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“The Zappos and Amazon of Tour Guides”

Costa Rica Expeditions
Ranked #2 of 132 Tours in San Jose
Certificate of Excellence
More attraction details
Attraction details
Recommended length of visit: More than 3 hours
Owner description: Costa Rica Expeditions, unique travel experiences since 1978.
Useful Information: Lockers / storage, Activities for older children, Bathroom facilities
Reviewed August 23, 2013

You know what separates Amazon and Zappos and Nordstrom's from the rest of the wanna-be giants of commerce? It's not just their extraordinary service that makes you feel like Cleopatra carried aloft by a litter of servants. It's what they do when something goes a little bit amiss and how they respond to it that makes it clear they're about excellence, and keep score not just in revenues but in happy customers. Read on to the end to see what I mean.

Planning a trip with Costa Rica Expeditions is similar to creating a profile of your likes and dislikes and deal-breakers at dating sites –but with a higher rate of success. That's essentially what Luis, my travel planner with Costa Rica Expeditions, did for my trip in July.

First, after I contacted the company and told them my dates of travel and general interests, they responded with survey forms and questionnaires to narrow down my interests. From that data, they crafted a personalized tour which, for lack of a better metaphor, was a travel version of choose-your-own adventure. (I was also given a choice of price levels -from budget to moderate to lux. I chose moderate, as my expected lotto win had not come through yet.) They created a path for me through Costa Rica that included volcanoes, lakes, waterfalls, butterfly sanctuaries. spas, the cloud forest, and the beach -which is exactly what I wanted but would have taken me a month of studying Lonely Planet, and back issues of National Geographic to figure it out on my own.

While Costa Rica overall markets its eco-tourism with a skill and sincerity higher than other countries, the Costa Rica Expeditions company is even more attuned to it, with a refined sense of what you'd like to see, from blue morpho butterflies to sloths inching their way up trees to quetzal birds strutting like supermodels.

But it wasn't just the sightseeing ideas that they excelled at. If I had stopped dealing with the company at that point I would have been impressed but, like a five-course dinner where each succeeding course gets better than the one before it, the next step after payment (since I was connecting and planning this with fewer than 30 days before my scheduled arrival, they asked for payment in full via credit card, rather than partial payment followed by another. That might have been an issue -it wasn't as it turned out -but they said they could be flexible if I couldn't do it in one shot.)

Before I left, Luis sent me a detailed itinerary that was a model of compact information, listing your lodgings, the number of nights you'll be in said lodging, activities you've planned through them (and other activities you might wish to explore), departure times, to your next step, and, the cherry on top of the ice cream, a detailed list of what to bring -e.g., sunglasses, sunblock, binoculars, hiking shoes and so forth. In each case I found these suggestions to be as perfectly targeted as a hole-in-one.

After I landed at the at Juan Santamaria International Airport in San Jose and passed through Immigration and baggage claim, I met up with a Costa Rica Expeditions representative outfitted in an easily-recognized orange short. She and the driver whisked me to my hotel while they handed gave me a packet full of information on all the places I would be seeing and staying at, plus a copy of my itinerary and a pre-paid exit tax so that i didn't have to waste time in line when i left the country. It was small but much appreciated service.

The hotels chosen - the Studio Hotel, the Volcano Lodge, Monteverde Lodge, and the Parador- were, for the most part, far better than I expected. All combined superb design, location, staffs, dining, and often, knock-your-hiking-socks-off views to make place each memorable.

