This year, Costa Rica is celebrating the bicentennial of its independence from Guatemala on October 29th, 1821. Costa Rica is expecting to start festivities September 15th (though we assume a lot depends on Covid-19 vaccinations). If you’ve been planning to visit what many consider a paradise, this fall may be the perfect time!
Visas: No visa required for up to 90 days, however you must have proof of health insurance and complete the online Health Pass.
Currency: 1 CAD = 483.06 colones (Costa Rican colón)
Things to Read:
A Kid’s Guide to Costa Rica by Jack L. Roberts
The Umbrella by Jan Brett
Pura Vida Mae! by Buffie Biddle
Cocorí by Joaquín Gutiérrez
The Forever Forest: Kids Save a Tropical Treasure by Kristin Joy Pratt-Serafini
Fernando’s Gift / El Regalo de Fernando by Douglas Keister
Famous authors of Costa Rica:
You will recognize Carmen Lyra from her place on the twenty thousand colones! She was the first prominent female writer in Costa Rica, the founder of the first Montessori school in Costa Rica, and the co-founder of the Communist Party in Costa Rica. She fought against the monopoly of the fruit companies.
Manuel Arguello Mora, Joaquin Garcia Monge, Carmen Naranjo, and Carlos Luis Fallas are other prominent Costa Rican authors.
Phrases to Know:
Pura Vida! – Translates to “pure life,” used as greeting, as thanks, or a way to describe a relaxed situation
Ticos – Costa Ricans
Mae – dude, or friendly name between friends
Soda – Not a soft drink! This means a lunch spot serving typical Tico food.
Tuanis – Awesome, cool
Detras del palo – Literally translates to “behind the tree,” means “you don’t know what you are talking about!”
Miando fuera del tarro – “taking the pee out of the can” (?!?) Used the same as above ^_^
Que pega – “hat a stick,” annoying
Lava huevos – “wash the eggs,” suck up to somebody
Tico Spanish differs from México or España! Find more Tico slang on My Tan Feet.
Stuff to See:
Costa Rica is famous for its incredibly diverse ecosystems, its beautiful beaches, its excellent surfing conditions and extreme sports, its commitment to green energy, and for its friendly culture.
Tourism has become a significant contributor to the economy of Costa Rica! Therefore, tourists from around the world will find a range of activities and accommodations to meet their interests.
We travelled to Costa Rica for a two-week trip about five years ago. We spent a week on the Caribbean coast in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca and the following week in Arenal. Puerto Viejo is a small, laid-back town with beaches that are black from the volcanic rocks. We stayed at Cashew Hill Jungle Lodge. They had several cabanas with closed-in bedrooms but open “rancho” style kitchens and living spaces decorated in unique nature themes. It has changed ownership now and is primarily for yoga classes and retreats (AmaSer). Fantastic space though! We enjoyed eating at Bread & Chocolate regularly and at the amazing restaurant that was just word-of-mouth and served fish that was caught earlier that day. You can get a tour of cocoa and coffee production at Carib Beans, visit a sloth sanctuary, and see many animals at the Jaguar Rescue Centre.
Five years later, Arenal and its La Fortuna volcano are still one of the most popular destinations in Costa Rica. Puerto Viejo has developed quite rapidly. It doesn’t seem to have the same small-town vibe as it once did. Much like Sámara and Tamarindo, for example, some places in Costa Rica are gringo party towns. If that’s what you want, cool. However, if you are more interested in a quiet escape or learning about nature, you may do well to look elsewhere.
The biggest cities with airports are San José and Liberia. Watch for cruise ship ports, such as Limon.
National Parks such as Manual Antonio and Tortuguero offer guided tours to see sloths, monkeys, or crocodiles. Other parks like Ostional are protected refuges for sea turtles and a good place for whale watching. The cloud forests of Monteverde are popular destinations for observing nature from a canopy walk. The Nicoya Peninsula offers beaches, surfing, turtles and whale watching, and caves. Make sure you have 4 wheel drive!
Check out Endless Summer II (1994) to compare with modern day Tamarindo!
Again, My Tan Feet is an excellent resource. Check out their list of 50 things to do in Costa Rica!
Places to Sleep:
There is a wide range of accommodations available, everything from hostels to high-end luxury resorts. Airbnb and VRBO both have listings in Costa Rica. We did enjoy the Aloft in San José, cool heat reacting gel elevator floors!
