26 Sep My first 90 days in Costa Rica
Holding one of the least powerful passports in the world, it was a little hard for me to believe that I really was allowed to visit Costa Rica for 90 days. I felt so nervous queueing for my visa on arrival at the San Jose airport. What if Wikepedia was wrong?!?
I purchased a rebookable exit ticket to Nicaragua worth $89 through Ticketbuscr weeks in advance to fulfill the requirement. I found out later on that you can take the local buses all the way to the border for a quarter of the price, but I couldn’t find a way to buy a ticket in advance. Remember to print it just in case they ask for it.
The immigration officer opened my passport and immediately stamped it without asking for my exit ticket. Before it even sunk in, he said “You’re welcome” and handed me back my passport with a 90 day stamp! I’ve heard that there is a 50/50 chance that they will ask for it, so better be prepared or risk being denied entry.
I ended up here because it was the cheapest ticket from Asia at that time. My Latino friends told me that Costa Rica is the best bet for those who are just learning Spanish. There are many expats and locals who speak English to help you ease into their language and culture.
I couchsurfed in San Jose for one night then took a bus up to the mountains of La Fortuna where I volunteered at Rancho Margot, an eco-lodge that offers horseback riding, hiking, kayaking tours and healthy farm-to-table meals. I taught yoga and helped out at the garden for a couple of hours everyday. I learned so much about how easy it is to grow your own food, I can’t wait to have my own vegetable garden.
Though 4 varieties of mosquitoes sucked my blood in the rainforest, I had an awesome time practicing my Spanish with the staff at the bar and restaurant. We watched football, played fuzball, hiked the different trails and just found ways to communicate despite our language barriers and bonded every single night. My time was up so I had to leave after a month.
I found another host on Yoga Trade called Peace Retreats in Playa Negra, along the Pacific coast. I taught yoga a few times a week and worked on some daily chores. We were really only cleaning up after ourselves because we barely had any guests during the low season. Each volunteer had her own cabina. Howler monkeys and different bird species woke us up every morning.
The other volunteers and I spent afternoons walking to the beach to watch the epic surf. Here, I had the best brownies I’ve ever had in my life — crispy on the outside, soft, chewy and chocolatey on the inside. I am still in disbelief on how the gringo owner can sell them for $1 each at Jalapeño. Really, I still can’t get over it!
I spent weeks exploring many parts of Guanacaste couchsurfing, sometimes hitchiking with friends. From touristy Tamarindo to laid back Samara, picturesque Barrigona, turtle sanctuary Ostional and local spots Little Hawaii and famous surf town Nosara.
In Costa Rica you either need any of these three things to get around everyday — the budget to rent a car, the patience to wait for the buses or the courage to hitchike.
Be sure to download this PDF guide to your phone to make your commuting life so much easier. Short bus trips cost less than a dollar, while longer ones can cost up to C7,000 or $14. Still much cheaper than renting a car or taking the private shuttles.
I volunteered south of the country at a beautiful yoga retreat center called Blue Osa in the Osa Peninsula, known for its magical Scarlet Macaws and Humpback Whales. Everyday, we were served fresh and healthy meals whipped up by the kitchen staff. Aside from teaching yoga, I also wrote lifestyle related articles for their website. The ocean, Playa Tamales was literally our backyard. All my creatives juices flowed, I started painting and drawing again after decades. I enjoyed playing with the resident dogs and kittens so much that I miss them everyday.
Costa Rica is no doubt the most expensive country in Latin America. Some say the cost of living, especially in tourist areas, is even higher than that of Europe. I would’ve never been able to say in this country for 90 days if I hadn’t volunteered in exchange for food and accommodation. I was lucky to find a variety of yoga teaching opportunities. There may be hundreds of other volunteer positions available around the country as well. Best to secure your spot a month or two ahead.
What I love about Costa Rica:
The tap water is potable in most places
Discover what a thousand shades of green look like
It is one of the most ecologically diverse countries in the world
They plan to close all zoos, freeing all captive animals
They have abolished their army and redirected funds to education
Safest country in Central America