Gallo Pinto, The Spotted Rooster

First, I just want to say, I hope that you and all yours are safe during these crazy times we are living in. When all this mess of the COVID-19 finally passes and you come to Costa Rica you have to try Gallo Pinto. Gallo Pinto Costa RicaIf you don’t try it you have not experienced the true culture of Costa Rica. What is Gallo pinto you ask? Well, it is one of the most cooked and served dishes in Costa Rica. But what is it? Why the title Spotted Rooster? Let me put your mind at ease, you won’t be eating a rooster, although rooster is pretty tasty when roasted on an open fire. Gallo Pinto is one of the national dishes of Costa Rica. There is a small feud between Costa Rica and Nicaragua about who invented Gallo Pinto, but that’s another story.

Let me tell you about my first Gallo Pinto experience. The first time I came to Costa Rica in 1999, I ended up staying in a beachfront hotel in Playa Hermosa, Guanacaste.  I arrived late and the restaurant was already closed, as the guard informed me upon check-in. So I just crashed in the room for the night. Upon waking early in the morning to the sound of monkeys in the trees, I rolled over, looked at my watch and crap, it was only 5:30 in the morning. Already fully awake, I wanted to go out and see if I could find those darn monkeys that woke me up. Since I did not get a chance to eat dinner the night before I figured on my way out of the hotel I would see what time the restaurant opens. I was famished, but the restaurant was not open yet, the same guard that checked me in the night before – what only seemed like a few hours earlier – looked fresh and alive. I wondered “did he stay up all night or did he sleep as well?” Anyway, even with my lousy Spanish I was able to find out the restaurant opens at 7:00 am.

I know you are wondering: “What about the Gallo Pinto?” Well keep reading, I am getting to it.
Playa Hermosa Guanacaste

With the hotel being beachfront ( and not being able to find those monkeys) I decided to take a walk on the soft sand of the beach. After walking the beach twice (it is only about a mile long) I decided the water looked just too inviting and decided to jump in for a swim. The water was great – warm, no big waves, perfect for swimming and playing. But I was still hungry and I was wondering is the restaurant open yet, “it has to be”, I thought.  The sun is rising fast it’s got to be close to 7:00 AM.

Leaving the clear waters of Hermosa beach I walked back to the hotel to fill my screaming belly with a hearty breakfast. Luis the server greeted me with a big smile and a welcoming “Buenos Dias”.  He invited me to take any table that works for me and would be right back with a menu. I was thinking “just let me go in the kitchen and I will whip something up myself”.

Luis came back within minutes with hot coffee and warm milk, a tall glass of orange juice and the menu. He said I will give you a minute to look over the menu, but have you ever tried a traditional Costa Rican breakfast? I did not hesitate for one second.  Being a chef at the time, and not really knowing the foods of Costa Rica as it was my first time here, I jumped in. “Sure, I will take your suggestion Luis”, I said, “but I would like to keep the menus just in case”. We both laughed.
A plate of Gallo Pinto, Costa Rica's traditional food

Enjoying the freshly brewed coffee with the warmed milk – I assumed was local – I looked at the menu and the first thing I saw was Traditional Costa Rican breakfast.  Below was written Gallo Pinto, scrambled eggs, queso, tortillas, natilla, (whatever that is) and fried plantains. Now it had me thinking “what is Gallo Pinto and this thing called natilla?” I knew the rest of the food items but not Gallo pinto and natilla. As I wrote earlier, my Spanish was not that good but I did work with a lot of guys from Cuba, Dominican Republic and Mexico back in New York, so I knew a few words. Gallo, huh, guess I will be eating some kind of chicken?? Not 100% sure, but what the heck, I was now extremely hungry.
Traditional Costa rica Breakfast with gallo PintoLuis returned with my breakfast, placed the plate in front of me and said “Provecho”. I was thinking “this looks pretty good, but where is the Gallo, or at least what I thought would be chicken”? The eggs looked perfect, softly scrambled and fluffy.  The plantains cut on a slant and fried to perfection; the tortillas looked to have been a pre-bought variety but they were tossed on the grill to add marks and heated up as well. The cheese, I assume was local, so I would for sure try it .  And, there was a small cup of a white substance, I thought it may be mayonnaise until I tasted it ( natilla is sour cream). Then there was this mound of a dark looking rice mixture, with black beans, green and red peppers, onions and what looked like chopped cilantro. Is this Gallo Pinto? It must be!
The first thing I did was grab my fork and dive straight into the rice mixture. I have to tell you, I never tasted anything like it before.  No lie, it was delicious. The rice was soft but a little crispy as well, the beans cooked to perfection still holding their shape and not hard.  The addition of the peppers onion and cilantro really married well with the rest, but there was a taste I could not quite put my finger on. I ate everything, the plate was so clean it looked like it had been licked by a dog.
Luis returned and asked “Amigo, how was your breakfast”. Great I said, but I have a question? Can I order another side of just the rice and bean dish? With a big smile, he said: “Oh you liked the Gallo Pinto”! I responded with a resounding YES it was great but there is a flavor in it I can not tell what it is. It has almost a little curry flavor to it. Luis smiled that big smile again and said I’ll be right back. Upon his return he has a small plate with more Gallo Pinto and a very small cup with this brownish/greenish stuff it in. I looked at it, then looked at him, and took one more look at the small cup and said “what is this”?
Bottle of Salsa LizanoAt this point, you could tell Luis was very proud to share the secret ingredient. He said “try it first before I tell you, dip your fork in it”, and of course I did! What a wonderful surprise, a burst of flavor across my lips and on my tongue and there was a soft, somewhat curry flavor. I did not hesitate one second, I took the small cup and proceeded to pour what was in it on the Gallo Pinto, just a few drops at first, of course, I did not want to ruin it. As I looked up Luis was gone but I could see him close to the kitchen with a bottle in his hand. As he returned, he showed me the magic juice. Salsa Lizano, the Costa Rican condiment of choice.

