Uh-oh, Our Visas Are About to Expire
The experience of renewing visas is a rite of passage for all expats in Costa Rica, whether they intend to become residents or not. As a non-resident living in Costa Rica, one is required to exit the country before your visa expires (usually issued for 90 days, but make sure to confirm the number of days hand-written on your visa stamp), then re-enter in order to renew it.
Although border crossings are not an uncommon experience, it can be stressful and daunting, more so if you do not speak Spanish. Our 90 days were almost up, and it was time to renew our visas.
Previously we had unintentionally renewed our visas by flying back and forth to the United States, for family emergencies and to coordinate shipping our belongings to Costa Rica. This was going to be our first “border run” with the specific purpose to renew our visas.
After doing some research and asking some friends what they thought was the best way to “run” and renew our visas from our central Costa Rican location, hands down the recommendation was to take an inexpensive sight-seeing boat trip from Los Chiles, Costa Rica to San Carlos, Nicaragua. Scott tried to book us on this boat trip, but he was told that there were not enough people interested to conduct the boat ride by the time we needed it.
So we had to look for another alternative, and we needed to find it fast because our visas were due to expire in less than a week. Scott read a Facebook post about a couple that had crossed the border on land at Las Tablillas with no trouble, so he made some inquiries and decided that this was our best option given our limited time.
An issue that we needed to address was that the drive to this border (which is the closest to us) is about 3.5 to 4 hours long, and we had to spend at least three hours across the border in Nicaragua before returning in order to renew our visas.
This would mean, with the Costa Rican border station closing at 4pm, if we consider a 4 hour drive straight there, 30 minutes to 1 hour processing through the border, plus three hours in Nicaragua, and add another 30 minutes to 1 hour to return, we would need to leave, well, a lot earlier than we’d like.
In other words, all rush and no fun, and we are pretty intent on making our expat life an enjoyable experience. So, what to do?
La Fortuna/Arenal Volcano, a popular destination in Costa Rica, is on our way to the Las Tablillas border crossing (about a 1.5 hour or so drive), so we decided to stop there and enjoy the hot springs for the afternoon, stay overnight, and then head towards the border after breakfast. Problem solved!
When my mother was here in March, we took her to the Tabacon Hot Springs Resort, so this time we decided to try Baldi Hot Springs Resort.
Baldi Hot Springs Hotel Resort & Spa
We got to Baldi around 2:00pm and checked into our hotel room. The professional and friendly staff spoke English, but were happy to indulge our Spanish to help us practice. It was not crowded because it was the start of the rainy season, which was nice because it was more private and quiet.
This property is well thought out – it has everything that anyone needs to have a great hot springs experience (Baldi claims they are the largest of their kind in the world). Centered around the 25 pools of varying temperatures (to include a cold dip and a kid’s area), there are also a couple of restaurants, a gift shop, a Britt cafe, an ATM, several swim-up and dry bars, a helipad (in case you are into the lifestyles of the rich and famous), a spa, walking trails, and of course accommodations for those who want to stay overnight.
BALDI PHOTO GALLERY (Click on image to enlarge)
One of my favorite pools (which was the hottest) is located at the top of the property. It is called Baldi Premium, with waters (at the source I presume) reportedly at 152°F. I also really enjoyed their “sauna”, which was basically a man-made cave that had hot spring water falling into and running through it. The different pools are marked with signs to include the name of the pool, the temperature and depth.
We explored and soaked in the hot springs until about 5:45pm (dusk). There was a little rain later in the afternoon, but it felt GREAT because of the contrast to the temperature of the water.
Our hotel room, affordably priced, was clean and comfortable.
They have a pretty good spa menu, but it was a little pricey for me (the rate was $2 a minute for a massage).
The restaurant Virgita offers an average dinner buffet for $22. They also have a dinner menu which we decided to order from instead of doing the buffet. Their “rib eye” steak was $35 and not the worst steak I’ve had in Costa Rica, but it certainly wasn’t the best. My husband had pasta (~$13) and he said it was pretty good (although the garlic bread served with it was just regular toast like you’d have for breakfast). The service was good, so overall no complaints really.
The next morning we enjoyed breakfast and a nice stroll around the property. We walked up the property past the Baldi Premium pool where there is a beautifully landscaped trail with all kinds of tropical flora. We also encountered some wildlife to include a woodpecker (pajaro carpintero) and a couple of Jesus Christ lizards, something which we had never seen before!
My husband booked our stay through Orbitz, which saved us some money (~$20 vs. direct). With taxes, our hotel room, access to the hot springs, and breakfast buffet totaled to about $150. Considering that a day pass to the hot springs costs around $35-40 per adult (does not include food), it was a great deal. Our room was clean and comfortable, albeit a bit musty at first, so we cranked up the AC while we enjoyed the hot springs. The bathroom was also clean, but it was in need of some updating. Again, for the price we paid, overall it seemed to be a good value.
We were really pleased our stay. For me the man-made pools made the hot spring experience a little less worrisome and more pleasurable, in contrast to some resorts that only have natural pools, where one is not as sure-footed with the rocky or sandy bottoms and there is less variety in water temperature choices and number of pools.
Also, I would highly recommend to visit during the rainy season because it is not as crowded and you really do not need the sun beating down on you as you soak in over 100°F water.
Breaking up the drive, Baldi certainly made our first border run more enjoyable!
To be continued in my next post . . . read about our first “border run” as expats in Costa Rica.