Costa Rica Renewable Energy Sources

Costa Rica renewable energy comes from 5 different sources: hydro-power (78%), wind (10%), geothermal (10%), biomass and solar (1%). Recently, the country went 271 days without burning fossil fuels for electricity. More than 99% of Costa Rica’s electricity is produce this way.

As a country, Costa Rica has a geographical advantage over others because of its high concentration per capita of rivers, dams, and volcanoes. Additionally, we come in fourth place worldwide for rainfall with an average of 115 inches of precipitation per year. The rain fall depends on the region–areas to the south and east tend to get substantially more than the Pacific Northwest and the Playa Hermosa area. Plus, we, as I include myself as this is now my permanent home, are a smallish nation with a population of only 5 million and no major industries requiring strong energy infrastructure; hence the lower energy demand.

Costa Rica renewable energy from Hydroelectric Dam

Costa Rica’s largest dams include the Lake Arenal Dam, Lake Cachi Dam, Rio Marcho Dam, Pirris Dam and the Reventazon Dam. Lake Arenal provides enough electricity to power 12% of the country. The other dams are all powered by the Reventazon River and its tributaries. The Reventazon is now the largest hydroelectric project in Central America.


Rincon de la Vieja Costa rica

Guanacaste province is home to another source of Costa Rica renewable energy, namely geothermal fields powered by the subterranean heat of the Miravalles, Rincon de la Vieja, and Tenorio volcanoes. It is a cool concept but costly to get started: Drilling large tunnels into the core of the volcano, extracting the steam which turns the turbines to create electricity. Then the byproduct–water–is pumped back down into the volcano to reheat and make more steam.

Costa Rica wind power windmills

Windmills are becoming a common sight in Costa Rica. Wind power is primarily used in Costa Rica during the months of December to March. These particularly windy months coincide with a period of decreased rainfall which decreases hydropower output, making wind power the perfect stand-in.

Electric car in Costa Rica

However, the country’s demand for oil is actually growing because of its gasoline-dependent transportation sector. According to Costa Rica’s State of the Region report, the country has approximately 287 cars per 1,000 people, surpassing both the world and Latin American average. In a recent year, more vehicles were registered than births. In a previous blog, I mentioned what the government is doing to promote the purchase and/or importation of electric cars to reduce the carbon footprint.

Solar panels installed in Costa Rica
What Costa Rica renewable energy options  are available to you, the homeowner? Being located near the equator, Costa Rica has a high amount of sunny days during the entire year, so the country has a huge solar power potential. This is especially true in the drier (read: sunnier) region of Guanacaste, where energy consumption due to air conditioning is high.

Solar power would seem to be a no-brainer. So, why doesn’t everyone have a solar panel on their roof? Solar power has been pushed aside due to political concerns that home-generated power would cut into the state electricity company’s (ICE’s) profits, on which they have a monopoly.

But wouldn’t the cost of installing solar panels be more than the cost of paying your electric bill? Only at first, maybe? It has been estimated that the cost of installing solar panels on a typical 1200 square foot house would be recouped in 5 years through energy savings. Though ICE will not buy your power from you, they will “bank” it for you to use when your consumption exceeds your generation, effectively zeroing out your electric bill from the start. After 5 years, you will be living scott-free, as far as electric bills go.

That said, there are a lot of conflicting thoughts out there on the subject. Some think it is the greatest thing since white bread, until they have to purchase more panels or new batteries and the 5 year payback ends up being much longer. Only time will tell if solar is the way to go. And not to leave out, the waters are further muddied by sales pitches and marketing, so do your research and calculate accordingly.

People enjoying Costa Rica's natural energy on the beach - the sun

In the meantime, use Costa Rica’s natural resources to fuel your happiness: bask in the sun, bathe in the water, let the wind fill your sails, and soak in the hot springs. You will find yourself re-energized without the need for Costa Rica renewable energy!

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Costa Rica Nicaragua Border Crossing for the Perpetual Tourist

Costa Rica immigration law allows visitors to stay up to 90 days. However, non-residents are required to leave the country at the end of that period. After a brief stay outside Costa Rica’s borders, they are allowed to return for another 90 day period. Some who choose to live in Costa Rica make a run to the Costa Rica Nicaragua border every 3 months for years. These individuals are what the Costa Rica Immigration department calls perpetual tourists.

