This is a great book. My wife has been to Costa Rica many times, however, this is my first trip. So, I wanted to read something about the country before getting on the plane. After going through most of the book, my wife is saying that many of the helpful hints, suggestions for places to go and stories about the local life are right on the mark. The National Geographic Traveler: Costa Rica provides plenty of colorful pictures and helpful information to get you started on your first trip to Costa Rica. The author did a great job and provides plenty of helpful hints about the country, culture, wildlife and plants. The compact book will also fit in your hiking pack nicely. It's about half the thickness of the Frommer's and Froder's guides.
While this book has interesting descriptions of things to do in Costa Rica, it fails to suggest reputable vendors and ways to actually do many of the activities. I tried to use this book to plan a trip to Costa Rica and was disappointed in the format. We wanted to plan an active vacation (rafting, canyoning, surfing, etc.) and found it difficult to use this book to find reputable vendors and the best places for these activities. If you are looking for clear recommendations of places to stay at different price points and specific hikes, rafting outfits, and things to see in helping you plan your trip this is not the book for you. If you prefer to read about Costa Rica or have a companion on a guided trip, this would be a good fit.
We recently had a vacation in Costa Rica and used this guide in San Jose, Heredia, the volcanoes of central Costa Rica, Quepos and Manuel Antonio/Rain Forests, Tamarindo Beach, Monte Verde/Cloud Forests and Santa Elena. I will start the review with comments on the layout of the guide itself and comment on whether or not it is user friendly. Then I will give specifics regarding the content of the guide and our various experiences using the guide. Then I will identify a few of the weaknesses of the guide. I will end the review with a general comment on our travel experiences in Costa Rica that may assist other travelers.
The guide is full of beautiful color photographs and insightful well-written essays. This is the major strength of this book. Major landmarks are described and put into historic or geologic contexts. The book is organized by major geographic regions, making it easy to use as a planning tool as well as a field guide when actually traveling.
We used the guide first when we spent 3 days in Manuel Antonio on the Pacific Coast. Driving from San Jose to Manuel Antonio we passed many farms and farmhouses. The average Costa Rican family does not have central heating, air conditioning, and many do not have a hot water heater. The hairpin turns between San Jose and the beach road is exciting with continual new vistas at every turn. The beach road from Jaco, to Puntarenas, to Quepos, to Manuel Antonio gradually becomes more and more primitive. Along the way you will pass many turquoise school houses. Elementary school children wear white shirts and black pants or skirts. Upon graduation to 7th grade, the children wear bright blue shirts and navy blue pants or shirts. Mothers walk young children to school and then walk them home for lunch.Read more ›
We traveled with two other guide books (a old Moon and the new Frommer's) and I have to say that we didn't really used the National Geo a lot except to learn more about the Costa Rica itself and the Parks we where visiting. Nonetheless it is a beautiful book (nice pictures and clear paragraph).
To get the most from our trip, I bought the Fodor's, Frommer's and National Geographic guides to Costa Rica. We got the most benefit from the Fodor's, in conjunction with TripAdvisor(dot)com. I gave the Frommer's to a less-well-prepared traveler on the trip, since it largely reproduced the Fodor's information.
The National Geo guide contained few details about specific recommendations for hotels and restaurants, making it only moderately useful as a tour guide. However, it does offer far more about the parks, types of animals, and other interesting aspects of the country, such as scenic drives, scuba dives, and beaches than the other guides we tried. And as you'd expect, the photographs are terrific.
As an additional reference, this is a valuable complement. Just don't rely on it to plan your complete itinerary.
My wife and I have been teetering on where to go for our next vacation. After spending some time with this book, we've chosen to take an escorted tour/travel vacation to Costa Rica in January. And thanks to the National Geographic, we'll know more things to look for, and more things to do during our "on our own" time periods.
Even if you're only an "armchair traveler," this is a fascinating look at an equally fascinating country and culture!!