Needless to say, that first time experience of Gallo Pinto was great. After Breakfast I got in the car to find the closest grocery store to stock up on bottles to bring back to the US.

I enjoy it now almost every day, minus the natilla (sour cream). Living here in Costa Rica for over 12 years now, I could almost (again I emphasize ALMOST) be called a “Tico”. When you come to Costa Rica, and you will – if not you are really missing out – be sure your first breakfast is a “tipico” breakfast. I am sure there will be Gallo Pinto on the plate. Enjoy!

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Playa Hermosa, Update Costa Rica COVID-19; April 9, 2020

Hello from beautiful Playa Hermosa in Costa Rica.  First, I want to say “please be smart, be safe and be well!”. I am hoping that you and everyone you know has not been afflicted with this COVID-19 virus.  If you or someone you love has been infected, I am sending my best wishes your way.  I wanted to share and give you a small update as to what is going on in our area and the new driving restrictions that have been put in place as of today, April 9, 2020.

Make sure to watch the video at the end:

Chart of Covid-19 cases in Costa Rica
As we all know (and if you don’t your head must be in the sand) the entire world is facing this pandemic. Some countries are being hit extremely hard by the virus.  Some, like Costa Rica, a lot less. Most of this has to do with the actions taken by the government of Costa Rica. I am proud to say I am a permanent resident of this small but well-run county, and happy I am living here.

 

Details about the Spanish Flu
About 100 years ago, when the Spanish flu killed more than 2,300 people in Costa Rica, the government instituted an emergency action plan. This action plan has been updated many times over the years to reflect current conditions and demographics. Fortunately for the people of Costa Rica, the government reacted fast to limit the spread of the virus by enacting this emergency plan (note the photo – Costa Rica is at the top of the list with the least amount of fatalities).

Chart showing the growth of Coronavirus after the 100th case
As of April 8, 2020, the official count from the Ministry of Health is 502 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Costa Rica. Unfortunately, 3 people have died. The majority of the cases are in the Central Valley of Costa Rica, comprised of San Jose, Alajuela, Heredia, and Cartago.  This represents over 90% of the confirmed cases. Here in the Playa Hermosa area, especially our county of Carrillo, there have been only 2 confirmed cases.

As of the 6th of April, 2020, the government has extended the travel ban that was put in place on March 18th. They have decided to continue to keep Costa Rica’s borders closed to all nonresidents arriving at airports or through land crossings and seaports until May 1st. Flights coming into Costa Rica are also banned, except emergency airlifts. The main reason is that most of the visitors to Costa Rica come from the United States and Canada where cases are high.

Chart detailing driving restrictions in Costa Rica
This is Easter week, a huge time of celebration for the people of Costa Rica.  Costarricans love coming to the beaches of Guanacaste but the government installed strict driving restrictions.  These restrictions started Saturday the 4th and up till the 7th people can drive between 5 AM to 5 PM. Restrictions are based on the last number on the vehicle license plate. Then, starting on Wednesday the 8th, people are only allowed to drive to the grocery store, pharmacy or medical services – again depending on the day that corresponds with the last number on their license plate. Mine happens to be 1.  Yesterday was the only day this week I could go grocery shopping, and I did. The main reason the government instigated these driving restrictions was to keep the virus confined to the central valley and not let it spread out to say the Guanacaste region, where all the best beaches of the country are at least in my humble opinion.

