Costa Rica Guide and Waterproof Travel Map Update – WEEK ONE

We’ve got about six weeks to update 2/3 of the Costa Rica Guide (the NW was covered on our November trip) and we’re excited to start with a 3 day hiking trek across Corcovado on a route we haven’t taken before.



View WEEK ONE Costa Rica Map Research in a larger map
For convenience we are showing our routes using the road alignments provided by google maps. These are not always accurate and of course we are recording the actual gps routing for use on the Toucan Map publications.

We’re more than a little excited about the first week. Our good friends and colleagues from Our Costa Rica Wedding and Costa Rica Vacation 4Me Meg and Ryan are joining us so another old friend Ed from Mambo Reizen can show us around his adopted home – the Osa Peninsula.

The first couple of days we’ll base out of Puerto Jiménez to explore to the south and Cabo Matapalo, home to some of the best ecolodges in Costa Rica then west to Dos Brazos del Río Tigre and the Sendero de Oro (the gold trail) southwest across the tip of the peninsula through the Golfo Dulce reserve and Corcovado National Park to Playa Madrigal.

Muelle at Puerto Jimenez
Muelle at Puerto Jimenez

After the trek we’re going to make our way to the north where we’ll spend a couple of nights in the Corcovado Adventures Tent Camp on Playa Caletas an eleven kilometer walk south & west of Bahía Drake.  We’ll use this as a base to hike or boat down to San Pedrillo and check out the northern extent of the National Park and all of the exceptional ecolodges in the Drake/Agujitas/Caletas region.

Nature air is flying all of us half-price which gives us two extra days (the drive/bus from San José takes a full day on the road each way) to enjoy the Osa before we fly out of Drake to pick up our SUV rental in San José and get started on WEEK TWO.

We know we’ll be trekking, doing some four wheeling and some exploring by boat, but we’re going a little by the seat of our pants so we’ll be posting updates here as we figure out exactly where we’re going when.  The back country of Corcovado and the Osa is one of the last places in the world where there’s no wi-fi, 4G (or any G for that matter) data service or any internet of any kind so be patient; we’ll get the updates and photos out when we get connectivity.

Costa Rica Road Map Research

It’s not all fun and games

We’re just days away from our next research trip to update the Waterproof Travel Map to its Fourth edition (ISBN 097637334-3) and Costa Rica Guide into its eighteenth year of dispensing advice.  All of our friends have begun the requisite teasing about how we’re “packing to spend another month and a half on the beach in paradise” while claiming to “work.”

Sunset on Playa Cuajiniquil from our last round of updates a couple of months ago
Sunset on Playa Cuajiniquil from our last round of updates a couple of months ago

While there are some serious fringe benefits (Osa/Corcovado) associated with traveling around Costa Rica for work we want to dispel the myth that it’s all an extended vacation with adventure tours, luxury resorts, and relaxing on the beach with cool drinks.

We work hard when we’re traveling.  Sure, we accept the occasional complimentary suite at a luxury resort but believe us when we tell you that’s not how we roll; we’d rather be out climbing volcanoes and sleeping in huts.  It’s also a lot of work checking out every room type and all the amenities, meeting with management to hear why their property is the best, and striking up casual conversations with guests to fish for candid opinions.

If you’ve ever driven a couple hundred kilometers across Costa Rica you know it’s not always fun.  A typical day for us may include ten hours in the car with the gps enabled notebook computer stopping at every hotel, lodge, resort, restaurant, tour and  roadside attraction to chat, renew our acquaintance or make our introductions and take a look around.  The whole time we’re lugging fifteen kilo gear bags because we follow our own advice to “never leave anything in a parked car.”

At the end of the day a Luxury Resort is the exception rather than the rule and we typically stay in modest cabinas or nondescript in-town hotels and grab a quick bite at the closest soda before falling into bed.

But, you might think, “what about the activities, those have to be fun right?” A lot of the time they are, but think for a minute about multiplying that once in a lifetime zipline through the cloud forest canopy by the 121 zipline locations in Costa Rica – can you say “too much of a good thing.”

