November 17 – 21, 2016 and January 9 – April 3, 2017.
After a wonderful month in Nicaragua, we had to move on to Costa Rica to catch a flight in San José on November 21, 2016 to go back to the US for the holidays. We reached out to our friends Josh & Jenna from Travel Amateurs to find out the procedure for storing Silver and suspending our vehicle’s Temporary Import Permit (TIP) while away for 7 weeks.
We crossed the border from Nicaragua to Costa Rica at Peñas Blanca and for the first time we used the services of a “helper” on both sides, $5 on the Nica side and a little less than $10 on the Costa Rica side. We don’t normally use helpers when crossing borders but this one was packed with people and we had read about the many forms that needed to be approved by different authorities in different locations so we opted to get a “helper” who knew all the steps and the short cuts.
For example: an inspector had to visually inspect our vehicle and sign off on one of the forms, but first we had to locate him in the crowd; our helper found him in one of the little food stalls where he was having coffee! It would have taken a while to find him!
Leaving Nicaragua, we had to pay a municipal tax of $1 per person and an exit tax of $2 per person, get an exit stamp in our passports, then walk to another desk to get our vehicle’s Temporary Import Permit checked out.
Then we started on the Costa Rica side: wait in line for immigration, copies of our documents, inspection, insurance and Temporary Import Permit for 90 days … We did all that in about 2 hours!
After lunch we drove a couple hours then stopped for the night at Eco-Ranch Rossy Tour in Miramar, a couple hours drive from the Capital, San José.
The next morning we got up early and headed to San José. On the way Joe started feeling sick with fever, cramps and nausea! We don’t think it was the ceviche because I hate it too and I was fine. Who knows!
We made it to San José on Friday just before lunch time, even though Joe was sick as a dog, we had to make all the arrangements because the Customs office was closing for the weekend and our flight was on Monday! After a few hours of waiting at the Customs office we got our paperwork and were able to drive to the storage place (Terminales Unidas). We should have gone to the storage first but the Lady at the Customs Office was nice enough to processed our paperwork anyway. At the storage warehouse, I made the arrangements and we parked Silver in a secured lot.
We got our bags out and finally checked in our hotel (La Guaria Inn & Suites) in Alajuela, a recommendation of our friends Sylvain & Rachel who own a house in Costa Rica.
Joe was able to rest until our flight on Monday. He did not leave his bed until then! I fed him chicken soup and white rice from the nearby Chinese Restaurant for 3 days! By Monday he was feeling better and we flew to Florida on time for Thanksgiving!
Not long after we arrived, Joe received the terrible news that his brother David had passed away unexpectedly, we flew to Philadelphia to be with his family and for the funeral on December 16, 2016. We came back to Florida for Christmas with the kids and I celebrated the New Year (2017) in Canada with my family.
Back to Pura Vida!
We returned to Costa Rica on January 9, 2017 to continue our 3 month tour. Without having made any kind of plans, we ended up spending the majority of our time on beaches, which is not a bad thing after all, specially that we were lucky enough to be there during the dry season the entire time! We did both the Pacific and Carribean sides with a tiny bit of mountains in between.
In 2015, just before starting our Journey, we spent a month backpacking through Costa Rica, hitting a lot of the popular sites: Arenal Volcano, Santa Elena & Monteverde Cloud Forest, Playa Zancudo, San José, Cabuya, Montezuma and the highlight of the trip, a three day Whitewater Rafting excursion on the Pacuare River; we did not want to revisit the same sites besides Cabuya.
Alajuela (San José)
Bringing back a huge amount of luggage full of spare parts for the truck and even a bike rack we headed strait from the airport to the same little hotel in Alajuela. The next day we got our vehicle insurance extended before heading to the Customs Office (Aduana) to get our vehicle’s Temporary Import Permit reinstated.
What was supposed to be a simple administrative operation ended up taking two full days, they told us that all the employees had been reassigned to new positions without any training, they were all lost and confused!
Finally, with documents in hand we were able to retrieve Silver from storage. Everything was the same way we had left it 7 weeks prior and Silver started immediately when Joe turned the key! We both heaved a SIGH OF RELIEF!!!
After filling up with water and groceries we headed for the beaches! Our first stop: Playa Samara on the Nicoya Peninsula in the Guanacaste Province, where we stayed one week doing nada!
