A Travellerspoint blog

San Jose, Costa Rica Airport to Hotel

Originally this was a trip where my husband and I were going to take our 15-year-old niece to Costa Rica to celebrate her “sweet 15.” But since we haven’t learned to organize flying together, we only bought two tickets and in the end it was just me and a 15-year-old girl. Traveling with 15-year-olds is a whole other blog post or two. The point is that we booked a flight that got in past midnight since I was originally expecting to be traveling with my husband, and we ended up getting through customs around 1 am. But not to worry, Costa Rica is safer than Mexico at least, right?

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So we went through the airport and customs and found our luggage without any hassle. However, we got taken advantage of at the currency exchange, like everyone does. IMPORTANT TRAVEL TIP #1: if you are traveling to touristy areas in Costa Rica (we went to Tortuguero, Monteverde, Arenal and Puerto Viejo), most places accept dollars. At the airport they gave us 465 colones to the dollar, and the exchange rate at many restaurants and hotels is 500 colones to the dollar. Prices were listed only in dollars at several restaurants and hostels. At any rate, it would have made more sense to just exchange enough colones to pay for the taxi and breakfast in the morning and then taken money out at the ATM.

The next step of getting to our hotel was finding a taxi. At the Mexico City airport there’s a stand that offers certified taxis. In Costa Rica I had read that there was something similar, but when we finally got out we just saw a lot of sketchy taxi drivers waiting around. We had been told that a taxi from the airport to San José was about $30. Since I was suddenly responsible for a 15-year-old, I made sure to ask the taxi drivers if they had documentation. I know that sounds a bit overboard, but you wouldn’t get into a car with a short Shrek either if he didn’t at least flash you his driver’s license. So we ruffled a few feathers asking around and finally found a guy that seemed friendly enough and who willingly showed me some ID. However, here comes the sketchier part. He told us his taxi was upstairs and that we could all get in the elevator together. Alarm bells ringing, right? Fortunately he understood our concern and said he’d take the stairs and meet us up there with his car. As we were walking to his car we ran into some of the women from immigration and asked them which taxis we should be taking. They confirmed that the taxi driver we had chosen was safe, that he’d been working at the airport for awhile, and that we would be fine. Whew. What a relief. IMPORTANT TRAVEL TIP #2: Go with your gut feeling. Just because this guy was smiley and friendly doesn’t mean he wouldn’t have jumped us in the elevator with a big smile on his face. In Costa Rica the typical taxi is a red car with a little yellow taxi sign on the roof. At the airport there are also independent drivers who offer their services, so just ask around. Or better yet, since Costa Rica is the land of customer service and convenience, see if your hotel will send someone to pick you up.

The adventure of getting to our hotel did not end with putting our bags in the trunk. Our driver had never heard of our hotel, Boutique Hotel Calle 20, and we spent about 45 minutes driving around the red-light district of downtown San José. In case you didn’t know, La Alajuela is the town where the airport is and San José is about 30 minutes from there depending on traffic. We got there in about 15 minutes since it was 1 am. Our taxi driver was so friendly that he used his own cell phone to call the hotel and ask for directions. Once you get off the main square in San José all we saw were homeless people and scraggly bearded men and leering, anorexic hookers. I know you all think Mexico is dangerous, but at least the prostitutes in my town are plump and smiling. IMPORTANT TRAVEL TIP #3: fly into a new city when the sun is still out. Obviously this is the ideal time, although we 20-something travelers try to be flexible schedule-wise if it saves us $50 or $100 bucks. The truth is, when you travel on your own or with a peer, you don’t mind sleeping in the red-light district. It’s all part of the stories you’ll tell when you get home. But when you’re with a minor or your own child, you suddenly become protective and want to demand a free room at the hotel that was dim-witted enough to set up shop two streets down from the late-night hangout of every down-on-their-luck member of society.

Sometime around 2 am we updated our Facebook statuses to let people know we were alive and then crawled into bed. Let the Costa Rican adventures begin!

Posted by UnMejorHOY 14:04 Archived in Costa Rica Tagged hotels airport hostels backpacking san_jose mexican_food alternative_travel red-light_distrcit la_alajuela Comments (0)

5 Things to do in Lima

In total we’ll have spent 10 days in Lima. Since we’re at the end of our trip, we’re also at the end of our budget. Our friends we're staying with must think we are the most boring couple ever, but nobody believes us when we say you Mexico is so much cheaper. Here are 5 things you can do on a very tight budget:

Eat. Peruvian cuisine is up-and-coming on the culinary spread. Typical Peruvian dishes are becoming quite famous on an international level. While you may not be able to afford much, you can just sit for an hour or two looking at the menu and learning about all of the different types if potatoes. Another tasty treat is churros with chocolate. At Manolo's in downtown Lima, churros come with a creamy chocolate dipping sauce. The only other thing you must try, even if you’re out of cash, is the ceviche. Sell your Lonely Planet guide if you don't have the money.

