Costa Rican bocas n’ booze

Though the free service is rapidly disappearing, a few holdout bars in Costa Rica serve bocas with each drink. Bocas (translating to mouthfuls) are a variety of traditional foods served in small amounts, from black bean soup, to a couple of chicken wings, perhaps a small amount of ceviche, a small bowl of olla de carne, or fried yucca or pork strips. Some rural bars still provide bocas free of charge, most bars today have a small charge with their boca menu.

Often in cantinas, Ticos like to swallow down raw turtle eggs in a sweet, spicey sauce. They say it gives them the ‘strength of lions’. I tried a test on a Tico one time, blind-folded him because the turtle yoke is darker, and offered him a small raw chicken egg in the same sauce. He couldn’t tell the difference. At the time I thought I pulled a fast one, as chicken eggs are not quite as endangered at turtle eggs, and I was going to give the environmental movement a huge boost in the arm. However, Playa Ostional has a sustainable program of turtle egg gathering.

All imported soda pop and liquor, wine and beer are expensive so I suggest you check out the local hooch. ‘Que tiene natural?’ translates to, ‘What natural fruit juices do you have available?’, and there really isn’t a bad one, be brave, you probably won’t be disappointed. And if you really want to go native, throw in a shot of Guaro. The word ‘Guaro’ is synonymous with ‘booze’, though the real Guaro is Costa Rica’s native liquor, compared to moonshine in some circles, a near tasteless, clear product made from fermented sugarcane. Hangovers are included, especially because it goes with nearly everything, just like vodka. If you are a die-hard beer drinker, Pilsen, Imperial and Bavaria are the three most popular brands, and all taste like beer to me! I prefer my beer with a squeeze of limon, the local lime.

Costa Rica Flora and Fauna

The richest wildlife imaginable – Costa Rica, making up 0.01 percent of the planets landmass, and being at the cross-roads of two continents and caressed by two warm oceans, is said to have an amazing five to six percent of the earth’s biodiversity.

Flora

Costa Rica has an extraordinary abundance of flora, with more than 9,000 species of ‘higher’ plants, and more being discovered every day. There are 800 species of ferns alone, 1,400 species of gorgeous orchids, and thirty species of heliconias (birds of paradise). There is a fast turnover of nutrients within the soils, and root systems therefore tend to be very shallow. With a magnifying glass, you can identify several plant species barely a millimeter high, and therefore it is impossible to identify and catalog all the species in even one acre, let alone thousands of square kilometers. In Costa Rica there are tropical rainforests, tropical dry forests largely turned into cattle country, cloud forests, and mangrove estuaries along the shorelines, each with its own cornucopia of plant species.

There are many endemic plant and animal species that are only found in very small, specific places. As rainforests disappear to make way for banana plantations, and housing developments, the world is losing things to study. As they say, ‘Extinct is forever.’

For example, I live east of San Jose up in the mountains in the rainforest. Each night I leave a water bowl out for my dogs and in the morning I find several little five mm. long bugs, all of the same species, that hop around at night on the ground, and accidentally jump into the water bowl. They obviously breathe air but go completely submerged in the water. Yet about half are still alive and wiggling their legs in the morning after being underwater for several hours. How do they do it? Perhaps if we could find the answer to that, we could cure emphysema! Anyway, that’s just one example of millions of possibilities.

Insects

There are about 1,200 species of butterflies and at least eight thousand types of moths. Invertebrates make up nearly all of Costa Rica’s fauna. With some 505,000 species, 98% are invertebrates (including crabs and spiders). There are tens of thousands of microscopic invertebrates and insects in every land elevation and type. Most are unidentified and undiscovered. Some notable insects in Costa Rica are stingless bees (they love to circle the jam at the outdoor morning buffet), army ants, ants such as leaf-cutter ants, many katydids, and the Hercules beetle.

Amphibians and reptiles

Costa Rica is home to around 175 amphibians, which include 74 frog species. Notable among them are the Red-Eyed Tree Frog, a few species of Poison Dart Frog, the semitransparent Glass Frogs, and the large Smokey Jungle Frog. Some notable toad species in Costa Rica include the ten species of Bufo toads, and the Giant toad known for its wide voracious appetite. It has been documented eating almost anything, including vegetables, ants, spiders, any toad smaller than itself, mice, and other small mammals.