As of yesterday, the local police forces handed out over 600 tickets to the ( excuse the expression but I can’t help myself) “IDIOTS” that did not follow the mandated driving restrictions. I want to give a big call out THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU to these men and women that are on the front lines fighting this. Along with all the doctors, nurses, hospital workers and anyone that is fighting the fight to help those in need and those infected. You have to give them credit for what they are doing to keep the spread down and protecting you and me ultimately.

Because of the driving restrictions, I will say it looks a bit like a ghost town.  Hardly any cars are on the roads. The other day when I went grocery shopping I noticed that there were only a few cars on the road.  So, for the most part, it is working! April 9, 2020, almost looks like a day in October when very few people visit Playa Hermosa.

Costa rica helping
As of today, April 9, 2020, the government has also announced that all persons in Costa Rica that have lost their job, were laid off, are self-employed or have no income because of the shut-down, whether citizen or legal resident, can apply online at www.proteger.go.cr for a financial benefit paid directly to the individual for the next three months.

All I can say, and I have said it before, I am so happy that I decided to relocate to Costa Rica and get my residency. It’s not as hard as you think, and this is a much better place to be right now. Its sure beats sitting at home in say NYC, or Edgewood KY, or Fayetteville AR or any of the other places I lived in the US of A.

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Update Costa Rica COVID-19, April 2, 2020

Boy am I glad I live in Costa Rica for this Coronavirus mess we are all in. I can’t tell you enough how proud that I am of the incredibly great job the government of Costa Rica is doing to prevent the spread of this virus. As a legal full time, permanent resident in Costa Rica, there is no other place I would rather be than here in Playa Hermosa, Guanacaste. Honestly, I can say I am so happy I am here, as a legal resident to ride this Coronavirus out. There is no place on earth I would rather be right now. I am happy I have been counseling buyers for years on the benefits of residency in Costa Rica. Many have followed this path. There are many ways to obtain it if you’re interested let’s talk! Costa Rica Resident Cedula

As of April 1, 2020, there are 375 confirmed cases of Coronavirus in Costa Rica and 2 confirmed deaths. The majority of the cases are located in the central valley around San Jose. Playas del Coco does have 2 confirmed cases.
The government lead by President Carlos Alvarado Quesada, have not sat on their hands.  They have put many smart restrictions in place to slow the growth and spread of the virus. Here is the latest information on Covid-19  in Costa Rica. Costa rica presidentCOVID 19 Costa Rica

The borders were shut down to all foreigners back on March 18th, Only citizens, legal residents, and diplomats are allowed in. Those allowed in are required to self-quarantine at home for 14 days. The borders are to be re-opened on April 12, as was originally stated, but this may be extended as well.

All social gatherings and meeting places have been closed down; schools, churches, bars, community centers, casinos even the beloved soccer field and matches, town square and the list goes on and on.

The commercial airline flights have stopped.  Last week there were a few carriers doing emergency evacuation of foreigners that wanted to return to their home country. I do not know why anyone would choose that route as they could legally stay in Costa Rica until May 17th with no immigration problems.Airplane taking off

The Government, as well as the immigration department, declared that if any resident of Costa Rica wanted to leave, they could without problems, but their residency would be canceled upon return to Costa Rica. The main reason for this is there is a very large legal population of Nicaraguans in Costa Rica and typically during Easter week, many go back to Nicaragua to celebrate the holiday. Unfortunately, the government of Nicaragua is not taking this pandemic seriously and, with fiestas planned for the Easter week, the government of Costa Rica does not want those people returning and possibly infecting more people here.

Bus waiting at the Costa Rica border

As of yesterday (April 1st), the government put in place stricter driving restrictions. Again, this is to reduce the spread of the virus. Personally I think this is a great thing.  And I practically live in my car!  With the coming Easter holiday, Ticos love the beaches, especially those from the Central Valley.  They love to come to Guanacaste to celebrate, socialize and party. Well, being a bit selfish, I do not want people coming to an area that has only 2 cases from an area that has the most confirmed cases (45.1% in the Central Valley). Call it what you will but it is a smart move on the part of the government.

Costa Rica Driving Restrictions

Of course, people are allowed on certain days to drive; to go grocery shopping, go to the pharmacy and, of course, if they are not feeling well they can visit a hospital or doctor. There are exceptions to the driving restrictions such as major suppliers and those that are on the front line like police, fireman, hospital workers and so on.

