Costa Rica is home to one of the oldest democracies in the Americas. The country has been noted for its friendliness and preoccupation with peace. Its policy of active neutrality has twice earned it the nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1987 this prestigious award was presented to then-president of the Republic Dr. Oscar Arias. This, the fact that over a quarter of its territory enjoys protection in the ever-growing network of national parks and reserves, its continued dedication to environmental protection, and many other reasons answer why Costa Rica has repeatedly been referred to as the Switzerland of the Americas.

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Ticos are famous for being friendly and helpful. There are a little more than three million of us, over half residing in the Central Valley around San José. We are mainly of European descent, mostly Spanish. However, you are likely to see any nationality you can name as Costa Rica has drawn immigrants from all corners of the globe.

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Costa Rica is on the same time as the US Central Standard time zone; Daylight Savings Time is NOT observed.

Official language is Spanish, but many Ticos speak at least a little English.

Money can be exchanged in any hotel; many tourist spots accept US dollars. It is not recommended to change money on the street. Money can, of course, be exchanged at the banks, but the lines and bureaucracy make it very inconvenient. There continues to be a local fear of counterfeit US$100 bills. Best advice is to bring twenties or smaller, or travelers checks.

Banks close at 3 o'clock.

Most hotels and tourist oriented businesses accept major credit cards.

There is a 13% sales tax on all purchases.

There is an additional 3% tourism tax on hotel rooms.

Restaurants add a 10% gratuity to the check, along with the sales tax.

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Around 90% of Costa Ricans are Catholic.

Most other religious beliefs are freely practiced and all are protected by the constitution.

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More than 1,000 tourist spots can be visited without difficulty.

Over 600 of those are natural sites that draw more than half of the tourists visiting Costa Rica.

124,000 Costa Rican families are involved with tourism.

The official promotion and regulating agency for tourism is the Costa Rica Tourist Board (ICT). The Board's address is:
Instituto Costarricense de Turismo
Apartado 777-1000
San Jose, Costa Rica
Telephone in Costa Rica: (506) 2299-5800
They also have a toll-free number in the US: 1-866-CostaRica
Web Site

Scores of tour agencies provide an abundance of packaged and specialized tours to all corners of the country.

All types of activities exist for the tourist: water sports, including fishing, white-water rafting and diving; nature hikes, camping, birding, horseback riding; ball sports such as tennis, beach volleyball, and golf.

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An excellent system of public buses connect San José with the rest of the country.

Plenty of taxis provide individual access to any part of the country at reasonable cost.

Rental car agencies offer a variety of types of vehicles for individual, group, or off-road excursions.

Domestic airlines connect much of the country through regularly scheduled and charter flights.

The international airport provides connections to the world through two Costa Rican airlines and over thirty foreign air carriers which provide regularly scheduled service, and others that provide charter services.

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A modern system of hydroelectric generating plants provides abundant electricity.

In 1994 the first geothermal generating station came on line providing an additional 22 megawatts of low cost energy.

Electrical service is the same as in the US: 120V, 60Hz and use the same type of wall plug.

Water supplies are chlorinated and the quality is controlled by the State.

Water is safe to drink in all cities.

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