Saturday, March 31, 2007

Coffee at it's Finest in Costa Rica

It's Saturday which makes me think of sitting around with some fresh brewed coffee. Are you a coffee drinker? Have you tried coffee from Costa Rica? MMMM! It's good!

We've travelled a lot and I have to admit that one of the tests I use to determine if I like a place is the coffee. I was really looking forward to the coffee in Rome, but because it's so hard to get used to standing up and "gulping" down your coffee so the next person can order at the bar that I wasn't thrilled with the experience. Funny thing is one of the best cups of coffee I've ever had was in the hotel lobby of the Radisson in Helsinki, Finland. Wow! I'm not sure what made it so great but Patrick agrees with me. We were only in Helsinki for a day (on our way to St Petersburg) but we bought some coffee in the airport on the way home and that was tops too!

It's also good to remember that the best places for coffee tend to be those where it is actually grown. Costa Rica has several growing areas near their volcanoes. I still haven't found any of their coffee bad. Even the cheap stuff. In the Central Market there is a "stall" called Moka that sells about four or five different varieties of coffee. They scoop it out of bins and bag it while you watch. I've tried all but the shade grown and even the one they sell for 2400 colones a kilo (less than $5 for 2.2lbs) is really good.

Don't get sucked into buying Cafe Britt coffee while in Costa Rica. Yes, it is good and I wouldn't turn down a cup, but some of the other companies are just as good if not better. They just aren't marketed as well. Cafe Britt is pushed into the face of the tourist and has several gift shops at the airport so tourists are forced to buy Cafe Britt if they didn't buy coffee elsewhere before leaving the country.

Anyway, time to go enjoy my cup of joe.

Cafe Moka, Robert's (Finland), Cafe Leyenda chocolate cappuccino (excellent flavored coffee found in grocery stores in Costa Rica)

Friday, March 30, 2007

Driving in Costa Rica

So, I bet you were wondering if you should rent a car in Costa Rica when you visit. Don't do it! Especially if it is your first visit. There are several reasons I say this.

One, it is very hard to find your way around in Costa Rica. Nothing is marked so you won't find many street signs. Also, places don't have addresses. Literally, I'm not just saying this. The entire country is based on directions not street addresses. For example, the house you are looking for may be 200 meters north and 300 meters west of the Banco Nacional. Okay you say, where is the Banco Nacional? Only the locals know! Also, there are many towns with the same names but in different provinces. So, you might be looking for San Isidro. Are you looking for the one in Heredia, Cartago, or maybe San Isidro de El General in North Puntarenas?

Two, the driving in Costa Rica is much different than in the States. They do have rules of the road but don't always count on them being followed. The most common driving difference is not stopping at the STOP signs. They usually treat them more like a yield signal. The traffic lights aren't always obeyed either so people are flying through red lights all the time. People driving on the shoulder of the highway is typical also.

Three, it isn't safe to leave a car parked in most places. There are people who will break into cars parked on the streets or even in parking lots all across the country. Make sure if you are parking a car that it is in a secure lot or you pay one of the "security" people that watch cars for a living in San Jose. They wear yellow and red vests that look like construction workers. You give them about 500 colones and they will make sure no one breaks into or steals your car. Surprisingly, they are very good at their jobs and well worth the investment. I would still be careful to not leave expensive items sitting out in the open to tempt anyone...

Because of these reasons, the best choice is to take a taxi or bus. I wouldn't normally recommend a taxi but they are very reasonably priced in Costa Rica. Prices go up slightly for rush hour from the airport and after 10pm but they are still worthwhile. Another tip is to check to see if you can get airport pickup from your hotel. I've noticed that most hotels offer this service. Also, there are CHEAP buses travelling all over the country. They are very convenient and the only advice I would give is to watch your luggage. We did have our backpack stolen while at the bus stop in Jaco and the kids that took it were definitely pros. (more on that story later).

In November, we paid exactly 1355 colones (about $2.64) to get from San Jose to Jaco (beach city on the Pacific coast). Then 750 colones (about $1.46) to go from Jaco to Quepos. To get to Manuel Antonio park from Quepos bus station was 105 colones (about 20 cents). The entire twelve days we took taxis and buses all over the country plus rented a car for 3 days and it came to $206. The car rental company wanted to charge us $576 for the 12 day stay! I'm glad I made the right choice and said a very firm "No way!" to the rental company. I didn't realize that they charge a mandated insurance rate. Even if you have car insurance in the States AND you use a credit card as a third party insurance coverage, the country of Costa Rica insists you have their insurance. The cheapest rate I have seen for this is $10 per day. Check around for rates if you do decide you need to rent a car. By the way, our realtor insisted we used our rental or he would charge us a per day rate to drive us around. So, check into this also if you are buying real estate in CR.

Here is a good online map of the San Jose area :

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Patience in Costa Rica -part two

As I've said before, I'm new to blogging. So, that being said, I'm confused why my last post is dated Wednesday when it didn't actually become posted until Saturday? Sure I started it on Wednesday, but it was not finished and "added" until Saturday. Well, whatever. I'm over it. Just know that I realize that I am behind in posts and I'm sorry my posts have been so few and far between.

