Saturday, December 15, 2007

Costa Rica 2008 - astronomy, volcanoes & rain forests

Sunset over the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica

Several months ago I booked a tour to Costa Rica called Costa Rica Southern Skies Fiesta - a one week TravelQuest tour hosted by Gary Seronik, an associate editor with Sky and Telescope astronomy magazine. Gary also happens to be a member of the local Victoria Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. The tour dates are Feb 3-10, 2008.

I also decided at that time to tack on the Costa Rica Volcanoes and Rainforests tour. TravelQuest arranged them to be taken back-to-back, and I think the combination should offer some excellent and diverse experiences in Costa Rica. This extends the trip to February 15, 2008. The first week we will be staying at the Star Lodge, which I can't find on the Internet, so I assume TravelQuest has taken the liberty of renaming the lodge for this tour's itinerary. It is located on the Gulf of Nicoya, which is on the dry Pacific coast of Costa Rica. This is an area of the country I didn't see last time I traveled to Costa Rica in 1995. The second week will cover some country I saw last time, but we spend more time around the volcanoes and rain forests, and we have an expert guide with us, so it should be fresh and challenging.

Now is the time to start travel preparations:

  1. Pay for the deposit on the tour - this happened several months ago. TravelQuest is a tour company which specializes in astronomy themed travel. I have found them to be well organized; they communicate very well, and they respond quickly to any enquiry I have made over the last few months.
  2. Book airline flights from my home in Victoria, Canada to San Jose, Costa Rica. The TravelQuest tours only include the land arrangements within Costa Rica. Some friends of mine were also taking the same tours, and we all booked our flights months in advance using Travelocity.ca, which saved us quite a bit of money on airfares.
  3. Research the areas being visited is an essential part of travel planning as far as I'm concerned. I want to know as much as possible about the areas I'll be traveling through. I have found if I do this, I enjoy the ground travel and tours much more. Travel research is very easy to do these days with the Internet at our fingertips. The TravelQuest website had the basic itineraries for the Costa Rica Volcanoes and Rainforests tour and the Southern Skies Fiesta tour, so I just worked from there. Typically I make a new folder in My Documents on my computer, and start dropping URLs to websites and any maps and other concise information into this folder. It doesn't take long to compile a nice collection of information about the area. I also search for blogs and reviews from other travelers who have visited the areas. This can often give you tips on what to see with your free time, and what to avoid as either being a waste of time or not offering good value. Before I leave on my trip, I will compile a summary of the best information into my own document, and print it out to take with me.
  4. Make final payments for the land arrangements with TravelQuest was taken care of just a few days ago. Up until then, I could have still canceled my reservation without incuring too much expense. Now that my airline flights and land arrangements are fully paid for, I'm pretty well committed to going. My trip cancellation insurance will cover me should I have to cancel at the last minute due to a family emergency. When booking tours, cruises, and other structured travel it is very important to have trip cancellation insurance, otherwise you may find yourself not being able to go, and having to pay for the travel costs anyway!
  5. Innoculations - Just this week I saw my doctor for my yearly flu shot, so I took the opportunity to review my itinerary with him. He made some recommendations for innoculations based on where in Costa Rica I will be traveling, and what vaccines I already have protection from. He also advised when I need to take these vaccines, since some are taken before travelling, some during the trip, and some continue after returning home.
  6. Passport - I pulled out my passport to ensure it will be valid during the time I will be traveling. If a passport is due to expire within six months of your scheduled return date, you should apply for a new one and carry it with you.
  7. Next steps - I feel pretty confident that I'm well prepared for my trip to Costa Rica. I will need to decide what astronomy and photographic gear I will take with me, and I also need to decide on a current guide book and/or wildlife identification book to take with me. I should also see what maps of Costa Rica I have from my 1995 trip, and order new ones if needed. I highly recommend International Travel Maps in Vancouver.

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