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Costa Rica

Polaroid of the week: Costa Ricas colorful currency

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polaroid Costa Rica new bank notesSince our last visit to Costa Rica in February 2011, the country has redesigned its banknotes and we love these new ones so much we hardly want to spend them at all! (In case you’re wondering, the 15,000 colones in the picture are currently worth roughly US $30.)

Known for its range of wildlife, the new Costa Rican Colones feature popular animals like sloths, monkeys, birds, sharks, butterflies, deer, sea turtles, scorpions and starfish along with some of Costa Rica’s diverse nature: a Guanacaste Tree, a Cloud Forest, a coral reef and mangroves. Definitely some of the most creative bills that we have seen around the world.

What other countries have you traveled to with beautiful currency? Do you save smaller bills when they are so pretty?

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The one million turtle march: An arribada in Costa Rica

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‘Haven’t you heard about the arribada?’ Christina asked us when we remarked how badly we would love to see some sea turtles. We heard it might be possible here, we tell her.

turtles in costa rica‘Hundreds of thousands of turtles will come to lay their eggs on the beach, just a few miles up the road from here,’ she explained. Four times a year, ten days before the new moon from August to November, masses of olive ridley sea turtles simultaneously swim out of the sea and lay millions of turtle eggs on the beach.

Turtle making a nest in OstionalWe couldn’t believe our luck. Of all our time snorkeling in the Caribbean, we have only seen one sea turtle. In just a matter of days, we would be seeing more in one place than most people could ever see in a lifetime during the arribada, a Spanish word roughly meaning ‘arrival into port or harbor’.

Ostional turtle arribada in october 2012The turtles’ arrival is not an exact science, so all we could do was wait it out. We checked Facebook updates from local turtle guides daily and finally a few days later, the start of an arribada was confirmed – for the very day that Jess was set to leave for a quick visit back home to Chicago. This was going to be one amazing experience the two of us would unfortunately not be sharing.

october 2012 turtle arribada ostionalWhen our friend Denise called to say we would head to nearby Ostional beach, I was dressed and ready in five minutes and could barely contain my excitement. The arribada takes place in only a few places in the world, and Ostional beach is the second biggest nesting ground behind India.

turtles costa rica arribada ostionalWe parked the car a mile outside of the village and walked to the black sand beach, where I immediately spotted a lone turtle awkwardly digging her nest with her back flippers. I almost tiptoed over, awestruck at being able to witness this rare moment.

turtle in ostional costa ricaAt first the mothers-to-be arrive in ones and twos, slowly lugging their 40 – 50 kilo (90 to 100 pound) shells up the sandy banks to safe spots to dig their nests. They are not bothered by the onlookers who gather to watch the spectacle. Instead, their one-track minds focus only on digging holes roughly two feet deep. Within thirty minutes the turtles dig their nest and lay 80-100 white, round soft-shell eggs that are the exact size and shape of a ping-pong ball, then hastily fill in the hole and make a beeline back into the ocean.

turtle eggs in ostional costa ricaFrom the moment their backs are turned, the little turtle eggs are in grave danger. Hundreds of vultures hover and circle the nests as she plants the eggs and dive in and pluck out a few eggs the minute she leaves. Then the stray dogs arrive, digging out much of what the scavenger birds leave behind, until being shooed away by the people of the village, who are permitted to collect and sell the eggs on the first two days of the arribada. Despite the fact that olive ridley turtles are an endangered species, the locals are still allowed to collect the turtle eggs and earn well, up to $200,000 from the four arribadas.

turtle enemies in ostionalIn addition to everything stacked against them, the turtles themselves are their own enemy. As thousands flap and flail around the beach at once, I saw countless turtles digging their nest right on top of where others had already laid their eggs, flipping out dozens of the others in the process.

costa rica turtle arribada ostionalEven though 10 million or more eggs are laid on the beach each time, after the vultures, the dogs, the humans and themselves, only a fraction of the baby turtles will make it into the water for the first time.

costa rica turtle arribada ostionalWhen they hatch 45-50 days after an arribada, only one in fifty of the tiny turtles will reach the water. Less than half the size of an adult human hand, the babies are easy prey for vultures and dogs as they wiggle their little white bodies into the sea, where even more predators lay in wait.

