Costa Rica: More of a Good Thing

As tourism to Costa Rica continues to grow at a robust pace -- arrivals are expected to reach 1 million this year -- local and international suppliers are adding new products and enhancing current facilities and services. As a result, agents have more choices to offer travelers and the destination now holds appeal for an even broader clientele.

For example, with the opening of several new golf courses in Costa Rica and the construction of several more under way or planned, the nation is gaining growing attention among golfers. To capitalize on the opportunity at least one wholesaler has launched a program of golf tours to Costa Rica.

In addition, innovative suppliers in Costa Rica continue to expand options for activities and local excursions. There are now as many as a dozen canopy tours throughout the country, and whitewater outfitters have introduced rafting to yet another river -- Rio Toro.

Other local options now available to visitors include mountain biking around Lake Arenal and down the slopes of Irazu Volcano. One novel activity now available in Costa Rica involves climbing up the inside of a 150-foot-tall strangler fig, then rappelling down the outside.

Given all the innovations on the local level, it is hardly surprising that a number of U.S.-based wholesalers have added Costa Rica to their product lineups.

At the same time, some of those who have been selling travel to the Central American nation for years report that the quality of existing facilities is improving, especially at Costa Rica's lodges and hotels.

Dan Conaway, chairman of Elegant Adventures in Atlanta, a wholesaler that offers custom vacations to Costa Rica, is one who likes what he sees. "I am pleased to see a new generation of owners stepping into many properties and really putting money into them. These are people who aspire to be the best in the world."

Following are details of these and other upcoming developments in travel to Costa Rica.

LODGING

The biggest news on Costa Rica's accommodations front is the opening this season of the 200-room Los Suenos Marriott Resort and Golf Club, now under construction about 65 miles west of San Jose on the Central Pacific coast. A November debut is slated for the property, located on a 1,100-acre site near Bahia Herradura.

The resort property will offer an 18-hole championship golf course, a beach club, water sports, a 178-slip marina, four tennis courts, swimming pool and Jacuzzi, a 10,000-square-foot health club, a retail village, a 4,000-square-foot casino and 5,900 square feet of meeting space. Also planned are as many as 1,000 residential units, some of them available for timeshare.

In December 1998 a new 11-room lodge opened in Bosque de Paz, a 1,200-acre private reserve located not far from the Poas Volcano National Park. Rates at the Bosque de Paz Rain/Cloud Forest Lodge ($105 per person, double) include guided nature tours, use of nearly 18 miles of nature trails and three meals daily.

The lodge is located in an area that's ideal for bird watching -- 250 species have been spotted -- and there is a butterfly garden and hummingbird gallery as well. In addition, the lodge operates tours to other birding hot spots, including Arenal and Poas volcanoes.

The 24-room Arenal Observatory Lodge, which is located less than two miles south of Arenal Volcano within the Arenal Volcano National Park, plans to open another 12 rooms next spring.

On the Nicoya Peninsula just outside Tambor, new owners of Tango Mar have upgraded the property since purchasing it a year ago. Changes include installation of a second swimming pool and redecorating the property's 35 guest rooms.

TOUR PROGRAMS

American Travel Abroad, which has been selling tours to Central and Eastern Europe for more than half a century, has introduced four Costa Rica itineraries. The New York-based operator offers scheduled group departures as well as independent hotel stays.

Earlier this year Delta Vacations introduced vacation packages to Costa Rica. The operator offers a series of independent programs, escorted tours and adventure travel options, all commissionable at 12%. To promote bookings, Delta Vacations is offering each traveler 2,500 bonus Delta SkyMiles for air-inclusive bookings for travel that is completed by next March 1.

Grupo Taco has introduced vacation packages to Costa Rica from its gateway cities in the U.S. as part of a new tour program called Destinos Discover Central America.

Holbrook Travel of Gainesville, Fla., earlier this year introduced a seven-night golf tour of Costa Rica and scheduled 11 departures for the program. Remaining departures this year are set for Sept. 11, Oct. 23, Nov. 6 and Dec. 4. The operator plans to repeat the popular program next year.

In addition, a Holbrook catalog released in August details itineraries for four types of travelers -- honeymooners, adventurers, budget travelers and families -- designed as a blueprint to help agents and their clients plan custom trips to Costa Rica.

Sunny Land Tours in Hackensack, N.J., is adding an emphasis on Costa Rican culture to its tour programs for the upcoming season. Beginning in November, Sunny Land's itineraries will include an evening at the newly opened Rancho San Miguel outside San Jose. Here, visitors will enjoy a choreographed equestrian display, a performance of Costa Rican dances and a dinner of Costa Rican cuisine.

This fall Temptress Adventure Cruises is relocating its 70-passenger Temptress Voyager to Costa Rica from Belize after a complete refurbishment. The shipline, which operates eco-adventure cruises, also has altered its Costa Rica itineraries and beginning Oct. 30 offers sailings that incorporate a stop at Coiba Island in Panama. Costa Rica ports of call include Curu/Tortuga Island, Corcovado National Park/San Josecito, Golfo Dulce, Drake Bay and Manuel Antonio National Park.

GOLF

Among the most exciting additions to Costa Rica's golf offering was the opening last year of the Garra de Leon Golf Course at Melia Playa Conchal. Designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. and described by one golf travel supplier as a "masterpiece," the 18-hole layout is an environmentally sensitive course that has been recognized by Audubon International.

An 18-hole championship course planned for Los Suenos Marriott Resort and Golf Club is due to open by year-end.

At Barcelo's Playa Tambor Resort, the first nine holes of Los Delfines Golf Course opened earlier this year; a second nine holes is due for completion by the end of 2000.

Other newcomers on Costa Rica's golf scene include the Parque Valle del Sol Golf Course, a nine-hole course (soon to be expanded to 18 holes) located in a residential community just outside San Jose, and Rancho Las Colinas Golf & Country Club, an 18-hole layout near Playa Flamingo.

Plans are in the works for an 18-hole course at La Roca Beach Resort & Country Club, an oceanfront resort complex just outside Puerto Caldera that is still in early stages of construction.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Construction of a new terminal at San Jose's Juan Santamaria airport is in the final stages, and the terminal is expected to be operational in time for the upcoming high season. Phase two of the project calls for the integration of the old terminal into the new facilities.

Among new attractions of interest for the upcoming season is INBioparque, a 20-acre park that will provide an introduction to Costa Rica's many ecosystems when it opens in November.

Located in the province of Heredia about 15 minutes outside San Jose, INBioparque features living samples of the country's ecosystems, interpreted trails and exhibits on biodiversity, conservation, research and sustainable use. It is a project of the private, nonprofit National Biodiversity Institute.

Comments
JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI