Frequently Asked Questions
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HOW DO YOU GET TO THE RANCH?
DO YOU OFFER SPANISH CLASSES AT THE RANCH?
DO YOU HAVE ANY RECOMMENDATIONS ON PLACES TO STAY AT OR NEAR THE AIRPORT, IN SAN JOSÉ, IN PURISCAL OR ON THE CENTRAL PACIFIC COAST?
HOW DO YOU GET TO THE RANCH?
Please see our Directions page.
DO YOU OFFER SPANISH CLASSES AT THE RANCH?
DO YOU HAVE ANY RECOMMENDATIONS ON PLACES TO STAY AT OR NEAR THE AIRPORT, IN SAN JOSE, IN PURISCAL OR ON THE CENTRAL PACIFIC COAST?
The Juan Santamaría International Airport, Costa Rica's main airport and where a grand majority of international flights arrive, is located near the town of Alajuela. For travelers wanting or needing to stay near the airport on their first night or two in country, it is sometimes more convenient to avoid San Jose (16 kilometers away) by finding lodging in Alajuela or Escazú. There are a number of modestly priced places to stay near the airport. Many hotels in Alajuela provide airport pick-ups and breakfast. Following is a list of places that we or past visitors to the Ranch recommend in Alajuela, San Jose and Escazu as well as in the closest city to Mastatal, Puriscal, and destinations on the Central Pacific Coast.
Cabinas Cecilia, 011 (506) 2778-8485. This is a Ranch favorite. Owned by a tica. Pool looking out to the Pacific Ocean. Great rates. Cecilia's mom runs a nice little soda just around the corner of the hotel.
ARE THERE LOTS OF BUGS AT THE RANCH?
We have fewer problems with biting insects than many people expect when coming to the tropics. Nevertheless, they do exist and in larger, more diverse quantities than many of you are accustomed to. The flying, biting insects that do reside in and around Mastatal seem to like newer blood. Some people react worse then others to bug bites. Most people get accustomed to our biting friends after a few short days but some people do continue to get bitten throughout their stay. If you decide to bring bug spray, please make sure that it's friendly to the environment and your body. If you are one of those that tends to get bitten a lot, you should consider traveling with a mosquito net and wearing light, long sleeves and pants and socks.
WHAT VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES EXIST?
Click here to learn more about our apprenticeship program.
HOW CAN I GET IN TOUCH WITH FRIENDS AND FAMILY BACK HOME?
Contact family as soon as you arrive to Costa Rica and before heading towards Rancho Mastatal. Communication in general is easier in urban and more populated areas. If you are not traveling with your own phone and want to contact family or friends while in Mastatal, we recommend buying one or more Costa Rican phone cards prior to arriving to Mastatal. There is a small Internet cafe in town with WIFI for those with their own devices but hours and connectivity can be variable. You can arrange with your cell provider to use your own cell phone to make calls when in Costa Rica. There is no Internet access at the Ranch unless you would like to buy and bring a USB data card and a laptop computer. Our Main House is a cell phone free area. For emergencies, guests can use the Ranch phone.
WHAT KIND OF SHOTS DO I NEED?
Click here for information on vaccinations.
WHAT'S THE WEATHER LIKE?
With regards to when to visit the Ranch, each season has its advantages and its disadvantages. The dry or high season generally runs from December through March and part of April; the rainy, low or green season rules during the remainder of the year. Some advantages of the high season include more predictable weather, less rain, and easier travel. On the other hand, the low season boasts fewer tourists, greener scenery, cooler weather and cheaper travel. The sun does show its face a fair amount during the rainy months. The temperature ranges from the low to mid-60s to the high 80s. It will occasionally get a bit cooler, or a bit hotter. It does get hot in the middle of the day, especially during the dry season. This is usually the best time to head into the forest or find a nice swimming hole or waterfall. Nights are generally comfortable for sleeping. Most sleepers use sheets and many opt for sheets and blankets.
HOW FAR ARE YOU FROM THE BEACH?
We are only seven miles from the Central Pacific Coast as the crow flies, though the trip from Mastatal to the nearest beach will take you no less than an hour (by car). We do get some great views to the Pacific Ocean from our area, though unless you bring your hang glider, plan on it taking you some time to make it down to the Central Pacific Coast's famous beaches. If you rent a car, you can get to the beach in a bit more than an hour. By bus, plan on 4 or more hours.
WHAT FORM OF PAYMENT DO YOU ACCEPT?
Please see our Payment Information Page.
WHEN AND WHERE SHOULD I GET MONEY?
The Costa Rican currency is the colón. The exchange rate changes frequently and can be found online. Carry your passport when changing money. Only change money in banks or at good hotels. DO NOT CHANGE MONEY ON THE STREET. Make sure that your US bills are in good shape, as it sometimes difficult to change worm or torn money. Make sure you change all of your colones back to dollars before exiting the country (or as many as possible), as it is difficult to change larger amounts back in the States.