I've been busy packing and making trips to Salvation Army. It's harder than I thought to decide what to take with us and what to give away or sell. I've never had a garage sale before so I'm not sure if it's worth trying to sell our things or not. I suppose it can't hurt to try, though.

We signed the paperwork for our loan so that is a done deal now. Although, we still don't know if we'll get the house or not. Our realtor called again last night and assured us the owner is doing everything he can to sell us the house. He met with his lawyer yesterday but we're not really sure what they did to get us closer to owning the place. Patience...

Now that we're back on the subject let me explain a little more about patience in Costa Rica. The people in Costa Rica are not time driven like we are in the States. They are event oriented. They are pleased when they accomplish their goal for the day no matter what time that may happen. So for example, they need to pay their bills that day. They head out when they are ready and as long as they are home by dinner they are happy. And since I've heard that it "could" take all day at the bank because the lines are so long, I guess that IS an accomplishment! I hear it's good to always have a book with you!

Also, don't expect to meet your friends in Costa Rica at a specific time. Again, since they are event oriented, you should be happy that they show up and not be concerned that they may be an hour or more late.

Something else to know about Ticos, they hate to tell you something you don't want to hear. So, when asking directions, ask more than one person because the first person you ask may not know where the building or street is located but instead of telling you they don't know they will point you in one direction or another. To them, they aren't telling a lie -maybe a little "white lie" but it is better than disappointing you by saying they don't know.

Be patient and all will be fine!

Anyone know someone who might be interested in buying our duplex in NE Minneapolis? Here is the information on Craig's list:

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Life in Costa Rica - being patient

Well, I started this post on Wednesday but wasn't able to finish it and a lot has happened since then. We may or may not have lost the house. We might not know until May 10th if it is ours or not. I don't want to explain the situation but trust me when I say that I am not happy or satisfied with this decision. Since the post I started on Wednesday is about patience, it is very fitting. So I will publish what I started Wednesday:

Welcome to Wednesday! (This is how I greet Azure every morning when I wake her up. Then I give her a big hug to start the day.)

Our wire transfer still hasn't reached the bank in Costa Rica (we sent it Friday). I've been told by several people that this is typical. A wire transfer can take up to a week and if you try to write a check to your bank in Costa Rica to transfer funds from the States to your CR bank, it can take 6 weeks! Actually, the money will be deducted from your bank in the States but won't show up in your account in CR until much later. So in essence, your money is in limbo. What's up with that?

Which brings me to today's topic. Patience. I am not a very patient person. But on the other hand, when I know I will have to wait for something, I can handle it much better.

Knowing that I have to wait until May to find out if we will own the house we thought we already purchased is beyond my current capabilities. I feel like I am going crazy. One minute I am mad and the next sad...

The thing is that we don't have a second home picked out that we all agree upon. One house that could be a possibility is too far up the mountain and seemed cold- we would have to have a fire every night to stay warm. Another one had a strange layout that was funky to me but Patrick thought it too strange to be able to resell it later. Another one we continue to call the "dog house" had a HUGE yard but the owners allow all the stray dogs in the neighborhood to hang out in their house. It wouldn't be so bad maybe if they would clean their house but they don't and I am highly allergic to dogs so I couldn't even enter it to see what it was like inside.

I have company this weekend- my Mom is here to help pack. So, I will write more about life in Costa Rica tomorrow because patience is a subject that must be covered in more depth!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Update to shopping in Costa Rica

Over the weekend, I received a comment from a reader regarding my post on shopping in Costa Rica. He said that because Costa Rica receives a lot of tourism I should be able to find items I need in the touristy areas. I have a feeling he didn't read any of my other posts or the description of my blog (what do you think?). We are moving to Costa Rica -not just visiting.

Regarding shopping in Costa Rica, the items I am concerned about buying down there are not really "touristy" types of purchases. Like for instance, can I buy a reliable gas grill in Costa Rica without paying a fortune? Hipermas has a couple in their flyer for $173.65-399.82. That seems really expensive to me. After searching Bizrate, the same Coleman grill advertised at Hipermas for $399.82 is $135.99 at the low end up to $196.90 at the high end. So, it would seem after this little interlude for research that I should definitely buy my gas grill here in the States before moving to Costa Rica because I will save at least $200.

But now we come to another complication, we've gotten quotes for shipping a 20ft container down to Costa Rica and the prices seemed reasonable. Keep in mind that we need to fill two houses full of furniture and appliances (Ticos take their appliances with them when they move because they are so expensive to purchase). Well, we passed a truck hauling a container on the highway the other day and it sure seemed smaller than I remembered. I started wondering if everything really would fit in the container. After using an online form to evaluate the size of our potential move, it appears we will have more items than will fit in the container! I think this is hilarious and troublesome at the same time. Originally I didn't think we would even fill the 20ft container and now it appears we need to get a 40ft container instead. LOL!

