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Costa Rica

Heritage and Culture
Costa Rican culture is in many ways a reflection of its racial mix. The predominant influence has long been European, which is reflected in everything from the official language -- Spanish -- to the architecture of the country's churches and other historic buildings. The indigenous influence is less apparent, but can be found in everything from the tortillas that are served with a typical Costa Rican meal to the handmade ceramics sold at roadside stands. A more recent cultural influence is that of the United States, which can be noted in everything from the movie selection at San Jose's theaters to the fast food chains that line some of the capital's streets.

An important aspect of Costa Rica's cultural heritage is their love of peace and democracy. Ticos like to point out that their nation is the exception in Latin America, where military dictatorships long dominated politics.

They can boast of having more than one hundred years of democratic tradition, and almost half a century without an army. The army was abolished in 1948, and the money the country saves by not having a military is invested in improving the standard of living for Costa Ricans, which has fostered the social harmony that makes it such a pleasant country to visit.

The Tico
Ticos, as Costa Ricans are commonly known, are famous for being hospitable, and are quite happy to live up to their reputation. They are a polite, well educated and gregarious people, who are quick with a handshake and a smile.

They are well aware that their country is a special place, and they go out of their way to accommodate visitors, pointing them in the right direction when they get lost, explaining things that might seem foreign to a foreigner, and helping make their stay as enjoyable as possible.

It has been said the Ticos are their nation's greatest asset, and once you've experienced their friendliness and spontaneity, you'll no doubt agree.

Solar gear
Going to the beach is a must when travelling to Costa Rica and a nice suntan is always possible. It is pointless, however, to try to bronze yourself in just one day because it takes 24 to 48 hours for the skin to produce malenin, a dark skin pigment that reduces the againg process caused by sunburns. The healthier option is to prepare yourself with a PABA-free suntan or sun blocking lotion containing a high level of melanin. There are even products that contain pure melanin to dimish premature wrinkles.

The SPF of suntan lotions and sun blocks is presscribed according to skin type. Light skin, light colored eyes, and blonde or red hair indicate the use of an SPF-25. For those with light skin and brown hair an SPF from 8 to 15 is recommended. Olive colored skin that rarely sunburns needs an SPF from 4 to 8. Keep in mind that every time the sun's rays make the color of your skin change to red or bronze, you are running the risk of getting skin cancer. So, after exposing your skin for any unusual pigmentation. Don't hesitate to seek medical advice if you find something out of the ordinary.

Once protected for a sunbath, make certain that irritation, which is produced by allergies, skin dryness or acne, does not develop. In case of allergy, change your sun block or suntan lotion. try the product on your skin before buying it.

People
Ticos, as Costa Ricans are commonly known, are a fairly mixed bunch. Though the majority of the country's inhabitants are the descendents of Spanish immigrants, many families originated from other parts of Europe, Asia, Africa and, of course, Central America. You may be surprised by the number of fair-skinned people you'll see in the country, especially in the Central Valley. In the lowlands, more people are mestizo -- that is mixture of European and Indigenous blood -- whereas the majority along the Caribbean coast are of African lineage, and much of the Talamanca Mountain Range is inhabited by full-blooded Indians of various ethnicities.

Communications
Costa Rica has one of the most advanced telecommunications systems in Latin America, with telephones and fax machines all over the country, and an increasing number of businesses on line. To call or fax Costa Rica, dial the country code 506 before the number. There is also reliable mail service in the country, and an ample selection of courier services in San Jose. Most large hotels in the San Jose area have cable television, which has US and European stations. Newspapers and magazines from North America and several European nations are sold in many shops and hotels in and around the capital.

Transportation
It's easy to get around in Costa Rica, and if you stick with public transport, travelling within the country can be quite inexpensive. There is bus service to just about every town and city, and buses that serve main tourist destinations are of high quality. Taxis are also plentiful and inexpensive, and in San Jose they are required to use meters for most trips. The standard charge for a taxi between the international airport and downtown San Jose is $10 US. The quickest way to get around is to fly, and several domestic airlines offer daily flights to most of the popular tourist destinations. There are also plenty of car rental agencies, most of which rent four-wheel-drive vehicles.



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