Category Archives: Costa Rica

Expedia, etc. and big chain hotels not eco-friendly in Costa Rica

If you are planning to vacation in Costa Rica, please read this.

More than any country on the planet, Costa Rica prides itself as eco-friendly. Large swaths of land are preserved as national parks with original-growth rainforests. Nearly all of Costa Rica’s electricity is made from renewable sources, and Ticos have been named time and again the happiest people on earth.

Most tourists come to Costa Rica thinking and expecting ‘green’. They themselves want to impact minimally and only positively on their Costa Rican destination. They properly dispose of their garbage, they use their air-conditioning minimally, they tip for good service, many try to speak the language and respect the culture, and generally set a nice open-minded example as visitors should.

But another hallmark of good eco-tourism practises is ensuring the money you spend remains in the destination and is circulated among the local population. The hotel pays its staff who in turn spend their money on locally grown food, locally sewn clothes (they can’t afford imports), fixing their home, paying for their children’s education, etc. If the hotel has money left over, it spends the money on improvements or even expansion plans.

When searching on Google for say, Costa Rica hotels, companies like Expedia (today becoming a monopoly), Orbitz, Despegar, etc. have huge marketing departments that ensure they are found on the first page of results. The little hotel doesn’t have a chance to be seen. For convenience, guests book their rooms through these mega-operators. What the guests probably don’t know is that the hotel is charged an incredible 25% commission, but it is often the only way a hotel can fill its rooms because they can’t be found on the Internet. In most Costa Rican hotels a 25% commission can eat up more than half the profits. And what is worse, the commission is repatriated out of Costa Rica and sent to the home country of Expedia, etc.

Simply put, without this additional money, especially in this tight global economy, the authentic little Costa Rica hotel finds it hard to afford to do many of the constantly needed maintenance, let alone improvements; remodeling guest rooms, adding new facilities, improving their kitchen and restaurant, fixing the roof or the pool, whatever, and as a result the hotel starts to spiral downward as it loses business and in the long run, the local economy suffers.

The same goes for big international hotel chains. They have huge marketing departments as well and are often found on the first page of search results. Big chain hotels offer little upward mobility for their local staff allocating the higher paying management jobs to foreigners, often not even in Costa Rica. The chains are forced to import their furniture, supplies, food and cleaning products, all part of their contract. They occupy prime land, the most scenic locations pushing the local people to the periphery, illegally draining swamps like the Barcelo Group, they contract improvements with big construction companies instead of local contractors, and generally they take from the local community while giving little back.

But of course your most important consideration is the quality of your vacation. Do you want to pay an inflated price to be in a huge mega hotel with 200 or 500 identical rooms, all the same as hotel rooms in the USA? Do you want to be served by disgruntled underpaid, uncaring, robotic staff with no upward mobility in their future? Do you want to line up with forty other guests each time you take a tour or go for something to eat at the buffet? Do you want much of your hard earned travel money to end up in the hands of someone who did nothing to enhance your vacation? Do you want to support the takers rather than the givers?

Consider dealing directly with smaller hotels. Smaller hotels have a much higher staff to guest ratio, often one staff per rented room! Larger hotels are one staff for anywhere from two to five rented rooms. And without the need to pay a 25% commission, the owner of a small hotel has the financial incentive to allow you to negotiate a better deal, maybe a room upgrade, or a long term discount, try doing that going through Expedia! Get to really know the owners and their friendlier staff who genuinely care, learn about the real culture and get a true feeling about your destination, personal insights, where to shop for the best deals, restaurant recommendations, the best local beaches, whatever, you’ll never get this isolated at a big chain hotel. Traveling with your family, give the kids an authentic vacation, a true learning experience, let them enjoy fairly nice hotel accommodations but at the same time, see how 90% of the world’s population really live. They’ll appreciate far more what they have waiting for them at home. And feel good about yourself that you are traveling as a goodwill ambassador representing your country.

Before leaving home, pick up some little gifts; your country’s flag or pins or postcards of where you are from, lots of appreciated things can be bought in a ‘Dollar Store’, and give them to kind people you meet in your travels. Locals don’t have the worldly experiences that you do, watch their eyes light up in excitement. Your little gifts will be received with great pride. Tourism done properly helps bring the world together. Expedia, etc. and big chain hotels drive the world apart.

