By Lauren Crapps
If you are studying abroad somewhere in Central America, you will find that it is very easy to travel within a country. Buses are very prominent and incredibly cheap! I never paid more than 10 dollars for a one-way bus fare. There are obviously downsides to buses (they are cramped, hot, and long trips) but it really does beat having to go through the hassle of airports.
I studied in San Jose, Costa Rica during the spring of 2012 and we traveled somewhere every weekend. Throughout the semester, I was able to see every corner of the country and not miss a beat. The first three weekends we went on excursions through ISA (my third party); during that time I went to Tamarindo, Monteverde and Volcán Arenal. These are 3 places that are probably more expensive to travel to on your own. With that being said, they are some of the most amazing places in all of Central America.
The first weekend on our own we traveled to a beach on the East coast of Costa Rica called Puerto Viejo. Our bus fares were $8 one way. When we got there we had booked a hostel that cost us $7 dollars a night. Don’t get me wrong, it was no 5-star resort, but nothing beats a bed and a not-so-hot shower for that price. We packed bread and peanut butter or nutella and friend plantains and water bottles in our bags; this way, we were able to save money on meals. We still ate out several times so lets just say I spent $30 on food for the weekend. Puerto Viejo is also a great place to rent bikes so we did that one day ($5 for the whole day). Add in a taxi ride here or there and drinks throughout the trip you are looking at spending less than $100. This doesn’t include souvenirs or other personal purchases but that was about the average cost for all of our beach trips.
ISA also provided us with a representative from TicoTours, a travel agency in Costa Rica. His name was Jason and he would basically plan trips for you and your friends and try to get you the best prices. My friends and I used Jason and TicoTours one time to go to Totuguero, which is an island off the east coast where turtles hatch their eggs. This trip was $125 and included transportation, all meals, a hotel, and two tours around the island for two days and one night. TicoTours also has a website, making it a great reference for traveling. If your parents are coming to visit, this is a great route to take to plan their trip.
The university I attended, Universidad Veritas, had a travel agent. My friends and I used this service when traveling to Panama, the only time we left the country. This border-cross was probably the sketchiest experience of my life; we weren’t really told ahead of time what to expect. We kept getting passed along to different people and we crossed the border on foot over a rickety bridge. However frightening that may sound, getting through customs wasn’t bad at all. In the end, we made it in one piece and everyone was very nice and helpful! The trip included our hostel, transportation, and a dolphin watching/snorkeling trip excursion. While we were there we also took a cab out to Starfish Beach. This trip was near the end of our trip so we splurged a little on meals and it made it worthwhile. Panama uses US dollars and so the cash that was leftover we were able to pocket and save for our return home.
My advice: travel in large groups to save money on hostels and taxis, plus it’s safer! Carry a water bottle and refill it when you find drinkable water to save money on drinks. The moral of this story is to travel as much as you can! It is inexpensive and it’s easy to get big bang for your buck!