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Getting In the Country

United States  and Canada citizens only need a valid passports or birth certificates,  photo ID - normally a driver's license - to enter Costa Rica and stay for up to 90 days. Non-passport holders must also buy a $2 tourist card. No visas are necessary. All Europeans need valid passports. Most, with the exception of the Greeks, don't need visas. Greek citizens must have their passports stamped with a visa before they leave home. All may stay for up to 90 days. In Central America, only Nicaraguans need consular visas to enter Costa Rica. All Central Americans must present valid passports. Panamanians may stay for up to 90 days; other Central Americans receive an initial 30-day admittance that may be extended for 60 days more.

By Air

Prices vary from $350 to $400 if flying from places like Miami, Houston or Dallas, $450 to $600 from more distant North American departure points, $800 to $1,000 from Europe. Cheaper fares can be obtained from the growing number of charter flights going to Liberia's Daniel Oduber International Airport, near the sun, sand and surf resorts of the northwestern province of Guanacaste. Most regular international flights touch down at Juan Santamaria Airport, half an hour's drive from downtown San Jose.

Four major U.S. airlines now fly to Costa Rica. United has daily connections from Los Angeles via Guatemala City, and Washington D.C. via Mexico City. American flies daily from Miami and Dallas. Continental flies twice daily from Houston, once from Newark; Delta has a link from Atlanta. You can also fly from Los Angeles via Mexico City with Mexicana. From Europe, Spanish flag-carrier Iberia has twice-weekly flights from Madrid that are either direct or require changing planes at Miami. Martinair flies twice a week from Amsterdam via Miami, Condor goes via Tampa from Frankfurt. British Airways started a weekly flight from London in October 1998. Discount charter airlines such as Falcon Air Express, Allegro and Champion Air fly groups to Liberia from Miami, Detroit, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Dallas and others.

Costa Rican flag-carrier LACSA, now operating under the corporate livery of Central American airline TACA Group, flies from Miami, Orlando, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York's JFK, Dallas, Houston, New Orleans and Toronto. Some flights are direct, others stop in places like Havana, San Salvador, Guatemala City and Cancun.

IMPORTANT: Changes in airport immigration procedures require that you confirm your flight at least 24 hours in advance, and be at the airport two hours before your scheduled departure. Overbooking means you may find yourself without a seat, specially in the high season where most airlines are overbooked.


In country flights reduces travel times to a fraction, but air transport within the country is not necessary, since Costa Rica can be traveled from border to border in about 13 hour and from coast to coast in about seven.

The following companies have light, multi-engine and single-engine planes, that can take tourists to several destinations. Sansa, domestic branch of Central American airline Taca Group, has cheapest scheduled flights to 15 destinations from Juan Santamaria International Airport. Nature Air flies to 11 destinations from Tobias Bolaños Airport in Pavas, nearer to downtown San Jose.

A flight to the north Pacific beach resort of Tamarindo, can cost $110-$146 for non-residents. Costa Ricans and legal residents pay less. The same trip by bus costs about $5, but takes 4-5 hours. Popular flights include the 50-minute hop to Palmar Sur and a stop off for Drake Bay. Others leave San Jose for Barra del Colorado, a prime Caribbean fishing spot, 35-minutes away. Small planes or helicopters may also be chartered for tours or transport. Aero Bell, Helisa, Helicopteros Turisticos Tropical , and Pitts Aviation fly out of Tobias Bolanos; Aero Costa Sol out of Juan Santamaría.

By Sea

MORE tourists and adventurers are choosing a watery route to Costa Rica aboard cruise ships or private boats, thanks in large part to government projects aimed at improving port infrastructure. According to Costa Rica Tourism Institute (ICT) statistics, in 1998 205 cruise ships carrying 216,000 people docked in Costa Rica - an increase of 15 percent over the previous year. Tourists on cruise ships generally spend a day on overland sightseeing tours.

New facilities at the Pacific port of Puntarenas will attract even more cruises to this renaissance town, again the Pacific coast's major stopover. The new facilities have replaced aging Puerto Caldera as the Pacific stopover point. The Caribbean port of Limon also receives a sizeable amount of cruise ship traffic.

Most Costa Rica-bound cruise ships, mostly out of Miami, stop here as part of a larger tour and insist on planning every minute of their clients' activities. See specific country sections for local cruise companies with tours to Costa Rica's gulf islands and other destinations.

