Cappy got to us. We caved. Before heading cross country to Alajuela (with its fabulous cathedral) where we’d spend our last night in Costa Rica, we took him up on his offer. We had nearly three hours on the water. We caught a needle-nose but it got away. We went snorkelling but didn’t see any turtles, as the noise from the compressors on the nearby dive boats had driven them away. We got time on our white-sand beach and the crew did get us some scallops for lunch. And we saw lots of pelicans on weird looking islands. So all went to plan.
It killed me to leave those shells behind, but taking sand and shells or indeed anything from the beaches or nature reserves in the country is a very strict no-no. I was all set to try until Cappy pointed this out to me and then, armed with full knowledge of my crime, I couldn’t claim ignorance.
It’s been a long, packed, couple of weeks. Costa Rica is stunningly beautiful in parts. By far the better off of the Central American countries, and definitely the most stable, it still has its share of poverty. The homelessness in San José is heartbreaking. The influx of Nicaraguan immigrants replacing the Tico emigrants heading north is taking its toll.
If you plan on going, these are some things to keep in mind:
Things to do:
- Pay attention to the exchange rates. For the most part, you get a much better deal if you pay in colones. The best rate I got was using an ATM card.
- Check your receipts. The 10% service charge in bars and restaurants is often included. An additional 5% is semi-expected, if the service was good – and the service invariably is good.
- Buy your souvenirs from places that sport the Made in Costa Rica labels. So much of what’s on offer is made in China. Leave your money in-country and buy from the local crafters. Be sure to ask for the cash price.
- Get up early and swim in the morning and afternoons – the heat in the middle of the day is a killer and in the rainy season (May to December) the rain will start about 4pm.
- Remember to bring an umbrella and rain gear – it will rain every day from May to December.
- Pack your hiking boots, if you plan on trekking in any of the national parks. It can get muddy and the path isn’t always smooth.
- If you want to go fishing, shop around.
- Stop by the roadside Sodas (cafés) – pick the ones with the trucks parked outside.
- Eat the fruit – amazingly fresh, especially the pineapple and mango.
- Sample the local fruit juices and wines from the roadside stands. Vino Coyol (Costa Rican Moonshine) is quite something.
- Bring a spare swimsuit as things just don’t dry quickly.
- Shake hands with everyone from taxi drivers to hotel receptionists – it’s the done thing. Civility is everything in Tico.
- Bring LOTS of insect repellent. It’s expensive to buy.
- Give yourself time to travel. Beaches are far better on the east coast – just sayin’.
- If you’re visiting volcanos, go early morning as visibility is much better. Check with the rangers before you pay your admission fee that you’ll be able to see something.
- Wait till you take a coffee tour before buying coffee – you’ll learn a lot and make better choices.
- Visit the Hidden Garden Art Gallery – even if you don’t plan on buying.
Things not to do…
- Don’t rely on GPS or Google Maps for accurate times to reach your destination. Tico traffic is horrible. Add half again to your estimated time to be on the safe side. For example, if it says 4 hours, bank on it being closer to 6. The only place it might be accurate is on Route 1, the InterAmerican Highway.
- Don’t attempt to pack anything you’ve scavenged in your hand luggage – your carry-on bags will be searched at the airport.
- Don’t leave your shopping till you get to the airport – prices are a good 50% higher than elsewhere.
- Don’t bother buying third-party car insurance if you’re booking your rental via Expedia or some other conglomerator. It won’t be recognised in CR and you’ll just have to buy more at the rental counter.
- Don’t expect to have phone coverage everywhere – some of that rainforest is quite dense and signals don’t penetrate.
I’m back home now, on a train, heading to the lake house. And while I’m grateful that I had the chance to visit Costa Rica, to experience it all in such good company (thank you LKB, for the invite), I’m glad to be home. A recent article I read on the joys of living a mediocre life (although I think the article is badly titled and mediocre is the wrong word to use) talks of living the quiet life. Perhaps it’s age. Perhaps it’s a state of mind. Perhaps it’s simply the magic of Hungarian village life. Whatever it is, I am inordinately blessed to have the best of all worlds. A country retreat. A pied-à-terre in a beautiful city. And the wherewithal to travel to places like Costa Rica. Gotta love life.