Gordon Nichols wanted to do something different.
He was about to turn 30 and lived in Colorado, interning at a law office and working part-time at a bar. He lived in the city but yearned for the mountains and the outdoors.
So when a friend invited Nichols to live and travel in Central America, he eagerly accepted the opportunity. They agreed that Costa Rica would be a good place to start.
That was more than a decade ago, and a lot has changed since. But one thing hasn’t: While in Costa Rica, Nichols began leading tours with an ATV company in Jacó, Puntarenas. He has been invested in Adventure Tours — and in this country — ever since.
Today, Adventure Tours has grown from a relatively small company — “six broken-down ATVs,” Nichols laughs — to one of the most well-known and respected tour providers and travel agencies in the country.
And Nichols, now 43, a dual-citizen of the United States and Costa Rica, and the CEO of Adventure Tours, has found a career path that makes him happy.
“Get away from the computer, get away from the bar and be in the mountains on an ATV? It brought back things from my childhood that I didn’t even know I was missing,” he said.
As Jacó grew, so did Adventure Tours.
Nichols has a photo in his office taken from an overlook of the beach town about 15 years ago. It’s a stark contrast from Jacó today — which now boasts large hotels, high-rises and paved roads.
“The area has grown leaps and bounds in the years since I first got there,” Nichols said.
Tourism has changed in Jacó, too. No longer just a destination for adventurers and backpackers, Jacó is the ideal starting point for visitors who land at Juan Santamaría International Airport and immediately want to find a beach. It’s also convenient for families living near San José seeking a weekend getaway.
“It’s a very accessible tourism location for families that want to see Costa Rica,” Nichols said. “Flying into San José, Jaco has a reputation for being a party town, it’s the closest beach town from San José.”
“People think, ‘Let’s go there. Let’s start there.’ ”
As Jacó has grown, Adventure Tours has expanded with it.
And that’s what Nichols says sets Adventure Tours apart from the competition. Unlike some other travel agencies, Adventure Tours exists as a brick-and-mortar company that has remained a part of the Jacó community.
Its customers seem to agree; Adventure Tours has a perfect 5-star rating on TripAdvisor with more than 800 reviews.
“When people get into town, they can come into our shop,” he said. “They meet our staff. They form bonds.
“I lived there for over a decade. I hate to say it, but most of the other companies that you find online, that’s the only place they live – online.”
Today, Adventure Tours offers fishing charters, national park tours, vacation rentals and vacation packages. They focus on Jacó and Los Sueños, but also manage tours and travel in Monteverde and Arenal. And, of course, they stick to what Nichols knows best: ATV tours.
In Nichols’ words, they help tourists maximize their time and money during their Costa Rican vacation.
“ ‘What do I have to see? What do I have to do?’ You could spend years in Costa Rica and not see everything there is to see,” Nichols said. “We find the highlights and organize the best tour possible.”
Before joining Adventure Tours, Nichols had plenty of international experience — he graduated from the University of Colorado with a degree in International Relations and traveled across Europe and to Ethiopia prior to settling back in Colorado.
But at the time, his life did feel like “settling.” Nichols was torn between the relative security of staying in the United States — where he planned to open his own bar and restaurant — and committing to what was then a fledgling tour operator in Costa Rica.
And while the “Adventure” in his company’s name refers to the customers’ experiences, it has been quite the venture for Nichols as well.
“Do I want to be in a rainforest on ATVs in this tropical paradise, or do I want to go back to Denver and live in a bar and restaurant?” he recalls thinking. “I knew I was taking a big risk, but I went for it.”
Thousands of thrill-seeking tourists are glad he did.