Journalist, producer and media consultant based in Spain working for UK press. My focus here is safe travel and the tourism industry. I also cover current affairs, business, architecture and rural regeneration, and work / have worked for The Guardian, BBC, FT, The Times, Conde Nast Traveller, Business Life, Reader's Digest, Evening Standard.
If you’re planning on visiting Costa Rica, check out the holiday guide in The Guardian. The dreamy republic has been my home off and on over the years, and based there as a roving reporter I had the chance to explore the country from top to toe. It’s almost obligatory to tick the rainforest, palm-fringed beach, and volcano boxes – at least on a first trip – but there are plenty to choose from. I’ve tried to highlight places that make your heart sing, but which aren’t as well-publicised, mainly because they are smaller, more remote, quirky and traditional – that is, quintessentially Costa Rican.
I first arrived in Costa Rica in the early 1990s, when the tourism boom was beginning and visiting travel agencies and press were always hosted at the most comfortable, sophisticated hotels available in the best-established destinations, easy to reach places where they could plug in hairdryers and get wine.
Much of the rest of the country seemed unknowable; this was pre-internet, the roads were notoriously bad, and if there was any lodging out there aside from the pockets along the coasts, no-one was saying.
But then two things happened. People got wise to the fact that if they didn’t protect the forests and wildlife both would disappear, and that the best way of doing that was to make conservation sustainable by generating money through tourism. Upmarket wilderness lodges were built around the national parks and inside private reserves, farmers with undeveloped land began to add cabins. And then, right at the end of 1994, the arrival of the internet created a tourism revolution. The internet was the great leveller, giving small remote tourism places from surf shacks to tent camps the same visibility, the same chance to lay out their wares, as top resorts. Obviously this was before you could push your way up the ranking with cash.
In January 1995, my partner and I launched the first online travel magazine in Central America, with an email information service and free exposure for ecotourism projects, and, with a team of postgrad interns from the State University of Oregon who were given scholarships to work with us in the emerging area of conservation marketing.
So I spent some years interviewing people involved in conservation and tourism, staying in cloud forest cabinas and ranches, rustic beach houses on stilts and ranger stations, and visited places only accessible by boat or on foot, or by small planes, or by driving a 4×4 truck down long, long tracks of knee deep red mud or corrugated rock. The accommodation was invariably rough but the hospitality and setting, the isolation and jungle noises, the whole exhausting, 360 degree amazing experience was unique.
Twenty years on a lot of those small places are well-known, and many of them no longer quite as small, or school fieldtrippy. And that’s a good thing, because a comfortable bed and a snake-free room do nothing to detract from a peaceful, wild setting, and a beachfront café whipping up great, fresh smoothies and pancakes smothered in papaya and starfruit, doesn’t Best of all, ‘undeveloped’ no longer means ripe for development, or inferior, or non-luxurious, but a rare and precious thing.