This past week, my wife and I took a trip to Costa Rica. It was our first time visiting the country as well as our first time staying in an AirBnB. If you haven’t been to the country before, I recommend it. From beautiful beaches, to mountains, to jungles, Costa Rica is a very diverse landscape. To prepare for the trip, I started researching travel sites and tried to learn as much as I could about the country.
From what I read, it didn’t seem like I’d need to know much Spanish as English is widely spoken. This was mostly true, but we definitely ended up in situations where Spanish was needed. Next time we go to a Spanish speaking country, I’ll be sure to learn as much Spanish as possible.
While most of the trip was great, we had some adventures traveling to and from the country! The cheapest way to get around the country is by bus, so that’s the option I decided to go with. We stayed in Puerto Viejo which is about 4-½ hours from the airport. Our flight was set to land at 12:30 p.m. so I figured we would have enough time to catch a bus to our room.
We started the trip waking up at 2 a.m. to get to our 6 a.m. flight. After a 4 hour layover in Orlando, we landed in San Jose at about 12:30 p.m. local time. After getting off the plane, we had our first encounter with Murphy’s law (what can go wrong will go wrong). The line to get through security had about 500 people in it and it took about 2 hours to get through it.
After security, we got in another line to get SIM cards for our phones. Having data on our phones came in handy, so it was worth it to pay the $20. Once we got the SIM cards, we were finally ready to leave the airport at. I had planned on us taking a bus at 2 p.m. and we had definitely missed that opportunity.
As we were leaving the airport, a group of Taxis was waiting to bombard us with offers to take us to our room. I asked one of them where we could get on a bus and to my surprise, he barely spoke any English. He kinda shook his head and said something that seemed like “there aren’t any more buses today.” One of his buddies pulled out his phone and looked up some bus schedules. He told us there was a bus at 4 p.m. and we’d have to hurry to make it to the stop.
We started walking out the airport door a little confused, when the same guy that told us there weren’t any more buses started walking next to me and grabbed my suitcase. I asked him what he was doing and he continued walking us towards his car. At this point, we were in a hurry and he said something that sounded like “I’ll take you to the 4 p.m. bus” so I went along with it.
The adventure begins…
We hopped in his car and rode through the city to a small bus stop. When we stopped, the driver pointed to a little booth and said “tickets”. We paid him and he sped off back to the airport. We started walking towards the ticket booth when another taxi asked us where we needed to go. I poorly pronounced “Puerto Viejo” and a look of panic came across the guys face. “No more buses today” he said. My heart sunk. He grabbed our suitcase (apparently this is normal in Costa Rica) and said “I help you.”
Again, we were in a hurry and had just been dropped off at a random bus station in a country we had never been in, so we didn’t have many options other than to trust these taxis. We started zooming around the city and learned that this driver’s English was much better than the first. I’m not sure where the guy was planning on going when we first got in the car, but after a few minutes, he stopped on the side of the road and said he was going to call a bus station.
After calling several bus stations, he finally found one that still had a bus going to Puerto Viejo. He said “I’ll be able to make it there on time” and we started out on the most death-defying car ride I’ve ever been on.
This taxi driver didn’t seem to know the concept of coasting. He had his foot either on the gas or brake pedals the entire time. I felt bad for the poor little car. We zoomed out of the city, barely missing about 5 head-on collisions during the process.
Once we got out of the city, we started going down a mountain. The driver never took his foot of the gas or brakes. How we didn’t fly off the road is still a mystery to me. Up until this point, I hadn’t had a moment to gather my thoughts and figure out our best move going forward. The owner of the AirBnB we stayed in had messaged me earlier in the day and let me know that we would have to be at our room by 9 p.m. I was starting to get concerned that we wouldn’t make it in time.
Since I was still kinda clueless on where the driver was taking us, I started to try to ask him. Although his English was better than the first driver’s, it still wasn’t very good and it was hard to communicate with him. He basically just told us that he was taking us to a bus station and that the bus was scheduled to leave at 6 p.m. After another hour of driving, we finally made it to the station. The driver had to take us to an ATM because I didn’t have enough to pay him the $200 we owed him.
I had to withdraw money in $100 dollar increments and after I withdrew the first $100, the ATM said “daily limit reached.” This is where my wife and I started to panic a little. The taxi took us to another ATM and I was able to withdraw enough money from it using a second debit card I had brought.
After paying the taxi, we headed to the bus station and started asking for tickets. The first booth we came to told us we had to go to another booth so we walked over and got in line. By the time we got to the window, it was after 5:30 p.m. and the person in the booth said we’d have to wait for the 7 p.m. bus to get to Limon which is where the bus to Puerto Viejo would be. That was it. We weren’t going to make it to our room by 9 p.m.
We got the 7 p.m. bus tickets and started waiting, wondering what we were going to do. The bus station we were at was in a town called Guapiles and we didn’t see any other tourists there, just locals. No one around us could speak more than a few words in English. Since we knew we weren’t going to make it to our room by 9 p.m., we started to think about where we were going to sleep for the night.
