When I think about my life, I don’t see a big house. I see myself doing exactly what I’m doing now. Blogging sometime around midnight. Thinking about the last 7 years of international travel. My running shoes are still on. They’re damn comfortable. Where I live, I have a balcony and I have Mark, but instead of overlooking the intracoastal, I am in a studio overlooking Hong Kong, or house-sitting in Tuscany. Right now I’m drinking water, but elsewhere it’ll be tea. In Latin America, espresso. I may have dinner with a different group of people every night. Sometimes I will eat alone. Sometimes I will have to try the homemade wine, and I will likely overindulge. I’ll learn Zulu from little kids and take a timelapse of the Milky Way. I’ll be a staff photographer for Costa Rica Tourism and Mark will find those hidden gems he is so good at finding. This is what I must have. It’s an intense, non-traditional, unpredictable lifestyle. It’s not for everyone. It’s not meant to be understood. But there’s only one person that needs to, and I’m pretty sure he does
Costa Rica is a haven for adventure lovers, thrill seekers, and romantics. When we visited earlier this month, we were burdened again and again by some information that, well meaning, is not entirely true. Here to debunk some of the most popular “advice” of Costa Rica.
MYTH 1: You can’t drive the country alone.
FACT: The country’s roads, though still largely created by boulders and rocks of many sizes, can be driven without hired help and you definitely don’t need a tour bus. A 2WD vehicle is not necessary if you are staying on paved roads.
Please note that the roads to Volcan Arenal (Arenal Volcano), La Fortuna (city, and La Fortuna Waterfall) and the surrounding hotels are largely unpaved. The road from La Fortuna to Monteverde is also unpaved (even if you take the ferry across the lake, much of your travel is going to be on unpaved road.
MYTH 2: It’s unsafe to drive at night because of thieves.
FACT: The danger lies in the complete inability to see axle-breaking potholes in the road at dark. No street lights line the unpaved roads. Seldom you will have a fence between the road and the cliff, but rarely. Please don’t drive once the sun completely sets.
MYTH 3: San Jose is like any other capital, easy to navigate.
FACT: Wrong on so many levels. San Jose is rife with very narrow roads and two-lane roads that abruptly become one-lane. We got lost (several times) even with the Costa Rican GPS.
MYTH 4: My iPhone GPS or Google GPS will navigate me through Costa Rica.
FACT: Yes, the Costa Rican GPS is expensive, but I promise you that you will use it and you will love it. The Costa Rican GPS alerts you of school zones, dangerous bridges (often one-way), and reduced speeds.
Google satellites are extremely dodgy in the mountains and the instructions are delayed by three to five seconds. This doesn’t sound like a lot on paper, but Costa Rica driving instructions involve a lot of “Turn right, then make a sharp left, then turn right again” in a second’s time. The lag from your standard GPS will prove frustrating at the very least.
MYTH 5: Rental car insurance is a waste and I should get only the minimal coverage.
FACT: The majority of domestic car insurance companies limit their liability on rentals abroad. Even if you call your insurance company and are advised otherwise, some information is bound to be omitted. We opted for the insurance that gave us ZERO liability; the agent literally said, “You can bring the car back in pieces, and no charge.” Yes, this almost tripled the cost of the rental car, but having that green light to be as rowdy on the rocky roads as we could be, well, was a treat.
MYTH 6: Sodas are the cheapest place to stop and get food.
FACT: Food prices in Costa Rica have tripled over the past three years. Formal restaurants will still be the bulk of eating expense, but the sodas we went to in the highlands cost us $6 for a heaping helping of chicken and rice.
If you want to drink Costa Rican beer on the cheap, head to the closest supermercado, or market, where you can still pick up beers for less than $1 each.
The customs procedure when landing at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport has changed quite a bit. Our experience was unpleasant because five or six international flights landed at FLL at the same time. This increased a typical 5-10 minute wait at customs to over an hour.
There are two lines for customs: one for visitors to the USA and one for residents. So far, pretty standard. There are two rooms where lines form. The line for the visitors goes much faster but that’s likely because there are well, a lot less visitors than US citizens.
The most surprising advent in the customs procedure is the passport check is completely automated via a kiosk. The customs agents are of no help, but this is to be expected. The prompts on the kiosk are less than clear, also. To pass the kiosk, you must put your passport over a scanner. The machine scans the document page of your passport (document page has your name, picture, birthday, issue date, et al) and shows a picture of the scanned page to you. You verify the information and then…
You look directly into a camera on the kiosk and take a picture. If you do not look straight into the camera, the picture will not take. Once the kiosk takes a picture of you, a receipt prints out with your picture and the same information that’s on your passport plus your arriving flight information.
Once you get to the customs agent, the agent compares the photo you just took at the kiosk and the photo on your passport. I did not see anyone get pulled aside for discrepancies, but I imagine it’s a more…investigative look into why the two pictures do not match to the liking of the customs agent. The agent then finishes the routine questions: “What countries did you visit?” “Are you bringing any fruit, firearms, tobacco, etc?”, stamps your passport and you go to baggage claim to collect checked bags.
People were very confused by this entire process. I imagine once an agent or two comes in that actually assists first time international travelers with the kiosk, the procedure will go a lot smoother. People who travel frequently will find that this procedure more closely matches the customs process of say, China.
Have you traveled internationally and experienced a similar customs process? Or was yours completely different? We’d love to hear from you!