Archive for Costa Rica Interest

Costa Rica is forever associated with coffee. It’s the main industry everyone seems to know it for. The Ticos have done much to encourage the growth of coffee and protect its own industries. If you want to know where your rich morning aromas come from, read on for some fast facts about coffee in Costa Rica.

Where It Came From

 

Dave Cross / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Despite its reputation as one of the main coffee growing nations, it was never a natural growing region for coffee. The Spanish introduced coffee in 1798 in an attempt to take advantage of the space and land of Costa Rica, as well as the increasing popularity of this warm drink.

The Spanish were concerned they didn’t have a national export from this part of the world. Every Tico was required by law to have a few plants on their land. There were financial incentives to grow coffee as well. Originally, they were only designed to be grown for ornamental reasons.

First in Last Out

Costa Rica holds the honour of being the first country in Central America to turn coffee into an industry. As described above, this is mainly due to Spain’s desire to create a national export. It wasn’t the first country to grow coffee plants in this part of the world. The Portuguese and French helped to introduce it to many of the Caribbean islands and other parts of their respective empires first.

The Arabic Coffee Bean

tonx / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Coffee in Costa Rica comes from the Arabic coffee bean. This was the original coffee plant brought over by Spain in the late 18th century. Today, it’s the only coffee plant which can be grown in the country, as per an executive order.

The government decided to do this for two reasons. Firstly, they wanted to protect their national industry and prevent foreign corporations from moving in and taking over the supply. Secondly, they want to create a coffee brand which has a reputation for purity. They want a worldwide reputation for their products, and they’ve definitely succeeded in that.

And here’s a bonus fact for you. Did you know coffee is the second biggest commodity on the international market? Only oil is traded more often than coffee.

Costa Rican Snow

Most Ticos have never seen snow in person. The closest thing they get to snow is white coffee blossom. The Central Valley is the main coffee planting region in the country. The jasmine-like aroma, which is very sweet, hangs in the air and the blossom gently drifts by to carpet the fields of the valley. It looks like a light dusting of snow has suddenly dropped on the land.

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Every country has its fair share of myths. The myths of Costa Rica normally appear because of neighbours like Nicaragua. Ticoland is a country which doesn’t have the same problems. It’s like another world away. So you can set your mind straight, we’re going to take a look at some of the things which you shouldn’t believe about Costa Rica.

1. It’s a Poor Country

Dave Cross / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Costa Rica actually has the lowest poverty rate in Central America. One of the major reasons for this is because of its concentration on industry. Coffee is the second biggest commodity on the international market and tourism is still growing in the country. Combine these two together and it creates jobs and enables the government to unveil special programs to bring people out of poverty.

Ticos see their country as a paradise for peace. It’s a calm country freed from the evils of an unequal world.

 2. It’s Isolated

Central America doesn’t have the fame of Europe and North America. It doesn’t have the same connections. Costa Rica isn’t an isolated nation. It trades more than any other country in Latin America. This has actually caused problems for many of its ports.

Tico ports are filled up and they urgently need investment to continue to expand, such is the popularity of Costa Rican goods. The equipment needs upgrading and land infrastructure needs to improve so it can continue growing. This nation is a heart of activity and it plays an important role in the world’s economy.

 3. There’s a lack of Education

This is one of the worst myths of Costa Rica because it couldn’t be further from the truth. Kids in cities like San Jose go to normal schools where they learn to read and write. Despite the lack of formal schooling in the rural areas and villages, practically everyone can read and write. There are very few truly illiterate Ticos, and most of these are from the older generations.

They use the national radio station for basic schooling. Even the rural areas can get this station. Parents will use it as a teaching aid.

4. It’s an Unstable Country

Costa Rica is actually a very stable country with a democracy which is the envy of its neighbours. It hasn’t had a war in a very long time because the country is thoroughly anti-military. They were so anti-military straight after the civil war they abolished the concept of maintaining a standing army.

The government can still respond to internal threats through the National Guard. Any government who wants to claim power permanently won’t be able to because there’s no armed militia ready to help them. It keeps everything stable and peaceful.

You are welcome to contact us prior to booking your vacation to Costa Rica if you have any concerns or questions regarding your stay.

 

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There are lots of things to do in San Jose. Unfortunately, many of these things cost money, especially if they’re dedicated towards tourists. Whilst we can’t guarantee a free meal in the Costa Rican capital, there are lots of things you can do if you look hard enough. Here are five things you can do in the city without paying a great amount.

