Friday, March 30, 2007

Costa Rica creates card to help tourists

Tourists in Costa Rica can now carry a small card containing the number of a hotline they can call to make complaints as well as get information on the currency exchange rate, Costa Rica's best beaches and other travel tips.

"The goal of the hotline is to provide fast, effective information to visitors, mainly foreigners, so they don't necessarily have to go to one of the Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT) offices," said Tourism Minister Carlos Benavides in a statement.

The 24-hour hotline, 800-TOURISM or 800-TURISMO, will have English-speaking personnel attending tourist concerns. In addition to the hotline, the back of the card has a list of phone numbers for emergencies, including those of several countries' embassies.

ICT has printed 90,000 of these small blue cards, which are being distributed at the Immigration area of Juan Santamaria International Airport, just north of San Jose. They will soon be available at the Daniel Oduber International Airport in the Guanacaste city of Liberia, and the institute hopes to offer them at ports and land border crossings, Benavides said.

Also in the works are plans to print the card in Braille and print similar information on flyers to put in rental cars, the statement said.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Taca Airlines announces directs flights between San Jose and Santo Domingo

The Central American Airline TACA announced new direct flights to and from Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic starting from next April 2007.

TACA’s spokesperson, Claudia Arenas, explained that the route between San Jose and Santo Domingo is scheduled to begin on April 15 with four flights per week on Airbus 319, with a seating capacity of 125 passengers.

The president of TACA Airlines, Fernando Naranjo, stated that the company’s goal with the San Jose-Santo Domingo route is to promote the integration between Central America and the Caribbean.

Naranjo stated that three targets will benefit the most from this route. Firstly, businessmen traveling between Central America and Dominican Republic. Secondly, tourists, mostly Europeans, who visit the island and then connect to Central America, and, last but not least, the Central American residents who wish to travel to the Caribbean for pleasure.

The Ambassador of the Dominican Republic in Costa Rica, Adonaida Medina, stated that this direct flight will give an impulse to tourism in both countries, since it will offer Europeans joint promotional packages.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Creature comforts redefined in Costa Rica

Photo by Dean MerrillSerenity of home exchanged for volcanoes, exotic wildlife and forests of Costa Rica

By Dean Merrill
Special to the Register

Tropical rain forests, beaches, active volcanoes and exotic wildlife: That's Costa Rica.

This tiny Third World country is sandwiched between Panama and Nicaragua in Central America, just north of the equator.

After searching the Internet last fall, my wife, Elaine, and I came upon an all-inclusive 10-day adventure sponsored by Caravan Tours. The cost for the trip, excluding airfare, was $995, a true bargain.

We boarded our Continental Airlines jet in Des Moines and set out for San Jose, Costa Rica, via Houston.

We arrived in the capital city of San Jose midday discovering an unkempt city of congested narrow streets lined with small homes and businesses. Buildings were wrapped in razor wire, and steel bars protected windows and doors.

As we were soon to learn, however, the tourists' Costa Rica awaited us outside the city.

We experienced the adventure of our lives.

The first two nights, we stayed in a private cabin in the middle of a primary rain forest with howler and white-faced monkeys swinging overhead and wildlife such as crocodiles, caiman, sloths, iguanas, lizards, poisonous frogs and a countless variety of birds surrounding us.

We stayed at the foot of an active volcano the next two nights. We arose early in the morning and caught the rare sight of the volcano erupting and rivers of red molten lava flowing down its side.

Finally, we stayed for two nights on the Pacific Ocean where we sipped tropical drinks, watched surfers negotiate thundering waves and watched a pair of scarlet macaws snuggling in a tree overhead.

The Costa Rican people, called Ticos, are friendly to American tourists. The official language is Costa Rican Spanish, but you can generally communicate with them in English. Prices are reasonable even in areas frequented by tourists.

You haven't really tasted fresh fruit until you've been to Costa Rica. It's picked ripe from the tree, sliced and served. Overflowing platters of fruit are always available for breakfast, and fresh fruit juice and smoothies are always offered with lunch.

Bottled water is available, but unlike most Third World countries, tap water is safe to drink in hotels and restaurants.

If you decide to explore Costa Rica, park your expectations and demands at the airport.

It is a Third World country, after all, and is best left for the adventurous. But if you're willing to experience a different culture and maybe give up a little bit of creature comfort, then you'll forever remember the "nature" of Costa Rica.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Bird-watchers set sights on Costa Rica

Photo by Kathy Adams ClarkBy GARY CLARK

Would it surprise you to learn that some of the favorite places to watch birds in Costa Rica are at small roadside eateries?

In the central mountain range north of San Jose, on the highway between Vara Blanca and San Miguel, sits the Mirador de la Catarata San Fernando, meaning balcony overlooking the San Fernando Waterfall.