turtles coming out of the ocean ostional costa ricadani ostionalAs we walk along the beach, more and more turtles emerge from the waves. When we arrived around 3.30pm, there were only a few turtles out; an hour later, the beach appears to be made of boulders, so full it has become with turtle shells inching up and back down the beach.

turtles costa rica arribada ostionalturtle invasion ostionalBy sunset there are thousands of turtles and it is entirely chaotic, with turtles trampling over each other fighting for the few patches of sand left to make their own nest. I sit down in the middle of a group of turtles, mesmerized by how they dig deeper and deeper into the sand. Their flipper covers me with scoops of sand until the depth of the hole satisfies them. By this time, the turtles are worn out, but rather than rest, eggs drop out from their insides into the hole, one by one.

costa rica turtle arribadaAs soon as the sun sets, we leave the beach already planning our visit the next day. This experience is addictive; I can’t wait to see it again. We find out later that this particular arribada might have been the biggest ever in Ostional. It is the rainy season, however, and on the second day it pours down all day, making rivers uncrossable and standing exposed to whipping winds on the shore unbearable. By day three we are able to go again, the rain stopping just in time for an afternoon visit to Ostional.

Turtle arribada OstionalDenise prepares me, as we are set to see the slow, sick, injured and old turtles that arrive today. I see turtles with three legs, scars and pieces torn out of shells from shark bites, deformed turtles.

Deformed and injured turtles in OstionalIt is painful to watch these sick turtles, which have an even harder time dragging themselves onto the shore so much more slowly than the others. Many don’t have the power to reach safe nesting points out of the way of the tide, digging dangerously close to the shore. I wish there was more I could do, but we can only help by turning over the turtles when a wave crashes in and flips them over.

helping a turtle turn overAs this last batch of turtles limp back into the sea, the arribada comes to an end.

turtle exhausted arribada ostional 2012See a turtle arribada in Ostional

Ostional is located on the Nicoya peninsula; a small, unremarkable village most of the year, but there are a couple of inexpensive hotels such as the Turtle Lodge and a few restaurants.

Located around 90 minutes north of Samara or a six-hour drive from San Jose, the nearest bigger town is Nosara, a popular surf spot, about half an hour south of Ostional. Flights leave occasionally from Nosara to San Jose and Liberia. When renting a car, a 4 x 4 is a necessity to cross several rivers, which, in the rainy season, can be a challenge to cross between Nosara and Ostional.

The majority of turtles come to the beach at night, but on the first three days there are turtles during the day as well. They start to arrive in masses around 4pm. Flash photography is not allowed.

turtle arribada ostional october 2012Help the turtles

Ostional is a remote beach and arribadas take place in the low season. This combination means that there are never enough volunteers to help the hatchlings.

If you would like to help the turtles, you can do this by visiting the Asociason de Guias Locales de Ostional (Association of local guides – Ostional) Facebook Page for current information about arribada start times and when hatchlings need assistance with their epic journey to the sea.

ostional turtleIf you’d like to see more turtle photos, check out our Flickr Photo album:

[flickrslideshow acct_name=”Globetrottergirls” id=”72157631840770588″]

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Polaroid of the week: Watching the sunset in Costa Rica

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polaroid for the week costa rica 2012 sunsetWe both love sunsets, and there is nothing better than watching the sunset on the beach. You might think that two months on the Pacific Coast would make for many, many beautiful sunsets, but being rainy season, sunsets are few and far between. We usually have gorgeous mornings with blue skies and lots of sunshine, but the afternoons start off gray and cloudy and end with a down pour with a strength we didn’t even know existed.

So whenever there is one of these lucky days when the afternoon rain doesn’t come, we take our puppy down to the beach to watch the sunset. We are either treated to colorful skies that change from bright blue to purple and orange, or a completely pink sunset. Either way, it never disappoints.

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900 days of travel: Reflections

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Thursday, 11 October marked our 900th day of travel! Days 801 – 900 of our life of travel have been the most remote of all the days before, spent on far away beaches in far flung locations…

A running theme of our travels is taking advantage of living life on a whim. Not that we don’t plan. Before arriving in a new destination, research and planning factor heavily into our how we spend our time.

Where we go, however, changes on the turn of a dime, the drop of a hat, on a whim. Once, it meant flying from Panama to Germany even though we had planned on continuing down to Colombia. Another time, it meant spending three weeks in Lisbon (and loving it!), just because we had time to kill before flying to Canada.

