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Basic Information: The official name is the Republic of Costa Rica, and it is a democratic republic. Independence was gained peacefully on September 15th 1821 from Spain. The constitution was written in 1949. This 51, 100 sq km Central American country, bordering Panama to the south and Nicaragua to the North has 1290 km of coasts on both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and is graced with a tropical and subtropical climate. The official language is Spanish and most of the population is Roman Catholic. The country produces coffee ornamental plants and flowers, bananas and pineapple. The economy is currently based on tourism. The country is divided into 7 provinces; the capital is San José city in the province of San José. Other provinces are Alajuela, Heredia, Cartago, Limon, Guanacaste and Puntarenas. Seasons: Costa Rica has two main seasons simply called Dry and Wet. Dry season generally starts in December and extends to April, wet season runs May through November: in general you’ll have sunny mornings and rainy afternoons, but sometimes you can get drenched in weeklong rains, especially in the Caribbean. There’s a dry spell in the Atlantic Coast during September and October. Bring an umbrella and rain jacket with you if you plan to visit anywhere other than the Guanacaste beaches during the dry season. Dry season is the touristic high season as well. Make reservations well in advance and be prepared for crowds. In spite of the sun, the temperature is lower. Bring a light jacket for the evenings and heavier protection if you’re heading up the mountains. The remainder of the year, particularly the brunt of the Rainy season is when you’ll be able to get discounts and cheaper rates and deals: it is the Green Season, and if you dream of walking through lush rainforests and traveling through bright green scenery, this is the time of the year for it.
Food: Rice and beans are daily staples in Costa Rica. This combination is featured in most every meal. At breakfast, it takes the form of Gallo Pinto. Try it with sour cream and “salsa lizano”, a vegetable based condiment similar to Worcestershire sauce. Pinto is generally served with toast or tortillas, a slice of tomato and eggs. For lunch, you’ll see rice and beans downplayed as side orders in the popular Casado: a name coined by eateries that wanted to let single men know that a good, hearty meal could be eaten there, just as filling as the lovingly cooked lunches the married men brought to work. A Casado generally has a small serving of meat, fish or poultry, rice, a sliced cabbage salad, beans, some type of vegetable stew or picadillo and plantains. Sometimes mashed potatoes make their way in instead of rice, or the salad is varied. For the vegetarians, many restaurants give the option of substituting eggs or fresh cheese instead of meat, others let you bulk up on the veggies instead. Another delicious use of rice is the “arroz con pollo”, a traditional dish popular at typical weddings or feasts. The dish is simple: rice with shredded chicken and vegetables cooked together, and served with mashed beans and potato chips. Other dishes you may try are the traditional ones made from corn such as tortillas, chorreadas, tamales, bizcochos and pozol. If you head into the Caribbean, be sure to sample their cooking: it is a truly unique cuisine: pan bon, pati, rondón, plantinta are just some of the incredible products. They’ve even managed to vary the ubiquitous rice and bean combination by cooking the rice in coconut milk, and preparing chicken or fish in a spicy coconut sauce to accompany it.
Something definitely meant to be enjoyed in Costa Rica is year round fresh produce: fruits and vegetables are affordable and almost everywhere. Pineapple, papaya, watermelon and bananas are the most common, and some others are available depending on the season such as mangoes, rose apples, breadfruit, star fruit, passion fruit, guava, avocado and more. Be sure to wash fruit well before eating it, try and stick to bottled water, and pasteurized fruit drinks.
Sights: The volcano at Arenal, the manuel antonio national park and the Monteverde Cloud Forest are mandatory stops in your itinerary if you wish to see the greatest variety of Costa Rican ecosystems in a short time. For longer stays, the canals of Tortuguero, the Osa Peninsula and the beaches of the Nicoya Peninsula should be a part of your tour. The Arenal volcano is the most active volcano in Costa Rica, and you can see the lava flowing down the slopes on clear nights. Manuel Antonio is the ideal place to see monkeys, enjoy the rain forest and bathe in pristine beaches, all at the same time! Monteverde is the lodestone of birdwatchers and nature buffs: the cloud forest keeps such treasures as the Resplendent Quetzal and Three Wattled bellbird, hummingbirds and orchids. Tortuguero is known as Costa Rica’s Amazon, and is the green turtle’s nesting ground. A region which previously used the turtles as sources of food or for resale of parts now depends on protecting these animals for their living. Osa Peninsula is the final biological frontier: this mostly unexplored land is off the touristic beaten path. The best surfing, diving, fishing and nature watching is done in this undeveloped wilderness. The Nicoya Peninsula beaches are where most head during the dryer months: long stretches of sand of many different colors, beach resorts and thriving beachside surf towns are common . The advantage of this area is the short distance between the International Liberia Airport (LIR) and the beaches, and the predominantly rain free environment.