The activities they arranged captured the essence of Costa Rica’s lush flora and fauna. Among them were the Danaus Eco-Center Hike, the La Fortuna Waterfall, and the Ecotermales La Fortuna spa, the Monteverde Cloud Forest. These left an indelible impression, of Costa Rica the same way the Van Gogh Museum left me with an imprint of Amsterdam. No wonder parts of the Jurassic Park stories/movies were set there: The howler monkeys barked like a Rottweiler whose house I was breaking into when I entered the cloud forest morning. Sloths, stomachs full on the leaves that make them as drunk as an endless Happy Hour, slowly inched up a tree to get a Coppertone tan from the sun's rare appearance. Below them stood trees that nature, in their Daliesque lack of sanity, were sculpted in the shape of massive giraffes and giant praying mantises. Other trees were as crowded as a Tokyo subway car at rush hour with 2,000 or more plants and flowers living on them. Vines that could have given a kraken's tentacles an inferiority complex strangled other trees, drinking their juices like arboreal vampires, leaving skyscraper-tall cadavers of bark as hollow inside as the tube inside a roll of paper towels. Quetzals flew overhead, their plumage an Indian chief's headdress the colors of Easter eggs. Far below on the ground, the cloud forest itself glows like a Hollywood glamor photograph from the 40s in an infinite kaleidoscope of greens: lime, moss, absinthe, emerald, four-leaf clover, Incredible Hulk, and Kermit the Frog. Leaf cutter ants march single file on the forest's muddy paths, their pincers holding fragments of leaves aloft like flags. A group of caterpillars assume the shape of a tarantula to deceive predators, then when they move, reformat in the profile of a snake.

The only problem I encountered was at the trip’s end at Manuel Antonio, where I wanted to put in some beach time, because it's hard work having fun. My final lodge there, the Parador, was (comparatively) mediocre. It was much less enjoyable than the previous rooms they had arranged.

I could have accessed the main beach area in the Manuel Antonio park but I arrived later on a Sunday, and waited a few hours for my room (the beach closes at 4, apparently) and Monday the park is completely closed. Since I left on a Tuesday, that negated the whole beach part of my planned trip.

The secondary beach at the Parador was also unpleasant; I would have changed plans if I had been aware of the so-so room at the Parador, and the limited beach opportunities.

When I alerted the company about this, they plied me with sincere apologies and several follow-up letters asking for a more elaborate critique. The more I wrote, the more they responded until we were going back and forth like a tennis match. (They even sent me a sizable supply of artisanal Costa Rican coffee as a thank-you for my input.) Their top-down devotion to improving their service makes me confident recommending them the same way you recommend an Amazon or a Zappos or a Nordstrom. They get customer service deep in their DNA. Like a tailor of travel, they will cut and measure your trip until it fits you perfectly.

Date of experience: July 2013
Thank ChasPappas
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
MichaelKaye, General Manager at Costa Rica Expeditions, responded to this reviewResponded August 26, 2013

I really do not know what to say. Not only is this review highly flattering, clearly a an exceptional amount and time and thought went into writing it. I’m reminded of an attorney who told me that you can be a good lawyer with any client, but it takes a great client to make a great lawyer. Well it takes a great traveler to make a great travel company. Chaspappas is shining example of a great traveler.

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This response is the subjective opinion of the management representative and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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594 - 598 of 649 reviews

Reviewed August 8, 2013 via mobile

Expert, personable planner Luis made great recommendations; helped us make the most of our time and do lots of activities without feeling rushed. What a great feeling throughout the trip to feel confidant that everything would go smoothly, because it did. Hotels, service, food, guides--everything exceeded our expectations. CR Expeditions is a top-notch professional outfit.

Date of experience: June 2013
Thank CCihelka
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed August 6, 2013

Having never been to Costa Rica, we needed experts to help us. Recommended by a friend, I went to their website and filled out a wish list. They contacted me shortly after that and began planning out vacation.

Gustavo was awesome. He was able to tailor a "white glove" trip for us with lots of activities. Everything ran like clockwork. All the transportation was professional and timely. From the moment they picked us up at the San Jose airport until they dropped us off 9 days later.

From zip lining to white water rafting to an organic farm to natural volcanic hot springs, it just ran so smoothly.

We'll be back next year and will definitely use Costa Rica Expeditions again!

Thanks for an awesome vacation.

