I should start this blog by introducing myself. My name is James Campbell and I am from Oshawa Ontario Canada. Married to a beauty named Tammy who is my anchor and have a daughter Laura who is married to an outstanding guy Chris, together they have my lil princess Chloe who is the soft spot!! I came down to Costa Rica about 8 years ago for the first time and fell in love with the country and the people I came in contact were so friendly. The weather was fantastic no SNOW!! In January as the people in the north were bundling up to go out in the freezing weather I was on the beach soaking up the warm Costa Rica sun at +30. I have been back several times and every time I love it more!! One day as I was sitting at my computer (in March with the furnace blasting away to keep me warm) surfing Costa Rica sights I came across a little B and B for sale completely by accident, I contacted the owners Denny and Rachelle who as some of you may have met are fantastic people and arranged to come down in June to have a look at the B and B and the little town of Grecia. I came down thinking it would take me two weeks to decide if this was the place for me, well four days later I decided it was and was on the plane back north to make arrangement to take over this little piece of paradise. I came back on Monday of this week and started the transition, Denny and Rachelle had a training program all set up!! oooooo what a mass amount of information they tried to squeeze into my brain! They were so patient with me, we will see if it sticks!
They are off on their honeymoon in the Philippines! I wish them the best of luck on their new adventure and thank them for all their help they were two very awesome people!!
Melissa Hayes will be the new hostess, she is a local woman but lived in Florida for 7 years so she speaks both english and spanish. I would be lost without her because my spanish is little to none and she has so much local knowledge!
Its another great day in Costa Rica, rained last night hard and now the sun is shining with a clear blue sky temperature around 26oC. Today will be a day of computer work, trying to remember everything I was taught but tomorrow maybe I will take a day off and go see the country side!
Until the next blog PURA VIDA
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Today I am going to write a little about food and drink here in Costa Rica. What they like, where to get it and a few other tid bits along the way.
The typical local staple food in Costa Rica consists of rice, beans and a meat (mostly chicken). Cooked many ways like in a “casado”, which is black beans, rice some salad, some meat (beef, chicken, pork or fish) and sometimes an egg.
Another favorite of mine is Arroz con Pollo. Fried rice with chicken. It usually comes with some deep fried tortilla chips and a simple salad.
Chicharons are deep fried pork chunks.
They loooooove fried chicken. There are fried chicken places everywhere. They even serve fried chicken at McDonalds.
They also love french fries. Come to think of it, anything deep fried seems to be a hit.
Small family owned restaurants are called sodas. they mainly serve these typical meals.
They call Diet Coke “Coka light”.
A menu is pronounced “maynu”. Get it right or the waiter might have a puzzled look on his face when you ask for a “menu”.
Appetizers are popular in bars because locals have limited funds and would rather spend the money on Imperial or Pilsen beer. They call appetizers “Bocas”.
The water here is good to drink…. in most cases better than bottled water straight from the tap.
They generally don’t put salt or pepper on the table but you can ask for it.
I have had very few salads I would classify as “great”. Mediocre would more describe them. It is weird because they have awesome vegetables and they are inexpensive for the most part.
They are not into dressings unless you are in a higher end place. It’s mostly vinegar or lemon (which is not a bad thing for me) or “pink” sauce which is a mixture of mayonaise and ketchup I think (this IS a bad thing for me ewww).
Vegetarians can get by, just ask for your meal “sin” carne. You may get some funny looks because they don’t get many people asking for meals without meat.
I will add more as I think of it…
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When traveling to a foreign country, for some people the difference in money can be really intimidating. I am going to offer some tips and typical processes in this blog that I hope will put your mind at ease….. Or a little more at ease!
What to have in your pocket while traveling in Costa Rica: When visiting Costa Rica it is good to have both the local currency Colones and US Dollars in your pocket. When a merchant is asking for USD, pay in USD and if they are asking for Colones, pay in Colones. The reason is that if the merchant has to do the conversion to the other denomination, they will usually give a low exchange rate compared to the banks daily rate, so the product or service will actually cost more for you and they will be getting a couple of extra bucks. On a small purchase it doesn’t make much difference but say on $500USD you may pay an extra $30 – $40USD.
