© 2012; 2008 Connecting: Solo Travel Network & Lair Davis. Information.
NOTE: This article is reproduced here for inspirational value alone and will not normally be updated.
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Untour Costa Rica
Solo Travelers Get Together in Costa Rica

Sue, Ethel, Patricia, Ron, Beverly, and Gloria take a break from hiking at Hacienda Barú in Costa Rica. Missing: Diane, Joanna, Lair.

By Lair Davis
Photos by: Lair Davis, Diane Lindner, and Joanna Roy

Wouldn't it be neat if there were some sort of tour designed for individual travelers who prefer not to share a room with a stranger? You'd enjoy having other solo travelers on the tour, but they would have their own rooms down the hall. Nice folk who, just like you, want to visit places such as Costa Rica, share dinnertime and activities – but not bathrooms.

In February this year (2008), just such a group of individuals, who met on the CSTN: Friends in Travel message board, arrived in Costa Rica on flights from Toronto, Minneapolis, Miami, Houston, Fort Lauderdale, and Washington DC.

I live in Costa Rica and met each arriving traveler at the designated hotel in the capital city of San Jose. That evening, we walked across the street to a restaurant for dinner, and early the next morning we began our "untour."

We called our trip an untour because activities were not built in. Nothing but the lodging and transfers had been included – plus the opportunity to meet some great new friends.

Single Rooms All the Way

We shared hotels but not hotel rooms. We shared transportation between locations. Usually we had meals together but not always. There was no reluctant participation in any activity simply because it had been included in the price of the tour.

Ethel, Ron, Joanna river-rafting in Costa RicaOne morning, three of us went white water rafting while a couple of others visited an indigenous family's home and herb garden. Another participant spent the morning rappelling down a waterfall, and another went shopping. Diane, all geared up for zipline
 canopy tour near Arenal volcano

That afternoon, two of us read books beside the hotel pool while two others went for a hike in the rainforest. Walking around the village and napping filled the afternoon hours for two more of us, and one of us went off to indulge a personal need. That is what an untour is about – an easy-going mix of independence and togetherness fitting to each individual's style.

Only on a couple of occasions did we pre-book any activities and then only because their popularity required us to do so. Often we would wait until the day before to plan the next day's events. We stayed in each destination for two or three nights, enough time to gain an appreciation of each place on our itinerary.

Empowerment for One and All

And how empowering our untour turned out to be! A solo traveler often feels uncomfortable joining a typical tour group composed mainly of couples. Maybe it's an annoying feeling that you should be glad to relinquish a window seat so that a couple may sit together. Or, that you ought to be happy to "couple up" with any other single who happens to be around, whether you want to or not. Or, on the other hand, it could be the equally discomforting feeling of being the odd one out in a group of pairs.

Well, not this time! On any tour we took, there were as many of us as there were of them – for a change. And a delightfully empowering change it was!

Where We Went

San Jose: Spending time in the country's capital city is not why travelers come to Costa Rica. The city is not particularly attractive. It is, however, located in the middle of the country, near one of the two international airports, and so it does serve as a convenient hub. We used San Jose as our arrival, mid-point, and departing destination. Our group found the city to be much more interesting than we had expected.

We stayed at Hotel Rincón de San José, a small hotel located in one of the city's older, quieter neighborhoods near downtown museums, galleries, restaurants, and shopping.

Tortuguero: Costa Rica's "Little Amazon" region is remote and mystical. There are no roads, access is via canopied boats that cruise serenely through canals. This is an area of Limonense culture. Ancestors of the region's inhabitants first arrived in Costa Rica in the 1800s from Jamaica.

Time for drinks, Mawamba Lodge, Costa Rica Here we stayed at the Mawamba Lodge, a rustic yet comfortable resort lying on a spit of land between a jungle-lined canal and the Caribbean Sea, only 800 meters from Tortuguero Town. The lodge provided the only all-inclusive portion of our trip.

Arenal Volcano: One of the most active volcanoes in the world, Arenal towers above the town of La Fortuna. This region is a major destination for visitors to Costa Rica. A wide variety of activities are offered in the area, from white water rafting to canopy tours on ziplines.Joanna and Ron try out the hanging bridge near Arenal Volcano.

The Hotel Arenal Jireh had modest but modern accommodations conveniently located in the middle of the village of La Fortuna. The hotel has a small pool and free Internet service. It provided an ideal location for members of the untour group. We could go our separate ways quite easily during the day, yet return in the early evening for dinner together at nearby restaurants.

Valle del General: The area overlooking the Valley of the General River can get quite cool. High in the Talamanca Mountain Range of southern Costa Rica, the views are spectacular, and the environment is quite popular with a wide variety of bird life.

Here, the Mirador Valle del General is a locally famous restaurant on a lookout point along the Pan American Highway. Recently constructed rustic cabins are nestled in cloud forest on the slopes of the mountain below the restaurant. This is rugged and tranquil terrain far off the beaten path.

Dominical: This small town on the South Pacific coast is a very popular spot for surfers. Members of our group chose instead to ride horses to a spectacular waterfall on Don Lulo's farm. On another day we visited Hacienda Barú, a private reserve that protects primary rainforest and a long stretch of pristine beach.

Villas Rio Mar is a resort a few hundred meters down a dirt road from Dominical. Bungalows with bamboo furnishings are scattered about tropical gardens populated by iguanas. The swimming pool and bar are popular spots to cool off.

Costa Rica was a perfect spot for our untour. However, the untour concept would work any place in the world if only solos will get involved to make it happen. You'll have a great time, and you'll meet some nice new friends who share your interest.

>> LD

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