Drink. There’s Pilsen, Cristal and Cusqueña for beers. If you’re lucky maybe the bar will serve some snacks and you can spend more on drinks than food. And you must try one of the pisco varieties. Although a Pisco sour is the typical touristy drink, all the cool Limeños drink Chilcanos, pisco with ginger ale. It was surprisingly good, and I would have had another, again, if it weren't out of our budget.

Climb. If you follow the route we did, South to North, you will have already done Machu Picchu and think that you will no longer be impressed by crumbling ruins. But Huaca Pucllana is a recently discovered (time-wise, in the archaeological world, or course) site that overlooks the city of Lima. It is actually nestled in the quiet upper class neighborhoodof Miraflores. Layered brick-like walls rise and fall as you get a guided tour of the area. There’s even a tiny farm that shows regional Peruvian animals and plants.

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Explore. One of my favorite museums on this trip was the Santo Domingo Church and Catacombs. The overcast day we went on didn’t help the creepy factor. So many people were buried there that now they’ve been grouped into just piles of bones- femurs, skulls, hips. There is a very old library in the church as well- one or those two story ones where you have to swing along on a ladder to find everything. It reminded me of Ollivander’s wand shop in Harry Potter. A stunning church and convent with an air of mystery and grandeur.

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Walk. At the end if our budget we don’t have any other choice. But that’s just perfect, because Barranco, Miraflores and the Historical Center are all flat. If you have some extra cash, maybe you can rent a bike or a skateboard. These neighborhoods are beautiful, with an intriguing mix of huge old mansions and shiny new high rises. Chorrillos and Barranco follow the coastline- you can watch the suffers float like little seals as they wait to catch a wave. Just breathtaking views.

In all honesty, out of all the cities and towns we visited on our trip Lima was the most inviting and authentic. Everywhere else felt like a stop along the tourist route, whereas Lima is alive and liveable. It is a vibrant city with a complicated history that is finally starting to get noticed by the rest of the world.

Posted by UnMejorHOY 20:58 Archived in Peru Tagged travel peru lima sites spanish santo_domingo archeological huaca_pucllana alternate_travel Comments (0)

SPLURGE- Las Olas y La Cúpula, Copacabana, Bolivia

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Our budget for this trip was $15 per person per day. But after spending 4 freezing cold days in Uyuni and having Carlos get a bad chest cold in La Paz, we wanted to find a place that was warm and where we could relax, recover and recuperate. Las Olas is marked in the guide as a place to splurge on, so we decided to go for it- this is our honeymoon, after all. From La Paz we called and made the reservation, since according to their website it can take up to 6 hours for emails to arrive. Besides the fact that you (and by you I mean Carlos) have to lug your backpacks uphill and up a flight of stairs before you even get to the property, Las Olas and La Cúpula couldn’t have a lovelier, more picturesque setting.

To get to Las Olas you have to walk through La Cúpula’s premises, and then we had to walk down several stairs to get to our room. The rooms are just stunning- each uniquely decorated with a different theme. We stayed in El Cielo, the Sky, which had a giant skylight where you could open the curtain to see the stars at night. A circular bed was up against the wall with enough blankets to keep our frozen toes cozy. In case we needed another place to laze around, there was a hammock in our room and 2 more outside. Each cabin at Las Olas has a breathtaking view of Lake Titicaca and the boats rocking gently in the harbor. They are also equipped with kitchenettes, that even include coffee, tea and some basic condiments. As if the giant bed wasn’t warm enough, we also had a wood stove that we lit and I fed all evening until the wood ran out. It was magical, just turning out the lights and watching the fire flicker on the bay windows that lined an entire wall.

Carlos ending up meeting the owner, and well, you know how charming Mexicans can be- he got us free breakfast in the morning at La Cúpula which actually went really well for them because we decided to stay an extra 2 nights there. Breakfast turned out to be amazing- musli, scrambled eggs, fresh fruit, bread, juice and coffee. Of course we were gonna stay there. It’s odd- the Lonely Planet mentions La Cúpula for its book exchange and restaurant, but not as a place to stay. While it’s more expensive than most other backpacker’s hostels in Bolivia, it’s about the same price per person as a hostel in Argentina.