Due to the shutdown, many people are suffering already as it has only been two and a half weeks. This entire area and the local people depend on the foreign visitor and owner, from tour operators to fishing charters, dive operators, rental car companies, hotel workers, restaurants even the massage people on the beach – all are without work now.
Basket of groceries at Super Luperon in Costa RicaLast week I personally took it upon myself to help out seven local families that have become friends and welcomed me into their lives with open arms. Knowing that all my friends had lost their jobs due to this, I went grocery shopping to buy supplies like soap, diapers, beans, rice, can tuna, toothpaste, and of course the proverbial “toilet paper”. Thank God that the good people of Costa Rica are not going crazy like other places hoarding things. I also purchased from the Super Luperon grocery store 25 pre-filled bags of necessities for those that would need them in the coming weeks. The store has set up a special location for these donations. Just purchase the bag and they will distribute when needed. If you would Like to help out, please email me at JOSEPHEMANUELLI@REMAX.NET and you and I can work out some way for you to assist.
Super Luperon grocery store in Playas del CocoI am really impressed with some of the local grocery markets that are open. The local Super Luperon mentioned above, a family-owned and operated store that I shop at has a handwashing station at the door before you enter. They restrict the number of people going in, again social distancing, and they have placed an employee at the front door to make sure people follow the rules.  They even sanitize every cart before you use it and then again when you’re done. All the employees are wearing masks and disposable gloves and when checking out there are guidelines in place to keep a distance. They even offer home delivery so people stay home.  Hats off to the owners of Super Luperon!!

That’s the latest information on COVID-19. As events related to the COVID-19 pandemic progress here in Costa Rica I will do periodic updates to keep you informed as best I can. Things everyone needs to remember during this time of “crisis”: be smart, be safe, be well and always think about taking your MEDS!

Here is a video I did the day before with a short update:

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Take Your MEDS, Be Smart, Be Safe, Be Well

Many people believe that MEDS is an abbreviation for medicines. Well, it could be – I am not a doctor. But to me, MEDS stands for Meditation, Exercise, Diet, and Sleep. During these crazy times of the COVID-19 virus. It is very important for all to Be Smart, Be Safe and Be Well!!  Costa Rica MEDS
During these very stressful days of being “locked down” in your house or being “quarantined” for 14 days. Please remember to take your MEDS. To be safe is to be smart! Because when all this is over Costa Rica still wants you to come and enjoy the beauty of this wonderful country.

 

Playa Hermosa meditation
Meditation: There are many forms of meditation this could also be in the form of praying or a quiet time to yourself, it helps clear your mind and brain and will give a calming effect to the worrisome situation at hand.

 

Diagram of exercises you can do at home
Exercise: Take it from a partially fat guy, at least that was what my doctor referred to me once when he said I had to lose 10 Kilos, but that’s another story. There are many very easy ways to exercise, even if you’re trapped in your home. I am sure I do not need me to explain what to do. JUST MOVE YOUR butt and get the blood flowing. Raising your fork does not count, which leads me to the next item.

 

Fresh food you can find in Costa Rica
Diet: We are what we stuff in our mouths. If you eat lots of processed fatty stuff, guess what you will be fat like me. Or eat healthy things, lots of fruits, vegetables, natural items – not processed foods.  Sure they may taste good but they are not good for you. If it is made in a factory, don’t eat it. If it is made by mother nature enjoy it.

 

Woman sleeping with a mask on
Sleep: We all seem not to get enough of it. Sleep is meant to help the brain release and reset. If you’re not getting enough, you will feel more stress, more fatigue and overall lousy. You should aim for a minimum of seven hours, eight to nine is even better.
The cool thing about living in Costa Rica, during this crazy time, MEDS are easy to take. With thousands of locations to chill alone with no one in sight, it is easy to meditate.  Even during these crazy times, it is easy to exercise, even in my condo, while looking at the ocean. With the abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables available in Costa Rica, diet is easy to maintain. Have you ever had mango ice cream?? It is to die for. I make it with fresh mango, eggs, low-fat milk, and organic agave syrup (for the extra sweetness). Last but not least, being close to the equator means there is plenty of dark night time, about 10 hours a day, so you can get plenty of sleep.

I am going to 100% honest with you: I am taking my MEDS and I have cut out a lot of artificially processed foods from my diet. The killer was giving up sweets.  I love the stuff!  I am sleeping longer and doing a daily exercise routine. That doctor won’t call me a fat guy again!

I just love living in Costa Rica. Pura Vida!

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Coronavirus and Costa Rica’s Response

Unfortunately for many people worldwide, this Coronavirus has affected them in ways they never imagined. On a positive note, Costa Rica’s government has been diligent in taking action to protect the people of this beautiful country.

Costa Rica Minister of Health and PresidentAs I have written previously about the Coronavirus, including an update, and as a recap, the ports of entry have been closed to all foreigners up to at least April 12, 2020. Citizens and legal residents of Costa Rica are permitted in and will be quarantined for up to 14 days. They will go through a health check upon returning to the country at the point of entry and are required to give details of where they have been and where they live in Costa Rica.