From September 2020 to January 2021 our kids went to in-person school in Ottawa. The school board did a fantastic job keeping cohorts separate! Our daughter had one positive covid case at her public school. The bus route and class for that student were cancelled for two weeks, which successfully stopped any spread into the school population. Our son’s high school had quite a few positive cases but was also successful in preventing any outbreaks at the school! Excellent! Both kids adapted well to virtual school when the region went into lockdown during the second wave.
In addition, Ottawa Public Health has done an excellent job communicating effectively to the community. They have been working with the local hospitals to monitor the city waste water as a secondary way to assess Covid rates in the community. Fascinating!
Following our last post in October, we eventually settled on a possible scenario. Rather than travelling around the world as a family for 10 months and visit 24 countries, we would instead pivot into “Canadian snow bird” mode and visit one country long-term.
Costa Rica quickly become the front-runner for us. Thailand and Vietnam were also excellent options due to their robust Covid action plans. In the end, we chose Costa Rica as we had been there before and therefore knew what to expect.
Costa Rica opened its borders in August 2020, then removed testing and quarantining restrictions for international travellers in October 2020. Even with the reduced restrictions, their Covid rates remained at a plateau from October onward. We monitored the rates for the weeks following the Christmas break and also found them the same. From what we could tell, most American and Canadian travellers who were looking to go somewhere warm for Christmas opted for Mexico. Almost one million in Cancún alone over the Christmas break?!
Costa Rica has a helpful break-down of entry requirements here.
Since health insurance from Ontario Blue Cross or other international companies like World Nomad did not fulfill the country’s lodging requirements, we used one of the suggested Costa Rican companies instead.
We rented a car from Adobe (a local company) via the travel blog My Tan Feet in order to benefit from their discount. A rental car with 4-wheel drive was essential for our remote location.
We found a home for rent via VRBO which sits on the edge of the Pacific Ocean!
We packed light and flew to Costa Rica in January, returning to Canada in the summer.
Our family goals are to practice our Spanish, to be outside in the sun and fresh air daily, and to learn as much as we can about nature. Our daughter is pretty obsessed with reptiles at present! We have questions about the tides, astronomy, and the flora and fauna.
We also know that the Canadian government has made changes in regards to re-entry. The government has worked with the Canadian airlines to cancel all flights to “sun destinations.” This means the most popular Canadian destinations of Mexico and the Caribbean. However, it applies to Costa Rica as well. We knew that we would have to present a negative Covid test for our return to Canada. Now we will also have to quarantine in a hotel upon arrival rather than at home. Makes sense, this is what many other countries do as well!
Unfortunately, this blog will not be used for its intended purpose. Man, that trip was going to be epic! Instead, this blog will just be us living, maybe documenting what we have been learning, and hopefully still “having fun right now.”
We previously posted about our well-thought out, detailed, and frankly fantastic 2020-2021 family around-the-world trip plan. Spreadsheets! Research! Well-greased cogs in a perfectly coordinated machine!
A post covid travel plan resembles a grade four science fair project with still wet school glue… Something held together temporarily with chewing gum… Flying in a plane while building it!
In other words, you hope for the best but expect it to fall apart at any time.
Jbot spent a few hours this morning working on a spreadsheet to help us plan for future travel. He started by collecting data on various destinations that are open for Canadian tourists. For example, he created columns for the total number of covid cases, tests, and deaths. If the country was worse than Canada their cell was coloured red, if better their cell was green.
That gave us a good starting visual representation.
Next, he created a quick column on the average cost of living in comparison with Canada, again color coded red or green.
Finally, we looked at the rules that each destination has in regards to quarantines and tests. These are highly variable and will most likely change again. Some countries require a negative covid test three days before arrival, for example, some two days prior, and others don’t require any prior testing at all. One country even had a requirement for 10 days prior?! Many places test tourists at the airport, but not all. Some require 14 day quarantines, some do not. Some have rules about getting second tests a certain number of days after arrival…
You get the picture. The rules are all over the place! We’ll need to be vigilant about keeping updated.
We will still need to research flights, weather/climate, and insurance. But our quick n’ dirty plan of the day is:
Cuba – 1 month
Costa Rica – 1 month
Thailand – minimum 90 days for long-stay tourist visa
Europe – 3 months max for Schengen area
Previously, our main attractions were Japan and New Zealand. They are still very much closed to Canadian tourists. But the Olympics are on the horizon and New Zealand has just opened their border with Australia this week. Fingers crossed!