Most recently this meant a snap decision to spend two months in Costa Rica on the beaches of the Nicoya peninsula for a housesit. We had fully intended to travel Mexico for a month after our housesit there. Costa Rica was never on the plan until suddenly it was.

costa rica beach nicoya
Our beach in Costa Rica

Housesitting is another running theme, and one that we are increasingly passionate about as we continue the life of freedom we have established. It allows us to rest, cook for ourselves and really get to know a destination for longer periods of time. These last 100 days have been almost entirely spent housesitting.

While we don’t regret a single whim, these past 100 days taught us a few things. Living a life on the beach is the stuff dreams are made of, but our views on that have shifted. We both still love the beach, and spending a month or two at a time hearing the waves crash against the shore, watching the sun set or rise beyond the horizon, soaking up that inevitably relaxed, chilled out culture that exists at the beach…we love those things.

But we are city people.

We need culture, restaurants, art, and the chance to watch the millions of different ways that people express being human all in one place. We certainly lived out one of those sitting-in-the-office, dreaming-of-what-you-would-do-if-you-won-the-lottery dreams these past 100 days, but in between the two housesits, stopping in Mexico City was an absolute must, and now we are about to put our ‘life on the beach’ dream behind us and moving on to another dream.

our beach in mexico
Our beautiful beach in Mexico

To live in Buenos Aires, Argentina for a month.

Before we left, over 900 days ago, we originally looked at flights from London to Buenos Aires via Rome. Instead, on another whim, our trip began in Las Vegas. Every time we start a new leg of our travels, however, we always assume it will be Buenos Aires and then all of South America. Somehow, it took us over two years, but now the flights are booked and this dream is real.

And to think, the next time you read one of these reflections posts, the big 1000 days celebration set of reflections, we will have been and gone to Buenos Aires and will be tasting our way through Argentina’s wine country or hopping around glaciers at the bottom of the world.

After a month in the Argentine capital, we’ll get back into a rhythm that we had been keeping before these last 100 days. We have only been to two countries in that time. Just Mexico and Costa Rica. And in those two countries, we have only really been to four or five places, since housesitting took up huge chunks of that time. This complete stability is what has been so unusual about days 801 – 900. We traveled at the rate of a tortoise, but we needed that. Maintaining breakneck speed, changing hotels (and towns!) every few days is exhilarating in spurts, but the longer we continue the journey, the longer these breaks in between need to be.

turtles in costa rica
Turtles slowly making their way out of the water | Costa Rica

Despite a spot of navel gazing about whether we had lost our travel mojo, the butterflies have begun, wine and cheese palates have been whetted and we can’t wait to wipe off our moldy passports and move in to our Buenos Aires apartment (which we found on Wimdu.com) to explore the city, and the country, where this whole journey was supposed to begin in the first place.

Read on for our top travel moments and most disappointing places in our Tops & Flops of 900 Days of Travel!

Looking back:

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Polaroid of the week: Baby monkey in Costa Rica

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polaroid of the week costa rica 2012 monkeyThe thing we love most about Costa Rica is undoubtedly the wildlife. The variety of animals here is unmatched anywhere else we have ever traveled.

Just walking down a random street anywhere outside of the urban central valley, you are surrounded by colorful butterflies and hummingbirds and chances are great that you’ll see monkeys, ant-eaters and beautiful birds everywhere. If you look carefully you can even see sloths in the trees, and if you do a bit of research, you can see sea turtles nesting on the beach.

Where we are staying right now, we don’t even need to leave the house – the monkeys come right into our backyard! In the mornings we are usually woken up by the howler monkeys at 5am and a family of monkeys, including this cute baby monkey, likes to eat leaves from a tree in our yard.

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Polaroid of the week: Street Art in San Jose, Costa Rica

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polaroid of the week costa rica 2012 san jose street artNo matter how hard we try, we just don’t like Costa Rica’s capital city. As Jess put it last week in a post, ‘San Jose lacks the colonial charm of other Central American cities and unfortunately fails to fill the space with a modern, chic vibe.’ However, the city has some great street art, and as our long-time readers now, we are huge fans (see all our posts on Street Art here). We stumbled across some cool graffiti in San Jose last year, but this year we found even more. The German Goethe Institute has started a cross-country street art project called ‘De Mi Barrio A Tu Barrio‘ (from my neighborhood to yours), which showcases talent from communities throughout Central America, connecting people across cultures through street art.

