A good tour operator in Costa Rica is quite easy to find, however, some operators can waste your precious vacation days, keep your money and give you a lousy time.
A good tour operator in Costa Rica will give you a great time, get your to the real places they are selling and you will be as safe as can be in any experience, from raw adventure to mild walks.
On the other hand, as you may know, tourist traps are as old as tourism itself, and for us, as a legal tour operator in Costa Rica, it’s important that our visitors know the difference.
A good tour operator in Costa Rica is not only easy to find, but there are ways to differentiate if you know how to recognize the details, qualifications, and certifications that they must have.
In general in Manuel Antonio, La Fortuna or Monteverde, as much as Tortuguero, or the South Caribbean you will find that many companies are very professional and know what they are doing.
However, there are people and even companies that do not have either the permits and licenses, check-ups or insurances and the knowledge to operate and mainly their objective is to get your money with the cheapest and easiest methods.
We always hear about it in the office, people who were charged and the tour never came, those who were promised a hike in the National Park and end up walking on a side road, or even those who went on the tour, but the van was old and uncomfortable, and the food was uneatable.
How do you know, when you buy a tour, that you are getting the real thing and not wasting your money and your precious vacation time in a scam?
Well, we will give you some hints that you can use to avoid these unfortunate episodes in your experience here.
Permits, certificates, and licenses:
First of all, a good tour operator in Costa Rica has to have:
ICT Certification: The Instituto Costarricense de Turismo (Costa Rica Tourism Board) extends this permit after filling a list of long requirements.
Other documents are:
Certification by the Costa Rican Tourism Chamber and local tourism chambers, insurance coverage, the vehicle certification, and permits and the tour guide license.
Where do you buy the tour?
It happens in the tourist areas that people offer tours in the street. It happens everywhere!
Someone approaches you while you are having lunch or walking in the park or there is a little desk in the souvenirs shop or the restaurant, and they ask if you already know the national park or a great place to see sloths.
Alternatively, you see that there is a really cheap ride to the hot springs… Enjoy where the locals go!
Please don’t even listen to this sort of offer!
Many are pure scams!
Incredibly low prices, great hook, lousy delivery
A legit company will offer you a regular rate, maybe you will find now and then a good tour operator in Costa Rica that gives you a discount, but you will not find ridiculous bargains such as a 50% off.
And here is the reason why:
The costs of a legal tour operation in Costa Rica are relatively high, and a real company cannot afford paying license tour guides, excellent condition vehicles, insurance and support staff plus receptionist or clerk plus the real costs of the tour with 50% discounts.
The tour operation is quite an investment that pays off with the satisfaction of the passengers and the certainty that, every little thing is going to be a’right.
Look at your voucher, to be legal it must have the company name (Legal name) the legitimate authorization number of the company (Cédula Jurídica) and the contact information (Telephones, email address, and physical address).
5. Name and website of the company
When you buy a tour ask for the name of the company that is taking you and look them up on the internet: Is there an official website? Does it look like a professional one? Does it have an 800 number?
There are plenty of fake reviews in the net… We all recall “La Scaletta Ristorante” case that received awards in a favorite reviews platform and never existed.
Of course Trip Advisor now is very strict, but still… Do we know that you are not reading the mother, aunt, and brother in law fake reviews?
Our advice would be to either contact the review writers or get into the Trip Advisor (or similar) forums and find out.
Just don’t believe that a review is always true. They are not always true, or even accurate.
7. The vehicle
When they come to pick you up, check the car. All tourism vehicles in Costa Rica have to pass through tests every six months and have to be quite new (7 years old is the maximum).
And all travel industry cars in Costa Rica have to have also a log and several papers like insurance, certification, and license (See here).
All tourism cars in Costa Rica have to show in yellow the word “Turismo”
All tourism drivers use uniform.
8. The tour guide
A company that allows their tour guides not to have uniforms is suspicious.
Usually guides also carry their license in a visible place, like hanging from their neck or on their pants belt, but some of them don’t like to do that. Ask about it if you don’t see it. They look like this.
All tour guide licenses have certain data that you should look at when you see the license:
9. Emergency Plans
By law, all tours and facilities in Costa Rica have to have an emergency plan (Floods, earthquake, accidents).
Find with the tour guide what is the emergency plan in the case you need it.
They must know if they are real.
10. The places:
Well! We are working in the rainforest here, and Costa Rica is famous for the lack of signs in public areas. However, there are things to look for:
- All facilities have to have at least one bathroom for each gender. Same goes for restaurants.
- All the pathways are clear and have entrance signs.
- Even though not all are paved or similar, you will find in every single legit rainforest reserve, park or property that the pathway is clear and walkable.
- If it’s a restaurant, it must be clean, all the people in the kitchen must wear hair nets. All prices include the taxes.
- If we are talking about hot springs… Oh! That is a terrible subject! As several fake operators take people to some hot springs that are downriver from the authorized and certified hot springs projects. Therefore, you will soak in the hot stream waters that have been used by other people who paid more…, and we all know what that may carry.
- Rescue Centers: No matter what they say, none can manipulate animals in rescue centers or anywhere for that matter! Unless it is part of the trained staff. If you go to a rescue center and are allowed to carry the sloth of touch the monkeys, watch out… it may be an unauthorized zoo, and animals may be suffering.
- Hanging Bridges: The conditions of the bridge have to be perfect, no red oxide stains, no wood boards covering patches.
11. The group size
A good tour operator in Costa Rica watches the size of their groups as we all know that big groups are less enjoyable. But beyond, are much safer and comfortable.
Group sizes should be up to 40 with one guide in an open place and a 50 passengers bus (15 per guide maximum in a rainforest walk).
However, serious companies usually use much less than that, Ecoterra, for instance, uses one guide per every ten passengers.
In the case of adventure tours, there are several tour guides for small groups. The following numbers are approximate, but you cannot go if you find that there are too many passengers for very few guides.
In the case of canopy tours, usually, they have four guides for every ten passengers;
In the case of rafting, you have to have at least two guides in kayaks and one per every raft and its six passengers.
In the case of the waterfall rappel and canyoning, there are two guides per passenger.
You must realize that in Costa Rica we are dealing with natural forces and professional tour guides know the signs of the environment and its dangers.
However, never mind how good a guide is in a rainforest pathway, fifty passengers with one tour guide are in risk, not only of getting a snake bite or a bullet ant sting but to get lost without anyone noticing.
And believe us: You don’t want to get lost in a tropical jungle.
To wrap it up
As you travel by Costa Rica, you will find that a good tour operator with all of the above and even better is pretty easy to find. However, our advice is to count with a real company to organize your trip so that there will be no hiccups (To say the least) in a time that is precious and should be cherished and lived without any stress.
Contact us and we can make it happen wherever in Costa Rica.
Magazine Creates Fake Restaurant to Show How Easy It Is to Post False Reviews on TripAdvisor. (2015). Eater. Retrieved 28 November 2018, from https://www.eater.com/2015/7/2/8884687/magazine-fake-restaurant-tripadvisor-scam
Leyes y Reglamentos – Instituto Costarricense de Turismo | ICT. (2018). Ict.go.cr. Retrieved 28 November 2018, from https://www.ict.go.cr/es/documentos-institucionales/leyes-reglamentos-y-procedimientos/64-leyes-y-reglamentos.html
(2018). Ict.go.cr. Retrieved 28 November 2018, from https://www.ict.go.cr/es/documentos-institucionales/legislaci%C3%B3n-de-empresas/leyes-y-reglamentos/1109-reglamento-para-la-operacion-de-actividades-de-turismo-aventura/file.html