Costa Rica After Action Report

Costa Rica SOTA DXpedition After Action Report

Hello SOTA enthusiasts! From January 3 to January 9, I visited Costa Rica to go “play radio.” This article will summarize my experience, share some lessons learned, and highlight the success resulting from CW Academy training.

Around January of 2020, I researched a few options for international travel. My criteria required either reciprocal licensing or a pathway for foreign travelers to obtain an amateur radio license. My criteria also included a need for the destination to participate in the “Summits on the Air” (SOTA) award program.

Although I initially planned on traveling to Japan and was granted callsign JJ1WZO, the country closed its borders to all foreign travelers due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In June, I selected Costa Rica, which had measures for foreign visitors (including mandatory additional health insurance, health screening, rapid testing, and a few others). Additionally the country had legal guidelines for free movement and exploration (to include SOTA). From June 2020 to January 2021, I closely monitored the US Embassy website and Costa Rican government messages about immigration, and surprisingly restrictions slightly relaxed over time. I simultaneously submitted the required paperwork to Sutel, the Costa Rican FCC, for callsign designators TI2, TI3, and TI5. The paperwork was very specific and required that I list each planned operating location, radio type, power, and antenna type, polarization, and gain. As a note for anyone planning on operating in Costa Rica or Costa Rican territories: submit your paperwork to Sutel as early as possible - 6 months is “cutting it close.” I’d recommend submission a year in advance to assist in navigating additional questions, corrections, and resubmission.

After my paperwork was submitted and my flight was booked, I contacted the Radio Club of Costa Rica (TI0RC) and the Asociación Radioaficionados Cartago (TI0ARC). Both groups were familiar with SOTA and provided me with insights and a list of a few possible summits to explore. They graciously created a “What’s App” messaging group and contacted me regularly throughout my planning process. Using their recommendations, I visited (the SOTA Atlas) and plotted my trip through the country. I concluded I could probably activate 2 summits per day, which would be feasible while factoring in drive time, available battery time, weather, and daylight hours.

On January 3, 2021, I landed in San Jose and met Luis Arias, TI3LSK, and we immediately set out to activate two summits. This plan required a few modifications because of closed gates, area closures due to COVID-19, and access issues; however, we activated both Alto Indias and Cerro Frio within several hours. While Luis utilized a VHF HT, I used my Yaesu FT 891 and wire dipole to work CW on HF. As stations stacked up (Argentina, France, Maine, California, etc.) I called them out to Luis, who told me he would set up FT8 for some DX on his Icom 705.

The following day was definitely a trip highlight. I discovered the Turrialba Volcano was open for climbing with a guide. I was excited because Turrialba had been closed to all exploration for approximately 10 years due to volcanic activity. The only downside to climbing the volcano was that I was only authorized to transmit using an HT rather than a complete HF setup due to time restrictions at the summit. Regardless the hike up to 11,000 ft was literally breathtaking due to the scenery and lack of oxygen. I am proud to say that TI3LSK and I were the first to activate this particular summit, which would not have been possible even two weeks prior. After Turrialba, I summited Volcano Irazu, which was equally beautiful and a bit higher in elevation.

My true “DX” station CW learning experience happened on day 3. Conditions were excellent, and I began calling CQ on 20m atop Cerro Espiritu Santo. I received an avalanche of calls. The only time I remember being more mentally flooded was on my first attempt at activating a summit using CW. Fortunately, I practiced by using Morse Runner before my trip, and I was able to pick out pieces of callsigns. I discovered a few things that helped me.

Before I share my lessons learned, I need to point out that I made my first CW QSO around September 2019 and earned my CWOps number in June of 2020. Although I know CW, I am not experienced in “running” a station, let alone a DX station. While I have run a station on various SOTA summits, the last solar minimum helped create smaller pileups that were more manageable. Additionally, fewer stations are interested in working California than they would be working Costa Rica.

Given the above, here are my observations. First, managing a pileup with rhythmic and standardized responses makes things flow more smoothly. When chasers know what to expect from me on each transmission, the pileup naturally becomes more organized. I also found that when I used a “?” combined with a partial call, the situation would become worse vs. just returning a partial call. I concluded that a “?” sent in combination with anything leads some to send their callsign despite the question not applying to them; whereas, sending a partial call almost always restrained those I didn’t intend to work at the moment and allowed me to focus on the intended station. I also found that I needed to try and work the loudest stations first. I learned working a pileup is similar to peeling layers off an onion - and often, the more rare callsigns were hidden at the innermost layers. Most importantly, though, I realized that a DXpedition doesn’t require anything beyond the radio you bring with you because the best radio is the one you use. For me, 100w and a wire worked out just fine.

I lastly decided that next time I travel, I will probably not plan on activating a large number of summits; rather, I will choose one or two and spend more time on the summit working all bands and making contacts. My purpose for this trip was a SOTA DXpedition to earn points toward the Mountain Goat award. I met that goal at the expense of rushing through the actual QSO phase. I earned points but made fewer contacts than I could have. By my next trip, I will have the Mountain Goat award, and making points will be secondary to making QSOs and generating a full logbook.

On my final day in Costa Rica, I met with the TI0ARC at a local bar. I was surprised when they presented me with an award they created, congratulating me on a successful SOTA Expedition. I was additionally told that TI3LSK registered for the next available CW Academy Basic course and encouraged fellow club members to do the same.

