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krisek San Jose - A travel report by Krys
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San Jose,  Costa Rica - flag Costa Rica -  San José
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krisek's travel reports

A few retro thoughts on Costa Rica

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I travelled to Costa Rica in 2001/2002, when touring Central America from 21 December 2001 to 8 January 2002, starting and ending in Costa Rica, passing through Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Costa Rica disappointed me probably the most.

Palm trees on the Costa Rican coast
Palm trees on the Costa Rican coast
Maybe this was not the optimal time to visit Central America due to safety, but maybe it would be too long to wait until the situation gets better. The trip did not start fortunately, never mind that I needed to get up at 4.30 in the morning. The bmi british midland airways plane from London was terribly late, well did not even take of off the tarmac on time, as almost usual but waited for weather in Amsterdam. I told them already while on board that I had a connecting flight that runs only once a day and they assured me that they contacted KLM and told them to wait for me as I should only be 5 minutes away from the flight closing. Well, the KLM’s Martinair did not wait and I missed the only flight that day. After getting really ballistic I convinced KLM that despite the ‘no responsibility’ weather conditions it was their fault and that they need to put me on a first possible flight to ship me to Costa Rica as soon as possible, so I would not miss the meeting with my colleague on the San José’s Juan Santamaria airport.

After about 45 minute long conversation, they booked me on the flight to Mexico City and then to San José. They were also so kind to take a message that I would be late and they promised to pass it to my colleague. I cannot imagine how naïve I was! They did take the message but they did not pass it on! Then, of course, I had to re-book the car with Avis who were also kind to take the message. This time, they passed it but not completely, and therefore misled my colleague completely who thought that I would be arriving one day late, and not just a few hours late. So, after having got a little bit annoyed with bmi, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and Martinair, I finally found that all the way to Mexico City, for the entire 11 hour flight I would have all 62 inches of legroom and almost completely flat bed in the KLM’s Boeing 747-400 Business World Class... Not bad at all. Complaining sometimes works well!

Favourite spots:
Sun setting in Costa Rica
Sun setting in Costa Rica
Surprisingly the customs were not that bad on the Juan Santamaria airport and the passport procedure was painless, too. Good start! Then, naturally, it was a bit more challenging to get a taxi to town. And given the fact that I arrived at 1.30 am it was even more difficult. It definitely would have been a lot better if all the dodgy characters had glowed in the dark. They did not, unfortunately, and your own personal ability to judge a character was the only help you could get. Maybe just because of my intuition, I suddenly decided to get a ride from a private person rather than from a so called ‘official taxi’. I paid $9 while the taxi drivers were charging $10 - $12 for the same trip. Not a massive difference for me, but obviously it was for them.

San José

At 2 o’clock in the morning, the Costa Rican capital city was not a nice place at all. There were strange individuals wandering about the town until the sunrise. Some of them were not real women and definitely not real men, either.

What's really great:
In the capital
In the capital
In the district where that sort of beings hang around was the hotel where I was supposed to meet with Tomek – my colleague from the office. However, the hotel (Astoria) ceased existence and I, all over sudden, had to solve another, not an easy task – find a different hotel. I spent about an hour looking around the town with no luck, and then decided to stay in one of the most expensive hotels in San Jose. Only the top end hotels were open at this hour, anyway. In the morning, there was no sign of Tomek, who actually should have been informed by KLM, Continental (who brought be from Mexico) and Avis to wait for me on the airport the night before. It took me the entire morning to locate him and it took Tomek entire day – until 10.30pm to reply to my message.

During the day, San José does not impress either. There were hardly any monuments and the architecture was really dreadful. It resembled south European cities like Athens – uninteresting concrete buildings and littered streets.

Cathedral in San Jose
Cathedral in San Jose
There are a few ‘pedestrians only’ areas with shops, restaurants (including McDonald’s) and cafés. People in San José are not particularly friendly, they are not very different from the majority of Southern Europeans, or Northern Americans. Most of them are white and below-average- attractive. Not that I find Southern Europeans unattractive or anything (I would have to think twice about Northern Americans though, with exception to California, US), but them people in Costa Rica do not strike with exotica. They just do not seem special. I accept that capital cities are not the best places to judge the nation but as it happens, it’s there when one usually gets the first impression, and the saying that there is never a second chance to make the first impression is very true. Using this example, Poland has to work very, very, very hard to make sure that Warsaw does not scare visitors, because it currently does with the most horrible buildings right in the centre.

