Country Number 6 on our Overland Central America expedition. Check out our entire route here.
Costa Rica can be summarised as national parks, turtles, surfing and beaches. We loved it. However, the cities and towns lack any character and charm and with the 1.5 million tourists it attracts per year, the culture is nothing like the rest of Central America. Indeed, you'll find many people speak English, rather than Spanish. BUT, we didn't care, Costa Rica is an awesome place - there's a billion activities on offer and if you like nature and wildlife, this is the country for you. We'll definitely be back.
We spent 16 days here, but you could've fit more in than what we did in the timeframe. If we had more time and more importantly a bigger budget, we would've hit more national parks, climbed Cerro Chirripo and visited Tortuguero (in the turtle season). We would've done more activities too, but we found that for us, we'd done most of what they had on offer somewhere else (and for a lot cheaper). It's definitively a place one could linger in for months though. It's just got such a chilled vibe and as much as everyone slates the development that the expats have done, they've done a lot for the country - it's a lot cleaner than other Central American countries, and they introduced the national park system.
NB The same activities tend to be repeated everywhere eg coffee and cacao tours, butterfly/botanical gardens, iguana farms, jungle tours, zip lining, etc, so it might be worth researching the recommended ones on Trip Advisor first.
Surfing - it's been one of our favourite destinations for this.
Watching a Leatherback lay her eggs on Playa Grande.
Tabacon hot springs. They're pricey, but worth it.
The beaches, especially those at Manuel Antonio, along the peninsular and the Caribbean coast.
The national parks, especially Corcovado national park.
Surfing with humpback whales at Dominical was one of favourite travelling memories of all time.
The wildlife - monkeys, sloths, birds, coatis, raccoons, etc.
The laid-back vibe of Costa Rica and it's people.
Great sign posting on all the roads.
Expensive - it was pretty much American prices everywhere.
The roads - they went from straight and flat, to windy, off-road pot-holed messes, which is surprising given it's poorer neighbouring countries have much better conditioned roads.
The humidity and the mossies that came with the jungle.
The culture. For us English-speaking, westernised citizens, it just lacked the culture and food found in other Central American countries.
1) Pass through immigration. You will have to pay $2USD to exit.
2) Get your car 'inspected'. Essentially means some person in the car park will sign your import documents to say you are okay to leave.
3) Find a police officer to stamp your import document to say it's okay to leave. For steps 2 and 3 nobody even bothered looking at out car.
4) Go to customs. They will shuffle some paper and then give you the form back.
5) Try and find the entrance into Costa Rica. Nothing is sign posted.
6) As you cross into Costa Rica you will get to a final check point where you will have to give your paper work in. Cross to Costa Rica side..
NB: All of these steps are spread over around 1km distance and none of the stops are in a logical order. It took us 3 attempts to get this side of things correct. It wasn't just us, local, Spanish speakers were having just as much trouble.
1) Pass through immigration.
2) It is compulsory to get insurance in Costa Rica. Find the insurance booth and get insurance. We paid 17,800 colons for the standard 30 day period.
3) Get a photocopy of your new insurance document, the page in your passport which has been stamped by immigration and your ID page in your passport. You will also need a copy of your vehicle title.
4) Go to customs and fill out a few forms. They will look through your van and then give you a ticket.
5) Return to the insurance window where they will put your details into their computer system and give you your final documentation. You're now done, so hit the road.
Here the roads deteriorated once again. Bumpy main roads will suddenly turn to dirt roads.
Down the Nicoya peninsula the dust kicked up from the roads was incredible, like thick fog. If you plan to go into any of the national parks you will be off roading. These roads have lots of river crossings of varying depth. You need a 4WD vehicle for these.
The main hazard on the main roads is when the road crosses a river and a two way carriageway will go down to one way.
Diesel was 619 colones ($1.48usd/ 0.87GBP) per litre across the country.
We used Caarte Data GPS sat nav. Again it worked but we had our problems with it crashing and freezing.
Everything is expensive in Costa Rica! It was a shock to us how much prices increased from Nicaragua.
All exchange rates are based on £1:740 colones. Make sure you get rid of these colones when you go into Panama, as they're hard to change past the border.
Our biggest cost here by far was activities, and we restrained ourselves. You could spend a fortune here on canopy tours, rafting, surf camps. This figure could easily triple without too much difficulty.
Food is also a big cost. We found some food items were way over-priced, and for this we watched what we bought. For example, some sausages which we had bought in other countries for around $2usd had been subject to Costa Rican inflation and were closer $15usd for the same product.
Our van maintenance budget here is high as this is the only country we have managed to get Land Rover parts. We splurged to get Dougal back up to par.
Fuel was the same price nation wide ie 619 colones ($1.48usd/ 0.87GBP) per litre.
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