Category Archives: Costa Rica

Visiting Costa Rica: Where to go, what to see and how to get around

Do you know the way to San Jose?

By Vicki Barnes

We made the trek to Alajuela – a few dozen kilometers from San Jose, the capitol of Costa Rica, so that our traveling companions for the first leg of the journey could catch planes back to the US.

An upscale (by Costa Rican standards) city of 85,000, Alajuela is made up of a large city center surrounded by barrios (suburban neighborhoods). The small hotel where we set up camp for a couple of days is in the barrio of Coyol,  west and a little south to Alajuela Central (downtown).image

Unless you’re up for a long hike, the best way to get to San Jose is by bus. First the local bus to Alajuela Central and then a larger “Tico Bus” to the center of the capitol. The task seemed a little daunting at first, but with a little coaching from the young woman at the front desk, we  march a few hundred meters up the road to the covered bus stop and waited for the next bus downtown. Continue reading

Monday is laundry day

By Vicki Barnes

There are not laundromats readily available in Costa Rica as far as we can tell. As a matter of fact, I’m not sure the locals even understand the concept.

If you have dirty clothes, you have two options:
1) Pay a local about $3 a kilo to wash, dry and neatly fold your clothes
2) Do it yourself.

Trying to keep as many colones as possible in our pockets, we chose the latter.

A bit of hand soap and some elbow grease in the bathroom sink and – viola – job done. No dryer or clothes line around here, so we had to improvise.

Beautifully clean, freshly dried clothes…and some protection from the sun in our little casita.

Are Americans driving up the cost of living in Costa Rica?

By Vicki Barnes
imageThe economy in Costa Rica is dependent on the tourists who are flocking here. Most of the visitors are Americans, plopping down dollars for a little time in paradise.

Are we Americans, with more expendable income than the average Tico, making it harder for the locals to survive? While the officials keep encouraging more visitors to come the locals will tell you that they are finding it harder to make ends meet. Continue reading

Monkeying around

By Vicki Barnes

Leaves crunched loudly under our feet as we walked, staring into the canopy overhead.  A small branch cracked, snapped and spun uncontrolled through leaves and other branches before landing at our feet.

A throaty rumble began in one tree, tumbled through the air and picked up a few feet away. Dark shapes slid across the branches, leaves raining over us as they moved.image

The low moaning howl, like a rolling wave pushing through a tube, announced the presence of Howler Monkeys in the back yard. These are the largest monkeys native to Central and South America. Their howls can be heard up to three miles away through the dense forest. Right above your head, the sound is downright eerie. Continue reading

Signs that make you say “Huh?”

We weren’t sure what to make of this sign we saw on the walk in from town going toward the beach in Montezuma, Costa Rica.
No parking and no flipping your car on the beach?

We took a little drive

imageBy Vicki Barnes
While Montezuma is known for having some good surfing waves on the Gulf of Nicoya, we’d heard the waves were even better on the west coast of the Nicoya Peninsula…directly on the Pacific. Why not check it out, we thought. It’s just a short drive down the road.

Looking at the map, there were two options: 30 miles across on the gravel road or that 15 mile shortcut to the south. We double checked the map symbols and a solid red line denotes those paths that are only passable with 4-wheel drive vehicles. This road was a dotted red line.

What could that mean? Let’s find out! Continue reading

Random Budget Cooking Tip

From Jeff Barnes.
If you’re making scrambled eggs for breakfast and you’re out of cheese and can’t afford to get more, finely crush some Doritos and add them to the mix. You get that cheesy flavor without the added expense.
Budget Nomads does not endorse this tip in terms of nutritional value, but we give it two thumbs up for taste.

Pickled Bananas?

imageBudget Nomads is beginning an occasional series of stories with recipes that focus on food found at street vendors and small restaurants.

At a recent  stop at a roadside bar and grill, one of the plates included pickled bananas. A couple of us in the group thought they were great, others in our Gringo Posse were not so impressed.

I talked to the Tica cook in the kitchen of the little restaurant and she told me that the treat is not common in all quarters, but in some areas of the country, it is more popular than the omnipresent plantains on the tipico plate.

They have a tart-sweet flavor that complements the cabbage salad that accompanies every meal. Alone, they are a little tart.

Pickled Bananas
3 bananas, peeled and sliced into discs
1 tablespoon of mustard
1 tablespoon of vinegar
3 cups of boiling water

Put the mustard and vinegar in a dish and add the bananas.
Mix until they are thoroughly covered.
Boil the bananas for three minutes and serve.

Beach bums

By Vicki Barnes

After several days of biting cold and constant drizzle in the cloud forest above the Costa Rican capitol of San Jose, we could take it no longer, We bugged out of that frigid zone and headed for the beach.

imageThough Costa Rica is a small country – about a third of the size of Florida – there is no direct route to any place. We wound our way down from the mountains, through the suburbs of San Jose and on to the main highway through Central America before exiting at Puntarenas where we boarded a car ferry to the Nicoya Peninsula. Continue reading

No craters today

By Vicki Barnes

We traveled an hour and a half up and down narrow mountain roads to Volcan Poas after a hearty typical breakfast this morning. Hairpin turns around blind curves, speeding trucks crossing over one lane  bridges and deep gullies along the road’s edge made the trip seemed more like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride than a Saturday afternoon excursion.

It was $10 for each of us to enter the park and another $3 to park the car (the budget will tidy up a little more once we ditch the car). The fee seemed worth it. Who can put a price on the chance to look down into a crater?

Nearly 3,000 meters up, past beautiful wildflowers and exotic plants, we were told the crater of the volcano was just below an observation platform. We had so looked forward to looking into the eye of the volcano. But, it was not to be.image

The area is known as a cloud forest. Like a rain forest, it is perpetually moist, but additionally the clouds – like a persistent thick drizzling fog – frequently settles over the canopy. As we moved up, we could see clouds creeping across our path. Reaching out and touching a cloud was exciting, though it seemed less likely that we’d be able to see the crater.

At the summit, we looked down and saw thick, white nothingness. Peaceful in the purity of its quiet, the damp blanket of white wrapped around us in stark contrast,

imageTrudging back, in the cold and the damp, we were cheered by the colorful flowers and the vibrant green against the blackness of the deep forest. Ferns and bromeliads that seemed familiar to us, daisies and impatiens that we knew, but there were other exotic fauna that were strangers amid the slippery soil along the paved path.image

I was fascinated by a plant,  Gunnera  insignis, known as Poor Man’s Umbrella. Many years ago, the large, rough leaves served as protection from the constant rain in such areas. Left to grow, they can get incredibly large. We found one as big as me.image

As we headed back, we crossed under the clouds, the valley opened below. The more we  dropped in altitude, the higher the temperature rose. The sun beat down and we shed layers of clothes. By the time we stopped for lunch at the foot of the volcano, three layers of clothing had been shed.

At lunch I picked up a cool recipe for a new feature on Street Food that will debut on Budget Nomads soon.

Quickly, though, the sun dropped, the temperature went with it. Layers were put back on. A fuzzy layer of dampness spun around us. We had planned to head to the beach on Monday, but we came to Central America to escape the cold. Plans have changed. In the morning, we’ll leave the cloud forests and mountains behind and head for heat and white sand…