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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.