The Costa Rica breakdown

24 Sep

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We spent a total of 88 days, from May 31 to August 19, 2014 and then from September 16 to 22, 2014 in Costa Rica. We began our journey heading south on the Pacific coast in Penas Blanca and ended on the Caribbean in Sixoala. We traveled through Panama and reentered Costa Rica in Paso Canoas to spend the next 7 days driving north along the Pacific coast and exiting where we first entered, in Penas Blanca. We could have easily spent longer but are only granted a 90 day vehicle permit which can’t be extended. For every 90 days a foreign vehicle spends in Costa Rica, it must be out for the next 90 days before it can come back. Otherwise you have to nationalize your car which is crazy expensive. So as we drove south, we had to leave enough time to drive back north after finishing Panama. Here’s a bit of a recap of our time in the country.

Love love LOVE Costa Rica! We visited 5 years ago for a few weeks, spent nearly 3 months this time around and would definitely come back again. We stayed 6 weeks in the Nicoya peninsula on just about every beach possible. We spent some time around Lake Arenal, Monteverde cloud forest, the touristy cities of Jaco and Manuel Antonio National Park, passed through San Jose and then enjoyed the beaches and towns on the southern Caribbean coast. On out way north, we spent 4 days on a peninsula on the Golfo Dulce just outside the Panamanian border. Each place was better than the next.

The country is very Americanized, most prices are in dollars, people speak English and it’s not hard to find things you get stateside at US prices. Most travelers race through because it is more expensive than it’s neighbors but the beaches here CANNOT compare. Gor-ge-ous!! Sure everything is tourist driven and you’ll be annoyed with all the whiteys but the wildlife is spectacular and topography is super diverse. You can see monkeys swinging from trees are you drive down the road, red macaws flying over a beach and a sloth settled above you as you dine. And there are so many pristine beaches it’s not hard to have one all to yourself. Part of this is because the government prohibits building up to 200 meters from the high tide mark.

And even though this is the most traveled country in Central America, the roads stink. Potholes galore. Uneven patches. A lot of roads are still unpaved. The bridges are only built for a single car to pass at a time. In the rainy season, roads are washed out and river crossings become necessary. Nightmare.

Though it is the most expensive country in Central America, it was surprisingly the cheapest country for us. We spent a total of $5,061 while in the Costa Rica, coming out to $57.51 a day. That month long rental in Potrero is what made this country so inexpensive for us. We rode the motorcycle around and weren’t tempted too much by the 5 restaurants in town. Our major expense in Costa Rica was food, which is priced similar to US prices.

BORDER
When we entered in Penas Blancas, got fumigated (free) and then had to beg the visa guy to grant us each the maximum of 90 days in the country. We drove right past the sign telling us what to do next so we ended up driving around in circles and backtracking to complete the process. Asking workers where to go is futile. Vehicle insurance is required so after buying that ($63 for three months) we showed the dogs paperwork to the agriculture guy and made our way to pretty much where we started to have the truck inspected. The best part of this process was when another car pulled up to get inspected and a drunk passenger stumbled out of the car–still drinking his beer–in a 420 shirt. Our inspection consisted of an old man leaning into the back of the truck and taking a crooked picture on his personal cell phone. Strange. I don’t remember how long this nonsense took because it was so irritating but probably close to the typical 2 hours.

We left Costa Rica in Sixoala on the Caribbean side. It was a complete breeze. The one office has the only two windows you need. First, you paid the $7 a person exit fee. Apparently this is new within the past few months. They slide your passport in an ATM like machine and ask for a credit card to pay the fee. The problem is your bank will treat this as a cash advance and fine you $10 (or more) per transaction. I didn’t know this until we got our card statement. There was no option to pay in cash at the machine but I would press the cash payment next time to avoid the card fee. In the next window, we suspended both the truck and motorcycle permits. That way we have some days to drive back through the country. The whole thing took a painless 20 minutes.

