Saturday, November 16, 2013

Updates and Tips

Hey all! We're about 10 weeks out at this point so we wanted to update you and share a few tips for journeying in Costa Rica that we've picked up in our research over the past few months. A bunch of these tips will be more relevant for some people than for others -- if you're flying in and out of Liberia, for example, don't worry about the driving stuff. Everyone should know how to ask for a drink, though.

Preparing for Costa Rica

  • Pack lightly, especially if you're going to more than one location. We've heard this advice over and over and over - "You don't need so much stuff, and you don't want to lug it around." We're taking this to mean that we should pack light and casual on the clothes front, which would mean (gasp) dressing down and wearing some outfits twice. 
  • But bring some unexpected essentials. There are a few things that people keep urging us to bring, despite not initially being on our list, like: GPS and map of Costa Rica, bug spray, Spanish/English dictionary, flashlight, refillable water bottle, compass. Maybe a first aid kit, if you're Mary Mitchel and somehow encounter people in emergencies wherever you go.
  • Brush up on some Spanish. Another piece of advice we've heard is that, unlike les Quebecois, people in Costa Rica appreciate when you try out your Spanish on them. There are a bunch of free podcasts and guides that you can use, but a few key phrases if you're interested:
    • Porfavor (pour-fah-vor): Please
    • Gracias (gra-see-us): Thank you
    • Cuanto cuesta? (kwan-toh quest-tah): How much does it cost?
    • Cuantos cuestan? (kwan-tohs quest-tahn): How much do they cost?
    • No hablo espanol (no ahb-low ess-pan-yole): I don't speak Spanish.
    • No comprendo (no come-pren-doh): I don't understand
    • Estoy perdido (ess-toy per-dee-doh): I am lost
    • Estamos perdidos (ess-tom-oos per-dee-dos): We are lost
    • Donde esta .....? (dooon-de es-tah): Where is....?
      • El hotel (el oh-tell): the hotel
      • La playa (la ply-uh): the beach
      • La piscina (la piss-see-nuh): the pool
      • El bar (el bahr): the bar
      • El bano (el bahn-yo): the bathroom
      • El cuarto (el quar-toh): the room
      • La salida (la sah-lee-dah): the exit
      • El aeropuerto (el air-oh-pwer-toh): the airport
    • Quisiera una cerveza, porfavor (key-see-er-ah oo-nah ser-vay-sah, pour-fah-vor): I would like a beer, please.
    • Me puede traer un vaso de vino, porfavor? (may pwed-eh try-air un vas-oh day veen-oh, pour-fah-vor): Can you bring me a glass of wine, please?
    • Usted es muy bonita, y estoy muy borracho. Quiere ir a mi hotel conmigo?
  • Make sure your passport isn't expired. You should probably also scan your passport and email a copy to yourself so that if something happens, you can access it from any computer. Some people also suggest that you make a physical photocopy of your passport and bring it along on your trip, again just in case.
  • Tell your bank and credit card companies that you'll be in Costa Rica. Because it would suck if they cancelled those things on you. 
Adventuring in Costa Rica
  • Be safe. Costa Rica isn't dangerous, but because you're a tourist you're a target. Most things are common sense, but just humor us. Don't flash cash. Don't leave anything in your car, ever, even if it's just trash. Don't accept unsolicited help or "bargain" tours. Consider a super sexy daypack like this guy for your valuables and travel documents. If you're in San Jose or one of the larger cities, keep a close eye on that daypack. 
    • Maybe you can drink the water, maybe not. We've heard from lots of people that it's fine to drink the water in Costa Rica, but... your call. 
    • Driving is different. If you rent a car and are driving from one place to the next, rent a 4x4. If you don't know how to drive stick, make sure you ask for an automatic transmission. The roads are likely bumpier than you're used to (especially if you're driving from San Jose to Bahia del Sol) and there are all manner of weather, human, and animal obstacles to driving, so be patient. Before leaving the car rental agency, ask them about the weather/driving conditions and confirm your planned route to your next destination. We've been told to expect to cover 100 miles in 3 hours, and to never drive after dark. While we're there, it'll likely get dark at 5:30PM or so.
    • Book car rentals locally. People advise against booking car rentals through discount sites like Kayak or Orbitz. Research says that the best car rental companies in Costa Rica are Alamo and Wild Rider, and the worst are Economy and Europcar. 
    • Wear sunscreen. Costa Rica is only about 10 degrees north of the equator, so the sun is extra strong. One hotel cautioned us that "People have to change their vacation plans because of sunburn more than any other reason". So.... bring it and wear it. And maybe consider a hat.
    • Buy an inexpensive international cellphone at the airport. Look for the KOLBI sign, with a little green frog logo. Or you can use public payphones with international calling cards. Or you can ask your cellphone carrier if they offer plans for Costa Rica.
    • Exchange some money, but not too much. People suggest between $20 and $40 into colones. And if possible, exchange at a bank rather than at the airport. There are two banks on your way to the hotel: one is BCR, which is on the right as you head into Brasilitto, before you reach the turn off road to Potrero. The other is BNC, which is on the left directly before you turn right on the dirt road to get to Potrero.
    • Don't forget about the departure tax. When leaving Costa Rica, you have to pay a 'departure tax' in order to get out of the country. Last February the departure tax increased to $29 per person, so make sure you have that money IN CASH (either US dollars or colones) before arriving to the airport. If you try to pay the departure tax on a credit card, it will be considered the equivalent of a cash advance. Gross.
    And that's it! We're so excited to see you all. Please get in touch if you're unsure about something, want help planning, or need to practice your Spanish. We love you!

    See you in 79 days!