Major brands of traveler’s checks in US dollars can be exchanged into colones at banks in many cities but the rate is usually 1% to 2% lower than cash. Don't expect to be able to use traveler's checks when "off the beaten past". We recommend that you always carry some US cash for those times when you are far from all banks or when banks are closed. You generally cannot use traveler’s checks as cash as you can in many places in the U.S. Please note that the closest bank to Rancho Mastatal is more than an hour away. Cash advances are possible at many banks with your credit card. VISA is the card most readily accepted. There are also an abundance of ATM machines in most larger towns and cities. Check with your bank to see whether your card will be accepted and where in Costa Rica. Most these days are.
Pickpockets do exist in Costa Rica, especially in some of the busier and poorer areas of San José. Carry money in inside pockets, money belts, or pouches beneath your clothes. Don’t carry a wallet in your trousers, backpack or jacket pockets, as this is the first thing pickpockets look for. Divide your money among several places so that if someone pickpockets you, you won’t lose all your cash.
IS THERE A PHONE IN MASTATAL?
There is no public phone in Mastatal. You can use the Internet cafe in town to make calls if you bring your own device and buy and insert a Costa Rican SIM card. Make sure that you "unlock" your phone with your provider prior to traveling. If you do not have your own phone, we recommend that you buy an ICE phone card prior to arriving to the Ranch. You can use the Ranch's phone in the case of emergencies. The Ranch phone number number is +506 2200-0920.
IS THERE INTERNET IN MASTATAL?
There is a small Internet cafe in Mastatal that is open 6 days a week. Hours and connectivity are not always predictable. You can use many smart phones in the area if you buy and insert a Costa Rican SIM card. The Ranch does not have WIFI.
WHAT SHOULD I BRING TO MASTATAL?
We recommend traveling as lightly as possible. Being mobile allows you to maximize your traveling experience. Resist the temptation to bring everything you think you’ll need. In our tropical climate, darker clothes will make you hot and attract bugs though they hide the dirt better. Bring plenty of underclothes, and clothes that dry easily.
Bring a good hat to shade your eyes and forehead and to keep your head dry. If you are light skinned or very heat sensitive, bring a wide brimmed hat. We tend to use umbrellas more than rainjackets during the rainy season though some people prefer to have a light jacket on hand. Bring shoes that you don’t mind getting wet and muddy. If you bring hiking boots, you'll find that lighter, faster drying models will serve you best in this region. Make sure that you have a pair of comfortable shoes to get around in for when you are not in the forest. Many travelers opt for Chacos, Tevas or broken in sneakers. It's nice to have shoes that are easy to get on and off as you will find yourself constantly having to put on and take off your shoes (no shoes in the houses). Leather does not generally do well in humid environments. Light, long sleeved shirts and pants are nice for sun and insect protection. Shorts, t-shirts and skirts are popular too and will serve you well much of the time. A light, quick drying, absorbent towel works best out of the shower or at the swimming holes.
If you'll need to make a phone call while in Mastatal, you should consider bringing a phone card or two as they are often times not avaliable in the area. You should also bring enough cash with you as the closest place to get money is in Puriscal and to get there and back using public transportation signifies an 11-hour day.
Here is a list of smaller items that you may find useful:
- high quality flashlight with spare bulb and batteries
- travel alarm clock or watch
- Swiss Army-style pocket knife
- a section of cord or line (to use as a clothesline or for a thousand other purposes)
- sewing kit
- sunglasses (good ones as the sun is very strong)
- toiletries (use shampoos and toothpastes that are biodegradable)
- sunblock (use biodegradable type if possible)
- books that you have been meaning to read for a while
- water bottles (we recommend taking at least two 1-liter bottles when hiking)
- first-aid kit
- prescription medicines
Here is a list of optional items that you want to consider:
- Spanish-English dictionary
- large-brimmed hat
- sleeping sheet
If you'd like to bring a gift for the Ranch, please see our "Wish List" on our Take Action page.
SHOULD I BUY TRAVEL INSURANCE?
Get it! This should cover you for medical expenses, luggage theft, and costs incurred due to unavoidable changes in your travel itinerary. It should also cover you in the case that you have an accident and have to be flown home. Ticket loss is also covered by many travel insurance policies. Check with your insurance agent to get additional information about the coverage that they offer; it can differ depending on the agent.
WHAT ARE THE VISA REQUIREMENTS FOR COSTA RICA?
You will need a passport to enter Costa Rica. Passports should be valid for at least six months beyond the dates of your trip. You will most likely receive a 90 day visa upon entering the country. During your stay, the law requires that you carry your passport at all times, although a copy usually suffices.
WHAT IS THE HIKING LIKE?
When hiking, always stay on the trail and stay with your guide if you have one. Bring plenty of water. We normally recommend 2-liters for moderate hikes. It is best to wear light, long pants and shirts to minimize your exposure to both sun and insects. Good hiking or comfortable rubber boots or sneakers are recommended. Keep in mind that it can be dangerous to swim in rivers without any supervision, especially during the rainy season when rivers can rise dramatically after a heavy rain. Don’t forget your binoculars and camera and have a great time. Hiking in the rainforest is an incredibly rewarding experience. Dawn and dusk provide your best opportunities to see wildlife. Walk quietly, listen, and become a part of your environment, and you will be rewarded.