There are over 200 species of reptiles, 138 of them snakes, eighteen of these are venomous, nine very. Snakes are very hard to find. In all likelihood, boas are the most easily sited, though not venomous, they can inflict a painful bite if cornered. Surprisingly, seldom will you see a snake as road kill, but the farmers and woods people always wear rubber boots.

80% of all animal-caused deaths are due to the protective and aggressive pit viper, fer-de-lance, that can grow up to three meters, and prefers to hold its ground, striking out basically unprovoked.

At my new house being built in the jungle of San Ramon Tres Rios, workers found several coral snakes. All four species in Costa Rica are highly venomous, yikes! I hate snakes! Fortunately they decided to slither away not long after the dogs and I moved in, I guess the dogs constant rustling through the undergrowth wasn’t to their liking. Coral snakes apparently have a defensive display of flattening their bodies, snapping back and forth, and swinging their heads from side to side, coiling and waving their tails.

Other reptiles include crocodiles (seen easily from the Rio Tarcoles bridge near Jaco) and caimans, iguanas in the drier low elevations, and even Jesus Christ lizards who run on water.

Costa Rica has six of the world’s eight species of marine turtles, green turtles lay their eggs in Tortuguero on the northern Caribbean, the Olive Ridley come ashore in waves of up to 200,000 (called arribadas) in the Ostional area of the Nicoya, and giant Leatherback turtles weighing up to a ton nest at Playa Grande near Tamarindo October to April.

Birds

Although Costa Rica is a small country, it is in the bird-rich neo-tropical region, and has a huge number of species for its area. 894 bird species have been recorded in the country (including Cocos Island), one tenth of the planet’s total, with seven endemics. Nineteen species are globally threatened. There are two hundred North American species found in Costa Rica, some stay year-round, other migrate during the winter. Tropical birds include six types of toucans, sixteen parrots and parakeets, more than fifty hummingbirds, and even ant birds. Bring binoculars, hire a sharp-eyed guide, get up at the crack of dawn and feast your eyes on Costa Rica’s fine feathered friends.

Mammals

It may surprise you that with the rich flora and fauna of Costa Rica, there are only about two hundred mammalian species, half are bats. Habitat destruction and hunting are to be blamed. However, large mammal populations are beginning to recover because of the new national parks.

Costa Rican waters are home to many dolphin species and seven different types of whales, but you won’t fins any seals, just too warm for them. And the only endemic species of any significance is the endangered manatee found today in the backwater regions of Tortuguero.

Before they were hunted to extinction, Costa Rica had many more mammals. Most of the larger mammals, like cats and tapirs are quite shy of people, and if you see one, get a picture! Expect to see or at least hear a couple of types of monkeys, maybe a sloth sighting, and anteater crossing the road, non-insectivorous bats, and shrews and mice. Invaluable young guides tend to know where to look, and have keen eyes to do so.

You will actually see the most wildlife, monkeys in trees, iguanas, etc. along the Pacific and northwest (towards Nicaragua) around watering holes in the early mornings or at dusk, where the vegetation is more sparse and open, and cattle ranches have prospered. As you go south and east in Costa Rica towards Panama, the more lush and tropical the rainforests become. It is comforting to know here that the dense flora and diverse fauna are vigorously growing without necessarily having to be seen. Even though only about 10% of sunlight reaches the forest floor, and vegetation is more sparse than in the canopy, but forget the Tarzan stunts, you still need a machete to walk more than a few feet, let alone swing on long vines through wide open spaces. Some public parks have trails cut, and guides are often recommended for their knowledge, protection and ability to find their way out.

If you want to take this a step further, consider a natural-history tour or take a guided day-tour through one of the many tour companies specializing in wildlife programs out of the central valley.

Reasons to not feed monkeys

  • Monkeys are susceptible to diseases straight from human hands, and without a natural resistance, could die.
  • Attracted to human-populated areas risks dog attacks and road fatalities.
  • If feeding is irregular, aggressive behavior could ensue.
  • Bananas are not the best food for monkeys, and may cause malnutrition, intoxication from pesticides, and teeth problems, possibly death. Pregnant females will often miscarry on a steady diet of bananas.
  • Feeding by humans creates a dependency, diminishing their will and ability to survive on their own. Healthy monkeys travel about ten miles per day in search of fruits, insects, seeds and small animals. A stationary existence is unhealthy.
  • Human contact encourages poaching and illegal animal trade.