We are also keeping an eye on which countries are allowing Americans in… Maybe avoid those ones?
The future is very much a giant fog we will keep trying to find what lighthouses we can.
That was unanticipated.
I mean, we had planned on getting sick, getting robbed, or random natural disasters…
But not this.
I was doing okay when I started cancelling our reservations for the Mexico leg of our trip that was planned for August. I did that in late March. However, after getting an email from the Hobbiton movie set this week advising us that they would be closed in September, I have to say I got pretty bummed. Celebrating our son’s birthday at Hobbiton on the same day as Bilbo and Frodo’s birthday was going to be really special.
What can we do? No point stressing over things that are out of our control. We are healthy and managing well. Let’s focus on the positive and what we can do.
I think the kids will go to physical school in the fall. Again, not 100% sure but that is what we are guessing. In that case, our son can do one semester of grade 9 in a physical school and grab any credits he hasn’t completed at Virtual High School. No big deal. The fancy IB program school says that we can’t go on their wait list as we missed their deadlines. C’est la vie.
Maybe things will be okay for travel again in February? Maybe?
Maybe we’ll just travel Canada in an RV? Maybe?
I can honestly say with all sincerity, I DO NOT KNOW.
Things may open up slowly but then who knows what different countries will plan for traveller requirements… There are just so many variables that are impossible to logistically plan around.
I sold one thing on Kijiji, tapping elbows with a stranger, before covid-19 was declared a pandemic. My to-do list of further items to sell has been put aside. My list of things to pack for storage also is paused.
Probably our biggest worry is that our lease for our car is done at the end of July. We’ll need to figure out some sort of temporary solution to tide us over til….. whenever?
In the meantime, homeschool, Just Dance marathons, and lots of video games around here!
After five years of saving and planning for our family’s world trip, it seems that an excruciatingly small thing might curtail some of our intentions. The Novel Coronavirus, properly known as SARS-CoV-2 (which causes the disease COVID-19) has become a
near pandemic, causing panic in some parts of the world. Entire countries have begun restricting its populace from travel (like Italy). I travel a lot for work, and it’s been a busy week postponing or outright cancelling work trips for myself and other colleagues. Colleagues hoping for vactions this spring — to places like Mexico, Italy and Spain — are now planning for staycations or simpler trips to in-country destinations.
So what about our world trip? It’s not a big surprise to say that we’ve definitely been paying close attention to the news. Having said that, we’ve gone ahead and firmly booked the first two-or-so months of our travel. Mexico, New Zealand and most of Australia are now paid for (nearly $10,000!). But we’ve stopped there as we’re waiting to see what happens with Asia, and, in particular, Japan with its slightly older population (on average) and the hosting of a massive worldwide event in a few months.
Here’s a video from someone who recently traveled to Da Nang, Vietnam, and the real world experience she’s having:
There’s a lot of talk about the spread of the virus slowing or halting in the summer. Sure, historically, many viruses do slow down during the warmer months, but that does not mean that SARS-CoV-2 will follow the same path. If we avoid media rhetoric and look at actual experts (like Harvard’s Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics), the virus may slow, but that will not stop the spread. But worse for my family – we’re only talking about the Northern Hemisphere. Our trip will be taking us to parts of the world where winter will actually be taking place in August. It will be an average of 10 degrees Celcius when we visit New Zealand, for example. This might be a good reason for us to avoid much of the Southern Hemisphere (think Africa and South America) during their summers.
With all that said, are we necessarily worried? A little. Are we stockpiling toilet paper like other people seem to be? No. First of all, we know the virus doesn’t cause diarrhea (it’s a respiratory disease), but secondly we have a bidet. But what about the trip? I’m not worried about the virus itself — we’re young and healthy so we shouldn’t be terribly impacted, medically speaking — but we might have to avoid travel if a country’s borders are closed or if a country has decided to shut down all of their main tourist activities/festivals/etc. There’s no point spending thousands to visit a place when there’s nothing to do. Of course, if we do get sick, then we’ll have to self-quarantine in whatever country we’re in, which could severely impact the next stages of our travel. Even if some calculations estimate up to 70% of the world will catch this virus, I’d rather minimize our spread of it, if at all possible.
