An interview with our local partners in Panama
9th August 2021
Thick with thriving rainforest and fringed by tropical beaches, Costa Rica is a haven for nature-lovers, with hidden coves and beaches providing the perfect retreat for those seeking a more luxurious break. Our partner company is as passionate about conservation as they are about helping guests discover all that Costa Rica has to offer. We had a chat with Wouter, one of our local travel experts, to hear what he had to say about his jewel of a country.
What is your fondest memory of Costa Rica?
My fondest memory takes me back to the first time I visited the Caribbean Ocean in Cahuita back in 1989. To get there, you had to take the train to Limon which involved eight hours winding through a spectacular landscape. I stayed the night in Limon, then took a four hour bus to Cahuita the next day. After travelling such a long way, I was blown away by the beauty of the ocean. It was breath-taking.
What is your favourite place in Costa Rica? Why?
Tortuguero, because we have worked with the community since the early days of Ecole Travel. Tortuguero is a very spiritual place for me as it is where everything comes together: the forest, the rivers, the sea, the beach, the people, the turtles, the relaxed lifestyle...
What three words most represent Costa Rica for you?
Nature, sustainability and peace.
What is the Costa Rican culture like?
The culture is very relaxed and inclusive. We live our lives peacefully day to day, and visit the beach on our days off. It is also quite simplistic: the older generations here were nearly all farmers and, due to it's position on the globe, the country did not experience large-scale conflicts in its history. As a result the Costa Rican people live in a bit of a ‘cocoon’. ‘World News’ is dealt with on page 7 of the newspapers, if it is dealt with at all.
What is your favourite Costa Rican food?
The best food in Costa Rica is found on the Caribbean side: Rice ‘n beans served with chicken drizzled in jerk-sauce is an absolute winner. You can get it in local restaurants - just ask us where is best to go when you're here.
Do you know any cool facts about Costa Rica that most people wouldn’t know?
At the moment, 100% of our electricity needs are provided by renewable energy (wind, water, geothermal and solar). We're incredibly proud of this, as sustainability is one of our top priorities!
What are the experiences people travelling to Costa Rica definitely shouldn’t miss?
At least once during your trip, I would recommend that you go for a hike through the rainforest with a nature guide or biologist and let them bring the forest to life for you. It's amazing how much more you see and discover when you are accompanied by an expert.
Do you have some top tips for any TravelLocal customers thinking of visiting Costa Rica?
For those who like activities such as canyoning or rafting, I would recommend a one night stay in Rio Tropicales Lodge at the Pacuare River - you arrive and depart by raft over one of the best raft-rivers in the world; it's an experience not to be missed. If you love riding, you should visit La Ensenada Lodge for horseback tours past the fresh-water lagoon. Finally, for nature lovers, simply come to Costa Rica! The variety of wildlife you will find here is hard to beat.
What is the story behind your company? What inspired the start of the business?
It just happened in the early ’90s when our founder, Astrid, worked as a Tour Leader in Central and South America for a Dutch travel organisation. She travelled for weeks with groups, paying the hotels on the spot with the cash she had with her. Her role as a tour leader included responsibilities that these days agencies normally assume. So, when the travel organisation came up with the idea to have somebody permanently based in San José, Astrid established herself there.
Astrid had a vision from the very beginning that Costa Rica would be an incredible tourist destination. Once in San José, she started to develop trips to the very remote and undeveloped region that Tortuguero once was. Several hotels in Costa Rica only started just because Astrid had the confidence in their ability to receive tourists. Buena Vista Lodge for example was a cattle raising farm with no experience in tourism that finished their first rooms just days before the first Ecole group arrived.
What have been your favourite and most memorable experiences as a tour operator?
For us, what we are doing is not the most important thing, but instead how we are doing it. A most satisfying statistic for us is the fact that 90% of our staff are Costa Rican, most of them having worked with us for years. We nurture them within the company, enabling them to get their university degrees while they work with us, so that they are able to build a solid base for their lives. They feel comfortable within the organisation, and that, combined with the extraordinary hospitality that comes naturally to Costa Ricans, means that they have real passion for their work and give our customers a memorable time in their country.
Sustainability has been an integral part of our operations for years. We are very proud to be included in a large and growing network of organisations, each of whom are conscious of the impact tourism has on the environment and act accordingly. Every tourist who visits Costa Rica, all across the country, will notice the efforts made to protect the environment. We strive to recyle, to reduce waste, and to educate and involve the local population as well as visitors in order to keep this paradise safe for future generations.
What’s next for the company?
We will very soon become a CO2 compensated company, through our acquisition of a Finca in Turrialba which has 35 hectares primary and secondary rainforest. We have given it up to be a conservation area under the governmental program FONAFIFO, hopefully thereby protecting another small section of this precious ecosystem one tree at a time.
Make it happen
Would you like to take a raft through the rainforest, snorkel on colourful reefs or wander along suspended walkways high in the forest canopy? Perhaps you would just like to learn a little more about this wonderful country? If so, head over to our Costa Rica destination page for itinerary ideas and extra interesting information, or get in touch with our local experts in the country. To talk to someone in the TravelLocal office, call +44 (0)117 325 7898.