Finding small, authentic Costa Rican hotels is not difficult. Decide on your exact destination and search for it on TripAdvisor.com Here big hotels need to compete head to head with the smaller hotels for positive guest reviews, and it is quite amazing to see they often can’t. The smaller hotels generally come out ahead in guest satisfaction because of price, happier staff, unique accommodations and authenticity. Once you zero in on a couple of hotels, search for them on Google and deal direct. Take a chance, you won’t be disappointed and you’ll have far more interesting stories to share with friends back home.

Another place to find a great little Costa Rican hotel is through the association, Adventure Hotels of Costa Rica (AHCR), www.adventurehotelsofcostarica.com founded in 2005. We have 86 small friendly owner-operated ‘green’ hotels strategically located throughout Costa Rica. You can find Costa Rica beach hotels, Costa Rica mountain lodges, rainforest retreats, Costa Rica yoga and surfing specialty hotels, treehouses, San Jose and airport hotels, each with its own personality blending in with the local culture. You’ll enjoy, learn from and remember your vacation at one of these truly friendly hotels far more than at a big false chain hotel. And you may save enough money to take your next vacation sooner!

In conclusion, if you and your family want a true, authentic, learning-experience vacation in Costa Rica (or anywhere) that will be remembered while saving money, and at the same time benefiting Costa Rica and the people you meet, book direct with small independent hotels rather than through a third party and/or with a large chain hotel.

What happened to Adventure Inn on TripAdvisor?

Adventure Inn has a fantastic location, ideally situated about half way between the international SJO airport and central San Jose. Our guests have close access to both, yet are far enough away for none of the negative aspects. Our guests generally enjoy and appreciate returning to the cleaner, safer, less polluted and quieter Adventure Inn neighborhood after a day in central San Jose, and a great night’s sleep close to the airport but not at the end of a runway. Continue reading

Guess which hotel is closest to the new Costa Rica Convention Center

According to the Minister of Tourism here in Costa Rica, Allan Flores, tourism in Costa Rica is divided into six sectors: adventure, ecotourism, wellness, medical, rural and convention tourism. I’m not sure where people who just want a break and come here to relax and do nothing fit in. Anyway, he thinks we are strong in the first five sectors but lacking decisively in the last, much of the convention trade lost in particular to Panama over the last decade.

A national convention center has been on the drawing board for the last twenty years, but that is as far as it ever went until recently. Continue reading

The Lookout Inn

I never thought I’d find a member hotel that I would actually write about, but my simple overnight experience at The Lookout Inn Lodge in Carate changed my mind. The lodge is a series of open-air cabinas surrounded by jungle, all pressed against a near-cliff on a remote stretch of pristine jungle-backed black beach, each cabina adjoined by stairs and platforms to the main lodge. The entire lodge gives you the feeling it was hand-made from jungle findings, and gives you great visual access from the comfort of your cabina to the distant soothing sea and the nearby plethora of wildlife that makes the Lookout Inn one of their daily stops, if not home. Continue reading

Renting a 2WD vs. a 4WD in Costa Rica

With my hotel association, Adventure Hotels of Costa Rica, about every two years, sometimes in the rainy (green) season, sometimes in the sunny (high) season, I clock approximately 2800 kilometers driving around Costa Rica, visiting all potential and new member hotels. Therefore I have gained quite a bit of knowledge about driving around Costa Rica at all times of the year.

Though Costa Rica looks small on a world map, it takes about fourteen hours to drive diagonally from one corner to the next. Traversing the rugged landscape, few highways are straight. And when you see a sign giving directions or kilometers to a certain town, take advantage of it! Continue reading

Small Costa Rica hotels band together

In 2005 a group of twenty-two small to mid-sized hotels from many Costa Rican tourist destinations banded together to take on the system. Looking for intelligent options to fill their rooms, and tired of waiting for guests to miraculously arrive at their hotel when counting on travel agents and the big internet boys (expedia, travelocity, orbitz and hotels.com), the hotel group started off on the simple premise of working as a team by sending guests to each other, and offering the guests a 10% discount as incentive. Continue reading

