Costa Rica FAQ - MEDLIFE
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Frequently Asked Questions

Travel Tips

  1. What are the top travel tips for first-time visitors to Costa Rica?
  2. What are the recommended vaccinations for travelers going to Costa Rica?
  3. Are there any cultural norms or etiquette I should be aware of when visiting Costa Rica?
  4. What should I know about health and safety while participating in outdoor activities in Costa Rica?
  5. How can I stay connected with mobile and internet services while in Costa Rica?

When To Go

  1. What is the best time of year to visit Costa Rica for a MEDLIFE volunteer trip?
  2. Are there any specific months that are ideal for wildlife watching in Costa Rica?
  3. How does the weather vary between different regions of Costa Rica throughout the year?

Readings

  1. What are some recommended books to learn about Costa Rica's history and culture before my trip?
  2. What are some compelling memoirs or novels set in Costa Rica to enhance my understanding of the local perspective?
  3. Are there any books that discuss the development of healthcare and education in Costa Rica?

Money

  1. What is the currency used in Costa Rica, and where can I exchange money?
  2. How much should I budget for daily expenses while volunteering in Costa Rica?
  3. Are credit cards widely accepted in Costa Rica?
  4. What are the tipping customs in Costa Rica?

History

  1. What are some key historical events that shaped Costa Rica?
  2. How did Costa Rica's indigenous cultures influence its modern society?
  3. How did Spanish colonization impact Costa Rica compared to other Latin American countries?

Getting Around

  1. What is the most common mode of transportation for volunteers in Costa Rica?
  2. Are there any specific rules for using taxis in Costa Rica?

Facts

  1. What is the official language of Costa Rica?
  2. What is the population of Costa Rica?
  3. What type of government does Costa Rica have?
  4. What are some traditional foods of Costa Rica?
  5. What are the typical business hours in Costa Rica?

Environment

  1. What are the major environmental challenges currently facing Costa Rica?
  2. What are the most important protected areas and national parks in Costa Rica?

Attractions

  1. What are the top must-see attractions for first-time visitors to Costa Rica?
  2. What are the best outdoor activities and natural sites to explore in Costa Rica?
  3. What are the most recommended spots for wildlife viewing in Costa Rica?
  4. Are there any attractions in Costa Rica that focus on its indigenous cultures?
  5. How can volunteers find guided tours or activities that benefit local communities in Costa Rica?

Culture

  1. What are the key components of Costa Rican culture that volunteers should be aware of?
  2. How does Costa Rica's cultural diversity impact its society?
  3. What role does music play in Costa Rican culture, and what genres are most popular?
  4. Are there any cultural taboos or sensitive issues that volunteers should be aware of?

Packing List

  1. What are some packing essentials for visiting Costa Rica?
  2. Do I need a power adapter?

Cancellation Policy

  1. What is MEDLIFE's cancellation policy for Service Learning Trips to Costa Rica?

Travel Tips

  1. What are the top travel tips for first-time visitors to Costa Rica?

    For first-time visitors to Costa Rica, here are essential tips: Pack clothing suitable for both the warm coast and cooler highlands, and always carry rain gear. Stay hydrated and use plenty of sunscreen to protect against the strong tropical sun. Embrace the local motto “Pura Vida” by interacting warmly with locals and trying traditional foods. Respect the wildlife and natural environments, opting for eco-friendly tours whenever possible. Carry cash in smaller denominations, as rural areas may have limited card facilities. Learn a few basic Spanish phrases to enrich your interaction, and familiarize yourself with the local transportation options to navigate easily. Lastly, ensure you have travel insurance for peace of mind.

     

  2. Are there any cultural norms or etiquette I should be aware of when visiting Costa Rica?

    When visiting Costa Rica, it’s important to respect local customs and etiquette. Greet people with a friendly “Buenos días” (good morning) or “Buenas tardes” (good afternoon). Dress modestly, especially in rural areas and religious sites. Tipping is customary, with 10% often added to restaurant bills and appreciated by guides and drivers. Being on time is valued for formal engagements, though social events may have a more relaxed approach to punctuality. Lastly, always ask permission before taking photos of people.