Costa Rica Nicaragua borderIs this legal? Well, really no, sometimes it is a necessity when waiting for your Costa Rica resident paperwork to be approved by the immigration department. Do I recommend this? Actually NO! If you decide to make Costa Rica your permanent residence, start the process before moving here. If you need assistance email me at and I can assist you.
For those that still want to be a perpetual tourist continue reading this step by step guide to the process of crossing the Costa Rica Nicaragua border at Penas Blancas and back on foot. It will get you to the border, tell you what you need to leave Costa Rica and enter Nicaragua and vice versa, all the fees involved, and finally some safety tips.

You can drive your rental car to the border but that is as far as you can go since rental cars are not allowed to cross the border. There is a house right at the border where the family that lives there will watch your car for $3-5 per day. Do not leave any valuables inside.

Perpetual Tourist Costa Rica

You can take the Transbasa public bus to the border from Liberia which leaves every 45 minutes 5:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. If you are planning to spend a few days in Nicaragua, you can take a Ticabus and you will do the border crossing with the bus. That process will not be described here–you simply follow the instructions given to the passengers.
To cross the Costa Rica Nicaragua border, you will need a valid passport that is not within 6 months of expiring, a receipt of payment of the Costa Rica exit tax, a plane or bus ticket dated at the most 90 days in advance, and small US bills ($1 and $5).
Upon arrival at the border, you must pay an $8 exit tax. All the tax offices are on your right as you face the border and are well-marked by signage.
Walk towards the border, passing by the lines of trucks and vehicles and enter the Costa Rica exit office. There is usually not a lot of people in line. Hand you passport and exit tax receipt to the officer. He may or may not ask you questions, such as where you are staying.

Playa Hermosa Boarder run
After exiting the office, you will walk a few hundred yards toward the Nicaragua Entrance Office. Along the way you will pass through checkpoints where they will check for the Costa Rican exit stamp in your passport. The officers are generally friendly–don’t be frightened! Continue to follow the signs leading you to the Nicaraguan Immigration office, a modern white office building. You will pass buy lots of vendors and persons offering to “help”; it is best to just keep walking. DO NOT USE their “service” as it is illegal and the stamps you get could be bogus.

After entering the air-conditioned immigration office, you will need to pay a $12 tax to the immigration officer who takes your passport. After stamping it, you will receive a receipt for safe-keeping. He will ask you where you are staying in Nicaragua. Your bags will be put through a scanner and, after collecting them, you are officially in Nicaragua! Outside the building there are restaurants, taxis, and a bus stop.

Bus at Costa Rica Boarder

Costa Rica requires you to be outside the country 72 hours in order to re-enter with duty free items, as you are allowed up to $500.00 duty free every six months. If you’re just getting a passport stamp for another 90-day tourist visa, you just may want to go to lunch and return. San Juan del Sur is only a 30-minute cab ride and should not cost more than $35.00, so this is a good time to get to know our neighbor to the north. Other popular destinations are colonial Granada, or metropolitan Managua, even Lake Nicaragua.

Costa Rica BoarderTo re-enter Costa Rica, the process is basically the same, just reversed. Upon entering the Nicaraguan immigration office, you will pay a $1 municipality tax at a small booth on your right, and then $2 to the exit officer who checks your passport. Once again you walk along the main road towards the Costa Rica Nicaragua border, and once again there will be checkpoints. Enter the right side of the Costa Rica Immigration office and prepare to stand in line anywhere from 20 minutes to 3 hours (if there are big bus groups). When you get to the window, you will need to present a plane or bus ticket that shows you will be leaving Costa Rica within 90 days. If you do not have either, you can buy a bus ticket to Nicaragua for about $25 at a booth nearby. Upon being shown proof of departure, the officer will stamp your passport. Before leaving the window, make sure the stamp says 90 days. Then retrieve your luggage after it has been sent through the scanner and Bienvenido! You are back in Costa Rica for another 3 months!

A few words of caution are in order. You will be approached by persons offering to help you, some even say they will do it for free. Of course, it will never be for free. This is not a complicated process. You are completely capable of doing it yourself, and no one can streamline it for you any more than it already is. NEVER give your passport to someone. A few people may be making an honest living “helping out”, but there are many scams and con artists out there, and you cannot possibly know which is which (they don’t wear signs). So just view the process as an adventure and enjoy! If you are traveling alone, join up with others going through, as there is often more ‘safety in numbers.”


Costa Rica ImmigrationOr you can avoid all these headaches every 3 month and just apply for your residency. There are many benefits to it. Contact me if you would like more information.

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