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Hidden Gems of Costa Rica

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Costa Rica

Do you ever wish you could travel with your own local guide, and have them take you to their favorite places? Perhaps it would also be helpful to talk to a local before you go, and gather advice and recommendations from people who really know the country – not just from other tourists who have been there for a short vacation.

Well, that’s exactly what booking with GreenSpot allows you to do, and in celebration of our 10 year anniversary this month, we are sharing a few of these Costa Rica hidden gems with our GreenSpot friends.

We are extremely proud to be listed as a Conde Nast Top Travel Specialist for Costa Rica, and to be on Wendy Perrin’s WOW list of trusted travel experts. This means that over the past 10 years our expertise and GreenSpot style has won the hearts of our clients time and again.

Without further adieux…here are few places and experiences that you probably won’t find on the average Costa Rica travSlothel guide.

Luckily, you know some locals…

Playa Biesanz – Manuel Antonio National Park is one of Costa Rica’s most popular tourist destinations. During high season, the beaches can become very crowded. Biesanz beach is a nearby, mostly secluded beach that is a favorite with locals and offers excellent snorkeling or kayaking (bring your own gear). Your best bet for getting there is to ask a local where to find the trail along the side of the road, which winds through wildlife inhabited jungle. It’s highly likely you’ll spot a squirrel monkey, and two and three-toed sloth are also often visible along the trail.

 

Lunch at Villa Caletas – Ideally located halfway between San Jose and Manuel Antonio, this is the perfect place to pause for a good meal and sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean. We hear time and again from our clients that the food and exceptional view were a bright highlight of the day.

Villa Caletas Costa Rica

Photo: Villa Caletas

Cerro de la Muerte – This is one of Costa Rica’s highest peaks, and on a clear day you can see both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. This beautiful place gets its disturbing name (translated to mean Hill of Death) from pre-highway days, when travel by horseback or on foot was extremely treacherous. These days, it is still a rather adventurous route, but you can drive to the summit and hike down through several different ecosystems, finishing in the charming village of San Gerardo de Dota. Your chances of spotting the resplendent quetzal are high in this area and compared to touristy Monteverde, this cloud forest remains raw and authentically beautiful.

resplendent quetzal

Resplendent Quetzal

Park Café and Antique Shop – Housed inside an old-world hacienda, this remarkable place combines antiques, interior design and a fabulous restaurant. Becoming increasingly popular with locals, this place is receiving rave reviews for its exquisite food, prepared by an acclaimed master chef. Combining great food with an abundance of charming antiques, this is a unique place you won’t soon forget.

Park Cafe

Photo: Park Café

Marina Ballena National Park – Named after the humpback whales that migrate to this region, this off-the-beaten-path spot along the Central Pacific coast, includes 9 miles of protected coastline and ocean. Not only an excellent spot for whale watching, there is peaceful rainforest, quiet beaches, wildlife viewing opportunities and prehistoric sites in the area. Ask us about some fabulous hotels from where to base yourself within this incredible biologically diverse setting.

Ballena Infocenter (2)

Photo: Ronald Monge Arias

Doña Mara– We believe that the local people are the true hidden gems of any country. So in true GreenSpot style, Doña Mara easily concludes this list. This is where having local friends comes in handy. If you want a truly genuine experience and perhaps the opportunity to practice your Spanish (or a guide will translate), you are welcomed into Doña Mara’s home with a smile and a hug. Here you can enjoy a delicious authentic lunch and also try your hand at making tortillas, tamales or even a full cooking or dancing lesson. It won’t take long to feel at home.

Doña Mara cooking lesson

Photo: Warren Holder

Frequently Asked Questions: Ecuador

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These are a few questions we get most frequently from travelers interested in Ecuador. We wanted to allow our team of Ecuador experts to provide some answers.

For a preview of our sample Ecuador itineraries, please visit our website.

Q: What do you love most about Ecuador?

Amazon EcuadorA: The thing we love most about Ecuador is the element of surprise. Despite its small size, Ecuador is considered one of the most diverse countries on the planet, and it’s amazing that not many people know this. It is a country with something for everyone, including beaches, rural highlands, jungle escapes, and colonial cities.

Ecuador can satisfy every whim and desire, arguably all in one day, and recent improvements to infrastructure allow for easy access to navigate the country and explore the majority of attractions offered.

With the Pacific coast on the western side of the country, the Andes Mountains as the backbone of the country, and rivers flowing down to the Amazon, which is considered a part of Ecuador’s territory, the possibilities for adventure are endless.

Q: What special experiences can people expect when they visit Ecuador with GreenSpot?

A: Numerous special experiences await GreenSpot travelers. The obvious being of course, Galapagos Islands, where one can have close encounters with some of the most diverse and unique animals and flora on the planet.Amazon, Ecuador

But our trips go far beyond the Galapagos. The capital city of Quito is considered one of the most active cities and the home of the most picturesque and breathtaking churches. Otavalo is home to one of the largest indigenous groups in Ecuador and the location of the Otavalo Market, a must-see destination for tourists from around the globe.

As usual, our itineraries include a number of special interactions with the local people, and greater immersion in the culture. We aim to provide a deeper and more complete experience by including options such as a visit to a local school, cooking and ceramic classes, or dinner with a local fisherman, all excellent ways to connect with the community and acquire a deeper sense of Ecuador’s people.

