Planning our Unexpected Trial-Retirement in Beautiful Costa Rica

Change of Plans

Like most people, I always want to be in control. As we all know life has ways to throw unexpected hurdles along your way. For this reason, I make sure that I arrive wherever I need to be as early as I can, and that I am equipped with a plan B in case something falls apart. Things happen. The sooner you accept this and avoid resisting it, the better you would be.

This is true with the best of plans A, B, C, Y and Z. You can have all your ducks in a row, but you are still human, the future is beyond your foresight, there are things you will miss and greater powers that you are unable to conquer.

Trying to make the most out of an unexpected hurdle.

That is what I felt when we arrived at the country of our next trial retirement. We fought hard, but it is simply not for us. Months of researching the optimal ways to spend our budget, organizing, and purchasing every detail of our stay, down the toilet in a single flush. We were miserable, frustrated, sleep deprived and tired at the same time. We could have just given up, head home to plan the next one and gone back to work as usual, but this is our time, our trial-retirement. We will do our best to turn it around. We will not be deterred.

Flight

Focusing all the strength and sanity we still had left; we combed the internet for the non-existent Plan B. We went back to our “cheap places to retire” list, checked requirements, flights costs, and their covid-19 situation, desperately trying to go anywhere but home.

While sitting in the arrivals floor by the baggage carousel, we booked a flight to our next trial-retirement with few nights at a hotel, just hours before departure. Hoping to get some rest, regroup and do months-worth of planning in a few days. Using every ounce of energy left in our weary bodies, we dragged ourselves on the plane that took us to beautiful Costa Rica.

Budget: $615 (Roundtrip for 2)

Know before you go

According to the most recent guideline (Feb 2020) you can enter Costa Rica without a visa granting that,

  • You have a passport valid for at least 3 months
  • You have a return ticket to leave Costa Rica – Maximum stay of 90 days
  • Choose your nationality on this link to know more about your situation.

Covid-10 measures

  • Vaccination record with the last dose completed 14 days prior to the flight or proof of Travel insurance
  • Fill out a form online called Pase de Salud before checking in to your flight.

Lodging

This time we will not be staying in one town, unlike what we did in Mexico, but we still want to slow-travel so we chose three cities frequented by tourists and early retirees. Heredia near the capital San Jose, Tamarindo at the North Pacific coast, and La Fortuna near the Arenal volcano.

We will stay in hotels to see the city of San Jose (4 days upon arrival and 4 days before we leave), drive up to explore the flora and fauna surrounding Arenal volcano for 12 days, and have fun in the sun at the beaches of Tamarindo.

Budget: $1600

Going around

All kinds of warnings are posted all over the internet and at the airport. Visitors are encouraged not to leave personal belongings in plain sight or in the car, not to walk in the city after dark and to be always mindful of their things and surroundings while travelling.

Common sense practices that I knew having worked and lived in the Philippines. I simply need to reawaken my sense of vigilance and to accept that if I leave my things lying around it is up for grabs.

According to our guide, buses are not up to date with regards to making reservations ahead of time. We would have better chance getting a ride waiting on a bus stop. This would be a hassle to us because of the amount of luggage we are carrying, also I have read that theft happens in buses. Private shuttles would be easier and safer but more expensive.

The best option for us is to rent a car. Driving distance between our chosen cities average to about 3 to 4 hours one way. I have seen videos that following some rules are optional here and drivers have different attitudes. If driving practices would be the same as the Philippines, I am hoping we will be alright.

Budget: $850 (Rental and Gas)

Food

Even on vacations our taste buds do not change. We tend to eat rice dishes as our main meal. We are open to trying typical dishes of regions where we visit, but our tummy refused to be satisfied without a cup or more of rice in it. When we bought groceries, we always get the same snacks we buy in the U.S. Old habits die hard as they say.

But we will have limited ability to cook our rice meals in this trip. The rooms we booked in San Jose and La Fortuna does not have a kitchen. Therefore, most of our meals will be eating out in restaurants and cafes around town.

