Return to Costa Rica—An Old Favorite Made New
by Alan E. Lewis
Entry: January 2011
Edward, Harriet, and Charlotte Lewis during our 1991 trip to Costa Rica.
Costa Rica is one of my favorite travel destinations. Our travelers enjoy it, too. In fact, our two OAT adventures in this tiny Central American nation continue to be extremely popular. But we haven’t offered a Costa Rica itinerary for our Grand Circle travelers for a few years now. And that’s about to change.
Because I’m thrilled to let you know that—after many requests from Grand Circle travelers—we’re re-launching one of Grand Circle’s most popular Central American vacations: Our Costa Rican Treasures: Coast to Coast Land Tour is back (along with a few other returning favorites—more on that next month!), and our 2011 itinerary is better than ever!
Costa Rica, as I’ve mentioned, is a favorite destination of mine—and it’s a favorite of my family, too. It’s easy to see why. Casting a spell unlike anywhere else, Costa Rica’s lush landscapes teem with life, the natural beauty and diversity not just surrounding you but defining your experience. I remember the first time we took our children, then ages 7 and 9, hiking through a Costa Rican cloud forest back in 1991. We heard a chattering sound and soon howler monkeys came into view. But this wasn’t a zoo and we were not mere spectators on the other side of a fence—in fact, we were as much on display as the howlers were. The monkeys seemed to be discussing our arrival and they decided to taunt us, throwing sticks at us from overhead. They made it a game to dog our steps, flinging branches and leaves to get our attention all along our way. The kids cracked up—they loved having the tables turned this way. I’ll never ever forget the way their laughter mingled with the cackling of the howler monkeys in the quiet forest.
I still chuckle at all of those wonderful memories of that first visit to Costa Rica. I don’t chuckle too much at the memories of another visit that year, however. I wanted to gather our Boston management team together for an offsite and had the idea of making it into a type of challenging, Outward-Bound style jungle trek in Costa Rica—something to clear our heads and see how we gelled together as a team. In retrospect, I may have misjudged things a bit.
Alan and his exhausted management team emerge from a two-day hike in Costa Rica’s Rain Forest.
Our visit had been specially arranged with the help of Ree Sheck, a wonderful woman working for the Monteverde Conservation League who would later join the Board of Directors of our Grand Circle Foundation. At the time, we convinced Ree that we were seasoned explorers. But soon after setting off into dense jungle, it became clear that we were not prepared for this intense an adventure. We hiked for hours through the steaming jungle heat. We crouched together through torrential downpours.
The problem was, basically, that hiking through this magnificently scenic region of Costa Rica—called the International Children’s Rain Forest—was simply not done back then. There was no infrastructure in place. Trails were not blazed. The entire region was actually inaccessible to tourism. Our little band of exhausted, inexperienced, yet extremely enthusiastic Boston travelers was, in fact, the very first group of Americans to hike through Costa Rica’s Monteverde Cloud Forest.
I learned a lot during that visit to Costa Rica—about the company, my travel companions, and myself. And the rather grueling hikes we endured take nothing away from the stunning diversity of unspoiled tropical beauty that enveloped us in Costa Rica (indeed, almost choked us!). I’ve been back many, many more times and learn something new each visit.
So while I can’t promise you’ll witness any of the monkey business that my family encountered when you join Grand Circle in Costa Rica, I can promise you that you will not be subjected to the rigors that we experienced on our corporate offsite. And I can certainly assure you that you’ll fully experience the natural splendors that make a visit to this beautiful country so memorable. You’ll stroll among the rows of coffee plants in the highlands, follow the path of turtles along the black-sand beaches of the Caribbean coastline, and soak in thermal pools in the shadow of Arenal Volcano. You may find it hard to believe that such different discoveries all take place in the same small country (about the size of West Virginia).
Costa Rica’s swingers include this white-throated capuchin monkey.
One of my favorite ways to experience Costa Rica is a boat ride at Tortuguero National Park. I love the way the wide, shallow motorboat fairly skims the water as you speed among the islands of this volcanic archipelago, keeping your eyes peeled for herons walking tip-talon through mangroves, turtles stretching their long necks toward the sun, and spiny basilisk lizards (which my son at the time described as baby dinosaurs) scampering along exposed roots. We’ve made sure that you’ll enjoy this same pleasure yourself on our new 2011 itinerary—and our new smaller group size will make up-close and personal exploring easier than ever.
Speaking of that new itinerary, we’ve also added explorations of Liberia City, nicknamed the “White City” for its lovely whitewashed clay manses, and the nearby palm-fringed beaches of tropical Guanacaste, as well as excursions to take in some of the nation’s handcrafts, from the marketplace in Grecia to the artisan town of Sarchi, where vividly decorated ox-carts are crafted. And a brand new post-trip extension brings you to Manuel Antonio National Park on the Pacific Coast, discovered by Ponce de Leon and famed for its biodiversity (with 100 mammal species and over 180 bird varieties in six square miles).
Of course, you’ll never understand any country based on topography alone (no matter how dramatic). It’s the people who call Costa Rica home who really made it special to me. You’ll get to know them, too, when you visit a palenque, or communal village, of the indigenous Maleku people. Proudly determined to preserve their traditional language and culture, they’ll share facets of their lifestyle, including their application of medicinal plants, the customary use of bow and arrow, and handcrafts like gourd-carving. You’ll even sit down with a Maleku leader for a Q&A to answer the questions sure to come to mind during your visit.
This trio of sabaneros—young Costa Rican cowhands—takes a break from their chores.
The Maleku are just one of the cultures you’ll engage. One of my favorite places in the entire country is La Fortuna, the “front yard of Arenal.” I’ve enjoyed many a warm welcome here, and so will you, as you first visit a local school (when in session) and then follow children home for lunch with their families. I’m always impressed at the poise and skill of the students as they perform folkloric music and dances in their bright colored colonial-era attire. But I might even like lunchtime better, for the chance to get know them after they’ve swapped costumes for regular school clothes, when they’re once again acting silly and goofy and sweet—just kids being kids.
My own kids are all grown up now, but their memories of Costa Rica (and, of course, those precocious monkeys) are just as vivid today as ever. I hope the return of Costa Rican Treasures: Coast to Coast will offer you indelible memories of your own in 2011. Be sure to watch our website for updates on Costa Rica—and several other new trips—coming soon.
Alan E. Lewis
You can visit Costa Rica on two of our OAT adventures: Real Affordable Costa Rica and Costa Rica: Natural Parks & Tropical Forests.
And watch for our newest Grand Circle Land Tour: Costa Rican Treasures: Coast to Coast.