As we headed north and reentered Costa Rica, we crossed on the pacific side at Paso Canoas. The entrance was fairly simple: get fumigated (free), visa stamp (free), and reactivate your vehicle permit. Two things annoying about this: first, even thought we suspended our permit, the mandatory vehicle insurance cannot be suspended. It continues to run. So you have to get new insurance. And they cannot prorate the amount for the days you have left to drive through the country. I know because I asked. Thankfully, part of the insurance that was paid when we entered initially is a once a year fee and since we weren’t going to use the motorcycle, I didn’t buy insurance for that. Second annoyance, they slowly input allllll your information into their system yet again, asking for the original documents to make their copies. We were given a 10 day vehicle permit, paid $16 for the mandatory insurance for the truck, showed the agriculture guy the dogs papers, they stepped into the truck to do god knows what and we were done an hour and ten minutes later.

Exiting from Penas Blanca was pretty much like our entrance: unnecessarily irritating. We paid the exit fee at the Finca we camped at the night before, so that was one less hassle to go through at the border. Exit stamp was no problem. BUT we drove past the building where we needed to cancel the vehicle permit. And just in case you are wondering, yes, we are dumb, but nothing is marked. You have to figure out which building is for what by asking a bunch of people who know nothing. So I hiked to the place to cancel the permit and they say Hani must do it because everything is in his name. Totally not an issue in ANY other Central American country but here, they must be official. Bs. I marched back to the truck pissed and tell Hani to just go, it will cancel automatically and who cares. He wants to do right so annoyingly turned around and HE went back to the office I just cursed out. 45 minutes later and with a bad taste in my mouth, we left Costa Rica for the last time of this trip.

Total: $109–$79 vehicle insurance (twice) and $30 exit fee (twice)

SAFETY
A complete non-issue in Costa Rica. There is no military so it was nice to enjoy the absence of armed guards on the walk into the grocery. Although we’ve had our only incident of theft in Costa Rica (both pairs of flip flops were stolen), it was our fault for leaving them outside at night. The country thrives on tourism so locals want to make sure everyone is always safe. Local police drive around just to let you know they are there if you need them. And you won’t.

Total: $0

CAMPING
Our month long house rental in Potrero was $500, the going rate during low season. So for the remaining 2ish months, we only paid to camp a handful of times, totaling to $22. We paid $2 a day to park in Montezuma so we would have piece of mind leaving the truck in a secure place as we explored on the motorcycle. We also paid to park in Manuel Antonio to be close to the park entrance and beach and paid our last night in the country to camp at a cool farm that had tons of wildlife.

Total on camping (including 1 month house rental): $527

FUEL
So so so expensive, just like everything else in the country. Diesel cost more than $5 a gallon and was cheaper than regular gasoline. But because we didn’t drive the truck for a month, fuel costs were low.

Total: $1,003

SKYHORSE REPAIRS
We got a flat on one of the back tires. Thankfully a $10 patch did the trick. We also had the thermostat on our small fridge replaced. We bought a bunch of parts hoping something would work and eventually one did.

Parked at the secluded beach of Punta Uva, we noticed oil leaking from the back tire. It needed to be fixed right away because it meant that we weren’t braking on that side. So in the small nearby town of Puerto Viejo, we had the rear axel oil seal replaced. It definitely cost more to have it done there because it was a smaller town and our options for mechanics were limited. Also, they charged more because they had to drive an hour to Limon to pick up the part we needed. That repair cost $205.

Total: $329

ENTERTAINMENT
Outdoor adventures are a must while in Costa Rica but can be expensive. There are ATV tours, zip lining, hot springs, scuba and snorkel trips, great fishing, white water rafting, canopy adventures and a bunch of national parks. We went zip lining, explored Manuel Antonio National Park, visited an animal rescue center, and found free hot springs.

Total: $120

LAUNDRY
I’m including this category because I’m proud to say that in the 3 months we spent in the country we didn’t pay to have our laundry done at all!! For the first month, we relied on the generosity of friends and had our own accommodations while at the house the second month. Towards the end of our time in Costa Rica we were at the beach and wore swim suits everyday.

Total: $0

FOOD
All food–groceries and in restaurants–were the same as what you’d pay in the states. Expensive for us. Street food isn’t really a thing here and I missed the local markets of other Central American countries. Grocery stores were decently stocked with the local Pali stores being cheaper than the more American Mega Super. In the beach towns, we bought fresh seafood right from the fishermen.

As usual, I cooked mostly but we did have our moments when we were dying for a pizza or the experience of a restaurant (or McDonalds in Hani’s case). Sodas (local restaurants) are plentiful serving casadas, typical plates with meat, beans and rice, salad and plantains for around $4. We spent $1,523 on groceries, $136 at the bar and $938 eating out.

