Costa Rica might be small, but it is very diverse. With a population of barely 5 million, it is one of the richest countries when it comes to biodiversity. It is home to a multitude of volcanoes – some of them still active, as well as national parks and waterfalls. Nearly a third of the country is under protection. In the south you have the Pacific coast, in the North the Caribbean. Costa Rica is also one of the richest countries in Central and South America even though it has no natural resources like oil or gas. Maybe that is why they can afford a political neutrality. It refers to itself proudly as the “Switzerland of Central America”.
It is very easy to get around by bus. Almost every village, however remote it may be, is frequented by a bus. Busses are also cheap, as are hostels where a night will set you back $10-15.
Those were the good news. The bad: Shopping is expensive. This also goes for groceries. The only exception is ‘casado’ which is a mixed plate of rice & beans, meat or fish, a salad and some plantains. This will usually cost around 2800-3500 Colones (which is around $5-6; as of September 2016).
Things that I consider necessities, like Shampoo, will cost twice or three times what I would pay in Germany or even the USA, where those things are slightly more expensive. Example: A bottle of no name shampoo was around $4,50 – and that was the cheapest I could find.
Another interesting thing about Costa Rica: No military. Es gibt keine Armee. Stattdessen gibt es einen sehr hohen Bildungsstandard, den die Regierung mit zahlreichen (kostenlosen) Universitäten und verschiedenen Förderungsprogrammen für Wohnraum, Transport, Nahrungsmittel unterstützt. Als Postkarten verschickender Tourist hat man es schwer: es gibt nämlich keine Briefkästen auf den Straßen, denn die Costa Ricaner verschicken so gut wie keine Post (Pakete ausgenommen, aber die wirft man ja nicht in Briefkästen). Das ganze Land agiert nahezu papierlos, alles wird online oder durch persönliches Erscheinen erledigt. Costa Rica ist nämlich sehr groß im Klimaschutz: überall wird Ökotourismus praktiziert, fast der komplette Energiebedarf des Landes (mehr als 90%) ist durch regenerative Quellen abgedeckt.
Costa Ricans love their country: almost 98% live in their own country; only 2% abroad.
Despite all this, for some reason I just didn’t warm up to Costa Rica. It’s nobody’s fault, really. Costa Ricans are very friendly and hospitable; so much so that I sometimes felt uncomfortable because they go out of their way to help you.
As mentioned, I had a difficult start for various reasons:
a) I arrived here from Key West, a place I necver leave easily
b) I found Costa Rica too disproportionately expensive (for my budget)
c) I don’t speak the language.
None of it, especially not the last point, is Costa Rica’s fault. I had to budget carefully and weigh all sightseeing options against each other to get the most out of my money since I am constrained by a tight monthly budget that I set for myself. Maybe if I stayed longer, saw more things, my opinion would be a different one. But it is what it is now.
I remember Costa Rica as nice but I don’t feel connected to it. That’s how it is sometimes. You can arrive in one place and feel at home or fall in love with it. Other times it’ll leave you cold. That’s okay. Not everybody has to love and enjoy the same things.
Whoever reads more negative things into this than I intend to express is mistaken. As I said, Costa Rica is a nice destination. I am glad to have been here. Especially San José has left me with fond memories even though you read everywhere that you needn’t spend more than 1 or 2 days there. But I was there for a week and each new day I discovered pretty new things, charming cafés, corners, restaurants. Another greath thing about San José, especially for people that don’t deal well with heat and/or humidity: It is about 5-8° Celsius cooler than the rest of the country and much less humid.
On the day of my arrival a closeby volcano was spewing ashes which made for a cloudy day. Even the airport was out of business for 2 whole days (I arrived on a bus). With all the ash in the air, all surfaces in the hostel were constantly dusty despite being wiped on almost hourly basis. Asthma patients would have had trouble breathing here. And everybody was really grateful for every drop of rain that helped wash the ash out of the air. All in all it was a very interesting first experience for me.