Regardless of who you use for booking your independent travel, evaluate the tradeoffs of price versus service and security. Here are a few hints for the independent traveler in Costa Rica:
How much do you know about your travel organizer? How long has it been in business? Do they provide you articles or ratings in recognized magazines or guide books?
Costa Rica has no equivalent of the Better Business Bureau, nor is there any license required to start selling “packages” or “services” for tourism. Your only source of comfort is reputation. In theory, all “receptive tourism” agencies are licensed by the Costa Rica Tourism Board (ICT), the official government ministry overseeing tourism. Serendipity was licensed by the ICT n 1993, when the licensing program was initiated.
Serendipity has been ranked by National Geographic Adventure Magazine as Costa Rica’s best adventure travel company, and earlier featured by Outside Magazine operator of one of the best epic journeys on earth. MSNBC and FORBES Magazine lists Serendipity’s ballooning as one of the top 10 of the world, and in April 2014, Travel and Leisure also included our ballooning operation among the best in the World.
Plan all of your hotels, activities, and transportation through a single travel agent. Ask your travel organizer to provide details on the time it takes to get places, the types of vehicles, sleeping arrangements, tours, and attractions.
Many people, travel agents included, make the mistake of booking into a hotel in San José for the duration of their trip to Costa Rica. But, due to Costa Rica’s mountainous terrain and rainforest climate, it takes a long time to move around the small country. Most of the tours departing from the nation’s capital city require long bus trips in the morning and evening to get you to the place of interest and leave you sleeping in a loud city filled with diesel fumes at night. In other words, even though you can get anywhere in Costa Rica from San José, most destinations will be out of reach of a day trip.
Serendipity knows Costa Rica. We know the best highways and great off-the-beaten-path destinations. We know which roads are closed and when holidays in Costa Rica interfere with driving. Serendipity’s expertise is backed up by up-to-date databases and on-site inspections of many of the hotels and tours we recommend. We design vacation itineraries to balance access to interesting places and activities against travel time and stress.
Can your travel organizer provide any assistance if you have an emergency— vehicle accident, illness, missed connection, lost or stolen property, lost passport or airline ticket? How easy is it to contact your travel provider once in Costa Rica?
Serendipity clients have a 24 hour a day emergency phone number. With our extensive knowledge of Costa Rica, our good databases, our educated, bilingual staff, and years of service in Costa Rica, Serendipity is the best qualified assistant for resolving travel problems. When you need to know the nearest pharmacy, doctor, mechanic, police station, towing service, or embassy information, you need someone to act as your interpreter and find solutions in your immediate vicinity and you need it now.
Your travel organizer should provide detailed instructions for getting to each hotel or tour in your itinerary, with details on check-in and check-out times, the times that gates are closed and locked, and contact telephone numbers at the hotels.
If you arrive at a hotel to find the reservations are incorrect, you need a resource to correct the problem — now! If you prepaid through an agency, ONLY the agency can resolve the problem/confusion. Travelers who book through Serendipity are provided 24 hour bilingual telephone assistance to resolve any reservation confusion.
Your travel organizer should provide you with detailed descriptions of on your hotels.
What amenities are provided? Air conditioning? Hot water showers? What size and how many beds? Are meals included? Is there an internet connection available? Does the hotel offer room service? Is there an on-site restaurant? What is the hotel’s ranking by the Costa Rica Tourism Board (ICT) – from 0 to 5 star.
Costa Rican hotels vary dramatically in style and amenities. Some hotels feature five star accommodation, but it is also not uncommon to find hotels with cold showers, or showers with very limited hot water capacity. However, Costa Rica is filled with delightful hotels, cabins, and bed and breakfasts that are worth seeking out.
Serendipity inspects select hotels, so we can evaluate them for items not mentioned in the hotels’ web sites or tour books — the smells, the noises, the privacy, comfort, access by car, flights, and security factors.
Does your travel organizer have bank references you can check? Can you pay by check instead of giving your credit card details via FAX? Can you pay your travel organizer with U.S. or Euro funds?
You are prepaying your travel arrangements. It is good to know you have a real company receiving your funds. Serendipity has offices in Ann Arbor, Michigan and Costa Rica. Serendipity has banked in the same banks in Costa Rica and in Ann Arbor since 1991 and has a long history and sterling banking references. Ask us for details on contacts within National City Bank to verify Serendipity’s financial standing.
Will your travel organizer provide you with contact details or references to people who have traveled with them recently?
Serendipity will, with pleasure! Let us know what kind of person you’d like to speak with — family with young kids, team building guests, horseback experts, mountain bikers, honeymooners… we have a long and happy list to share with you.