1. Tour the Central Market

marissa_strniste / Foter / CC BY

The Central Market is the main market for exotic fruits and vegetables in San Jose. There’s nothing better than touring this market and just watching Costa Ricans go about their daily lives. There are also a lot of new things for you to discover. Costa Rica alone holds 5 per cent of the world’s biodiversity. Ever had a rambutan? The answer is probably not, and these are the sorts of things you’ll sample at the Central Market.

2. Go on a Hike

San Jose might be a bustling urban centre, but you can quickly get back to nature. Start from the Health Ministry and take the bus to the very last stop. Get out and just walk upwards. Eventually, you’ll find dirt trails and a fantastic view over the Central Valley. You’ll find many walkers around here and lots of isolated estates and farms. It’s worth an afternoon simply for the view!

3. Museums

San Jose is home to Costa Rica’s main museums. The two places everyone should visit are the Children’s Museum, with lots of exhibits you can interact with directly, and the Gold Museum detailing elegant golden figurines from the country’s ancient past. These museums are cheap and are amongst the most time-consuming things to do in San Jose.

4. Simon Bolivar Zoo

It’s amazing how so many visitors miss this neglected zoo out. It’s a zoo with a difference. Granted, it doesn’t have the range of animals you’d expect, but the turtles and the monkeys make it all worthwhile. The zookeepers have paid extra attention to their needs. You can see monkeys swinging through their very own playground, or turtles swimming down a specially made stream for them.

It’s a great way to kill a few hours, and make you feel slightly guilty for missing it out before!

5. Drink in the National Theater

-Veyron- / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

The National Theater was created by the coffee growers of Costa Rica. They wanted to leave behind a legacy which everyone can enjoy. At noon every Tuesday the general public is invited inside to enjoy a cup of coffee made from locally grown beans. Along with your ticket, you’ll be treated to a unique performance by a selected local or foreign artist. It changes every week, so there’s always a reason to keep coming back for more!

Don’t forget to stop by and like us on Facebook for more fun facts and Costa Rican interest, and meet the surf team on YouTube!

 

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Tourist traps appear in any country where you can find tourists, and Costa Rica is no exception. To make sure you don’t become the victim of a shady operator, we’ve compiled a list of the worst tourist traps in Costa Rica. There are hundreds of them, but these are the ones we’ve seen reported on a regular basis.

Booking with a Travel Agent

This trap can get you even before you’ve got on the plane. It might be more convenient to book with a travel agent, but they always increase the price of the rooms by a significant amount as part of their cut. Go to the website of the hotel you want to stay in and book the rooms directly from them. This way you won’t be at any risk of any huge mark ups. Shaka is no exception, contact us first for the best rates available!

Traffic Violations

Driving offenses are taken very seriously in Costa Rica. The police are always waiting to zoom out of hiding and catch you speeding over the limit. If you think you can get away with it, you can’t. The tourist trap here is the cop will say he can take care of the ticket for you if you give him the money for it now.

Never do this. You must visit any outlet of the Bank of Costa Rica to pay the ticket. And you can’t leave the country without paying the ticket now. They’re cracking down on this.

The Monteverde Cloud Forest

 Hanging bridge in the canopy, Monteverde

This location is the home of the Sky Bridge and Canopy Tour. Yet what they fail to mention is this is a cloud forest. A cloud forest means the clouds are literally touching the tops of the trees. If you walk on these bridges or take a canopy tour you won’t see anything on a cloudy day. You’ll just see a vast sheet of white with some occasional signs of leaves and branches. They’ll still happily take your money, though!

The Appearing Items

At a restaurant you’ll eventually receive your bill and you’ll have the total amount you spent on it. On occasion, you might notice an item which you never ordered. It came completely out of nowhere. This is an attempt at a scam. The waiter will add an extra item to the bill and pocket the extra amount he’s added. This is one of the most common tourist traps in Costa Rica.

You should carefully scrutinise the bill and raise an issue with it if there’s something you never ordered. Most restaurants will back down straight away because they know what they’re doing. If they don’t, threaten to call the police. Make sure you follow through on this threat. If you’ve done no wrong they’ll sort it out and deal with the restaurant owner in private.

Ever fallen into a tourist trap? Share your experiences with us on Facebook!

 

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tipTipping in Costa Rica is an interesting subject to discuss with visitors. Americans find it strange how the process works since the US is perhaps the only country where it’s common to pay an extra 20 per cent just for the waiters. Costa Rican culture works a tad differently, and it’s good to integrate yourself with this culture if you want to avoid any quizzical looks.

