How I got kicked out from Costa Rica - Is it safe to travel on a low budget?
This is a story about me first, not doing enough research about the country, then, running out of money, getting robbed – losing all of my belongings (everything, including my passport) and finally, being sent home because of the missing passport. Pretty intense, right?. Did I suddenly got all the bad luck? No, I wouldn’t say so. It was all only my fault. I was being naive, thinking how invincible I was. I didn’t prepare enough. I overrated Costa Rican safety as well as myself. However, I’m sure we need these experiences. Otherwise, what would we learn from? Also, I met some amazing people that helped so much to go through this. After all, I’m really grateful for all of it and don’t regret anything. Yet, I wouldn’t want anything similar to happen again, to anyone, so this is a post to help you prevent it.
How it all started
My trip to Costa Rica was just another of one my very spontaneous ideas. I found a cheap flight ticket from Europe and suddenly, I was ready for Central America. I imagined the way I would travel all the way from CR to Mexico, stopping in every country in between (Here comes the naive part of me). I was picturing it all to be super cheap and easy to do. That’s where I was supposed to do more research. And prepare for higher prices than Europe… Well, plans change, I made it only to the first stop. Costa Rica. The most expensive of all of Central America.
Coming to Costa Rica
First, after my tiresome flight and all the US border annoyance, I made it to San Jose! Yay! I arrived in my hostel, pretty soon found a hostel job and settled down for a while. Although I already didn’t like the costs of everything, I didn’t want to skip Costa Rica just for that reason. I stayed there few weeks until I realized I should probably leave to Nicaragua where my money could last longer. Also, I was really looking forward to it.
I left Monteverde (a rainforest village in CR) and made my way to Nicaragua with a plan to stop somewhere by the beach for a night or two. I have to admit, I’m not really the smartest when it comes to managing my finances. Obviously. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have ended up broke so many times. Having my last few euros on my account, I decided to save them for the harder times. At this time, I was going to try to survive for free a while. The plan was: hitchhike to the beach, recycle some food, and camp somewhere on the beach. Things I’ve already done many times. Except, not in Costa Rica.
Living for free
I checked out from my hostel in Monteverde and tried to get some people to experience this journey with me. Everything went as planned, I made one awesome Frenchie join me. I was happy I didn’t have to hitchhike alone and actually had a guy with me. I never felt unsafe, but you never know. It’s always better and more fun to go with someone when hitchhiking.
We managed to stop a truck transporting bananas from Nicaragua. Illegal bananas. Though, who cares about the bananas. The driver was a really nice person and took us to Playa de Coco. We had absolutely no idea where that was, what was in there when he first offered to take us to this place. The fact we never heard of it made it even more appealing. So, of course, we accepted and went with him. All that mattered was that it was a Playa (beach) and we could camp there.
We arrived a little disappointed, as Playa de Coco was probably one of the liest pretty beaches in CR. That’s right, we already managed to get spoiled by all the Costarican beauty. Anyhow, we couldn’t complain. Being finally on the coast, the sun was shining, we could camp and shower for free, even the ride was free, we couldn’t want more. We put our tent far away from the nearby village so that nobody could see us or rob us.
We were both Malabaristas (street flow artists) so we figured we could make some extra money by performing on the streets of the village. We left our tent with all the belongings we didn’t need to perform and hit Playa de Coco’s streets. We had a lot of fun, got free food that didn’t serve to the little grocery anymore, performed, people were really nice to us, we even made few Colons (Costarican currency) and went back to the tent. It was a dark night already, we reached the tent and to our surprise, the tent was empty. First, I thought there was something wrong with my flashlight. I thought it just wasn’t shining properly and that’s why I couldn’t see anything. Soon, I found the bag with my dirty underwear but everything else was gone. Dirty underwear, thank God they left me that! What would I do without it?
Yes, that was all I had left! Okay, and the hula – hoop along with my sports bra, the shorts I was wearing, and my bikini that were drying hanging on a tree. Nothing else. Not even shoes. I know, I always used to walk barefoot, but that was out of choice. This time I actually really didn’t have any. I was a girl with no shoes and no passport. We realized how much stupid we were. How could we leave all our backpacks with passports unattended somewhere in the middle of nowhere?
We scanned the area but of course, there were no signs of our backpacks. We felt literally stupid, cheated, disgusted, disappointed, desperate and whole lot of other feelings… We went back to the village and asked people if they didn’t know anything. Unsurprisingly, they didn’t. We visited the police station and informed them about the problem. The police officer said we were actually very lucky they didn’t rob us directly with guns as in that beach it was kind of common. He said we wouldn’t be the first ones (though they like to exaggerate). He recommended us not to go back there as they could come back thinking we had more stuff for them to take. Scared, ready to shit in my pants, I went back with my friend to take the tent and replace it somewhere. The police officer told us to pay a hostel, but as we couldn’t afford that now, he let us camp in the yard (with a beach view) of the police station. This was definitely the kindest police officer I’ve ever met.
Life with no belongings
I continued back to San Jose, to visit the embassy. My friend didn’t have to go back as he (like every other sane person) kept his passport always with him. I didn’t let him accompany me as I felt already bad enough that he got stolen all his things because of me and my crazy ideas. I was barefoot, carrying my hula hoop and a bag full of my dirty underwear. Yep, the lowest of lowest. On my way back, we hitchhiked together for a while as we had the same way. My feet were burning from hours of standing on a melting concrete road and no shade to step on. Finally, a car took us and then I continued alone with no money and no idea what to do.
Unbelievably, out of nowhere, I discovered my emergency ATM card in my sports bra I was wearing. I had two before, and I totally forget about this one. I couldn’t believe my eyes, I thought I was either tripping or I was already dead and in heaven. Anyway, I didn’t care which of these it was, I felt really happy. Saved. Reborn. Everything. I know it sounds like a cliche story but it’s true. After this discovery, I contacted my mom (another whole hassle as I had no phone), told her about all the craziness that’s been going on and luckily she borrowed me some money. Then, I arrived in San Jose, found a job, lived in the cheapest hostel and finally, visited the embassy.
The embassy trouble
You’d think I was already all good, wouldn’t you? No, not that fast. Actually, I was still hoping I could leave Costa Rica as I really didn’t feel like staying there any longer. Clearly, this never happened as I couldn’t get a new passport. There wasn’t any Slovakian embassy. The nearest one was in Mexico where I couldn’t get as I couldn’t pass the borders. As much as I love my country, most of the times it’s really inconvenient to be its citizen. This means all I could get was an Emergency travel document of another country (instead of a new passport) that would send me nowhere else but back home. I visited Spanish embassy (it didn’t matter which one), got Spanish emergency travel document that lasted only two weeks and in two weeks I needed to leave. So, no, Nicaragua wasn’t happening. I’ll be there next time Nicaragua!
Instead, I just flew back home and went to enjoy that freezy European winter. The one thing I tried to avoid. Well, what could I do? I’m grateful that everything worked out just fine at the end. I was safe, got a new passport, saved another money and prepared for the next trip much better.
Overall, Costa Rica is very safe. It’s the most developed, the most touristy, there’s nothing to be scared of. Just make sure you do your research beforehand and have enough money to stroll around. 🙂