We hadn’t planned to visit Costa Rica on this leg of our journey as we had toured the country about 13 years ago. But, we had about a week to spare between our Granada house sit and our planned return to Canada. When Ken found a great price to fly out of Liberia, Costa Rica, we decided to head south (travel info below in TripBits). Since we hadn’t visited the northern part of Costa Rica before, why not?
We booked an AirBnB in the Playas del Coco area, Guanacaste province. We knew we would be a walk away from any beaches, but it had pools and good wifi, so would work for our purposes.
Groceries and food
When we arrived, the person who checked us in told us there was a small store down by the beach, and a couple of restaurants. So, our plan was to walk down to the beach, pick up a few breakfast items and maybe grab dinner, with a proper shop in town the next day. We found that the walk to the beach was doable, but hot and tiring, up a hill and back down, and was certainly not what one reviewer described as literally a 2-minute walk away. We also discovered that there were no stores at all down by the beach, which meant that we had to find a taxi to get back up into town if we wanted to have coffee and breakfast in the morning. After calling a taxi, we waited almost an hour before taking the $6 USD trip into town. I think it was at this point that we decided a rental car was probably in order!
Our third $6 taxi trip of the day got us and our groceries home. But only after we’d been hit with sticker shock at the incredibly high price of almost everything in the grocery store—and we went to the one that the check-in person said was cheaper (Super Compro vs. the glitzy Auto Mercado on the highway). For breakfast items (bread, peanut butter, cereal, coffee, fruit, milk), and the fixings for a couple of lunches and very simple dinners cost 52,000 colones, or about $104 USD.
The restaurants in town are priced fairly similarly with basic entrees from 5,000 to 10,000 colones, or about $10-$20 USD, beer about 2000 or $4 USD.
We gave up on being too economical on the food front, and decided to eat at home for breakfast and lunches when we were around, and go out for the remaining few dinners. Our food expenses would seriously counterbalance our inexpensive flight, but at least we would have a good time (and it was only for a few days).
Since we hadn’t planned to be in this area, we had done very little research about what to do and see, so we relied heavily on the excellent posts at mytanfeet.com, and a conversation with a couple from Edmonton that we met at our complex (who also very kindly drove us to the rental car place, saving us a lot of hassle with buses or an expensive taxi ride). We spent the days that I wasn’t working visiting beaches and a beautiful waterfall/swimming hole, and hopping in our complex’s pools to refresh ourselves when we were at home.
On one of our beach-hopping days we went north to Playa del Coco, Playa Hermosa, and Playa Panama; on the other we headed south to Tamarindo and Playa Conchal. The folks at mytanfeet.com do a great job of summing up the atmosphere at each beach, so we’re just going to drop a few quick snaps here.
Catarata Llanos de Cortés (waterfall)
We drove about an hour to Liberia, and then turned off the highway onto a little dirt road. The little turnoff is a bit hard to find, and can’t be reached from the other side of the divided highway if you miss it the first time (speaking from experience). It’s just before a pedestrian overpass, so keep watch!
At the entrance to the waterfall, an attendant asked us for a donation, and wrote out an official looking receipt. Farther along the dirt road we arrived at a parking area where another attendant asked for another donation, this time for parking and security. When we said we’d already donated at the gate, the response was “This is Costa Rica.”
Once parked (and double-donated), we gathered our things and walked down a steep concrete path. On the way we could hear happy screams mixed with the roar of rushing water. At the bottom, we found many families and groups with picnic blankets, chairs, coolers and even several tents all around the beach, and nestled among the trees and rocks. In the water people waded, splashed and swam, and the hardier climbed up behind or into the waterfall to take a beating from the gushing water.
We took a few photos, enjoyed the sandwiches we brought with us, and then hopped into the water for a cool, refreshing dip.
Restaurants we tried
All in Coco except where noted.
Le COQ: This small, outdoor dining establishment beside the casino, was started by a Quebecois, but recently taken over by a prairie Canadian who retains the original recipes. Though it carries a French name, this is really good Lebanese food (8,500 CRC, $17 USD, fed us both with leftovers to go).
Zi Lounge: We shared a large chicken quesadilla (stuff full with shredded chicken and accompanied by 4 different toppings), and enjoyed a beer and margarita (10,000 CRC, $20 USD).
La Dolce Vida: A little outside of the strip of restaurants, bars and shops that is Coco, though nestled among many condos and hotels that we wouldn’t have known about had we not been in search of this restaurant. Good Italian food. We enjoyed a spaghetti with clam sauce (came tossed with clams in the shell), salmon penne, sparkling water and two glasses of wine (28,000 CRC, $56 USD).
La Bodega (Tamarindo): An off-the-beaten-path fresh organic breakfast and lunch spot. We shared a large salad plate special, which came with a fresh juice, and picked up a couple of cookies for the road (~5,000, $10 USD – failed to record this one).
Papagayo Seafood: This restaurant is right on the strip and appears to be very touristy, but we enjoyed an excellent seafood meal here–sea bass with mushroom sauce, fettuccine with macadamia pesto, a bottle of water, beer, glass of wine, and a margarita (34,000, $68 USD).
We travelled from Granada, Nicaragua, to Liberia, Costa Rica, on the Tica bus ($57.50 USD for both of us), which we had reserved at the Tica office a few days before. You need your passport, or a copy, to reserve. The bus leaves at 7:00 a.m., but they ask that you are there by 6:30 with passports. You need to fill out a number of customs and/immigration paperwork, so be prepared with your passports and a pen.
On the bus, before the Costa Rican border, a bus employee took our passports and one of the pieces of paperwork, along with 120 NIO ($4 USD) per person for the Nicaragua exit fee.
At the border, we had to get off with our personal items so the bus could be inspected. Lots of vendors swarmed us selling food, leather goods, hammocks, and cell phone cards. We knew we wanted a Kolbi ICE card (research told us this would be the best choice in the area we were going to be staying) and would need service. We purchased a SIM card with 1gb of data $10 USD. Or at least we thought we did. When the card stopped working a couple of days later, after talking with Kolbi support by chat and on the phone, and then finally making the drive to the Liberia airport to speak with a Kolbi agent, we found out that the card was a rip-off. They only sell SIM cards for 1,000 colones ($2) and these contain 1,000 on the account. From there, you need to top them up with whatever you wish to use. Because it worked when the seller set it up, they were able to get away with the scam. Live and learn! At the airport, we purchased what we really needed for the week for another $7, but this gave us only 300mb of data (enough, but not the 1gb originally marketed to us).
Once back on the bus, we drove to the Costa Rica entrance border a few minutes away, and got back off again with all of our personal items. We picked up our luggage and went into see customs and immigration. You need your passport, the rest of the paperwork, and proof of onward travel (electronic is fine).
Once through immigration all bags are scanned. We had a customs form (some didn’t) and the person at the scanner wanted it. Back on the bus, and away we went. We arrived in Liberia at approximately noon.