Don’t get me wrong, we’re not complaining – we love our job, this is just a minor reality check for our friends.

Thank YOU!

In the past year we’ve spent approximately as much time on the road actually traveling in Costa Rica as we have at home and we’re about to set out again.

Golfo Dulce out from Puerto Jiménez

We aren’t a big multinational conglomerate like Fodor’s or Lonely Planet and we could never visit the number of place we do with the frequency we like if we didn’t get a lot of help from dozens of amazing companies around Costa Rica and the World.

Week One Thanks To:

Our Costa Rica Wedding – Lending us Meg and Ryan so they can increase their knowledge while enjoying an adventure with friends.
Costa Rica Vacation 4Me – Covering our butts giving our clients the most amazing customer service and personalized care available while we’re incommunicado.
Mambo Reizen – Ed is taking a week off from managing and leading extreme adventure groups to guide us and hopefully keep us alive!
Nature air Flying all of us half-price which gives us almost two whole extra days to explore Corcovado and the Osa!
Corcovao Tent Camp – Luxury rustic accommodations on the doorstep of Corcovado National Park.

We’ve spent almost two decades seeking out the absolute best companies to work with so I can personally assure you that if you click any of the links above you’ll be in very good hands indeed.

Current Weather Conditions Arajuez – San José Costa Rica

Current Weather Conditions

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.

Not for Profit Bookstore Shut Down

On March 8th Amazon closed all Colorado based Associate accounts that used to pay commissions to websites that sold books and other products for Amazon.  I’m not sure of their motivation but the most compelling explanation I’ve heard is that Amazon is using Colorado based associates as pawns in a political battle with the state legislature.

As a result Amazon is now pocketing the proceeds that would have gone to community and conservation non-profit projects in Costa Rica (see Not For Profit Store Launched).

Our response on the six and ten o’clock news are on these links

ABC News story & interview

CBS News story & interview.

The video links are on the right hand side of each page.

Not for profit bookstore closed by amazon

The exposure on the nightly news was nice, but it only told a small part of the story.

In late February we invested about 40 hours of our time to update our recommendations for Costa Rica Guidebooks and travel gear, not with the intention of profiting, but to earn money to contribute to non-profit projects in Costa Rica.

Amazon continues to accept referrals and sales from our websites, but now instead of paying commissions that we could pass on to non-profits, they are keeping the commissions as excess profit. Continue reading Not for Profit Bookstore Shut Down

Not for Profit Store Launched

SORRY THE NOT FOR PROFIT BOOKSTORE IS CLOSED

Amazon announced on March 8, 2010 that they would be keeping all of the proceeds from the bookstore for themselves (read more)The original post announcing the opening of the bookstore is below:

We finally got around to updating our recommendations for Costa Rica books and creating the much anticipated Costa Rica Guide Packing List – Shopping Edition.

We never expected big profits on book sales. Amazon was just an easy way to keep cover photos and prices up to date on books we like to recommend, but as our websites grow more popular it’s starting to add up. We’d like our recommendations to stay unbiased by sales pressure so we’ve decided to donate 100% of the proceeds from the Amazon sales to community and conservation projects in Costa Rica.

How the not for profit bookstore donations work

Based on growth over the last five years we hope to raise at least $2,000.00 on about $32,000.00 in sales in 2010. It could be a lot more if the idea catches on and people spread the word through blogs, tweets, facebook and websites.

Who gets the money?

Honestly, we haven’t decided. We just re-did the bookstore and decided to donate the profits this week so we haven’t worked out all the details yet. We know some organizations that could benefit and have asked friends in Costa Rica for recommendations. If you’ve got a suggestion please feel free to add it as a comment below.

One idea is to buy books! Some rural schools in Costa Rica have pretty minimal libraries and a couple hundred new books could have a big impact. We know book distributors that may sell to us at wholesale and a furniture shop to build bookshelves for cost which would make the money go even further.

Teachers and librarians could pick out shelves full of books their kids wouldn’t otherwise have access to.