Bad roads in Costa Rica, on the way to the Monteverde National Park
Bad roads in Costa Rica, on the way to the Monteverde National Park
Fortunately, Costa Rica had its landscape and wildlife that made it up for the... people. Pity, that to date the Costa-Rican government had not yet fully understood the power of the tourist industry and its importance to the proportion of the contribution to the national product. I am referring to the tourist amenities as well as the state of roads. Driving was really unpleasant in Costa Rica because even the 4WD vehicles needed to slow down on potholes and completely ruined roads surface. So, although there wwere magnificent places in the country, it was just too difficult and inconvenient to get there. What, tough? Let them beautiful spots remain unspotted? What is the philosophy behind this? Let them stay wild and inaccessible? Ha? Do I get it right?

Monteverde National Park

This park was definitely worth visiting. No commercialism, no bugs, no strings attached, no kidding. Fantastic place! It is green and there are hills, so the name stands for the attractions.

Hills of Costa Rica
Hills of Costa Rica
It was just better to drive up them hills rather walk up them, because the air temperature and the humidity would kill you. We, having read in the guide book that roads in Costa Rica were fine, decided to rent a compact car, not a 4WD. A big mistake! A mistake to trust guidebooks. Spooked out by the condition of a certain fragment of the road we decided to walk up one hill. On the map, it looked like 3km hike, easy peasy lemon squeezy, but it was really uphill and the 40C was not helping at all. Let’s call it a nice sweat hike, but it was worth it, we had just eaten, so the timing was perfect to burn all the excess energy and scenery was also interesting. Nevertheless, after having hiked for about 45 minutes, we agreed that:

A/ we took a wrong decision and should have challenged the hill with the car, no matter the road condition;

B/ we should have taken at least one bottle of water with us.

Sky Walk bridge
Sky Walk bridge
Monteverde was a primary cloud forest or rain forest, primary meaning that it was there before humans. It was quite dense and tall. Normally, one would need several days to properly explore the area and there was a plenty of temptation to do the so-called canopy tours and sky walks. Canopy tours were trips on the tree branches and twigs, high, approximately 30-40 meters above the ground level using one’s ability to stick to the metal body harness and swing on the ropes like Tarzan. It was fun but one needed to be prepared that the height should not be treated lightly. Also, even the lightest wind made the trees sway, even a little bit, but when on top you felt the swaying all right!

In addition, it was always great to learn something new – how to descent down the rope from a considerable height. It may be useful sometimes, depending on a job, obviously. Sky Walk, on the other hand, did not require any physical effort.

Smoking and lava flowing the Arenal Volcano - lava flowing on the right
Smoking and lava flowing the Arenal Volcano - lava flowing on the right
It was simply a part of the jungle with artificially but beautifully hung suspension bridges, based on either natural, canopy ropes or most often steel ropes. The bridges were usually quite high, say about 150-250 meters (490-820 feet) above the ground so people with height sensitivity should be made aware that the feeling might be uncomfortable – most of the time, as the jungle was quite dense, it was impossible to see the bottom. Great!!

Volcán Arenal

This was the most active volcano in Central America and it erupted every few hours. Well the activity of the mountain varied from one week to another but the lava flowed continuously, so it was spectacular to watch the volcano ‘speak’ just before sunset and then through the night. I missed the sunset bit but in the dark, it was actually better to see the red lava flowing down the mountain, and should I have a tripod with me the photograph I took would have been so much better. The atmosphere was superb though, and that was important!

Other recommendations:
Jacó beach
Jacó beach
On the road, there are many people, most of them local, who picnic at Arenal’s feet with the most scenic views, sometimes dangerously in the middle of the road... They often spend half a night there eating grilled or smoked chicken and drinking beer or rum. Don’t blame them, it is some awesome view!


This beach was quite large and quite nice. It was also a popular place among the local people (Ticos) but enormously popular among the surfers. They were everywhere and it made this beach a good party spot. There were a few discothèques, plenty of bars and good restaurants. Some of them were really very good – I could definitely recommend the very friendly restaurant La Ostra (The Oyster – absolutely no connection with the film ‘Police Academy’) that served fantastic lobster.

Overall, Costa Rica disappointed me mainly because of people. They did not seem friendly at all. The architecture was unimaginative, too. Nature did impress me, and the final days in Jacó were really great.

Published on Saturday November 14th, 2009

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Sun, Nov 15 2009 - 08:10 AM rating by gloriajames

another great report....and its amazing that you always pick the perfect title for each of your reports.

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