Painter Jim Avignon traveled though Central America and the Caribbean for six weeks this year, painting graffiti with local street artists in every country, and they added some fantastic pieces to the streets of San Jose.

You can see more street art and read more about the Di Mi Barrio A Tu Barrio project here.

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Hotel Tip Of The Week: B&B Casa 69 in San Jose, Costa Rica

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A trip to Costa Rica is about spotting incredible wildlife, surfing perfect waves and soaking up the sun and the capital does not reflect the wonders that the rest of the country has to offer. San Jose lacks the colonial charm of other Central American cities and unfortunately fails to fill the space with a modern, chic vibe. The result is a practical city that most travelers use to transfer in and out of on their way to the beaches, volcanoes and the airport.  But sitting up on the roof terrace at Casa 69, watching the lights twinkle out and up into the mountains beyond the city managed to make even San Jose feel pretty magical.

costa rica casa 69 san jose terrace at nightDay and night, Casa 69 Bed and Breakfast feels like a refuge from the city and feels more like a home than a hotel.  Entering the yellow walled property through a blue metal door off a side alley puts guests straight on a walkway in what feels like a lush green jungle garden, and leads into a living room with a large L-shaped couch and arm chairs to sink into, a big TV and a computer and a printer as though in someone’s private home. Across the hall there is a dining room with a dark wood table and shelves with maps, pamphlets and guide books. The check-in is in here, at what is the kitchen counter. The breakfast nook is cosy, bright yellow room where from 7-10am, the breakfast of coffee, tea, bread, butter, jam and fruits is served each morning. Heartier breakfast meals are available for around $5 each.

costa rica casa 69 san jose restaurantOur room was all the way up at the top on the roof, and we had those great mountain views from our bed. The black and white comforter and sequin pillows felt a little flamboyant (I go for big fluffy pillows and gluttonous amounts of comfort) but the king-size bed felt amazing after a long travel day. While the room extends that feeling of staying at a ‘friends’ house, the en-suite bathroom brings value to the room, with its recently renovated feel, excellent shower, pedestal sink, great use of space and crisp, clean design. The hotel’s Wi-Fi wasn’t great though. It works best nearest the router, which means some rooms get a great signal, others get none. Ours was intermittent at best.

costa rica casa 69 san joseLooking out at the city beyond, watching the thick rain clouds pour over the mountains in the afternoon and clear up by night fall feels great, though at some point the intense coils of sharp metal wire and wrought iron bars bring back the reality of the city beyond the walls of the hotel. San Jose is not a particularly dangerous place, and we felt perfectly safe walking into central San Jose to the Paseo Colon pedestrian area, a 20 minute walk from the hotel passing  the national museum, a tourist market, churches and restaurants along the way. Casa 69 is just across from the Nicaraguan embassy, a minute from an Irish rock pub, and around the corner from a typical Costa Rican ‘soda’ serving up typical Tico food and a Pizza Hut for travelers in need of fast and easy comfort food.

costa rica casa 69 san jose We left at 5am the next morning and the night manager was up and happy to call us a cab, just as had been promised the night before. This was the first gay-owned B&B we had stayed at in Central America, and we were impressed with what a well-oiled machine it is, with friendly owners and staff all around, plus several cats and puppies to warm even the coldest of hearts.

Stand Out Feature: King Size Bed

This isn’t the most original, and honestly, the rooftop views are pretty stellar. But the large bed was unexpected and felt extravagant. It is also comforting to know about a dependable, comfortable place to stay in San Jose for all those times we transfer through this major travel hub.

costa rica casa 69 san jose pillowsRoom for Improvement: Security and a suggestion

Our rooftop room had sliding glass doors, which were great for floor to ceiling views, and then a wrought iron gate which closed and locked in front of the doors. But the sliding glass door itself did not lock and could easily be opened. Granted, a thief would have be pretty wiry to get in under the last wrought iron bar and into the room, plus pretty sneaky to make it into the house, through the living room, kitchen, up three flights of stairs and to that door to begin with, but I want my door to lock no matter what.

