Costa Rica: Spotlight on Diversity

U.S.-based tour operators who feature Costa Rica among their products continue to expand their offerings to the Central American nation.

Here we offer a sampling of tour operator products, including those that feature tried-and-true itineraries as well as programs that provide innovative alternatives.

Prices are per person, based on double occupancy. Commissions are 10%, and many firms offer volume overrides.

THE CARIBBEAN EXPERIENCE

A nine-night Caribbean Eco-Adventure itinerary introduced this year by Sunny Land Tours of Hackensack, N.J., spotlights a region of Costa Rica that is rarely visited -- the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge in the southeastern corner of the country near the Panama border. "The southern Caribbean is a new frontier for Costa Rica and has many advantages," says Lori Sidawi, executive vice president of Sunny Land.

One tour highlight is the Almonds and Corals Lodge Tent Camp, located within the refuge and a few steps from the beach. "The way you get to your rooms is through a series of pathways and walkways in a very dense, very lush verdant forest," Sidawi says. Activities here include snorkeling and bicycling along the sandy streets of small Caribbean communities that Sidawi describes as "very Belizean."

"After two nights there we bring them to the Casa Turire Hotel in Turrialba, primarily a coffee plantation town located in a valley. It's a totally different environment."

Tour highlights: Two nights at Almonds and Corals Lodge Tent Camp, two nights at the Hotel Casa Turire, full-day trip to Irazu Volcano and the Orosi Valley, afternoon and evening trip to Arenal Volcano and Tabacon Hot Springs Spa, full-day whitewater rafting on the Reventazon River, and four nights in San Jose.

Price: From $1,445, including roundtrip air from Miami. A discount of $100 applies to travel completed by Oct. 31. Departures: Saturdays, year-round.

COMBINING COUNTRIES

This year, Maupintour of Lawrence, Kan., has launched an innovative 11-night tour that visits Costa Rica and the Galapagos Islands. "This should have a real strong appeal to people who are interested in ecology and the environment, since you're going to two of the prime areas of the world for the preservation of the environment," says a spokeswoman for the company.

"I see this as a real intelligent combination, and good use of the air. If you're flying to Costa Rica, it's not that much more to go to the Galapagos."

Tour highlights: In Costa Rica, two nights at the Tortuga Lodge with guided explorations by foot and boat of Tortuguero National Park, two nights at the Costa Rica Marriott, Rain Forest Aerial Tram in Braulio Carrillo National Park, excursion by motorcoach to Poas Volcano and San Jose city tour. In Ecuador, five-day Galapagos cruise aboard the Santa Cruz, one night at the Hilton Colon Guayaquil, two nights at the Hilton Colon Quito, and excursion through the Valley of Volcanoes.

Price: From $4,595, including roundtrip air from Miami, local ground and air transfers, air travel between Costa Rica and Ecuador, cruise, services of tour manager and local guides, sightseeing and most meals. Departures: Oct. 2 and 23.

SOUTHERN EXPOSURE

A cornerstone itinerary of Costa Rica Connection's largely custom FIT offering is an eight-night program called Best of Costa Rica. John Aspinall, owner of the San Luis Obispo, Calif., firm, recommends the trip because it features Costa Rica's southern rain forest. "It's more remote and less commercial, not a beach destination, but rain forest and beach, where the bird watching and wildlife viewing is good."

Also, Aspinall says, "at Arenal, there's the active volcano and the hot springs, and the drive to Arenal I consider to be one of the prettiest drives in Costa Rica. Monteverde, being a cloud forest, is a different type of ecosystem, with different birds, and more of a focus on plants and ferns."

Tour highlights: Three nights at the Tiskita Jungle Lodge near Golfito, one night at the Arenal Observatory Lodge, two nights at Hotel Fonda Vela in Monteverde, two nights at the Hotel Grano de Oro or similar in San Jose; also, guided hikes at Tiskita, Arenal, Monteverde and Carara Biological Reserve, and visits to Tabacon Hot Springs and butterfly garden. An optional day trip to Sirena Ranger Station in Corcovado National Park is extra.

Price: $1,320 land, through Nov. 30, including internal air to Tiskita, transfers with private driver/guide to Arenal, Monteverde and back to San Jose and most meals. Departures: Tuesdays and Saturdays.

VALUE VACATIONS

In Scottsdale, Ariz., Emerald Adventures (formerly Southseas Adventures) is promoting an inclusive, fully escorted seven-night tour of Costa Rica that provides good value. "We are more economically priced than our competition, based on the hotels and the fact that it is fully escorted and all but three meals are included," says sales associate Carolyn Van Santen.

One feature of the itinerary, Van Santen notes, is the built-in flexibility that makes it suitable for both active vacationers and those who prefer a more relaxed pace. "You can do as much or as little as you want. If you want to go whitewater rafting, we can make those arrangements. If you want to go horseback riding, we can arrange that."

Tour highlights: Two nights at Mawamba Lodge in Tortuguero, guided boat excursions and nature hikes in Tortuguero National Park, two nights at Las Cabanitas Resort in La Fortuna, nighttime viewing of Arenal Volcano, one night at Allegro Resort's Fiesta Village on the Pacific Coast, day trip by catamaran to Isla Tortuga for swimming, hiking, sea kayaking or canopy tour, and two nights in San Jose. Excursions to Tabacon Hot Springs and activities such as horseback riding and river rafting are optional add-ons.

Price: $1,706, including scheduled international air travel on Continental Airlines (add-ons may apply), internal air travel, most meals, services of an escort guide and driver. Departures: Oct. 2 and 16, Nov. 6 and 27, Dec. 11. (Millennial departures, Dec. 26 and 27, feature slightly different itineraries and pricing.)