Look at the Bill

So, you’ve finished eating your hearty meal at your favourite restaurant serving delicious local cuisine. Your bill is on its way over to you and there are all sorts of numbers on it. You’ll see the food and drink at the top of the bill and the tax at the bottom of the bill. In the middle of these there will be an extra 10 per cent charge. This is the service charge and it accounts for the waiters.

Unlike the US, the waiters may well receive a fraction of this charge from their employer, although this differs from restaurant to restaurant.

Firstly, if you’re a staunch tipper and you’re going to tip them whether they like it or not make sure you take into account you’ve already paid 10 per cent as part of the bill.

Is Tipping Normal?

Tipping the waiter isn’t common in Costa Rica and it’s unlikely your local friends will do it. They accept the service charge and run with it. Life isn’t as hard for waiters in this country due to the culture.

In the US, as much as we wouldn’t like to admit it, we see waiters as people who’re either students or those who’ve failed to succeed in life. We pity them with our 20 per cent tips because we believe we need to top up their criminally low wages.

In Costa Rica, everyone is seen as equal. There’s no such snobbery and there’s no stigma attached to being a waiter. Everyone looks at it as a normal job which doesn’t require any special treatment through huge tips.

You can tip if you like (they do love dollar bills), but don’t feel like you absolutely have to. It’s not a social duty.

How Much Should You Tip?

To avoid those strange stares, tip low and don’t try to impress anyone with a wad of cash. Slip them a dollar or two and this will be fine. Don’t worry about working out the math. It doesn’t matter if you give them 10 per cent extra or 20 per cent extra. The effort will be much appreciated, though.

Ticos tend to never leave tips so you’ll never be given any sort of bad look because you gave a low tip. Even an extra Colón will receive a warm thank you. Of course, tipping in Costa Rica works like any other country. If the service is terrible you don’t have to leave a thing!

Do you have a favourite place to eat in Costa Rica? Share your experiences with us on Facebook!

Image: By Scott Sanchez at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

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Costa Rica isn’t known for its high prices. The rise of the tourist trade has helped to change this somewhat. If you came here thirty years ago everything would cost but a fraction of what it does in the UK or the US. Now, you can see prices steadily creeping up. If you know how to save money in Costa Rica, you can avoid many of the tourist traps cleverly poised to take more of your money.

Exchanging Your Money

10 Colones - Costa RicaTo put it simply, exchange your money before you get here, or use your USD. The likes of the San Jose airport will steal money from you. The rates are so bad you’re losing out on a lot of money by not exchanging before you arrive. Generally, most Tico exchange kiosks are not out to con tourists. Ticos are fair and treat every visitor as if they’re an honoured guest.

Since all of Costa Rica accepts the USD, there is no need to exchange money when you arrive. It is better to remember to bring small USD bills with you and use them. You might get Colones back as change but the math is pretty simple (500 Colon-1 USD) has been the average for years.

Protecting Your Money

Crime is very low in Costa Rica, and most of it’s centred on the major cities like San Jose. Violent crime is almost unheard of in many places. Ever since the Costa Rican civil war, people have shown distaste for violence. It’s why they haven’t had any military for the past thirty years.

You have to watch out for the little things like pickpocketing, though. Never leave your bag unattended and spread your money around. Keep it in multiple pockets. If possible, bring a money belt with you.

Tipping

Tipping can be a black hole which gobbles up more of your money than you initially expected. Remember, in Costa Rican restaurants there’s a service charge on the bill. This is nearly always set at 10 per cent. Ticos don’t expect you to tip them for a meal. Ignore anything which comes from US tipping habits. They don’t apply here and are more likely to get you some quizzical looks.

Price Markings

Never buy anything from a store which doesn’t have the prices clearly displayed. If you use the service or the product you’ll have no choice but to pay whatever figure the man behind the counter happens to come up with. This is especially true in souvenir stores. You can find many genuine local stores. It’s the bigger franchises catering directly to the tourist trade which do this.

And another thing you should do is be wary of shops which use US dollars as their main currency. It’s likely they’ve marked up the prices to US standards just so they can take you for a few extra dollars.

Buying local merchandise

Dino Angelov / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Most of our small boutiques and souvenir shops will barter with you. So be nice and ask for a discounted price and see what happens.

