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Costa Rica

Geography

Unique Tours - Ocean & Jungle JourneysCosta Rica is a small country. Its territory, including its islands, sums up to 51.100 km2, which is to say 19.929 square miles. (Costa Rica, Belize and El Salvador are the smallest countries in Central America).

Then, if you were to compare Costa Rica with other lands because of its size, one must say Denmark or the state of West Virginia in the United States are very closet o it in land size. Nevertheless, this tiny country hosts a five percent of the world’s biodiversity, more than 800 varieties of fern, at least 1000 varieties of orchids, 2000 types of trees and 200 species of mammals. This amazing diversity is the result of being situated between two hemispheres and being bathed by two oceans: the Pacific and the Atlantic in the Caribbean Sea. Therefore, a great variety of life and land forms is to be expected.

Both Costa Rican coasts have numberless beaches, although the Pacific coast has definitely greater development in terms of real-estate and urbanization.
Geographically, Costa Rica is located at 8°03’-11°13’N and 82°32’-85°57’W in the coordinate system. It is bordered by Nicaragua to the North and Panama to the South, the Caribbean Sea to the East and the Pacific Ocean to the West.

Its administrative division consists in seven provinces: Alajuela, Cartago, Guanacaste, Heredia, Limón, Puntarenas, and San José, which is the capital of the country and sits right in its center, in the middle of a mountain-surrounded valley.

As part of the Central American isthmus, Costa Rica is situated on a natural bridge inhabited by countless species of wildlife, both plants and animals. These life forms are characteristic of the ecozones known as the Nearctic and the Neotropic, as well as of some of the regions in the Western Indies. This broad biodiversity is explained by the existence of both coast landscapes at sea level and desert landscapes at altitudes higher than 3000 meters (10000 feet).

Costa Rica’s biodiversity has allowed it to generate large amounts of research to identify and study more than 360 species of reptiles and amphibians (150 species of amphibians and 210 species of reptiles), as well as 850 species of birds (625 in its nests and 225 migrant ones), and more than 205 species of mammals, including bats and other non-flying rodents.

 

Mountains

The convergence of four mountain ranges creates a real mountain spine that runs all along the country, from North to South, and shapes amazing landscapes and breathtaking sights. The mountains begin in the North with the Guanacaste mountain range; then, they go on with the Tilarán mountain range which is located in the area of both the Arenal volcano and Monteverde cloud forest. From there, the mountains become the Central range, where we find the astonishing Poás and Irazú volcanoes and the beautiful National Park of Braulio Carrillo. Right at the South, the mountains finish with the Talamanca range, the highest in the country.

 

Coasts and harbors

Unique Tours - Ocean & Jungle JourneysCosta Rica’s Pacific coastline measures 1.254 kilometers in length, whereas the Caribbean coast is only 212 kilometers long.

In the Pacific coast, there are several mountain sets, two great gulfs: Nicoya gulf and Dulce gulf, as well as peninsulas and both large and small bays. Two of the country’s most important harbors are located in the Pacific: Puntarenas and Caldera, and their presence contributes to both industrial and touristic development in the area.

The Pacific coast hast two great peninsulas, Nicoya’s and Osa’s, and a curious fact to mention about them is that they’re both almost identical in shape, so Osa’s peninsula seems to be a smaller copy cat version of the Nicoya one.

The Caribbean coast is much more regular in terms of geography, and it even has a natural harbor or port that is called Moín. Likewise, Limón’s province is full of plains that sum up to a fifth of the country’s territory and extend themselves all the way into the Northern region. This geographical trait is a very important factor for tourism attraction.

 

Climate

Unique Tours - Ocean & Jungle JourneysCosta Rica is located in the Tropic, between 8 and 11 degrees to the North of the Equator. Therefore, the climate is dominated by mild subtropical conditions which prevail all year round and extreme temperatures are not found, except for those temporary climate phenomena that may affect all the region. The country is sunny all year long and gray-sky periods are practically non-existent in this land.

