We get a great many requests to arrange tours and activities from people who have already booked a week at the beach.
Responding to these has been a challenge because the amount of work involved to learn enough about the guests to give them personalized advice is more than we can charge them for if all we are doing is tours and activities, as opposed to planning, arranging, and operating an entire itinerary where we recommend the area, the hotel or vacation rental and make all the arrangements.
Our standard response has been to recommend the local tour companies we use in the area. I have always felt uncomfortable brushing people off this way.
A couple of weeks ago I got the email below from a guy I knew when he used to run the loyalty program for a major upscale retailer and Costa Rica Expeditions’ services were among the awards for people who spent lots of money in their stores.
Since the email came directly to me and I knew him, I sent him the personalized answer below.
I am using the exchange of emails for this weeks post because it got me thinking about the role of tips and quests in enhancing the quality of vacations. So as you read what follows rather than focusing on the specific advice I suggest that you think about the tips and quests that have enhanced your travel experiences.
I am not sure if you recall my name, but I was formerly with [Name of retailer] and ran their loyalty program several years ago. If you remember, we did quite a lot in promoting your tours to our frequent shoppers. We also chatted quite a bit at Virtuoso’s Travelmart and I always enjoyed hearing the stories of your experiences in Costa Rica (which may be how it made it my “bucket list” of places to go).
Well, much to my delight, my wife surprised me with a 40th brithday trip with several friends to Costa Rica in late April. Given your expertise, I wanted to reach out to you to see if there was anything that you would recommend. I am not familiar with the country and my wife has done all of the planning. We have rented a villa on Flamingo Beach, Guanacaste, Costa Rica (which is an hour or so from Liberia International Airport). Currently we have a congo canopy trail tour with zip line, a river cruise and possible snorkeling trip planned. I realize that it is a big country and that we may not be near the area where your tours specialize, but I thought I would reach out regardless. I am particulary intersted in your coffee plantation tour that you had told me about years ago. Curious to know if you still did that- or any other unique things for us to consider. If you don’t mind, please send me an email and let me know. Hope you are doing well and look forward to hearing your ideas.
Jim (Not his real name—I’ve always wanted to write that!)
Of course I remember you. Sorry to take so long to get back to you. It has been a hectic couple of weeks.
You happen to be going to area where Yolanda and I have done a lot of biking so I know it quite well, and would be happy to give you some tips.
I assume you will be renting a car. Be sure that it comes with a GPS from EZFind. It is the only one with a decent map database.
Flamingo is pretty much 100% tourist enclave, so you’ll want to get out part of the time to get a taste of what the area was like before the tourism boom.
Take surfing lessons at Playa Grande. Beginners foam boards have greatly reduced the frustrating learning time. The best instructors come from initial High-Tide Tamarindo Adventures firstname.lastname@example.org , www.tamarindoadventures.net They are based in Tamarindo so you have to make an appointment to meet them at Playa Grande.
Contact Randall Vindas (506) 653.0108 tell him we recommended them.
Whether or not surfing lessons appeal to you go to Playa Grande and have a meal at Las Tortugas Hotel. Call first (506-2-653-045) and tell them that I “promised” that you would be able to meet the owner, Luis Wilson, so he can tell you what it was like surfing along the Guanacaste coast 30 years ago. Luis is shy, so insist.
When you drive from Flamingo to Playa Grande, take the back roads. Follow the GPS until you are approaching the town of Mata Palo and then turn left on to the dirt roads. I you come to the town center with the soccer field on your right you’ve gone too far. Turn around and take your first right. Turn off the GPS and try to find Playa Grande. Stop and ask at every intersection. If there is nobody at the intersection pick a direction and ask the next person you see. You can always turn the GPS back on if you get tired of wandering around.
Assuming you like fish a trip to the seashore should include a quest to buy fish fresh off the boat. The fishing boats in this area come in to the beach at the end of the main road of the very touristy town of Tamarindo. You want to get there around 4:00 pm and ask for the “barcos de pesca.” “de” is pronounced “day.” “barcos and pesca,” are pronounced how they are spelled. Get the fishermen to fillet the fish for you on the spot.
For my taste it is a crime to cook fish this fresh. If you like sashimi, you can almost always get wasabe in tubes and good soy sauce in the little supermarket in Brasilito—tourism booms have there advantages. Brazilito is the first town you come to after you leave Flamingo on the way to Playa Grande and Tamarindo. If you do not like a sashimi and do not want to cook it yourself take it to a restaurant and get them to cook it for you. To be on the safe side for the more whole in the wall kinds of restaurants bring your own olive oil.
For the Congo Canopy Tour Call Roy Estrada, (506)2666-4422, before you go. Tell him that I told you to insist on chest harnesses as well as seat harnesses. If a harness breaks or you fall out of a harness, it’s a long way down and the sudden stop at the end of a fall that long is almost always fatal.
I am suspicious of the snorkeling tour. There may be something that I am not aware of, but my guess is that the visibility will be bad and the fish life not worth it. I’ll do some more checking and get back to you.
I assume that the river tour you are doing is the Tamarindo Estuary and Mangrove swamp. Start time depends on the tides. Try to do it in the late afternoon. There is a rookery of dozens of Roseate Spoonbills that come into nest in the late afternoon.
You will be a long way from coffee country, the only way that would work to do the coffee tour would be to charter a plane from the Tamarindo airport, fly to San Jose and then drive to the coffee farms. A long hectic day and too expensive unless you are a full on coffee fanatic.
I hope this helps. Please let me know if you have any questions.
Tips and quests. I know that many of my most valuable personal travel experience have come from tips and quests. Does that resonate with you? If it does please share some of the one that most enhanced your travel. In a future post I’ll share some of mine.