Although I could write a detailed log describing each day, in summary, I activated 9 different summits, including 2 volcanoes. I made contacts with stations across the United States, Germany, Spain, France, England, Czech Republic, Cuba, Sweden, Argentina, Canada, Costa Rica, and a few others. In total, I added 76 points to my SOTA score, bringing my total up to 928 (as of the day I write this). I drove several hundred miles and met many incredible people. I walked away with many new experiences, great memories, and excitement to do something similar in the future. I also realized my trip was a testament to the CW Academy program. I will forever be grateful for the time NN7M and K6RB put into teaching me proper code. It has made all the difference for me.

Before I close, I wanted to share one point of comedy during my trip. Costa Rica has a saying, “Pura Vida,” which means “pure life” but is more of a way of life than anything. The term can apply to bad situations you can’t help equally to the beautiful and amazing. On one of the last days of my trip, I was driving from a summit I had just activated toward the next village. Roads in Costa Rica are mediocre at best and terrible at worst, but I rented a 4x4 for that reason. While driving down a hill, the road transitioned from paved to dirt, to overgrown, and finally to muddy. Needless to say, I quickly became stuck to the point that I had my back right tire suspended in the air. Given the situation and my inability to self-recover, I hiked approximately 3 miles back into the town I came from. Thankfully my Spanish helped me find someone who owned a tow truck, and we returned to my vehicle. While we were at work recovering my vehicle, a local who was walking by stopped and lectured me in Spanish, saying, “We have a hard time walking down this road; what makes you think you can drive down this!?” Pura Vida? Pura Vida.

73! Dave - KM3A

Thanks to all chasers, and to @MM0FMF for debugging my inreach error mid expedition.


Excellent report David. Was great to work you while you were there and thanks much for the jumbo card.
73, Dan NA6MG

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Thanks @NA6MG I was really happy to work you as DX. I’ll be looking for you here in a few weeks when I cross the 1,000 point mark. I’ll be sure to work all bands (40m to 2m) to increase the odds I’ll get you :rofl:

Best wishes & 73. Dave.

Thanks for the 4 TI summits Dave. Your article and pictures were great. I looked forward to your activations but some were missed due to misc. other activities that had priority unfortunately. My wife and I have been to Costa Rica several times as tourists. I hope to hear you on the air again soon.
Jack KB7HH

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Thanks for chasing. Costa Rica is a beautiful country, the experience was perfect. Although I’d like to return, there are a few other countries I’d like to explore first… I like looking at and dreaming about hitting foreign peaks (Namibia looks cool). I hope to catch you on the air again soon. 73!

Hi, Dave.
I’m glad you were able to make the trip. Your CW progress is admirable. Bravo!
When I saw TI3/AB3G spotted I recalled your earlier plan announcement. I could hear you on a few summits working the world pileup while I was on a summit, but couldn’t get through.
It was a HUGE thrill to make an S2S with you on TI/SJ-037 while I was on W6/CT-225. I even turned the power up to 10 watts hoping it would help.
It looks like you will join the MG herd very soon. Power to you!
David N6AN


Thanks for the S2S, I launched out a QSL card to you for that today. My favorite QSOs are S2S and DX S2S are even better! Thanks for cranking up the power :slight_smile: I had you crystal clear minus slight QSB.

Namibia, I agree. To feed your dream, Dave, look up 3Y/BV-001
Too bad there’s only one, but what a summit!
David N6AN


Well done. I look forward to reading your next adventure.

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A wonderful trip!

I’ve encountered roads like that, mostly in Kenya or Australia, but some of them even in England! :wink:

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Wonderful!!! THANK you for this terrific report, pictures, and congratulations on learning the code, handling pileups really quite well, and having such a successful trip!

When I heard about your expedition, I was determined to work you. You initially satisfied that quest on 5 January from Cerro Espiritu Santo when I worked you (very easily) from home as KT5X.

But then you made it even more exciting when you responded perfectly to my “S-2-S” within your pile-up and worked me, right away I might add, as WS0TA, while you were Fila La Sierra (I was Ortiz Mtn at 8,500 ft elevation).

Know that it was almost, not quite, as much fun to work you as you were having doing it!

73, Fred KT5X (aka WS0TA on SOTA peaks, North America’s first mountain goat)

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Normally I deal with SMS type issues in a batch every few days. But as COVID restrictions have clamped on everybody’s fun over the last 9months I thought this issue needs attention “now” not later so that you could let everyone know your status.

I’m glad you had a good time. Paul W6PNG/M0SNA has spoken well about his times in Costa Rica and with this report I’ll be looking more closely at it as a destination myself.


@KT5X I came into the radio hobby in a solar minimum, so it is great experiencing these cooperative solar days. Watching the space weather it looks like things are only going to keep improving. I was very happy to get the S2S and both your operating calls. The signal was very clear and strong, no issues. Here’s hoping for many more :slight_smile: Thanks again for chasing - I’ll launch out a QSL for KT5X and WS0TA.

Best wishes & 73!

Thanks for my first TI chase Dave. You truly had a great signal the day I worked you from SJ-037. Great trip report too. Hope I’m around and not working the day you shoot for Goat! Good luck and have fun :wink:

Semper FI!

73, Todd KH2TJ

Thanks David for all the summits. The pictures are great too.
The volcano shots are awesome. Thanks for the QSL cards too.
A welcome addition to my collection. You did a wonderful job
handling the pile ups. Looking forward to your next venture.
de John Paul // AB4PP

OUTSTANDING Dave! Es nice sigs in AZ on times we worked,

73, Ken