That’s a Wrap!
And just like that, our time in Costa Rica has quickly come to an end.
To all of you who provided wonderful feedback and asked questions during this series, thank you so much!
I hope you all feel like you got to experience some of the beauty of Costa Rica and the people who live there.
And maybe you even got to know our family a little more as well.
As our adventure concludes, I realize I spent so much time on the adventuring part of the journey that I left out some of the interesting details that just didn’t make the cut in previous posts.
So today, in our final installment in the series, I wanted to share the 5 Interesting Things That I Think You Should Know About Costa Rica.1
(Oh…and if haven’t had a chance to check out the other parts of my Costa Rica series, you can do that here. All 7 Parts in one place for your convenience. Woohoo!)
So let’s jump right in.
1. Costa Rica is More Expensive Than We Expected
Most people think of Central and Latin American countries as being lower-cost-of-living destinations.
And I suspect that’s mostly true.
However, we found Costa Rica to be much more expensive than we expected.
In talking with many local residents, we found that the rent prices for housing were pretty much on par or higher than what we would pay here in our local San Antonio area.
Granted, San Antonio is already a pretty low-cost-of-living place in the US respectively.
You could also easily argue that Costa Rica is a much more desirable destination, justifying the higher prices for housing.
But housing wasn’t the only living expense that was higher than our own city.
Groceries were also more expensive.
We bought groceries in every city we stayed in so we could make our own meals and snacks for our day trips and adventures.
There was a Wal-mart less than a mile from our AirBnB in Liberia, and that’s where we had our first grocery sticker shock.
Everything from bread to milk to cereal to tortillas were all more expensive than what we pay at home.
Peanut butter, for example, was a staple for our on-the-go PB&J sandwiches.
Here at home we get a 40oz tub (hey, family of 6 here) of Jif Peanut Butter for just under $6.00.
In Costa Rica, well, first of all 40oz sizes didn’t even exist.
What we could find were small 12oz jars, at a cost of $8.00. That’s $2 dollars more for 28oz. less!
Another example is soda. I love my Dr. Pepper here at home, but the Dr. doesn’t seem to make the journey south of the border that often.
In Brasalito, I was pleasantly surprised to find Dr. Pepper on the shelf of a local Maxi Pali store, and they were sold by the can at a cost of $1.00 each! (I splurged and bought 2)
Here at home, we can get a 12-pack for $3.00.
Needless to say, those were my only two cans of Dr. Pepper in Costa Rica.
Even as we found cheaper grocery stores along our journey, the result was always the same – smaller portions at higher prices.
Again, this is all relative to our generally low prices in San Antonio. I’m sure many people in much higher-cost-of-living cities would love the lower prices they find in Costa Rica, so feel free to take our analysis with a hefty grain of cheap American salt.
2. Fast Food: Not Really a Thing
We’re definitely spoiled in America where we can drive a mile in just about any direction and find 5 or 10 fast food places for a quick bite to eat.
That’s not something we were specifically looking for in Costa Rica, but we were surprised to find that the idea of fast-food restaurants didn’t really exist.2
We shared in Part 6 about our love affair with Pollolandia, the closest thing we could find to fast food or take-out food in the country.
Maybe we just weren’t in the right areas, but for the most part, we didn’t see anything, local or imported that represented a fast-food type industry in the country.
And that’s not a bad thing.
In fact, it’s probably good if more people cook meals and eat at home.
The fact that it was jarring for us not to see fast-food restaurants on every corner is probably more of a statement about our own speed-obsessed culture here in America.
Of all 4 cities we visited, the only fast food places we saw were on one small block in Liberia that had a Papa John’s and Burger King right next to each other. (Both American imports, by the way.)
The price for a large pizza? $28.00 US dollars. Yikes!
We skipped the fast food.
3. The Soda Experience
Rather than fast-food, the largest restaurant trend is by far the local Soda’s.
No, these aren’t fizzy sugary drinks.
Soda’s are small usually family-owned-and-operated restaurants, generally operating out of what was once a house or home-style building in local neighborhoods.
These restaurants are definitely where you get the most bang for your buck, and the food is generally delicious.
We didn’t eat out that often, as even with higher than expected grocery prices, making most of our meals for our family of 6 was still the cheaper way to go, but we did enjoy several local sodas throughout the country and the prices were extremely reasonable.
One thing we loved about the sodas is that they usually offered outdoor or open-air seating. Costa Rica is such a beautiful place that eating outdoors just felt right.
One big difference between these local Soda restaurants and typical US restaurants is that we were actually served right-sized portions.
That is, our meal was a plate made for one human, not a giant plate of food that could feed one person for 3 meals, or 3 people simultaneously, as is customary at many restaurants in the US.
Leftovers, obviously, were not a thing.
Perhaps that’s one way they kept their costs so reasonable.
Another difference was that the small family-oriented atmosphere was much more to our liking than the loud, crowded warehouse vibe most US restaurant chains specialize in.
In La Fortuna, we found this wonderful soda called Soda Viquez just down a side road from the town square.
We ate there just about every night. It was small, as all sodas generally were, with about 10 4-top tables and 2 larger 6-top tables in a small open-air dining room.
