As 19 time travelers with OAT (solely), we feel we need to respond on-line to the trips we take with Overseas Adventure Travel. And as with all escorted trips, there are positives and negatives - we are, after all, dealing with human beings, airlines, daily schedules, and the weather. This was our third trip to Costa Rica (CR).
1. Tour Director - Eddie Recio has been our #1 Tour Director (TD) since we first met him in 2005. Of the 67 guides we have had in all of our overseas travels he sets the standard. He faces the group when he talks, especially on the bus. His instructions are thorough. There were simple Costa Rican Spanish lessons and how it is different from Mexican Spanish.
He discussed Costa Rica's education, politics, social issues, economics, and immigration policies in detail. When 7 of us got ill, he was there. One of our travel mates had to go to an emergency care in the middle of the night; he was with her the whole time and then with us early next morning. If there were a picture in the dictionary by the word Tour Director, Eddie would be there.
2. Bus Driver - Next to the TD has to be the Bus Driver. On this trip we had Samy who was at the door whenever we de-bussed to insure our safety. Driving over the Continental Divide with severe switchbacks, upgrades, downgrades, and fog, he used the engine not the brakes to control the bus. Every night the bus was washed and cleaned, inside and out. His obsession even carried to the tires that were polished with the daily cleaning.
3. Pace - Twelve-hour days! Yes, several were spent going from one place to another in the small bus, but we were always out of the bus every hour to do this or that. We were kept busy visiting sites, homes, schools, displays, looking through Eddie's spotting scope, and just being made aware of the different ecological zones of this geographically diverse country. We certainly got our money's worth.
4. Time of the Year - We chose to visit in December as it is the beginning of the "dry" season. We did have some showers, but those never stopped us from our itinerary. Every thing in CR was green and the flowers were in bloom.
5. Learning and Discovery - In Sonafluca we had three opportunities to meet, interact, and learn. First by visiting a home, making and eating empanadas. Next we went to the elementary school (Saturday) where we saw students perform traditional dances and then visited the facility. Lastly we had a home-hosted meal where we had a typical main meal.
At Lake Arenal we had lunch at a country restaurant and the proprietor gave us a fabulous prancing demonstration with his Costa Rican Paso horse. On the drive back to San Jose, we stopped at an operational farm/ranch, high in a mountain valley, for a working life demonstration with hands-on experiences.
6. People of Costa Rica - I am continuously heartened by the welcome we, American travelers, get from people all over the world. CR is no different. They are warm, welcoming, friendly, and go out of their way to help out. A quizzical look on a face gets an immediate response of "How can I help". I only got one NO! when I tried to take a picture and he smiled, as did everyone around him on the dock of the Río Frío. After a little conversation, explanation, and joking they smiled and allowed me to take multiple pictures of everyone.
1. Optionals - We had three optionals on this trip and all in Monteverde. As our philosophy is to do all the optionals as we do not expect the do the trip again, we did all three. The first was the Zip Line at El Establo Resort and that was worth it even though I have done the much more challenging Sky Trek there in Monteverde. The second was the Hanging Bridges and this should be included in the tour price. Not much different than the walk we had done the day before in Monteverde and if it continues to be an optional, not really worth the money.
The last was the butterfly and bats. The butterfly location was not very good even though the young lady who gave us the tour was well spoken. The butterflies were not plentiful and spread out. There are much better displays in Costa Rica. The bat presentation was not good as we sat and looked at a list on the wall on the benefits of bats and then walked into a dark display area 10 feet by 40 feet to see the bats on display by flashlight. Definitely not worth the time or money.
2. Coffee Plantation - Very good provided buffet meal, good presentation by the guide but if we had done it 2 or 3 hours later we could have seen the full Doka Coffee Plantation at work. The trucks came is just before we left. We just saw the machinery but not in operaton, went to the Gift Shop and then left.
3. Sr & Sra Ese Woodworking - We went through this facility on Christmas Eve. No one was working except the gift shop, tour guide and the kitchen staff. Just saw the machines and work places with the display examples. As we were there at lunch, we had no choice of where to eat. There or nothing.
4. Included Meals - I have written to OAT many times about the included meals. In Costa Rica some of these Lunches and Dinners were set meals with three choices. My concern comes from the food wastage. I spoke to our Tour Director and he had no real answer. I pointed out how many people had only eaten a portion of their meal. In a country where too many people can go hungry, we waste food as our portions were so large. Why not choose restaurants that offer a buffet? People can then decide what they want and not waste. And for those who are vegetarians or vegans, much easier for them also.
The lodgings were typical of OAT sponsored trip; three superb hotels and two very mediocre. We have seen this in all of our trips. Tryp Sabana, El Establo and Savegre were great. Termales del Bosque and Casitas Eclipse had problems. Check TripAdvisor for full reviews and problems (many).
OAT has done a very good job of showing their American clients the best of Costa Rica. With the two trips the only overlap is the boat on the Río Frío. If one does the Pre and Post Trips, one will get a very thorough look at the most progressive country in Central America.
PRE-TRIP TO CORCOVADO NATIONAL PARK
This pre-trip was one of the main reasons we wanted to do the main trip to the National Parks of Costa Rica (CR). We flew into San Jose from Denver and Atlanta at 10 PM and right away noticed the temperature and humidity. The next morning we were transferred back to the airport and flew with our four other travelers on a single engine Cessna to the grass field of Drake Bay. What a shock - with my little gadget we all saw that the heat stress factor was 105.3 degrees F. We are from Colorado, no humidity and low temperatures.
We had to make a wet transfer to the Drake Bay Wilderness Resort (DBWR). A beautiful place, well laid out, fantastic people working there and great all inclusive meals.
As we checked in I quickly decided to ask for a cabin with A/C. Smart move as the nigh-time temperatures never got below 82 and the humidity was always high. Our room was nice and clean, spacious, cool, and only 100 yards from reception and dining room.
We met Manuel who took us on an extended tour of the area with his spotting scope. He was excellent at spotting the native birds and animals and in the 2.5 hour walk we saw so many beautiful sights.
The next day we were taken on an hour high speed boat ride to the Corcovado National Park. Again Manuel took us on a long tour of 6 hours through the coastal rain forest. This was another excellent experience but very taxing on my system as I became dehydrated.
When we returned to Lodge, the owner's son helped out by providing me with a Gator-Aid like drink of electrolytes to replenish my system and in a couple of hours I was fine. Everyone at DBWR went out of their way to help their guests. They would walk into the dining room or bar and would get a big hand of applause - every time.
The return to San Jose was a reversal of the arrival. Wet departure, drive to the airport, single engine flight to San Jose and at the airport being met by the transfer driver and Eddie Recio, our main trip Tour Director.
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Thanks so much for posting this journal! We leave on this same trip in just a few weeks, and after reading your story, we are even more anxious to go.