The main factor for temperature variation is the altitude. This means, the greater the altitude, the colder the weather. A potential visitor may expect only moderate temperatures, but the irregularity of its mountains creates a number of micro climates. Then, it might be surprising to know that in the Chirripó mountain, the highest in the country plants are covered in ice early in the morning.

Given the persistence of clouds in the area, temperatures are usually higher in the Pacific than in the Caribbean. Just as well, the water division line highlights this temperature contrast all year long. Nevertheless, in both sides of the country, the average temperature at sea level is of 75° F (24°C); whereas in higher zones it varies between 14° F and 18°F (8°C a 10°C), although it mostly remains close to 54°F (12°). However, in high areas, temperatures may even go down to freezing point, mainly between November and January. When the country faces the presence of cold fronts coming in from the North American mountains and which create a general decrease in temperature.

Because of its main features, Costa Rica’s climate has been recognized worldwide as good for the overall health. In fact, its beneficial reputation has been such that it has been talked about as a true atmospheric therapy for the general wellbeing.

As a matter of fact, this is one of the few countries in the world that receives the polar air effect because of its proximity to the Equator. The warmest months are March, April and May, while the wettest are September and October.

Costa Rica only has two weather seasons: the rainy season (locally called “winter”) and the dry season (locally called “summer”). However, the weather resembles summer most of the time. Now, although climate conditions seem to be rather unpredictable, one can state that the Costa Rican summer goes from December to April, when a no-rain period prevails mostly. In contrast, the Costa Rican winter goes from May to November, when it rain son a daily basis, especially near coast areas. There is no spring or autumn in Costa Rica.

During the rainy season, rainfall measurements vary from 59 inches (1500 mm) to a little more than 190 inches (4800 mm) per square meter. The average rainfall is of between 79 and 153inches (2000 a 4000 mm).

Rainfall may show up as heavy downpours, with impressive thunders and lightning, steady rain or, very seldom, persisting storms that may last for a few days. However, even during the rainy season, rain doesn’t last all day long, but it mainly shows up in the afternoon in the Central Valley, as well as in some high areas. In contrast, during the early hours of the evening and all the way into the night, it rains in the lowlands near the Pacific coast.

Each season is marked by its own beauty. Hence, the rainy season allows us to appreciate the vitality and the abundance of its breathtaking flora, which reaches the very souls of its visitors. In the summer, this wildlife features a great variety of orchids, bougainvilleas, queens of the night and other amazing flowers, as well as a number of blossoming trees, dressed in amazing coloring during the dry season.
Costa Rica prides itself on having the world’s highest percentage of protected land areas (25% of its total territory), including forests, biological reservations and, of course, national parks. For this reason, many Europeans and North Americans have decided to make Costa Rica their new homeland.

Between the coasts, the inner country is formed by four mountain ranges which cross the country from North to South.

From the central mountains, it is where most of the longest and widest rivers in the country cascade down into the Caribbean coast.

 

Language

Costa Rica’s official language is Spanish, as it is spoken by ninety seven percent of the population. Nonetheless, certain autochthonous languages still prevail in indigenous reservations, such as the bri bri and the cabécar.

Despite Spanish being the country’s official language, a lot of Costa Rican workers, including tourism staff, speak English at proficient level.

 

Electricity system

Countrywide, the most common electricity system is that of 110 watts, with two hole sockets with no ground wires.

 

Currency and exchange rate

In Costa Rica, the national currency is the colón (¢ 1,00). The exchange rate to US dollars may vary on a daily basis, which is why it is highly recommendable to carry out all currency exchanges at the national bank system.

ATM (Automatic Teller Machines) machines are very common in populated areas.

Costa Rican businesses accept the vast majority of credit cards, such as Visa, Master Card and American Express.

 

Tips

Most restaurants include a 10% service charge on their bills. However, it is advisable to ask about this, as some other types of business manage their tips in a different form. For example, taxi drivers do not usually take tips.

In hotels and other tourism services, if a customer is satisfied with the service, he / she may grant a tip to the waitress,, the tourist guide or the driver. They will surely appreciate it.