Villa Quetzal

Villa Quetzal

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Top 5 things you need to know if you want a smooth travel experience.

Traveling to Costa Rica is no different from going to any other foreign country,the more informed and prepared you are, the easier will be to navigate the systems.

I believe  these are the top 5 things you need to know.
My husband and I have been living in Costa Rica for the last 6 years and I want to share this with you because I know it will help to make your vacation more enjoyable.

  1. Passport  and Airline Tickets
  2. Transportation from San José Airport to your destination “Ojochal”
  3. Staying over night in San José
  4. Currency
  5. Cell Phones
1.   Passports and Airline Tickets.
Call me crazy if you want to, but I need to insist about the importance of keeping your passport and airline tickets in a very safe place and or close to you at all times.
When you buy your airline tickets, make sure the ticket matches perfectly the name in your passport, I personally was about to lose my flight due to a little error the travel agency made when issuing my ticket.
Make two copies of your passport. Keep one copy in a safe place at home and the second copy; keep it in some safe corner of your suitcase. 
That way if you lose your passport, you have the backup copy to go to your embassy in Costa Rica and get the help you need.
The American embassy has an emergency line you can call at any time: 2220-3127 and their web site is
Once you have entered the country the only place you will ever need the original passport is at the bank when you go to exchange your dollars or Euros for the local currency; and of course, at the airport when you go back home.
Talking about going back home, on the day you are going to leave Costa Rica; make sure you have plenty of time before your departure. 
Costa Rica requieres you to pay an “Exit Tax”  or “Impuesto de Salida” in Spanish.
You must pay this Tax right before you can get your boarding pass, remember, there are long lines at the counters, and it is much easier to take care of that tax right away.  The amount of the tax is $26.00, make sure you have the cash with you; they will take dollars or colones, whatever currency you have.
Oh!  You could also pay this tax at the regional airport if you are flying for example Quepos-San José, in this case, for the benefit of avoiding a long line you will pay $4.00 extra dollars. 
$4.00 for a piece of mind?  You decide

2.   Transportation.

a)  Rent a Car.  If you decide to rent a car, I would recommend you choose a 4-wheel drive, even the smallest one is adequate and it will make your life easier; remember, many roads in Costa Rica are winding, narrow, steep and holy (filled with potholes).
Under Costa Rica Law every driver is required to purchase basic insurance that covers collision and liability, it has a cost between $12, and $20 per day, usually this amount is included in the car rental Daily Rate.  If you pay to the rental car company with a Platinum Visa or Golden Visa, you might be able to decline either one of the two parts of the basic coverage.
If you want more coverage, no problem, the rental car company will take care of you, for a price.
Make sure to arrange with the car company the place and time where you want to pick up and return the car.  The most advisable location would be the Airport, either the international or the regional, depending on your flights.

b)  Fly one of the Regional Airlines.  Costa Rica has two regional airlines:
Phone: (506) 2290 - 4100
Toll Free USA 1 - 877 - 767 – 2672
All SANSA REGIONAL flights depart from and arrive at the Juan Santamaría International Airport, conveniently located next to the main terminal.
SANSA REGIONAL operates aircrafts Cessna Grand Caravan 208, approved by the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)

Nature Air
Phone: (506) 2549-7500

Nature Air departs and arrives at Tobias Bolaños Airport.  Approximately 20 Km from the Juan Santamaría International Airport.
Either one of them will fly you from San José to Quepos or Palmar Sur; these are the two regional airports closest to “Ojochal”.  Check on their websites for schedules and fees.

c)   Easy Ride Van Service.  This is a very convenient, comfortable, reliable, and inexpensive way to get from the airport to your final destination, for example “Ojochal”. 
    All you need to do is to go to their website and make a reservation or call Javier, the administrator, at (506) 2524-0889 or (506) 8812-4012; he will make sure to pick you up at the International Airport or location of your choice and will take you all the way to your final destination.  
If you don’t mind sharing the van with other tourist like you, the price for person is around $50.00 one way, the Van fits up to 6 people and has plenty of room for your suitcases; however, for few extra dollars you can have the van for yourself, they call this service private transfer.

3.   Staying over-night in San José! 

Traveling can be a very stressful activity, especially if you already had a long day connecting your flights.
If that is the case, give yourself the gift of a good night sleep, it will recharge your batteries and ensure the enjoyment of your vacation.
Two of my favorite places are:
This Hotel is close to the international airport located in a residential/commercial neighborhood called La Uruca, personally, this is the perfect place to allow a smooth transition from your country to Costa Rica; prepare yourself for the adventures to come.
·         Villas de Cariari.  Also close to the International Airport
This is not a hotel operation but a condo administration & rental, what I like about it is the feeling of home and the convenience of being picked up at the airport, you could ask the driver to stop at the store and pick up some beverages and snacks.
You can make your reservation on line or call the Administrator, Johnny Montero at (506) 2239-1003, (506) 8812-2487, or (506) 8394-4217.  Johnny will give you his best deal and will take care of any service request you might have.

4.   Currency.

The Costa Rican currency is called Colon.  How many colones per dollar do you suppose to get?  As of today, the exchange rate is 495 colones/dollar and 709 colones/euro.
The colon fluctuates within a band that has gone from 494 to 540 during the last 12 months.  The good news is, in Costa Rica you can pay almost everywhere with dollars, but, you will get a better value if you exchange currency at the bank whether at the airport, in your way out of San Jose or in Uvita, a town 12 miles before you get to Ojochal.  If you need to get your dollars from your Visa or Master Card, I would advise you go to BCR Banco Costa Rica, their ATM’s are equipped to dispense dollars, and then you can take your dollars inside the bank and make the exchange.  If you take colones directly from the ATM, you will lose on the spread.
Another little advice is to avoid paying colones with your credit card, unless you have no choice; again, you will lose on the spread. 
(Exchange: buy 495/sell 506)
A little example for you:  Let's say your bill at the gift store or restaurant is $100.00. 
If you pay with credit card, the conversion will be at the sell exchange 100*506= $102.20 (you are having a 2.2% cost for using your card), and that is the charge your bank statement will show.
In addition, you can expect a charge for paying with credit card plus the fee your bank charges for currency exchange.
If you pay with colones, you pay the $100.00 the bill says.

5.   Cell Phones.

    If you decide to bring your cell phone on your trip to Costa Rica, make sure to verify with your carrier if you have an unlocked cell phone, if that is not the case, ask your carrier for the unlock key, if they don’t give it to you, these codes are available on eBay for about $10.00.  All you need is the phone model and a few numbers from below the battery.
    Once you arrive in Costa Rica, if you are staying in Ojochal, the best place to go buy the SIM card (prepaid cards available on $5, $10 or $20.00 increments and can be recharged) is Uvita, the town 12 miles to the north.
    When you get to Uvita look for Copealianza branch, 50 meters east form Banco Costa Rica BCR (next to “Supermercados del Pacífico” grocery store).
    They will sell you the SIM card, they will install it for you and will give you your phone number; don’t forget to write it down, it is easy to forget and it does not show in your cell phone.
     If you prefer to buy a prepaid cell phone, ICE (telecommunications Company) in Dominical, (2787-0166 and 2787-0123) might have them.
    The cheapest phone cost around $150.00, they also have the SIM cards.
     Another option for you would be to go to the Uvita information center located across the “Supermercados del Pacífico” grocery store, over the Costanera Highway; ask for Sonia o Marcela, they have phones for rent, for around $6.00 per day plus the amount you choose on the SIM card that you will get from them.

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