Centaura is a true Costa Rican company. We are here in Costa Rica. That's the good news -- we're really on top of the weather, the care of the horses, the condition of hotels and roads.
Toll free from the USA 1 (800) 728-9930
Our local line: dial country code +506 (country code) then our local number 2475–5226. There are no area codes in Costa Rica
FAX in Costa Rica: 506 (country code) then our local number 2475–6853
We are on Central Standard Time (when the U.S. is on winter time); we are on Mountain Daylight Time (when the U.S. is on Daylight time).
Address in Costa Rica:
San Carlos, Costa Rica
Our stables are located about 30 minutes east of the town of La Fortuna (near the base of Arenal volcano), and we'd LOVE for you to come visit us, any time, so give us a call at 2474-5226 when you are in country and we'll tell you how to get here.
MAKING A RESERVATION WITH CENTAURA
First, plan your travel dates and make tentative airline reservations, flying into San José Costa Rica (SJO) airport. We can also pick you up and/or return you to the Liberia (LIR) airport, if you will be in the north Pacific beach areas at the beginning or end of your Centaura travels.
call us - Toll free from USA: 1 (800) 728-9930,
or send us an e-mail at horsemaster @ centauracostarica.com
In Costa Rica: country code (+506) 2475-5226
FAX: in Costa Rica: Country code (+506) 2475-6853
Centaura needs information about your riding experience, height, weight, saddle preference, health considerations including all (serious) medications you are taking, diet restrictions, and any limitations for altitude (ear problems? respiratory problems?). When you sign up with Centaura, we will provide you with a questionnaire to fill in.
CONFIRMING A CENTAURA ADVENTURE
Centaura will create a proposal for your adventures, based on your specific dates, preferences, and experience level. To confirm the travel we require a half of the total. The balance needs to be paid 30 days before the start of the trip (except December 15-January 15 trips, which require 60 days in advance).
Deposits and final payments can be made with VISA or MasterCard, or wire transfers (payments made with any of the above credit cards will incur a surcharge of 4%.)
Financial transactions will appear on your credit card or wire transfers in the name of Centaura de la Fortuna, S.A..
One we receive your deposit, you will receive a confirmation package via mail which includes details on your trip. You will receive a Survey to give us information on your eating, sleeping and other preferences, and we request that you return that to us via mail (or via rapid delivery service) to the U.S. sales office address:
Centaura Costa Rica
c/o Serendipity Adventures
7399 Newman Blvd
Dexter, Michigan 48130
If you'd like a full copy of the Survey and Release prior to signing up, please call us and we'll send it via FAX.
Costa Rica has been free of dangerous parasite diseases (malaria, dengue, yellow fever, typhoid) for a long time. In 1996 dengue and malaria reappeared in the two port cities (Puntarenas and Limon), and has been contained to those areas. There have been very few cases reported, all in the poor neighborhoods. In July, 2000 there is a small "outbreak" of dengue, which, according to Center for Disease Control's web page, is considered an "occupational" disease ... meaning people who work in urban poor areas are the most likely to encounter the type of poor sanitation and drainage that breeds this type mosquito. While you are the CDC site, look at Leptospirosis.
While Hepatitis "A" and "B" are not currently present in Costa Rica, there have been recent outbreaks in the USA -- Detroit, Miami, New Orleans, and other cities. Worldwide, Hepatitis is a serious disease, affecting millions. There are now vaccines for both these variants, and we encourage everyone to get the inoculations, which protect you for life, and will be really handy someday when you venture to Mardi Gras or the Auto Show. Some rivers in Costa Rica have had Hepatitis show up in analysis, but none of the Caribbean slope white water rivers (Pacuare, Sarapiquí, Peñas Blancas, Pejebeye) have ever tested "positive" to Hepatitis.
But be sure to have your TETANUS inoculation brought up to date - guaranteed you'll need this medication while in Costa Rica doing silly adventure stuff.
The malarial strain which has appeared (but not since 1999) in Costa Rica is different from South America's newer "resistant" strain, and requires a less controversial medication. Thus far (July 2000) malaria has been limited to 20-30 cases among manual laborers who work outside in the evenings. There is preventive medication available, but the side effects of nausea may be worse than the risk of infection would warrant.
For your information, none of the Centaura guides, nor almost everyone living in Costa Rica, have any inoculation for malaria.
Parasitic infections are rare in Costa Rica, and drinking water quality in Costa Rica is excellent. Bottled water is readily available, however, and we keep containers in the vehicle with us. In all the areas we travel it is completely safe to drink the water straight from the tap, unless the hotel specifically directs you to drink bottled water.
