A Gun Guy Travels to Costa Rica

I took a vacation recently to Central America. I know what you’re thinking “You work in the gun industry TVPP, isn’t every day a vacation?

No. It flippin isn’t. Some days are awesome, other days are a pain in the ass, and it’s still nice to unplug every now and again.

So I went solo backpacking across Costa Rica, saw the capital, the Pacific coast, the cloud forests, volcanoes, and the Caribbean coast. It was a good time, and I’d go back again. Because I’m a work-a-holic, I also couldn’t resist visiting a gun shop, snapping some photos, and writing about the gear I used on the trail…

What did you take?

For two weeks, I lived out of this rucksack. The Tasmanian Tiger Mission bag was large enough to hold all my gear, but small enough that I could still sit with it on the bus rather than stash it underneath. I met two Canadian’s from Ottawa who had their bag stolen this way, so I definitely felt vindicated for my obsessive “kit never leaves my side” mentality. Additionally the two main pockets feature some simple internal divisions that let me make sure things like the umbrella, camera, and binos were always in the same place when I looked for them.

The admin pouch and patches that formed my camera case, in front of the Arenal volcano
The admin pouch and patches that formed my camera case, in front of the Arenal volcano

From a security standpoint, it was great to be able to lock the main compartments of the bag at the zippers, and still have an accessible rear pocket for little “need it now” bits like maps, guides, paperback books etc. The isolated vented pocket was also great for transporting damp clothing. Things don’t dry out in Costa Rica, but they do start to smell if you don’t give them some air. Having multiple handles on the top & sides of the pack also makes a big difference when you’re frequently shouldering & unshouldering, or shifting all your worldly possessions around you while you wait for a taxi-boat that may or may not be coming.

Because I am the hugest nerd you know, I also opted to take a wide-brim hat with me into the rainforests. The Tilley Had is Canadian-made, easily the most money I’ve ever spent on a hat ($80) and the most comfortable thing I’ve ever worn on my head. Tilley is pretty good at explaining themselves for why they think they’re hat is awesome, and I honestly was a little skeptical when I first put my money down.

But for field use: I’ve never had such a good solution for sun & rain. The wind cord only came into play once, and I was damn glad I had it.

As close up as I'd get to the Arenal volcano cone. While the town of La Fortuna was right at the base, the clouds were so low there that you could only see a tiny fraction of the actual mountain.
As close up as I’d get to the Arenal volcano cone. While the town of La Fortuna was right at the base, the clouds were so low there that you could only see a tiny fraction of the actual mountain.

I was there in rainy season, so the travel umbrella, pack cover, and stealth suit raincoat saw almost daily use. The stealth suit is easily one of the simplest pieces of kit I own, but damned handy. Made by Peerless Garments in Winnipeg, it’s an adaptation of the Canadian Forces goretex liner, converted into a standalone garment. Are there better pieces of technical clothing? Undoubtedly. But the stealth jacket offers a light, compact rain jacket that’s a step above the “pocket ponchos” that inevitably before stuffy suffocating feeling garments. Even when walking several kms in a heavy downpour with ambient temperature around 24 degrees C, the stealth suit was comfortable.

This is Southern Alberta, not Costa Rica. But it is one of the only photos I have of me wearing the stealth jacket.
This is Southern Alberta, not Costa Rica. But it is one of the only photos I have of me wearing the stealth jacket.

In the world of the Canadian Forces, apparently the stealth suit is designed to be worn under garments as an additional waterproofing layer, which explains why it has no pockets. I used it as a quick-on quick-off rain layer that I could store next to the pack-cover in the bottom of the mission bag. The rain could be threatening for hours, then start and stop at the drop of a hat.

What did you do?

Appropriately touristy things. I ziplined, I learned to surf, I kayaked the coast and mangrove swamps, I explored the cloud forest, I skinny dipped, I spent a lovely weekend at a lovely country house, I read paperback books, I drank in bars, I met a good many interesting people, I saw a wealth of wildlife. I intentionally tried to live outside the camera for a while, do more seeing with my eyes and focus less on capturing the experience.

Because really, I want a vacation to be about enjoying that time and place, not recording every moment to bring back and post-hashtag-share with you. No offense.

Fuckin Sloth
I also saw a sloth up close and personal. Bask in its glory.

What route did you follow?

I figured with 2 weeks, I wanted to see some of the country, but probably couldn’t manage all of the country. I booked spaces through AirBnB, which meant if I wanted to change my schedule at the last minute, I wouldn’t lose more than $20-30 a night. My first day I stayed in Alajuela and explored San Jose, then visited Jaco on the Pacific coast. I found Jaco very touristy (a town made up entirely of hotels, bars, and trinket shops) and left early in favor of Monteverde. The cloud forests and night tours of Santa Elena & Monteverde were fantastic, and I would definitely go back.

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After 3 days there, I took a boat across Lake Arenal to La Fortuna at the base of the volcano. The hot springs in La Fortuna far exceeded my expectations based on previous visits to Canadian hotsprings. The addition of natural stones and a full bar cannot be understated. A weekend around the pool at a San Carlos country house rounded out an excellent time in the interior.

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After that it was a long bus ride to Cahuita, a Caribbean coast town south of the port city of Limon (a place foreigners should take caution in) and on the North side of the national park that ends in Puerto Viejo. The Caribbean coast was a much more relaxed environment, and after one night in a slightly uncomfortable AirBnB, I opted to splurge and booked into a guest house run by a Quebecois couple. It was a good choice to round out the trip. I could easily spend closer to a full week on the Caribbean coast, and would love to paddle down across the national park.

Kayaking the Caribbean Mangrove swamps with patches
Kayaking the Caribbean Mangrove swamps with patches

But what about the guns man?

In San Jose, while looking for the pre-columbian gold museum (it’s underground) I stumbled upon a tiny gun shop downtown called Armeria Rex. Which is as good a name for a gun store as I can possibly imagine. Inside, their stock was almost exclusively handguns and handgun accessories, with a small selection of shotguns. Firearms are almost exclusively for home defense down there (crime is an issue, particularly in the capital and some poorer neighbourhoods) and once you’ve acquired the proper license to own a firearm, that doubles as your license to carry it.

Armeria Rex Costa Rica

While the salesman there explained that they have substantial taxes when importing, they can bring in firearms from all over the world. The entire country seems to work on a dual currency system of Costa Rican Colones and US Dollars, and this shop was no exception. They’re prices weren’t nearly as ridiculous as I was expecting. Ballpark $600 for a Baretta M9. And only $700 for the Vz61 that caught my eye. This Vz61 was a milsurp retrofit that had it’s full auto components welded up. It was the only “rifle-like” thing in the shop in that it had it’s folding stock intact. They also sold 32 ACP ammunition there, as well as a wide range of holsters and general sporting goods.

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I noticed a wide variety of armed guards across the country, from everything to generic security at the local super market, to the Federal police checkpoints with full plate carriers. Drop leg holsters are still very popular down there, and I noticed a handful of insecurely retained handguns. Lots of Jericho pistols, Browning Hi-Powers, and Beretta Px4s. Not nearly as many Glocks as I would have guessed.

Apparently its possible for a foreign resident to legally acquire their firearms certificate down there and carry concealed. Only sanctioned police and security can carry openly. Personally I know a few friends who winter down there and would be very curious to learn more about that process.

We now resume your regularly scheduled Canadian firearms content…