8 mins

The Catch-22 of getting into Costa Rica

Our Blogger of the Week, Rachael Pells, discovers that the only way she can enter Costa Rica is to have already entered.

Rachael Bell entering Costa Rica

After another night in San Juan, I said my goodbyes to Nicaragua and headed on towards Costa Rica. I had a flight booked out of Panama City to Havana on the 7th, so  time was of the essence and, annoyingly, I had to calculate and plan my stops in advance.

I got a taxi to the border which worked out pretty cheaply as it was only a couple of kilometre away. What I didn't realise was that the no-man's land inbetween the two countries was endless. I had to walk for a good twenty minutes, dragging my bag, before I reached the Costa Rican side. It was here that my troubles began: the woman behind the desk asked to see my flight ticket out of Costa Rica, which of course I don't have.

I had heard that this could happen, but had chosen to ignore it. A Costa Rican man in Nicaragua told me I'd be fine and because this was what I wanted to hear I believed him.

I told the woman in Spanish that while I didn't have a ticket out of Costa Rica. I had one leaving Panama in two weeks time. She decided that  my problem was that I hadn't understand her and started talking to me very loudly and very slowly in English:

'I need see flight ticket! No entry!'

'I un-der-stand,' I replied in equally patronising tones, 'But have no ticket.'

She asked to see my Panama ticket. I said it was online and I could show her on the computer. She told me that I'd have to find an internet cafe and print it out for her. I asked where I could find an internet cafe.

'Just a kilometre or so on the other side of the border,' she said.

'So... you want me to walk into Costa Rica, find an internet cafe and return here to show you before I am allowed into Costa Rica?'


And so I found myself jogging along a never-ending road to the first town on the Costa Rican side of the border, all the while being jeered at by truckers waiting in the to pass through the border.

After what felt like an age, I found somewhere with a printer, paid the cheeky sods two US dollars to print my ticket, and ran all the way back to the border and my bus, waiting for me with my bag and a hundred irritated locals.

On seeing my ticket, the border official decided that I still didn't have enough evidence to prove I would leave Costa Rica in good time and would only grant me a two day visa.

By this point, my opinion of Costa Rica had soured and I was thinking that two days to pass through would be just fine. Then, weirdly, the immigration officer in the next booth finished his shift, and the mood of the woman I had been cursing changed,

'How long do you need?' she whispered. 'Is seven days enough?'

I nodded. She stamped my passport and handed it back with a smile, shooing me along. I was in.

My first stop was the nearest city, Liberia. I wasn't expecting too much – it was hardly top of the tourism charts. But I was happy enough to find an ice cream and sit in the central square watching the Saturday festivities. The locals began setting of fireworks from the steps of the church. I expected the roof to catch fire. Crazy Latinos, partying in the face of health and safety.

After the excitement of the border crossing, I looking forward to the prospect of an early night with my book. I'd splashed out on a private hotel room – there were no hostels in town – and it was quite nice, with a real mattress, a mosquito net and my very own fan). Just as I was finishing my dinner in the diner next door, a guy sitting across from me started a conversation.

'Are you Costa Rican?'

No. Of course I am not bloody Costa Rican, I thought. Leave me to my solitude, friendly foreigner.

'No, I'm English,' I said, because I am and hence genetically coded to be polite. 'And you?'

He was American. Soon we were chatting and laughing, despite my initial determination to be stony and silent.

It turned out that my new friend had just retired at the grand old age of 28 after selling his online business idea for big bucks. We went for a couple of drinks, got caught up with a group of hard-core football fans and had a good time pretending to get worked up over every goal scored or missed. He was a philosophical soul (and stoned) and we made fantastic conversation before I finally returned to my under-utilised hotel room and crashed into bed in my underwear with the fan on full blast- because I had a private room and could do whatever crazy things I wanted.

After a rocky start, I had been won over by Costa Rica. And suddenly, seven days didn't seem long enough.

Rachael PellGirl Does Travel | Rachael Pells

English graduate and freelance journalist. Currently travelling through Mexico and Central America, fighting a daily battle against mosquitoes and massive, frizzy hair. High chance of returning home with dengue fever, a shaved head and some kind of trashy tribal tattoo with which to upset my mother.

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