. These are celebrations such as birthdays or weddings, and guests may can come anytime you want and leave whenever they feel like it. Photo by Greenland Travel.

       

5. Península Valdés, Argentina

 

5. Península Valdés, Argentina

The overlooked part of Patagonia, with stunning marine wildlife

The stark, windswept, and seldom-visited Atlantic coast of Patagonia has intense concentrations of wildlife with its epicenter at Peninsula Valdes. Each year between June and December is the Southern Right Whale migration. Throughout the year are other wildlife viewing possibilities, including Magellanic penguins, and elephant seals. Awesome family adventure. Image: Matiasso

       

6. Hamburg

 

6. Hamburg, Germany

Harbor city unlike anywhere else in Germany

Hamburg is more fish than sausage and more tea than beer. It’s home to one of Germany’s oldest red-light district, the Reeperbahn, where many musicians, like the Beatles, got their start. Explore the Speicherstadt, attend the Hamburger Dom, or check out a Sankt Pauli soccer game; Hamburg’s notoriously rowdy soccer team. Image: Nick Sheerbart

       

7. Faroe Islands

 

7. Faroe Islands

Otherworldly North Atlantic escape

Off in the North Atlantic somewhere between Iceland and Norway, this group of 18 islands is like a dream world: dramatic sea stacks, well-trodden hiking trails, and cosmopolitan small cities with great food scenes. The country has incredible infrastructure with most islands connected by bridge or undersea tunnel. For those islands not connected by road, there are fast ferries and subsidized helicopter transport. Photo by Stefan Klopp.

       

8. Auckland

 

8. Auckland, New Zealand

Ultimate urban backpacker hub for exploring wilderness and beaches

Auckland is one of the largest cities by land area in the world, with plenty of natural reserves, surf spots, and Maori cultural experiences throughout and surrounding the city. There’s also a great cafe culture. It’s a perfect base for exploring both coasts of NZ’s North Island. Photo by Rulo Luna.

       

9. Dominical, Costa Rica

 

9. Dominical, Costa Rica

Surf, yoga, and natural foods paradise within easy reach

Out of all the places in Costa Rica that should’ve gotten overrun with mass tourism, Dominical has been spared. It remains a small, uncrowded town with a super cool expat scene and awesome restaurants. There are exceptional AirBnb properties overlooking nearby Domincalito (as well as in town). For surfing, Dominical is almost never flat. Photo: Blaze Nowara.

       

10.Montreal

 

10. Montreal, Canada

Multicultural city with world-class paddling options and nightlife

2017 marks Montreal’s 375th anniversary, and the city plans to celebrate all year. Join in for a big party and some birthday cake on May 17, the official date that the city was founded on. Culturally diverse Montreal will also welcome you with free festivals, concerts, cultural activities, exhibitions, foodie events, tastings, tours, and theatrical performances. Photo: Michael Vesia.

       

11. Portmagee, Ireland

 

11. Portmagee, Ireland

Coastal Irish village with access to ancient sites

Portmagee is both a rad little village on its own, and the departure point for Skellig Michael. Take a ferry there, hang with puffins and dolphins all day, enjoy seafood caught steps away at the family owned Moorings Guesthouse while listening to traditional Irish song and dance and lulled to sleep by the ocean. Photo by Tony Webster.

       

12. Belfast, Maine

 

12. Belfast, Maine

Scenic seaport on Penobscot Bay, loaded with architectural treasures and historic districts

Belfast is known for welcoming the back-to-the-land movement of the ’70s. It gets a lot of credit for the craft beers of Marshall Wharf, Delvino’s authentic Italian food, served in an old hardware store, and the many local farmers who’ve taken the torch from those revolutionary back-to-the-landers and are fueling the city’s sustainable food movement. Photo by Bruce C. Cooper.

       

13. Havana

 

13. Havana, Cuba

Rapidly transitioning nation grounded in Caribbean culture and vibrancy

 

Cuba has been among the hottest places to travel for our staff at Matador, with reports always containing two elements: 1. People have more fun there than anywhere else they’ve been in years, and 2. The wifi is the worst they’ve found anywhere (Correlation anyone?). On a recent filmmaking journey, it was noted: “Everyone here has rocking chairs. This is place where people know how to chill.”

       

14. New York City

 

14. New York City

An energy unrivaled anywhere in the world

With so many things to do and places to see, NYC can be quite disorienting for a first-time visitor, which you should just accept as part of the experience. The quintessential walking city, stroll the Highline, Brooklyn bridge, and Riverside Park. Photo by Jaden D.

       

15. Franklin, Tennessee

 

15. Franklin, Tennessee

Classic small town southern vibes and beautiful watershed

A short drive from Nashville, Franklin has a great small town vibe with their Main Street as the site of numerous festivals and the Harpeth River (and connected trails) flowing right through town. The upcoming September Pilgrimage Festival will be in its 3rd year, and with Justin Timberlake as producer, it is going to be awesome.

       

16. Durango

 

16. Durango, Colorado

Outdoor adventure hub in a region dotted with storybook towns

Durango is one of the raddest towns in the US with the powerful, free-flowing Animas River running deep through the San Juan Mountains and right through the city. World class ski resort + backcountry adventures via kayaks, skis/snowboard, and great events from Snowdown in January to the La Plata County Fair in August. Photo by Avery Woodard.

       

17. Abu Dhabi

 

17. Abu Dhabi, UAE

One of the best places in the world to experience Islamic culture

Abu Dhabi is a desert emirate, dotted with oasis towns, date farms, historic forts, natural reserves, mangroves, and dunes that have lured explorers throughout history. As one of the largest mosques on the planet, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque receives pilgrims from all over the world during Eid celebrations. Outside of prayer times, it’s also open to non-Muslims and has free guided tours.

