2010 Travelogue Central and South America - I
We are on a nearly 3 month trip to Costa Rica and South America. In SA we
plan on visiting northern Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, Brazil, Uruguay
and Argentina. The first 10 days we were on a tour in Costa Rica with a
company called Caravan. As you know we don't often go on tours. Many
have asked us why is this? Well the short answer is "MONEY"! The longer
answer to money issue is that it is true that with some companies like
Caravan they really do use there purchasing power to get good deals. For
example we stayed in the JW Marriot in Guanacaste on the Pacific coast in
Costa Rica. This hotel costs $375-$425 a night and is a 5 DIAMOND hotel.
We stayed for two nights so that would be about 33% of what the total cost
of what the tour was for Edith and I.. We stayed at very nice hotels and
had BLD each day, tips were covered and all tours and tickets, ie the
bottom line is the only cost not in the purchase price was a tip for the
bus driver and tour leader which is technically optional but every one
So as we see it a "good" tour like Caravan gets you excellent hotels,
great bus, good English speaking tour guide, luggage is all taken care
off, meals are great and all taken care of. You get to see most of the
major attractions of a country or countries. Put another way you don't
have to do any planning, you just show up. Another nice thing is
typically the tour company picks you up at the airport and brings you
back to the airport. Your safety is typically much better and of course
you have a local guide who can help with problems and knows the language
and you can learn a lot about what you are seeing and about the history
and culture of the country.
The "Downside" as we see it is you are on a pretty much fixed schedule.
There sometimes are other choices if you want to pay for them. On most
tours there is the option of not doing certain activities but rather just
stay at the hotel or go shopping, etc. Some tours IMHO substitute
shopping for touring and get by with it. You go to all the tourist spots
so you don't see the local culture much. The good tour companies like
Caravan give you quite a bit of local culture but even then they see a lot
of Caravan people so it still has a "touristy" feel.
Again it comes down to money! Yes you get more bang for the buck "BUT"
the bottom line is it still costs more. Based on 10 years of travel we
can say with great authority that it is possible to travel for a total of
$100 a day for Edith and I. not including air fare but does include local
travel. We don't have fancy places to stay but in likely 600 nights on
the road I can count on one hand the really bad places, ie only cold
water, very dirty or very cold. Probably the biggest secret is to ask to
see the room before deciding to stay and check out the hot water
situation.. We definitely have passed some rooms up! Anyway back to
the downside of tours. You can get bad groups with people being rude,
late, etc. We have fared very well here but we see this with other groups
and on day tours we take. You constantly have to be watching the clock to
be sure you are back on time and at the right place. You can not stay
longer or move on depending on if you like it someplace or not. You are
paying for the tour leader, often well worth it but you are paying for the
company to exist, all there advertisement, their room and food, etc.. To
get to the bottom line it is very hard to find a tour that costs less than
$250 a day for two people and much more commonly it is $400 plus per day.
If the tour includes airfare then it is almost always going to be $400
If you working and can only get away for say 10 days a good tour makes a
lot of sense and even at $400 a couple you may be able to swing the $4,000
if it includes the air fare or you can do a shorter tour to get the cost
down. If you really want to see a country and travel in a relaxed manner
it takes time and time is money if you are spending a lot per day. Even
at $100 a day that is $3,000 a month but if you spend $100 a night for
lodging that alone is $3,000 a month. If you jump the cost to $250 a
night for a tour like Caravan it would be $7,500 a month or a 3 month trip
is $22,500. We don't have anything close to that kind of money so the
short and long answer is money and if you want to travel much be it in the
USA or anyplace in the the world you need to travel independent, do your
own planning and watch your budget. It helps to know Spanish or French
which is used a lot around the world.
One additional secret is to find a nice area and arrange a place where you
can cook. You can do local travel with the bus or occasionally rent a
car or take local tours. By doing this we have gotten the cost down below
$40 a day in Argentina. There are a number of places you could do it for
$50.00 - $75.00 day.
We traveled about 1000 miles in Costa Rica on the tour. We had some
cloudy, rainy weather so we never seen any volcano well at all. Costa
Rica is nearly all very hilly to mountainous and very, very green with
lots of trees and other vegetation. Often the mountains have hanging
clouds where you see part of the mountain and the rest is covered.
The Caribbean coast is a lot poorer economically and the housing, etc.
shows it. Tortuguaro to the north on the Caribbean coast is only
accessible by boat or small plane. There are monkey's, Caiman, Tucans,
Turtles and many birds and of course fish. It is the primary nesting area
for the Green Turtles in the Americas. The bugs were not bad and we
caught a break in the rain so it was nice.