Q: How will Ecuador surprise people?

A: Ecuador’s contemporary nature and cultural diversity will be the most surprising things to a visitor. The country is surprisingly developed, with a huge and ever-growing expat community. Additionally, the high percentage of ethnic groups further reflects the diversity of the country, which is common to see as you traveart, Ecuadorl the country.

Q: If a traveler wants to see the true Ecuador, how would they go about it?

A: They’ll come without expectations and be open and ready to soak in the local culture. Our connections with local suppliers and communities make it much easier to experience the true Ecuador.

GreenSpot clients will have an opportunity to participate in activities where they can socialize with locals. For example, our school visit includes discussions about Ecuador’s educational system and perhaps a friendly soccer competition with the children and teachers. We are also planning to add cooking classes with ingredients purchased in a local market, and dinners with local fishermen and their families, during which guests can learn more about life in Ecuador.waterfall, Ecuador

Q: Why should fans of iconic destinations like Costa Rica consider Ecuador?

A: Each country has special and unique traits. Costa Rica is an amazing country with its own culture and unbelievable tourist attractions, and it’s also a great place to live as evidenced by its huge international population. In Ecuador, visitors can experience the Andes Mountains, Spanish-influenced Colonial architecture, stunning glaciers, easily accessible ethnic groups, amazing jungle life, great density of volcanoes and prominent mountains, incredible lakes, vast wildlife, and delicious cuisine. Many visitors remark that they have experienced something a bit different in each town, and this is what Ecuador offers — diversity at its very best.

Tips from a Ziplining Newbie

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I’ve experienced my share of adventure – white water rafting, paragliding, canyoning, high-peak trekking, a bit of rock climbing. I had a feeling that ziplining through a rainforest canopy was in my future. It was certainly on my bucket list. A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to go ziplining in Costa Rica.

One of my travel companions had some ziplining experience. As we ate lunch together she said, “Oh, I don’t want to eat a big lunch before going ziplining.” “Why?” I asked. “It’s a bit scary and might make me queasy.” I sized her up as a person with a bit of a weak stomach and probably scared of heights. I’m not scared of heights.

ziplining Costa Rica

Into a void of green – Costa Rica

We set off and our guide went over all the safety precautions and did a little demonstration. The first zip-line stretched high above a beautiful canyon of treetops and disappeared into a dense void of green. I watched the person before whizz along and when it was my turn, I was ready and couldn’t wait to soar over the trees. I’m sure I had a huge smile on my face.

However, something funny happened as the subsequent platforms became higher and higher. For me, flying high in the air was a piece of cake, but each time I was standing on a platform (albeit hooked onto a safety wire) I felt vulnerable and a little shaky. I hadn’t expected that platform-standing would provide an adrenaline rush.

 

Zipline costa rica ziplining costa Rica

This particular course also comprised of rappelling down the side of a rock cliff and climbing up the other side, which was a fun challenge. We also experienced a “Tarzan rope” that is used to swing from one high platform to another (additionally secured to a safety line, of course). I was first on the Tarzan rope. When I reached the other side, one of the guides thought it would be funny to throw me back over to the other side again. Turns out, it was quite funny, because everyone laughed at my stunned expression.

tarzan rope zip line costa rica IMG_7474 (2)

Here a few tips for the Ziplining Newbie:

  • Keep an open mind. If you think you might be scared, consider a tandem zipline with a professional guide, like in the above photo. On the other hand, if you are a thrill-seeker and don’t think it will be thrilling enough…you might be surprised!
  • It is fun for the whole family, although children should be over 5-years old. Many outfitters will accommodate disabled and elderly people as well.
  • Wear well-fitted clothing and shoes (no flip-flops!)
  • Book with an operator who has researched outfitters with the highest safety standards. (Like us!)
  • Pay close attention to your guides while on the course.
  • Have fun!

An Earth Day Gift for You – 5 Tips for Responsible Travel

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Earthday

It’s been many years since the terms ecotourism and sustainable travel first developed. Since then, the complex relationship between travel and responsibility to our planet, has grown in importance. Some even declare it an oxymoron to put the two together – opposites, like oil and water. Well, pardon us if we disagree.

Not only are there ways that tourism can benefit everyone, but the concept of  responsible travel is becoming more mainstream.

waterfallThe economic and social benefits of tourism are more obvious, particularly in developing countries, because (if done correctly) tourism can create jobs and increase the country’s revenue. It can also improve infrastructure and cultural understanding between guest and host. The environmental benefits are sometimes less obvious. However, tourism has helped promote awareness and conservation of natural resources and wildlife.

We thought that Earth Day would be a good opportunity to provide you with a list of a few things that you can do on your next trip, to be a more responsible traveler. This is not a comprehensive list. Travelers can do various little things to tread lightly and create a positive impact on the destinations they visit.

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  • Support local economies by buying local handicrafts and food that has not been imported.
  • Travel by public transportation within the destination, or better yet, walk or bike.
  • Respect the culture and engage with the local people.
  • Use natural resources sparingly.
  • Don’t buy bottled water – bring your own canteen instead.

*Bonus tip! Contact us to help you select sustainable hotels and local guides for a memorable (and responsible) holiday!

We would love to hear what responsible efforts (big or small) have you made while traveling.

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