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Costa Rica is truly the happiest place on Earth

Mark Medicoff

March, 2010

My wife, Marion, and I visited Costa Rica in December with Caravan Ecotour. Costa Ricans, or Ticos, as they are known in country, are a happy lot.

The World Database of Happiness lists Costa Rica way at the top of the happy scale with an 8.5: higher even than “cradle-to-grave” Denmark, which rates at 8.3 and way above the United States with 7.3.

Their outlook easily rubs off on the mood of the traveler. Ticos are a genuine, engaging people who have a sense of humour and deeply care that outsiders enjoy their natural world. But we didn’t know any of this when we arrived several hours late after a stopover in Miami.

To our relief, a Caravan tour bus was waiting for us at the San Jose airport and brought us to the group’s rendezvous point at the five-star Barceló San Jose Palacio Hotel. Because of the late hour, we were treated to room service. A very nice touch when you’re feeling moody and tired.

This Caravan approach predicting the needs of the traveler made for a positive beginning and was sustained throughout the trip. At the end of the tour, while still in the countryside on the bus, Caravan made phone calls to each traveler’s airlines to confirm departure reservations. Their concern made for grouch-free traveling.

When other Caravan tours happened to intersect with ours, I didn’t hesitate to ask how they were being treated.

Their responses were always upbeat.

Given Costa Rican roads, getting around was part of the adventure. The Mercedes Benz (with bathroom and air-conditioning) tour bus and expert driver made all the difference, and not infrequently our driver received our heartfelt applause.

The Costa Rican landscape was breathtaking. We were treated to a canopy view of a huge umbrella-shaped tree saturated with two-foot-long iguanas peacefully enjoying the noonday sun.

We took a leisurely walk to Poas, an active volcano and another day experienced a rainforest-canopy gondola tour, where we observed families of colourful Toucans and other flying species at eye level.

On the ground, our knowledgeable guides explained the forest’s unique plant life, including a tree that actually walks, albeit rather slowly.

Out of Tortuguero Town, a small village a stone’s throw from the Nicaraguan border, we spent a day on outboard motor boats (bring your rain gear) along narrow river ways.

Our group became acquainted with Howler monkeys carrying their offspring from branch to branch. Along the shore, we saw caimans, small alligator-like creatures, as well as snowy egrets, flamingos, a sloth and other blasé dwellers of the rainforest.

It’s amusing to witness how living creatures in their natural habitat turn adults into gleeful little kids.

Along the beach in Tortuguero, a guide found a hole in the sand where a struggling baby sea turtle was beginning his tumultuous journey. With a powerful resolve, that little sea turtle scampered to the open sea – flanked on both sides by a horde of camera-toting, cheering adults who afforded the little tyke a most proper sendoff.

Throughout the tour, the accommodations and three meals a day organized by Caravan were outstanding. Never was a complaint heard.

Internet access and WiFi connectivity was available at all the accommodations. Caravan provided those little extras that make for a satisfied group. Near the end of the tour, we were pampered with an overnight stay at the luxurious, all-inclusive Hilton Doubletree Resort in Puntarenas.

We brought home a rare keepsake: a deeper compassion for the natural world. From this 10-day interlude, we have become more determined to protect our own natural wonders.

The Caravan tour was a fine way to enjoy an out-of-the-way nature tour with the least amount of stress and fuss. And if having teenagers on a tour is nerve-racking for you, skip Christmas and other school holiday periods. Cost for the 10-day tour with bus, guides, three meals a day, and five-star accommodations was $995 U.S. per person.

This is about you This new Senior Times travel column is geared for people over 55 who select a destination because it expresses their lives … places with a touch of uncertainty, a whole lot of novelty, and where they may even be needed to lend a voluntary hand.

This column will investigate destinations where the over-55 set can spend a few warm months away from the bone-chilling cold of a Montreal winter on a limited budget.

Your involvement drives a travel column like this one. It’s really about you and your experiences.



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