Climbing Mount Chirripo

Written by Tyler and Ali Weeks, previous guests of Adventure Inn

Hiking Mount Chirripo is, for many, a challenge, adventure, and calling, all in one. The highest of all mountains in Central America, its top is accessible to anyone with the persistence to press on, step by step, and requires no technical gear when seeking the summit. What is required is mental perserverance, and an ability to conquer from within the outdoor challenges of slope and variable weather patterns. For those enduring enough to press through the many offerings Mother Nature makes along the way (blaring heat and heavy humidity, cloaking clouds and varying intensities of rain…even temperatures cold enough to occasionally evoke snow and frost near the top), views of both the Caribbean and Pacific Oceans can be had, but rarely, and often only at sunrise, before the skies at 12,526 ft are enveloped in fog and clouds.

For our honeymoon, my lovely bride (my Malaika, Ali Wise) and I began the endeavor early in the morning, with Sun’s rise veiled in the common occurance of a cloudy day. The plan was to make it to the ranger station, 14.5 kilometers up from the trailhead by mid-afternoon, in our hopeful attempt to avoid being caught outdoors amidst the heavy rains of a July day’s Costa Rican downpour. The hike brought us through many different ecotypes, all fed by the waters that daily fall to and through the rainforests. Countless species of birds, insects, and plants were the backdrop to our ascent, providing a heavenly distraction to the aching in our legs that built, as we clambered closer and closer to the mountaintop. Only 40 passes/people are allowed in the park on any given day, yet it seemed the allure of Chirripo had global reach; we shared conversation with locals choosing to summit their country’s highest peak, as well as gringos like us, from such places as the USA, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, Canada, and England.

By mid-morning we’d reached the halfway point, where we could refill our water supply and sit down to reminisce on elevation gained and prepare for elevations still to be tackled. A dry first half of the hike succumbed first to misting weather, and eventually to a steady drizzle as the higher trail beckoned our energies forward. While the first ten or so kilometers were picturesque rainforest, composed of any number of towering trees, epiphytes and bromeliads, gargantuan ferns, bamboos, and flowering plants, the elevations and weather patterns further up stunted the growth of such large flora, creating a much different surrounding, known locally as ‘Paramo’ as we neared our resting place for the night.

Gifted by two kilometers of basically flat and forgiving trail, we were able to prepare for the last push to our lodge (know that the term is used loosely…a very accommodating kitchen, but no insulation, temps of 5-10* C at night, and no way to dry out whatever may have been drenched on the way up). Deemed ‘The Repentance’, and for good reason, the last kilometer to the ranger station increased greatly in gradient, and given the rains we’d endured for over four hours now, boasted a mighty mud and muck to add to the fun. But in times of great challenge, one must simply, well, keep things simple…and so step by grueling step, our goal for the day was reached.

Fast forward to the next morning, after listening to mighty rains pound the roof above our head until just past midnight, we awoke and departed for the summit promptly as 3am. Spitting just the slightest bits of snow, the weather was chilly but accommodating, and we could see stars in the skies just to our east. Hiking with headlamps, and having left all we wouldn’t need for our summit bid at the lodge, it took just under two hours to reach Chirripo’s final challenge. With dawn threatening to break, we could see the ominous peak’s silhouette on our approach, and were reduced by its mighty incline to hike hand over hand for the last 300 meters. Yet at 5am, having beat the sunrise to the finish line, and with all of Costa Rica and Central America below our feet, the chilly winds, damp clothing, soaked shoes, and aching muscles were forgotten. Fate was on our side, and scattered clouds gave way to the sun’s mighty rays, providing shifting views of the surrounding hills and mountains that no words or photos could ever capture. Yet pictures aplenty were taken, and rather than a sense of conquering, ours was much more a communion with Mother Nature and the might spirits of Mount Chirripo.

Though still challenging, the descent back down to the ranger station, and then to the trailhead to Casa Mariposa (the most homey and eco-friendly hostel a hiker could ever ask for) was a time to reflect… to quiet one’s thoughts and abandon words, while simply awing and enjoying the natural surroundings. For all the pain experienced in the ascent, we both felt a bit sad that our experience on Mount Chirripo would soon be coming to an end. That said, the thought of a warm shower and hot meal overcame any longing to begin again toward the might mountaintop, knowing Chirripo’s indelible impression lives eternally in the heart of any and all who choose its challenge.