       

18. Seattle

 

18. Seattle

All in one foodie, art, music, and outdoor adventure destination

Seattle has been blowing up for the last two decades and continues to be one of the most interesting cultural centers in the US. But beyond the city itself, Seattle is special for its geography. Simply jump on a ferry for a day trip to the San Juan Islands or over to the Olympic Peninsula and you’re deep in coastal rainforests and mountain ranges–another world. Photo by Vincent Lock.

       

19. Sicily

 

19. Sicily, Italy

The Mediterranean’s largest island, rich in archeological sites and culture

Sicily has retained a strong sense of identity, and nowhere is it more enmeshed with the rich history than in the ancient walled neighborhood of Ortigia, in Siracusa. The high stone buildings and cobblestone streets give the sense of stepping back in time. Make sure to also hit up Mt. Etna (Europe’s tallest active volcano), Cefalù, and Taormina. Actually, just go everywhere. Photo by Scott Sporleder.

       

20. Varanasi

 

20. Varanasi, India

The cultural center of North India

According to Hindu mythology, Varanasi was founded by Lord Shiva. The city is one of the seven sacred cities of Hinduism. It is also a city surrounded by death. The biggest tourist attraction here is to witness the cremations that take place along the banks of the Ganges. Varanasi is Photo: Arushi Saini Photography.

       

21. St. Petersburg

 

21. St. Petersburg, Russia

Russia’s cultural capital

The historic districts of St. Petersburg comprise a UNESCO world heritage site, and the Hermitage is among the top museums in the world. Bar hop along the trendy Ruben Street and wander the massive Nevsky Prospekt main drag. Lastly, as Russia prepares to host the 2018 FIFA World Cup, St. Petersburg will serve as the backdrop for the 2017 Confederations Cup Final. Photo by Victor Bergmann.

       

22. Quebec City

 

22. Quebec City, Canada

While Canada is 150 years old in 2017, Quebec City dates back to 1608 and is like nowhere else in North America. The fortifications and French colonial stone buildings of the Old Town make you feel like you’ve travelled back in time. Photo by Julien Samson.

       

23. Charleston

 

23. Charleston, South Carolina

One of the most fun party weekends in the US

Take your time here in the Lowcountry. Have a meal at Hominy Grill, a sailboat ride up around Fort Sumter, spend an evening being touristy on King Street, and definitely take the short ride to Folly Beach. Sipping beers and eating seafood at Red’s Ice House overlooking the fishing boats on Shem Creek isn’t a bad way to spend an afternoon either. Photo by North Charleston.

       

24. Montreux

 

24. Montreux, Switzerland

The French Swiss city, surrounded by vineyards and towering alps

Belle Époque buildings overlook a long promenade along Lake Geneva, making Montreux one of the most picturesque places in the world. Every July is the Montreux Jazz Festival, which celebrated its 50th year in 2016. Photo by Karim Kanoun Photography.

       

25. Óbidos, Portugal

 

25. Óbidos, Portugal

Portugal’s scenic literary powerhouse near world class-surf

Once you’ve walked the 13th century streets, filled your bag with books and your stomach with bacalhau and vinho verde, you can drive 45 minutes to Lisbon or explore the area around Óbidos. Peniche, a surf paradise, is 25km away, and there’s a natural park (Parque Natural das Serras de Aire e Candeeiro) also nearby. Photo by lagrossemadame.

       

26. Pokhara, Nepal

 

26. Pokhara, Nepal

Nepal’s relaxing, fresh, and super close-to-nature second city

Nepal’s second city doesn’t rival the capital Kathmandu in many respects but it’s the hands-down winner for a relaxed vibe and adventure access. The hilltop viewpoint of Sarangkot is one of the best places in the world for paragliding; there are kilometers of trails just around Fewa Lake, and if you’re out of energy, Pokhara is an ideal place to chill out. Photo: Aalok dhakal.

       

27. Cabo San Lucas

 

27. Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Works all ways: place to get waves, have family fun, or as a romantic getaway

Most people associate Cabo with spring break, tequila, and loud music. The scene has changed over the last few years, with the main attractions being nature wildlife, and classy upscale resorts. Photo: Ben Horton.

       

28. Nelson, Canada

 

28. Nelson, Canada

The friendliest little ski town in British Columbia

Nelson’s history includes the settlement of the pacifist Doukhobors from Russia as well as Vietnam draft dodgers, which played no small part in its progressive values and “hippie vibes.” Nelson has a thriving music, arts, and cultural scene, and a surprising amount of cafes, bars, restaurants and locally-owned shops for a city of only 10,000 people. Photo: Carlo Alcos.

       

29. Altér do Chão, Brazil

 

29. Altér do Chão, Brazil

The “Brazilian Caribbean” hidden in the Amazon jungle

This is the perfect place to explore the Amazon rainforest. You can go on day trips to see sloths, river dolphins, and other animals, and you can taste exotic fruits and food only found here there. If you go during the rainy season, Altér do Chão is super quiet, with a hippie-ish vibe. Photo by lubasi.

       

30. George Town, Malaysia

 

30. George Town, Malaysia

A mind-blowing combination of Chinese, Indian, and Malay cultures

Spice, herb, and fresh produce stands between colonial architecture and street art offers a sensational experience with the chatter of diverse languages, like being a walk away from India and China. Photo by Ah Wei (Lung Wei).

       

31. Luang Prabang, Laos

 

31. Luang Prabang, Laos

A relaxed introduction for newcomers to Asia

It doesn’t matter where in the world you go, odds are you’ll come face to face with some pretty awesome animals during your travels. While watching a lion hunt is an incredible and raw experience, being able to share that story with stunning images can be just as powerful. 1

Get the right lens.

If you’re serious about getting sharp close-ups, investing in a DSLR and a telephoto zoom is the first order of business. If you’re shooting on a crop sensor, you can buy something like a 55-250mm for $300 or less, and if you’re shooting on a full frame camera and it’s in your budget, most manufacturers have 70-200mm and 70-300mm models that retail for anywhere from $600 to $2000 new. A 600mm telephoto lens is ideal for the pros, but that kind of glass costs over $10,000 -- and weighs as much as a cheetah cub, so it’s not ideal for the rest of us. Extenders, or teleconverters, are another option, but keep in mind these reduce the maximum aperture of the lens, making it harder to shoot in low light settings.

2

Look for the best light

This is one variable you can’t always control. If you’re deep in the jungle in Costa Rica and there’s a monkey hopping around in the trees above you, you better hope for good light, because you’re probably not going to get a great shot. (Been there, done that, and felt very defeated when I edited later.) Diffused daylight or golden hour light is best for shooting wildlife, but don’t think every image has to be a glamor shot. You’re not always going to get perfect conditions, and that’s part of the whole challenge when it comes to documenting wild animals. If the last light of the day is making the fur on an animal glow, snap that. Silhouettes can be a pretty cool thing too, you know.

3

Get your settings right.

Think of animals like people. If you want to shoot a tight portrait of someone (or a leopard), you’d want to set your aperture as wide as it’ll go, so you can focus on certain facial features and soften the background. FYI: A wide or maximum aperture means a lower f-stop number, like f/2.8, while a minimum aperture is a higher number, like f/22. Likewise, if you’re shooting a galloping zebra, you’ll want to use a fast shutter speed (probably at least 1/800s, depending on available light) to capture as much motion as possible. I generally don’t bump up my ISO unless it’s absolutely necessary, because that tends to add grain to images, and that’s not really something you can get away with on tight shots, especially if you want to crop in.

More like this: Can we stop visiting animal attractions? Here's why, and here are better alternatives 4

Shoot as many photos as possible.

It’s kinda like taking risqué selfies for your significant other. Shoot more than you think you’ll need so you have plenty of options later.

5

Be patient.

Some of the best in the biz wait weeks and even months for a chance at getting a single shot, so if you have the time, why not hang out for a bit? You’d be amazed at what happens when you simply observe animals in their element.

6

Do your research.

Where are the animals spotted? What do they eat? What season are they most active? When you know where and when to go, odds are you’ll have a better chance spotting what you’re trying to shoot. There are a plethora of bison in Yellowstone, so getting to the park is really all you need to do in that case. However, if you’re keen on shooting bald eagles, drive around to scout for nests, and consider reaching out to local wildlife photographers on social media to ask where they’ve snapped them recently.

7

Be respectful.

This is probably the most important thing on this list. And yet I routinely scold (and sometimes yell) at people who get out of their vehicles and approach animals, because it happens every time I’m in a national park. Maybe I shouldn’t do that, but come on. You absolutely should NOT walk up to a grizzly bear to try and take a selfie with it (I saw this happen in Banff over the summer), and feeding critters to get shots is a huge no-no as well -- even if they’re “only” squirrels. Wild animals are just that: Wild. They’re not pets. Don’t treat them as such, no matter how adorable they are. Your photo is not more important than the welfare of the animal, so remember that. Making wild animals feel more comfortable around humans (or associating them with food) is what causes them to get killed every year, whether it’s by vehicles or by animal control. If you want to truly get hands on with animals, consider visiting a wildlife sanctuary. Or a taxidermist.

8

Put your camera down.

Enjoy the experience and be present. Life isn’t just about photos, it’s about...living. Er, right? As I’ve gotten older, I’ve passed up more and more shots and opted to sit and watch things unfold before me. Sometimes it’s impossible to get a shot that accurately depicts what you’re seeing anyway, so don’t waste a precious moment because you had your face smushed up against the viewfinder.

Featured image: Joe Ridley

Remote CEO

Photo: Tranmautritam

I’m the kind of person who believes in the magical life-enhancing properties of travel. Whether it’s for business or pleasure (the two, as far as I’m concerned, aren’t mutually exclusive anyway, but that’s a whole other story), traveling encourages the movement of ideas and helps us all see the world from new perspectives. That mission — spreading ideas and innovation beyond borders — is what I’m working on with Jobbatical, the global hiring platform I co-founded a bit more than two years ago.

My most hardcore travel extravaganza of recent years — or perhaps of all time )) happened in September 2016, when over a one-month period my travel trajectory went like this: Estonia-Singapore-Malaysia-Singapore-Malaysia-Australia-Malaysia-Japan-Malaysia-Singapore-Estonia. What looks like a serious accident with a typewriter is, in fact, just par for the course when you’re the founder of a startup with global reach.

My most recent absence from the Jobbatical office was also precisely one month long. Enough time, apparently, for my desk to be reassigned to a new team member. Now I’m a digital nomad in my own office, with no desk to call home. It’s a small price to pay for the privilege of getting to see so much of the world — and there are plenty of comfy beanbags to choose from (as required by startup law), so my loss isn’t that great.

Over the course of that fateful month, I did my work from the USA, Costa Rica, Panama, and the USA again. For me, working on the go is the new normal. We humans tend to get used to situations pretty easily if they repeat often enough. As soon as I open my computer or my smartphone, it’s like I’m entering my office virtually. In many ways, it doesn’t feel that different from being in the same room with the rest of the team.

In reality, of course, working remotely requires a different structure of communication and I’m still learning how to be present for the team even when I’m on the other side of the planet. Our team as a whole has learned countless lessons over the past year. Getting a constantly growing startup team to work as a unit when people are distributed all across the globe has been the learning experience of a lifetime. Managing expectations, wrangling time zones, and keeping communication flowing freely — all the while remembering that people are just people, wherever they are )) is a balancing act for all of us. With the use of tools like Slack, Asana, Timetastic, and the art of common sense, I think we’re getting close to uncovering the secrets of efficient remote work.

To stay connected while I’m away, I like to carry my team in my pocket (in smartphone form) and share snippets of my travel experiences. In Costa Rica, while I was interviewing a senior sales candidate for Jobbatical via video call, I suddenly spotted a huge iguana. I cut our discussion off, ran to the iguana and showed my interviewee the tiny monster via our video call. Team Jobbatical knows me well enough not to be surprised when this sort of thing happens. They’ve all seen footage of me being chased by monkeys on a morning run in Malaysia. In the same vein, my regular announcements of “I almost missed my flight because this crazy thing happened” don’t even raise an eyebrow anymore. But the candidate was rendered quite speechless by my little adventure with the iguana.

I’m not afraid to declare that I love the world and its creatures in all their weirdness, and I believe that sharing such moments of genuine emotion helps shape a culture of openness. And beyond that, it’s just fun!

It’s not just the work aspect of remote work that can be challenging. I myself am lucky enough to be highly adaptable to time differences, and my 4-year-old is also already a master of traveling, having accompanied me on so many of these trips. My personal struggle is the fact that I have Restless Legs Syndrome, which becomes quite torturous on long flights. That’s one reason I’m crazy about collecting frequent flyer miles and bargaining possible upgrades to Business Class (for the bed). Another thing I’ve found is it is essential to be well prepared for in frequent flying are the effects it has on your skin. On long flights, I always have to wear the most moisturizing face masks, even if it means my fellow passengers see me as the lady with the scary face for the rest of the flight.

On balance, it’s obvious that these are minor inconveniences. What’s a patch of dry skin compared to the extraordinary privilege of being able to build and lead a startup team from the lush jungles of Costa Rica? What could be more rewarding and eye-opening than meeting clients from NYC to Singapore, hearing their stories, and working with them to build a more open world? Restless legs or not, I can’t think of anything I would rather do with my life. More like this: How are the digital nomads changing the World's cities

stargazing

Photo: Zach Dischner

I BEGAN MY FIRST overseas trip about a month before my 51st birthday, planning to be away for two months to travel to Morocco, Spain, Italy and Greece. Until then, travel had been a “one day” thing I would do, but after my 50th birthday, I realized “one day” wasn’t going to happen by itself and I didn’t want to look back and regret not taking that step.

Preparing for that solo trip I was scared, uncertain and ignorant about what to expect about any aspect — being in countries where English may not be widely spoken, finding my way to the train, then the hotel, making sure I got the travel connections, ordering food. Every single thing was either emotionally or mentally challenging.

To ease some of my anxiety, I mapped out my itinerary with regimented efficiency – two weeks in each country, no matter what, and two days in each city or town — which didn’t leave any room at all for any hitches (and there were a few!). Before I left home I completed 8 week courses in Travel Spanish and Italian — which was enough to speak Spanglish or Englian.

Trying to control my fear and uncertainty obviously influenced how I traveled, especially in the first couple of trips. In Peru, on the way to Machu Picchu I couldn’t tell anyone in my hiking group I was scared spit-less, that I didn’t know if I could finish the Inca Trail. We had just finished hiking one day of the Trail, going an extra 2 hours to make camp and it had already pushed me more than I’d ever anticipated, not just physically, but mentally. I had only met the other nine hikers in my group days before. We all got along well, but I hadn’t shared anything too personal with anyone — I take a while to open up to people. But God, I sure wish I could have just spilt my guts and said, “I’m scared.”

Since then, allowing my fear or lack of knowledge to be seen, has been so valuable to me. It’s okay not to know. In Monteverde, Costa Rica I was 59 years old, getting rigged up to go zip lining on the longest line in the world — just over 1½ kilometres and between 100-200 metres above ground. All around there was bustling activity, instructions given and metal clicks as the staff also rigged others up. Amidst the heightened energy, I felt the butterflies bashing against my chest and my eyes must have been popping out of my sockets, because the guide asked, “How are you feeling?”

“Nervous!” I said. What an understatement.

He was in his forties, with brown eyes that saw through bullshit and looking at me carefully, asked, “Do you want to go on the Superman line?” This is where you put your arms out to each side as if you’re flying and have no contact with the line except from the brace on your back. It was one of seven lines through the course.

“I don’t know,” I replied. “I want to, it looks fantastic, but I don’t know if I’ll be too scared when I get there.” It was a little humbling, feeling my pride crashing to the floor.

He rigged me up so that I had the option and looked me in the eyes and said, “You only live once. Pura vida!”

Pura vida indeed. It felt so liberating zipping down all seven lines, feeling the fear but also feeling freedom. It was such an expansive and confidence building experience.

Travel is where I have experienced in a compressed amount of time, a variety of physical, emotional or mental challenges that stretch me. It supports me in keeping an inquiring and open mind, a curiosity about other cultures and traditions. As I accept the challenges of each journey by accepting my fears, I develop a sound self-awareness, self-esteem and confidence.

It is through travel that I have been able to progressively transform this fear of the unknown and work with it in a healthy way. Now, when I show my vulnerability and admit to others when I’m scared or nervous, I’m so appreciative of the connections I form with people, the way it opens me instead of keeping barriers in place. As I accept my own insecurities and doubts, dropping the artificial pride within me has helped me become a more compassionate, tolerant and accepting person.

