Insights on Travel from Costa Rica Expeditions’ Founder Michael Kaye and his Expert Friends.

Tips and Quests.

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.

Email:

Michael,
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.
Regards,
Jim (Not his real name—I’ve always wanted to write that!)
Jim,

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 info@tamarindoadventures.net ,  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.

Michael

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.

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5 Comments and 3 Replies

  • At March 09, 2010
    1:09:28 am
    Jan Black said:

    Yes Michael,

    My husband and I were traveling in New Zealand in 2008, North Island. We stayed at a lovely B&B called the Beachside, located in a coastal town by the name of Mt Maunganui. Jim and Lorranine were our wonderful hosts. Boy can they cook up a delicious breakfast. On our way out of town they recommended that in route to our next destination which was Gisborne that we stop at the Morere Hot Springs. What a treat. The Maori hosts gave us a towel and pointed to a trail that was a 10 minute bush walk to these beautiful natural hotspring pools. The hot springs pools are located in a dense rain forest, surrounded with native jungle trees and plantings. We were the only ones at the small natural pools that sunny morning. The green of the bush was so tropical, the hot springs were glorious and the sun was making a spiritual moment for us. What a treasure. Very minimal cost for such a life long memory.

    • At March 12, 2010
      2:57:49 pm
      Michael Kaye replied
      to Jan Black:

      Jan, This is a great tip. Believe it or not eventually we are going to have functional navigation so that all the members of the blog will be able to find it.

    • At March 08, 2010
      11:37:44 pm
      John Mason said:

      I would reccomend that if you liek to go white water rafting, which I have done with friends and family at least 5 times with CR expeditions to go on an overnight trip. We went last year with Natu as our guide and the trip was amazing. It always amazes me that the rafting team can put togehter such a wonderful lunch out of a couple barrels, but their ability to put together a wonderful dinner in truly mystifying. The trip is much more relaxing and you will sleep like a baby along the edge of the river listening to the rush of the water and no bugs at all during the nights sleep. You wake to a wonderful breakfast and then back on the river for another fun filled day. We were joined by 4 elderly ladies from Italy and they were wonderful and did the hiking to the waterfalls and swiming and whatever came up. The trip is for all ages, except maybe the little ones, the white water is not for small ones. The guides are always friendly and very knowledgable. I have been on the river with Natu many times and never disappointed. Thanks to the CR Expedition team for the memories.

      • At March 12, 2010
        3:00:00 pm
        Michael Kaye replied
        to John Mason:

        Thanks for this, John. The minimum age for the Pacuare is 12 years old. For the Pejibaye River which is Class I-II the minimum age is 5.

      • At March 08, 2010
        10:43:56 pm
        John Mason said:

        This email was great. I have been to most of the places described and the detail was spot on and you can tell it is first hand and not just a sales pitch. I have been going to Costa Rica for 27 years and will provide my experiences as soon as I can.

        • At March 08, 2010
          5:45:46 pm
          Len Prins said:

          I remember many years ago being told by someone at Las Tortugas (Luis Wilson’s hotel) that a fun thing to do very early in the morning (just after sunrise) is to go out and find a turtle nest that already has hatched out at Playa Grande. You dig out the baby turtles that didn’t make it to the surface. They are going to die from dehydration if you don’t dig them out, so you aren’t harming anything. You can find the nest from all the mini tractor tracks from the bably turtles that made it. Then you set the baby turtles in the ocean and hopefully a few more make it than otherwise. We called it turtle rescue squad a few years later when we came back with our young children. Unfortunately sometimes the frigate birds swoop down and get a few of your rescue but that teaches another lesson that it is a dog eat dog world out there in the natural world. That was a cool tip. Las Tortugas is my favourite hotel by the way. The food is good, the vibe is relaxed there is so much to do on Playa Grande. Also it is staffed by alot of local people.

          • At March 08, 2010
            2:47:37 pm
            Shannon Borrego said:

            Hi Michael,

            First off, I am very impressed that you took the time to write such a comprehensive list of suggestions to someone who didn’t even book his trip with you! Very kind of you. However, to address your discussion point for this week:
            I have always found it helpful to do the following before leaving on a trip:
            1. Communicate my interests clearly with the tour operator. Unless it is a group tour with no customization possible, they will usually tweak the itinerary to focus on my specific interests.
            2. Read as much as possible before the trip- factual information, history, and even fiction that might bring the destination alive in my imagination.
            3. Research special events or, as is often the case with eco-adventure travel, check to see if there are special sanctuaries or research facilities in the area that can be visited. Now that we all have the internet, it’s fairly easy to do that.
            4. Take advantage of the knowledge of friends or acquaintances that have a connection with the destination (Like “Jim” did with you!). There’s no better way to get off the beaten path than hooking up with a local.
            Once I’m on the trip, I continue to look for opportunities to enhance my experience by:
            1. Attempting to establish a friendly relationship with local guides, hotel staff and locals that I encounter. A couple I met in Milan led me to a memorable musical concert in a small church that I would never have discovered otherwise. While horseback riding in the Galapagos, I became friendly with our guide who invited me and my travel companion to his home for tea.
            2. If I’m traveling with a group, I always try to find time to separate myself from the herd at some point and explore on my own. This often provides opportunities for interaction and a greater understanding of the destination.
            3. I always keep a journal. This forces me to put into words exactly what it is I am seeing, feeling and doing each day. Not only does this increase my appreciation (or disappointment) of what I am experiencing during the trip but I have found it to be helpful once I return home. I have written both complaint letters and “orchid” letters of praise upon my return and my journal has enabled me to remember the details. For example, upon my return from a Costa Rica Expeditions trip I was able to commend the staff member who had driven a great distance to retrieve the binoculars I carelessly left behind after our whitewater rafting day. He raced to the airport and handed them to my husband just minutes before we had to go through security and board our flight. Thanks to my journal I had his name and the dates handy.

            • At March 12, 2010
              3:02:52 pm
              Michael Kaye replied
              to Shannon Borrego:

              Shannon, Talking about writing a comprehensive list. Thank you. Believe it or not eventually we are going to have functional navigation so that all the members of the blog will be able to find such valuable tips for getting most out of your vacation