Cell Phones

For those who would like to have a cell phone down in Costa Rica (all the locals do, you may as well too!) and don’t want to pay the absolutely outrageous phone charges that companies in the States would charge to use your phone here, well you have come to the right place!  Before ever leaving the States, my mom and I talked to just about every cell phone carrier available and while all had “international” plans, they were first off quite expensive, and second not at all what I needed.  What each of the carriers considered an “international” plan was to allow you to call from the States to various countries in the world.  However if you were in a different county and wanted to call the States, well that wouldn’t be covered in the plan and would cost you even more of a fortune!

Luckily, the prepaid SIM card came to the rescue!!  I learned most of this information once I got in Costa Rica and talked with people so here is the full skinny on what to do, where to go and what to expect:

Before you get to Costa Rica:

  • Determine whether your phone is capable of being used in Costa Rica.  This is done quite simply: if you have a SIM card in your phone currently, you are all set.  If not, you may want to look into getting a phone that does have a slot for a SIM card.  If you don’t know what a SIM card is, might I suggest Google? 🙂
  • Call your cell phone carrier customer service line, tell them you will be going out of the country and that you need to have the code that will UNLOCK your phone.  This is a VERY important step!!!  They may run a quick check on the type of phone you have to ensure it is capable of being unlocked (i.e. it has a SIM card/slot) but it is quite fast and easy.  This method is also the free method.  There are some people who will charge you to get your phone unlocked and it’s really just not necessary.  The code will be a long series of numbers.  Be sure to write this number down and store it somewhere where you will recall where it is and that you will have it with you when you need it.

Once in Costa Rica:

As mentioned in my La Fortuna post, ICE (e-say) is the local utility company.  They are also responsible for assigning you a prepaid SIM card.  The easiest way to find an ICE location is by simply looking around for the tallest tower (like a radio tower in the States but much shorter) and go to where it is located.  Or you can always just ask a local:)  Now some tips when going to ICE: avoid going at the end/beginning and middle of the month.  This is the time when locals go there to pay their utility bills so they are very crowded.  Get there when they open.  Most open around 8:30am.  I suggest this trick because you at least have the chance of being within the first 5 to get there and therefore will probably only spend about a half hour waiting for your number to get called instead of a couple of hours wait.  And yes, they do serve people in order of the ticket number you get, so be sure to look for the ticket number dispenser when you arrive (it’s red).

Once you get called, simply tell the clerk you would like a prepaid SIM card.  They will take some information, ask how much you want to put on the card ($5, $10 or $20) and then will give you your card along with your receipt that will have your new phone number listed on it.  To this day I still have to refer to that receipt when telling people my phone number as it’s still not committed to memory.  It’s really quite humorous when people ask for your number… instead of asking for your number they ask “do you know your number?” because for some reason, not knowing ones number by heart is actually quite common here!  Well, at least among the expats…

Now along with the SIM card, they will also give you the accompanying card that also has VITAL information!  It is the size of a credit card and contains 2 very important numbers that you absolutely will need if your phone ever shuts down and turns back on.  So whatever you do, do NOT lose this card either!!  If/when  you power your phone off and back on again, it will ask you for your “pin” number.  It gives you three tries to get it right and the “pin” number is on the original card they give you at the ICE store.  I had an incident in Bocas where my phone died and when I went to turn it on, I had no idea about the pin required to turn it back on and almost got completely and forever locked out of my phone because I didn’t know what “pin” number it was looking for!  Luckily I did retain my original card and looked to it for help… hence when I discovered the value of the card!

The gentlemen assisting me at the ICE store was quite helpful and he basically took care of entering in all the necessary information in my phone in order to turn it on (i.e. pin and PUK numbers that are written on the “credit card” given to you at ICE).  Once the phone prompted him for the UNLOCK code, I provided it to him and it fired up with no other problems.

And that’s it!  I originally paid for $10 worth of service and to this day (it’s been over a month and a half now) I still have not had to recharge it.  I’ve made several lengthy local calls, calls to the States, texts and even a call to Italy and it’s still going! I’ve heard that prepaid cards expire after 90 days if unused, but I’m really not sure how true that statement is… Something else to investigate at some point!

Now if and when you do need to recharge your prepaid SIM card, you can do so at literally just about every store you pass!!  Just look for the carrier symbol of Kolbi with a little green cartoon frog that states “recarga” below it, and you’ve found yourself a recharge place!

One last thing to point out, your phone will now ONLY work in Costa Rica.  Once you cross the border to another country, your phone will no longer have service.

La Fortuna

I arrived in La Fortuna the next afternoon and headed to the hostel I found on the internet called “Sleepers Sleep Cheap”.  The word ‘cheap’ of course caught my eye immediately when searching for somewhere and the reviews seemed good enough.