BUDGET PROGRAMS

For clients interested in a brief visit to Costa Rica at an affordable price, Tara Tours of Miami is offering a basic three-night air-inclusive package to San Jose priced from $399. Company president Daniel Taramona says the low package price puts Costa Rica within reach of a wide range of travelers. "It makes it very easy for anybody to go to Costa Rica. For the first time traveler or the traveler on a budget, they can have easy access to Central America. They can have a taste so that later they can come back and stay longer."

Package highlights: Three nights' accommodations at Hotel Vesuvio, roundtrip air travel from Miami, daily continental breakfast, room taxes and service charges. Price: $399 through Nov. 30.

FAMILY ADVENTURES

Thomson Family Adventures in Cambridge, Mass., (a sister company of Thomson Safaris) is offering a trip called Beauty & Butterflies: The Wonders of Costa Rica that is aimed at active families who are environmentally conscious.

Jim Kackley, director of Thomson Family Adventures, says the 11-night itinerary is designed to appeal to family members of all ages. "There's something to do at each place for each of the kids. So when we go to Manuel Antonio, we offer things like dolphin viewing and walking in the park, but there's also the opportunity for teenagers to go boogie boarding and body surfing. At Selva Verde, there's whitewater rafting on the Sarapiqui for older kids and adults, and for the younger ones there's a float trip."

Tour highlights: Canopy tour on a suspended walkway at the Rainmaker Conservation Project outside Manuel Antonio National Park, tree planting with a local conservation project at Bosque de Paz, two nights at Selva Verde Lodge, one night at Tabacon Lodge, three nights at Villas Si Como No, optional sea kayaking or horseback riding, two nights at Mawamba Lodge, explorations by dugout canoe, and interpersonal exchanges including visits with Costa Rican families, lunch at a local school and the opportunity to participate in a local soccer game or visit animal nurseries and plantations.

Price: From $3,190 ($2,890 for eight-night school vacation departures in Feb. and April), $300 less for children ages 12 to 17, and $500 less for children 11 and under. Prices include air travel from Miami and all meals. Departures: Dec. 22. In 2000, Feb. 12, March 11, April 15, June 10, July 1, Aug. 5.

THE NATIONAL PARKS

Creative Tours in New Orleans is offering a nine-night self-drive package, Costa Rican Classic Model of the Tropics, that provides access to some of Costa Rica's finest national parks.

Creative Tours president Raphael Alvarado notes that 30% of Costa Rica's territory is protected in national parks and wildlife reserves. "This package visits several of these areas, so they can perhaps see Poas Volcano, Braulio Carrillo, Rincon de la Vieja, Monteverde, Corcovado and Golfito Wildlife Refuge. When you combine those areas and a resort like Lapa Rios on the Osa Peninsula, it's quite a concept."

Price: Through mid-November $929 land-only, including two nights in San Jose; two nights at the Hotel-Resort Tilajari, located east of the Arenal Volcano in the valley of San Carlos; three nights in Monteverde; two nights at Lapa Rios, an upscale wilderness resort; use of a 4X4 rental car and all meals while at Lapa Rios. Departures: Daily.

SAVE THE TURTLES

For conservation-minded clients interested in enjoying a participatory vacation experience, Holbrook Travel of Gainesville, Fla., offers an eight-night Turtle Tagging program. "These are not normal beach vacations," says marketing director Debbie Studivant. "As a matter of fact it's hard work. You walk anywhere from five to eight miles on the beach at night with no lights.

"It's an incredible experience though. The rewards are when you see a turtle making her nest and, if you're lucky, laying her eggs. You count the eggs and help the researchers measure the shells. We have people who go year after year; they just love it."

Program highlights: Work with sea turtle biologists measuring turtles, counting eggs, recording data and conducting beach surveys; also, free time for trail walks and boating in Tortuguero National Park.

Price: $1,280 for one week, and $1,685 for two weeks, land, including first and last night hotel accommodations in San Jose; land, boat and air transfers to Tortuguero; dormitory style accommodations at the John H. Phipps Biological Field Station (operated by the Caribbean Conservation Corporation) and all meals at the field station. Departures: Saturdays through Oct. 17.

MILLENNIAL DEPARTURES

"Costa Rica is a special and diverse country. To be able to enjoy it during a 'once-in-a-thousand-years' event will only enhance the memories," says Jim Hannigan, marketing director for Costa Rica Experts in Chicago.

In addition to its custom itineraries, Costa Rica Experts has put together several millennium packages. Among these is a 10-night fully guided Millennium Adventure that incorporates the country's top natural attractions and guided excursions.

Tour highlights: Three nights at the Monteverde Lodge or similar, guided tour of the Monteverde Reserve, and the Monteverde Butterfly Farm, excursion to Poas Volcano National Park with lunch in the park, two nights at the Arenal Observatory Lodge or similar, guided walk in Arenal National Park, two nights at the Tortuga Lodge or similar, boat tours of Tortuguero National Park, a full day of whitewater rafting on the Reventazon River, and three nights in San Jose at the Hotel San Gildar or similar.

Price: $2,745, including air travel from Miami; air, land and water transfers; park entrance fees; 18 meals. Departure: Dec. 24.

For More Information
Costa Rica Connection: (800) 345-7422
Costa Rica Experts: (800) 827-9046
Creative Tours: (504) 861-2639
Emerald Adventures: (888) 271-7836
Holbrook Travel: (800) 451-7111
Maupintour: (800) 255-4266
Sunny Land Tours: (800) 783-7839
Tara Tours: (800) 327-0080
Thomson Adventures: (800) 354-6030
Comments
JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI