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

agriculturally based.

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