About 100 meters south of the bus terminal, I arrived at the hostel which was set back a little from town than most of the others.  For $10 a night, I got a private room with a private bath, hot water and breakfast!  I paid for 2 nights and proceeded to get settled in.  Honestly I don’t have any negative words for the hostel.  It was a very basic set-up and nothing fancy by any means, but it was cheap, my room was clean, the staff were very friendly and accommodating, and the breakfast area had one of the best views in my opinion… I will later divulge what that view was;)

Now, I wanted to state my opinion about the hostel before writing about this bit: interestingly enough, weeks later when I was in Bocas Town (Bocas del Toro), Panama, I met a couple who just happened to stay at the hostel at the same time that I was staying there!  But they had a very different opinion of the place… Though they did agree it was cheap, they said they believed they had bed bugs and that their door wouldn’t close all the way so all sorts of critters would come in during the day and night.  Their room wasn’t clean and they weren’t that thrilled with what was served for breakfast (toast, eggs, fruit and coffee).  So, I guess it just goes to show you that not everyone’s experiences are the same!

In any event, after getting settled in it was about time to eat something, so I found a local soda that was recommended and that was just down the street from my hostel and had a fantastic fillet de pollo casado!  I absolutely love those casados!!!

Waiting for my meal to arrive, two guys whom I had met on the bus showed up so we dined together.  I spent that evening wandering the streets of La Fortuna with them, drinking beer in the central park. Since we had all arrived in the late evening, there really wasn’t much time to get our barring of the area, so at this point none of us really knew where the famed volcano was.  Sitting in the park drinking, it became a little bit of a game trying to figure out where the volcano actually was.  If the volcano had been active, it would have been quite obvious, but alas the volcano was dormant while I was there.  And mind you, it had been dark since before dinner, so there wasn’t any way to see around us…

The next morning I rose early determined to check several things off my list.  First off, I wanted to do a tour of the volcano and perhaps the hot springs and second I wanted to go to the famed La Fortuna waterfall and finally, I wanted to get a plan in place on where my next destination would be.  Even though the purpose of my trip to Costa Rica was not to be a tourist, one really can’t help but do a tour or two once here!  They can be pricey, that’s for sure but I did a lot of tour “office hopping” prior to settling on the final place to book at.  And since it was the off-season, there were more deals available than not.

Red Lava, a tour office located at the bus terminal offered the best prices and most unique tours.  Through them I booked a tour of the Arenal volcano that was 5 hours long, including a nature hike to a waterfall (not the La Fortuna waterfall but another one), a history of the Arenal volcano and finishing off with a night dip in a natural hot spring.  I also booked for a Jeep-Boat-Jeep package that would get me from La Fortuna to my next destination of Monteverde via, well you guessed it: a jeep, a boat and a jeep:)

It was mid-morning by the time I got all my bookings complete and since my volcano tour wasn’t going to start until 2pm, I opted to spend my time in between by going to the famous La Fortuna waterfall.  Since my motto on spending money was “the less you spend now, the more you will have later” I decided to walk to the waterfall, located inside a National Park, instead of taking a bus directly to the entrance of the National Park… I really should have just paid the darn $8 for the bus!!!!!  But oh no, I decided to keep that money and hike there myself instead!  Afterall, it was a paved road to the park so I figured a little exercise would do me some good!  I have no idea what the temperature was outside, but the sun was shining and it was definitely humid!  I had my little personal bag with me so I could bring my camera for the trip and take plenty of pictures.  And I was off for my hike…

About 8 kilometers (about 3 of which were straight uphill- the end 3 of course) later I arrived to the park entrance red-faced and completely dripping in sweat.  In fact I was so saturated with sweat that both my t-shirt and breathable pants were completely soaked through!!  My bag, supposedly waterproof, even began to soak in some of my sweat so that the inside contents became damp!  The very first thing I did when I got to the park entrance was go to the bathroom and practically bathe myself in the sink with my clothes still on!  Thankfully I did have along with me my vapur water bottle and therefore was hydrated the entire way, but I still had to refill it twice before ever leaving the bathroom because of my extreme thirst!!  People were looking at me like I was crazy, but all I cared about at that point was that I had made it!!

But then, I glanced at my watch… it was noon… there was NO way I was going to be able to actually get to the waterfall and back down to town by 2:00 for my volcano tour:(  You see, I had made it to the park ENTRANCE but the waterfall itself was still about a kilometer deep into the park.  And tack on the fact that if I wanted to even try to see the waterfall I would have had to pay the $10 entrance fee, well, it just didn’t make much sense at that point to even try for it.  So I decided to simply head back down to the town, perhaps get a bite to eat and make it in time for my tour.

The walk back to town was much nicer!!  All downhill with a little breeze to boot!  The little breeze did wonders to dry my clothing on the walk down and by the time I made it back (about 1) I had just enough time to grab a bite to eat at the soda where I had dinner and get ready to meet my tour.

Oh and I promised I would divulge the breakfast view from my hostel… It was indeed the volcano!!!  I had been staring at it all morning during the first morning while enjoying breakfast yet never realized I what I was looking at, lol!!!

On to Volcan Arenal Tour

Back to Costa Rica