We always grabbed our favorite 6-top table right at the front, and after 4 nights in a row, the owner and her son recognized us and welcomed us as friends.
We got something different every night, and the food was fantastic.
The cost to feed our little tribe of 6? Usually between $23.00 and $28.00 US dollars.
That’s downright cheap compared to a family dinner out here in the states.
We stayed in a total of 5 AirBnb’s while we were in the country.
Airbnb’s are awesome, especially for our large family where an apartment or condo with multiple bedrooms and bathrooms is a better experience than a regular hotel would ever be able to offer.
But, if you’ve ever used Airbnb, you know that the experiences can vary, and are much less standardized than what you get a hotel.
That means the great experiences are that much greater, but the poor experiences, though rare, can be that much poorer.
We didn’t have any poor Airbnb experiences while in Costa Rica, but a few interesting moments worth noting.
For example, I already shared in Part 2 about our host forgetting to turn on the water heater almost resulting in cold showers for a week. Luckily, the host was able to instruct us, via text, how to flip the breaker for the hot-water heater and those cold-showers never manifested.
But that’s an example of an experience we would never have to navigate at a hotel.
Knowing that we would be doing a lot of laundry during our time in the country, we made sure we booked Airbnb’s with access to washers and dryers, whether it was in the home, or in a laundry facility on-site like in Liberia.
Unfortunately, in La Fortuna, the one Airbnb we stayed in that was an actual house (not an apartment or condo), we discovered that there was a washer, but no dryer.
We were certain the listing said there was both, but we went back and read it again and saw that it included a washer and “drying service was provided.”
What the heck does that mean?
We talked with the host and It meant that he did not have a working dryer, BUT he was more than happy to pick up our wet laundry and take it to a friend’s house to dry it, then return it to us later.
Maybe it’s just me, but the idea of someone taking my wet undies to a friend’s house, tossing them in his or her dryer, then…I don’t know…was folding a part of the service?
Thanks, but I’ll pass.
We’ll be keeping our clothes in our possession for the duration of our trip.
Luckily for us, La Fortuna was one of our last multi-day stops of the trip and we had done almost all of our laundry in Tamarindo before our arrival.
We did use the washer to do one load of laundry, but choose to lay the clothes out around the house to dry instead of using the courier-to-a-friend’s-house service our host provided.
The drying process took a bit longer, but we were gone all day playing in a waterpark or hiking Volcano Arenal, so a 7-hour drying process didn’t matter to us in the least.
Again, definitely not an issue we would have to navigate if we stayed in a hotel, but the trade-off of having 3 separate bedrooms in this house, ensuring everyone in the family slept wonderfully each night, was worth it to us.
5. The Greatest Experience
With our time in La Fortuna complete, we loaded up our chariot and made the 3.5 hour drive south to San Jose, the city where our adventure had started just 20 days earlier.
We only had 2-days in San Jose, but that was enough because we ended up spending one whole day with our new friend Yaime and her kids.
You may remember Yaime and her family from our time at the sports camp in Liberia.
During the sports camp, when we discovered that Yaime and her family lived in San Jose, we knew we had to reconnect with them at the end of our trip when we spent our final days in San Jose.
So we made plans to meet up at a local park for a picnic and playtime for the kids.
We spent the entire day at a huge public park with playgrounds, a running track, soccer fields and tons of space for the kids to roam and play.
We each brought a picnic lunch and Yaime brought chips with a homemade dip filled with tuna, sweet corn, mushrooms, mayonnaise, and lemon that was absolutely delicious.
It made our PB&J sandwiches look pretty pathetic.
Luckily she brought plenty to share and our whole family loved it.
We spent nearly 6 hours at the park, and you might remember that Yaime doesn’t speak English and we don’t speak Spanish.
Val and Yaime used Google translate to carry on the most wonderful conversations, while I had a blast playing baseball with Jacob and their oldest son Julian.
Yaime’s husband couldn’t join us because of his job, but he dropped off bikes for the kids in his truck and they rode them all over the park.
It was one of the most perfect days we had in the country.
Even though we had spent the last few weeks exploring waterfalls, hiking up volcanos, and running across bridges hanging in the sky, this one day at the park with new friends was likely the best day of the whole trip.
We came to Costa Rica looking to explore and have adventures. But more important than all of that, was the opportunity to make connections and, if possible, even make friends.
And we were able to do that with Yaime and her family.
The language wasn’t a barrier.
The distance wasn’t a barrier.
We went on this adventure because we wanted our kids to understand that the world is a big and beautiful place.
But more importantly, we wanted them to understand that the most beautiful thing they will ever experience is the beauty that already exists inside the people they will meet while traveling this world.
Yaime and her family were the perfect teachers for that lesson.
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Caroline at Costa Rica FIRE
Sounds like a great trip. I agree with so many of the conclusions — CR is more expensive than I expected too but still reasonable, agree that sodas are a good value and sane portions. We’re based in Tamarindo when we stay in CR so look us up if you return!
Live Your Wage
We definitely want to go back and we will let you know when we do.