The third edition of “Costa Rica Auténtica: La Guía de Turismo Rural Comunitario” (“The Real Costa Rica: Your Community-based Tourism Guide”) is an information- packed little gem of a guidebook. It constantly surprises me to learn that many friends and fellow travelers don’t know about this pocket-sized volume, edited by Kyra Cruz, executive director of the Costa Rican Association for Community-based Rural Tourism (ACTUAR).
So let’s put things right. Any of you out there who enjoy getting off the beaten track and endorse the view that travel and tourism should be culturally and environmentally sensitive, find a decent local bookstore and buy a copy. For about $10, you will get 180 pages of concise, flab-free information about 54 featured lodges or community projects, a map giving locations and distances and even a bus timetable.
The guide is in Spanish and English and gives an extensive overview of many aspects tied into community-based tourism. Both incoming tourists on their two-week annual escapes and veteran resident explorers can benefit from reading the sections about the communities’ efforts to preserve their environment and culture, with guidelines on how to “tread lightly” during visits to these charming outposts that have never seen a tuxedo or a golf cart.
The general information on Costa Rica covers everything from regional cooking and indigenous groups to public festivals and traveling by public transport, as well as a natural phenomena calendar and practical advice on what to pack.
Access to some of the destinations definitely requires four-wheel drive, making getting there very much part of the adventure (see Exploring Costa Rica, TT, Oct. 31).
For each lodging or tour, the guide provides clear details of contact people, services and activities on offer, and how to get there by private vehicle or bus. Sometimes the contact phone belongs to a “neighbor” in a nearby community – that’s how isolated some of these places are. But if at first you don’t succeed, a call to ACTUAR’s offices (2248-9470, 1-877-9-ACTUAR toll-free from the U.S., www.actuarcostarica.com) will help coordinate any visit.
Of the 10 or so trips I have made using this guide, each has been an uplifting experience among Costa Rican rural families looking for sustainable alternatives to the challenges thrown at them by habitat destruction or economic changes. The genuine warmth of these people and their simple hospitality, often richer in quality and more sincere than that of many five-star establishments, are found in some secluded pockets of remarkable natural beauty.
“The Real Costa Rica” has impeccable credentials. It is supported by the Cooperative National Ecotourism Network (COOPRENA) and the Costa Rica Tourism Board (ICT), with sponsorship from the Rainforest Alliance, the social and business alliance network AVINA and the United Nations Small Grants Program.
Apart from my happy experiences of passing down some fairly untrodden paths, this comment from a satisfied user of the guide sums it up: “This trip was much more than seeing new places and eating new foods – it was about how we can all live together on this planet, and how life is interconnected.”