WHAT CAN WE DO TO PRACTICE RESPONSIBLE TOURISM?
It is of utmost importance to follow some simple, common sense guidelines when traveling to minimize the impacts of tourism and to emphasize sustainable development.
- Waste Disposal – Don’t create garbage. The water in Mastatal is potable. Bring a water bottle to avoid having to buy bottled water. Plastic bottles are a real problem in Costa Rica. Carry out what you bring in. Minimize the amount of garbage that you generate. There is no garbage collection service in Costa Rica. Locally, garbage is generally burned or buried. Please don't add to this challenge.
- Wildlife – Don’t disturb animals or damage plants. Stay on trails. Observe wildlife from a distance with binoculars. Follow the instructions of your guides. Never feed wild animals. Do not collect or buy endangered animals or plants.
- Local Communities – Allow the small communities at your destination to benefit from tourism. Buy locally made crafts and souvenirs.
- Cultural Sensitivity – Interact with local people. Speak as much Spanish as you can, even if it’s very little. The locals will appreciate your intentions. Appreciate and learn from the different cultural traditions of the areas you visit. Remember that you are the visitor. Be courteous, smile, and say "sí" a lot.
- Education – Learn about wildlife and local conservation, environmental, and cultural issues both before your trip and during your visit. Ask questions. Practice your Spanish.
- Sustainability – Avoid overcrowded areas unless you really want to see them. Support tourism companies with conservation initiatives and long-term management plans.
WHAT IS THE BUS SCHEDULE WHEN LEAVING MASTATAL FOR EITHER SAN JOSÉ OR THE CENTRAL PACIFIC COAST?
From Mastatal to Puriscal
Daily 5:55 a.m. except on Sundays. Leaves from in front of the Main House. Arrive a few minutes before 5:55 a.m. as bus sometimes leaves a bit early. Duration approximately 2 hours.
From El Cruce de Santa Rosa to Puriscal and San José
Daily 6:30 a.m. and 3:15 p.m. Leaves from El Cruce de Santa Rosa. Must arrange transportation from the Ranch to El Cruce or walk. (6 km). Duration from El Cruce is approximately 2 hours to Puriscal and 4 hours to San José.
From Puriscal to San José
Daily every ½ hour. Leaves from Comtrasuli Bus Terminal in Puriscal.
From Mastatal to Quepos
Daily 8:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Leaves from El Cruce de Santa Rosa. Must arrange transportation from the Ranch to El Cruce or walk. Duration from El Cruce to Quepos is approximately 2 hours.
WHAT'S THE FOOD LIKE?
We serve three delicious homemade meals a day, except on Sundays when we serve brunch and support Mastatal’s only restaurant. We source almost all our food from within Costa Rica, and over 50% comes from within ten miles of the Ranch. We do not own a can opener, and each meal is made by hand from whole foods.
For breakfast we generally serve pinto (local beans and rice), eggs, tropical fruits, local organic coffee with local milk and sugar, and herbal tea. Lunch and dinner usually feature fresh local salad, homemade salad dressing, rice, beans, a main dish with local tubers or vegetables, fermented vegetables, and other homemade condiments. At lunch we serve fizzy homemade herbal and fruit sodas, and at dinner we offer home brewed herbal and fruit hooch (alcoholc beverage) at a reasonable price. Meals are served buffet style and are plentiful. Although we rarely serve meat, we use local lard as our cooking oil and often serve dishes made with our neighbors’ eggs and homemade cheese.
We often feature Costa Rican specialties, exotic fruits, and foods that are unique to the area. We frequently highlight local delicacies like ojoche, breadnut, zorillo, pejibaye, yuca, flor de itavo, siplina, heart of palm, tiquisque, starfruit, mamonchino, taro, mango, and water apple, as well as a seasonal selection of exotic fruits and nuts from our farm. If you’re here at the right time, you may get to taste from a selection of seasonal fruits and nuts, including custard apple, peanut butter fruit, sundrop araza, miracle fruit, lovi-lovi, jackfruit, Amazonian tree grapes, sachi inchi nuts, salak, and many more.
People continually say that the food served at the Ranch is some of the best they have ever eaten. If you have food allergies or dislikes, please let us know ahead of time so they can work within your dietary restrictions.
CAN WE BRING YOU ANYTHING THAT YOU NEED OR CANNOT GET IN COSTA RICA?
We always appreciate folks asking us this question as there are certain items that we use at the Ranch that we cannot get in Costa Rica easily. Check out the Take Action page to see our "Wish List".
HOW DO WE MAKE A RESERVATION AT THE RANCH?
CAN WE SIMPLY SHOW UP TO THE RANCH, WITHOUT A RESERVATION?
We try to be as flexible as we possibly can, yet we appreciate and oftentimes need as much advance notice as possible for new arrivals. The Ranch gets busy during certain times of the year and we cannot guarantee a bed unless you contact us before your arrival. Thanks for your understanding.
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