Is Security an Issue?
Unfortunately, we rarely had time for long conversations with the local people, but the conversations we did have were very interesting and enlightening. One of the most forthcoming persons from Costa Rica was a taxi driver. He drove us from the airport to our 1st hotel and happily shared information about San Jose. At one point on our drive to San Jose, he closed all the car windows because we were traveling through a rather unsavory area with some unsavory characters who came near the taxi. This prompted us to ask about security in the city, especially since I knew that the hotel we were staying at in downtown San Jose was "gated."
In addition, I noticed that virtually every house and many businesses we passed had bars on the windows and iron enclosures for house entrances, cars and parking lots --- and many businesses also had guards. Our driver said that the main downtown area was generally safe, but not to venture downtown at night. We took his advice to heart. We never felt unsafe during the day, but we did use caution.
We moreorless presumed that with leaving San Jose, security would no longer be something to worry about. However, when we moved to our first tour hotel in the upscale town of Santa Ana, I was very surprised to find that our hotel had an armed guard who meant business, and the shopping center adjacent to it where we went for dinner was gated and had guards as well.
TO-THE-POINT: We never learned what incidents or criminal activity had precipitated the need for what seemed like enhanced and widespread security measures in San Jose or what the actual crime rate was.
While security enclosures were prevalent in and around San Jose, this was not pervasive in
the many other areas of the country that we visited. When we were in the Tortuguero and LaFortuna/Arenal areas, we never felt we had to worry about our safety at all.
The only negatives we heard while in Costa Rica were problems with immigration from Nicaragua across the northern border, and unfortunately, the sinister use of the port of Limon by the South American drug cartels.
Official (and unofficial) currency
The official currency of Costa Rica is the colón...plural is colones. It was named after Christopher Columbus and currently exchanges at around ¢520 per USD (e.g., if you think of a ¢5,000 note as ten, and ¢10,000 as twenty-dollar bills you'll be right on). For those of you coming from the States, the USD is also accepted unofficially in many places throughout Costa Rica...your change will bein colones.
Before leaving, we exchanged a few USDs for Colones, but of course you're going to get a better rate in Costa Rica itself.
A symbol of peace in the city
As we were walking around San Jose, we spotted several colorful dove statues spread throughout the city, each with their own special pattern. I later found out that these were part of the Peace Parade event: in total, 70 "blank" statues were brought to San Jose and people were invited to submit artistic designs to the event's organizing committee. The ones that got selected had a chance to paint one of the doves and share their message of peace with fellow citizens. Different themes such as the environment, children's rights and gay rights were represented. I thought it was a fantastic project since the statues are there to send out a positive message to the world, and at the same time they contribute to making the city more beautiful. The event is set to end in July 2012 so I'm not sure what will happen with the doves after that, but I sure hope they can find a new home somewhere in the world.Related to:
- Arts and Culture
Costa Rica has not had a standing army since 1948. It’s a bit hard to take 5 photos of something that hasn’t existed for decades to make a tip here on VT!
The end of the Army came at the Cuartel Bellavista, which is the castle like structure in the first photo. The President at the time, José Figueres Ferrer, broke part of its walls with a hammer to symbolise the end of the Armed Forces. The Cuartel Bellavista, a former army barracks, is today the Museo Nacional de Costa Rica.
Part of the reason Costa Rica introduced Article 12 of the Costa Rican Constitution to end the Army was that the country felt it had solid democratic foundations. This is true and there have been no coups here since. However, they are bordered by Nicaragua and Panama which have seen coups, civil wars and military repression. Costa Rica has been very fortunate not to have been drawn into these issues.
Costa Rica is one of 19 countries that officially have no Army. Having said that they do have a strong Police Force that can also be used as Peace Keepers elsewhere. In fact all 19 have some sort of armed Police and/or treaties with larger countries.
If you want to celebrate - Día de la Abolición del Ejército (Military Abolition Day) is December 1st.Related to:
- Historical Travel
- Arts and Culture
- Family Travel
I'm so excited. I just found this picture from '95
At the camp ground in Jaco, we made so many new friends. This family was great ! They cooked us real CR food and the kids introduced us to the Macarana. Camping is a great way to get to know the wonderful people of Costa Rica!