ALWAYS COUNT YOUR CHANGE BEFORE YOU LEAVE THE STORE OR DRIVE AWAY. Merchants will always take the time to count what you give them and check to make sure it is not counterfeit so they get their money but they don’t alway give the correct change back. So take the time to count your change!!
Where to get currency:
You can get Colones OR USD via an ATM machine and there are plenty in Costa Rica. You might want to check what your home bank charges you for international withdrawals. When using an ATM if it doesn’t give you the amount you want on the first try, don’t take your card out and leave, Try a lower amount say 10000 colones (~$19.50USD) less than your original amount and see if it gives it to you. If not try another 10000 colones lower. Sometimes there is a “magic” number the machine is looking for and when you hit the right amount, it will dispense your money. One IMPORTANT thing to remember is to take your card out of the machine as soon as it spits it out. If you wait a certain number of seconds to take it out, say if you decide to count the money first or check out how different it is to your home country’s money, the machine will eat your card and then you will have to go back into the bank to get it back which starts another process! Avoid this by removing your card as soon as you have your money and the card is ejected.
You can also exchange your USD in the bank for Colones. This method can take ten minutes to two hours depending on the lineups. You can also cash in Traveler’s cheques in the bank but sometimes it may take longer and you may have to jump thru some hoops to get your money.
When you go into the bank to exchange money (or for anything), BRING your passport. You will need it.
The process inside most banks are that you enter the bank and a security guard will wave a wand around you checking for anything you shouldn’t have at a bank and check your bags. Then typically you will walk to an electronic box that will spit out a paper with a number on it, Then you sit in the many chairs until your number is called, then proceed to the counter. When you enter the bank it is a good idea to remove your sunglasses and if you are wearing a baseball cap, turn it around (I guess so the cameras can get a good view of your face).
DO NOT exchange money at the airport. They give the worst rates I have ever heard of.
Costa Rica Colones and how to do quick conversions to USD on the fly:
The Costa Rica Colones comes in the following denominations:
- 10 000c = from $19-$20USD (depending on the current exchange rate)
- 5000c = from $9-$10USD (depending on the current exchange rate)
- 2000c = from $3.60 -$4USD (depending on the current exchange rate)
- 1000c = from $1.80-$2USD (depending on the current exchange rate)
The remainder are coins and you will get a lot of them….
- 500c = .90 – 1USD
- 100c = .18 – .20 US cents
- 50c = .09 – .10 US cents
- 25c = .05 US cents
- 10c = .01 US cents
- 5c = not even worth a penny.
Here is an easy way to convert the Colones to US Dollars:
- 10 000c : drop the 3 zeros at the end, double the 10 and minus a little. So 10 000c becomes 10 x 2 = $20 minus a little bit, so 10000c is worth between $19 and $20
- 5000c drop the 3 zeros at the end so it will be 5 x 2 = $10 minus a little bit, so it is worth between $19-$20USD
- 2000c is like $4 minus a bit
- 1000c is like $2 minus a bit
- 500 is like $1 minus a bit
It’s not that difficult to do the exchange in your head, once you know an “easy” method!
Using Credit Cards like Visa, Mastercard, American Express and others in Costa Rica:
Many smaller merchants do not accept credit cards, only cash. If you plan to use your credit cards in Costa Rica:
make sure the merchant accepts them
make sure the total is correct, Many will charge a service fee of up to 13% to use the card. I only use cash now because I got charged an extra 13% on a backpack when I first moved here.
As with anywhere else in the world, be careful where you use your credit cards, Fraud is a worldwide problem.
Make sure to contact your credit card company and your bank prior to the trip to avoid the inconvenience of declined purchases or withdrawals.
I will add more if I can think of anything else.
