17.07.2013 - 28.07.2013
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?
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!