Climate/Clothing: Costa Rica enjoys a year round spring-like climate, but with 12 different climactic zones there is considerable regional variation in rainfall and temperature. The coastal regions are hot and humid, averaging between the mid 70’s to low 90’s in temperature where lightweight, loose fitting clothing and strong sunscreen is recommended. In San José and the Central Valley temperatures range between the low 60’s to the low 70’s, cooler in the mountain regions. Here, long pants and a sweater or light wrap may come in handy, particularly in the evenings. The rainy or “Green Season,” is from May to November, although the mornings are usually clear and sunny. A disposable rain poncho will get you through. Rains generally diminish in July through the beginning of August.
Currency: The official currency of Costa Rica is the colon, but U.S. dollars are widely accepted. U.S. dollars and travelers checks can be exchanged in banks and in most hotels. It is illegal to exchange money anywhere else. Major credit cards and traveler’s checks are accepted throughout the country. ATMs are becoming more widely available in the major tourist areas. Most independent guides will require cash for tours you arrange yourself locally.
Electricity: The standard in Costa Rica is the same as in the United States: 110 volts AC (60 cycles).
Entry Requirements: U.S. citizens need a passport, valid for at least six months beyond their intended stay, and a round trip or continuing ticket.
Immunizations: No vaccinations are required for travel to Costa Rica and most communicable diseases have been eradicated, but some authorities advise preventative measures when traveling to remote regions and for patients with particular health problems. Consult your doctor. For the latest health information visit the Centers for Disease Control’s web site at www.cdc.gov.
Insects: Bothersome insects are generally not considered to be any more of a problem in Costa Rica than they are in the U.S. and Canada. Common sense precautions are recommended, however, especially when visiting dense rain forests, the high altitudes, beach areas or when walking at dusk. Insect repellent is highly recommended.
Language: The official language is Spanish, though many Ticos (native Costa Ricans) speak English.
Liquor Laws: Alcoholic beverages are sold every day of the week throughout the year, with the exception of the two days before Easter and the two days before and after a presidential election. The legal drinking age is 18, though it's rarely enforced.
Medical Facilities: Reliable doctors, clinics, hospitals and pharmacies are available, but may be limited outside urban areas. Immediate cash payment is usually expected for health services. The Medicare/Medicaid program does not provide for payment of medical services outside the United States and medical insurance is not always valid outside the United States. Supplemental medical insurance with specific overseas coverage, including medical evacuation, is recommended. Pharmacists are authorized to dispense drugs of a U.S. level of quality without a prescription.
Public Holidays: Public offices, banks, most businesses and shops will be closed on these days: Jan. 1 New Year’s Day, March/April Easter Week, April 11 Juan Santamaria Day, May 1 Labor Day, July 25 Guanacaste Day, Aug. 15 Mother’s Day, Sept. 15 Independence Day, Nov. 2 All Soul’s Day, Dec. 25 Christmas Day.
Time Zone: Costa Rica is on Central Standard Time, six hours behind Greenwich Mean Time. Daylight Saving Time is not observed.
Climate/Clothing: Weather conditions vary from season to season and region to region. The dry season is from October to early May and the rainy from late May until the end of September. Temperatures vary little during the year. The average high temperature is 77°F and the low 55°F in the highlands. While in Guatemala City and the highlands area wear spring clothing and a sweater at night. Comfortable walking shoes are suggested. While at archaeological sites and the lowlands, light-colored, lightweight, cotton clothing is recommended. Sunglasses and a hat are recommended while on tours or at the beach.
Credit Cards: Hotels, restaurants and shops in Guatemala City and most of the tourism areas accept most major credit cards. Traveler’s checks can be exchanged at most banks.
Currency: The local currency is the Quetzal, named for the national bird. The US dollar is now accepted as legal currency. Exchange rates fluctuate so check with your hotel for the current exchange rate. (At the time of publishing the rate was US$ 1.00= Q. 7.50.)
Departure Tax: Air passengers pay US$30 or 237 quetzals, at the time of publishing. Land and sea departure taxes vary according to the area you are exiting.
Electricity: 110 volt AC is found throughout most of the country. A few locations have 220 volts.
Entry Requirements: U.S. citizens need a passport, valid for at least six months beyond the intended stay, and a round trip or continuing ticket.
