Arriving in Costa Rica (Part 1)

You feel that familiar lurch forward as the plane touches down. I was once told by a pilot that the number of safe airplane takeoffs and landings needs to remain an even number throughout our lifetime. The lone exception to this rule for healthy flying…and living…is the few hours you spend in the air after takeoff, which creates an odd number. Other than that time, we REALLY want an even number!
You are safely on the ground at Juan Santamaria Airport in Costa Rica. I’ve travelled extensively and Costa Rica is my favorite place in the world. The people as a whole are incredibly friendly, the nature to be seen here is amazing, thrills await the adventurer, and the temperature in the Central Valley is pleasant year-round. Whether you are here for sightseeing or adventure, you are in the right place.
The airport where you landed is named for the country’s national hero, Juan Santamaria. He was a courageous drummer boy from Alajuela who joined the army when the country was in crisis. A nasty gringo, William Walker, had just overthrown the government of Nicaragua and was planning to turn most of Central America into a region to hold slaves for transport to the southern United States. Juan died while volunteering and completing a mission that helped win the day during a battle against Mr. Walker and his foreign invaders in 1856. A national holiday, April 11th, is held every year to commemorate his death. The airport is located in Juan’s hometown of Alajuela, about 20 kilometers from San Jose.
After leaving the aircraft, it’s time to start your Costa Rican experience. Now we go gather the luggage. There will be luggage carts, free of charge, and baggage handlers to help you…they are not free of charge. Fortunately for people who are budget-minded or just enjoy carrying your own belongings, the carts and the baggage handlers are separate entities! Just as in your home country, plan on standing around the luggage carousel for quite a few minutes. There is no need to panic; your luggage…with the very rare exception…will arrive in due time.
Your next stop is at Customs. Here comes the first quirk on your visit here. All luggage is x-rayed and you have to empty your pockets and go through a metal detector. I’ve been to Costa Rica seven times and I’ve never seen anyone have their luggage searched. Perhaps the Customs officials are part of a government program to put people to work? Or maybe the reason I haven’t seen anyone searched is because that whatever country you are arriving from did the EXACT same thing to you only a few hours ago!
After your non-event at Customs it’s time to proceed to Immigration. The lines for non-Costa Ricans are to the left. They have the same “mouse after the cheese” maze here that you find in airports world-wide. It’s best to prepare for a bit of a wait here. If very few planes have arrived recently you may be pleasantly surprised to find you get through Immigration without much wasted time. The Immigration folks seem to be quite efficient at looking at your immigration card and putting that official stamp in your passport. However, expect to wait and be happy if you don’t have to stand in line for long. Having the correct mindset is one of the keys to truly enjoying your experience here. Standing in the Immigration line is a good time for you to practice!
Next: Avoiding the airport money changer, leaving the peace and quiet of inside the airport, hiring a taxi, and an introduction to Latin American traffic…or listening to the symphony of car horns while watching your taxi magically avoid other vehicles.

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