How can we guarantee the profit from your purchase will be donated?

The short answer is we can’t. Toucan Maps Inc. is a for-profit corporation and doesn’t have non-profit auditing; besides Amazon strictly prohibits tracking customers so it would be impossible for you to tell if your purchase ultimately results in a contribution.

Basically you just have to trust us that it’s not worth risking our reputation for a couple thousand dollars in Amazon commissions. Besides, if we wanted to keep the money we’d just erase all this stuff about donations and keep it like we used to before we decided to donate it.

Go to the Costa Rica Bookstore

Go to the Costa Rica Packing List – Shopping Edition

Remarkable Roadwork

We spent a few days on the Caribbean coast a few weeks ago and saw a remarkable transformation. We started up north on Playa Westfalia (Hotel Playa Westfalia – recommended) and there was a crew with a truck full of asphalt, a few guys with shovels, a backhoe and a steamroller out front one morning. Four days later we were at the Korrigan Lodge (highly recommended – see photos) across from Playa Cocles nearly to the Panama border, and there comes the crew.

They had patched every pothole on the road between Limón and Manzanillo in under a week. It was some sort of world record.

Of course this doesn’t happen often (ever?) but there was a reason for the repairs. The president, several government ministers, a handful of prominent businessmen and some French dignitaries were coming to the coast for the finish of the Jacques Vabre trans Atlantic yachting race from Le Havre to Limón over the weekend.

As we headed north the next morning we saw a news van along side of the road next to the Limón airport and a camera was aimed at a reporter standing in the rain and pointing beyond the runway out to sea. I slowed down and peered in that direction and sure enough there was a little white triangle of a sail on the horizon.

Then I looked up as I heard the dull thud of rubber being compressed all the way to the rim and saw muddy spray cover the windshield. The section they had patched earlier in the week was already sprouting new potholes! I smiled to myself as I realized all the roads in Costa Rica were only a MOPT budget cut away from their gloriously holey past (read why we’re nostalgic for Costa Rica potholes).

We Miss Costa Rica’s Potholes – Where Have all the Huecos Gone?

Though far from extinct, the Costa Rican pothole is definitely on the endangered list.  Their numbers are down from the millions to a few thousand and their habitat has been severely reduced by “progress.”

If you’ve ever spent any time in Costa Rica you’re probably asking yourself “yeah, so what?  What kind of nut would miss potholes?  That’s like lamenting the loss of small pox.” but we have our reasons.

Pothole Paradise

Even as recently as ten years ago there wasn’t a road in Costa Rica where potholes didn’t keep the average speed down to 40 kph (25 mph) and many places it was even slower.  On bicycles it was heaven.  we could travel as fast or, due to superior swerving ability and narrow track, often faster than the cars, trucks and buses.  We bike toured around Costa Rica for five weeks on our honeymoon in 1993 and never gave a thought to being pancaked by a 100 kph semi or bus.  Of course there were a couple of spots we avoided, like cerro de la Muerte and downtown San José (where it wasn’t so much an issue of speed as the bumping and grinding of stalled traffic) but basically we could find a route anywhere we wanted to go in the country.

We returned for years riding over 4,500 km before we hung up our bikes in 1999.  There are still great bike rides in Costa Rica, but it’s gotten very difficult to find a safe multi-day tour.  The roads are still narrow, winding and shoulderless, but more and more often they’re also relatively pothole free.  Even on minor two lane highways average speeds exceed 70 kph and of course the morons who want to go 90 can get away with it (until they hit a cow which aren’t endangered).

There are hundreds of kilometers of the rides we enjoyed that would simply be suicide now: Highway 21 from Liberia through Santa Cruz and Nicoya to Naranjo; the Guápiles highway to Limón; 35 up to Los Chiles, and most of 4 through Sarapiquí, San Miguel and Upala, all the way to La Cruz; the Costanera Sur from Orotina through Jaco, Manuel Antonio, Dominical and Uvita; and even the Pan American highway south from Palmar and north from Juntas.

So that’s why we’re a little nostalgic for potholes.