The Republic of Costa Rica

  • Capital: San José
  • Total Area: 51,100 km2
  • Population: 4,5 millions of inhabitants
  • Official language: Spanish
  • Religions: Roman Catholicism (official religion) 95%, Other 5%.
  • Political system: Republic. The President is elected for four years by universal vote. The country is divided into 7 provinces (San José, Alajuela, Heredia, Cartago, Guanacaste, Puntarenas and Limon), themselves divided into 81 canton and 463 districts.


The Colonial Period

  • September 18, 1502: Christopher Columbus lands in Costa Rica in the Cariari Bay (between the Uvita island and the actual Puerto Limon). He was most interested in the gold jewlery and ornaments of the local populations, giving them their name “Rich Coast”.
  • 1509: The Costa Rica territory is attached to Castilla del Oro in Panama.
  • 1513-1520: The Spanish conquistadors arrived at the Pacific Coast and settle in the Nicoya Peninsula. The Chorotegas and Huetares Indians manage to resist the Spanish invaders.
  • 1540: Costa Rica becomes a Spanish province, governed from Guatemala.
  • 1563: The Governor Juan Vasquez de Coronado funds the city of Cartago, which will be the capital of the country until 1823.
  • 1737: Founding of San José.

The Independent Republic of Costa Rica is Born

  • 1821: Costa Rica gains independence from Spain and joins the Mexican empire for a while before becoming a state of the United Provinces of Central America.
  • 1823: Formation of the republican state of Costa Rica, San José becomes the capital. Costa Rica joins the Federal Republic of Central America.
  • 1824-1833: Juan Mora is the first government leader to be elected. The country starts exporting coffee and a wealthy social class emerges
  • 1848: The President José Maria Castro declares Costa Rica a free and independent republic.
  • 1856: Military conflict against the American filibusters under the command of William Walker who wanted to take over the Central American countries.
  • 1859-1889: Power struggles among the coffee elite. In 1869, a primary school system, free and mandatory, is established. The first democratic elections are held in 1889.
  • 1899: The American company United Fruit Company starts controlling the banana business. Costa Rica becomes one of the first producers of bananas in the world.
  • 1917-1919: During a rare break in the dictatorship, the Minister of Defence, Federico Tinoco, overthrows the president and seizes the power. He will end his life in exile.

Costa Rica as a democratic nation

  • 1940: Rafael Angel Calderon Guardia becomes president. He established new reforms supported by the lower classes but criticized by the wealthy: rights of workers, minimum wage and social security.
  • 1948: Calderon runs for presidency against Otilio Ulate. Ulate wins the election but Calderon disputes the result. Picado refuses to acknowledge the victory of Ulate and this confrontation ends in a civil war that will cause more than 2,000 deaths.
  • 1949: Don Pepe Ferrer returns presidency to Otilio Ulate. The Costa Rican constitution is written on that same year and hasn’t changed since then. Women and black people obtain the right to vote.
  • 1982-1983: In response to the political disturbances of its neighbor Nicaraguan, the President Monge declares the perpetual, active and unarmed neutrality of Costa Rica.
  • 1986-1987: Oscar Arias Sanchez becomes president. He receives the Nobel Peace Prize for its peace plan in Central America.
  • 2002: Abel Pacheco, representing the Social Christian Unity Party, wins the presidential election in the second round with more than 58% of the vote.
  • 2006-2010: Oscar Arias (Social Democratic Party) wins the election for a second time.
  • February 7, 2010: The Social Democrat Laura Chinchilla is elected in the first round with 47% of the vote.


Costa Rica is located on the Central American isthmus, lying between Nicaragua in the north (309 km of border) and Panama to the south (330 km of border). It also borders the Caribbean Sean to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west.

The two oceans, Pacific and Atlantic, (1,290 km of coast) and the presence of a central volcanic cordillera, which crosses the country from northeast to southeast (the highest point in the country is Cerro Chirripo, at 3,819 meters), have defined the ecological diversity of the country.

The geography of the country explains the concentration of population on the central plateau (the average altitude is 1,000 to 2,000 meters).


Costa Rica has a tropical climate year round and the year is split into two periods: the dry season and the rainy season.

The dry season goes from December to April and the rainy season runs from May to November.

Temperature changes are pretty constant. The average annual temperature on the coastal lowlands is around 27 °C (81 °F), 20 °C (68 °F) in the main populated areas of the Central Cordillera, and below 10 °C (50 °F) on the summits of the highest mountains.

Before you go

Time Zone:

Costa Rica is located in the GMT – 6 hours time zone. There one hour of time difference with Panama.

Useful Addresses:

To prepare your trip, you can contact the diplomatic offices of Costa Rica.


Administrative formalities:

Entering Costa Rica: to enter Costa Rica, you’ll need a passport valid six months beyond the period of stay in the country. Most visitors are not required to show a visa if their stay doesn’t exceed 90 days. However, you need to be in possession of an onward or return airline ticket.

Leaving the country: Prepare 30 USD cash to pay the exit tax in the airport.

Please visit our COVID-19 page for updated travel information.


We suggest you contact your general practitioner and consult the recommendations of the CDC.

Vaccines: The Yellow fever vaccine is recommended. You should also renew the hepatitis A and B, tetanus and whooping cough vaccinations.

Please visit our COVID-19 page for updated travel information.

What to Pack in Your First Aid Kit?

On Site

Hygiene: the country is fairly safe when it comes to hygiene. Water is drinkable in the cities (not in the countryside).

Mosquitos: To prevent dengue or other infections transmitted by insects, protect yourself from mosquito and other insect bites.

Food: Food poisoning hazards are the same as anywhere outside of hotels, cities and beach resorts. Respect the usual rules: wash your hands, make sure your food is well cooked and only drink bottled drinks.

Sun and heat: on the Pacific and Atlantic Coast, protect yourself from the sun (sunglasses, sunscreen, hat) and stay hydrated.

Food and Drink

Water is drinkable throughout the country, although you might prefer buying mineral water (found just about anywhere). The national alcohol is called guaro and is made with sugar cane. The country also produces rum and a few beers, the favorite drink of the Ticos. The Costa Rican coffee is delicious and an absolute must try for coffee lovers! The typical dish is called Casado, a salad of raw vegetables, rice, beans and meat or fish.


Telephone: we suggest you contact your telephone operator for information on the services offered in Costa Rica.

Internet: Most hotels offer Wifi. You can also find cyber cafés throughout the country.

Electricity: The electrical current used in Costa Rica are 110 volts, AC. The sockets are American-style.

Currency – Tips

The national currency is the Colon. You can change any currency in the capital. International credit cards (MasterCard, American Express, Visa) are accepted everywhere in the country. You can also withdraw cash from ATMs.

Most restaurants add a 15% tax and 10% service to their check.

In hotels, you are expected to tip valets and housekeeping 50c approximately.


Ceramic potteries, wooden objects, reproductions of pre-Columbian items but also music, coffee, alcohol, here are a few ideas of souvenirs and gifts to bring home!