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Early retirement travels - week 2 Costa Rica

A last day in California, although I’ll return for two weeks at the end of our trip, then a short drive to LAX for our overnight flight to Costa Rica. Nothing much gets accomplished on travel days, so we browsed the Huntington Beach shops, drank some coffee and generally watched the world go by. It feels a bit lazy, but that’s OK.

Costa Rica scored well on first impressions. We quickly got through the airport, collected our rental car and were thankful for our US$10 / 2GB local SIM purchase so that we could use Google Maps - I'm not sure we'd have found our way out of San Jose city otherwise

Enjoying the Caribbean breeze above the trees

Our Costa Rica plan is to start on the South East Caribbean coast in Puerto Viejo then, sticking to the coast, head North to Tortuguero for Sally to see turtles, fingers crossed. We’ll then move inland to the rainforest before heading to the Pacific coast, even though it’s rainy season there. We’ve rented a car thinking it won’t cost much more than buses but I’m not convinced and, compared to our travels in Asia and Australia where we mostly used public transport, the rental option doesn't quite feel like proper "travelling".

Puerto Viejo has the feel of a fishing village turned into a tourist town, probably after being discovered by travellers or surfers a handful of decades ago. Being a bit rough round the edges is part of the charm. It's currently low season so not too busy even though we have the best weather. Accommodation options are mostly independent low to mid-range, hostels, cabins and the like, although we have passed some slightly fancier looking places a little away from town. There’s no shortage of bars and restaurants, again nothing too fancy although there is the occasional more refined option. Sally’s favourite, you guessed it, is the more expensive refined option! I like that there are no big chains as one of the reasons to travel is to see and do different things compared to back home. It will be interesting to see if Puerto Viejo is the same in another ten years, or whether there will be a Hilton or a Marriott by then.

For accommodation, we have a double room with private bathroom and a kitchen. If the owner was aiming for shabby chic, then they’re close to the shabby part, but chic is nowhere in sight. It comes complete with cold showers, which I’m actually enjoying (Sally, not so much), but I wouldn’t mind some air-conditioning. At US$25 a night I guess we can’t complain. It’s a long way from what we would accept for our home but, again, part of travel is to experience different things. Even Sally said she agrees with this, but she may just be humouring me.

Given our Caribbean coast location, we’ve hit the beach a few times this week and I’ve just started my fourth book in the last two weeks. The best experience this week was a tour of Caribean’s cacao farm and chocolate factory, with a bit of a nature walk thrown in. Our guide, Oscar, made the tour a lot of fun.

Sally cycling in Bocas del Toro

We also travelled to Isla Colon in Bocas del Toro, Panama for a few days. We rented bikes and cycled down one of the two roads on the island heading for Playa Buff beach. I’m not sure what the other road is like, but the black top ran out on this one at about halfway and it became a gravel or sand road from then on. Cycling on sand is hard work, but the scenery was good compensation!

Lunch at the Oasis Bluff Beach hotel was a combination of lovely food, friendly service, ocean views and a cooling Caribbean breeze. It’s a little off the beaten track but we wish we’d booked to stay there. We found that the hotel (just four rooms) is owned by Wendy and Simon who are originally from the UK but latterly spent 18 years in the US until they decided there should be more to life than the corporate deal. Hmm, that sounds familiar. Their solution was to follow their heart and a spur of the moment decision to create their boutique bed and breakfast on the beach. They don’t look like they regret it! I love hearing other people’s stories about how they changed their lives.

Our plan for day two on Bocas was interrupted by rain so we didn’t get to visit Starfish Beach to see the, you guessed it, starfish. It meant we’d spent quite a bit of money getting to Bocas del Toro to do relatively little, but I guess it lets me add Panama as country 45 to my list of countries visited.

That wraps up our first week in Costa Rica. We’ve just seen Puerto Viejo so far – I like that it hasn’t been taken over by the big chains, I like that it’s mostly clean and that environment and recycling seem to be doing well – so far, Costa Rica is scoring much higher than California on my environmental scoresheet.

As to my fitness and healthy eating targets, fitness was a fail, a sore heel meant just one run in the week, which scores me just 2 out of 10. Thankfully my diet was better and I’m giving myself a healthy 9 out of 10 for this week – below are a few foodie pictures, me cooking in a hostel, Sally having lobster for the first time, you can't complain at $20 for lobster, and me sampling chocolate on our chocolate tour. No pictures, but the best food of the week...mangos, I can't stop eating them.

Daily diary and costs

I'm including a list of what we did during our week and the approximate costs - I'm using this part of my blog as a mini diary for myself, but feel free to read if you're interested.

Week 2 - what we've done:

Monday - Huntingdon Beach. Browsing the shops, drinking coffee and sitting by the beach watching the world go by. Drove to LAX in the evening for our flight out.

Tuesday - Landed in San Jose, Costa Rica, then drove to Puerto Viejo. Nice drinks in the evening followed by pizza.

Wednesday - Puerto Viejo. Beach day on Playa Cocles, a short walk from our hostel.

Thursday - Puerto Viejo. Chocolate farm and nature walk/tour, followed by coffee and cake in their shop, then the beach.

Friday - Puerto Viejo. Spent some time booking tours, grocery shopping and finishing the week's blog post.

Saturday - Travelled to Bocas del Toro, a Panamanian island in the Caribbean. Rented bikes and cycled to Playa Buff for lunch and some beach time.

Sunday - Bocas del Toro. Morning run in the rain. The rain scuppered our plans, so it was a lazy day in coffee shops and reading books.

Week 2 - we spent a total of £855 / €957 / $1,120 for 2 people on:

Accommodation £165 / €185 / $216

Meals/Coffee/Snacks £326 / €364 / $426

Transport £232 / €260 / $304 Car hire & transport from Puerto Vieja to Bocas del Tora

Tours/attractions £66 / €74 / $87 Chocolate farm tour & bike rental

Visa £15 / €17 / $20 Costa Rica exit visa for Bocas del Toro

Laundry £5 / €6 / $7

Toiletries/sun cream £36 / €41 / $48

Other £10 / €10 / $12 New backpack


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