A second suggestion is regarding the breakfast element of the Bed & Breakfast. The nature of travel to San Jose means that many guests are likely up and on their way to a bus or the airport before the 7am breakfast time. The owners knew we were leaving early and a couple had left the day before at 4:30am. Because breakfast is included in the room rate, I’d like to see Casa 69 (and all B&Bs for that matter) up their game a bit and offer a takeaway breakfast bag with a bit of bread and butter/jam and a coffee to go.

Overall

Casa 69 is a friendly, stable spot to stay in San Jose, perfect for arriving to or leaving from for long flights or bus rides and a stay of a week or so would allow guests a sense of home in the Costa Rican capital.

casa 69 in san jose costa rica
Location:
Casa 69,  69 calle 25 , Barrio California, San Jose (80 meters south of the Embassy of Nicaragua, yellow house, right hand, house # 69)
Price: Starting at $45.00; breakfast included
LGBT Friendly: Definitely (gay-owned)
Digital Nomad Friendly: Iffy – Wi-Fi connection better downstairs
Amenities: Free wi-fi, complimentary breakfast, rooftop terrace with sun chairs, patio and big lounge room on the ground floor
Website: 
www.casa69.com Casa 69 on Facebook

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Notes from the Beach House: The Earthquake Edition

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This summer ended with us moving on from our housesit in Mexico, where we escaped Hurricane Ernesto, to the next housesit in Costa Rica – just in time for us to experience the long-awaited ‘Big One’. At 7.6 on the Richter scale, this earthquake was intense and lasted roughly 60 seconds, an eternity when the world is literally shaking. We had arrived the day before and were just settling in at our new beach house when we found ourselves sprinting outside barefoot across the gravel driveway with the homeowners.

For the next two months, we are caring for a house that belongs to a family of surfers from the U.S. and couldn’t feel safer considering how well the house held up in the earthquake. Not a cup, plate or picture was out of place, while some of the local houses were totally obliterated and the supermarket looked like the apocalypse.

earthquake damage costa ricaWhile life is still a beach for us, our surroundings could not be more different. Instead of the glare of the bright blue Caribbean shining at us from all angles in Mexico, now the crashing waves of the Costa Rican Pacific thunder in the distance. The house is set high on a hill, just 500m from the beach as the crow flies, but we are surrounded entirely by lush, tropical jungle. Howler monkeys eat, sleep, play and howl in the trees right by the infinity pool, waking us in the morning and entertaining us throughout the day.

A new pet has entered our lives as well. We are looking after an adorable little mutt with a Napoleon complex who most definitely thinks she runs the show. I took to her right away, but Dani was still truly heartbroken leaving our last dog in Mexico. Two months is the longest we ever spent with a pet before, but her heartbreak was more intense because they really had a very special bond.

mexico caribbean housesitTwo months was also a long time to hang out with our new Kiwi friends. We miss them a lot too, although it may have been the best thing for all of our beer bellies to stop hanging out for a while!  Down at the beach, we got into a really comfortable routine, which started at sunrise taking the dog out for a walk on the beach, and ending with snorkeling and/or dinner with the Kiwis more and more often as our housesit days dwindled.

At three weeks into our remote housesit Dani and I were suffering from cabin fever, yet after eight weeks we could have easily stayed eight weeks more.

Now, in our new home, there is one aspect of life that is infinitely better – we are back on the grid! Lights can be switched on and off freely and ceiling fans can stay on all day if we want without worrying about how many amp hours the solar batteries have or lugging out a hundred pound generator to make more electricity. Oh and the internet…After eight weeks of only 350MB of downloads per day, we are now free to surf the web at will. We can use Pinterest again (just 20 minutes on Pinterest at through 50MB of our 350MB limit, to put that into perspective), listen to Spotify radio while we work, download podcasts, and the most glorious of all – we have YouTube again! It could not feel better to be back online and on the grid. Monkeys, an infinity pool and a cute little dog don’t hurt either!

costa rica housesitLet us know if you have any questions about how we housesit around the world. We’re happy to share advice and experiences with you. 

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How much does it cost to travel through Central America?

Border Crossing Costa Rica Panama

Long-term travel is all about the benjamins. Your budget becomes your bible, how much (or little) you spend determines how long you will be able to keep up the lifestyle of constant travel. We have already posted our six-month budget and our 1-year budget, but both of these include time spent either in the U.S. or Europe, which are much more expensive and so don’t adequately reflect the cost of traveling in Central America.