Although these tips will help save money in Costa Rica, you shouldn’t gain a wrongful impression of the country. Ticos are generally very fair and will give you a good deal. This is a cautionary piece telling you to always be wary of what’s going on.

Find us on Facebook for more handy tips and travel advice, or contact us with any queries.

Photo credit (coin): CameliaTWU / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

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A wedding at home might be the most convenient, but is it really the best option open to you? More and more people are now considering having a wedding in Costa Rica. They’re seeing what the country has to offer and they realise it can add a new flavour to the traditional wedding ceremony. These are some of the reasons why you should choose this part of the world for your wedding.

Millzero Photography / Foter / CC BY-SA

The View

To put it simply, the setting is unlike anything else you’ve ever experienced before. Imagine having a beautiful wedding on a favourite beach. You’re in a wedding suit with your toes wedged in the powdery white sands. The azure waves are gently lapping on the shore and there’s a refreshing breeze as the sun beats down.

The woman you want to be with most now appears and is about to make it the happiest day of your life. All your family members and closest friends are present.

What could be better than this? You’re combining a luxury holiday with your wedding ceremony.

Stay in True Luxury

Costa Rica isn’t short of luxury accommodation. The best part about staying here is the fact five-star accommodation isn’t as expensive as it would be in New York City or London. You can stay in one of these locations, even if you aren’t necessarily rich. And your family and friends can also stay with you.

You can open up the curtains to witness sea views or the mists gently descending over a portion of forest.

The Nation of Experience

A wedding in Costa Rica puts you in a place where you can experience something new. You can have white capuchin monkeys greeting you on your balcony every morning. Spot some of the sea life by diving under the waves and seeing some of the endangered sea turtles. Costa Rica is home to at least 200 unique species of animal.

Moreover, there’s always the option of doing something extreme. Imagine climbing to the top of a mountain and taking a zip line over one of the cloud forests. You can touch the rolling mists and the clouds before descending safely back to earth.

Whatever you want to do you can do it here.

It’s Easy

All you need to get married are two passports and a notary/attorney to gather the relevant papers for you. It doesn’t cost a great deal. Essentially, preparing a wedding for this exotic nation is like preparing a wedding back home. You still need the flowers, the invitations, and the accommodation.

Costa Rican weddings are recognised in all major nations. The only thing you need is an English translation of your marriage certificate.

If you are considering a wedding in Costa Rica, contact us here at Shaka to discuss your requirements.

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We all know about Costa Rica’s recent history with its stance on peace and the elimination of the armed forces. What many people don’t know about is its history before it was independent. The history of Costa Rica is made up mainly of colonisation and imperialism by European powers. Let’s take a look at some of the major historical points of the country before it transformed into the country we know of today.
Christopher Columbus

Discovery by Columbus

In 1502 the famous explorer Christopher Columbus landed on the coast of what is now Costa Rica. Most historians agreed he landed in the Limon province where he met a tribe of friendly natives. This was his fourth and final trip to the New World. During this trip, he declared Costa Rica as a colony of Spain and petitioned the government and the king to make him the colonial governor of Costa Rica.

Despite his achievements, political wrangling back home stopped him from being made governor. Instead, the title was given to one of his rivals and he retired in disgust, never to return to the New World.

Colonisation Attempts

After Spain had discovered Costa Rica and declared it a province of its flourishing empire it attempted to colonise it. The first few colonies ended in disaster. Tropical diseases wiped out most of the settlers and the rest were killed in battles with the natives. Unlike other parts of the New World, the natives of Costa Rica refused to be enslaved.

It also lost focus as Columbus had initially assumed there was lots of gold to be found here. Without a steady stream of riches flowing back to Europe, other areas of the New World demanded more attention.

The Spanish finally gained a foothold in 1563 when they sent some of their best troops to subjugate the natives. Through their superior tactics and weaponry, the natives were easily defeated. The rest of the roughly 400,000 people living here at the time were cowed with the onset of European diseases, specifically small pox.

The New World had never been exposed to these diseases and the population had no immunity to these foreign diseases. It was what saw the end of the Inca and Aztec Empires as well.

Colony Established

Costa Rica gained its first colony in 1563. It was called Cartago and this interior settlement became the first capital of the country. It stayed this way until 1823 when it was largely levelled by an earthquake.

The history of Costa Rica tells us the establishment of Cartago brought many Spanish natives to the country. At the time, settlers preferred to live in countries with large numbers of foreign servants so they didn’t have to do the work themselves.

Stop by our Facebook page and share your interesting Costa Rican history knowledge!

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