The marina at Playa Flamingo on the Pacific coast is a favorite stop over for sailors and yachters. Farther north, the mammoth Golfo de Papagayo tourism project is closer o becoming a reality with renewed construction this year. Scheduled to open in mid 200, Marriot Los Sueños at Herradura beach will feature a modern Marina. The port City of Golfito on the Pacific Golfo Dulce also has a small, busy Marina.

Drivers may use the Nicoya ferry to cut on travel times.

By Land

Costa Rica, as  you probably know by now, is a very small country.  Once in the central valley you can reach fun, exotic destinations  from 30 minutes to five hours away.  The road system here will take you anywhere but be careful of the pot holes, since they are a common denominator to all roads in the country.  There is a poor label guide to reference from the maps, so it may say take this number road and that highway but almost none of them have proper highway markers.


Taxis are the fastest and most convenient way of traveling around the city, or getting to outlying suburbs.
All official cabs are red - which have a yellow triangular license shield painted on the side - they are supposed to be equipped with working meters called maria. Most drivers are compliant about using the mania, but get a sleazy  when they're dealing with tourists. If they don't put it on, make sure to tell them   "Ponga la maria por favor" (please put the maria <meter>), if they come up with some excuse, just ask to be let off and hail another taxi. There are plenty around.

Taxi drivers are not obliged to use the maria for destinations outside the city limits, such as the airport. In such cases, it is best to negotiate a fare before setting off, and there used to be a law that allowed them to charge 20% after 10 p.m. NOT ANY MORE!. The current fare to or from Juan Santamaria International Airport is between 3,000 and 6,000 colones ($10 - 20). There are plenty of so-called piratas (pirates), or illegal cabs, patrolling  the streets. These don't have meters, and are meant to be cheaper. However, you risk being overcharged if you consent to a pirate cabbie's proposed rate without having some idea of what the normal fare for the route should be.


The bus system is cheap and excellent, with destinations from San Jose to anywhere in the country.
Bus travel here is civilized, compared to the more rustic conditions found in some other Central American countries. However, some buses can be old and rickety. Most routes radiate from San Jose, which can often make it inconvenient when you want to get from one end of the country to the other without trekking back to the capital. Another inconvenience is that there is no single central bus station in San Jose; bus stops for urban and inter-urban routes are scattered all over downtown. This has been made more confusing recently by the reorganization of the city's road system in which many bus terminals changed location.

The bus station most travelers experience is the oddly-named "Coca-Cola", on Av 1-3, Ca 16. Serving most Central and North Pacific destinations, as well as the western metropolitan suburbs, it is the capital's most chaotic terminal. However, its indoor market, typical restaurants and teeming street life give a good sampling of Tico culture. Keep a sharp eye on your bags and wallet, since it's a favorite haunt for pickpockets and young street thugs known locally as chapulines. Most buses have a cable that passengers pull or a button they push when they want to get off. In a pinch, yell "Parada, por favor"(next stop, please), and the driver will let you off as soon as he can. Urban stops in San Jose were relocated earlier this year in an effort to decongest the downtown area. 


Agencies are plentiful such as Adobe, Europcar and Hertz. All have late-model vehicles, from sub-compact to four-wheel drive all-terrain vehicles. Service is of quality and prices are reasonable.

Visitors can drive in Costa Rica with valid licenses from their countries, plus their passports. For exploring bumpy, muddy back roads, a four-wheel drive vehicle is essential in the rainy season. Remember to check rented cars for dents and scratches before you sally forth into San Jose's automobile jungle.  Tranquil Ticos become horn-honking tyrants behind the wheel. Alto often doesn't mean stop. Ceda (Yield), means jostle, nudge and squeeze in. Torrential rains and fog, as well as a plethora of unexpected road hazards - landslides, gigantic potholes, animals, pedestrians, vehicles without lights, unmarked road construction - make driving here an extra challenge. Be defensive and avoid driving at night on unfamiliar roads. If you get in an accident, never move your vehicle or make "deals." Wait for the traffic cops, no matter how long they take. If a traffic cop tries to shake you down by insisting you pay a fine on-the-spot, don't pay. Insist on being given a ticket. Traffic cops are not allowed to accept money.

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