Welcome to our Costa Rica Blog. Our intention in writing this blog is to share our personal experiences traveling throughout Costa Rica as we explore different places where we might choose to live for several months each year. We also provide other information that might be of interest to both those wishing to visit Costa Rica for a vacation and for others who are considering moving here.
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As you can see, my last entry was the middle of February. I still have a lot of information and photos to share about our experiences from mid-February until the end of May when we returned to Canada.
I'm currently putting together a new Blog for our upcoming trip to Chile and I'm not sure if I will have the opportunity to bring our Costa Rica Blog up to date before we leave on November 4th. If not, I will come back later and bring it up to date.
If you want to follow us as we travel through Chile, I invite you to visit our new site and subscribe to the automatic updates.
Four years ago Kay and Tom, originally from the United States, decided to hold a Chili Cook Off competition, with money raised to benefit Hogar de Vida, the local home for abandoned, abused and orphaned children. It started out small and has since grown to attract chili cooks and chili fans from Grecia, Alajuela, Heredia, San Jose and other surrounding communities.
Here is a photo of Kay and Tom and also Helen (in the middle), the director of Hogar de Vida.
We were excited to volunteer for this event and had a great time. Randie spent most of the day cooking burgers and hot dogs and I helped sell food tickets.
Our friends Penny and Craig were helping out at the beer tent. Can you tell they are having fun?
We ran into our friends Vera and Jonathan from Vista Atenas B&B. We stayed at this B&B a couple of times and loved it!
In addition to food, there was entertainment and several raffles. This year’s event raised about $3400 for the orphanage. We had the opportunity to visit the orphanage, however, for security reasons, we are unable to post any photos of the beautiful children.
We were excited to be moving into our new "home" in Roca Verde, Atenas. We rented the lower unit of a duplex for 3 months since our plan was to go to Ecuador in May for 4 to 6 weeks. We are exploring different countries in order to determine where we would prefer to spend 7 to 8 months of the year.
Our new home is small and perfect for just the two of us. We have a pool and the view is great! We are happy that it is walking distance to the center of town.
We also have a nice terrace and a rancho with a BBQ.
While on the TransNica bus traveling from Nicaragua to Costa Rica, I managed to get a photo of a volcano through the bus window.
When we got to the border we had to get off the bus and give our passport to the bus driver who took them inside to get stamped. There are several vendors selling drinks and souvenirs to everyone waiting to get back on the bus.
After crossing the border we had to get off the bus again to have our bags inspected and to get our passports stamped on the Costa Rican side. We were very grateful that it wasn’t too hot since we had to stand around for a while before anyone came to look at our bags. It’s interesting because when you look around you can’t see any workers and we got the feeling everyone was on a coffee break at the same time. La Pura Vida!
We were hoping we wouldn’t have to go all the way into San Jose and then change buses to get to Atenas so Randie did his best to communicate with the bus driver and asked if there was someplace closer to Atenas where we could get dropped off. When the bus stopped for people to get some food, etc. the bus driver came up to Randie and introduced him to a woman who lived in Atenas and whose husband was going to pick her up on the side of the highway. She offered to let us join her and we ended up getting a ride all the way to our friend Barbara’s place where we were greeted with a delicious dinner.
When we first decided to go to Granada, there were two things I really wanted to do (based on what others recommended). I wanted to go to the Market in Masaya and also tour the islands by boat. We decided to take the afternoon boat tour so we could experience the sunset. Before being picked up for the tour, we had lunch in the central park. There are several locals who have stands selling food. It’s amazing what they can put together with very little to work with.
As it turned out there were only 4 people (including us) who were on the boat tour along with our English speaking guide, Osman and the person driving the boat. Once you see the slide show below, you will know why I highly recommend you take the tour of the islands if you visit Granada. If you are looking for a great guide, you can contact Osman at: firstname.lastname@example.org. He is a licensed guide and will pick you up at your hotel. We appreciated how he took time to point out highlights along the way and knew where to stop for a delicious lunch! We also got off the boat to walk around an old fort that was originally built to protect the mainland.
Hotel Kekodi, where we were staying, includes breakfast. They offer a small breakfast buffet including beans and rice, toast with butter and jam, cereal, fruit, coffee and juice. You can order eggs and other items "a la cart" if you wish to pay for it. The outdoor breakfast area was in the courtyard.
The view of the gardens from the tables was picturesque.
Before visiting Granada, we heard there was a popular market in a nearby city. We couldn’t remember the name of it and when speaking with another couple who were also in Granada for their 90 day Costa Rica "visa run" not only did we find out the name of the market, but we were invited to share a taxi with them since they were planning on going to the market that morning.
The market is in the town of Masaya, about 20 or 30 minutes from Granada. Although it is a very large market, many of the items being sold are household items including beautiful pottery, etc, and since we no longer have our own home, we are not in the market for these types of items. We managed to get a great deal on t-shirts since we purchased 15 of them to give to someone in Granada who distributes them to the street children.
I tried on some clothes and didn’t find anything I liked. Change rooms are generally squeezed into a back corner of a stall and are very basic. I’m behind the red curtain with the yellow flowers.
I managed to get a picture of Randie at the restaurant in the market where we had lunch.
Before hopping in the taxi to go back to Granada, Randie took a picture of the entrance to the market.
