SAN JOSE, Costa Rica -- Costa Rica, the darling of ecotourism
destinations, is unaccustomed to the adverse media headlines
detailing the recent killings of two young American women in the
Caribbean town of Cahuita.
Exacerbating the situation was news coverage of political
protesters blocking roads leading to key tourist attractions.
The State Department advised U.S. travelers to Costa Rica to
"avoid demonstrations, be flexible when driving because of the
possibility of blocked roads and keep gas tanks at least half
Although there were no new roadblocks reported in Costa Rica
last week, Michael Kaye, president of San Jose-based Costa Rica
Expeditions, reported that the end is not yet in sight for strikers
protesting new laws that would privatize certain industries and
eventually remove government-controlled prices enjoyed by farmers,
workers and government employees.
"I think it is important to understand that the last two weeks
represent the beginning of what is going to be a long and sometimes
painful process of restructuring of government energy and
telecommunications monopolies," said Kaye. "I think it would be
overly optimistic to think that we have seen the last of these
In some cases, local tour operators jumped through hoops to cope
with the inconveniences that roadblocks caused visitors traveling
overland in Costa Rica, said Dan Conaway, president of
Atlanta-based Elegant Vacations. "Thank goodness we have our own
office in Costa Rica."
He said that when clients were heading for Poas National Park,
the operator put extra soda and water on their vans in case of
delays, and "when Sansa did not fly to Puerto Jimenez on the Osa
peninsula, we chartered a plane for the trip."
Conaway said, "Disruptions occurred during spring break, and we
did not receive cancellations, but certainly the news is putting a
damper on new bookings for Easter and shoulder spring season."
Conaway was quick to point out that Costa Rica is a democratic
country, and "its citizens have a right to peaceful
Meanwhile, the police are continuing to investigate the deaths
of two 19-year-old women whose bodies were found March 13 near the
Caribbean town of Cahuita, 90 miles east of San Jose.
As of press time, police had arrested two suspects in the
murders and were searching for a third. Both murdered victims were
students at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. One of the
women had been living in Costa Rica since January, the other was
visiting her friend.
Although a crime of this nature could have happened anywhere,
"it happened in Costa Rica, which, despite occasional violence,
continues to be one of the safest places in the world," said Annie
Berk, vice president of Ladatco Tours in Miami.
She said that even though the area around Cahuita and Puerto
Viejo is known to be more dangerous [allegedly due primarily to
drug trafficking] than the rest of the country, "no matter where
violence takes place against foreigners, it tends to be reported
with big and broad headlines in popular destinations such as Costa
"Newspapers infer that the scene of the murders is a
full-fledged Caribbean resort area," said Berk, "which, with almost
no infrastructure, indeed it is not."
According to Berk, the company received no cancellations because
of these events, although it is a bit early to tell if there is
"image damage" to Costa Rica.
Although she expected the news to play itself out, "it would be
very beneficial to the country if the murderer or murderers were
caught. This tragedy has several murky aspects that are certainly
not tourist related," she said.
Although the murders were not an attack on tourists per se, Lori
Sidawi, vice president of Sunny Land Tours, Hackensack N.J.,
believes such an incident always reflects on a country, "even one
as peaceful as Costa Rica."
Sunny Land's program this year offers many nature and resort
lodge packages to the Caribbean coast, and according to Sidawi, "we
intend to continue our promotion of what is basically a new area of
Costa Rica and a lovely and unspoiled region."
Elegant offers five-night fams
NEW YORK -- In the light of recent events in Costa Rica, Elegant
Vacations is stepping up its travel agent educational program,
offering five-night fam trips from May l through Nov. 30 in
cooperation with Sol Melia Hotels.
Two nights will be spent at the Melia Cariari in San Jose and
three nights at the Melia Playa Conchal in Tamarindo. The cost is
$299 per person, double.
For more information, call (800) 451-4398; fax (770) 859-0259,
or e-mail [email protected].