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Here are some tips while traveling through Costa Rica:
- Pedestrians DON’T have the “right of way”. Always make sure the road is clear before stepping off the sidewalk
- The sidewalks are uneven with holes and tiles that are very slippery when wet. Make sure you watch where you walk.
- When you arrive in the different places within CR, ask about how safe it is to walk in the area and if there are areas that you shouldn’t go.
- When taking public buses, try not to put luggage or backpacks in the under storage or overhead bins as thefts do occur. Private bus services like Interbus etc are safer when you have a lot of luggage.
- Make sure taxi’s use the meter. They call it a “Maria” and if they don’t use it, you can be sure that you are paying a premium.
- For Rental Cars see my previous blog about it but here a few tips: avoid driving in the dark because there are very few signs. Remove all your stuff before parking it (not a good idea to leave your camera or GPS on the front seat. Don’t be the lead car, follow someone and you will have less chance of being stopped for a ticket/bribe. If you get a flat, don’t accept help from strangers, it is highly possible they poked your tire so they can “help” you for money or they may keep you occupied while their friend is cleaning out your car. If you have a collision, DON’T move the cars, Call the police and don’t move until both the Police and the insurance guy has said it’s okay to move the cars.
Food and Water
- The typical food is beans, rice and meat. They are not big on good fresh salads (I am not sure why). They don’t put a lot of salt or spices on the food. They usually have a hot sauce or vegetable based “Lizano” salsa on the table so you can “spice” it up.
- Don’t be afraid of the little restaurants (sodas). Usually “Grandma” is cooking it and it is very tasty and good. zI have yet to be sick from the food. It is also cheaper than the bigger restaurants, especially the big chains (Yup they have Applebees, Outback and TGIFridays).
- Chicken is the staple meat. Beef is usually quite chewy here. I think it has to do with their diet and not being aged. Grecia has an awesome steakhouse that serves the most amazing steaks. You can also get fish and pork. Turkey is very hard to find and when you do it is really expensive.
- In most places the water is good to drink. Actually very good to drink and quite possible cleaner and better than bottled water.
“Watchiemen” these are people usually with florescent vests guiding you in and out of parking stalls. They are not usually paid by the establishment and work on tips. Tip them when you return and are leaving to the tune of 300c – 500c (60cents – $1). Use caution as your stuff in the car is most likely worth more than a dollar and it is not unknown to come back and the watchieman is gone and so are your belongings.
Restaurants You pay a mandatory 10% gratuity on your bill. Don’t top it up to 15% or 20% if you do, the wait staff doesn’t see it. It goes to the owner of the restaurant. Furthermore, it is ruining the Costa Rican culture. Let me explain. Tipping is not Costa Rican culture. Many local people do not earn enough money to go to restaurants frequently so when they do, many times it is for a special occasion. What is happening now is when they go to a restaurant say for their wedding anniversary or a birthday and there is also a table full of “gringos”, guess which table gets the most service??? The table with the most probability for the big tip. This ticks the locals off and they resent the foreigners. This is a different culture. It does not need us foreigners changing it. We should respect their culture and not try to make it like our own. Think about the “shoe” on the other foot. A CR local goes to North America and eats in a restaurant…. If he doesn’t tip the wait staff will be ticked off. “When in Rome…..Do as the Romans do”.
Grocery Bag Boys
When I first moved here, I went to the grocery store with some friends who live here. When we went to the checkout my friend always gave the bag boy the coins. I started doing the same until one day I was at the checkout that had the mentally challenged kid bagging the groceries. One of the other bag boys pushed him to the ground so he could bag my stuff. I helped the mentally challenged kid up from the ground, Gave him my coins and vowed never to tip ANY bag boy again. Again, remember this is a different culture. It does not need us foreigners changing it. We should respect their culture and not try to make it like our own.
- The healthcare is good here and is very inexpensive. My English speaking Doctor charges ~$30 for a visit and does not rush me out the door.
- Many medications that are prescription meds in North America can be obtained at a Pharmacy without a prescription in Costa Rica. Some are more expensive here but most are cheaper than in North America.