Eating out every meal each day would make a huge dent on our budget and so we came up with a plan.

  • To eat light breakfast at home (toast, cereal, fruits)
  • To share a meal for lunch and dinner
  • To get small snacks in between meals

The cost of eating out, grabbing a cup of coffee, and getting groceries is not much cheaper compared to the U.S. Lunch for two at restaurants comes up to $40, a cup of coffee is about $5 and a cart full of groceries totaled $70. It would be a challenge, but if we work hard to stick to the plan, we can still eat healthy and be on top of our budget.

Grocery Budget: $300

Eat Out Budget: $700

Tours

Costa Rica is the most visited country in Central America. Not surprising because it offers a wide array of ecosystem filled with diverse wildlife. Tourism is one of the locals’ reliable sources of living.

From the time we landed at the airport, taxi and shuttle operators offered to take us wherever we want to go. Even the hotel’s shuttle driver told us that he gives private tours better than most agencies. He promised to come up with a day tour for a hefty price of $240 each day per person.

On our trip to Oaxaca Mexico last spring, we promised ourselves to just take the tours to avoid the hassle of finding ourselves in the middle of nowhere, but this time the cost of doing so is cost prohibitive.

We kindly declined most offers to avoid running out of money during our stay. We don’t want to be stuck in the hotel binge watching Netflix for the rest of our trip.

We still talked to travel agencies to get an idea of what is included in the day trips they offer. Then, we researched ticket prices for each stop and cost of restaurants nearby so we can create our own package.

Budget: $400

Shopping

We did not find anything that captured our interests in the markets. This is good because that would keep us on top of our already strained budget. We walked around souvenir shops and decided to just get our usual fridge magnet, shirts and Costa Rican coffee to take back home.

Budget: $200

Mobile Plan

Our initial plan was to get a local SIM immediately upon arrival, but the incident that happened on our flight out of the U.S. stressed us out. My wife and I got separated in a foreign airport with no Wi-Fi. We could not clearly speak with airport staff with the Spanish we know, more so we did not know what was going on with each other.

Before our new flight, we each got roaming credits, just in case something unexpected happens again. I have learned that we should always do this on our future trial-retirements. You will never know what will happen while travelling and airport Wi-Fi is not always reliable.

Roaming: $50 (for 2 phones)

Local SIM: $35 (for 2 phones)

Self-care

Costa Rica has five beautiful and active volcanoes. Locals capitalized heavily on the tourism that this marvel of nature brings, from sightseeing tours, hiking trails, to our favorite hot springs.

Just around Arenal Volcano, there are 12 hot springs that costs from $0 up to upwards of $90 to enter. Owners built resorts around the area, and they offer package that comprises accommodation, access to springs, lunch or dinner, and discounted massage.

Our trial-retirement would not be complete without a bit of pampering on our sore and overworked muscles. We will not indulge all the way by going to deluxe resorts, but we want to try good-rated ones and of course the free ones.

Budget: $250

Other Expenses

Laundry Budget: $130 ($3 per kilo)

Covid-19 Test: $140 ($50 – $70 each test)

Total Budget

We both saved $160 each week since we got back home 6 months ago having a total of $3840 to spend for this trial-retirement. Due to unforeseen events that forced changes to our plans we have to increase our budget to $5340. Exceeding it by $1500. If we implement tactics to keep our spending low while still enjoying our time, I am hoping to come a little bit closer to our initial budget.

It has been a few days since we arrived in Costa Rica. So far Ticos (Costa Ricans) had been nice, trying to accommodate our attempts to communicate with them in Spanish. We talked to locals who were willing to share tips on how to move around, must see tourist destinations and some of the hidden gems.

We are looking forward to spending time in nature, sitting in local cafes to know each town, the locals and capturing moments that would make this unexpected trip one of the best happy accidents in our financial independence journey.

Please check out our video below to know more about the general requirements to visit Costa Rica and our first week in San Jose city. We would appreciate very much your comments and suggestions on how to make our trial-retirement in Costa Rica fun and budget friendly. Hasta luego!

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