Please let others know you are doing monkeys a disservice by feeding them.

Costa Rica entry requirements

A citizen from the following countries presenting a valid passport valid for six more months is permitted to stay for ninety days in Costa Rica without a visa:

Andorra, Australia*, Argentina, Austria, Bahamas, Barbados, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Chile, Cyprus, Denmark*, Germany, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, United States*, Estonia, Finland, France*, Hungary, Ireland, Iceland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, México, Montenegro, Norway*, New Zealand*, Netherlands*, Panama, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, Principality Of Monaco, San Marino, Puerto Rico, Serbia, South Africa, United Kingdom Of Great Britain and Northern Ireland **, Czech Republic, Republic Of South Korea, Hellenic Republic (Greece), Romania, Vatican City, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, Republic Of China (Taiwan), Trinidad And Tobago and Uruguay.

* Their dependencies will receive the same treatment
** Includes England, Wales and Scotland

All visitors from Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Gambia, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Bolivia, Venezuela, Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador and Guyana need proof of having a yellow fever vaccination.

Citizens holding valid passports from the following countries are exempt from all visa requirements for stays of 30 days in Costa Rica, though once inside the country, they can apply for extension from the Immigration office, for an authorized period of stay of 90 days:

Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Bolivia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Russia, the Phillipines, Fiji, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Northern Marianas, Marshall Islands, Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Maldives, Mauritius, Federated States Of Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Kingdom Of Tonga, Samoa, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and The Grenadines, Saint Lucia, Sao Tome and Principe, Seychelles, Suriname, Tuvalu, Turkey, Vanuatu and Venezuela.

Citizens of all countries not listed above are required a visa from a Costa Rican embassy or consulate before traveling.

The Economy of Costa Rica

Historically, the Costa Rican economy has been predominantly agriculture, such as coffee production, pineapples, bananas, ornamental flowers and palm oil. In recent years ecotourism, pharmaceuticals, electronics, finance and the software industry have moved in. The location of Costa Rica on the Central American Isthmus gives easy access to US, European and Asian markets. It switches time zones, half a year central (CST) and half a year mountain (MST).

The Costa Rican economy has been growing in part because their government implemented a seven-year-plan to expand into the high tech sector with tax exemptions and easy residency to investors. Comparatively high education levels make the Costa Rican population attractive for investors. High tech global corporations have moved in already like Intel (computer chips), pharmaceutical leader Glaxo Smith Kline and consumer general products limited Proctor and Gamble. Trading with S.E. Asia and Russia started booming during 2004 and 2005, and China now receives a full 18% of Costa Rican exports, and bound to grow in 2007, Costa Rica also qualified for full Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum (A.P.E.C.) membership.

For the fiscal year 2007 the country showed a government deficit of 2.1%, internal revenue increased an 18%, exports increased a 12.8% and the number of visiting tourists increased a whopping 19%, reaching 1.96 million people. Revised economic figures released by the Central Bank indicate that economic growth stood at 7.2%, nevertheless the country has started facing inflation at around 14% and a trade deficit of 5.2%. For 2008 the economy was expected to grow a 6.8%, but these figures may be downsized with the recent American mortgage meltdown.

The unit of currency is the colón (CRC), which trades around 525 to the U.S. dollar; currently about 645 to the Euro. In 2007 a new currency exchange system started to allow the value of the CRC colón to float on a daily basis between two bands as done previously by Chile. The idea is that by doing so the Central Bank will be able to better tackle inflation and discourage the use of US dollars. Oscar Arias seems to have some well thought out ideas.

How to check-in

When checking into any hotel, even Adventure Inn, ask the receptionist to show you the room first. You will naturally be shown the best room available, I do it myself. If you don’t ask to see the room, you may end up with an inferior room for the same price. Anywhere on the coasts, you need at least a good fan to keep you cool, and the mosquitos, sand flies that come out at night, and ‘no-see-ems’ away. Many beds have mosquito nets. I’m not sure about breathing the air from burning Pic coils, especially when it isn’t necessary.