Total on food and bev: $2,597

WATER
The beauty of Costa Rica is you can drink the water from the tap. Finally!! No need to buy purified or bottled water. We would simply go to a gas station or find a spigot and fill up both our tanks and garafone. Perfect! (And none of us got sick:) )

Total: $0

PHONE/INTERNET
Costa Rica has 3 competing companies: Claro, Kolbi and Movistar. We opted for Movistar and had pretty spectacular coverage, even on the most remote of beaches. For one month, it cost $18 for 3 gb. But, like with most other countries, wifi was pretty easy to come by in cafés, bars, restaurants you name it because every place caters to tourists. So buying a SIM card isn’t necessary since free Internet is easy to come by.

Total: $51 for a local SIM, 3 months of Internet and some extra local talk/text time

DOGS
The girls needed some dog food so we bought yet another overpriced giant bag of crummy quality dog food.

Total spent on the dogs: $62

NOT TO MISS
The Nicoya and southern Caribbean beaches. Neither are centrally located so most people bypass both areas but they really are the gems of the country.

The Nicoya peninsula: Playas Brasilito, Carrillo, and Islita and Bahia del Pirates were our favorites.

The Caribbean coast: Cajuita, Playa Negra, Puerto Viejo and Punta Uva beach.

The beaches around the Golfo Dulce/Panama border are pretty special too, Playa Pavones and Punto Banco.

The Monteverde cloud forest is truly unbelievable. Outdoor adventures in this area are a must. Even though we had been zip lining here the last time we came to Costa Rica, we had to do it again. Sailing through the clouds with the lush forest below suspended by only a thin cable is quite exhilarating. Watch our zip lining video to get the full effect.

WHAT WE’D DO DIFFERENTLY
Don’t do vehicle repairs in Costa Rica unless absolutely necessary! While the cost of labor wasn’t horrible, parts are expensive.

Maybe it’s best not to travel here during the rainy season. It can really downpour, which ruins a lot of the outdoor activities. We welcomed the rain most of the time because it cooled us off but I can see how it would get old if you are wanting to be outside.

And we’d spend more time on the Caribbean beaches.

MOST TYPICAL SITE
Every community, no matter how tiny, has their own full sized soccer field on prime real estate with immaculately mowed lawns. They don’t mess around here. Soccer is some serious business.

NEXT TIME WE GO TO COSTA RICA
Long term rental is definitely the way to go. When we come back, I think the plan would be to park it in a small surfing town around Pavones or Puerto Viejo and learn to surf.

BEST MEAL
Our best meal was the spicy garlic mussels at Sobre Las Olas in Playa Negra. Our best breakfast was at Bread and Chocolate in Puerto Viejo (they had real bagels!!). The best brownies were at Agua y Sal in Potrero (we ate like 15). And the best ice cream (heavenly Italian gelato) was in Potrero as well.

THE BEST BEACH
The practically unreachable Playa Zapotal in northern Nicoya. Don’t know how a truck would fair on this road because it’s so awful. SO FREAKING AWFUL! The road, if you can even call it that, is extreme uphill and downhill, pure gravel with large rocky crevasses broken in the road. We were able to reach this ridiculously remote beach on the moto only once. We had the entire bay to ourselves. No businesses, or people for that matter, were anywhere around. The water was extremely clear and beach clean because no one can get out there. It was truly paradise. The second time was when we lost traction and slid down the first big hill. The third and final time we attempted to reach Zapotal we got a bit farther down the road than the second time but since it hadn’t rained in a while, the ground was super dry and cracked and we were slipping and sliding everywhere. I hiked up and down the majority of the way because I was scared we were going to spill like the last time.

FOR YOUR OWN COSTA RICAN ADVENTURE:
+ dip in the free local hot springs outside Arenal
+ surf! Oodles of awesome surfing beaches up and down the county
+ zip line in Monteverde
+ visit Manuel Antonio National Park
+ explore the beaches on the Nicoya peninsula and Caribbean coast
+ go to an animal rescue center. They are all over the country. Kinda like a zoo but for injured animals. You’ll see animals up close you won’t see in the wild. But prepare yourself for tiny cages.

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