Woke up at 3AM after only a couple of hours of sleep, packed and ready and extremely excited: We’re going to Costa Rica!
This is a momentous event for us. Not only is it a first trip to Costa Rica for both of us but it’s our first trip on the quest to finding the perfect retirement spot and realizing our living abroad dreams.
So, we loaded up the car in freezing 20 degrees and drove the 45 minute stretch to the airport to get on the plane to warm, sunny beaches of this Central American country.
If you’ve not seen it yet, check out our Costa Rica Information post.
This Is Our Costa Rica Trip Report
We landed in San José after a layover in Miami. It turns out that Miami is almost exactly a half-way point for us to San José. Total plane time was about 5 hours – 6.5 hours with layover.
We arrived at 1:00PM Costa Rica time. Customs and Immigration were easy. Beyond that we came out to the airport area where the car rental companies were located. Everything was nice and quiet and no one was trying to sell us timeshares! – A very refreshing change to some of our other travels to Central America. We grabbed our bags and headed outside.
First impression of Costa Rica: AHHHH…warm and beautiful!
Weather was nice, the air refreshing, and the palm trees were swaying in the breeze. We flagged down a taxi to drive us to the bus station (which by all accounts was a ways off and would take about $30 to get there). The taxi driver was pleasant but spoke very little English. He asked if we had bus tickets. I said: No. His face fell and he nodded sadly and said that it was late and we probably won’t be able to get tickets for today.
Oh, oh! I’ve not read about this!
More disturbingly, by all accounts, the bus station is in a bad area of San José and we certainly did not want to be stuck there without a way to get to our hotel – which was on the Pacific coast, about 3 hours away.
In my broken Spanish, I talked to the driver and he asked if we would not prefer he take us directly to Quepos (a sleepy, sea-side, fishing town and our final destination). He said he would only charge $250. Well, since I’m a very good researcher, I already knew that an average cost of private transfer is between $160-190. So, negotiations began. We settled on $170 and we were on our way to Quepos!
The road was smooth and we enjoyed the amazingly beautiful country side. The only thing that really sucked was the AC in the taxi, which was nearly non-existent. So, we were extremely hot and sweaty by the time we got into Quepos but in one piece and without any disasters. Later we learned that bus tickets to and from San José should be purchased at least a day in advance because the buses get full quickly. This would have been very helpful to know in advance. Oh well. At least we were pleased the taxi driver wasn’t lying and in fact, was looking out for us.
We checked into a small, hacienda-style hotel called La Sirena (the mermaid). We absolutely loved this place: perfect central location, clean, free breakfast, super friendly, English speaking staff. Check my review on TripAdvisor of La Sirena Hotel in Quepos:
We were glad to get out of the hot taxi and into our air-conditioned room. We changed and decided to head out in search of food. The front desk person recommended a place called Jardin del Mar, just down the street from us. We were tired and hungry, so figured why not?! And we were not disappointed. See my TripAdvisor review of Jardin del Mar.
Second impression of Costa Rica: EXPENSIVE!!!
We had heard that Costa Rica was not cheap but wow, it was even more expensive than we imagined. Restaurant food everywhere is comparable to or more expensive than in USA and there is a 23% (13% tax and 10% service charge) tax added to the food bill. There were a few restaurants that included this charge in their prices but most did not. Average dinner and lunch bill for two, including a couple of beers or a nice cold drink with the food, was $40-50 each. Snacks and soft drinks were also expensive – local versions slightly cheaper but not by much. A Coke was about $1.6/ 20oz bottle everywhere, including grocery stores. US made items were astronomically expensive. A small box of coco buffs cereal, for example, was about $6! OUCH!!!!
Third Impression of Costa Rica: Hot!
Quepos is a Pacific coastal town. The entire week we were there, the temps were in the 90s (F) and humid – of course, it’s on the water! But in general it seemed almost oppressively hot: one really can’t do very much in this type of heat, except lay on the beach – which is what we did, a LOT! To be completely fair, we arrived from 20 degree mid-west March weather, so yeah, that puts it in perspective. None-the-less we loved it. Our last couple days were spent in San José and I must say the weather there is nothing short of perfect! The higher elevation and constant breeze make it feel like spring all the time. It was still 90 degrees but it felt like 75, warm and pleasant. We loved the central valley weather.
Forth Impression of Costa Rica: beautiful, beautiful, beautiful
Truly, this country is beautiful! Lush greenery everywhere. Unbelievable gorgeous beaches. Diversity of animal and plant life. Did I mention breathtaking beaches? Colorful fruit stands everywhere. Volcanic mountains covered by palm trees. Sun. Check out my TripAdvisor review of Manuel Antonio Nature Park and Wildlife Refuge. Below is a picture from the park.
Fifth Impression of Costa Rica: super nice people!
Everyone was warm and friendly. Lots of smiles given. Locals (call themselves Ticos) seemed to really appreciate our efforts of trying to speak Spanish. We did not feel like people were trying to take advantage of us and everyone was very patient and friendly . Every time we said “gracias” (thank you), we’d get a “Con mucho gusto” (with much pleasure) reply. Every time we’d say “hola” to someone on the street, we always got a heartfelt “hola” or “Buenos” back and a smile. Once when I ordered ceviche in a local cecicheria (where no one spoke English), one of the Tico patrons was being so helpful that he even told the lady behind the counter to give us forks and napkins and reminded her to offer us some salsa! We loved the people of Costa Rica.
Conclusion of Costa Rica Trip Report:
Our days in Costa Rica consisted of exploring the area; visiting the Manuel Antonio National Park, see my TripAdvisor Review above; lying on the beach – A LOT!; trying to get a feel for the local life – as much as one can when you’re a tourist; studying food prices and real-estate costs; figuring out the local transportation options, i.e. bus system; enjoying local food; and talking to as many expats as possible.
We were mostly successful in nearly all of the above. We did not connect with expats as we wanted, however. We did not find them particular approachable. They seemed click-y. It was difficult to strike up conversations, even in their known hangouts.
Funny, the Ticos seemed much friendlier. Of course, this was just our first feeling; we did not spend enough time in Costa Rica yet to judge this accurately. And we only visited two areas thus far.
So, for an overview review. I would say that we really liked Costa Rica. We loved the people, the scenery, the weather, and the culture. We felt very safe and genuinely welcomed by the Ticos. But we thought the prices were very expensive. We have read that the mountain towns are cheaper than the coastal ones and we plan to explore this further. We genuinely hope they are more affordable because we think this would be a great place to retire. But at the moment, the jury is still out. Our next trip to Costa Rica will be to the volcanoes and volcanic mountain towns.