     

  3. What should I know about health and safety while participating in outdoor activities in Costa Rica?

    When engaging in outdoor activities in Costa Rica, prioritize safety by always wearing appropriate gear, such as helmets and life jackets. Be aware of the weather, as sudden changes can affect conditions, especially in rainforests and on beaches. Use waterproof sunscreen and insect repellent to protect against sunburn and insect-borne diseases. Stay hydrated and avoid drinking untreated natural water. Finally, always follow local guides’ advice and stick to marked trails to ensure your safety in unfamiliar terrains.

     

  4. How can I stay connected with mobile and internet services while in Costa Rica?

    In Costa Rica, staying connected is fairly straightforward. Purchase a SIM card from operators like Claro, Movistar, or CNT for good coverage and rates. These can be purchased before you leave on websites like Sim Corner, or you can purchase one in the airport when you land. You will have access to reliable Wi-Fi while you are in the hotel. For remote regions, consider a portable Wi-Fi device or plan for limited connectivity. Always check compatibility with your phone before buying a SIM card and ensure your phone is unlocked to use international SIMs.

     

When To Go

  1. What is the best time of year to visit Costa Rica for a MEDLIFE volunteer trip?

    MEDLIFE offers trips all throughout the year, so any time is a good time to travel. If you are looking to travel during the dry season, December to April is the peak. However, we can’t guarantee that there will be trips scheduled for that particular time of year.

     

  2. Are there any specific months that are ideal for wildlife watching in Costa Rica?

    The best months for wildlife watching in Costa Rica are during the dry season, from December to April, when animals are more active and easier to spot around limited water sources. For bird watchers, the migratory season from September to November is exceptional. If you’re interested in seeing sea turtles, visit between July and October on the Caribbean coast and from May to October on the Pacific coast. Each period offers unique opportunities to witness Costa Rica’s diverse wildlife in action.

     

  3. How does the weather vary between different regions of Costa Rica throughout the year?

    Costa Rica’s weather varies significantly across regions due to its diverse topography. The Pacific coast experiences a distinct dry season from December to April and a wetter season the rest of the year. The Caribbean coast is generally more humid with rainfall more evenly distributed throughout the year. The Central Valley, including San José, enjoys a temperate climate with cooler temperatures, while the highlands can be quite chilly. Always check regional forecasts as conditions can change rapidly.

     

Readings

  1. What are some compelling memoirs or novels set in Costa Rica to enhance my understanding of the local perspective?

    For a vivid local perspective, consider “Mamita Yunai” by Carlos Luis Fallas, a novel that portrays the struggles of banana plantation workers, reflecting Costa Rica’s social issues. Another great read is “Monkeys Are Made of Chocolate” by Jack Ewing, a memoir that explores the fascinating biodiversity of Costa Rica through personal anecdotes and wildlife encounters, providing deep insights into the country’s environmental ethos and the interconnectedness of its ecosystems.

     

  2. Are there any books that discuss the development of healthcare and education in Costa Rica?

    For insights into Costa Rica’s healthcare and education systems, “The Costa Rican Miracle: How Health and Education Transformed a Society” by Jane Coen offers a comprehensive look at the policies and reforms that shaped the nation’s public services. Additionally, “Costa Rica: Quest for Democracy” by John A. Booth provides a broader socio-political context, detailing how education and healthcare have played crucial roles in the country’s democratic development and stability.

     

Money

  1. What is the currency used in Costa Rica, and where can I exchange money?

    The currency used in Costa Rica is the Costa Rican colón (CRC). You can exchange money at banks, authorized exchange offices, and hotels, although banks generally offer the best exchange rates. It’s also advisable to carry some U.S. dollars, as they are widely accepted, particularly in tourist areas. ATMs are readily available throughout the country and provide a convenient way to withdraw colónes directly at a fair exchange rate.

     

  2. How much should I budget for daily expenses while volunteering in Costa Rica?

    We recommend that you have access to at least $150 to $200 during your Service Learning Trip week to cover two days of meals, tourism activities, and any additional food, drinks, or souvenirs you wish to purchase. Keep in mind that meals are provided Monday-Friday of the Service Learning Trip.

     

  3. Are credit cards widely accepted in Costa Rica?

    Yes, credit cards are widely accepted in Costa Rica, especially Visa and MasterCard. You’ll find most hotels, restaurants, and larger stores in urban and tourist areas accept them. However, it’s a good idea to carry some cash, particularly colónes, for smaller purchases, local markets, or in rural areas where credit card facilities may not be as readily available. Always inform your bank of your travel plans to avoid any issues with card usage abroad.