- As for vaccinations it is each to their own but I think many are not necessary. Some Government agencies have bulletins that scare you into getting vaccinations that are not required. Research it a little and make your own decisions.
- Wear sunscreen, Costa Rica is close to the equator and you will burn easily.
Shop in stores with prices listed, check your change, make sure nothing has been added to your bill in both stores and restaurants. Paying via credit card can sometimes cost you as much as 13% more. Cash is king. Avoid poor exchange rates. Carry both currencies. If they ask for Colones, pay in Colones. If they ask for USD, pay in USD.
Stay tuned! I will write more as I think of it. Please note that these are my opinions from my experiences while living in Costa Rica. Others may disagree and that’s cool…..
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The (SJO) Juan Santamaria International Airport is located just over 20 minutes East from the city of Grecia and the B&B Grecia. One great misconception is that the (SJO) Juan Santamaria International Airport is located within the city of San Jose Costa Rica. It is not. The SJO airport is in the province of Alajuela and it is anywhere from 20 minutes to over 1 hour away from the city of San Jose depending on the insane traffic jams. I do not lie! I had some returning guests, K & J that drove back from the Dominical today and returned the San Isidro way thru San Jose and it took them well over an hour just to get to the SJO airport because of traffic delays. From the airport to Grecia, Alajuela took them just under 30 minutes in rush hour traffic. Not bad! If you are arriving at the SJO airport and plan to travel to the Pacific coast, La Fortuna – Arenal, Monteverde, Manuel Antonio and west coast areas, it makes more sense to travel west directly and not stay in San Jose your first night. It can save you an hour plus in travel time.
Besides having crazy traffic, San Jose can be very intimidating and dangerous. It is a very large city with Large city problems. Other cities that are close to the (SJO) Juan Santamaria International Airport such as Heredia and Alajuela have similar problems. The city of Grecia is a small, clean safe city that is well on your way to any Costa Rican destination that is west of San Jose. Grecia is close to such attractions as The World of Snakes, the Volcano Poas, La Paz Watergardens, Canopy tours, Coffee Plantations and Waterfalls. All are under an hour away from Grecia.
Most of the car rental agencies in the San Jose area are located within 5 minutes of the (SJO) Juan Santamaria International Airport and have shuttles to and from the airport.
What to expect when arriving at SJO airport at the beginning of your trip:
You will exit the plane and walk between 5 to 10 minutes to the customs area. Just follow the crowd from your plane. There are some signs but Costa Rica isn’t know for having good signage. When you get to the customs counter you will give them your passport and they don’t usually say too much. Once they swipe it and check it out and stamp it, proceed to the baggage carrousel area which is not far from the customs area. When you have your bags proceed to the security area and put all your baggage on the conveyor / x-ray machine. If they don’t stop you, that’s it you are done! If they do stop you (as I usually do because I am usually bringing in car parts or other weird things). They may ask to see the item in question and will ask you if they are new or used, how old they are and how much they are worth. I have brought in a used 19″ widescreen lcd TV and they made me show them it. I told them it was 2 yrs old and worth maybe $200 so they let me thru… Recently I brought some shocks in for my Jeep. Again the stopped me and asked about them and asked if I lived here. I told them they were new and told them they were $175. They then asked “Each”? I told them the $175 was for all 4 shocks and showed them the receipt so they waved me thru! Once finished with security, you just exit the building where you will be greeted by 30 taxi drivers trying to get a fare. Look for your party picking you up, your auto rental agency guy with a sign, your hotel person with a sign OR if you made the wise decision to stay at the #1 rated bed and breakfast in Grecia, I will be standing there with a sign or my good friend Wilson or Alex will be there ready to provide an informative, stress free 20 minute ride the the B&B Grecia! If you are taking a taxi anywhere ask them to use the meter. They call it the “Maria”. If they don’t turn it on, you can be sure you are going to be charged more for your trip and besides they made it law back in March 2010 that they are supposed to use it.
