Sticker Shock In Costa Rica

Bridges Canopy Bridge II WEB

Arenal Hanging Bridges Park

La Fortuna/Arenal, Costa Rica

Okay, Costa Rica is admittedly beautiful.  And I really do applaud their progressive efforts to base their economy on sustainable eco-tourism.  When I created this blog, Expat Journal, four years ago, I promised myself that I would focus on the positive aspects of travel, and not dwell on the negative side of things.  And for the most part I think I’ve remained fairly true to that concept.

HOWEVER.  However, I’m afraid that I’m going to succumb to temptation this one time (and maybe more if the spirit moves me).  There are some disappointments to be found in this beautiful country.  First amongst them are the incredible number of gringos buggering everything up.  This is the high season, and HUGE tour groups are marauding throughout the land wreaking their own special kind of havoc.

Over the past 3-years I’ve become a bit of a “Travel Snob” reveling in independent travel.  “All Inclusive” tour packages are no longer for me.  As an independent “slow” traveler I now enjoy the journey every bit as much as the destination.  That’s when you meet the characters that will stay in your mind forever.  “That’s when the adventure begins,” my Cuban friend Tony often says.

I really shouldn’t be so smug, and holier than thou, but these folks irritate the hell out of me. These folks are typically American (gringo norte americanos), old (my age or older), extremely overweight, loud, obnoxious and entitled.  And they piss and moan about everything.  I met one very obnoxious American asshole in Arenal Hanging Bridges Park yesterday morning.  The very cool suspension bridges can only hold 15 normal-sized human beings at once, and this jerk was pissed because we had to wait for the group ahead of us.  He almost didn’t leave the park, because I came real close to throwing him off the fucking bridge.

Cost is another downside.  Everything is running about double from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, and is about on par with Belize.  From beer to lodging our budget has doubled.  The positive side to all of this is that the money is well spent to support Costa Rica’s commitment to sustainable eco-tourism.  Inexpensive local transportation is more difficult also (at least here in northern Costa Rica).  In the other countries mentioned there is a plethora of low cost transportation that goes EVERYWHERE.  Here, travel is mostly by prearranged shuttles, and they ain’t cheap, averaging between $50 and $75 USD pp.

My final comment, as stated at the beginning of this post, Costa Rica is admittedly a very beautiful country with lots to offer.  And by USA standards you get a pretty big bang for your buck.  But with its commitment to sustainable eco-tourism also comes an almost “over-manicured” look to everything.  And the tourist routes are very managed and controlled; compared to other countries it has an almost Disneyland feel to it.  It sort of has that Jurassic Park vibe going for it.  You are not bushwhacking through virgin jungle like in Nicaragua, you are following rather pristine (and safe) paths and walkways.

Part of our problem is timing (and that’s on us).  It’s not only high season, but Easter week is rapidly approaching.  So you not only have the gringos visiting, but thousands of Mexicans, Central Americans and South Americans are traveling too.  Once the holidays are over, and the rainy season begins, the tourist traffic should start to moderate some.  That will take care of the numbers, but not the lame attitude many of these folks bring with them (nuff said relative to gringos and their travel habits).

Ending on a positive note:  Our new friend Paul (Pablo), who we met at the Grand River Lodge, on the Rio San Juan, and who is a longtime expat (and about my son’s age) is trying to help us get settled in at our next destination.  We are leaving La Fortuna/Arenal friday morning for the Nicoya Peninsula and Playa Samara.  Paul liked it there so much that he stayed for 2-years, and now splits his time between Berlin, Germany and Central America.  He is making phone calls to his friends, as we speak, to get us a place to hunker down in for a month or two.  Hopefully he is successful, otherwise we will arrive in Playa Samara late friday afternoon with no confirmed lodging—and to repeat the words of my friend Tony:  “That’s when the adventure begins.” 

Last minute addendum:  our buddy Pablo (Paul) came through for us, and got us set up in Playa Samara on the Nicoya Peninsula here in Costa Rica.  We anticipate hanging out there for a month or two, before we continue our travels into Panama.  So, come friday morning we leave La Fortuna/Arenal for Playa Samara. 

Tilley & Steve San Cristobal WEB

 Stephen F. Dennstedt

Reporting from La Fortuna/Arenal Costa Rica . . .


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