Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Costa Rican Treasure Hunt

When you arrive at any country by sailboat from a foreign port you have to check-into the country, i.e do the customs and immigration two-step. In Costa Rica the first stop is the Port Captain. As our friend Pam on Precious Metal describes it, you go into the Port Captains office, he looks over your exit Zarpe from the previous country and then hands you the list of all the things you’ll need to find on your multi-day treasure hunt. When you’ve gotten everything on the list you return to the port captain and he blesses you with your entry Zarpe, or it’s equivalent.

We anchored outside the mooring balls in Playas del Coco, a small town which is the northern most port of entry in CR. This is a nice tropical bay, but with two major draw backs. The surf rolls in through the anchorage which makes it really rocky and uncomfortable on the boat. Then, the resulting shore break makes each and every dinghy landing and re-launch an exciting, if not life-threatening, experience. At the very least you just have to plan on getting your crotch wet in the 86-degree water each time you go ashore. A new fashion statement for in town wear.

There’s the remains of the old pier that is on the beach near the center bay reef. This makes for the best dinghy landing spot. Here, if you dump the dink you can be sure someone, locals and tourists, will be there to see the spectacle.  We dragged our dink up the beach on the deflated dinghy wheels and locked it to a post near the pier. We haven’t been able to find a bicycle pump that has a nozzle that is small enough to fit on the tubes on the Danard dinghy wheels. We shake off like a dog that just had a bath and head up the beach and onto the main road – where the Port Captain’s office is conveniently located.  He looked through our papers, told us which ones we didn’t have enough copies of, gave us carbon copy forms to fill out – all with a friendly attitude. Checking into Costa Rica is supposed to be free, however due to a few minor expenses and  fees, it actually ends up costing about $100USD.

First stop was the bank to pay the agriculture inspection fee of approx $50. You pay it in colonas—which are 500c to 1USD—so it feels overwhelmingly expensive: 28,700 colonas. The Port Captain called Immigracion for us to make sure she’d be there – she said come by at 3pm. The bank is next door to the immigration office, 300 yards up the main road from Port Captain’s. Both the Port Captain and Immigration made us fill out forms that list the last 5 ports and dates of exit from them. The dates we kind of made up, as no one really cares and we really couldn’t remember. The lady at Immigration gave us a 90-day visa – that’s the max from the local office.

It was late and we had to wait for our 8:30am appointment with the Agriculture inspector before we could hunt for anymore treasures. So it was back in the dingy, back through the surf and a wet crouch again. We spent a rolly uncomfortable night – this means that it took Chris over 5 minutes to fall a sleep, I , on the other hand, truly slept like crap.


Eduardo inspecting the fruits and veggies of Jeorgia

Next morning we took the dinghy in through the surf. It was a little smaller this time – crotch still got wet. We hung outside the Port Captains office waiting for the Agricultural Inspector. The weird thing about this inspection is that there doesn’t seem to be any list of prohibited foods. He pulled up on a motorcycle with long pants and street shoes. I just couldn’t see how we were going to get him out through the surf in our dinghy without getting him at least partially soaked. Eduardo, the inspector, headed into the Port Captains office. He came out with his bathing suit on and his official name tag on around his neck, nothing else. This guy had obviously been abused by cruisers before. He was a good guy, spoke no English. The net of his visit was that he wanted us to make sure we ate all our fruits and vegies before we left Costa Rica – a valuable tip for $50.

The next part of the hunt was to go to the Customs office (Aduana) for our temporary import permit.  Somehow we were making too good a progress on the hunt, so they threw in one extra bonus stop back at Immigration to drop off another copy of the crew list. Customs would be easy except for the fact that it is located next to the airport in Liberia which is 45 minutes away. You can take a bus from Coco for about a dollar. They leave once an hour, more or less. The problem is that you can’t seem to take a bus back from Aduana, which means you need to find a taxi to get back from the airport, at $50. Fortunately Walter and his teal green pickup truck found us. He hangs out across the street from the Port Captains office. He’ll run you out to customs and back for $50. Along the way he’ll tell you what a beautiful country Costa Rica is, in very clear slow Spanish. Costa Rica has a reputation for petty theft, but Walter assured us that that is all carried out by the Nicaraguans who have invaded his country.

Costa Rica has no military. As they say, it is a peaceful place. When we drove by the airport on the way to customs there were two military planes there, a P-8 AWACS and a C-130 Coast Guard plane, both US military drug interdiction planes – your tax dollars at work.

Customs gave us a 90-day Temporary Import Permit, to bring the boat and all of our belongings onboard into the country, to match our 90-day visa. And that completed the treasure hunt and we were declared a winner.

As Treasure Hunt winner and a duly checked-in boat we were finally given the right to go over to Marina Papagayo and buy diesel from them-- at $5.16 a gallon. Ouch.

Tonight we are anchored at Playa Panama-– a smooth and protected anchorage within the beautiful Bahia Culebra with a nice, high-end hotel ashore that lets us go to the open air bar to drink beer and use their WiFi… with much less exciting dinghy landings.


Jeorgia resting in Playa Panama, Costa Rica

The Treasure Hunters

Paul & Chris


  1. Paul, thanks for the valuable information. Kokomo is about 1 month behind you. Look forward to seeing you soon. Denny and Becky

  2. Nice informational blog entry there! You made checking in seem so easy! Not sure how it's possible but I'm homesick for some action. I'd take a chronic wet crotch over working any day! This working gig is way over rated. Still on track to return to Tivoli Aug. 15. Hope to catch up!