Tours of a Lifetime
National Geographic 2010, 2012
Top 3, Best Values in the World
Travel & Leisure, March 2012

How to Get the Most out of Your Experience

"Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away."
George Carlin.

Common sense advice on how to enjoy and get the most out of your experience in Costa Rica.

"The highest aim of travel is not to see new sights, but to gain new eyes."
M. Proust

Here are some general suggestions that we feel will help you to better enjoy your trip to Costa Rica:

  1. Expectations:

    "Smart travelers remember where they are.
    Wise travelers forget where they are.
    Perfect travelers forget where they are from."
    Anonymous

    You may expect Costa Rica to be more like your own country than it really is. We suggest you leave all your expectations at home and accept Costa Rica and its sites for what they are and not for what you expect them to be. If this is your attitude right from the start, we are sure that Costa Rica will, in the long run, live up to what you originally envisioned and even go far beyond.

    Slow down, learn and enjoy.

  2. Adaptations:

    "When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable."
    Clifton Fadiman

    Part of the fun and, at times, the difficulty of traveling to new regions of the world is trying to adapt to the various environments and situations (hotels, food, transportation, climate, etc.) It is not always easy, especially at first, but look at the experience as positive, interesting and exciting. Also, try to understand and witness how the people of Costa Rica -- not only animals and plants -- have adapted to their own environments.

    Slow down, learn and enjoy.

  3. The Tico System:

    “A good holiday is one that is spent among people whose notions of time are vaguer than yours.”
    J. B. Priestley

    The pace of life in Costa Rica is quite different from what you are accustomed to -- it's slooooower. We inherited it partly from our ex-mother country, Spain, and then made it worse---or some would say better.

    You can fight it: "This is not the way things should be done!" But, if you try to fight the system, you might as well go home. Try to understand, enjoy and make the most of the "tranquilo" pace. We'll do our best to make things run more efficiently than they generally do here. On the other hand, even if we could achieve for you an industrialized world pace, you would lose an important part of the experience of being in Costa Rica. Slow down, learn and enjoy.

    “The white people own watches. We own time.”
    African Saying

  4. Tentative Itinerary:

    "To be able to fill leisure intelligently is the last product of civilization."
    Bertrand Russel

    You are on a tentative itinerary. We are all at the mercy of Mother Nature and varying weather conditions that affect roads, flights, rivers, etc. -- not to mention the human factor. Be patient and calm.

    Slow down, learn and enjoy.

  5. Pace:

    “There are some people who begin the Zoo at the beginning, called Way In, and walk as quickly as they can past every cage until they come to the one called Way Out, but the nicest people go straight to the animal they love the most, and stay there.”
    A.A. Milne
    "He who has seen one cathedral ten times has seen something; he who has seen ten cathedrals once has seen but little; and he who has spent half an hour in each of a hundred cathedrals has seen nothing at all."
    Sinclair Lewis
    “How beautiful it is to do nothing, and then rest afterwards.”
    Costa Rican Proverb
  6. Interaction:

    Part of the fun of traveling is to try to communicate with the local people. Whatever Spanish you know, use it. Costa Ricans are more than willing to help you learn. In any case smile, because smiles are a major means of communicating everywhere in the world.

    "Here's what I love about travel: Strangers get a chance to amaze you. Sometimes a single day can bring a blooming surprise, a simple kindness that opens a chink in the brittle shell of your heart and makes you a different person when you go to sleep -- more tender, less jaded -- than you were when you woke up."
    Tanya Shaffer
  7. Safety-Yours in the Country:

    Many of you will be traveling to remote wilderness areas.
    Here are a few words to the wise:

    SUN: More people have changed their vacation plans because of sunburn than any other accident. The sun's ultra violet rays are much more direct and stronger in Costa Rica because it is only 10 degrees north of the equator. Many sites you may visit are at high altitudes which means you'll burn even more. You may not feel you're being burned until it's too late. You can also be burned in overcast conditions. Please use a minimum protection 15 sunscreen and/or wear a hat with a wide brim. Some people prefer long sleeves and long pants. They both work. If you're a person that doesn't burn in the temperate zone please make sure to protect yourself in Costa Rica, you WILL burn here. Sunglasses are also recommended.

    SNAKES: Although very few tourists have been bitten by poisonous snakes in Costa Rica, they do exist in the areas to which you will be traveling. Without becoming paranoid, a few precautions are advisable. Consider all snakes poisonous unless your guide tells you otherwise. Small snakes can be just as deadly as big snakes. WATCH WHERE YOU WALK. Rather than step over onto the blind side of a log or rock that is obstructing the trail, step on top of it and look before you step down.

    The soil and leaf litter on the forest floor is generally a random pattern. Many (not all) of the poisonous snakes have a coloration that blends into this pattern. They are, however, usually coiled before they strike. In the back of your mind connect round with danger. If you even have an inkling that there is something round on the forest floor near where you are walking, STOP AND STEP BACK.

    FALLS: While a snake bite is not a common accident, falling down is. Slipping and falling while walking the steep, slippery edge of a trail, trying to avoid a puddle (sometimes they are more like lakes) is a particularly common accident. In tropical rain and cloud forests, sooner or later you'll probably get your feet wet. To avoid the suspense -- and perhaps a nasty fall -- our recommendation is to walk straight through the middle of the first puddle you see.

    In general, much of what is interesting in the tropical forest is up in the trees, and much of what is dangerous is on the ground. Therefore, for your safety it is important that you remember these two simple rules:
    1. When you're looking UP, don't move your FEET.
    2. When you're moving your FEET, look DOWN.

