I know it isn’t ethical to talk about other people’s businesses, but I feel my responsibility and obligations are to my guests, especially when the companies I am trying to warn them about are anything but ethical themselves.
Everyone planning to take some tours in Costa Rica needs to be made aware of some of the overnight tours, that wack you on the additional cost of accommodations and meals. I feel these unexciting, programmed, very expensive all-inclusive travel packages offered by some on-line tour agencies take complete advantage of your lack of knowledge.
I have had numerous complaints about two tour companies in particular, ‘Costa Rica Temptations’ and ‘Costa Rica 4 U’. They especially rip you off on the overnight nature tours they sell, which cost more than double if you pieced the tour together yourself. The companies have a complete lack of integrity, they break promises, and never refund even when they can’t deliver what they sell you.
Their tours involve traveling around in an artificial bubble bus through the most touristy places with your nose pressed against the tour bus window, and a bi-lingual guide trying to respond to your questions with patented answers. You don’t come close to experiencing the real smells, feel, sights and culture of the local people, or the beautiful countryside. Your meals are included, and therefore your selection is limited to what they want to serve you. Even if you have limited strength or are mobility challenged, and really need someone to assist you through your vacation, there are several better companies with better prices and more imaginative tours.
For example, ‘Costa Rica Temptations’ is presently offering a ‘wonderful’ package that includes a night’s rustic accommodations. First the tour takes you to INBiopark, an interesting little nature-education center right in San Jose! Why not just take a taxi?
Continuing along, they take you to the huge rip-off Rainforest Aerial Tram. After a film about this wonderful canopy biologist turned businessman, you ride in a tram through the rainforest where they pretend you are going to see all sorts of wildlife in the canopy. My sons and I went on it years ago, and saw one little eyelash vipor snake that didn’t move in an hour (I suspect it was rubber) and a couple of large grey birds flying overhead. All wildlife was frightened away years ago during the construction phase, and the constant noise today of tourists straining their necks in frustration to see anything move.
Then you are shuttled to Centro Neotrópico Sarapiquís, a built-for-tourism museum complex that claims they do all sorts of meaningful rainforest research, which I do question, and you spend a very quiet night in basic accommodations. The next day after their boring scrambled eggs, rice and beans and rubbery bacon buffet breakfast, they drive you to the expensive (prices have increased considerably in the last year) Waterfall Garden Park where you go through an interesting butterfly enclosure, a hummingbird station, a mock Costa Rican village and nature museum, and climb down a steps beside a spectacular series of waterfalls. You need to be quite stable on your feet. The last place you go is Poas Volcano, where you supposedly peer into the expansive volcano. Usually the volcano is clouded over in the afternoon by the time you arrive, so who are they kidding, you can’t see a thing!
For this one-night package you pay $387 per person double occupancy, or $774 per couple! People have rocks in their heads to pay this much for such a poorly organized tour. If you are a single it will run you $433! And these are the low season rates!
On the other hand, the Highlights 4 in 1 Tropical Rainforest tour that we sell from Adventure Inn does the same thing only better, and you do it all in one day. You go in the reverse direction climbing the interior mountains in the morning light to see the coffee plantations and ornamental flowers and get to see Poas Volcano in the morning when it is still visible, you do the same Waterfall Garden Park activities, then instead of the phoney Centro Neotrópico Sarapiquís and their accommodations, you go on a covered boat ride along the winding Sarapiqui River for a couple of hours where you will see several species of monkeys, iguanas, sloths, cayman and crocodiles, and all sorts of amazing birds, all in the wild, not in cages like on the Costa Rica Temptations tour. Both a brunch and early supper are included, though admittedly, the meals are no better than the above tour. Last you climb over a mile in your tour bus through Braulio Carillo National Park (by-passing the over-rated, boring rip-off aerial tram), and return to San Jose or better, Adventure Inn, for supper. Total cost is $90 per person, $67.50 per child, quite a difference. Add the cost of a nights accommodation at Adventure Inn, say $94, and in total, you spend about a third of what this Costa Rica Temptations charges you, for a better tour, and far better accommodations, and a full American breakfast.
Another example of what to avoid, also sold by Costa Rica Temptations, is the overnight Pacuare Whitewater Rafting tour that costs $269 to $289 per person. You go down the same stretch of the Pacuare River as the same day tour that costs $95, except they take two days to do it. Rustic cabin or tent accommodations are provided, and a dinner and a couple of walks through the jungle for the extra $348 or $388 you pay double occupancy. These is just two examples, but many tours are the same, believe me. Save your money and take a real jungle experience the next day where you are guaranteed to see lots of wildlife, a gigantic volvano crater, and a waterfall garden park, like on the Highlights 4 in 1 Tour, or go canopy zip-lining the second day and save considerable money.
A better overnight whitewater rafting option we sell for $250 per person includes running the full Reventazon River the first day, overnight hotel in Turrialba with pool, meals, and TV, then run the full Pacuare River the second day. I want you to enjoy the wonders of Central America, but not get ripped off while doing it.
In conclusion, be aware of the rip-offs on guided overnight tours that bump the price considerably for the meals and accommodations. Forget the Rainforest Aerial tram, you’ll see nothing, forget the overnight Pacuare Lodge, they gouge the heck out of you, and avoid any services or tours provided by ‘Costa Rica Temptations’ and ‘Costa Rica 4 U’.