SIZE: 51,060 square kms (19,714 square miles)

POPULATION: 4 million, (source: World Bank).

CAPITAL CITY: San Jose, estimated population : 1,200,000


LANGUAGES SPOKEN: Spanish is the official language, although English is widely spoken in the business community and at most tourist destinations.

CURRENCY: Colon (CC) = 100 centimos.

EXCHANGE RATE: CC463.47 per US$ (February 2005).

Business: 0800/0830-1800/1830 (Mon-Fri)
Government: 0800-1600 (Mon-Fri).
Banking: 0900-1500, 1530-1800 (Mon-Fri).
Shops: 0800-1800 (Mon-Sat).

PUBLIC HOLIDAYS: New Year's Day Jan 1
Feast of Saint Joseph (San Jose's patron saint) Mar 19
Anniversary of the Battle of Rivas Apr 11
Easter (Maundy Thursday to Easter Sunday)*
Labor Day May 1
Corpus Christi* Jun 10
Saint Peter and Saint Paul Jun 29
Anniversary of the Annexation of Guanacaste Province Jul 25
Our Lady of the Angels Aug 2
Assumption/Mother's Day Aug 15
Independence Day Sep 15
Columbus Day/Dia de las Culturas Oct 12
Immaculate Conception Dec 8
Christmas Eve Dec 24
Christmas Day Dec 25
Christmas Holiday Dec 28-31
* Variable dates. Some offices close for the entire Easter week.

RELIGION: Majority Roman Catholic, then Evangelical; Methodist; Baptist; Episcopalian; Jewish and Bahai Faith.

ETHNIC MAKEUP: The majority of the population, 98 per cent, is white or racially mixed, except in Limon province on the Caribbean coast, where an estimated 70,000 blacks and 5,000 Indigenous people live. The Northern Guanacaste province also has a sizeable Indigenous population.

SOCIAL NICETIES, TRADITIONS AND TABOOS: Costa Ricans are not very punctual for social activities - except for football matches, the cinema and weddings - but are more formal with their business appointments.
Mothers are regarded as the leading family figures; grandparents and elders are highly respected.
The national pastimes are football and politics. The people have a strong sense of democracy. Costa Ricans are affectionately called 'Ticos' for short.

EATING HABITS: People eat frequently, especially snacks as they walk down the street. These include gallos (filled tortillas), with meat and vegetables. The staple dish is rice and beans which is eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Costa Ricans eat a lot of meat - beef, chicken, pork. Eating fish is considered a luxury although fish marinated in lemon juice and spices is a cheap delicacy. Vegetables and fruits are also popular and cheap. Imported apples and grapes are considered a special treat.
There are restaurants in all the major towns serving a variety of cuisines. Local food can be found in small 'sodas'. Popular restaurant dishes include: olla de carne (soup of beef, plantain, yuca, nampi and chayote), sopa negra (black beans and poached egg); and picadillo (meat and vegetable stew).

DRESS CODES: Formal dress is required for business engagements. Shorts, especially for women, are for the beach or country club and should not be worn in restaurants or at parties. Women can wear trousers. Strapless dresses are only acceptable for evening events.

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