Business Hours — Banks are usually open Monday through Friday from 9am to 4pm, though many have begun to offer extended hours. Post offices are usually open Monday through Friday from 8am to 5:30pm, and Saturday from 7:30am to noon. (In small towns, post offices may close on Sat.) Stores are generally open Monday through Saturday from 9am to 6pm (many close for 1 hr at lunch), but stores in modern malls generally stay open until 8 or 9pm and don’t close for lunch. Most bars are open until 1 or 2am, although some go later.
Drinking Laws — Alcoholic beverages are sold every day of the week throughout the year, although some cantons ban the sale of alcohol in the days before Easter. The legal drinking age is 18, though it’s sporadically enforced. Liquor, beer, and wine are sold in liquor stores called licoreras, and in most supermarkets and convenience stores.
Electricity — The standard in Costa Rica is the same as in the United States and Canada: 110 volts AC (60 cycles). However, three-pronged outlets can be scarce, so it’s helpful to bring along an adapter.
Language — Spanish is the official language of Costa Rica. However, in most tourist areas, you’ll be surprised by how well Costa Ricans speak English. Additionally, English is widely spoken along the Caribbean coast. See chapter 15 for some key Spanish terms and phrases.
Legal Aid — If you need legal help, your best bet is to first contact your local embassy or consulate.
Mail — At press time, it cost C600 to mail a letter to the United States, and C650 to Europe. You can get stamps at post offices and at some gift shops in large hotels. Given the Costa Rican postal service’s track record, I recommend paying an extra C850 to have anything of any value certified. Better yet, use an international courier service or wait until you get home to post it. Contact DHL, on Paseo Colón between calles 30 and 32 (2209-6000); EMS Courier, with desks at most post offices (2223-9766); FedEx is based in Heredia but will arrange pickup anywhere in the metropolitan area (2239-0576); or United Parcel Service, in Pavas (2290-2828).
Newspapers & Magazines — Costa Rica has a half-dozen or so Spanish-language dailies, and you can get Time magazine and several U.S. newspapers at some hotel gift shops and a few of the bookstores in San José. If you read Spanish, La Nación is the paper you’ll want. Its “Viva” and “Tiempo Libre” sections list what’s going on in the world of music, theater, dance, and more.
Packing — Be sure to pack the essentials: sunscreen, insect repellent, camera, swimsuit, a wide-brimmed hat, all prescription medications, and so forth. You’ll want good hiking shoes and/or beach footwear, depending upon your itinerary. It’s also a good idea to bring a waterproof headlamp or flashlight and refillable water bottle. Lightweight, long-sleeved shirts and long pants are good protection from both the sun and insects. Surfers use “rash guards,” quick-drying Lycra or polyester shirts, which provide great protection from the sun while swimming.
If you’re just heading to Guanacaste between December and March, you won’t need anything for the rain. Otherwise, bring an umbrella and rain gear. Most high-end hotels provide umbrellas. If you plan to do any wildlife-viewing, bringing your own binoculars is a good idea, as is a field guide.
Smoking — Though many Costa Ricans smoke, smoking is prohibited in all public spaces, including restaurants, bars, offices, and such outdoor areas as public parks and bus stops.
Time — Costa Rica is on Central Standard Time (same as Chicago and St. Louis), 6 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time. Costa Rica does not use daylight-saving time, so the time difference is an additional hour from early March through early November.
Toilets — To find a bathroom, ask for the “baño” or the “servicio.” They are marked damas (women) and hombres or caballeros (men). Public restrooms are hard to come by. You will almost never find a public restroom in a city park or downtown area. Public restrooms are usually at most national park entrances, and much less frequently inside the national park. In towns and cities, it gets much trickier, and sometimes you have to count on a hotel or restaurant. The same goes for most beaches. Bus and gas stations often have restrooms, but many of these are pretty grim. In some restrooms around the country, especially more remote and natural areas, it’s common practice not to flush any foreign matter, aside from your business, down the toilet. This includes toilet paper, sanitary napkins, cigarette butts, and so forth. You will usually find a little sign advising you of this practice in the restroom.
Water — Although the water in San José is generally safe to drink, water quality varies outside the city. Because many travelers have tender digestive tracts, you might want to play it safe: Stick to bottled drinks and avoid ice.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.