Airfares are Down and Travel to Costa Rica is Up

Update – May 24, 2010 – in the past two weeks prices have been heading up.  They’re still lower than the past few years for all the reasons described below, but we’re not seeing the super bargains for $2-300.

The official ICT (Instituto Costarricense de Turismo) numbers are in and they confirm what we’ve noticed over the past several months; Travel is up  5% to 15% all over Costa Rica.

Although the ICT does not keep statistics on advanced reservations we’ve seen a significant increase in map, guidebook, and travel sales over this time last year and the most popular lodges are already filling up.  Whether you’d like professional travel planning assistance, or you’re doing your research and booking directly with hotels and tours of choice, please get started early or don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Despite worldwide decreases due to the economic downturn travel has remained strong in Costa Rica for a number of reasons.  Airfares that are lower than we’ve seen them any time in the past ten years ($220 – $550 round trip with all taxes etc. on kayak.com) are making Costa Rica vacations very attractive.  For example, a search a few minutes ago found one stop fares from Chicago for $237 round trip including taxes and fees on Mexicana or $287 on American Airlines or Continental.

Because Costa Rica is close enough to reach easily from anywhere in the U.S. without refueling (3½ – 5½ hours from most U.S. cities), the airlines are adding more non-stops from places like New York City ($353 on American Airlines and $408 on Continental, again round trip including all taxes and fees) and Denver($455 total on Frontier).

These result weren’t just for one seat on one flight next Tuesday.  The prices are available for dozens of dates in April all the way into the peak season in December. It’s hard to believe that they are even covering fuel costs at these prices, so if you’ve ever wanted to visit Costa Rica it would be hard to find a better time.

Another factor is people choosing Costa Rica Vacations instead of Mexico where the horrific drug cartel violence is keeping tourists away by the thousands.

Costa Rica’s warm peaceful people, stable democratic government, national parks covered in rain forest, and of course beautiful tropical beaches make it an irresistible escape even in tough times.

Costa Rica is not a magic wonderland with no crime.  Especially on the crowded streets of the capital you should exercise common sense keep an eye out for a hand that’s not yours headed for your pocket, not carry large sums of cash or wander in neighborhoods you don’t know late at night.  Leave your expensive watch and jewelery at home and use the hotel room safe box for your camera.

However, violent crimes are rare and Costa Rica is more like Disneyland than the mess that is Mexico now.

The final reason that tourism continues to grow in Costa Rica while dropping of nearly everywhere else is that it’s a nearly unbelievably wonderful place to visit.  We’ve been all over the world in four decades of travel and we keep going back to Costa Rica again and again.

Once you’ve visited you’ll be tempted to too!

A somewhat clumsy (and not in any way guaranteed to be completely accurate) translation of the letter sent to members of the ICT is posted below for the curious.

Official data on ICT Tourist arrivals grew in January and February 2010
Increases of 4.3% and 16.5% compared with 2009

San Jose, Costa Rica, 18 March 2010 – Tourist arrivals to Costa Rica, by all means,grew in January and February compared to the same period in 2009. Official data of the Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT) show an increase of 4.3% in January and 16.5% in February, numbers similar to those of 2008.

In the first two months of the year the country received 428,233 visitors – 37,405 tourists more than reported in January and February 2009. “These figures are similar to those recorded in early 2008, when the tourism in the country had not suffered the impact of international economic crisis, “said Minister of Tourism, Allan Flores. “Although there are regions and businesses affected by the decline in visitation recorded in 2009, these numbers bode well for recovery,” he said.

The data are grouped and analyzed by the ICT based on information from the Directorate General of Immigration.

The growth in international tourist visitation is more noticeable from the air arrivals. For Juan Santamaria International Airport the first two months of last year combined for 208,610 visitors. In January and February 2010 227,026 arrived through this port, an increase of 18,416 tourists.

The increase is also seen in the Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport in Liberia, Guanacaste. Here, 50,427 tourists entered during January and February of this year, 9,863 more than the same period of 2009.