After two nights in Ometepe, it was time to move on to our next destination – Costa Rica for me, León for Meghan. Hopping on a taxi at the ferry port in San Jorge, we made our way to the Tica Bus station in Rivas, where we said our goodbyes and I waited for the bus which picked me up at about 1.45pm to bring me to San Jose ($29).
The border crossing was quite straight forward and already I could see that Costa Rica would be one of the more wealthier countries in Central America, everything looked shiny! I exchanged some cordoba for Costa Rican colonnes with my ‘bureau de change’ buddies when the bus stopped to organise our passports for exit and pay the $3 exit fee just before we left Nicaragua but as I found out on entry over the other side of the border, there was a mobile bank set up there to change money so I would recommend waiting to go there if you’re thinking of changing money!
I arrived into the Coca Cola bus station in San Jose at about 9pm, which is in the dodgier part of town, especially at night. Once I grabbed my bag I left and was accosted by dozens of taxi drivers. I went with one guy who picked up my bag and brought it to his car – it wasn’t an ‘offical’ taxi and I felt a bit uncomfortable, especially as there were a lot of ‘official’ looking yellow taxis about. I decided to make excuses to the taxi driver (who wasn’t very impressed), and go with an official cab. You just have to go with your gut at times like this. I’m sure it would have been fine but I didn’t want to take any risks.
I made my way to Hostel Galileo which I had read some good things about on TripAdvisor, which has been a godsend in Central America. Seriously, the Lonely Planet has a LOT to answer for in this part of the world. Much of the information is outdated or just plain wrong. Hostel Galileo is a decent hostel in a safe enough area, but I wasn’t very impressed that the 14 bed mixed dorm was the most expensive at $12 per night, whereas the 8 bed and 6 bed dorms were $10 and $9 respectively?! Didn’t make much sense to me, but apparently the smaller dorms are “nearer the bar” so noisier at night. Hmm!
Anyway, I settled in for the night, venturing out to get some food at a nearby Subway (it was my only option!) and a 6” sub with a drink cost the princely sum of $7! I had heard Costa Rica was pricey and this was certainly proving to be, if not the same price, even more expensive than home! The great thing about Costa Rica though, is that you can drink the tap water here! Hurrah hurray! It’s always nice to find cost-cutting measures and bottled water adds up when you’re knocking back a few litres a day!
An embodiment of Costa Rican culture (in a phrase) that you pretty much see and hear everywhere, is ‘Pura Vida‘. It literally means ‘Pure Life’ but the real meaning is more like ‘full of life’ or ‘this is living’. The phrase is used all the time, as a greeting or farewell, in an answer that things are going well or it can be used as a way of giving thanks.
The next morning, I heard from my friend Aaji, who I had lived with in Guatemala – she was in town! And she was staying at another hostel across town, Costa Rica Backpackers Hostel. I decided to cut my losses, check out of my so-so hostel and make my way to meet her and check in to the other place. I took the bus just down the street which dropped me off downtown and from there I walked for about 20-30 minutes to the hostel. It was a bit of a schlep but WELL worth it. Firstly to meet Aaji, secondly because the new hostel was MUCH better than the one I had just been in. It was $1 more per night but much nicer, bigger dorms, cleaner, huge kitchen, a pool (!), bar, and a really cool living area with TV etc. There was also a tourist information centre connected to the hostel that gave fantastic advice about my next steps as I was still unsure as to what I wanted to do. Plus they also helped me make up my mind about how I was going to get to Colombia from Panama. I had been planning on taking a boat and was still hmming and hawing about it. It was going to cost more than a flight (although the flights are crazy expensive), and the information office told me they heard a few stories recently of sinking ships and people floating in the sea for a few hours before being rescued…eeek! I figured that I might have felt slightly more comfortable had I known at least one other person taking the boat and as you can’t be sure who you’ll end up with on the boat for anything between 4 and 7 days, I decided to go for the flight option. I have heard mainly positive stories since about the boat, but I don’t regret making the decision to fly as it was the right one for me at the time. Cost-wise, most boats worked out at about $550 (not including cost of getting to the boat, as well as anything you need to bring with you for the trip, booze etc). My flight was $360, so quite expensive but still cheaper than the boat. I know if you added up cost of living for the four or five days you are on the boat accommodation and food-wise, it might have worked out better but I just went with the flight!
I didn’t really see that much in San Jose, apart from a few trips to the supermarket with Aaji to get some provisions to cook dinner and we just hung out for the day at the hostel and watched movies that night. It was so nice to catch up and update one another on our travel adventures since we had left San Pedro, Guatemala. We met a guy from New York n the hostel who was not into the Costa Rica ‘Pura Vida’ vibe at all – he had been travelling through Central America on his motorbike and crossed the Costa Rica-Panama border a few weeks back. Unfortunately on his way back up, the Costa Rican border officials had requested to his papers and specifically one random document related to his bike that he had in New York. They wouldn’t accept his copy, saying they needed to have the original document so they confiscated his bike and he was waiting in San Jose for the piece of paperwork to be couriered down to him. Agh! I hope the situation sorted itself out for him in the end…not nice!
The hostel was running a pub crawl San Jose tour for about $25 that night but we decided against it as both of us wanted to take it easy and had early starts the next morning. As far as capital cities in Central America go, San Jose seemed to me to be a relatively safe and clean place, but not that much to do. Fair enough, I didn’t spend much time here so it’s probably not fair to judge!
The next morning I took a taxi for about 3000 colonnes from the hostel to the San Carlos bus station where I had decided to travel to Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean coast. It is right beside the Panamanian border and there were also ziplining tours there! Unfortunately because of timings, budget, bus routes, etc, I didn’t get to see Monteverde which was a place in Costa Rica I had heard great things about. The thought of back-tracking on myself is something I hate doing, so I did the best route for me at the time. I can always come back!