COSTA RICA - Tips and Reviews - UPDATED - November 2012
Entry and Exit
San Jose Airport (airport code SJO)
Arrival - The entry process is typical of most international airports. The immigrations and customs speak some English and the lines are generally short and move fairly rapidly. When you exit the terminal there is usually an agent of the airport that can help you through the chaos and assault of taxi drivers.
Departure – The first thing you need to do as a tourist is pay a departure tax of $28 USD before checking in with your airline. The tax collecting cashier is located in front of the airline ticket counters and in all my trips I haven’t had to wait more than a couple of minutes.
Penas Blancas (land border crossing between CR and Nicaragua on the Pan American Highway)
Departure – I departed via a bus so I will only tell you about the process that I experienced. Traveling through in a small group or by private auto may be different. The bus will initially stop at the CR immigrations where you’ll enter a building where your passport will be stamped for your departure; no departure tax paid. We were greeted on the bus by a Nicaraguan who took our passports and $13 USD to get our inbound visa for Nicaragua. We then rode the bus for a few hundred meters to the Customs inspection of our bags which took about 30 minutes.
Entry – As with the departure, I’ll only tell you about the process I experienced. About 15 minutes from the border crossing we picked up a Nicaraguan and gave him our passports, but this time we only gave him $3 USD (he stayed on the bus with us to the crossing). As we entered the Nicaraguan side the guy with our passports got off and we proceeded to a parking area to wait. At this point, if you’re a tourist you’ll need to show proof that you will be departing Costa Rica (can be an airline itinerary or bus ticket). Within about 30 minutes he returned with our passports stamped for departure and we rode a few hundred meters to the entry point of Costa Rica. We again got off the bus and entered CR immigrations where they checked for our proof of departure and stamped our passports for entry. Our bags were supposed to be inspected at this stop, but the bus driver did his “driver magic” and when we got back to the bus our bags had already been “checked”. I know it was magic because my bag was locked and I knew they didn’t look inside (but I didn’t have anything to hide).
Don’t go to Costa Rica thinking it is a lot cheaper than the US; in my numerous travels I’ve learned it is not. While it is slightly cheaper, the increase of tourists has driven the prices up, especially in tourist areas and services required by most tourists (taxis, lodging, restaurants, etc.).
Until recently a tourist, could not get cell service in Costa Rica. In planning for my recent trip (August 2012) to Costa Rica I found a website (Costa Rica Cellular Connection) where you buy a chip for your quad band unlocked phone and have it sent to your home before departing. I tried it and it works, and their support through the entire process is great. If you need more minutes you just buy them from the carrier in Costa Rica.
If you feel you really need a cell phone you can usually rent one, but be prepared to pay. My family has my Skype number if they need to get in touch with me. I know the argument, you have to be on the computer to answer, my opinion, leave a message and I'll get back to you.
Go with a positive attitude. We’ve heard a lot of clichés but one that I think fits here is “if life gives you lemons, make lemon aide”. Damn man, I’ve seen too many people piss and moan about the weather, where they are, who they’re with, excreta, but they DO NOT make any attempt to change anything and move on. If you take a positive attitude where ever you go, the people you talk too, places you see, and most everything else will be good. With one major exception, we can’t change the weather so suck it up, be prepared to change your plans to inside activities or plan on being hot, cold, or wet. It’s life, live it.
Internet service has improved greatly since the last time I was here in 2010. You can take your computer and most hotels offer Wi-Fi or hard wired service at a decent speed.
The roads are getting better but still have some issues with pot holes. Traffic in and around the major cities like San Jose, Liberia, and some coastal towns can be congested, so plan your times accordingly.
Places to see
Poas Volcano; when I went it was covered in clouds with rain so I’ll have to do that next time.
La Paz; I didn’t get there but all the tourists and locals I talked to said it is a must see.
Towns that don’t thrive on tourism; get out of places like San Jose, Jaco, Alajuela, Liberia, and anyplace that has a ton of reviews by tourists. But you also need to see how the “other” people live in the tourist cities. Take the time to see both cultures which will usually show you two very distinct lifestyles. One thing I’ve found is the folks in the pueblos, barrios, and areas out of the way, those folks are happy. They smile more, laugh more, and realize they can’t change the weather so why worry about it. They do the best they can with what they have.
Lake Arenal and the surrounding small towns have a lot to see and do.
There is the Volcano Brewing Company and Resort, where they have a micro brewery.
And there are tourist towns like Tilaran, Arenal, Nuevo Arenal, and others that have plenty to see and do.
Places to stay (these are the places I’ve stayed and recommend)
Good for an overnight stay when arriving/departing from the airport
- Santa Maria Inn (http://hotelsantamariainn.com/)
Playa Hermosa (Jaco beach area)
Good for an extended stay
- Tortuga del Mar (http://tortugadelmar.net/); the owners Lil and Till are great people and run a nice hotel right on the beach. If you’re a surfer, this is it. If you ask them they will probably take your picture while you surf. They take a lot of shots from their three story house which overlooks the Pacific Ocean.
Tilaran (and surrounding area)
- There is the Volcano Brewing Company and Resort, where they have a micro brewery.
- Numerous waterfalls
- Lake Arenal