The Arenal Volcano area is touristy. The volcano is almost always covered
with clouds. The lake is very nice and the climate is nice the year
around. Based on last year and this year we find the cost of things here
to be expensive and it has to be hard for locals who are poor to get by.
They have to be eating a lot of beans and rice and local fruit. Prices in
the groceries stores and in the markets and other stores are expensive. I
like to use what I call my "COKE" index. Here as iun the USA you need to
go to a grocery store to get COKE. Consistently a 600ml bottle of Coke
costs $2.10 plus. In the grocery store it is about $1.40. Anyway the
Arenal area is where a lot of people from North America have moved in and
they have a lot of NA activities for those in the area. A town called
Tilaran might be a good place to spend some time with the local culture
and great weather. We did not stop so I am not sure about food prices or
lodging but based on the rest of Costa Rica likely about like the USA . I
would of loved to find out. To really check out a month rental you need to
actually be at a place. It is very, very tough to find over the internet.
We then went to northern CR right on the Nicaragua border and seen a good
deal of wild life. There is a new species of monkey here called the
Blonde Monkey which you will see on National Geographic. Here prices were
reasonable in the café's and grocery stores but the climate is pretty hot.
Next we went to Guanacaste where we were last year. It is hot here and in
the winter does not rain hardly at all. Thing are expensive and modern
here and there are lots of expensive resorts on the Pacific coast and
Liberia has an International airport and the town has pretty much
everything. There is quite a bit of English spoken because of all the
North Americans who live here are spend the winter here. With the
economic downturn I could rent a place for $800 to $1400 right on the
beach and you could cook however groceries we very expensive. Restaurant
prices were similar to the USA.
In San Jose the Gold Museum was interesting with gold from there early
culture. San Jose has a nice climate and is a what is called the Central
Valley. Things are very modern here and unlike Mexico and the other
Central American countries things are clean here, ie very little trash
laying around or blowing around.
On the downside Costa Rica has done very, very little to improve there
infa-structuire for decades and it is really starting to show. Business
wise and construction wise things seem to be going well and there is not
really an economic downturn here other than tourism is down. It is the
countries # 1 source of outside income although they are still
I don't know how scientific it is but all the tour groups we seen have
virtually no one traveling with them that were under sixty. It seems to
indicate the traveling is being down with "OLD" money and the younger who
are struggling to keep jobs, had to go to one income, raising kids,
helping with college expenses, etc are not traveling. What was really
shocking is that most of the people on tours were over 70 years of age.
The people are friendly and smiling here. They complain about the younger
generation just like we do. This is a peaceful country and the culture
dictates you don't show a lot of emotion or get angry. They are a neutral
country with no army but the are definitely a democracy. Elections are
hotly contested and they have an immigration situation with Nicaragua very
much like our Mexican situation with illegals and needing the labor for
nasty jobs. They also need young workers to support there health care and
pensions. The have the problem of the illegals not supporting these
things but having access to them. It seems to me they are going to move
to a system where people may come in but only work with a "GREEN"card or
what ever term you want to use and they have to pay taxes, etc. just like
everyone else. I don't think they are going to be able to be citizens but
if they pay they will get the benefits they are now getting which is
education and health care and of course a much better standard of living.
Many send money to there families back in Nicaragua.
One other thing is they live and work in a relaxed way so you may ask for
a cup of coffee with your meal and you may or may not get it! It just
depends on how busy they are and if they get to it or by that time
remember it. Things are changing with this and the service is getting
better but it is still very laid back. The nice side of this is as
tourists you are not bothered by vendors at all. We have not seen this
anyplace else in Central America or Mexico where all the vendors are
rudely aggressive. In two year and nearly 2000 miles in CR we don't
remember one aggressive
For some reason my spell checker is not working so I apologize for typo's
and my spelling is pretty good but I probably did not spell everything
correctly. We had Caravan take us to the airport and they called Melrost
B&B who I made a reservation with over the network the last night of our
tour. Melrost B&B picked us up. We have a 4 room apartment and bathroom.
We have cooking, refrigerator, microwve, TV Cable and Wi-FI and get
breakfast for $55 including taxes so it fits well with our $100 a day
budget. We get free transportation to and from the airport so we will
stay here when we get back from SA.
We leave today about 5 pm for Santiago Chile. We have a 2 hour stop in
Bogata, Columbia. We hope to watch the Vikings play on Sunday night via
the Internet but we need a good Wi-Fi connection to do that.
Ed and Edith