The easy going beach town on the Pacific coast is popular for it’s calm sea and pale-gray sand! There is not much to do besides long walks on the beach, swimming and just enjoying life from your hammock with a good book!
Driving the coastal route of the Nicoya Peninsula
Since it was dry season we opted for the coastal route to reach Santa Teresa, our next destination on the Nicoya Peninsula. The road is rough and there is a few river crossings but the views are well worth it.
Mal Pais (Santa Teresa)
Located on the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula in the Puntarenas Province, Santa Teresa is world famous for surfing, sunsets and good vibes.
One of our camp neighbor did her aerial workout with silks hanging from a tree. She was very happy when I offered her to take pictures, we agreed to wait for the sunset for maximum drama. She showed me all her best moves, it was a real treat to watch her.
Having fun with Overlanders! It was nice to sit around for morning coffee exchanging travel stories or for happy hour watching the sunset, we even all walked to town to catch a NFL playoff game at Nativo, one of the local sports bar.
When we came to Costa Rica in 2015, we stayed a week in the small fishing village of Cabuya, in a beautiful artist studio on the beach, we became friends with the Swiss owner, Claudia, we told her that we would be back in our own vehicle! We kept our promise and showed up two years later! It was nice to see her again. She told us about a campground down the road so we checked it out!
We ended up staying 1 month (January 28 – February 28, 2017) at Camping Morales, if we knew we were going to stay that long we would have negotiated a better price upfront but when we arrived we told Yolanda, the owner, that we wanted to stay 2 nights! It turned into a week, then two, then three … We paid 7,000 Colones per night ($375/month) for our own secured beach front paradise with potable water, electricity, access to a washing machine, fire wood, bathroom, shower and we were alone 85% of the time!
On our second day we met a wonderful lady named Nikki. Of Cuban origin, she spent most of her life in NY and Florida and is now living in Costa Rica. She rents a small house from Yolanda, just behind the camping area, with her companion, a Belgian Malinois named Sofia. We became instant friends, she cooked us some wonderful Cuban meals and showed us all the ins and outs of the Pura Vida in Cabuya. Nikki, like many other retirees, left the US in search of a better life abroad. Costa Rica and a few other countries in Latin America offer retirees the opportunity to live a simpler life and a chance to experience different cultures. If they are willing to let go of certain comforts and luxuries, Expats can multiply their retirement spending budget, the savings in accommodation, food, entertainment, health care and other expenses are often enormous but most of all it’s a totally different lifestyle with a much slower pace away from Walmart and CNN!
During the month we spent in Cabuya, we celebrated the Super Bowl, Valentine’s day, the 20 year anniversary of my mom’s death and our two Birthdays. We made friends, went to the organic market on Saturdays, read great books in the hammock, cooked incredible meals in our dutch oven, sat around camp fires, daydreamed, swam, walked the beach, snorkled, did yoga, got some treats from The Bakery, bought fresh fish from the local fishermen, took the bus just outside our gate to go grocery shopping in Montezuma, went to an art exhibit at the waterfall, had many breakfasts, dinners and drinks at nearby restaurants, visited the unique cemetery of Cabuya island, did a lot of camper maintenance and cleaning and even got a new teak table top for our dinette! Staying so long in one place was a wonderful experience and we felt like locals. But one day we said ok, it’s time to move on and just like that we were back on the road! This is what we like the most about our nomadic lifestyle, the FREEDOM to stay in one place for as long as we want and just pack up and go whenever we feel like!
Ferry from Paquera to Puntarenas
After six 6 weeks on the Nicoya Peninsula we took the ferry (Tambor II) back to the main land. 18,800 Colones about $33 for 2 people and our vehicle. Much better then driving 200 km of rough roads!
Jaco beach is an overly touristy beach town, closest beach to San José the capital, we stopped overnight to stock up on groceries and look for bikes. We found a quiet (during the week) camp near the beach, Camp Hicaco (8,000 Colones about $14)
Manuel Antonio Beach
We stayed 6 nights in a beach parking lot next to Kacha B&B. For 7,000 Colones per night, about $13, we were securely parked a few meters from the beach, had access to shower, electricity, wifi and even got a couple beach chairs at our disposal. After sunset all the beach goers left and we had the place to our selves. For 75 cents we could use the bathroom at the B&B next door.
