“Sleeping with the Toucans” is not a fancy interior decorating program or an alternative approach to the ethology of tropical birds. It’s a brand-new, comprehensive guide featuring “100 great places to stay in Costa Rica,” as its subtitle reads.
Co-authors Chris Fields and Alison Tinsley, both from the U.S. state of New Mexico, are Costa Rican residents and world travelers. Released in September, their handy, 256-page, self-published book is a unique guide to carefully selected lodgings in which the authors like to stay across the country, close to scenic beaches, volcanoes, tropical forests, charming small towns and ritzy shopping malls.
“This book is the one we wish we’d had when we first came to Costa Rica in 2003,” Tinsley says. “For us, it’s very important where we stay when we travel. When on vacation, we’re not just looking for a room; we’re looking for an experience. From the other guidebooks, we couldn’t tell what a place is really like.”
The “missing link of Costa Rican guides,” as an Amazon.com reviewer aptly puts it, fills in informational gaps for travelers, no matter their budgets or interests. Wonderfully descriptive and illustrated with more than 150 color photographs, the guide is a congenial travel companion. Its cover design, created by New York-based artist Pat Redding Scanlon, depicts a tropical idyll, in which a watchful toucan, a hammock, three palm trees and a cheerful couple are leading actors.
“Sleeping with the Toucans” features charming small inns, B and Bs, jungle lodges, birders’ retreats, beachfront paradises and decadent spas. In addition, it provides well-researched and up-to-date descriptions of Costa Rica’s most attractive destinations.
From the Central Valley to north-central Costa Rica’s Lake Arenal to the Osa Peninsula, on the southern Pacific coast, each chapter is dedicated to a specific area, introduced by a two-page overview. For instance, readers can learn about the weather around Arenal Volcano, road conditions on the Nicoya Peninsula in northwestern Costa Rica, or the best restaurants on the southern Caribbean coast.
The guide is easy to use. Each lodging is featured on two opposite pages. The left page includes a photo of the location, room cost code, contact information, essentials and how to get there. Keywords facilitate further identification, telling the reader immediately whether the place is kidfriendly or really oceanfront, what kind of activities are offered, or if a designated yoga facility or a great restaurant are on site. The right page offers personal narrations on what the establishment is like and what the authors experienced during their stay.
“It was very important that each location we chose truly felt like we were in Costa Rica,” Tinsley says. “There is no hotel in the guide that we would not be happy staying in ourselves.”
Both authors have been business travelers, and have stayed in countless big-name corporate hotels. As they write in the book’s introduction, they have a natural bias toward small places with unique, charming atmospheres, but included some mid-size hotels that use design, services, landscape or other features to create a distinctive experience.
During a nine-month tour across Costa Rica, Fields and Tinsley visited more than 300 places, from which they selected the magic hundred. Sustainability is key when it comes to main criteria relevant to the authors. Particularly important is the hotel’s ecological stance on hospitality and how it relates to its environment and community – whether it uses tourism income to preserve and strengthen the things visitors come to see in Costa Rica.
“To get as much information as possible, we spent a lot of time with the owner or manager of each place,” Fields explains.
“Alison did the background research, worked through all the other guidebooks and took most of the photographs, while I was responsible for the writing, layout, design of our Web site and the technical support.”
The inspiring Web site of “Sleeping with the Toucans” is as informative and easy to use as the book. New for 2008 is the “Itinerary of the Month,” a detailed and wellillustrated, free travel service provided by the authors.
Tinsley, who grew up in Europe, was a Peace Corps worker in Africa, a fashion model and actress in Rome, a university writing instructor and a real estate broker.
Fields, a passionate travel writer and Web page designer, was a nuclear physicist who spent most of his career working on the U.S. Human Genome Project.
Three years ago, the couple settled in the northwestern coffee town of Atenas, where they now live part of the year.
“We like living in a Spanish-speaking country and were looking for a place in Central America,” Tinsley says. “We chose Costa Rica because of its philosophy of peacefulness and its kind people. With our guidebook, we aim to get travelers on the trail of the real Costa Rica.”
Where to Get a Copy
“Sleeping with the Toucans,” by Chris Fields and Alison Tinsley, published by HayFields Publications out of Santa Fe, New Mexico, retails for $22.95 and can be purchased online at www.amazon.com or at www.sleepingwiththetoucans.com . Users of the book’s Web site can subscribe to a continually updated electronic edition for $9.95. In Costa Rica, the guide is available at 7th Street Books in San José (Ca. 7, Av. 1/Ctrl., 256-8251) and at Librería Internacional and Café Britt stores.