Lonely Planet Costa Rica (Travel Guide)

Lonely Planet

#1 best-selling guide to Costa Rica *

Lonely Planet Costa Rica is your passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to see and skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. Snorkel the teeming reefs off Manzanillo, explore some of the globe's best wildlife-watching destinations, or dig into Costa Rican culture and cuisine in San Jose; all with your trusted travel companion. Get to the heart of Costa Rica and begin your journey now!

Inside Lonely Planet Costa Rica:

Full-color maps and images throughout Highlights and itineraries help you tailor your trip to your personal needs and interests Insider tips to save time and money and get around like a local, avoiding crowds and trouble spots Essential info at your fingertips - hours of operation, phone numbers, websites, transit tips, prices Honest reviews for all budgets - eating, sleeping, sight-seeing, going out, shopping, hidden gems that most guidebooks miss Cultural insights give you a richer, more rewarding travel experience - cuisine, customs, history, landscapes & ecology, wildlife, surfing, cloud forests, politics Over 50 color maps Covers San Jose, Central Valley, Highlands, Northwestern Costa Rica, Peninsula de Nicoya, Central Pacific Coast, Southern Costa Rica, Peninsula de Osa, Golfo Duce, Carribean Coast, Northern Lowlands and more

The Perfect Choice: Lonely Planet Costa Rica, our most comprehensive guide to Costa Rica, is perfect for both exploring top sights and taking roads less traveled.

Looking for a guide focused on Costa Rica's highlights? Check out Lonely Planet Discover Costa Rica, a photo-rich guide to the country's most popular attractions Looking for more extensive coverage? Check out Lonely Planet Central America on a Shoestring guide for a comprehensive look at all the region has to offer.

Authors: Written and researched by Lonely Planet

About Lonely Planet: Since 1973, Lonely Planet has become the world's leading travel media company with guidebooks to every destination, an award-winning website, mobile and digital travel products, and a dedicated traveler community. Lonely Planet covers must-see spots but also enables curious travelers to get off beaten paths to understand more of the culture of the places in which they find themselves.

*Best-selling guide to Costa Rica. Source: Nielsen BookScan. Australia, UK and USA

Waterproof Travel Map Of Costa Rica

Ray Krueger Koplin

Waterproof and rugged road and travel map of Costa Rica including zoomed detail maps of Arenal, MonteverdeManuel Antonio and over a dozen other popular destinations. Hundreds of improvements and updates for the new tenth anniversary edition from CostaRicaGuide.com and Toucan Maps. 2 sided, 39 in. x 26.25 in. (4.875 in. x 9 in. folded) Roads are clearly differentiated by color and line width for classes from limited access divided highways down to 4WD seasonal tracks - improved and even easier to see the main route to your destination at a glance. Locations and easy to read indexes are included for cities and towns, National Parks and other natural areas, beaches, rivers, peaks, volcanoes, waterfalls and the best hotels, lodges, resorts, restaurants and activities. Exclusives o The only street level map in print for the entire Central Valley from the International Airport to San Jose. o Detailed maps of Arenal Volcano/Fortuna, AlajuelaEscazuHeredia, Manuel Antonio/Quepos, Monteverde/Santa Elena, Playa Jaco, Playa Tamarindo/Langosta, Puerto Jimenez & Tenorio/Celeste. o Proprietary symbols for distinctively Costa Rican attractions like zip-line and hanging bridge canopy tours, butterfly gardens, waterfall rappelling, rain forest horseback rides, SCUBA, deep sea fishing, golf, white water rafting, trails and many more. See at a glance what to do where. o Driving distance table and mini map for calculating trip distances and estimating drive times. o Printed on high tech synthetic "paper" it s lightweight, durable & totally waterproof - works great as an emergency umbrella! o A few dozen useful English to Spanish phrase and word translations are provided in an inset. You will appreciate having 'What is the best way to get there?' and 'Can you please show me on the map?' at your fingertips if you need to ask directions.

Frommer's Costa Rica 2017 (Complete Guide)

Karl Kahler

For a relatively small country, Costa Rica has an unusually diverse range of eco-systems to explore and adventurous activities to try. You'll visit rugged wilderness preserves and sleepy beach towns, spectacular orchid gardens and mineral hot springs at the foot of a recently-active volcano. There are adventures here for all ages and abilities: swooping from treetop platform to treetop platform on a canopy tour, taking a dip in a jungle swimming hole, spotting playful spider monkeys as you hike through lush foliage, windsurfing on Lake Arenal, or watching endangered sea turtles nest on the beach.This highly opinionated book, by one of Costa Rica’s top journalists (Karl Kahler, the Travel Editor of the country’s English-language newspaper, The Tico Times), will help you sort through all the options, so you can tailor a vacation that’s right for you.

The book is:

- Completely updated every year and printed in large, easy-to-read type

- Full-color throughout, with a free foldout map; a chapter on helpful Spanish phrases and terms; and a wildlife chapter with photos to help you identify all of the unique, colorful creatures, plants and eco-systems you’ll be seeing.

- Precise about pricing, with dollar amounts listed for all nature lodges, B&B’s, restaurants, tours and shops so there aren’t any nasty surprises.

- Packed with straight-shooting, savvy reviews, which will introduce you to the country’s best hotels, eco-lodges, restaurants, adventure outfitters and shops—in all price ranges, from budget to luxury.

Costa Rica Wildlife Guide (Laminated Foldout Pocket Field Guide) (English and Spanish Edition)

Rainforest Publications

Birds of Costa Rica, Costa Rican Mammals, Reptiles, Amphibians, and Arthropods: 229 total. Highly portable waterproof full color scientifically reviewed illustrations of the diversity of Costa Rica Wildlife.