Date of experience: July 2013
1  Thank Tom S
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed August 4, 2013

Overall, our vacation in Costa Rica planed by CR Expeditions was a resounding success. We (2 adults, 2 teens) had a fabulous time, stayed in wonderful resorts and did several fun, exciting and memorable activities. Priscilla helped us plan an aggressive (we wanted to see Arenal, Monteverde & Manual Antonio in 10 day trip) itinerary that still allowed time for rest and relaxation. We had so much fun and are looking forward to going back again in the future.

My review would have been a "5" except for 3 minor issues which I felt slightly detracted from our total experience. First, there was some communication error between CR Exp & our Monteverde excursion guide such that we were served a peanut-containing snack even though it was repeatedly highlighted that our daughter had a peanut allergy. Fortunately we're cautious enough that we intercepted the snack and no harm was done. Second, we had 2 excursions in Manuel Antonio (snorkel & zipline) which were projected at 2 to 4 hours duration but which in fact took nearly 6 hours apiece. Because of that, we were unable to visit the beach our first two days in Manuel Antonio and decided to cancel our guided tour of the park (an activity we were looking forward to) on our last full day so we could spend some R&R at the beach. Finally, we had an absolutely phenomenal bilingual driver for the 3 hr trip from San Jose to Arenal - he took us to fruit stands, talked about the country and culture, etc. - was truly an invaluable experience. Compared to him, our drivers to Monteverde (2 hr) and Manual Antonio (4 hrs) - though very competent they spoke no English - just could not replicate that initial wonderful experience. It would have been wonderful to converse during the drive to learn more about the country and it's people. (Of course, if we spoke more/better Spanish...)

Date of experience: July 2013
Thank MDWard65
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Natalie E, Guest Relations Manager at Costa Rica Expeditions, responded to this reviewResponded August 6, 2013

Dear MDWard65,

Thank you for your review, we are very glad to see that you and your family had a fun trip to Costa Rica and were able to work with Travel Planner Priscilla Jimenez to create such a diverse and exciting itinerary.

Thank you also for mentioning some of the things that didn’t go well on your trip. We are so embarrassed about the mistake that was made at Monteverde Lodge with your daughter’s food allergy. I don’t remember us ever overlooking something as serious as a peanut allergy before and I was really upset when we did.

As a result, our Operations Department has reviewed its communications to see where the mistake was made; we had red flagged the peanut allergy on your itinerary, but due to human error, it was missed. In the future we are going to more emphatically highlight food restrictions in our internal communications.

I was sorry to read that the tours were so much longer than listed on your itinerary, and as such caused you to have to cancel later tours in order to get your hoped for beach time. Poett Ryan, our Product Development Officer (who communicates with the hotels and tour operators we use) is checking with your tour providers to see whether the tours ran longer than usual, or whether the time periods we have in our system are wrong. It seems more likely to be the former, but in either case we will look for a way to avoid confusing future itineraries.

I am thrilled to see how much you enjoyed your first driver’s company, and the many ways in which he was able to enhance your trip. It’s unfortunate that you had him first, and that this raised your expectations to a level which your preceding drivers couldn’t match. I have looked through your communication, and we did mention in your itinerary that what was included are Spanish speaking drivers.

All of our drivers are professionals and are trained to make you feel safe and comfortable on Costa Rica’s notorious roads and accommodate requests throughout the transfers. We would love to have more drivers who could both drive and carry on stimulating conversation, like your first one. However those drivers that do manage to pick up good language skills usually end up becoming guides.

One option we offer is pairing an English speaking guide with the driver.

I was glad to see that although less informative, you found your other drivers to be very competent.

Thank you again for your review, and your visit. I hope you do come back to Costa Rica, and that we hear from you if you do.

Sincerely,

Natalie Ewing
Chief Marketing & Guest Satisfaction Officer
Costa Rica Expeditions

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Reviewed August 3, 2013

We were 2 seniors taking 2 13 year old grandsons on a trip. I liked being able to pick and choose our desired activities and then having the trip customized. Our transportation was all private which allowed us to stop at will. The trip fulfilled all our expectations as we visited Arenal, Tortuguero, and Manuel Antonio.

Date of experience: June 2013
Thank dodief11
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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