Many planned events such as topes (Horse parades), festivals, sporting events, concerts, you name it, have been canceled so people are not gathering together and potentially spreading the coronavirus even further. Bars and night clubs were ordered closed. All restaurants are allowed to stay open but can only serve 50% of their total capacity.

All public and private schools are closed for the next two weeks, then there is the Semana Santa vacation, (Easter break) kids will be out of school for over 4 weeks. Many private schools have turned to on-line classes and work for students to continue their education.

As of writing this here is a link to the Costa Rica Ministry of Health website showing the confirmed cases in Costa Rica. Unfortunately, as of the 18th of March, there is one reported death. An elderly man of 87 years.

https://www.ministeriodesalud.go.cr/sobre_ministerio/prensa/img_cvd/img_datos_marzo_2020_09.jpeg

To help fight off the inevitable economic problems that will face Costa Rica, the Costa Rican Congress approved, in its first debate, the Tax Relief Project – COVID-19. Here is a rough break down of the draft.  I received this information from one of the largest and most trusted law firms in Costa Rica, Dentons Muñoz.

Deferral on the payment of Value Added Tax: Value Added Tax payments due on April, May, and June 2020, can be deferred until December 31, 2020, without the application of any interest or penalties The obligation to file Value Added Tax returns will remain unaltered.
Partial payment deferral (installments): Taxpayers will be authorized not to make partial Income Tax payments in April, May, and June 2020.  The deferral does not apply to taxpayers with a special fiscal period previously approved by the Tax Administration.  The deferral will not apply to other taxes regulated in the Income Tax Law (e.g., salary withholding, withholdings of remittances abroad, among others). Consequently, filings and payments must be made as provided by the current applicable regulations.
Deferral of the payment of Selective Consumption Tax: In the case of taxpayers registered at the Taxpayers Registry, the Project proposes a deferral of the payment of the tax for the months of April, May, and June 2020. The obligation to file the tax returns remains unaltered and the payment of the tax is postponed until December 31, 2020, without interest or charges.
Deferral of payment of customs duties: In the case of taxpayers registered in the Taxpayer Registry, they will be able to nationalize merchandise without paying tariffs during the months of April, May and June 2020.
Extension of the Deferral: Finally, the Executive Branch was authorized to extend the deferral for an additional month, to have tax payments due in July be paid by December 31, 2020.
Exemption on commercial leases: An exemption from the payment of 13% of the Value Added Tax was approved for the months of April, May, and June 2020, for the leases paid in commercial activities, as long as the lessor and lessee are registered at the Taxpayers Registry.

Validity: The publication is expected to take place by the end of the month, in which case, the measures listed above would enter into force in April. For this initiative to become a law, Congress must vote this a second time which is expected today March 19, 2020.

More updates to come. Be safe, be smart!! This shall pass.

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Update: COVID-19 Costa Rica

Hello from beautiful Playa Hermosa, Guanacaste, Costa Rica. With all the talk and concerns of the Coronavirus, world-wide, Costa Rica is taking steps to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.  Here is an update on the Coronavirus, aka COVID-19) in Costa Rica.

COVID-19 in Costa Rica
I received the information below from a reputable Costa Rican law firm specializing in immigration. This information, for residents and non-residents of Costa Rica, covers new immigration procedures put into effect because of the COVID-19 virus. Especially for those that may be in the process of obtaining their residency.

COVID-19 Costa Rica
I highly recommend that if you are in the process of obtaining your residency in Costa Rica, to contact the firm you are working with to be up to date on the status of your residency application.
The President of Costa Rica, Carlos Alvarado Quesada, along with the central government is taking the COVID-19 issue very seriously.  They have issued a decree that put travel restrictions at all borders. Land, air and sea ports of entry, will be closed off to all foreigners, starting the 18th of March at 11:59 PM and will continue through at least Sunday, April 12 at 11:59 p.m.

Citizens and legal residents returning to Costa Rica will be allowed in but will be quarantined for 14 days during this same time period. As of writing this, those that will be quarantined will need to disclose where they live in Costa Rica to the immigration officials at the entry points.

From Outlier Legal Services:
The Immigration Department issued this evening, Monday, March 16, 2020, Resolution N° DJUR-043-03-2019-JM, which, in summary, states:
• The Immigration Department WILL NOT receive Residency applications going forward and until May 17, 2020. This includes all categories. Basically, Residency applications are suspended until May 17, 2020.
• Consequently, documents that will expire within this period will be deemed valid (meaning their validity will be automatically extended) until July 17, 2020.
• Exigencies will not be raised by the Department until July 17, 2020.
• The Immigration Department will continue analyzing applications during this time. Hopefully, it will give them time to catch up on delayed work.
• Approvals and rejections will continue to be issued and notified solely via fax or email only.
• The exclusive attorney window used by many professionals to follow up on applications will remain closed until May 17, 2020.
• DIMEX requests: Will work solely through Banco de Costa Rica and Correos de Costa Rica by APPOINTMENT ONLY. Residencies based on marriage to a Costa Rican national can and will only be renewed at Immigration. Therefore, these will be suspended and may be processed between May 17 and July 17, 2020. If any of the other categories cannot be renewed through Banco de Costa Rica or Correos de Costa Rica, applicants will have until July 17, 2020, to process their renewals.
• Entry visas for Restricted Nationalities are suspended until May 17, 2020.
• Tourists (non-Residents) who entered the country after December 17, 2019, may legally remain in Costa Rica until May 17, 2020.
• Minor’s exit permit requests and issuance of Costa Rican passports will continue to work, as normal.

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Driving in Costa Rica

What is it like to drive in Costa Rica? Exciting, nerve-wracking, scary, maybe dangerous, but never boring. At times you will feel like you are on a roller coaster; at times you will feel like you are in a video game. Driving here can be intimidating for a visitor. But it gives you the freedom that you won’t have when riding a bus.

Driving in Costa RicaA valid driver’s license from your home country is all you need to drive in Costa Rica. Always have your passport or a copy of it handy just in case you get pulled over. There is no need for an international driver’s license. Yours will be good as long as your stay is less than 3 months. Check your passport entry stamp for the exact date.

In Costa Rica, we drive on the right-hand side and most rules of the road are similar to those in North America. Speed limits are posted in kilometers per hour. Seat belts are required. That said, rules are not enforced much. As a result, they are not obeyed much either. For example, in rural areas especially seat belts go unused, a parent’s lap is the child seat, and passenger limits are often exceeded. Police checkpoints are common, but usually, they only check your passport, license, and registration.

Costa RicaRoad conditions vary from well-paved, multi-lane highways and two-lane roads to pothole-filled dirt roads that cross rivers. Four-wheel drive is recommended if you plan to visit remote areas.

 

Driving in Costa Rica can be a challenge because roads and highways are not well marked. They have numbers according to the map or GPS, but signage is almost non-existent unless you are on some of the major highways. Therefore, I highly recommended that you use GPS or the wifi on your phone to connect to a mapping program. The app Waze is excellent–I use it at times.  It’s very popular here because it takes into account traffic and construction as well as comments from fellow travelers about current conditions. It is easy to download and set up.Costa Rica Highways

 

 

 

 

Not everyone has a car in Costa Rica.  A lot of people get around on bicycles and on foot. What does this have to do with driving in Costa Rica you ask?   Well, keep reading.

Pedestrians are extremely comfortable walking alongside the road—or even down the middle of it! Beware of kids walking to school, mothers pushing strollers, and the family dog walking abreast—not single file—alongside a busy highway. It is especially dangerous at night when people are wearing dark clothes. They feel confident because they can see you with your bright headlights just fine, but they have no idea how invisible they are to as you are blinded by the glare of an oncoming car and hurtling along at 50 mph.

There are also a lot of motorcycles on the road since they are more economical and are not impeded by heavy traffic. Be aware, though, that motorcyclists seem to believe they are above the law and possibly even immortal. Especially in the busy traffic environment of San Jose, you need to be alert to motorcycle behavior. They weave and squeeze between cars, so thoroughly check your side mirrors before changing lanes.

Hazard lights are kind of a get-out-of-jail-free card here. If a driver wants to stop in the middle of the road and talk to a friend in the other lane, they just put on their hazard lights and you can’t complain (“Hey! Didn’t you see my hazards?”). They may use them to let you know there is a problem up ahead, and that is more helpful. Turn signals are sometimes used by someone in front of you to let you know you can pass them, but that could also be a dangerous misunderstanding!

Unsafe passing is a national pastime here. NEVER think someone won’t pass because of a solid line or zero visibility. There is nothing you can do about it except stay alert and cautious. And never assume it can’t happen.

In the event of an accident, call 911 and your rental car company. Be sure to not move the car, even if it is blocking traffic. The police will arrive and record all pertinent information, and your rental car company will bring you a replacement.

The good news is all gasoline stations are full service! And the price per liter is set by the government, so there is no need to shop around for the lowest price. Gas stations take cash or credit cards, but make sure to check the charge on your printed receipt against the amount on the pump before you sign it just in case the attendant decides to include a generous tip.

Now you are ready to hit the road. Driving in Costa Rica can be interesting. Don’t be intimidated, it will be OK.
Gentlemen, start your engines!

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Is Costa Rica Safe for Visitors?

Is Costa Rica safe?  Unfortunately, there is no where in the world where you can say you will be 100% safe, 100% of the time. In the U.S., unlike Costa Rica, children are not safe even at school. And if there is little or no crime in the area where you live, there are still natural dangers—tornados, floods, fires—that rob you of complete peace of mind.

