Alajuela has an area of 9752 square km. It has an elevation of 925 meters above sea level. Its annual mean temperature is 22.5 degress Celsius. Its capital is the second most important city in the country, containing 17.82% of the national population. Alajuela has a diverse landscape, including several mountainous areas as well as great lowland plains, whose elevation vary from 25 meters to 2700 meters above sea level. This has lead to a wide diversity of wild flora and fauna, and has allowed the development of a great range of agricultural activities.
A lot of visitors to Costa Rica opt to give the bustle of San José a miss and head instead for this smaller city about 25 minutes' drive from the capital and a short hop from the international airport.
Life in this provincial capital, Costa Rica's second city, moves at a more sedate pace than that of its bigger, flashier neighbor and that suits a lot of people just fine. There is a good range of affordable accommodation in and around the city, which is conveniently located for excursions to Poás Volcano National Park, the crafts center of Sarchí, the attractive country towns of Grecia and Atenas and the renowned private cloud forest reserve of Los Angeles. The popular Zoo Ave bird exhibit and the attractive area called La Garita are only minutes away.
The city itself is fames as the birthplace of national hero Juan Santamaria, the little drummer boy who sacrificed his life in the 1856 Battle of Rivas (Nicaragua), helping to bring about a decisive defeat for the North American "adventurer" William Walker.
Not only is the nearby airport named after Alajuela's favorite son, the city also honors him with Juan Santamaria Park (complete with statue), the Juan Santamaria Cultural Historical Museum where you can learn all about the war, and with a boisterous week of celebrations to mark Juan Santamaria Day every April 11.
Costa Ricans call this attractie little city "La Ciudad de los Flores" (the City of Flowers) but don't be surprised if you don't see blooms everywhere. The "flowers" are the local women, reputed to be the loveliest in a country famed for the of its female denizens.
And in a country not famed for its Spanish architecture, Heredia's old adobe houses and the church and other historic buildings facing the pleasant Central Park offer a glimpse of Costa Rica's colonial past.
Heredia sits on the lower slopes of Barva volcano and some of Costa Rica's finest coffee grows in the rich volcanic soil of the surrounding countryside. Just outside the city, the Cafe Britt Coffee Tour has become one of the country's most popular tourist excursions.
Superstitious Costa Ricans (and that's just about all of them) know this the city of the brujas or witches. If you're looking for a love potion, a spell to put on your pushy boss or simply a herbal remedy for whatever ails you, this is the place to come. Dozens of witches still live in Escazú where locals walk home quickly at night for fear of running into such well known phantoms as La Zegua, the beautiful seductress who turns into a horse, and Mico Malo the magic monkey.
Despite its spooky reputation, Escazú has become the city of choice for Costa Rica's expatriate community, particularly North Americans, attracted by the combination of its proximity to the city, its great climate and setting and its tranquil atmosphere. Over the past few years, the number of expensive homes and modern shopping centers has multiplied but the small-town ambiance remains - for the time being at least.
Visitors who prefer bed and breakfasts and small, boutique hotels will find plenty to choose from in Escazú, where it seems every road junction is festooned with at least half a dozen signs pointing to various B&Bs, posadas and inns.
total: 950 km (260 km electrified)
narrow gauge: 950 km 1.067-m gauge
Inland waterways: about 730 km, seasonally navigable
Pipelines: petroleum products 176 km
Ports: Caldera, Golfito, Moin, Puerto Limon, Puerto Quepos, Puntarenas
Merchant marine: none
international: connection into Central American Microwave System; 1 INTELSAT (Atlantic Ocean) earth station
Manpower availability: males age 15-49 896,516; males fit for military service 602,785; males reach military age (18) annually 32,815 (1995 est.)
Defense expenditures: exchange rate conversion - $22 million, 0.5% of GDP (1989)
Costa Rica is an active member of the international community and, in 1993, proclaimed its permanent neutrality. Its record on human rights and advocacy of peaceful settlement of disputes give it a weight in world affairs far beyond its size. The country lobbied strenuously for the establishment of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and became the first nation to recognize the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Human Rights Court, based in San Jose.
In 1987, then-President Oscar Arias authored a regional peace plan that served as the basis for the Esquipulas Peace Agreement. Arias' efforts earned him the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize. Subsequent agreements, supported by the United States, led to the Nicaraguan election of 1990 and the end of civil war in Nicaragua. Costa Rica also hosted several rounds of negotiations between the Salvadoran Government and the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), aiding El Salvador's efforts to emerge from civil war and culminating in that country's 1994 free and fair elections. Costa Rica has been a strong proponent of regional arms limitation agreements.