This is why we wanted to write a separate post specifically breaking down the costs of traveling through this region, in order for those planning a trip to have a rough idea of how much traveling through Central America costs.

Overall Budget Breakdown

We spent exactly six months traveling through all Central American countries – Belize, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama – spending a total of $10,685.65 for both of us.

That is about $890.47 per person per month, or $30.36 per person per day (for the exact amount of days we were in Central America).

Central America moneyOriginally we had a rough goal in mind to shoot for under $1,000 per person per month, per month, but we ended up spending even less thanks to keeping a close eye on our spending. This number is the average over six months, but there were major differences in how we spent our money in the various countries, so we have also broken it down per country:

Central America travel budget breakdown per country

Belize: $54 per person per day

Belize was by far the most expensive country in Central America, but we enjoyed our time there immensely. We could have spent less here, but couldn’t pass up the adventure ops available like snorkeling and caving, which would have been much more expensive in Europe or North America. Minus the adventure, Belize would have cost around $40 per person per day.

Accommodation: $7.50 – $12.50 per person in a double room average A double room cost $25 on Caye Caulker, but only $15 in San Ignacio.
Transport: A long-distance bus from Belize City to San Ignacio near the Guatemalan border was $3.50, boats between Belize City and Caye Caulker were $10.
Food: $10 per person including beer. Beer $1.50 – $2.50.
Activities: Full day snorkeling tour $40, cave tours between $45 and $70 per person.

Belize snorkeling

Guatemala: $23.12 per person per day

We splurged constantly in Guatemala. We took advantage of the high quality international cuisine in Antigua and around Lake Atitlan, putting away pots of fondue and bottles of wine, and discovering the wonders of Israeli food. Still, we managed to spend less than $25 per person per day by staying away from overpriced tourist shuttles and keeping our booze easy and local, plus we chose budget accommodation under $10 per person in a private room.

Guatemala hostelsAccommodation: On average we spent $9 per person per night. The cheapest private room we stayed in was $4.90 per person, the most expensive was $16 per person.
Transport: Local buses cost between $0.50 and $3.
The most expensive bus we took was a night bus from Flores to Guatemala City for $29 each. After that, we only traveled by local buses and never spent more than $3.
Food: $6 – $10 per person including drinks. Beer $1 – $2.
Activities: Pacaya volcano $13, Tikal including transport & guide $30, ruins in Antigua $5

tienda Chichicastenango Guatemala

Honduras: $28.68 per person per day

Honduras can be done on the super cheap, but as we spent the Christmas holidays here, we treated ourselves to nicer hotels (maximum $25 for both of us together) and special holiday meals. Only for that reason did we end up spending more per day than Guatemala or El Salvador. We avoided the famous islands of Utila and Roatan, however, and visitors to the islands would most likely also average similar costs, as the mainland is considerably cheaper than these popular diving isles.

Accommodation: between $7.50 and $12 per person in a double room
Transport:
Buses are between $2 and $4, the most expensive bus ride was $7.
Food:
$5 – $7 per person including drink. Beer $0.60 – $1.50.
Activities: The most expensive activity was visiting the Copan ruins at $15 per person

Honduras Tegucigalpa church

El Salvador: $24.05 per person per day

Accommodation was the most expensive aspect of traveling in El Salvador – we found everything else (transport, food, drinks) super affordable. We did fall hard for pupusas; eating them every meal (almost) kept our food costs way down. In general El Salvador doesn’t have much in the way of expensive tourist sites, museums are free on certain days, and even surfing can be done for $10 to $20 per lesson.

Accommodation: $10 per person in a double room with shared bathroom, $12.50 per person in a double room with private bathroom and hot shower
Transport:
Buses are seriously cheap here, between $1 – $2, with the most expensive bus ride costing $4.
Food:
A meal was around $4 per person, including drinks (beer). Again, pupusas cost 40 cents each, and beer is usually $1.
Activities: The most expensive activity was a guided hike in Alegria for $7.50 per person.