Top 10 Costa Rica Itineraries

Jennifer Turnbull

Make travel planning fast and easy with Top 10 Costa Rica Itineraries. Costa Rica travel experts Matthew Houde and Jennifer Turnbull show you the best of Costa Rica in ten customized itineraries. The goal of this straightforward guide is to help you jump-start the planning process. Simply pick an itinerary based on your interests (e.g., wildlife, beaches, family travel) to discover where to visit in one or two weeks. Each itinerary (1) provides a general overview of destinations so that you know what to expect, (2) highlights the must-see activities and attractions, and (3) recommends the best order for your travels. A Transportation Guide answers your questions about how to get around and provides the main transportation options for each itinerary. The beauty of this simple guide is that it condenses what would normally be a 500-page guidebook into easy-to-read text to help you plan your vacation quickly and efficiently. What's Included: One and two-week itineraries with detailed descriptions, insider tips, and photos on: The Best of Costa Rica Authentic Costa Rica Adventure Surfing Wildlife Birding Family Fun Eco-trekking Guanacaste Beaches Costa Rica and Panama

Costa Rica: The Complete Guide: Ecotourism in Costa Rica (Color Travel Guide)

James Kaiser

From pristine beaches and jungle waterfalls to high-altitude coffee plantations, Costa Rica: The Complete Guide puts the very best of Costa Rica at your fingertips.Blending detailed travel tips with beautiful photography, this guidebook offers so much more than just restaurant and hotel reviews. Fascinating chapters explore Costa Rica’s unique history, culture, food, ecology and wildlife. “Top 10 Ways to Avoid a Cultural Misunderstanding” helps visitors avoid common—and potentially embarrassing—mistakes.Discover what makes Costa Rica one of the world’s most amazing destinations. Soar above the cloud forest on a zipline at Monteverde. Spend the night at a deluxe ecolodge next to Arenal Volcano. Soak in the tropical beauty of Costa Rica’s world-class beaches at Manuel Antonio National Park. Watch sea turtles lay their eggs at Tortuguero. Plan the perfect Costa Rican vacation!Filled with insider tips to save you time and moneyOver 300 beautiful color photosOver 30 detailed mapsFascinating chapters on History, Culture and FoodInformative guide to Wildlife and Ecology1% of profits are donated to environmental organizations working to preserve Costa Rica's biodiversity for future generationsPrinted on sustainable FSC paper

Living in and Visiting Costa Rica: 100 Tips, Tricks, Traps, and Facts

Greg Seymour

Finally, a book on Costa Rica that gives a “slice of life” view of this tropical, Central American country. Real world examples of what to expect at: the bank, the grocery store, the restaurant, the restroom, when driving, and more. The book is written in a lighthearted, humorous way and answers questions such as: – What are 3 things you can do as a customer at a bank in the U.S. that you will get your hand slapped for in Costa Rica? – What app would a wise person visiting Costa Rica put on their cell phone for use in the restroom? – What is considered rude in a U.S. restaurant but is a necessity to ensure you get to enjoy a hot entrée in Costa Rica? These observations and over 100 more (yes, there are some extras thrown in) are covered to help you get the most out of your visit or move to Costa Rica. No one famous ever said: “I look forward to a day when books are not judged by the number of characters in their content, but the content of those characters.” But they should have. Living in and Vistiting Costa Rica is comprised of just over 31,000 words that will positively impact your research of Costa Rica, whether you are a tourist or a potential expat.

Happier Than a Billionaire: Quitting My Job, Moving to Costa Rica, and Living the Zero Hour Work Week

Nadine Hays Pisani

TWO PLANE TICKETS, NO PLAN, ONE DREAM A celebration of one couple's decision to risk it all and live in one of the happiest places on earth. In this humorous and witty account, Nadine Pisani shares what it is like to follow her dream of quitting her job and starting a new life under the sunny skies of Costa Rica. Along the way, she finds reliable utilities are not that reliable, quirky neighbors are unavoidable, and tackling red tape takes the strength of a linebacker. But with all its challenges, you'll learn why Costa Rica is ranked as one of the happiest places on earth--and you too may want to taste the Pura Vida lifestyle.

Exercise a high degree of caution

The decision to travel is your responsibility. You are also responsible for your personal safety abroad. The purpose of this Travel Advice is to provide up-to-date information to enable you to make well-informed decisions.

Crime

Crimes against tourists are particularly common at airports, bus stations, ports, car rental lots, crowded tourist attractions and resort areas. Thieves target foreigners’ money, credit cards and passports. Cases of passport theft, including cases involving Canadians, are extremely common. Exercise caution and vigilance with your valuables and travel documents. Petty crime such as pickpocketing, bag snatching, and thefts from vehicles also occurs regularly.

Stay in busy and well-protected hotels, and ensure that your personal belongings are secure at all times. Never leave valuables unattended. Carry a photocopy of your passport, including the Costa Rican entry stamp, and any other travel documents, and keep your original documents in a secure place, such as the hotel safe.

Remain alert to your surroundings near the ports of Limón and Puntarenas. In San José, high-risk areas for theft include the Coca Cola bus station, the inner downtown area and public parks. On the Atlantic coast, be particularly cautious in Puerto Viejo and Cahuita; on the Pacific coast, Tamarindo, Jacó, Quepos and Manuel Antonio are areas of particular concern for theft. Cars parked near the popular crocodile viewing area along the Tárcoles River near Jacó are particularly vulnerable to theft.

Violent crime is increasing and is of significant concern to tourists and foreign residents. Since January 2011, two Canadian citizens have been murdered in Costa Rica. Over the past two years, eight foreign nationals (including one Canadian citizen) have gone missing. During this time, four foreigners (including one Canadian citizen) were murdered on the Osa peninsula.