With the establishment of democratically elected governments in all Central American nations by the 1990s, Costa Rica turned its focus from regional conflicts to the pursuit of democratic and economic development on the isthmus. It was instrumental in drawing Panama into the Central American development process and participated in the multinational Partnership for Democracy and Development in Central America.
Regional political integration has not proven attractive to Costa Rica. Under former President Calderon, the country debated its role in the Central American integration process. Costa Rica has been a cautious partner -- looking for concrete economic ties with its Central American neighbors rather than political institutions -- and has not become a member of the Central American Parliament. Current President Figueres has promoted a higher profile for Costa Rica in regional and international fora. In 1995, Costa Rica gained election as President of the Group of 77 in the United Nations.
Costa Rica broke relations with Cuba in 1961 to protest Cuban support of leftist subversion in Central America and has not renewed formal diplomatic ties with the Castro regime. In 1995, Costa Rica established a migration office in Havana.
Costa Rica strongly backed efforts by the United States to implement United Nations Security Council Resolution 940, designed to facilitate the departure of Haiti's de facto authorities from power. The country agreed to contribute civilian medical personnel to the Multinational Force, which restored the democratically elected Government of Haiti in October 1994.
The United States and Costa Rica have a history of close and friendly relations based on respect for democratic government, human freedoms, and other shared values. During the crisis in Central America in the 1980s, Costa Rica and the United States worked for the restoration of peace and the establishment of democracy on the isthmus. Costa Rica works cooperatively with the United States and other nations in the international fight against narcotics trafficking.
The United States is Costa Rica's most important trading partner, and over 200 American companies produce a variety of goods in Costa Rica. The two countries share growing concerns for the environment and want to use wisely Costa Rica's important tropical resources and prevent environmental degradation.
The United States responded to Costa Rica's economic needs in the 1980s with significant economic and development assistance programs. Through provision of more than $1.1 billion in assistance, U.S.AID supported Costa Rican efforts to stabilize its economy and broaden and accelerate economic growth through policy reforms and trade liberalization. Assistance initiatives in the 1990s concentrated on democratic policies, modernizing the administration of justice, and sustainable development. The Peace Corps has some 100 volunteers, who provide technical assistance in the areas of environmental education, natural resources, management, small business development, basic business education, urban youth and community education.
As many as 35,000 American private citizens, mostly retirees, reside in the country, and an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 American citizens visit Costa Rica annually.
There have been some vexing issues in the U.S.-Costa Rican relationship, principal among them long-standing expropriation and other U.S. citizen investment disputes, which have hurt Costa Rica's investment climate and produced bilateral tensions. During the first two years of the Figueres government, significant progress has been made in resolving some expropriation cases. However, several important cases remain outstanding. Land invasions from organized squatter groups who target foreign landowners have also occurred, and some have turned violent. The U.S. Government has made clear to Costa Rica its concern that Costa Rican inattention to these issues has allowed U.S. citizens to be threatened and their land taken without timely compensation, and the Figueres government has promised to address the matter.
The U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica is located in Pavas at Boulevard Pavas and Calle 120, San Jose. Telephone: (220) 39 39.
In October 1991, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration assessed Costa Rica's civil aviation authority as in compliance with international aviation safety oversight standards for Costa Rica's carriers operating to and from the U.S. The same level of safety oversight would typically be applied to operations to other destinations. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation at telephone 1-800-322-7873.
Traffic laws and speed limits are often ignored; turns across one or two lanes of traffic are common, and pedestrians generally are not given the right of way. Roads are often in poor condition and large potholes capable of causing significant damage to vehicles are common. All of the above, in addition to poor visibility because of heavy fog or rain, makes driving at night especially treacherous. All types of motor vehicles are sufficient for the main highways and the principal roads in the major cities. However, many roads to beaches and other rural locations are not paved, and some out-of-the-way destinations are accessible only with high clearance, rugged suspension vehicles.
U.S. citizens may register with the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in San Jose and may also obtain updated information on travel and security within Costa Rica. The U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica is located in Pavas, San Jose, telephone (506) 220-3050. The Embassy is open Monday through Friday, and closed on Costa Rican and U.S. holidays. For emergencies arising outside normal business hours, U.S. citizens may call telephone (506) 220-3127 and ask for the duty officer.
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated January 25, 1996, to update information on entry requirements, crime and investment issues and to add a section on traffic safety/road conditions.