Nomading Around Costa Rica
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As you may know from a couple of posts ago, I recently had the opportunity to do a bit of nomad-ing around Costa Rica. This wasn’t a pure nu nomadic adventure as I wasn’t able to stay more than a couple of weeks but I was able to scout out a bit of nomadic issues while I traveled/worked around the country.
Our journey began in an outskirt of San Jose, Heredia, moved into the rain forest area near Puerto Viejo, on to Arenal Volcano and La Fortuna, and then ended on the coast near Tamarindo (click town names for pictures). Costa Rica has a thriving tourist business that attracts many environmentalists and nature lovers to its “ecolodge” accommodations where they can marvel at the abundant wildlife and learn about the rain forest. It also beckons to the active traveler who loves to surf, hike, snorkel, bungee jump or you name it. In addition, you will find an active expat community that includes citizens from many countries of Europe as well as the U.S. While all of this means that it could be very easy in Costa Rica to find a comfortable living situation, plug yourself into a satellite television and live a sheltered life surrounded by your western world friends, your golf course and your mojito, it also means that if you want to really know Costa Rica and the Costa Rican people, you will have to seek them out away from the upscale niceties that have been developed for the tourist/expat lifestyle and “live like the Romans (or in this case, Ticos) do”.
Getting around Costa Rica is an adventure in itself. It is possible to take short commuter flights between popular areas and major cities such as Liberia, San Jose, Tamarindo and La Fortuna. This may make sense if you really need to move locations quickly. However, you can make your way between many major destinations in a day or half day by car or bus. If you choose to rent a car be sure to rent a 4×4. While the larger “highways” ( I rarely saw any larger than 2 lanes outside the major cities) are paved, most of the remaining roads including major routes between towns are gravel and some are downright large (I’m talking cantaloupe size now) rock roads. Be prepared to place a large deposit (in our case $1500.00 US) for a car to cover any damage your adventure driving might cause. I chose to go with a Costa Rican rental business called Mapache Rental Car because of their lower prices. They delivered the car to me in the rain forest, were prompt, efficient and honest. The car had some difficulties shifting but made the trip without incident and I was relieved to get my deposit back in full, knowing we spent a lot of time kicking up gravel and rocks.
If you choose a place to remain as a nomad and are within a short distance to your daily needs you could get by without a car. You might even consider a bicycle as many of the locals do. Taxis are reasonable and the public bus system is downright luxurious. Before needing our car we chose to take a public bus to do some waterfall viewing. The bus was the same style as other tourist buses, air conditioned with upholstered seats. This was a great comparison experience between tourist living and Tico living. To take a reserved tourist van to our destination (a 45 minute ride) and back would have cost us $75.00 US per person. The same trip on our luxurious public bus – $4.00 US per person. The bus ran on a set schedule and we found it to be on time.
So – what about working? Here’s where a bit of the challenge comes in. Costa Rica varies wildly between world class accommodations with all conveniences including free Wifi in your room (such as we found in Heredia at La Contessa Hotel) – to very rugged areas that are still waiting to receive land-line telephone service (the case around Lake Arenal). Do not assume that because a destination is popular, has charming accommodations or an internet presence, that there will be access to internet or even telephone available. In fact, once we left Heredia (near San Jose) we never again had access to a phone in our room let alone internet. Actually – I exaggerate here. One place boasted in room telephones that I was to find out later only called other rooms at the lodge. Many locations seem to keep a phone that will make international calls with a credit or calling card in their main lobby. This is great if you’re just trying to check in with family but not so great if, like me, you’re needing to meet with clients by phone for hour long calls.
If telephone is vital to your career, I would suggest you consider an unlocked GSM with SIM card for Costa Rica. In fact, mobile phones appeared to be the communicator of choice for many locals. I was amused by our 11 year old horseback riding guide one day who spent a good amount of time talking with friends on his mobile phone while he rode.
You should be able to find telephone and internet service at most of the larger towns and occasionally you may find some in a smaller town. One of my favorites was the German Bakery in Nuevo Arenal (article picture is from there), where you could sit on a charming open air porch, eat pastries and coffee and get some work done online. Don’t have your laptop? No problem – they had a computer room in the back of their associated gift shop for $1.00 US per half hour.
So – all in all – here are my impressions for nomad-ing Costa Rica. This is an amazing place especially if you appreciate wildlife and natural wonders. You will find everything from beautiful white sand beaches excellent for surfing, to a live volcano, and rainforests with abundant animals and birds. The people are warm and helpful, exuding their love of a laid back lifestyle and a pride for their country. Costa Rica is reasonably safe. While you will want to take normal anti-theft precautions (especially in San Jose) the rest of the country seems quite secure. Prices are slightly cheaper than US but not as low as one might hope for a nomadic destination. Internet access can be an issue depending on what area you are in. My advice if you’d like to try it out for a longer stay: consider getting a car for a period of one or two weeks so that you can be free to travel the country, get a feel for the variation of different destinations and the viability of doing your work in them. Don’t plan to do a lot of work during this initial period because connectivity may be difficult at times. Do a lot of talking with the local people about lodging and connectivity possibilities. Here a knowledge of Spanish is helpful. Once you’ve chosen your nest, say goodbye to the car, unpack your bags and get ready for life the “Pura Vida” way!