In the end, and to answer questions from family and friends, we’re definitely keeping the spread of the virus on our minds as we continue to plan for the trip. We will regularly watch the appropriate travel authority websites of the countries we’re visiting. And, finally, we’re continuing to teach our kids proper hygiene by enjoying websites like Wash Your Lyrics or watching amazing videos like this one from Vietnam:
Travel Advisories: Canada, United States Visa: Travel visa not required for less than 90 days. You should have your outward ticket, accommodations, and proof of sufficient funds organized. Vaccines: Yellow fever is not required, you may want to consider Japanese encephalitis.
Currency: 1 CAD = 84.30 JPY (2020.01.18) A quick way to convert is to just take the last two zeros off of the Japanese price, should get you close enough.
Things to Read:
- A Manga Lover’s Guide to Tokyo Travel Guide – by Evangeline Neo
- Cool Japan Guide: Fun in the Land of Manga, Lucky Cats and Ramen – by Abby Denson
- Hachiko Waits by Leslea Newman
- The Last Kappa of Old Japan: A Magical Journey of Two Friends by Sunny Seki
- Magic Ramen: The Story of Momofuku Ando by Andrea Wang
- The Beckoning Cat by Koko Nishizuka
- I live in Tokyo by Mari Takabayashi
Phrases to Know:
- Sumisen – “Excuse me.”
- Hai, wakarimashita – “Yes, I understand.”
- Dōmo arigatō – “Thank you very much!” Domo can also be used as a casual way of saying “hi!”
- Arigatou gozaimasu – “Thank you.”
- Onegaishimasu – “Please.”
I feel like, growing up in Canada, we are exposed to Spanish a lot more than languages from Asia and Southeast Asia. Probably all of that American tv… Living in Japan for a few weeks feels much more challenging than living in Mexico. At least we know some Spanish numbers and how to say yes or no!
Life Where I’m From shares some good advice about ordering food with little to no command of the language:
Stuff to See:
- Tokyo – Studio Ghibli Museum (advance tickets required)
- Tokyo – Robot Restaurant (advance tickets required)
- Tokyo – Imperial Palace (surrounding gardens open to public)
- Tokyo – Disneyland + DisneySea (Touring Plans and TDR Explorer guides). We’ll be using our experience planning a Disney World trip here!
- Tokyo – Ueno – National Museum, Museum of Nature & Science, Zoo, Shitamachi Museum, the Metropolitan Art Museum, and the National Museum of Western Art. Not to mention, the beautiful park itself, the pond, and the temples! You can get a “Ueno Welcome Passport” at any Tourist Information Centre for 2000 yen. This gives you admission to many attractions plus a cool passport, a map, and a stamp game. (Without the pass the attractions cost about 4770 yen.)
- Tokyo – Odaiba – Miraikan (National Museum of Emerging Science and Technology) looks really great! There are lots of attractions for kids in Odaiba, like Legoland, which our kids have kind of aged out of, Joypolis, Leisure Land, the giant Gundam statue, weird techno art installations at Team Lab Borderless, and the, ahem, poop museum. Oedo-Onsen-Monogatari (hot spring baths) is also a popular attraction in Odaiba.
- Akihabara, Shinjuku, Harajuku in the Shibuya district…. Phew! So many neighbourhoods in this mega-city! That’s 13 million people in the core and 37 million in the metropolis, in case you were curious. This is the biggest city in the world!
- Kyoto – Temples! Palaces! Gardens! Time to knock 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites off your to-do list baby! I’m hoping that we can see Kyoto with fall leaves?
- Animals – Deer in Nara Park, rabbit island (Ōkunoshima), and cat island (Ao Island). And don’t forget Hachikō!
- We plan on travelling to Osaka to feast on delicious food. I love the fun, oversized signage at some of the restaurants.
- We’re not really sure how much the 8 year-old will understand about Hiroshima but we plan on going nonetheless.
- We plan on crossing at Fukuoka to travel to South Korea by ferry.
The Hangry By Nature Youtube channel has been helpful for us in planning:
PLACES TO SLEEP:
Life Where I’m From shares an excellent break down of the different accommodation options to consider on a trip to Japan:
- Hikari House (Shinjuku)
- Hotel Mystays Asakusa-bashi (Asakusa)
- Sotetsu Fresa Inn Higashi Shinjuku (Shinjuku)
- K’s House Tokyo, hostel in Taito City (Asakusa) with family rooms. Second Tokyo location has less choice of rooms. There are several other K’s Houses throughout Japan.
- Hana Hostel – locations in Fukuoka, Osaka, and Kyoto. Rooms with private bathroom are available.
