Tuesday (Martes) 31st August, 2010
Day 536

San Jose, Costa Rica
San Jose,Costa Rica
Miles: 51,642
N 09.98034°
W 84.17853°

The border crossing turned out to be quite straightforward though a little slow - details are given below in the camping section. Once into Costa Rica the road deteriorated into winding two lane black top with frequent large deep pot holes. The key task of drivers on this road is to avoid these holes - they would do serious damage.

About 200 km from the border we arrived in the town of San Isidro (he is the patron saint of farmers apparently). This is a large but not very impressive town that signals the start of the climb into the mountains that will eventually get to almost 12,000 ft. Nina found the following comments about San Isidro in the Lonely Planet Central America guide, we thought they were priceless.

"the busy grid is packed with bric-a-brac shops selling platform shoes and plastic accessories, ice-cream parlors and fruit stands all coated in a fine film of tail-pipe dust"

"... the following places all have cold showers ... Hotel Astoria with all the charm of a state psychiatric ward"

After negotiating the mountains we arrived in San Jose on dusk in a very heavy rain storm. Our navigation strategy of follow the trucks and the free Central America GPS map downloaded from the internet in Cartagena worked perfectly and we wound our way through the maze of streets and freeways to eventually arrive at the front gate of the camping ground. Amazing!


The border

The Panamanian side is a large island between the two lanes of the roadway with a large roof that covers the road. We parked right beside this island while we completed formalities. We paid one of the ever present helpers to walk us through the process. First we found a customs agent and gave him the vehicle paper work and our passports. After a time he got a colleague to inspect the vehicle. Once done they disappeared with the documents for a while, then returned and gave them back to us. We took all the documents to the Western/Northern end of the complex to a window where a lady stamped the vehicle owners passport to cancel the vehicle stamp in the passport (in Panama the owners passport has a very large stamp for the vehicle separate from the owners personal stamp). Once done we returned to the Eastern/Southern end to the immigration window to get our passports stamped.

Then on to Costa Rica formalities. The first stop was an agricultural spray station about 50 yards down the road. Pay a fee of $4.50 and get a receipt that you need to keep where you can find it. Another 50 yards on there is a complex of buildings on the right. Park in front of these and go to the immigration window. Fill out the forms and get passports stamped for driver and all passengers. Then cross the road to where there are photocopy shops. Get copies of the vehicle title and ALL pages of the passports of the owner and all drivers. Also at this window you buy Costa Rica insurance for the vehicle.

Now go back to the office complex. Near the immigration window next to the bank is a window where you hand in all newly made photocopies, passports, newly purchased insurance paper and the agricultural receipt . The person inside will also want to see the originals of passports and title. Tell this person if there is more than one driver. You will be given two forms to fill out, one of vehicle details and the other is a customs declaration for the family. When that is finished the papers will be carried (by the officer) to another desk a little farther along to the right (you go a little to the right, through the doors and wait inside until an inspector has your paper work). Once the inspector has looked at the vehicle he will hand you the paper work and a ticket to get you through the gate which is about 30 yards up the road. You are done. The biggest expense is the photocopying and insurance (for us about$25).

Camping - Belen Trailer Park. On the North side of San Jose. A good description of the route can be found on the website 99 Days To Panama

The park has all the facilities - water, electricity, dump. wifi, washing machines, and hot showers. Its also at 1000m altitude and is therefore a little cooler than some other places we have camped in Central America.