So we touched down, on time, in San Jose after a gruelling 17 hours en-route. Costa Rica is 7 hours behind London (in the summer) so our 17:30 touchdown was really 00:30 to us. After collecting our luggage we were picked up by our driver Antonio from "Camino Travel" as we exited the arrivals lounge.
As you can imagine we were extremely relieved to find it so well organised, so top marks to them. Antonio spoke reasonable English (with the usual US accent) so we could at least relax a bit whilst he gave us our book of hotel vouchers, itinerary and other useful information.
He then drove us to our first hotel "La Amistad" (a B&B actually), chosen by us because it had an extremely good web page, with full pictures and information. It is German-owned, who then invested a further $500,000 to expand it and upgrade it to include air-con, TV and other facilities in some rooms.
Our tour operator was less than enthusiastic about our choice, mainly I suspect because it was an Unknown Hotel (to them) so they could not vouch for it. They suggested the Edelweiss as the budget hotel of choice, but that had no web presence at all so I could not find any information about it. So we plumped for La Amistad.
We had chosen to spend the next full day in San Jose, because we could not face getting up at 6am back into the 4x4 car to be ferried to our next destination. So we had 2 nights here. Were we justified in vetoing our tour operator's choice of hotel for this one? Yes and no, and it's not as straightforward as it seems. Here is my more complete answer, if you really want to know.(Pop Up Window).
"You can't learn experience" is the old saying, and never is it truer than when visiting new countries. There's always that little gem of information that we wish someone had mentioned before we had arrived. So on these web pages I list a few of those nuggets that would have been useful to know before we arrived.
Things we wish we had known beforehand
1. San Jose is a bit of a culture shock. Noisy, busy and above all, dirty. The main shopping area, in the middle of San Jose was an easy walk from our hotel (any hotel really) but not worth the effort unless you really want total immersion in their culture. Michael Schumacher's driving school taught everyone to drive, so it's easy to get run over. Oh, and everybody carries an umbrella for the persistent, afternoon rains (April-December).
2. There is an ultra-modern shopping mall in San Pedro, a short taxi ride from San Jose. Just show the taxi driver "Mall San Pedro" and you will get there for less than $2. It has loads of shops and stall outlets, 3 floors, a cinema and large food hall serving a variety of meals from KFC, Pizza Hut to more typical Costa Rican meals. And pretty cheaply. If you have ever been to Brent Cross or Milton Keynes shopping centre then you get the idea.
3. Everywhere accepts US dollars and VISA ("tarjeta de credito") so don't bust a blood vessel thinking you have to change your money (dollars) into colones. You pay in dollars and you get your change in colones. You can even pay some of the bill in colones and some in dollars. The assistant just does a calculation there and then to convert the balance. Easy.
4. All taxis in Costa Rica are red, with a big TAXI sign on top. They are dirt cheap. They are looking for likely fares as much as you are looking for them. But as people in San Jose seem to work staggered shifts, getting a taxi after 2pm is a bit of a fight with the locals. Be prepared to wait for 15 minutes and don't be backwards in coming forward - get out there and flag down every single red cab you see - if it's already occupied it will ignore you, if not it may stop for you, if a local hasn't got there first!
5. After a 17 hour journey (24 hours with the airport check in) you will want to crash somewhere comfortable that first night. Preferably somewhere that has a restaurant (B&B's don't) and a bar (ditto). So the 5-star Grano de Oro hotel suggested by my tour operation might just have been the more sensible choice for that first night.
6. When we returned to San Jose after nearly 3 weeks on the road, it all looked somehow different, more exciting. It might have been our withdrawal symptoms of a real city showing themselves, but we all felt it. Of course we were no longer suffering from Jet Lag (believe me, it gets worse the older you are) and the sight of a local McD just seemed comforting (not comforting enough to be tempted, however).
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