La Cúpula is more like a hostel than Las Olas- there’s a well-equipped if slightly cramped kitchen, a living room with cable TV and travel books, a book exchange, lots of hammocks strewn about green gardens, Wi-fi, and loads of travel information. It also shares a hot tub with Las Olas for only 15 bolivianos (money, not capacity). We enjoyed just taking over the TV room and watching House. The staff at La Cúpula is very accommodating, and we actually had several very nice chats with the owner who is a warm, friendly guy from Germany.

Originally we were going to stay somewhere else our last night to save some money and pay with a credit card. After 2 hours of wandering around we couldn’t find anything that wasn’t outrageously out of our budget. Fortunately there were some guests who never arrived and the staff was able to offer us a nice upstairs room at La Cúpula. For our last night we decided to get dinner at the restaurant upstairs since it was the same price as every other restaurant that accepted credit cards. They offer international cuisine and of course a few German and Bolivian dishes. I tried a curry chicken kabbob which was fantastic. If you’ve got the money I’d recommend eating every meal there. If you don’t have the money, sleep somewhere else and still eat there. From the restaurant there are fantastic views overlooking the harbor.

Definitely worth the splurge, although I know we’ll pay for it for the rest of the trip. See if you can’t meet the owner when you’re there- if he’s free he’s very entertaining and has some great travel stories.

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Posted by UnMejorHOY 20:46 Archived in Bolivia Tagged hotels lake hostels las la del bolivia titicaca sol isla paz copacabana splurge cupula olas Comments (0)

Getting to Bolivia from northern Argentina

This part of the trip was uncomfortable for me and a flat out nightmare for Carlos. It all started when we went to take money out of the ATM in Purmamarca and we found out we only had about $50 left and another month of travel. Time to run to Bolivia. So we hopped on a bus from Purmamarca to Humauaca for 15 Argentine pesos, an hour and a half. By the time I got bored enough to put on my music, we got into Humauaca. From Humauaca we got a bus to La Quiaca, the border town. The book advises spending the night on the Argentine side of the border, but we just wanted to get this part of the trip done and over with.

The bus ticket was 32 Argentine pesos from Humauaca to La Quiaca, about 2 and a half hours. The countryside continues to amaze us. Rusty reds and rolling hills with moon-like surfaces. We were next to a couple that had come from Buenos Aires and was going to Lima, Peru, all in one trip. I guess they were used to the bumpy bus ride. On these bus rides, make sure you bring a bottle of water and some snacks, as well as your Ipod. There may or may not be a bathroom. If you can, keep your backpacks with you, or keep an eye out when people take luggage out from under the bus.

La Quiaca is sketchy as heck, so we decided to try our luck and head for the Bolivian border. The bathrooms at the bus station cost a peso, and they're acceptable. Start carrying toilet paper with you. The cab from the bus station to the border was 7 pesos (1 dollar). The border is interesting- it's basically just a bridge that peopele walk across. There's a few police patrolling the area, and lots of police-like looking dogs that were probably just strays. To cross the border you must first check out of Argentina, which you do by going to the first window on the right side. Then you have to do customs for Bolivia, which were very simple for Carlos. All he did was fill out a form and give them his passport.

Now, I on the other hand, had a much more complicated, and as of yet unresolved, time. Americans have to pay a $135 USD fee to enter the country. And if you read the beginning of this post, we had $50 in an ATM and about $50 in Argentine pesos. And they don't accept credit cards. Also, we crossed on a Sunday, so we couldn't ask anyone to deposit money. We explained our situation to the official and he let me enter, warning that I would have to pay a fine somewhere, but that maybe, maybe I would be able to walk across the border to Peru on my way out without any trouble. Stay tuned for that post...Haha. Nobody asked us for proof of our yellow fever vaccination, so it's a good thing we got it for free.

We crossed the border at dusk, and stopped to exchange money. The Argentine peso is really suffering, so we get skruud- 1 Argentine peso to 1 boliviano (their currency). We lost about 25% of our money. The border town on the Bolivian side is Villazón, and I wouldn't stay there even if it were the last option. After changing money, we walked 5 long blocks to the bus station (straight ahead, it's on the same street) and got a bus to Tilcara for 15 bolivianos. It was the only place the buses were still going at 8 pm that we wanted to go to. It was one of the most adrenaline filled walks ever, holding tightly to our bags. It was already dark, and there aren't many lights.