I come from northern Ontario where in the late spring and early summer, the black flies, mosquitos and the worst, persistent deer flies, practically try to carry you away. Surprisingly, here in Central America, there are few bothersome insects, particularly at the higher elevations like Adventure Inn’s location.

Air-conditioning is great but tends to keep you in your room, consumes a lot of electricity, and though I’ve never experienced it myself, some people seem to catch a cold with the sudden change in temperature. Generally air-conditioning at Adventure Inn is not necessary, though some afternoons it can get pretty warm here. Try and get a room off the noisy street unless you like to people-watch from your room, and perhaps on a higher floor for the view, and to pick up any breezes if you are on a hot, humid coast. Always plan your escape in case of an earthquake or fire. Wherever you are in Costa Rica, people feel an earthquake every few months. Two weeks ago in mid-November, 2008, just after midnight, a 6.2 earthquake centered a couple of hundred miles away on the Pacific Panama border woke us out of a deep sleep.

Earthquakes travel at about two miles per second. One day I was talking by phone to my manager at the Adventure Inn, about ten miles to the west of me. She started saying, “Ohhhh!” and about five seconds later I experienced the same quake. The power of an earthquake (terremoto or temblor in Spanish), is humbling.

Costa Rica hotel reservations – are you being ripped off?

Being a hotel owner, I could just slap other hotel owners for having no marketing spirit or a sense of reaching out to their future guests. To fill their rooms, they rely on the Global Distribution System (GDS), the big internet hotel distributors, you know the ones, Hotels.com, Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, Priceline (and several hundred more) where the guest unknowingly pays sometimes 30% or even 40% more than the hotel receives. The GDS has become a huge multi-billion dollar internet industry capitalizing on the ignorance and fear of the average tourist, resulting in inferior hotel stays at inflated prices. The same thing goes for the chain hotels, with centralized global reservations.

When you use the GDS, you are given a minimum of standardized information about each hotel. There is no place for questions or to communicate directly with the hotel about your special needs; like a quiet room, a nice view, the surrounding area, discounts for multiple rooms or multiple nights, nightlife, things to do. And then you unwittingly make your reservation immediately through them on line, paying maybe 30% more than the actual hotel receives, leaving you no room to negotiate with the hotel, even if you could talk to it! And once you get to the hotel, and don’t like the hotel or your room, or the attitude of the staff or the food, you are stuck. If you check out early, they have your credit card authorized to take whatever penalty they have in their fine print. It’s a no win for you.

Here is how you turn things around and win. Today most progressive hotels have their own website, other than chain hotels who are under strict regulations to use the chain website. Find some hotels on the GDS that interest you, but as usual, you are given limited information, and can not talk to the hotel directly to ask questions. Now, search for the hotel(s) on Google, Yahoo!, etc. using the hotel name and location, for example, Adventure Inn Costa Rica. In the search results you will see www.adventure-inn.com at or near the top. Now click on the hotel website, and deal directly with the hotel!

Good marketing shows a lot about what to expect from a hotel stay. If the hotel doesn’t have tits own website on the first page of the search engines, it is likely a lost cause, the service will probably be bad, the food overpriced, and the experience tacky, inauthentic and regretful. Forget those hotels and look for ones with their own website, then call or e-mail the hotel directly from their web page. Now you are in a position to ask questions, get exactly what you want: a room with a view; a room by the pool; extra pillows; flowers or chilled champagne in your room; an early check-in or late check-out; ask about things to do, closeness to shopping, dining options, nightlife; children, senior and long stay discounts; luggage storage; airport pick-up; laundry services; cancellation penalties; pre-arranged tours and car rentals; the list goes on.

You’ll be able to use this information the rest of your life wherever you want to travel.

Starting a business in Costa Rica

It is an eye-opening experience opening business in Costa Rica. Throw everything you have learned doing business in the First World out the window, and believe what other business owners tell you about, it is true.

It can take years to get a phone line in some parts of the country for example, but greasing the wheel, or knowing someone in the department, called nepotism, can get it done in days. Unfortunately your integrity is put to the test, and you have to decide if you want to play along and get things accomplished with a minimum of red tape, or suffer not wanting to give in to a corrupt system to teach them a lesson (as if!) I prefer the course of least resistance.

