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How to Travel in Costa Rica on a Budget

As usual, when planning a trip, I go to various websites searching for clues, reviews, discount lodging, activities and money exchange rates. You may want to note that Costa Rica uses colones as the medium of exchange but also accept US dollars in most places. Generally speaking, 1,000 colones are equal to two US dollars, so when calculating colones just move the decimal over (to the left) three places and multiply by two to get the US dollar equivalent.

So with the assistance of my son Omar, who would also be joining me on this trip to Costa Rica, we began our research checking Frommers.com, TripAdvisor.com, Hostels.com, GoVisitCostaRica.com, Google Maps, and other websites to get somewhat familiar with that part of the world.

There were no flights available to the San Jose airport, so we decided to fly Delta to the Liberia Airport (LIR). Liberia is located in the Guanacaste Province which is located in the Northeastern part of Costa Rica. This is not a bad option for anyone who wants to see the country in the most cost effective way, which is by bus. We took a taxi from the airport and checked in the Boyeros Hotel in downtown Liberia. The taxi charge was $15.00 for me and my son. There is however, an even cheaper way to get to the center of Liberia. You can take a taxi out to the main road for about $4.00 and take the local bus for only 50 cents. That is how we returned to the airport on our departure day.

The Boyeros was a nice hotel with a 24 hour restaurant and two swimming pools (one adult and one child pool with little waterfall). They also had double beds, cable TV and hot water. The staff does not speak much English so brush up on your Spanish before your trip. Many small hotels and hostels do not have hot water so always check your room and turn on the water before payment is given especially if you travel without making advance reservations like we did. They are also conveniently located on the bus line and around the corner from the bus station.

The cost of the room was $60.00 per night, which was over our hotel budget of $40.00 per night, but the hot water and nice pool was a good trade off. We spent the day at the pool, getting adjusted and planning our next move. We did not eat at their restaurant but instead walked across the road to a food mall which housed Burger King and a few other fast food restaurants. It was packed with locals and a few tourists. After eating we stocked up on water and headed back to the hotel. My son Omar crashed out and I stayed up and got treated to a Pacquiao vs. Margarito fight on HBO. Pacquiao was victorious but I still think that Floyd Mayweather would win if they ever meet.

We got up early at about 4:30 AM to make our six and a half hour trip to the Manuel Antonio National Park, which was one of the places that showed up on many websites and was a “must see” type of location. I paid $12.00 for us to go to Barranca, which was about an hour and a half away. For $1.00, we took the local bus to the Puntarenas Bus Station. You must purchase a bus ticket at the booth around the corner from where the buses line up. The bus to Manuel Antonio cost $15.00 and was another two hour ride. We really were able to take in the beautiful scenery of the country as we rode the highway in this comfortable bus.

We arrived about 11:00 AM in Quepos and decided to find a hotel there instead of riding to Manuel Antonio which was only a short 30 minute ride away. We walked about two blocks and found the Park Hotel or Hotel Parque which was situated on the 2nd floor over the Drage Pharmacy. It was very quaint with only cold water and no air conditioning but it did have cable TV and a ceiling fan and only cost $20.00 for the room that we selected with two twin beds. We checked in and dropped our bags and scurried back to the bus station to continue our journey to the Manuel Antonio National Park. There is a $10.00 entry fee for adults and it was free for my son who is 11 years of age. You have to walk about a mile on a gravel and dirt road before reaching the beach. We did not see any wildlife along the way as it was promoted in their literature and on some websites. The walk was a bit grueling in the heat and with our backpacks but the beach was beautiful and the water was fine.