Sunset over river El Salvador

Nicaragua: $31.81 (including the Corn Islands)/$20.76 (excluding the Corn Islands)

In Nicaragua, we treated ourselves to a well-earned splurge, and made the trip out to the Corn Islands. This raised our daily average significantly, but not everyone is going to make the trip to the Corn Islands. Without the trip, Nicaragua would have been the cheapest country in Central America for us. Even with eating out twice a day almost every day, we barely spent more than $20 per person per day.

leon hostelsAccommodation: $7.50 per person in a double room average
Transport: Buses were usually less than $1; the most expensive ride was $1.80
Food: Breakfast was between $2 and $3.50; dinner was $4 and max. $7 with beer between 50 cents and $1.20.
Activities: Movie theater tickets cost $1.90 (snacks around $1.80), daily bike rental $3.90

Horse-carriage granada nicaragua

Costa Rica: $26.62 per person per day

Rumor has it that Costa Rica is more expensive than the rest of Central America, but we had a great time and easily kept costs down. Sure, it was quite a shock to see the prices in Costa Rica after coming from super cheap Nicaragua, but they didn’t vary much from prices in Honduras or El Salvador. Spend your money wisely, and those extras such as zip-lining, guided hikes and National Park visits won’t break the bank, or put you above budget, but if you’re not careful (and you like to drink beer), it’s easy to burn through Colones in a snap. There is cheap accommodation in Costa Rica, but the quality you get for $20 here is certainly far less than in the rest of Central America.

Accommodation: $10 per person in a double room
Transport: $1.20 for short distance bus rides, $2.50 for medium-distance rides, $8.00 for long distance bus rides
Food: A meal in a restaurant or in a soda runs at around $5 to $9. Beer $2 – $3.
Culture: The National Parks in Costa Rica are exceptionally beautiful and well worth the entrance fees, which range from $10 to $20. Ziplining is around $40 from the cheapest provider in Monteverde.

Monkey Manuel Antonio Costa Rica

Panama: $35.71 per person per day

Like El Salvador, Panama also uses the U.S. Dollar, but here the inflation caused costs in Panama to be significantly higher than anywhere else in Central America. Goods and services here are often priced equally to the US thanks to a seriously large ex-pat population (especially in Panama City), but with beer still average 75 cents a bottle…who’s complaining! The islands of Bocas del Toro were above average in price, while the mountain town of Boquete was easily affordable. As a global city, Panama City is home to the finest luxury accommodation as well as 25 cent bus rides and street food for $1.

Accommodation: $10 per person per night – the cheapest accommodation was $6.50 per person in a triple room, the most expensive was $12 per person (also in a triple).
Transport: $1.50 for short-distance bus rides, $7 for medium distances, 12.50 for long distances. Inner city buses in Panama City cost between $0.25 and $0.50.
Food: A meal is between $3 and $8, depending on the location.
Culture: The Panama Canal visitor center at the Miraflores Lock is $8, a ferry ride to Taboga Island is $12 for a return ticket, and movie theater tickets are $3.

Panama Hats in Panama City

Practical information:

  • We were able to stick to our budget mainly because we used Lonely Planet’s Central America on a shoestring guidebook, which has super useful budget information for each individual country. It’s not a light book and it takes up quite a lot of space, but carrying it was well worth it for us (not only for budget tips, but also hostel recommendations, maps, and up-to-date information on how to get from A to B.)
  • We chose almost exclusively very cheap local transportation instead of the more expensive tourist shuttles.
  • We ate at cheap local restaurants but also opted for pricier tourist restaurants more often than other travelers. If you eat where the locals eat and sleep in dorm rooms, you can travel Central America on less money than we did.
  • Note that we didn’t party a lot while we were there – we know lots of backpackers who party much more in Central America than we did – so if you’re planning on going out a lot, make sure to add that to your budget.
  • Wondering what to pack for your trip to Central America? Check out our packing list for the things we can’t travel without and the gear we’ve ditched over time.

Have you traveled through Central America? If you have, what countries did you find budget-friendly? Where did you splurge? If you haven’t gone through Central America, let us know if you plan to go and if you need any budget advice.

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Hotel Tip Of The Week: Casa Valeria in Samara Beach, Costa Rica

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Welcome to our weekly Hotel Tip of The Week series. Being on the road every day of the year means we stay at countless hotels along the way. For all the dingy, disappointing budget digs, there are as many budget accommodation gems. We post one hotel tip of the week, every week, of places we feel confident recommending after having tried and tested them ourselves to show you how budget travel can be possible as well as enjoyable.

