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Costa Rica's Expansive Offerings

Written by  Michael Schoenberger

LATIN CR
For 35 years, Costa Rica’s Expotur has been Central America’s leading inbound tourism conference and the country’s primary tool for promoting Costa Rica as the preeminent destination for adventure and eco-tourism.
This year’s event, held May 9th-10th at the National Convention Center in San José, was no exception. For 2019, the emphasis was on micro, small, and medium tourism enterprises (MSMEs) and they were given special consideration so it would be economical for them to participate. For those unfamiliar with Expotur, it is organized by the Costa Rican Association of Tourism Professionals (ACOPROT) with support from the Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT).


During the course of this two day trade event, over 200 international buyers had the chance to meet with more than 250 Costa Rican suppliers to discuss what’s new and negotiate the best rates going forward. With it’s myriad of networking events and pre/post FAMs, Expotur is an ideal event to either begin or grow business to Central America.

JAX FAX elected to take part in an educational FAM to the less visited Puntarenas Province. The US travel community knows Puntarenas as the main cruise port for Costa Rica, yet when most travelers disembark, they head off on day excursions to San Jose, Liberia or some of the famous volcanoes. While these are all worthwhile activities, they also involve extended coach times (San Jose can be four hours coach time round trip).

All that coach time is unnecessary. A better use of limited port time would be for your clients to stay and play in this overlooked region.  The Puntarenas name comes from combining punta (point) and arenas (sand); in English, “sand point.” The name applies to the entire province, which is the largest in the country. The metropolitan area has a population of about 100,000 people.

For cruise clients, recommended excursions include:
Tortuga Island: Famous for its white sand beach and crystal-clear waters, inexpensive day tours that include roundtrip boat transportation, lounge chairs, drink packages and lunch are available from multiple suppliers. The island has a true party feeling about it. Optional activities include scuba diving, jet skis and banana boat rides.

Carara National Park: An ideal excursion for avid bird watchers. This national park is one of only two areas in Costa Rica where scarlet macaws are endemic. Other inhabitants of the park include sloths, agoutis, ocelots, toucans and white-faced monkeys. It is a true nature lover’s paradise.

Sport Fishing: About 20 miles offshore, the warm waters of the Pacific offer phenomenal sport fishing year-round. Catches regularly include sailfish, marlin, mahi-mahi, wahoo and tuna. Close in fishing is done near reefs, river mouths and estuaries where roosterfish, snapper and mackerel can be expected.

Canopy Tours: Five adrenaline-pumping canopy tours are in the Puntarenas area. They offer spectacular views and thrills galore! Packages usually include combinations of an aerial tram ride, zip-lines, suspension bridges, rappel lines and Tarzan swings. The longest zip-line is 2,400 feet long and a thrilling 130 feet above the ground.

Aerial Tram: Your less daring clients can get a bird’s eye view from an open-air gondola while gently riding through the rainforest canopy. The Pacific Rainforest Aerial Tram is located just south of Puntarenas and visitors can choose from several combo-tours that include a tram ride plus a canopy tour, or they can stroll through the park’s unusual serpentarium (zoo for snakes) and heliconia flower garden.

Of course, the region is also perfect for  clients that are interested in Costa Rica for a more traditional destination vacation. At its most essential, Costa Rica is nature lovers delight - perfect for any adventure inclined clients.
The city of Puntarenas is about a two hour car ride from San Jose or Liberia (the major gateways) and easily reached by rental car. The roads are in excellent condition and the driving is easy.

While city of Puntarenas has some very nice hotels, I would recommend that nature loving clients stay across the bay in the Nicoya Peninsula and specifically in the town of Tambor. Ferries depart from downtown Puntarenas numerous times a day and the crossing is less than 2 hours. The large ferries accommodate vehicles on 2 decks, with another 2 decks for passengers, so no need to worry about space.

Tambor has a variety of hotel types to choose from, the largest being a Barcelo resort. The Barcelo gives your clients that typical large resort feel, yet JAX FAX  would recommend something with a bit more sense of “place,” or a more Costa Rican feel. The Tambor Tropical Beach Resort fits the bill perfectly. Tambor Tropical is nestled between volcanic valleys and Bahia Ballena (Whale Bay). This beautiful adults only resort has about 20 suites, all a minimum of 1,000 square feet. The suites are constructed using 13 different types of woods, all beautifully integrated to create a lovely effect. http://tambortropical.com
Once your clients are settled in they can arrange for a wide assortment of nature adventures. A highlight would be a short ride across the bay to Crocodile Island. No need to fear the wildlife as the island takes its name from its shape, not its inhabitants. A nighttime journey to the island, if atmospheric conditions are right, reveals the marvelous bioluminescent waters of this truly romantic spot. This is the perfect spot for a cocktail and a swim as the warm waters provide the a sensual glow.

Other recommended adventure excursions include: ATV rides through the countryside and the coastline; diving or snorkeling with the chance to play among a large diversity of tropical fish, rays, sea turtles and humpback whales; kayaking adventures along nearby estuaries and remote beaches alongside pelicans and sea turtles; or horseback riding into the Tambor rainforest in quest of howler monkeys and colorful birds. If you have clients that are surfing inclined, the region is known for the best surfing in Costa Rica.

For those of us in the travel trade, the point of a good destination conference is expand our vision of what the host country has to offer. Prior to Expotur 2019 my impression of Costa Rica centered around the Caribbean coast’s beaches, the arid plains of Guanacaste, and the towering majesty of Arenal. Participating in Expotur expanded that knowledge to include the adventure rich Puntarenas Province. It is our hope that our readers will both consider Puntarenas for their clients, as well as putting Expotur 2020 on their calendar.
www.expotur.com  and www.visitcostarica.com