Costa Rica takes up only 0.03 percent of the earth’s surface, yet contains nearly 6 percent of the world’s biodiversity. Costa Rica is a true wonder reserving the highest percentage of its land for conservation and preserved national parks compared to any other nation worldwide. This beautiful country is also generally neutral, garnering the title ‘The Switzerland of Central America.’* Beautiful beaches, breathtaking mountains, and lush rainforests make it the ideal place for a getaway. Check out these cross-cultural and international travel tips to discover what Pura Vida is all about!
1. Culture & Customs:
Costa Ricans are punctual (monochronic), although business can move painfully slowly because Costa Ricans are risk-adverse and conservative in comparison to their Latin American counterparts. An excellent conversational topic is their former president and Nobel Prize Winner, Arias Sanchez, hailed for his efforts to halt the Nicaraguan civil war.
2. Spanish Language:
Spanish is the official language, although spoken with less color and nuance than bordering countries. Use a pocket dictionary to learn common phrases and immerse yourself in the culture and language. Costa Ricans use both the formal pronoun usted, and the reflective voceo informal pronoun (not tu) where vos replaces tu almost interchangeably. Costa Ricans refer to themselves as ticas (females), and ticos (males). Be aware of a few colloquial terms like pura vida (pure life; the Costa Rican way of life), mae (dude), and tuanis (cool, nice). English is widely spoken and used frequently in business.
3. Colón Currency:
Costa Rica uses the Colón. Currently, 500 colones is about the equivalent to US$1.00. Many hotels, restaurants and shops accept credit cards.
4. Regional Dining:
A unique dish is gallo pinto, a mixture of beans and rice, cooked together served with or without eggs, meat, onions, cilantro, peppers and vegetables. Plantains are also popular. Coffee is an influential part of the culture and history of Costa Rica, so be sure to try the infinite rich blends from different Tostadores.
5. Getting Around:
Renting a car is a popular transportation choice, but it’s expensive. A deposit of approximately US$1,000 is required. The roads are challenging to navigate in various areas with narrow bridges, and many are not well marked. Take extra precautions and rent a Tom-Tom, Garmin, or other GPS device.
Costa Rica has both a dry season (Dec-April) and a wet season (May-November). Keep these months and the terrain in mind when packing. The tropical terrain includes both mountainous rainforests and isolated beaches, so pack more than your swim suit. The country is located just 10 degrees north of the equator making the sun that much stronger. Reapply sunscreen often. Find shade as well, with the average annual temperature 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
7. SIM Card/Cellular Plan:
The best communication is with a Costa Rican SIM card or pre-paid phone. A basic pre-paid phone costs US$20-30 and SIM cards run in US$5 increments depending on the data plan. Kolbi is a Costa Rican government-backed company with national and airport kiosks.
8. Departure Tax:
A Passport is required. Set aside the US$29.00 departure tax in advance; this often catches travelers by surprise. It must be paid at the airport, train and bus station. Be sure to check your air fare receipt to determine if the departure tax was paid; don’t pay the same fee twice!
*It’s important to note that Switzerland has an army, whereas Costa Rica does not.
Sharon Schweitzer and Shannan Bloomstrand co-wrote this article. Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a cross-cultural consultant, an international protocol expert and the founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide. She is accredited in intercultural management, is the resident etiquette expert for CBS Austin’s We Are Austin, regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, Fortune, Inc., The New York Times, and numerous other media. She is the best-selling, international award-winning author of Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, named to Kirkus Review’s Best Books of 2015.
Shannan Bloomstrand is a Summer Intern with Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide. She is a senior Language and International Health major with an emphasis in Community Development and a minor in Biology at Clemson University. Feel free to connect with Shannan at http://www.linkedin.com/in/shannanbloomstrand or follow her on Twitter @shannanbloom.