Armed robberies and home invasions are also on the rise, including in beach areas and on the main highways in the central valley. Thieves often work in teams, in which one thief diverts the victims’ attention while the other snatches their possessions. Beware of "good Samaritans" offering their help to change a flat tire, as they are often the cause of the situation. Carjackings occur, often at gunpoint. Remain vigilant in a stopped car and always drive with the doors locked and windows closed. Park your vehicle only in supervised commercial parking lots, and avoid travelling at night.

Drug trafficking is increasing in Costa Rica. Local consumption of illicit narcotics, particularly crack cocaine, is a key concern for the Costa Rican authorities along with the continued rise in drug-related violent crimes.

Cases of express kidnapping, where victims are picked up from the street and forced to withdraw funds from automated banking machines (ABMs), have occurred. Avoid showing signs of affluence, and remain cautious with new acquaintances offering friendship, hospitality or assistance.

Foreigners have been sexually assaulted at beach resorts as well as by taxi drivers in San José. Only use official taxis, and avoid those that do not have working door handles, locks and meters. Do not ride in the front seat with the driver.

As incidents of sexual assault sometimes involve the use of sedative drugs, avoid leaving your drinks or food unattended in bars and nightclubs. Consult our publication entitled Her Own Way: A Woman’s Safe-Travel Guide for travel safety information specifically aimed at Canadian women.

If you are a victim of robbery or any other crime, we strongly encourage you to file a formal police report at the closest Oficina del Organismo de Investigación Judicial (judicial investigation department office) to ensure that local authorities can conduct an investigation and contribute to reducing crime in Costa Rica.

Demonstrations

Occasional demonstrations occur in the capital, which may cause traffic disruptions. Strikes also sometimes take place and disrupt local services. Exercise caution, avoid large crowds and stay informed of possible roadblocks.

Road travel

Costa Rica has one of the highest traffic accident rates in the world. Exercise great caution when driving or walking, since traffic laws are routinely ignored. Traffic signs are not sufficient. In some areas, potholes, sharp curves, landslides, and narrow or unpaved roads create dangerous road conditions. Be careful after dark, especially on rural roads. Travelling by road during the rainy season is particularly dangerous, given the increased risks of flooding and landslides.

Camera monitoring systems have been installed in various locations. Speeding fines are automatically charged to individuals exceeding the speed limit.

Only use official taxis. At the airport, licensed taxis are orange. Other official taxis are red with a yellow triangle on the side.

Public bus transportation is disorganized. Police checks of public transportation occur and are often used to determine whether foreigners have overstayed the 90-day visa exemption period.

Maritime travel

If navigating the coasts of Costa Rica, proceed with caution, as safety and rescue operations are limited due to a lack of resources. There have been cases where the Costa Rican Coast Guard has sought the assistance of the U.S. Coast Guard, resulting in delayed rescue operations.

Air travel

Consult our Transportation Safety page in order to verify if national airlines meet safety standards.

General security information

Several drownings occur each year. Riptides are very common on both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts. Few beaches are supervised or have signs warning of dangerous conditions. Seek the advice of local authorities before swimming.

Safety features on small boats are not always reliable. White-water rafting, scuba diving, bungee jumping, canopy touring, and other adventure sports should only be undertaken with a well-established company. If you have any doubt concerning the security of the installations or equipment, refrain from using them.

Avoid camping or sleeping overnight on beaches.

If you intend to visit jungle areas, always go with an experienced guide.

Few people outside major hotels and very few public service providers such as police, lawyers and hospitals are able to communicate in English or French. Most taxi drivers do not speak English or French.

Emergency services

Costa Rica has created a tourism police force (Policía Turística) dedicated to improving the security of foreigners. Dial 911 for police assistance.

Health

Related Travel Health Notices
Consult a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic preferably six weeks before you travel.
Vaccines

Routine Vaccines

Be sure that your routine vaccines are up-to-date regardless of your travel destination.

Vaccines to Consider

You may be at risk for these vaccine-preventable diseases while travelling in this country. Talk to your travel health provider about which ones are right for you.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a disease of the liver spread by contaminated food or water. All those travelling to regions with a risk of hepatitis A infection should get vaccinated.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a disease of the liver spread through blood or other bodily fluids. Travellers who may be exposed (e.g., through sexual contact, medical treatment or occupational exposure) should get vaccinated.

Influenza

Seasonal influenza occurs worldwide. The flu season usually runs from November to April in the northern hemisphere, between April and October in the southern hemisphere and year round in the tropics. Influenza (flu) is caused by a virus spread from person to person when they cough or sneeze or through personal contact with unwashed hands. Get the flu shot.

Measles

Measles occurs worldwide but is a common disease in developing countries, particularly in parts of Africa and Asia. Measles is a highly contagious disease. Be sure your vaccination against measles is up-to-date regardless of the travel destination.
 

Rabies

Rabies is a disease that attacks the central nervous system spread to humans through a bite, scratch or lick from a rabid animal. Vaccination should be considered for travellers going to areas where rabies exists and who have a high risk of exposure (i.e., close contact with animals, occupational risk, and children).

Typhoid

Typhoid is a bacterial infection spread by contaminated food or water. Risk is higher among travellers going to rural areas, visiting friends and relatives, or with weakened immune systems. Travellers visiting regions with typhoid risk, especially those exposed to places with poor sanitation should consider getting vaccinated.

Yellow Fever Vaccination

Yellow fever is a disease caused by the bite of an infected mosquito.

Travellers get vaccinated either because it is required to enter a country or because it is recommended for their protection.