That said, however, Costa Rica is safe in general, and it can be considered VERY safe if you take reasonable common sense precautions.

Here are some things that are very safe in Costa Rica:

1. Water is potable everywhere in Costa Rica. That is, unless you are buried in the jungle somewhere and your only water source is a mud puddle. Then maybe not so much. But everywhere else, Costa Rican water is clean and tasty, except for some strange reason in the San Jose airport water fountains—yuck!

2. Food offered in restaurants will not make you sick. Costa Ricans are sticklers for cleanliness. However, I am not making any promises about roadside stands where proper refrigeration of perishables may be lacking.

3. Unless you are sleeping overnight deep in the aforementioned jungle, you will not be attacked by wild animals. Big cats and snakes wisely avoid populated areas; attacks by the former are unheard of and by the latter very rare.

4. The government will not be overthrown during your visit. Costa Rica experiences almost no civil unrest. It abolished its army in 1949, and protests and marches take place rather quietly.

The criminal activity that blights most Latin American countries is also prevalent in Costa Rica, although to a much lesser degree that most of its Central American neighbors. Pick pocketing and petty theft are common here, but chances are you will be able to enjoy your vacation without incident if you take these precautions:

1. Beaches. Swimming in Costa Rica is safe owing to almost no incidents of shark attacks, jellyfish flotillas, or red tides. Beaches where the currents are strong (surfers love those!) and where riptides are possible are well marked. Read up on what to do if you feel the current taking you out. Here is a good Link to Read. Stay calm and you will be fine. If worried about it Come to Playa Hermosa, Guanacaste, you won’t have that issue. By and large, Costa Rica’s beaches are safe from forms of personal assault, but petty theft of belongings is common. Do not leave your things unattended on the beach while you are playing in the waves! Park your car in sight or in guarded parking areas. Even then, do not leave valuables in sight in your car. However, don’t make a big, noisy show of moving everything to the trunk, either. Trunks are not impregnable! It is better to leave your valuables back at your rental villa or hotel when you are traveling around.

2. Do not carry a lot of cash or wear expensive jewelry. Carry a copy of your passport and leave the real one in a safe place at your residence. Conversely, carry a credit card but leave copies of your cards back home so you will have the card number and customer information in case your card is lost or stolen.

3. Use good judgement after dark. Do not walk around alone, and if you need directions, ask persons in lighted establishments, not someone sleeping under a tree. Do not accept help from persons who approach you. Better yet, take a taxi—the red or orange ones are licensed and safe. Frankly, if you are wandering around alone on dark streets after midnight, you are on your own. I can’t help you.

4. Don’t use the overhead shelves on buses. People can easily take your bag when exiting the bus while you are looking out the window. If your bag is too big to fit at your feet or on your lap, store it in the luggage compartment under the bus and ask for a ticket.

5. When you get back to your condo from the beach, you may want to leave all your wet stuff drying outside your condo. This is not a good idea if your porch or balcony can be accessed by others or if you are on the ground floor. If you do leave things outside, make sure you bring everything in before going out for the evening or going to bed.

6. Just say “No” to drugs anywhere anytime.  They are never worth it.

So, is Costa Rica safe?  Yes! Costa Rica can be a very safe place to visit and live. If you are from a small town in rural USA, you will have to take precautions you are not used to. But if you do, then Costa Rica can be the paradise of your dreams.

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Coronavirus and Costa Rica

Although the spread of the coronavirus is of serious to concern to the world’s citizens, it is a relief to know that as of last week on Monday, Jan. 27, 2020, the Health Ministry announced that Costa Rica does not have any suspected cases of the deadly virus.

Corona Virus Map

Here is a link to a world map that is updated daily showing areas affected and number of people that have this horrid virus. You can see that Costa Rica is free of the virus.

https://gisanddata.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/bda7594740fd40299423467b48e9ecf6

Protocols have been established for public and private health centers to follow in the event of a suspected case of the virus, reports the English-language newspaper The Tico Times. These protocols stipulate that the infected person(s) will be quarantined and all people with whom they have come in contact in the days prior to the onset of symptoms will also be examined. Previous viruses were processed according to these protocols, namely the AH1N1 and SARS viruses, and an epidemic was avoided.

No Coronavirus in Costa Rica

Costa Rica has no direct flights from China, so passengers are not being screened at the airports at this time.