The most successful businesses involve paying Tico wages and expenses, but receiving gringo incomes. Tourism is a prime example; hotels, tours and car rentals. The laws are stacked against employers, with different taxes and employer fees coming at you seemingly every month. And don’t count on your employees to tell you they were overpaid. But this being said, wages in Costa Rica are about a quarter of those found in the First World, for the same work.

What I have to say is a generalization, and there are good and bad people in every population. If you can get a good, conscientious, punctual employee however, you are lucky, and I recommend you pay him or her a bit more to save a lot of aggravation later, loss of business, retraining someone else, etc. It seems precious few Ticos take real pride in their work, and often fail to see the need to get things done today, or ever.

I have had numerous dealings with Ticos in business. I know it is a cultural thing, but there are far too many without integrity. They live for the moment, forgetting that short term gain may be long term pain. Most see nothing wrong with not following through on their promises to you, then when they owe you, they make it difficult to collect. Never prepay a Tico, period, because not only will you lose your money, but you are stuck working their shift when they don’t show up for work.

If you go into business with one, watch the theft. They have been raised that there is nothing wrong with taking more than their share, embezzling included, knowing full-well, legal prosecution isn’t a viable option for you because (a) you are a gringo which is two strikes against you (b) it will take years and (c) the defendant won’t have any money to repay you even if you eventually did win.

Case in point as I write, today a gringo, Hans, who is leasing my restaurant/bar in Adventure Inn, discovered his partner, a Tica named Priscilla, had all of the restaurant/bar credit card payments automatically deposited directly into her own private account! Hans’ previous partner, Julio, another Tico, cleaned out all the bank accounts after being paid off by Hans to leave! It seems funny, but the majority of Ticos are their own worst enemies, often in the higher income brackets, and their cultural norms of behavior and lack of integrity and follow-up put them in a position of not being included in any international business negotiations. I do believe however, Ticas tend to have a greater amount of integrity and honesty than their male counterparts, though trust nobody, even gringos here in Costa Rica. Be forewarned! This ain’t Kansas, Todo!

What many Costa Rica visitors don’t see, taste and smell

Many tourists travel around Costa Rica on pre-programmed tourist routes think the country has most of the makings of a First World country. But they often travel in Costa Rica in a sort of bubble, protected by their air-conditioned tour bus or rental car, eyes glued to the windows as it whizzes through the city and countryside, along pre-chosen attractive corridors displaying the country’s most wonderful features. Costa Rica travel draws several pictures in their minds, European-style mountain living, pristine palm-lined beaches, hot springs flowing from volcanic mountains surrounded by the rich fertile soil that has been created, twisting mountain roads with magnificent views over the green Mesita Central or distant oceans, the hustle of a rural-thinking city trying to catch up to the modern world, and the handsome peace loving family-oriented Ticos who have successfully toiled the land for generations.

But to really know Costa Rica you need to break away from the programmed guided tour, and venture out on your own. Generally you will find a people who are genuinely happy, simple people who take the time to smell the flowers, and say a kind word. You can enjoy studying them at your own pace, draw from their homes, their behavior, their lightness and ease to smile and basic yet participating sense of humor, their strong family values, their, ‘Wait til tomorrow to get that done’ attitude, it is kind of nice, you’d never think they would ever have bad stomachs, but they do, with an unusual number having stomach cancer, go figure, too much coffee (not really), stress, certainly not, silent frustration with their no-where leading lives, maybe I’m starting to get warm. Why doesn’t someone do a thesis on this?

Maybe its the drinking water. So many hotels and travel companies paint the picture that San Jose, Costa Rica tap water is safe to drink. Recent studies about the quality of San Jose water is that it won’t make you sick, like the famous Montezuma’s Revenge that you get everywhere in Mexico. When needed, the water is chlorinated to kill all coli and fecal-coli. But chlorine does not get rid of various chemicals (arsenic, strontium, strychnine and lead for example) still in the public water of San Jose at levels considered unsafe by US standards. Boiling won’t help the problem either. If you consume any large amounts of water, I advise you to use bottled water. Outside of San Jose, it really depends upon the source of water, be it a pristine mountain spring, or from the water table of an old town. You weigh it out, but if in doubt, drink bottled water.

Monteverde and other similar options

In the 1930’s Monteverde was first occupied by Costa Rican colonists scratching a living by farming and logging. They like the undeveloped land because it was quite similar the early America’s wild west, and had no help from Costa Rica’s government to re-establish themselves in the cool, rugged mountain area.