* It is important to note that country entry requirements may not reflect your risk of yellow fever at your destination. It is recommended that you contact the nearest diplomatic or consular office of the destination(s) you will be visiting to verify any additional entry requirements.
Risk
  • There is no risk of yellow fever in this country.
Country Entry Requirement*
  • Proof of yellow fever vaccination is required if you are coming from a country where yellow fever occurs.
Recommendation
  • Vaccination is not recommended.
  • Discuss travel plans, activities, and destinations with a health care provider.
Food/Water

Food and Water-borne Diseases

Travellers to any destination in the world can develop travellers' diarrhea from consuming contaminated water or food.

In some areas in Central America and Mexico, food and water can also carry diseases like cholera, hepatitis A and typhoid. Practise safe food and water precautions while travelling in Central America and Mexico. Remember: Boil it, cook it, peel it, or leave it!

Travellers' diarrhea
  • Travellers' diarrhea is the most common illness affecting travellers. It is spread from eating or drinking contaminated food or water.
  • Risk of developing travellers’ diarrhea increases when travelling in regions with poor sanitation. Practise safe food and water precautions.
  • The most important treatment for travellers' diarrhea is rehydration (drinking lots of fluids). Carry oral rehydration salts when travelling.

Insects

Insects and Illness

In some areas in Central America and Mexico, certain insects carry and spread diseases like American trypanosomiasis (Chagas disease), dengue fever, leishmaniasis, malaria, onchocerciasis (river blindness), and West Nile virus.

Travellers are advised to take precautions against bites.

Dengue fever
  • Dengue fever occurs in this country. Dengue fever is a viral disease that can cause severe flu-like symptoms. In some cases it leads to dengue haemorrhagic fever, which can be fatal.  
  • Mosquitoes carrying dengue bite during the daytime. They breed in standing water and are often found in urban areas.
  • Protect yourself from mosquito bites. There is no vaccine available for dengue fever.

Malaria

Malaria

  • There is a risk of malaria in certain areas and/or during a certain time of year in this country.
  • Malaria is a serious and occasionally fatal disease that is spread by mosquitoes. There is no vaccine against malaria.
  • Protect yourself from mosquito bites. This includes covering up, using insect repellent and staying in well-screened, air-conditioned accommodations. You may also consider sleeping under an insecticide-treated bed net or pre-treating travel gear with insecticides.
  • Antimalarial medication may be recommended depending on your itinerary and the time of year you are travelling. See a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic, preferably six weeks before you travel to discuss your options.

Animals

Animals and Illness

Travellers are cautioned to avoid contact with animals, including dogs, monkeys, snakes, rodents, birds, and bats. Some infections found in Central America and Mexico, like rabies, can be shared between humans and animals.


Person-to-Person

Person-to-Person Infections

Crowded conditions can increase your risk of certain illnesses. Remember to wash your hands often and practice proper cough and sneeze etiquette to avoid colds, the flu and other illnesses.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV are spread through blood and bodily fluids; practise safer sex.


Medical services and facilities

Medical services and facilities

Medical facilities are limited outside urban areas.

Keep in Mind...

The decision to travel is the sole responsibility of the traveller. The traveller is also responsible for his or her own personal safety.

Be prepared. Do not expect medical services to be the same as in Canada. Pack a travel health kit, especially if you will be travelling away from major city centres.

You are subject to local laws. Consult our Arrest and Detention page for more information.

Illegal drugs

Penalties for possession, use or trafficking of illegal drugs are strict. Convicted offenders can expect lengthy jail sentences and/or heavy fines.

Laws

Canada and Costa Rica are signatories to the European Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons, which enables a Canadian imprisoned in Costa Rica to request to be transferred to Canada to complete the sentence in a Canadian prison. The transfer requires the agreement of both Canadian and Costa Rican authorities.

If you violate Costa Rica’s laws, even unknowingly, you may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.

Costa Rican Immigration authorities state that all foreigners must carry original identification documents; however, local authorities will accept photocopies as long as the original documents are accessible.

It is illegal to photograph official buildings. Verify with local authorities before taking photos.

The Costa Rican government is actively trying to discourage sex tourism. Soliciting the services of a minor for sexual purposes is illegal in Costa Rica and is punishable by imprisonment.

Traffic enforcement is the responsibility of the transit police (222-9330 or 222-9245). Transit officers often perform roadside inspection of vehicles and request the driver’s permit, vehicle registration and insurance documents. Traffic fines are not supposed to be collected on site. Travellers involved in driving accidents should call 911 to notify authorities of the accident. Do not move the vehicle until advised to do so by the police.

Rentals

Terms and conditions of car rentals in Costa Rica are unlike most contracts in North America. You should carefully review contracts and, in particular, be aware of the mandatory insurance liability coverage. Many driving situations can nullify insurance.

Money

The currency is the Costa Rican colón (CRC). To avoid complications, carry U.S. dollars or colones. It is advisable to exchange money at registered banks and exchange offices. Credit cards are widely accepted. Credit card fraud is a growing problem.

It is extremely difficult to exchange Canadian currency and traveller’s cheques in Canadian dollars in Costa Rica. The maximum amount of traveller’s cheques that may be cashed at one time is $500. Access to cash via automated banking machines (ABMs) is available in major cities. Only local currency can be withdrawn.

Climate

The hurricane season extends from June to the end of November. The National Hurricane Center provides additional information on weather conditions. Stay informed of regional weather forecasts, and follow the advice and instructions of local authorities.

During the rainy season (May to November, sometimes to January), flooding and mudslides occur frequently in the lowlands and in mountainous areas, including along the Caribbean and in the central cordillera. Road transportation may be affected as poor weather conditions during this season make road travel increasingly dangerous. Keep informed of regional weather forecasts and plan accordingly.

Costa Rica is located in an active seismic and volcanic zone. The Arenal Volcano regularly erupts. Pay careful attention to all warnings issued for national parks, especially for the Arenal Volcano area.