One sweltering Sunday afternoon in the landlocked town of Nicoya, Costa Rica, we stood at the bus station with hopes to get down to Montezuma, but it was late and the only direct bus driving anywhere toward the beach was headed for nearby Samara Beach. We had no idea this would become one of our favorite Central American destinations when we spontaneously hopped on and an hour later were walking up the main street, our noses sunk into our Footprint guidebook for advice on where to stay. None sounded great and by looking around most seemed far above our budget. On a whim, we checked out Casa Valeria.

Luck was with us that day, as it turns out, as we couldn’t have been more satisfied with our choice of accommodation in Samara Beach. Casa Valeria sits on one of Samara’s two main streets, which runs parallel to the beach and hosts a slew of beach front hotels and restaurants. The hotel is a bit plain compared to its neighbors when seen from the street, but as we poked our head around the large entry gate, we were pleasantly surprised by the view: five stand-alone beach-side bungalows on either side of a yard with palm trees, plenty of tables and chairs, and hammocks further down towards the beach.

Casa Valeria bungalow Samara Beach

Rather than book into a bungalow for $50, we opted for one of the two budget rooms for $30, knowing we would spend most our time out at the gorgeous beach at less than a minute walk from the door to the water. The rooms are simple, but the beds are big, clean and comfortable, the waves lull you to sleep at night quickly. Every room has a private bathroom with a hot water, fluffy towels and creative décor.

Unlike the standard hotels in the area, Casa Valeria offers a practical experience. Rather than setting up an overpriced restaurant on-site, Casa Valeria makes available a large kitchen for guest use. The kitchen is clean, and while nothing fancy, has the necessary dishes, pots, pans and silverware to cook up and serve simple but complete homemade meals. Two showers are set up in the middle for washing off the sand, and plenty of clothesline space is present, outside but well-hidden, for guests to hang their wet clothes to air dry overnight, keeping your room free of that musty half-wet swimsuit smell.

Samara beach from casa valeria

Stand Out Feature: Value for Money Bungalows

The beach bungalows are excellent value for money: for $50 per night, guests stay in a private bungalow that couldn’t get closer to the beach, and yet a five minute walk from a well-equipped supermarket and plenty of restaurants and bars.

Stand Out Feature: A spacious kitchen

The usage of a good kitchen is one of the few advantages of hostel stays compared to hotels, and even though Casa Valeria is geared more toward mid-budget travelers, the kitchen, with its large fridge and plenty of counter space, is a great way to save cash on a at least a couple of meals and certainly on coffee. For budget travelers, Costa Rica accommodation can be pricey, so a beach front hotel with its own kitchen means a couple (or two friends) can quite easily stay here for around $40 per day per couple, food included.

Casa Valeria Hammocks & bungalow

Room for improvement: Lack of Wi-fi

We almost never stay somewhere without Wi-Fi and Casa Valeria was an exception to the rule. One evening as we sat writing (and probably getting more work done without distracting gossip blogs, videos and Twitter) we overheard the son pointing us out to his mother, explaining the need to install wireless internet. His argument was convincing and we’re fairly certain that Casa Valeria will over Wi-Fi sooner rather than later.

Overall

Casa Valeria is one of the best budget beachside hotels that we have seen so far. The owners are a very friendly family who keep the hotel and the yard spotless. The extras (free coffee, clothes lines, beach showers) are the icing on the cake. Casa Valeria embodies one of those strange travel conundrums, where budget hotels at times offer much better free and guest friendly services than their luxury counterparts up the road. It is a place where you can truly forget and ‘log off’ for a week or two – right at the beach and at the same time close enough to all the delicious restaurants, juice bars, nightlife and a small, but quality supermarket to gather ingredients for some cheap and easy cooking.

Casa Valeria GardenLocation: Beach front in town, near supermarket
Price:
Double room bungalow with private bath and hot water $50, budget double room (no entire bungalow) with private bath $30
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BT Friendly: As far as we could tell, yes. Not directly discussed.
Amenities:
Kitchen, hammocks, outside sitting area, coffee & tea, kitchen with fridge, stove, books
Digital Nomad Friendly:
Not until they get wireless internet
Website:
No website, but listed with phone number here.

Sunset Samara Beach Costa Rica

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