On our way back to Granada, we took the same taxi since the taxi driver waited for us. The car was in very rough shape and as we were travelling on the highway, one of the ties blew. Thankfully, the driver was skilled enough to safely pull over at the side of the road. Since there wasn’t much space and the road wasn’t flat, he was having a very difficult time jacking up the car because it kept slipping in the ditch. All the guys where trying to keep the car from sliding. In the end, another taxi driver was flagged down and he had a much better jack that made it easier for the tire to be changed. When you see a close up of the replacement tire, you’ll know why the one on the car blew.
Once we were safely back in Granada we decided to go for a walk around the town. We noticed there were several horses and carriages to transport tourists who didn’t want to walk or who wanted a romantic experience. We chose to continue walking.
On one of the side streets we saw a place where young people were taught how to make hammocks. This was a center that was working to keep children off the streets by teaching them a trade. The hammocks are beautiful and there are rows and rows of different colors and designs.
Here is a video of some of the young people making the hammocks. They work very fast.
Granada is known for its colonial buildings.
We ended the day by going for dinner near the center square where there are several restaurants to choose from. The poverty in this country was very apparent as we had about 40 people (children and adults) come to our table during our meal either trying to sell us something or asking for food or money. We gave one young boy money in exchange for a rose he made out of palm leaves. We also invited another young boy to sit at our table to eat some rice. It’s hard to see so much poverty and even though we contributed to a few people, we know we can’t help them all.
We’ve been in Costa Rica since the beginning of November and we had to leave the country since the maximum amount of time you can stay is 90 days. The amount of time you need to be out of the country is more dependent on the custom’s agent you end up with than the laws. We’ve heard about people who crossed the border into Panama or Nicaragua, for example, and then walked around and came right back into Costa Rica or had lunch across the border and then came back. We’ve also heard about people who tried this and were told they had to be out a minimum of 3 days. Since our new rental home would not be available until February 1st, we decided to stay in Nicaragua for 5 nights. We chose to take the executive TransNica bus that left at noon from San Jose. There is also an economy bus that leaves at various times throughout the day. We were told the executive bus had larger seats and more legroom and it also included a meal. There is another bus company that people use to go to both Nicaragua and Panama called TicaBus. They also have economy and executive buses. From what we heard there isn’t much difference between the two so it depends on the time you want to travel.
Since we wanted to go to the Canadian Embassy before the bus station, we took a bus from Atenas to Sabana Sur (west part of San Jose) and then took a taxi to the Embassy a few blocks away. We took another taxi to the TransNica bus station…not a fancy place.
We heard so many horror stories of long line ups at the border to exit Costa Rica and then more long lines on the Nicaragua side to get through customs. Many people told us how uncomfortable it was to wait so long in the heat and several people told us they waited in lines for up to 3 hours. We were very fortunate when we got to the Costa Rican border since there was no line up and everyone was processed within about 20 minutes.
It’s true what people say about money changers trying to sell you Nicaraguan currency called the "Cordoba"on the Costa Rican side. When we got off the bus to get our passports stamped to exit the country, we had to walk through about 20 money changers who were flashing money and crowding around the door of the bus. We just kept saying, "No, gracias" and kept walking.
We learned in advance not to exchange money on the Costa Rican side since the exchange rate is usually not as good and the U.S. currency is accepted everywhere in Nicaragua, even in the outdoor markets.
When we arrived at the Nicaraguan border we had to get our luggage from under the bus and put it on long tables that were lined up outside. We had to open our suitcases and bags and a custom agent looked very briefly at the contents before telling us we could go. We also had to give our passports to the bus driver who took them inside to get them all stamped. We waited around until someone came out with all the passports and as they called your name, you picked up your passport and then got on the bus. Again, we were fortunate that our time at the border was not long (about 45 minutes) and since it was later in the day (around 5:30 pm when we got there) it was cooler and comfortable standing outside.
We arrived at our hotel in Granada around 7pm. After checking Trip Advisor and asking everyone we knew in Costa Rica about places to stay, we chose Hotel Kekoldi. They offered good rates, had good reviews on Trip Advisor and we heard from people we knew that it was a clean and nice, (not fancy) hotel that was walking distance to the center of town. It also had hot water and air conditioning. We heard it was very hot in Nicaragua and unless you really like the heat it would be best to have air conditioning. Our rate also included breakfast.
Here are a few photos of the hotel. Once you walk inside, there is a large foyer and then a courtyard in the middle with rooms along the sides. Our room had 2 queen sized beds and a TV and wireless Internet. We were very happy with it.
Beth and Robby, a couple we met recently, invited us to a pot luck dinner. Jo, the woman living in the upstairs unit of the duplex where Beth and Robby were staying, and Dan who Randie met on his way into town one day, were also invited. The people in the picture from left to right are: Jo, Robby, Beth, Dan and me. Randie, of course, is taking the photo.
Check out what Dan brought!
All the food was amazing. Take a look at my plate!
We had such a wonderful time. It’s amazing how much socializing we are doing here in Costa Rica…and so spontaneous…we love it!
On the second Friday of each month, there is a ladies luncheon at a different restaurant, often outside of Atenas. Thankfully, people with cars offer to drive those of us without a vehicle. This was my first time joining the monthly group and we went to a Meditranean restaurant called, "Sisso Taste of Jerusalem, (in Florencia Mall in Escazú, south of Paco towards Guachipelen).They serve authentic Israeli food. The food was very good and the company was great!