Government: Guatemala has a democratically elected government with elections every four years.
Immunizations: No vaccinations are required for travel to Guatemala, but visitors are typically advised to have current typhoid, hepatitis A, tetanus and polio vaccines. Some other immunizations may be recommended based on personal health and specific travel plans. Consult your doctor. For the latest health information visit the Centers for Disease Control’s website at www.cdc.gov/travel/camerica.htm.
Language: The official language is Spanish, but English is spoken in the popular tourism areas. Over 20 indigenous languages are still spoken.
Medical Facilities: Modern, clean, and sanitary conditions and facilities can be found in most parts of the country.
Population: The population is approximately 12 million. Guatemalans are a mix of indigenous, Ladinos and Garifunas. There is also a population of U.S., Canadian and European residents
Religion: As in all of Central America, Catholic churches are plentiful throughout the country. Most other denominations are represented.
Taxes: Goods and services are subject to a 12% value-added tax (IVA). Hotels also have an additional 10% tourism tax.
Time Zone: Guatemala is in the Central Standard Time zone and does not observe daylight-savings time.
Tips: Generally, a 10% tip is appropriate for restaurants. Ask if the tip is included since some establishments add it to the bill.
Topography: Guatemala covers 42,000 square miles and is at the northern end of the Central American isthmus (It is approximately the size of the state of Kentucky). It is bordered by Mexico to the north, the Pacific Ocean to the west, the Caribbean Sea and Belize to the east and El Salvador and Honduras to the southeast. The country is comprised of towering mountains and majestic volcanoes, temperate plateaus, tropical lowlands, desert-like river valleys, lowland jungles and swamps.
Business Services: More than 150 international banks and their branches operate in Panama. Banking hours vary, but most of them are open from Monday to Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Some banks offer services on Saturday.
Climate: The country enjoys an agreeable tropical climate and an average daytime temperature of 80 degrees Fahrenheit, with cooling in the evenings. The average humidity is 70%. The rainy season goes from May to December. Throughout the dry season, trade winds keep the air continuously cool. In the mountains, the average temperature is between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
Clothing: Light clothes are recommended. Business clothing is formal. A light jacket for men and a tailored suit or a two-piece pants suit for women is recommended. A wide-brim hat and sun glasses are necessary if you go to the shore or inland.
Currency: Since 1904, the United States dollar has been the legal currency in Panama. The Balboa, the Panamanian monetary unit, is par valued with the dollar. Prices can be expressed in Balboas (B/.) or in Dollars ($). Traveler checks and credit cards are widely accepted. The International departure duty is US$20.00, payable in the airport. The hotel tax is 10%. The added tax value to products and services, with the exception of food and medicines is 5%.
Customs: When entering the country, you may only bring up to one carton of cigarettes and 3 bottles of liquor. Like other countries, you may be fined and charged for leaving Panama with products made from endangered species.
Dangers: Panama was given the highest ranking (along with the United States) for tourist safety from the Pinkerton Intelligence Agency. However, as with any foreign destination, it is not advisable to walk around the streets flashing your money or valuable belongings. Reports of people being pickpocketed in Panama are rare, but it’s best to assume that pickpockets are around. Just use common sense and your intuition to protect yourself. Remember that the less attention you draw to yourself, the less likely you are to have an unpleasant experience.
Electricity and Public Services: The current is 110v60 cycle and 220v. Telephone and international cable services in Panama are excellent. We have a direct-dial system to locations inland and all over the world. The country code is 507.
Entry Requirements: United States and Canadian citizens need only a valid passport and tourist card to visit Panama. Tourist cards cost about $5.00 and are available both on your arrival in Panama from the immigration authorities and at the airline counter at the time of departure. A tourist card gives you an automatic 30-day stay, and is extendable for another 60 days.
Health/Water: No vaccines or pills are necessary prior to visiting Panama. Remember, the tropical sun can be strong, so it’s wise to take protective sunglasses and sunscreen with you. Although Panama is indeed a tropical country, mosquito control is effective. Exceptions would include hiking and over-nighting in the jungle, in which case you should use protective insect repellent. Panama is one of the few countries in Latin America where you can drink water straight from the tap.
Language: Although the official language in Panama is Spanish, English is widely spoken and understood in the major cities.
Time Zone: Panama time is the same as the United States Eastern Standard Time (GMT-5).