The virus emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in the Hubei province. According to WebMD, symptoms of coronavirus are similar to any other upper-respiratory infection, including runny nose, cough, sore throat, and sometimes fever, making detection tricky. However, as the virus advances it can cause pneumonia, acute respiratory syndrome and kidney failure. Persons who have recently returned from a trip to China should keep a careful eye on their health and seek medical attention should any of the initial symptoms appear. Immediately inform the attending medical personnel of your recent travels.  Be aware of the symptoms and be safe.

coronavirus

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Butterflies of Costa Rica

Something you will notice in Costa Rica is that there are butterflies everywhere! Unless you are in the concrete jungle of downtown San Jose, it is unlikely that a single day will pass without seeing a butterfly.

Butterflies of Costa Rica

One guidebook says that “there are more butterflies in this tiny country than in the entire United States.” There are more than 1,200 different types of butterflies fluttering around Costa Rica—18% of the world’s species and 90% of the species found in Central America.

Morpho Butterfly costa rica

One of the largest and most beautiful butterflies in Costa Rica is the Blue Morpho. The intense royal blue of its 8-inch wingspan seems lit from within. But the striking iridescence of its wings is not due to a metallic pigment of some sort. The glowing blue is actually produced by some pretty ingenious engineering. Rows of tiny concave surfaces on the wings reflect light in various ways, resulting in a final mix called “structural color” because the complex way in which it is produced.  In the case of the Morpho, the structure of its wings singles out the blue spectrum of light and Voila! Wings that glow neon blue.

Playa Hermosa Butterfly

Butterfly wings are so fragile that even the weight of specks of dust or drips of moisture could make flying difficult. But far from looking like they are struggling to stay afloat, butterflies glide effortlessly. What is the secret? Though appearing smooth to the naked eye, the wing surface is covered with minute overlapping scales that resemble tiles on a roof. Grooves on the surface of these scales cause dirt and drips of water to roll off with ease. As a result, butterfly wings are always clean and dry.

Costa Rica Owl butterfly

Another of the largest of Costa Rica’s butterflies is the Owl Butterfly. This nocturnal butterfly owes its name to the giant spots on its wings that resemble an owl’s eyes. It lives in lowland forests and feeds on fermenting fruits.

 

 

Costa Rica

The Variable Cracker Butterfly can be hard to spot because its intricately patterned wings in beiges and browns camouflage it as it rests on trees and branches. This butterfly’s name comes from the snapping sound it makes with its wings when defending its territory and during courtship rituals.

 

Glass winged

There are 64 different types of the Glass Wing Butterfly in Costa Rica, and they have habitats on both coasts. They all share the unique feature of transparent wings outlined or spotted with color. Some are so see-through that they are actually difficult to spot!

 

 

The Malachite Butterfly has green, blue and gold patterned wings similar to the colors of the mineral malachite. Their delicate coloring and dainty flight contradict their strong dietary choices that include decaying fruit, deceased animals, and bat droppings.
Butterfly gardens are a great place to learn more about butterflies and interact with them. Most have large enclosures where you will be immediately captivated by a kaleidoscope of dazzling colors floating and fluttering around you.

 

Just a short drive from Playa Hermosa at the El Diamante Eco Adventure park, you will find a great many of these beautiful creatures in a natural setting. Diamante is known for its world-class habitat designs that address the needs of each species. The unique design of the habitats allows guests to view and learn about key aspects of biology, ecology and natural history of the animals.

The Butterfly Observatory, located in the Arenal Volcano area, is an education and research center that hosts the largest butterfly exhibit in Costa Rica. They offer a tour of the facility led by a very knowledgeable guide. There is also a lovely nature trail.

The Monteverde Butterfly Gardens are open every day of the year, 8:30-4:30. The one-hour guided tour through the facility alive with fluttering butterflies is incredible. You will have the opportunity to see the most stunning species up close since they often come to rest on your shoulder or outstretched arm.

The butterfly enclosure at La Paz Waterfall Gardens is a chance to enter a paradisaic garden where hundreds of butterflies flit around you to the sound of new age jazz. There are also hundreds of chrysalises in various stages of metamorphosis. If you are patient, you can watch a butterfly emerge from its chrysalis, unfold its wings as the sunlight dries them, and fly away. The on-site laboratory breeds 25 native species, making it a perfect place to experience all the different stages of a butterfly’s short life.

The Butterfly Farm in La Guacima was the first of its kind in Costa Rica and has the biggest export operation in the country. Each month it exports 4000-6000 harvested pupae (cocoon or chrysalis) to other butterfly gardens and institutions around the world. Tours of the farm are offered daily, and here too you can learn about the life cycle of butterflies and the native species of Costa Rica.

So when coming to Costa Rica, make time to go to one of the listed above butterfly farms you won’t be disappointed. “Happiness is like a butterfly,” said author Nathaniel Hawthorne. “When pursued, it is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will set down quietly, may alight upon you.” May that be your experience in Costa Rica. As you sit quietly, may both butterflies and happiness alight upon you.

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