Actually, my recommendation would be to pass on going through the National Park and instead just go on the other side of the road and enjoy the beach right there. There are noticeably more rocks and stones along the shoreline and you can’t avoid walking on them as you enter the ocean but the $10.00 National Park fee could then be used for a meal or two. After a while the clouds rolled in and it began to rain. My son was undaunted and continued to swim. After his hands and feet resembled raisins, we headed back up the pathway and decided to eat at Chicken on the Run, which is situated on the main road and right across from the beach, before heading back to the hotel. We shared a whole rotisserie chicken, rice and beans, plantains and a two liter bottle of soda, which cost about $16.00 for everything. Be mindful however, that the chicken and other livestock that you eat are likely raised on the same water that you are trying to avoid when you purchased bottled water during your stay. Just as you experience illness, cramps and vomiting in Mexico and are warned “don’t drink the water”, the same warning should also apply when visiting Costa Rica.

We scheduled the Mangrove Safari Tour for the next day then jumped back on the local bus to Quepos for $1.00 and was safely in our room by about 7:00 PM. After our cold showers, Omar watched the Disney Channel in Spanish, while I went to Bogarts Restaurant just downstairs and to the right, to use the internet to plot our next moves. I checked the bus schedules at http://www.thebusschedule.com/ to make sure we stayed on schedule.

The next morning we got up early and checked out of the hotel. We carried our bags with us to the tour pick up location in Manuel Antonio because we were going to get a bus to San Jose right after the safari tour. We could have gotten picked up at the hotel but when I signed up for the tour the previous day, I did not know the exact name or location of the hotel, so to avoid confusion, I said we would just come to the ticket booth location. Little did I know that the mini tour bus would end up taking us right back to Quepos to a restaurant less than a half block from the hotel to have lunch, which was included in the $65.00 per head ticket price of the tour. The food was good and included rice and beans, salad and a choice of fish or chicken. The tour drivers appeared confused and not very organized. They said it was a four hour tour but ended up being about 2 hours. We finally arrived at Damas Island to board the boat about 2 hours after we were picked up. The river area was desolate to say the least.

We saw monkeys right along the bush area near the dock. We also saw some birds in that immediate area but deeper into the ride we saw less and less. No crocodile as promised upon signing up. We did see a curled up snake that appeared to be sleeping on a tree branch. One lady on the tour, from San Francisco, CA said she had taken the tour about 20 years ago and the same area was filled with colorful birds swooping down and flying around in every direction. The tour guide who looked to be in his twenties, could not offer a reason. My suggestion is to skip this tour or find a company that offers it for about $40.00. That what is seems to be worth. You can also ride over to Damas and you may just be able to see the monkeys hanging around the dock area. If there is a next time, we would likely opt for a trip to a zoo or a reserve like Africa Mia which is located in the El Salto area of Liberia. You can check their website to reserve space.

We hustled back from the tour and around 5:00 pm we boarded the bus to San Jose. We got there around 8:30 PM and was fortunate to get assistance from two young ladies who were on the bus who provided some information about the bus station area crime. They translated our selected hostel to the taxi driver, who spoke very little English.

We checked in to Vesuvio for $40.00 for the night. It was a great place to stay with hot water, cable TV, AC and free breakfast. Eduardo and Mauricio spoke excellent English and were very informative and hospitable. Vesuvio can be contacted by visiting their website at http://www.hotelvesuvio.com/.

After a quick breakfast of toast and fruit we took a super quick 30 minute tour of San Jose downtown district. Our bus to Liberia was at 7:00 AM and arrived in Liberia about 11:00 AM which gave us a three hour cushion before our flight back to the USA. We used the time by heading to the local supermarket to purchase some coffee for gifts. We boarded the local bus and got off at the entry road to the airport, then took a taxi in to the entrance area. Keep in mind that there is an exit tax charged before you leave, so don’t spend every dollar you have in Costa Rica or you may have an extended stay. The fee is about $26.00 per person.

We arrived back in Atlanta after four hours, went through customs and baggage check and finally to our vehicle. My son and I had accomplished a great deal in only four days and three nights. We spent less than $500.00 dollars on ground transportation, food, hotels, gifts and entertainment. When my son looked over to me and said “thank you for taking me to Costa Rica”, simple words alone could not express my gratitude to the Creator. My feeling could justifiably be described as “Muy, Muy Bien”!
Travel Safely!

A. Omar Muhammad can be contacted at [email protected]

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