We took the kids out for ramen this past weekend. Oh my goodness! What a hit! Their excitement for travelling to Japan is “over infinite and the scale broke,” as TRex says.
Even though our travel dates are still seven months away, MegaMommy and I are gripped with excitement. We want to travel now. Of course, we can’t for many reasons, one of which is the fact that we need to do something about our house (the other being I don’t want to get fired for not showing up to work!). At this point, we’re assuming we’ll need to rent our house unfurnished, which basically means we need to pack and store everything. Again. Then in a year, move and unpack everything. Again. Didn’t we just move less than two years ago?
So the question that comes to my mind is, what should we store? Is it worth storing T-Rex’s stuffies? G-Man’s Legos? My (now ancient) gaming computer? Although it would be fun to just “leave everything behind” and travel, it would be nice — especially for the kids — to come home to familiar things. (And there’s no way MegaMommy would ditch her record collection.)
There’s obviously no perfect solution to this problem, but I’m leaning towards the following rules:
- Anything that costs more to store than it would be to (easily) replace should go. This means, if we’re talking about a 10×20 storage unit that’s CDN$275 a month (for example), any 2 cu. ft. box worth of stuff that’s less than $20 needs to be culled. I’m rounding up quite a bit since I’m factoring in oddly shaped items (e.g., furniture) and the fact that temperature controlled storage units need extra space to breathe.
- Anything that’s old and worn (and has no sentimental value) should go. It’s probably time I replace those winter gloves with a big tear in it (the tear that’s been there for three years now). This 9 year old laptop I’m currently typing on, partially held together by duct tape, might also be a contender.
- Old clothes need to go. I have a feeling it would be nice to get back to our daily lives (and school and work) with fresh styles.
- Things we haven’t used since we moved 1.5 years ago are gone. If we haven’t touched them for that long, why pay money to store them for another year? Certain sentimental things excluded, of course.
- Things that could be useful to friends or family should go to them temporarily or even permanently (e.g., our trampoline). Same goes with donations. If that item could go to a family in need, why have it waste away in a storage unit?
- Foods and liquids are obvious no-gos for storage.
Considering, as I said, we recently moved, there shouldn’t be too much to sell/donate/throw out but it’s still a process we need to follow. Next question: Is it too early to start packing?
Our to-do list is getting tackled this week! We have an appointment with a travel clinic to begin the vaccinations we’ll need, we have a possible property manager coming to the house for an assessment, and we have an appointment with AirTreks in order to compare their price for our itinerary. The kids just got their new passports… It’s getting real!
One small item on the list was to take a class for driving a car with manual transmission, or “learn how to drive stick.” ProShift looks like one of the best local options here in Ottawa. I don’t know how much this will be needed to be honest. Will we be renting a car in Europe? We’ll most likely just get a Eurorail pass. And lots of Southeast Asian countries will most likely see us renting a scooter rather than a manual car.
Supposedly, it only takes a few lessons to get the hang of stick shift. But you know what really scares me? The countries that drive on the “wrong” side of the road!!
Looking at you Australia, New Zealand, UK, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Singapore, and Malaysia!
South America was, at one point, a destination in our travel planning. Therefore, I researched various places, such as Argentina, Peru, and Chile, in order to make country profiles. I don’t think we’ll need to use them for our 2020/2021 trip. Fingers crossed for a trip to South America in the future!
However, during my research I kept coming across the possibility of “altitude sickness.” I was kind of surprised. I thought that was only an issue if you were climbing mountains or something? Silly Canadian. Visiting Machu Picchu is climbing a mountain!
However, the possibility of altitude sickness, or at minimum a negative reaction to thinner air levels, came up as a possibility in guide books to Mexico City as well. I was curious. What are the altitudes of our travel destinations?
My son GMan has been really loving using Desmos for his grade 9 math class. I asked him to whip up the following chart to show the elevation data that I found for each travel destination:
We found that almost all of our travel destinations are below 100 m of elevation. This also includes our home city of Ottawa! The exceptions are places such as Munich (519 m) and Wellington (495 m), which fall in the mid range seen above. And then there are the two greater anomalies of Mexico City (2250 m) and Reykjavík (2110 m).
Altitude sickness typically manifests when you are above 2500 meters. The symptoms are: shortness of breath, fatigue, headaches, nausea, trouble sleeping, and other symptoms resembling flu. Drink lots of fluids, take an advil, and slow the rate of your physical activity seems to be the general consensus for remedy. Add some Montezuma’s Revenge and you’re golden baby!