I think it is time for another song!
"Peace of Mind"

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Shopping in Costa Rica

Several of my friends and relatives continue to ask what we will and won't be able to purchase in Costa Rica. It seems that some people forget that Costa Rica is a third world country and others don't realize that it is becoming more American by the day (which I'm not necessarily happy about).

Yes, it will be difficult to find some of the name brand items we as Americans tend to consume without thought. Yet, it's not so backward like some countries we have visited where it is difficult to find toilet paper let alone a napkin when you need it (Morocco and Turkey).

I have found myself wondering what we should buy here in the States to take with us in case we can't find it in CR. Luckily, I have found the website for Hipermas. This store is partially owned by Wal-Mart and when looking at the ads, you can tell. So, I feel much more comfortable knowing that almost anything we desire can actually be found in CR.

Check out the website for yourself. I know it is in Spanish but with the flyers it is easy to get a feel for the store and products available:

Also, use the currency converter found here:
to change Costa Rica colones into dollars (or any other currency).

Friday, March 16, 2007

Buy your appliances in the States

We went shopping this afternoon for appliances to take with us to Costa Rica. I just wanted to make a quick note of things to keep in mind if moving to CR.

The electricity there is the same as here but the Ticos (as the locals are called) don't use as many big appliances as we do in the States. Which means you need to be aware of how many outlets your house has, especially 220 volt for say a dishwasher...

We are short an outlet for a dishwasher so we are purchasing a movable one since it works on 110v AND there is no room for an under the counter model. We also probably need to get stackable washer and dryer due to lack of space in the laundry room (many of the Tico homes we viewed had their laundry facilities outside the home).

Of course, one way around this problem would be to only consider buying American standard homes but the price jump is huge for the convenience (and it isn't that important to us!). Our priority was land with privacy over American standard fixtures.

Oh yeah, we are moving everything down to CR instead of buying it there due to expense to ship vs. buy down there seems to lean toward us doing it that way. We saw basic stoves and other appliances for about 3k at the mall in Heredia compared to $600 at Best Buy here. Plus, we have been told the parts used in the States are far superior to those used in CR.

Ok, to close, I have to share my new favorite music site. Pandora allows you to create your own radio station based on your favorite artists/music types. Try it out here:

new day new info


We are one step closer to owning our house after wiring a down payment today. Hooray!

I would love to share with everyone the real estate company we have been using, but I am afraid that someone may see our house on the website and decide to put in their own offer. So until I am 100% positive that the house is ours, I am not willing to post info about that company.

What I am willing to share today is the website to the school Azure will be attending in late July. After spending time with the principal, we are confident we have made the right choice in moving to Costa Rica. The name of the school is the European School of Costa Rica:

By the way, something I forgot to mention is the fact that the majority of the English speaking private schools we were investigating are located in the Central Valley of Costa Rica. Which means we won't be living by the beach quite yet, but we are within two hour drive to either coast so we will definitely be spending weekends there.

If you need a smile today, check out one of my new favorite songs by Belle and Sebastian Click here for the MP3 file called "Funny Little Frog".

Thursday, March 15, 2007

So, it's obvious this is my first time blogging so please give me time to grow...

Since this blog is about our family move to Costa Rica, I'm guessing it would probably help to know a little bit about us to help explain our situation. We currently live in Minnesota and are tired of the L-O-N-G winters. We love to travel and have been to many different countries. I always tend to say "I love it here! Wouldn't it be great to live here". Anyway, after visiting Costa Rica last year February, I knew that I had found perfection. Costa Rica is beautiful and the people are super nice and helpful. There is also plenty to keep us busy on the weekends and during school breaks (more info on that to follow).

The plan was to move after our daughter, ten years old at the time, would graduate from high school. Well, as time went by and none of us could get Costa Rica out of our head, I started researching the schools. I found that several private schools were accredited in the US and they didn't cost as much as I expected. So, we planned our next visit to look for homes and tour some schools.

By that time, we also found out about the ARCR (Association of Residents of Costa Rica). This group helps people relocate to Costa Rica. If you are thinking about the move, you should definitely check them out:

After our third visit to Costa Rica, we now have a school picked out and hopefully a house to move into. More about the moving process in my subsequent blogs.

Hello world!

I'm done threatening to post about Costa Rica. Here it is -like it or not. I've read a ton about moving to and living in Costa Rica and I can never find exactly what I am looking for so I've decided to do it myself. I'm sure it won't live up to everyone's expectations but I've learned that nothing does or does it? cuz I forget ;-)

So, the main purpose of this blog site is to keep all our family and friends in the loop of our move and then our final destination of Costa Rica.

We will be moving shortly after Summerfest in Milwaukee (July). Summerfest will be celebrating their 40th anniversary and we wouldn't miss it for the world! For those of you who have never been to Summerfest, you NEED to check it out:
there is enough music, food, sun, & fun for everyone! (as we like to say)

Here are some photos of the house we will hopefully own by next week

the bottom photo is the main house and the first one is a view of the guest house from the balcony of the main house (over looking the nearby coffee fields)