In 1949, four pacifist Quakers from Alabama were jailed for refusing to fight in the Korean War after being drafted. Once out of jail, along with their community of ‘friend’s’ (the other name for their Christian group), they searched for a new country where peace dominated. Monteverde, Costa Rica seemed to fit the bill, a year earlier the standing army was abolished, and the underdeveloped, cool, lush, mountain sides were ideal for dairying.

In 1951, a total of forty-four Quaker settlers making up eleven families from the ‘Friends’ religion came and called the place ‘Green Mountain’ or ‘Monteverde’ in Spanish. Their mutual friendship and community co-operation helped Monteverde grow to what you see today.

Should you decide to visit Monteverde, you will need at least a couple of days to see most of the organized attractions, hanging bridges, canopy zip-lines, cloud forest paths, a frog museum, birding opportunities, or just hanging out in the quaint Quaker village of Santa Elena, and watch the mix of tourists and locals evolve.

Two hundred thousand visitors enjoy Monteverde each year in spite of the fact it is three hours from Adventure Inn, with the last ninety minutes on a steep, unpaved, spine-jolting road. Monteverde was one of Costa Rica’s initial eco-tourism destinations, and now it is pushing its capacity forcing authorities to set limits on visitors to specific preserves at the same time.

The successes of Monteverde have inspired other regions of Costa Rica to jump on the band wagon as less- crowded options, taking some pressure from Monteverde pristine environment.

People usually go to Monteverde for one of four reasons:

  • to visit the cloud forest and see the Resplendent Quetzal
  • to do a zip line or walk on hanging bridges in the forest canopy
  • to see how organic, fair-trade coffee is grown.
  • to learn more about the fascinating Quaker community which founded Monteverde in 1951

If you want easy access to a cloud forest and perhaps luck out seeing a quetzal, consider the rugged mountainous region crossed by the InterAmerican Highway between Cartago heading for San Isidro de El General. All year long quetzals can be seen here. Though the area hasn’t developed like Monteverde with tourist attractions, simply enjoy the fresh mountain air, and go with the flow, there’s lots to do. My favorite lodge in this area, owned by my friend, American Gary Roberts and his wife, is the cozy, charming El Toucanet Lodge in Copey de Dota. This lodge is closer to San Jose than Monteverde, and access is mostly on paved roads. Again mention Adventure Hotels of Costa Rica for a further 10% off your quoted rate.

For those who want the thrill of zip lines and suspended bridges in the forest canopy, don’t think that Monteverde is the only place to find them. The area around Rincon de la Vieja National Park in Guanacaste, with its bubbling mud holes, waterfalls, mountain biking and hiking trails, and also has several of the country’s most exciting canopy rides. Rincon de la Vieja Lodge has an 11-cable zip line only two kilometers from the park entrance. Hacienda Guachipelin’s zip-lines traverse across a canyon rather than tree-to-tree. We, at Adventure Inn, arrange organized tours to Buena Vista Lodge and Adventure Center which has two canopy tours, one with a 700 meter cable going from mountain top to mountain top, seventeen hanging bridges, and a 400 meter long water slide.

The Arenal hanging bridges near Arenal Volcano, and the Tirimbina Reserve near La Virgen de Sarapiqui, 90 minutes from Adventure Inn have well-made hanging bridges through dense rainforest. Stay at my great friends Beatriz and Leo Gamez’s lodge, La Quinta de Sarapiqui (laquintasarapiqui.com) for an education in itself, with their wildlife museum, and educational facilities. This couple are leaders in the environmental movement in their area.

For those who are truly fascinated in the story of these Alabama Quakers who were imprisoned for resisting enlisting and who emigrated to standing armyless Costa Rica at the beginning of the Korean War, a pilgrimage needs to be undertaken to Monteverde. See how an entrepreneurial cheese business unified local families, and how they protected their valuable watershed after founding their famous Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, and sime time later the Childrens’ Eternal Rain Forest. Though adventure, music, art, culture, volunteers, and scientific studies radiate from Monteverde, other new places are starting to gain momentum in popularity.

Certain Costa Rica tour companies do not have your best interests in mind

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’.

Costa Rica travel blog