I’m glad we visited Costa Rica! Even though it was on our list of countries to consider, we had never actually been there. It was a great visit, but we are not leaving Panama.
We only saw Golfito, about an hour from the Panama Border, and Puerta Jimenez, a short boat ride beyond that so my opinions only relate to this limited experience in the country.
Costa Rica is a gorgeous place. I was surprised at how different it looked as soon as we crossed the border. Joel says it makes him think of Jurassic Park because it is so untouched and jungle-wild looking. There is a lot less cleared land and most areas are thick with trees and vegetation. There also seem to be more hills and mountains. Golfito has barely enough room for a town between the hills and the water, and the hills are covered with huge trees, plants, and flowers. We saw monkeys in Puerta Jimenez, and spectacular scarlet macaws flying wild in both places, and I know that’s only a small part of the wildlife. I can certainly see why people rave about the natural beauty of the country and I am looking forward to seeing more of it.
It looks like life is harder in Costa Rica and there is more poverty. The cost of living is definitely higher. We saw it on our own trips to the supermarket, and people I talked to confirmed this. People in this area often go to the border to shop because the Panama prices make it well worth the trip. We saw some nice homes, but we also saw people living in very poor conditions, even squatters with homes made of scraps and no water or electricity. I saw less pride in appearance – often very casual to tattered clothing and bare feet. We were warned not to talk with people because a friendly or helpful person was most likely doing it to hit you up for some money, or worse. That was a change for me, coming from Panama where everyone talks to everyone and helps each other without a second thought.
We were also warned by multiple people to be careful of theft. Keep valuables out of sight and secured at all times, and carry as few valuables as possible. We talked with the manager of our villa and one of the staff members and heard stories about dogs being poisoned, people using poles to grab what they could through barred windows, and other such stories which wouldn’t make Gulfito an appealing place for us to live.
Puerta Jiminez seemed different. We only talked with a couple men there, but they told us that crime is rare and their town is safe and quiet. It also looked and felt more comfortable to us. We are anxious to go back and spend some more time there but just for a vacation not as a possible place to live. It’s too small and far from the city things that we prefer.
I know there are many other places to visit in Costa Rica, and experiences to be had, and other thoughts to be developed but this is what I think after my first short visit there. It’s beautiful and has a lot of great things to offer, and though we don’t want to live there, we are happy that it is so close so we can easily visit.
We are currently making plans to go back to Puerta Jimenez the first week of December, and perhaps explore a bit farther into the country as well. So, we were impressed enough to want to go back almost immediately!
I’ve received a few questions about the bus, where we stayed, etc. so stay tuned and another post will be coming on those topics.