     

  4. What are the tipping customs in Costa Rica?

    In Costa Rica, tipping is customary but not mandatory. Restaurants often include a 10% service charge in the bill; any additional tip for exceptional service is at your discretion, typically around 5-10%. For taxi drivers, tipping isn’t expected, but rounding up the fare is common. For tour guides and hotel staff, a tip of $1-5 per day or service is appreciated depending on the quality of service. Always check your bills for included service charges to avoid double tipping.

     

History

  1. What are some key historical events that shaped Costa Rica?

    Key historical events that shaped Costa Rica include its independence from Spain in 1821 and its subsequent joining of the Federal Republic of Central America. The abolition of its army in 1948, following a brief civil war, marked a significant commitment to peace and democracy. Additionally, the development of the coffee and banana industries in the 19th and 20th centuries greatly influenced its economy and social structure, propelling Costa Rica towards its modern, stable, and prosperous status.

     

  2. How did Costa Rica's indigenous cultures influence its modern society?

    Costa Rica’s indigenous cultures have significantly influenced its modern society, particularly through their art, language, and traditions. Elements of indigenous craftsmanship, such as Chorotega ceramics and Boruca masks, are celebrated in Costa Rican culture today. Traditional knowledge about medicinal plants and sustainable land management practices have also shaped the country’s renowned environmental policies. Moreover, indigenous festivals and languages are increasingly recognized and preserved, enriching Costa Rica’s cultural heritage.

     

  3. How did Spanish colonization impact Costa Rica compared to other Latin American countries?

    Spanish colonization impacted Costa Rica less dramatically than other Latin American countries due to its geographical isolation and lack of lucrative mineral resources. This resulted in smaller Spanish settlements and less displacement of indigenous populations compared to richer regions. However, it led to a predominantly agrarian society, with coffee and bananas later becoming central to its economy. Unlike its neighbors, Costa Rica experienced less conflict and maintained more stable governance, influencing its peaceful, democratic character today.

     

Getting Around

  1. What is the most common mode of transportation for volunteers in Costa Rica?

    The most common mode of transportation for volunteers in Costa Rica is by bus, however MEDLIFE does not recommend volunteers travel by public bus alone. Ride share apps like Uber are widely available and safe to use. Keep in mind that all transportation to and from the communities will be organized by MEDLIFE. For shorter distances within towns, walking or cycling can also be convenient and enjoyable ways to explore the local area.

     

  2. Are there any specific rules for using taxis in Costa Rica?

    In Costa Rica, it’s important to use only licensed taxis, which are red with a yellow triangle on the side, ensuring they are officially registered. Always verify that the taxi has a working meter (maría) before starting your journey, to avoid overcharging. For safety and price transparency, consider booking taxis through reputable hotel staff or using a rideshare app like Uber, where prices are preset. It’s also advisable to have small bills as drivers may not always have change for large denominations.

     

Facts

  1. What is the official language of Costa Rica?

    The official language of Costa Rica is Spanish. While Spanish is the primary language used for government, media, and education, you’ll also find a rich linguistic landscape, including English, particularly in tourist areas, and several indigenous languages such as Bribri and Cabécar spoken by native communities. For visitors, knowing basic Spanish phrases can greatly enhance interactions with locals and enrich the overall travel experience.

     

  2. What is the population of Costa Rica?

    As of the latest estimates, Costa Rica has a population of approximately 5 million people.

     

  3. What type of government does Costa Rica have?

    Costa Rica is a democratic republic with a strong system of constitutional checks and balances. It operates under a presidential system, where the President of Costa Rica serves as both the head of state and the head of government. The country is renowned for its stable democracy and for abolishing its army in 1948, choosing to invest in education and healthcare instead. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the Legislative Assembly, a unicameral body elected by the people.

     

  4. What are some traditional foods of Costa Rica?

    Costa Rica’s traditional cuisine features a blend of flavors and ingredients reflecting its rich cultural heritage. Some staples include “Gallo Pinto,” a mix of rice and black beans often served at breakfast, and “Casado,” a lunch dish combining rice, beans, salad, plantains, and a choice of meat or fish. “Ceviche,” made from fresh seafood marinated in citrus juices, and “Tamales,” corn dough stuffed with meat and wrapped in banana leaves, are also popular. These dishes embody the diverse flavors of Costa Rican cuisine.

     

  5. What are the typical business hours in Costa Rica?

    In Costa Rica, typical business hours are from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM, Monday through Friday. Banks generally operate from 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM, but hours may vary, especially in larger cities or shopping centers where they may open earlier or close later.