The cafe's backyard overlooks a mountain slope that plunges 500 feet into a misty forest from which emerges a seeming multitude of birds. Hanging from the back balcony are a dozen or more hummingbird feeders. Bird feeders placed in the yard below are stocked with papayas and bananas.

Hummingbirds like the green-crowned brilliant and violet sabrewing buzz right in front of your face while the emerald toucanet and silver-throated tanager drop from the forests to the bird feeders. Neither binoculars nor cameras can take it all in as bird-watchers race from one end of the balcony to the other.

Locals know the place as Vera's, for the woman who runs it. Vera Gonzalez an ever-present fixture, offering fresh-brewed coffee and platters of homemade tortillas filled with melted cheese. The bird-watching tourists are happy to drop the requested $5 in her tip box.

Another favorite roadside place is Comida Tipicas Miriam. It's on a dirt road to San Gerardo in the Talamanca Mountains near the Pan-American Highway south of San Jose.

Miriam Prado's backyard overlooks a mountain forest. She fills bird feeders with table scraps, fruit and rice, attracting yellow-thighed finches, black-cheeked woodpeckers and rufous-collared sparrows.

Brightly colored fuschia bushes on the porch attract tiny beauties like the volcano and magnificent hummingbirds. A nearby tree is the showoff spot for the long-tailed silky-flycatcher with his lemon-yellow head against a blue-gray back.

Although a portion of Mirian's modest home serves as a small cafe, many visitors stop just to see the birds. In return for her hospitality, they leave behind the requested $1 tip.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Beautiful Costa Rican sunset

Those who frequently visit my blogs already know that I am a big YouTube fan. I constantly browse YouTube in search of videos of Costa Rica worth sharing with you. This one here I think fits that description. It is a 51-second video of a sunset in Costa Rica combined with relaxing music that makes you wish you were there. Unfortunately the author of the video didn't mention where exactly in Costa Rica this video was shot. Anyway, I hope you enjoy it!

Note: The 51-seconds video that used to be here was removed because its owner disabled the embedding option. If you want to see the video now you have to access it from the youtube link below:

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Costa Rica leads Latin America in tourism competitiveness

(Photo: Kevin Schafer/Getty Images)By Uri Ridelman

Although it ranks 41st globally, Costa Rica has the most attractive environment to develop the travel and tourism industry in Latin America followed by Chile (45th) and Mexico (49th), according to the Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2007, released on March 1 by the Swiss-based World Economic Forum.

According to the first-year report, which evaluates 124 countries worldwide, Costa Rica was the leader among the 18 Latin American countries measured.

The report evaluates factors and policies that make it attractive to develop the travel and tourism sector in different countries. Some of the 13 categories evaluated in the report include safety and security, health and hygiene, air transport infrastructure, human capital, and natural resources.

Costa Rica led the index in two categories: presence of rental companies and primary education enrollment. Other strengths of the country are in the area of natural resources (ranked 12th on the percentage of nationally protected land areas), and airport infrastructure (it ranked 11th in airport density).

The report also concluded that Costa Rica's tourism policy rules and regulations are very conducive to the development of the sector (ranked 17th), with open bilateral Air Service Agreements (ranked ninth), low visa requirements (ranked 15th) and an environment that welcomes foreign investment (ranked 27th).

However, safety and security remain a concern (67th). And while tourism infrastructure is quite well developed (36th), ground transport infrastructure remains highly underdeveloped (93rd), particularly roads and ports, making travel in the country somewhat difficult.

For example the country ranked 102nd in port infrastructure, 105th in railraod infrastructure and 108th in road infrastructure.

Other problems made evident by the report were: the business cost of crime and violence where Costa Rica ranks 93rd, the ticket taxes and airport charges (ranked 84th) and the incidence of Malaria in which it ranked 80th.

The rest of Central America didn't fare as well as Costa Rica as none of them managed to finish in the top 50. Panama ranked 55th, Guatemala 69th, El Salvador 77th, Honduras 87th and Nicaragua 89th.

In the Caribbean area Barbados was the top ranked country (29th worldwide), followed by Jamaica (48th), Dominican Republic (50th), Trinidad and Tobago (85th), Guyana (100th) and Suriname (108th).

In South America Uruguay (56th in the world) and Brazil (59th) followed Chile's lead. Argentina came in at 64th, Colombia finished 72nd, Peru 81st, and Ecuador ranked 97th. Venezuela (99th) , Bolivia (109th) and Paraguay (111th) are the three worst-ranked Latin American countries. Cuba, Belize and Haiti were among those not included.

Worldwide Switzerland, Austria and Germany have the most attractive environments for developing the travel and tourism industry, according to new index. Iceland, the United States, Hong Kong, Canada, Singapore, Luxembourg and the United Kingdom complete the top ten list.

Article written using a press release provided by the World Economic Forum.

Note: To access the full profile of Costa Rica (in pdf format) click here. To access the full summary of the report (in pdf format) click here.