Tips for the border- keep everything, like passports, on hand. Be prepared with the right amount and correct country of currency. You don't need much money for a busride to get the heck outta there, so you're better off exhanging $20 USD at the border and taking out money from an ATM at wherever your final destination may be. When you cross the border, act like you know what you're doing. Don't stop to take pictures, keep your luggage with you.

Posted by UnMejorHOY 20:02 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Border Crossing, Bolivia to Peru

We took Titicaca Tours from Copacabana, Bolivia to Cusco, Peru for 100 bolivianos. They leave at 9 am, 1:30 pm and 6:30 pm, and go to Puno or Cusco. Although we were planning on leaving at 9, by the time we got out of bed we never would have made it. So we enjoyed one more lesiurely breakfast at La Cúpula and got money out of the ATM. I was freaking out because of the Bolivian visa stuff. I wanted to carry the exact cash for the visa. My story was going to be that they told me to pay on the way out.

Our bus was packed with foreigners, and the Bolivian guides were rude and pushy. One guide even chewed out a kid for not getting on the bus right away and said it was his fault he didn't have a seat. On the bus they give you the form tourist form for Peru. The border is only 10 minutes from Copacabana, and I thought I was going to pass out from nerves. The bus drops you off at the border, and you have to check out of Bolivia and then walk to Peru. Since I was never officially in Bolivia, I didn't know how they would treat me. So I decided to risk it and walk to Peru while everyone else got in line for Bolivia.

There were no guards or police patrolling no-man's-land, and no one said anything to me when I slipped out of line and confidently crossed the border. On the other side I went into the Peru Customs office and got in line. When the official got my passport, he flipped through it a few times and then was like, you have no Bolivian stamp. "No, Bolivia, no," was my confused response. Hahahahaha. I can't lie or act for the life of me, so the only way I was going to be able to pretend like I'm a fluent Spanish speaker was by not talking. The guy took me aside and was like, you have to go back to Bolivia and pay in Bolivia for your stamps. Oh well. It was worth a true.

At that point, one of the guides from the bus came over and asked what was up. The guides with Titicaca Tours are bilingual, so now I just had to be honest. I told him that I had walked into Bolivia and that they hadn't given me a stamp. The guide went to talk to the official and came back with an offer. For $90 the Peruvian official would "waive" my Bolivian stamp. I acted confused, asking why I'd have to pay for a Peruvian stamp. No way out though- it was either pay the official $90 or go back to Bolivia and pay at least $135. So I guess I got lucky.

Now, just so it's clear, I'm no rule breaker. I am such a brown noser and teacher's pet wannabe that I can be plain annoying. Not having my Bolivian stamp was very nerve-wracking for me. I can't even begin to imagine how illegal immigrants must feel. I did what the border crossing official in Bolivia-Argentina told me to do- to just "fix" it on the way out. I do not, by any means, recommend or condone doing what I did. In most cases you won't get away with doing what I did anyway. Have the $135 ready when you cross- simple as that.

As we piled back on the bus, the guides started to yell that we hurry up, even though there were still people doing the customs process. Again, rude and inconsiderate. Honestly, if I were you, I would take a taxi to the border to do the process and ask around if there are other buses that go to Puno. Or go with another company, because Titicaca doesn't have customer courtesy. Make sure you change some money at the border. When we crossed it was 2.65 Peruvian soles to the dollar. We didn't, so when the bus stopper in Puno we had to run to change money and pay an exit fee (1 sol) before we could board our bus to Cusco.

The bus to Cusco was not what Titicaca Tours had promised us. As Carlos just said, it was much more "caca" (poo) than "titi." No bathrooms for the 6-7 hour ride, no TV, and no dinner. The bus wasn't bad, but it's not what they said it would be. That's been our overall experience in Bolivia with buses.

The route to Cusco is plain scary. There are random, armed control checkpoints, because apparently the road is prime area for contraband movement. Women buy clothing, shoes and other products in Bolivia, where it's cheaper, and sell them in Cusco, where prices have sky-rocketed due to the influx of tourists. However, instead of controlling this supposedly illegal movement, the police arm random checkpoints where they get on the bus with masks and guns and rifle through people's belongings. The women in front of us, both wearing two coats with the tags still on them, said that the police used this as an excuse to steal. We went through 2 checkpoints, and both times the police got on the bus and took people's things, saying that they would get their things back if they could prove it. The police left us alone.

Keep your belongings close and organized, and have your passport on hand. Bring food and water for the ride, and be prepared to run run to the bathroom and hope the bus waits for you. Needless to say, it was an adventure, like all of our border crossings have been.

Posted by UnMejorHOY 19:57 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

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