Week 5- Travel Insights, Lessons Learned And Other Odds & Ends From Our Trip To Costa Rica.
Several people have asked about the cost of living in Costa Rica, what we liked most and what we’d do differently.
Food/drink- I think we all have the understanding that it is cheaper to live in this beautiful county. The truth is, it may not be as cheap as we think when you consider all the related living expenses. In a “Soda” or roadside cafe/diners- beer is $2.50–3.00, coffee $2.00. A 250 gram bag CR ground coffee is $10, 500gm bag is $16–18 but cheaper if bought directly from growers (ie $10 for 500 gram bag). A typical Costa Rican meal (meat/fish/chicken, plus rice, beans, fried plantain+\- small salad) ranges from $6–10 depending on what’s in it. North American food in restaurants is about same as home $12–15 for lunch. $20- 40 for dinner. Fresh Seafood is surprisingly expensive. They tend to eat a bigger meal at lunch time which ranges from $10–12pp including a beer and 10% tip. Fresh local (less known to us) fruit is cheaper than imported “NA” fruit, and as expected much cheaper if bought directly from farmer. But look out for roadside stands in tourist areas as they may try to fleece you. We paid $7 for pineapple at tourist market, but same fruit was only $3 from local farmers market. All costs are in US dollars.
Money matters- We didn’t bring much US dollars with us, expecting to use our debit card to withdraw cash in local currency (Colones). We did get a surprise though, that our BMO debit card did not work at local banks despite that online our bank said it should work. Our Host was very helpful in converting US dollars into Colones, through her own bank acct. Our only other option was to make a cash advance on our CA credit card which of course came with interest from the day it was withdrawn. Needless to say we weren’t pleased! So our advice is to check with your bank before leaving home to confirm whether your debit card will work in CR and perhaps bring more US money with you leaving Canada. Don’t plan to use money exchange depots at the airport as they charge ridiculously high exchange rate!
Accommodations- We had a terrific rate on our accommodations through VRBO ( $1200/month). Although more rural, we loved living more within a community and it was close to a town (Atenas) with all the services/amenities with an excellent bus schedule to many major areas. I am sure you’ve all understood we were thrilled with our host Hisano, her property and how she made us feel so much at home. We would highly recommended it to other CR travellers looking for close proximity to coastal areas and central pacific area.
Car Rental- We were very surprised at the cost of car rental ( $1800 US for 3 weeks including full insurance), more than the cost of our one month accommodations. Although we originally planned to use our MasterCard for insurance coverage, when they explained all the risks, we read details of documentation required if we sustained damage to our vehicle or another, and spoke to our host who said “gringos” are not treated the same as “Ticos” (CR) if involved in an accident, we decided to get full coverage through the car rental company ( Thrifty). Apparently other car rental companies don’t require you to purchase their insurance. So check out the small print closely! We had a week without a car, using local buses to get around, but rented a 4 wheeled drive standard SUV for the next 3 weeks. There were a few times we were glad to have the 4WW to make it up some steep rugged dirt roads. If you stay away from dirt rods, a SUV 4WW may not be necessary. It might have been better to rent a week, take a week off and then rent another week, as there were days we just relaxed around our complex when we were paying for the SUV.
Transportation, infrastructure- Costa Rica has an excellent intercity/town bus network with well maintained, altho not always air conditioned buses. They are well utilized by ticos and tourists alike and a great way to see the local areas. Personally we didn’t use them for longer day trips but did meet Canadians who have spent 3 months in CR for past 5 years and never once rented a car, They still travelled extensively throughout the country, staying in different regions. Main highways are first rate with passing lanes and paved. Smaller roads to towns are mostly paved but narrow with minimal paved shoulders. Having said that, we still saw bikers sharing the roads with cars- too nerve-racking for me! In a few cases as mentioned above, we did travel narrow dirt roads into smaller communities. In all cases, the roads are very twisty with some hair pin turns around the mountainous terrain. But this wouldn’t optimistic from passing you at any point along these crazy roads. So bottoms line is, you must like being a race car driver and as a passenger, have nerves of steel! ( At least that’s my perspective on it- Don would probably disagree) Having said that, Ticos don’t seem to suffer with the NA phenomena of road rage. We rarely heard them honk their horn in response to someone else’s driving. (Only twice to us, when we misinterpreted what a red light means to them. We stopped and waited but it never turned green!)
Diverse scenery& temperatures- Hopefully I haven’t scared anyone from driving in CR as the scenery& landscape is definitely worth the adventure! There is such diversity in the landscape- from stunning beaches with emerald green waters£ing surf, mountain vistas with hairpin turns/steep drop offs, rolling pastoral farmlands, lush moist tropical rain forests. Temperature surprisingly varied from the usual 31–38*C in drier central and humid coastal regions, to the cooler ( but refreshing) 21–24*C up in the high volcanic & mountainous areas with occasional wisps of fog. I never thought I’d say it, but it was a relief to come across the refreshing coolness of the upper mountain air!
Costa Rican People ( “Ticos”)- We found the locals very friendly and never felt threaten when we travelled. We were, however, warned to take precautions in hiding our valuables, not leave them in our car when visiting sites, always carry a little US cash at hand to “give up” if threatened by unsavoury people. Luckily this never happened to us. We made good use of our Spanish/English dictionary as well as a phone translation app, but surprisingly we rarely felt stuck or not understood.
What we loved the most/Best memories- It was a memorable month in Costa Rica- so hard to believe it is over. to pick best places we visited. Highlights include our host and where we stayed ( Casa del Megumi), the hot springs (Tamales del Bosque hot springs/resort- @$22pp BEST DEAL for day in Hot springs and dinner/drinks.- fresh fruit ). We really enjoyed the diverse countryside, small towns, beautiful views, interesting roads and fresh local fruit. We probably would come back again (see our wish list below) but would keep it to one month as the heat really got to us after awhile. ie too hot in afternoon to be very active outdoors and we do like to be active.
What we missed- We hope to get back again to see the many sites we missed- northern Pacific area Monteverte Cloud forest with its 16 hanging bridges ( 3–4 days), Arenal area with its volcano, skyway tram, hot springs, lake, escape resorts, (4–5 days) as well as the more remote southern Pacific Oso peninsula, interior mountains, Dominical area with its extensive hiking trails ( 7–10 days) and of course back to Atenas area to stay again at the Casa del Megumi residence ( 5–7days). Guess we need another month trip planned! Anyone want to join us??
So where to now, you may ask? After Costa Rica we spent a few days in florida visiting family, eating, drinking, fishing ( Don got not one, but four fish) and a golf lesson for me. Then we headed north through Columbia, SC ( lovely city), spent a day in picturesque Asheville, NC (LOVED it-could have spent several days) and then on to Seviereville, TN for a week in a time share condo for many days exploring the beautiful Great Smokey Mountain. ( definitely worth a repeat trip to do more hiking!). After a few days with US cousins in Morgantown, PE we’re off to TO to visit our kids and rest of the Connolly Clan before arriving home March 23. Phew!! It’s been a terrific 2 months.
Until next time…..
Ann and Don
Still….. “Living the Life” (outside) Costa Rica