After Samara, Santa Teresa, Cabuya, Jaco and Manuel Antonio our search for the most beautiful Pacific coast beach continued in Uvita! A tiny village with two miles of deserted wild beaches.
We visited La Catarata de Uvita, a small waterfall (at least in the dry season) but the water was very refreshing, so were the Batidos de Piña ( pineapple smoothies)!
Drake Bay – Coorcovado National Park
Drake Bay is a fishing village on the Osa Peninsula in southwestern Costa Rica on the Pacific Ocean and remains one of the country’s most remote location. To reach Drake Bay, most travelers fly from San José or boat down the river from Sierpe. After a little research, we decided to drive there!
While Beach hopping, we received an invitation from fellow Overlanders Sunny & Karin of the Vagabroads, they were house sitting a mansion up in the mountains overlooking the Pacific Ocean just above the little town of Dominical. Like us, Sunny & Karin sold everything they had and left the US in 2015 to travel all the way to Argentina. We originally met them in Guatemala and really enjoyed their company, so we did not hesitate to accept their invitation even though they had just lost their dog, their faithful companion Gracie.
After our visit, Sunny & Karin decided to drive back to the US to regroup, to earn and save money to continue their adventure later on. In the mean time they have decided to publish a book entitled “I Can. I Will: Women Overlanding the World” and guess what? it looks like, along with fifty or so other women, I will be featured in the book. I am so honored and excited to be part of this amazing project. The book should be coming out soon. To learn more about the book or to order your copy, check out the Vagabroads Website.
Quetzales National Park
Leaving the Pacific coast to get to the Caribbean or Atlantic coast, we had to cross through the mountains at an elevation reaching 9,000 feet, the temperature went from 95 to 50 degrees within a day. It was a very nice change but it rained most of the time.
Someone told us about this little restaurant called Miriam’s that served good meals and where you could observed a lot of birds. We had a fabulous trout lunch with fresh vegetables and a pitcher of Mora (black berry) juice. We saw many colorful birds in her backyard where she had installed feeders.
Our first destination on the Caribbean Coast was the little town of Cahuita and we were pleasantly surprised. We really liked the reggae and laid-back vibe. We rode our bikes up and down the coastal road to the village. We settled at Playa Negra for a few days.
From Cahuita we drove 10 miles down the road to our next destination, Puerto Viejo. Most popular tourist town on the Caribbean coast. It had a ton of restaurants, beautiful clear water and the cool vibe of the Afro-Caribbean! Also a top rated surfing destination.
We settled just outside of town in a funky hostel on the beach, Rocking J’s. We got some laundry done and had wonderfully fresh ceviche made by Oscar one of the guys at the hostel. We had the conventional fish ceviche and something I had never tried, coco ceviche to accommodate the vegetarian palates. Anything with lime and salt, I’m in!
While riding our bikes in town we came across a Dodge Ram with Canadian Plates parked on the beach, he was hauling a fifth wheel camper trailer! We could’t believe it, only a Canadian would come this far with such a long vehicle!!! We stopped by to talk to him and Steve turned out to be very nice, he was alone with his cool cat and friendly dog.
Next camp: a whopping 5 miles down the road, Punta Uva. When you think of a Caribbean paradise, this is it! White sand for long walks, calm blue water for swimming, close reef for snorkeling, palm trees for shade, coconut to eat and hardly anyone around.
On Monday April 3, 2017, our 3 month visa was running out, wether we wanted to or not it was time to hit the road!
Costa Rica often has a bad reputation for being expensive, overcrowded and too touristy but after spending 3 months we have found that the prices are definitely higher then the neighboring countries but when you are camping and cooking your own food, it is still very affordable and you can find quiet spots to enjoy some tranquility and the PURA VIDA lifestyle. We mostly used campgrounds with services but Costa Rica has a lot of free camp spots available, specially on beaches. IMHO the variety and quality of wildlife and beaches are unsurpassed in all of Central America.
Few Facts about Costa Rica:
- Population: 4.857 million (2016) World Bank
- Area: 19,700 sq miles (51,000 km²)
- Capital: San José
- Currency: Costa Rican Colon (1 USD= 566 CRC)
- Time spent: 3 months
- Miles driven: 980
- Diesel price per gallon: $3.14