We thought about trying to find a hotel in Guapiles, but decided to take the bus to Limon instead since it was closer to Puerto Viejo. After waiting at the bus station for what felt like an eternity, we finally got on the bus and started the 2 hour trip to Limon. At this point, we had came to the conclusion that we’d stay at the bus station in Limon and take the first bus out to Puerto Viejo in the morning. We didn’t think any hotels would take us in at this time of night and didn’t want to worry about it, so the bus station it was.
Thankfully, we sat next to a man that spoke good English on the bus and started a conversation with him. After telling him how our day was going, he said there was a hotel right next to the bus station we were going to and that we’d be able to get a room no problem. After our bus stopped, he walked us over to the hotel and showed us the schedule for the bus station the next day. This was the first true act of kindness we had received from anyone and I’m glad we came across this guy. The part of Limon we were in definitely didn’t seem inviting, but at this point we had been awake for about 20 hours and didn’t care where we were anymore.
Is this a hotel or a prison?
The hotel we stayed in “Hotel Big Boy”, was actually a bar with a hotel on the second floor. This was the sketchiest place I’ve ever slept in. It was only $30 a night, but I felt like they should’ve paid us to stay there, not the other way around.
Since the hotel was also a bar, we had the pleasure of Spanish music blasting in our ears until about 2 a.m. I was so tired that I was actually able to get a little sleep though. We “woke up” at 5:30 a.m. to head to the bus station when yet another tragedy occurred. We were locked in the building! Seriously, we tried opening the front door of the building and it was locked. There wasn’t anyone around either.
I was starting to wonder if we had been set up. Did the nice guy from the bus lure us to this hotel so we could be locked up and turned into slaves or something? A few minutes went by, when a sleepy man wondered down from the second floor and he happened to have the key to the door. “You have to ring the bell, no one told you?” “No sir, no one told us. Just let us out of here please!”
And so, the vacation actually begins
A nice thing about Costa Rica is, the sun comes up at about 5 a.m. So we didn’t have to walk to the bus station in the dark. We hastily walked to the booth and got our tickets for the first bus out to Puerto Viejo. We were finally going to get to our room! For the first time in over 24 hours, we were able to relax a little.
On the bus to Puerto Viejo, I started thinking to myself “what kind of place have I brought us to vacation in?” The travel websites make Costa Rica seem like such a nice place to visit, but we hadn’t gotten that vibe so far. After another 2 hours on the bus, we finally made it to Puerto Viejo and my concerns about this being a good place to visit vanished.
Puerto Viejo is a small beach town on the coast of the Caribbean ocean and is a lot different from the other popular tourist towns in Costa Rica. It’s got a laid back vibe and everything is within walking distance.
I didn’t have much planned for the trip. We like to chill out when we go on vacation and if we come across something that sounds fun, we’ll try it out. Other than hanging on the beach and eating at restaurants, we didn’t do much, other than relax. We did go to a Jaguar rescue center that had a lot of interesting animals in it.
Next stop: Murphy’s trip home
After spending the week relaxing and enjoy the trip, it was time to head back to the airport. The AirBnB owner said her husband would drive us to the airport for $200 and after the fiasco we had getting to our room, we jumped on the offer!
We left out Saturday morning and got to the airport at 10:30 a.m. A few minutes before we got to the airport, I got a notification on my phone saying that our flight had been cancelled. This was just what we needed. We were looking forward to being home and didn’t want to spend anymore money on hotels, so we decided to spend the night at the airport.
There wasn’t a good place to sleep in the airport and at one point, I attempted to sleep on the tile floor. I was able to sleep for a few minutes but that’s all I got the whole night. My wife didn’t sleep at all. We finally waited it out and got on the plane to fly into Ft. Lauderdale where we had a five hour layover.
But wait, there’s more!
We landed in Ft. Lauderdale around 6 p.m. Sunday and our flight home to Atlanta was scheduled for 10:50 p.m. A few hours into the layover, a voice came over the speakers. “Attention, all roads to the Ft. Lauderdale airport have been closed due to police activity.”
Turns out, a “suspicious” package was found in the airport parking lot. I found this kind of laughable after everything we had been through on this trip and was never really scared. It might have been because I was too tired to care at that point.
Thankfully, they arrested whoever it was that had the placed suspicious package and we were able to fly home on schedule. We finally made it home at about 3:30 a.m. Monday and passed out for a few hours before we had to wake up and start back on our regular schedules.
If you take out the terrible time we had traveling to and from our room, we had a great trip! I thought I had enough information to go on before taking the trip, but I’ll be sure to plan better in the future. This was only my second time out of the country, so I’m still a rookie traveler.
I’d recommend Costa Rica to anyone who’s interested in wildlife/hiking. It would be good to learn some Spanish if you don’t know any. My wife and I were able to stay calm pretty much the whole time and didn’t get in any arguments so that was nice. I’m sure we’ll look back on this trip with fond memories and hopefully this will be our worst travel experience ever. I sure hope Hotel Big Boy is the worst hotel I ever sleep in!
We spent more money than I would’ve liked to – mostly on transportation. I wouldn’t recommend renting a car in Costa Rica though. They drive really crazy over there. And watch out for those taxis! Can’t trust them.