     

Environment

  1. What are the major environmental challenges currently facing Costa Rica?

    Costa Rica’s environmental challenges include deforestation, water pollution, and biodiversity loss from urban and agricultural expansion. Climate change exacerbates these issues, altering weather patterns and threatening diverse ecosystems. Addressing these concerns is vital, as the nation is committed to protecting its biodiversity and advancing sustainable development.

     

  2. What are the most important protected areas and national parks in Costa Rica?

    Costa Rica is renowned for its protected areas and national parks, including the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, renowned for its biodiversity, and Tortuguero National Park, crucial for turtle nesting. Manuel Antonio National Park offers stunning beaches and diverse wildlife, while Corcovado National Park is praised as a premier biodiversity hotspot.

     

Attractions

  1. What are the top must-see attractions for first-time visitors to Costa Rica?

    For first-time visitors to Costa Rica, top attractions include the Arenal Volcano for its stunning views and hot springs, the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve for incredible biodiversity, and Manuel Antonio National Park for its beautiful beaches and abundant wildlife. Exploring these sites offers a mix of adventure, relaxation, and a deep dive into Costa Rica’s natural wonders.

     

  2. What are the best outdoor activities and natural sites to explore in Costa Rica?

    In Costa Rica, explore breathtaking outdoor activities like zip-lining in Monteverde, surfing in Tamarindo, and whitewater rafting on the Pacuare River. Don’t miss visiting natural wonders such as Tortuguero National Park for turtle watching and hiking through the lush trails of Corcovado National Park, renowned for its diverse ecosystems.

     

  3. Are there any attractions in Costa Rica that focus on its indigenous cultures?

    In Costa Rica, the Boruca Village offers a deep dive into the indigenous culture, showcasing traditional crafts and dances. The Guayabo National Monument provides insight into pre-Columbian history with its ancient petroglyphs and structures. These sites allow visitors to appreciate the rich heritage and ongoing traditions of Costa Rica’s indigenous peoples.

     

  4. How can volunteers find guided tours or activities that benefit local communities in Costa Rica?

    Volunteers can support local communities by choosing guided tours and excursions. Each tour is organized and facilitated by MEDLIFE and a large portion of the proceeds we make go back to the communities we work with. To organize a trip add-on, email [email protected].

     

Culture

  1. What are the key components of Costa Rican culture that volunteers should be aware of?

    Key components of Costa Rican culture include a strong sense of community and family, a laid-back attitude known as ‘pura vida’, emphasis on hospitality, and a deep connection to nature. Volunteers should respect local customs, try traditional foods like gallo pinto, and engage in local festivals to fully experience the rich cultural tapestry of Costa Rica.

     

  2. How does Costa Rica's cultural diversity impact its society?

    Costa Rica’s cultural diversity, with influences from indigenous, Spanish, Afro-Caribbean, and Asian populations, enriches its society through varied cuisine, music, art, and traditions. This blend fosters a vibrant, inclusive community atmosphere, promoting mutual respect and cooperation among its people, which is evident in the country’s peaceful history and strong social policies.

     

  3. Are there any cultural taboos or sensitive issues that volunteers should be aware of?

    In Costa Rica, volunteers should be mindful of local customs and taboos to ensure harmonious interactions with communities. It’s best to avoid discussing sensitive topics such as politics or religion unless invited to do so. Also, addressing people with formal titles is recommended until a more informal relationship is established. Additionally, punctuality is valued differently, and what might be considered late in other cultures is often seen as normal. Respecting these cultural nuances is key to a positive experience.

     

Packing List

  1. What are some packing essentials for visiting Costa Rica?

    Some packing essential for Costa Rica include important travel documents like your passport and visa, travel insurance, flight tickets, and money. Personal items like toiletries, medications, sunscreen, and insect repellent. And travel accessories like a comfortable backpack, and a water bottle. To see the full packing list, click here.

  2. Do I need a power adapter?

    Yes, Costa Rica primarily uses Type A and Type B electrical outlets with a standard voltage of 120V. If your devices have different plug types or require a different voltage, you’ll need a power adapter to ensure compatibility.

Cancellation Policy

  1. What is MEDLIFE's cancellation policy for Service Learning Trips to Costa Rica?

    You can find the full MEDLIFE SLT cancellation policy here.