What to expect at the SJO airport at the end of your trip:When your vacation is coming to an end and you arrive at the airport, it is very important to pay your Exit Taxes PRIOR to entering the line up at your airline. The counter for paying your exit taxes is located just inside the terminal to the right of the right hand doors when entering the departure floor on the second level of the terminal. Once you have paid your $26 either by USD, Colones or Visa, then go to your airline lineup. Once in line, fill out the form the exit tax people gave you so it is ready to present to the people at your airline desk.
Once your bags are checked and you have your boarding passes, proceed to the Security Area. It is located to the far left of the terminal on the departure level (level 2). If you are a smoker and have time, you might want to go outside for a last “coffin nail” prior to entering the security area.
Going through Security is fairly pain free. For me, I find it best to remove ANY metal from my pockets and put them in my carry on bag prior to getting to the x-ray machines. I put my cell phone change, keys, Ipod, and anything that might have the slightest itsy bitsy metal in it in my carry on bag. I Keep cash and my wallet in my pocket and I don’t remove it and have never been asked to. You also have to remove your shoes, belt and laptop and put it in the grey trays to go thru the x-ray machines. Remember to check any liquids that exceed 3 ounces, pocket knives, lighters etc or they will confiscate them.
Once you are past security, find your gate and then if you have time, check out the duty free shops. If you need coffee to take back you can get Britt brand coffee packs to take back. If you stayed with me at the B&B Grecia for a night or two, I probably told you of another brand of equivalent flavor and taste for much cheaper that you can get in the local grocery stores and you already have them stuffed in your checked bags….
If your into saving a bit of money while at the airport, another tip for your airport experience is to take an empty bottle of water in your carry on bag and just fill it up at a water fountain once you are thru security and are near your gate. A bottle of water costs like $3 at the airport. This is a way to save a bit of $$$. Food is very pricey too. It is a good idea to get snacks and have a full belly prior to getting to the airport. If you stayed at the B&B Grecia you will most likely be stuffed full of breakfast and will be okay!!
Well enough about the (SJO) Juan Santamaria International Airport Information for now!! I hope it was informative for you. If you have any other questions, feel free to email us, stop by or stay with us!!
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There are many car rental agencies in Costa Rica and the prices vary from company to company and from season to season. The quality of the cars, service and reputation vary too. Some will offer a lower price but will say the mandatory insurance costs more than what it does so the “total” price for the rental works out to be the same or more than a more reputable company. “Big” brand named rental companies that you see in North America don’t necessarily mean they are good or reputable here in Costa Rica.
Tips for renting a car in Costa Rica:
Decide whether you want an SUV 4×4 or a car. If you plan to travel back roads and Monteverde, it is a good idea to have a 4×4. If you plan to come to Grecia, Arenal, then some big name beaches then a car will probably work for you. Then email the rental agency you find and ask the following questions:
Do they have the type of vehicle you want for the dates you want?
How much is it for the time you specify?
Does it include the mandatory insurance? If not, how much is it?
How much is full coverage?
How much is it per day for a second driver?
How much do they hold on your credit card? It is usually anywhere from $800 to $1500 and Do they charge for the rental on top of that?
How much is the total price including all taxes, insurances and fees?
Before you commit you should ask them to send you an email with all the prices including EVERYTHING. You can compare and always call them back if they are your choice.
Before you come to Costa Rica make sure you print out the email quote and bring it with you “just in case”. I have had many guests come where the price changed when they arrived and after a long flight or late at night, the last thing you want to do is find another rental agency. Don’t assume anything and get everything in writing.
As you may have noticed, I did not mention any companies in this blog and don’t plan to. However I do have a few companies that I do highly recommend. I have sent many guests to them and have never had any problems with service. If you are interested in renting a car in Costa Rica, we can help. Just contact us and we will be glad to lend you a hand.
If you do rent a car DO NOT LEAVE ANYTHING VISIBLE INSIDE when you park it. Like most places in the world, if you leave your camera or laptop visible in the car like on the seat or dash or floor, don’t expect it to be there when you return.
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