Addresses? Don't have 'em.
I don't know how a city of this size functions without a street adress system, but San Jose gets by.
But don't ask for an address -- like 620 N. Main St -- in Costa Rica. Although the government is allegedly trying to create a street-numbering system at this time, most addresses in San Jose and elsewhere in Costa Rica are like this:
"The white house with the green door on the north side of Calle 16, 50 meters east of the Holy Roller Church in Barrio Otoya."
It is virtually impossible to mail something by regular postal service to someone in San Jose unless they have a post-office box rented.
Don't wear shorts in town? Hogwash.
I was advised by several locals to avoid wearing shorts while in San Jose. They said that males wearing shorts are thought to be gay.
Perhaps that was true at some point, but I don't believe it is true these days.
Don't buy that advice. No one will think you're gay for wearing shorts. They'll just think you're a tourist.
It is true that I don't see many Ticos wearing shorts in the city. But they wear 'em most everywhere else.
Electric shower heads
I have never heard about electric shower heads before my trip to Costa Rica, so I thought it would be nice to add this information here. The majority of hotels and tico homes have them in the bathroom and they are a great way of providing hot water 24 hours a day. The combination of electricity and water pouring over your body may make you nervous, but these showers are safe and easy to operate.
Hotel rooms come with instructions on how to operate the shower, but a rule of thumb to keep in mind when setting the shower is more water pressure means colder water coming through your shower head (even if you set the shower head to the hot setting).
If you visit Costa Rica you will end up sooner or later holding "The Tico Times", one of the locals papers. The newspaper is a good source of information not only for locals, but for tourists also.
During my visit to Costa Rica I really enjoyed reading the "Arts, Travel and Fishing" section of the newspaper, where you can find information of all kinds of exhibitions, concerts, celebrations, etc that take place in the area during a particular week.
Another good source of information is "In search of Good Times" newspaper. This one is free and you can get it from the international airport. There is a stand just by the airport exit where you can get lots of booklets and information about tours in CR. Most likely this newspaper is the first one you will see displayed on the stand there.
People who live in Costa Rica are called Ticos. The official language of the country is Spanish, but you will find many Ticos who also speak English to some degree. The majority of Ticos are Catholics.
They are very friendly, polite and discrete. They treat you with respect and they expect the same from you.
Christopher Columbus was the one who discovered this territory in 1502 when he anchored his storm-damaged vessels (Captiana, Gallega, Viscaina and Santiago de Palos) here. He was greeted by the local Indian tribe, whose population wore a great deal of gold jewelry around their necks. Columbus wrote in his journal that he saw more gold in the first 2 days of his visit here than he saw in Spain during the last 4 years. He called the country Costa Rica (which means "the rich coast").
The ox carts
The painted ox carts are a tradition in Costa Rica. They are still used in some parts of the country today to carry coffee beans. We saw several of them on the road with all kind of loads (sugar canes, fruit).
The tradition to paint them started in the early 1900. You can get a really nice small ox cart souvenir if you go to Sarchi.
DO NOT leave a tip for an exceptionally good waiter on the table.... as the busboy will probably take it for himself before the waiter ever sees it! Gratuities at restaurants are automatically included in your charges, but if you would like to go above and beyond to show appreciation for a great server, then hand the cash directly to that person before leaving.
Language is the bridge between cultures. Learn a little Spanish and make the effort to communicate - you are a visitor so show your hosts respect. A Spanish phrase book is a must and a smile goes a long way too!Related to:
- Budget Travel
- Jungle and Rain Forest
Bananas represent one third of Costa Rica's export. Big companies such as Delmonte, Dole and Chiquita have banana plantations and factories in Costa Rica. Most banana plantations can be found in Eastern Costa Rica.
A town in Costa Rica
We were told that to be considered a town in Costa Rica country it must have a church, a school and a soccer field.
It is very usual to see the kids playing soccer with a large crowd watching. Also you'll see the kids during school hours always wearing their school uniform.
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