Our first port in Costa Rica was Golfo Dulce which is an enormous bay with several small bays inside it. Once you enter Golfo Dulce you can go to Bahia Puerto Jimenez, Bahia Rincon, Punta Gallardo, Punta Voladera, Punta El Cabro, or Golfito Bay. We were headed toward Golfito Bay which is surrounded by lush, green mountains. Being that Golfito is a bay within a bay, it is very calm and tranquil with a nice, breeze.
Located at Golfito you have several marinas:
- Banana Bay Marina has 20+ slips and a few moorings, restaurant, bar, laundry, wifi
- Land and Sea, 3 slips and 6 moorings, lounge area, accommodations, wifi, laundry
- Fish Hook, 25+ slips (fishing boats), restaurant, bar, wifi, accommodations, laundry
- IGY Gulfito Bay Marina. New as of 2017 w/ 50 slips and plans to expand to 132 slips
As the first stop in Costa Rica, we had to accomplish some official paperwork. We needed to check in (Immigration, Customs, and Port Captain), get a fishing license, and apply for a permit to visit at Isla del Coco. We wanted to complete these goals within 2 days, if possible.
However, timing was not on our side. We arrived on a beautiful Sunday morning, a day earlier than we anticipated. But as you can imagine, a lot of businesses are closed on Sunday and the following day, 1 May is Labor Day, a public holiday. Gesh!
Land and Sea
Land and Sea is located in between Banana Bay Marina and Fish and Hook Marina. We dropped the hook in front of her small marina as there was good depth, holding, and a breeze. We secured the boat and went ashore to begin our clearance process. Image below shows Banana Bay Marina (the yellow buildings with fishing yachts in front) and a small green two story building (to the right) with two boats in front.
Katie, the owner at Land and Sea, proved to be very helpful. She told us where we could dump trash and recycling and where to find the market and immigration. She also exchanged $20 U.S. for colones which comes out to 10,000 colones. For me, the easiest conversion is about 500 colones to $1. Of course, the conversion is a bit better at 575 or so, but that math in my head, is too hard for me.
The town of Golfito is located on one long, main street. There is one small secondary street that runs parallel to the main street, but it is short and has mostly bars.
Immigration is located about ½ mile from Land and Sea and has a giant red and white antenna on its roof making it easy to identify. Upon our first visit, Juaquin, the immigration officer, told us we needed to have copies made of our documentation (3 copies of our boat paper work, 3 copies of Matt’s passport, 1 copy of my passport, 2 copies of our Zarpe-exit paperwork from Panama). Then he gave us instructions of where to get the copies at a place close to Land and Sea. Oh dear, so we walked back, found the copy place, paid 1500 colones ($3) and went back to immigration.
As Matt did the formalities, I sat and chatted with Juaquin who was oh so willing to share his excitement of Costa Rica. He informed me about park regulations, gave directions to the Port Captain and Customs, shared some tour tips, and gave me the scoop on the permit process for Isla del Coco.
Isla del Coco is about 300nm from Costa Rica. Regulations state that you need a permit which requires that you be checked into the country. Bummer. You see, Isla del Coco is on the way to the Galapagos. We wanted to clear out of Costa Rica, head 300nm to Isla del Coco and then sail 400nm to Galapagos. It is 600nm and 5.5 days out of our way to go to Isla del Coco, then back to Costa Rica, then past them to get to Galapagos. You see our quandary? None the less, Juaquin told us to go to the Port Captain who would be able to give us the application for the permit.
Juaquin also found out that Customs was closed on Sundays, but they would be open on the next day, even though it was a holiday. It is unusual to find someone so very accommodating, kind, and compassionate during the clearance process-what a gem!
Following Juaquin’s directions, we walked about 1 mile to the Port Captain’s building. The boat clearance went fairly routine. We inquired about the Isla del Coco application and were informed that we had to get the permit from MEREILT which was in charge of the National Parks.
Since it was extremely hot and we were a bit tired of walking, we hopped in a cab. These offices were not far, but off a dirt road, surrounded by jungle. It was amazing. All of the wood buildings were connected by a long low bridge or walkway which was covered in plants and flowers. Working here you felt like you were in the jungle, living, breathing among the animals. Breathtaking, but hot and humid even in the shade.
Our timing was not the best as it was lunchtime on a Sunday. We managed to locate one guy who spent a good 45 minutes trying to track down the right person who could help us. Evidently, MEREILT handles all of the National Parks except the Isla del Coco. The correct office to handle the Isla del Coco permit is the Cocos Island Marine Conservation Area (ACMIC). He put us in touch with a man on the phone who promised to send the permit to Matt via email. Sweet, feeling like mission accomplished.
The next day, we walked down main street and popped in to a few grocery stores before catching a cab to the Duty-Free Zone where the Customs office was located.
Customs Office (Aduana)
The process is fairly simple and efficient. It took us about 30-minutes in-and-out. Since we were there, we decided to walk around the Duty-Free Zone. This was about 1/100th of the size of the duty-free area in Panama, thank goodness. We could not technically buy anything as you are supposed to obtain a tarjeta (ticket) 24 hours before you shop. It is meant to increase tourism and require people to stay at least one night. Not a big deal as most of the shops were appliances, home goods, and liquor. We did not need anything from here.
Friends of ours told us about some cruisers who formed a group called Panama Posse. About 80 boats started in Mexico and were headed toward Panama. This group shares information on the countries, anchorages, and places they’ve been along the way, including Costa Rica. The organizer, Dietmar has put together several discounts with marinas, chandleries, and restaurants. We decided to join, to get intel on Costa Rica and some discounts.
On Labor Day, the Panama Posse was having a party at the IGY Golfito Bay Marina with free beer, BBQ, and music. We had not been to this new marina and wanted to check it out and meet some new friends. There were about 25 people, primarily from the States who were heading to Panama. Most of the other fleet were already in Panama. We had a really nice time, met some great people, swapped stories about anchorages and islands, and got a cool new shirt!
Day 3, we headed back to Land and Sea to seek out information from Katie. We needed to know if she knew of an agent that could help us with the Isla del Coco’s permit. She directed us to Bruce Blevens who runs Fish Hook Marina next door.
Isla del Coco Permit
Bruce is an agent who helps a lot of fishing charter boats (who have a lot more disposable income than we do). He was extremely helpful and informed us that it would take 30-35 days and cost thousands of dollars to get the permit. He recently helped a charter boat who had to hire two attorneys, make two trips to San Jose, and hire a secondary agent. Evidently, Costa Rica is not wild about issuing permits except to local charter or fishing boats. Shoot. We decided to skip the permit and find another way. P.S. the man from ACMIC never emailed Matt.
We were told we needed to obtain a fishing license if we have fishing gear on the boat. Even if we never dropped the hooks in the water. So, we found out that the fishing permits come from Incopesca. The office was closed the two previous days so we were planning on stopping by after visiting Bruce. However, both Bruce and Katie said that it was not necessary to pay for a license unless we were outfitted with a ton of outriggers – like a professional boat. Since, we are only trolling for dinner, they said it would be fine.
So, even though we did not get the fishing license or Isla del Coco permit, we did manage to save thousands of dollars and a ton of paperwork. As it turns out, it didn’t cost us a penny to clear into Costa Rica, except the cab rides to and from Aduana at $2 each way.
Coming Up Next:
- Bahia Drake