    BUSES: Getting on and off buses and vans is for some reason a lot more dangerous than one would think.

    WATCH YOUR HEAD: If you observe carefully, you will notice that very few natives spend extended periods of time standing under coconut palms.

    CANOPY EXPERIENCES AND RIDES: In recent years canopy experiences and rides have come into vogue in Costa Rica. There is no government safety regulation of these activities. A few self-regulate and use acceptable safety practices. Most do not. There have already been three deaths and countless injuries involving canopy rides in Costa Rica. Frankly it is surprising that there have not been more. Since safety practices change rapidly -- for better and for worse -- we cannot make recommendations about individual operations here.

    You should make an effort to find out the level of security at activities in which you are thinking of participating. Costa Rica Expeditions personnel will be happy to make recommendations when they have knowledge of individual operations. If you have a doubt, pass. A mistake could mean Patrick Henry's second choice.

    Here are a few, general guidelines:

    1. Helmets: If there are people up high and people down low, the people down low should wear hard hats at all times. At 100 feet an object as small as a falling coin can cause a serious head injury. This is such a basic safety precaution for activities involving people in high places that you can assume general sloppiness if it is not religiously adhered to.
    2. Crowd control: This particularly applies to canopy platform and walkway attractions. There needs to be consistently effective efforts to keep people out of harms way and to make sure that load limits are always obeyed. Signs indicating prohibited areas and load limits are not enough, especially when the appearance of sought after animals might tempt people to overload platforms or walkways. There needs to be trained personnel committed to making sure there is never overloading.
    3. Redundancy: This means that there are at least two independent systems that insure participant's safety so that if one fails the other system(s) prevents an accident. There can be no common elements. If two ropes are tied to the same anchor, the accident will happen when the anchor fails.
    4. Consistency and written safety rules & protocols: This is the most important of all and the hardest to detect. Unless there are written safety rules and protocols backed by continuous training and safety surveys, personnel will break rules and allow rules to be broken and the possibility of tragic accidents will be unacceptably high. Ask to see the rules.

    IN THE CITY: You are safer in San Jose than most other capitals in the world. On the other hand, crime has risen in San Jose and worldwide, tourists are easier victims for theft than local citizens as they are often more distracted. Furthermore, even if the thief is caught, tourists are usually not around to testify at a trial. Tourists are particularly vulnerable when getting in and out of a bus, or entering or leaving hotels.

    If you are going to spend your whole trip being paranoid about theft, you may as well stay home.

    But do take a few simple precautions: Be aware of the people around you; avoid flashy jewelry; wear your daypack on your chest rather than on your back; hold on firmly to your purse; keep money in front rather than back pockets; and do not flash large amounts of cash. Feel free to wander around San Jose. If you find yourself wandering into a neighborhood that seems a lot worse than the last neighborhood you walked in, WANDER BACK. The local custom is that cars do not yield to pedestrians.

    ON THE ROAD IN A RENTED CAR: Local custom is also that cars do not yield for other cars. Drive defensively. Rental cars can be easily identified. To thieves this indicates there are probably valuables in the trunk. A suitcase full of clothes might not be considered worth stealing in most developed countries, but it is in Costa Rica. Park where you can keep an eye on your car. If you are going to leave, look for someone who will watch it for you, or better yet leave your car in a parking lot.

    “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”
    George Carlin.
  8. Safety-The planets:

    "I WILL be the gladdest thing
    Under the sun!
    I will touch a hundred flowers
    And not pick one."
    Edna St. Vincent Millay

    It is our strong belief that environmental codes of ethics for travelers are either too general to be useful or too specific to always be appropriate and applicable in what is often a dynamic and changing situation. For this reason, you will not get a list of do's and don'ts from us. Over the years we have been bombarded by a virtual plague of queries, surveys, questionnaires, etc., in which one of the major themes has been whether we are supplying you with an environmental code of ethics. Given this situation, we'll say this much: please make every effort to have a minimal negative impact on the natural resources both during your stay in Costa Rica and when you return home. If you have any questions about specific behavior, please ask. Thank you.

  9. Gripes / problems:

    If you have any complaints during this trip, problems with your hotel room, or anything else, please let the appropriate people know about it immediately, not at the end of the trip when it is too late. Our office hours are 5:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., seven days a week.

  10. Packing:

    "Own only what you can carry with you;
    know language, know countries, know people.
    Let your memory be your travel bag."
    Alexander Solzhenitsyn
    "When in doubt, leave it behind."
    Michael Kaye
    "The pleasure of travel increases in direct proportion to the decrease of baggage."
    Richard Halliburton
  11. Photography:

    Try not to interrupt people in what they are doing. Simply focus, snap and move on, trying to be as unnoticed as possible. When we visit a village, home or group of people on the road, we strongly recommend that you interact first, with the guide's help (if there is one), and then see whether a picture is appropriate. Normally, people don't mind, but you cannot generalize.

  12. Sense of values:

    It is better not to compare our country with yours directly on an item-by-item basis. Our economic, social and political characteristics are intimately related to our culture and heritage. Per capita income, minimum wages, political parties, social structures are somewhat abstract concepts, which, if treated independently of other societies, are better understood. There are many factors in each of our systems that might well be beneficially adopted by the other. One of the justifications for travel is the cultural heritage exchange, which eventually may lead to this kind of adoption. In the meantime, slow down, learn and enjoy.

    "Smart travelers remember where they are.
    Wise travelers forget where they are.
    Perfect travelers forget where they are from."
    Anonymous
    “God does not count in your appointed span time spent traveling.”
    Anonymous