ExperiencePlus! Blog

Fifteen Years of Costa Rica

Fifteen Years of Costa Rica 

My how time flies.  This is our 15th year operating tours in Costa Rica, so maybe it’s time for a little reflection.

I quit my job directing the Study Abroad programs at Colorado State University late in the summer of 1991.  I loved working with the students, but hated working with the bureaucracy (it seems I was too much of an entrepreneur), so I quit and went to work selling espresso machines to restaurants between Boulder and Fort Collins.  That lasted for just about a year, until I finally bowed to the requests of our customers and decided to branch out from offering bike tours just in Italy.  Our first new offerings were in Costa Rica and in Greece.  In the spring of ’93, I went first to Costa Rica to develop a new tour and then traveled to Greece a month later.  We offered our first Costa Rica tour later that year.  Here’s how I remember those first trips.

Our Costa Rica tours have always been based in or around Alajuela, a small university town near San Jose’s international airport.  In March of 1993, I rolled off the plane with my bicycle straight into a hotel right in downtown Alajuela.  It was and still is a delightful town and town square, complete with marching band and concerts in the square on Thursday evenings. 

After a day of exploring Alajuela, I headed up Poas Volcano – a 6,000 foot climb.  My idea was to actually start our tour at the top of Poas and to pedal down.  But I needed to test the ride up as well.  I did the ride – it was very tough – and as I neared the top a group of American birders came walking along.  Of course I had my bright yellow jersey on for safety.  One woman took a look at me and said:  “Can I take your picture?  You’re the most colorful thing we’ve seen all day!” 

Continuing off to the northeast, I explored routes and hotels for a possible tour over the next ten days.  I came up with what was a pretty good route, though the hotels needed work (they always do!).

I visited Costa Rica three times that year before we offered our first tour.  On my second trip in November – preparatory to offering the tour in late December — I rented a four-wheel drive vehicle. As I drove around Arenal Volcano, a tiny but active volcano near La Fortuna, I realized I was missing something compared to my previous trip.  While driving, I heard no howler monkeys, no screeching parakeets and no rumbling volcano.   I stopped my car and sat by the side of the road for forty-five minutes, binoculars in hand, just listening.  We go to Costa Rica to enjoy the natural environment and the wildlife; in my rental car I was missing half of it!

In Costa Rica, I found that the pioneering tourists had been there well before me.  Hotel keepers, restaurant owners, and many others (the Canadians seemed to have led the pack, but there were Italians and other European adventurers as well) had started twenty or thirty years before.  I had a sense of déjà vu,  of Hemingway’s Cuba, and of expat Americans living the luxury life in the tropics.  Not the least of these expats was Alexander Skutch, the naturalist and ornithologist who became the world’s leading expert on Costa Rican birds.  Read my reviews of Professor Skutch’s books if you’re as interested in learning about the rich bird life in Costa Rica as I was. 

That first trip in Costa Rica in the spring of 1993 ended with an off-road ride with an architect from Seattle.  We were halfway to the coast on the Nicoya peninsula when we got to looking at the map and decided to head off on a gravel road.  Late that afternoon, we arrived at the beach near Nosara after fording the Nosara River at least ten times.  It was great, but I knew it was too aggressive a ride for our asphalt-loving customers!

Over the years since 1993, our Costa Rica tours have changed.  But our goal is still to provide you with the support you need to experience the “real” Costa Rica first-hand.  You too can ford rivers using our mountain bikes, or you can explore villages and rain forests if that’s your style. 

So join us this winter for a bicycle vacation in a tropical paradise.  Our Costa Rica staff is some of our best.  The rides are great, the fresh fruit is wonderful, and you’ll fall in love with “gallo pinto,” the black beans and rice dish available at almost every meal!