Suitcases: We recommend that you use backpack or duffel bag style luggage (because it is easier to carry/stuff into the vehicle, turn into a pillow or armrest, and to keep dry under roof rack covers) and avoid hard-sided cases. We have a supply of saddle bags and packhorse gear for extended trips.
Clothing: Most of Costa Rica is truly only moderately tropical. Light weight, light colored clothing is advised, but long sleeves offer better protection from the sun and, when off the beaten path, against insects and foliage (sugar cane leaves are similar in abrasiveness to corn leaves). You'll need some light clothing but also one jacket, sweatshirt or lightest weight Polar fleece (best because it dries quickly) for warmth. A lot of Costa Rica is at high altitude (3000-4000 ft.), and it can get into the low 60's after dark.
b shoes that can get wet and dry quickly, (b tennis shoes/cross-trainers advised) are mandatory. Since air drying may be nearly impossible between activities, bring at least 2 pair. Waterproof hiking boots never dry, but for long hikes good boots are essential (hair dryers work well drying shoes). Please bring leather gloves (unlined, short cuffs) for horseback riding. Generally, b tennis shoes are great for serious treks. Horseback and rafting definitely need "wettable" shoes. NO OPEN-TOES SHOES ON THE RIVER RAFTING! (Our favorite water, horseback, light-duty hiking and definitely canyoning footwear is the Columbia brand "Snake River Trainer" sold at cascade outfitters but often in USA winter they are out of stock, so you might have to look at some other web site to find it). A few pair of shorts, T-shirts, and long pants for horseback, and for evening meals where insects nibble on your ankles.
RAINCOAT: You can bring one, for emotional security and to prevent the rain from coming. Generally up to about 3,000 ft. altitude when you are outside and active the raincoats act only to hold the sweat inside. When it does rain, it is usually very warm, and serves well to wash away the sweat and mud you've accumulated today. A poncho is more versatile, because you can also sit on it, roll up wet clothes in it, and it also gives more breathing room to your arms, etc. However, the high altitude CLOUD FOREST areas get down to about 45°F, and if your itinerary includes the cloud forest, bring a RAIN/WIND pullover and some fleece jacket and water-resistant gloves and long pants designed to get wet. Dress in layers.
EVENING CLOTHING: For evening wear, sandals, light casual clothing and at least a long sleeve lightweight shirt for warmth. Meals, even at the fanciest hotels, are very informal, so just be comfortable. It does get pretty cool in the evenings (middle 60's) in the mountain areas, so don't get caught with nothing to keep you warm: long sleeve collared shirts for San José restaurants advisable. IN GENERAL, DON'T FORGET personal medications, sun block, insect repellent, anti-sting cream (like Cortaid or other after bite lotion--the types of insect bites in Costa Rica may have very different reactions than the types you are used to in the USA, so be prepared) artificial sweetener (if you use it), a wide brim or baseball hat, and, if you wear glasses or sunglasses, a strap to keep them in place as well as a backup pair. And don't forget the gloves!
EXTRAS: You might consider a pocket knife, waterproof matches or lighter (even non-smokers), a small "fanny pack", a small flashlight (a real MUST), a water bottle for hikes etc., small first aid kit (bandages, antibiotic ointment, anti insect bite cream).
RAFTING/KAYAKING: Most important: SUN BLOCK ON THE RIVER! We have helmets on river trips (we make them mandatory wearing on the white water rivers) which are fitted with visors for sun, so if you wear glasses, better to NOT bring the sun glass prescription pair but rather the clear ones (or auto-adjust variety). Glasses, however, get terrible water spots, so treat your lenses with anti-spotting solution (like Rainex) before the trip. When you are on the river we'll provide a dry bag that can carry everything you need during the trip (including a spare pair of glasses). All your other luggage, etc. will be in the support vehicle, and guarded well, so you can leave valuables (passport, money, etc.) in the car without concern.
CAMERA EQUIPMENT: If you want to bring a camera, investigate the underwater/waterproof bags available from good camera shops, or the cheap disposable waterproof cameras. No matter how fancy the waterproof bag is for a camera, everything that can be "opened" during any of the activities will get WET. Humidity can condense on lenses and interiors of cameras, so camera cases need desiccants.
American, Canadian and most European citizens do not need a visa or any pre-entry permission to come to enter Costa Rica as long as they have a current valid passport. With a passport visitors can stay up to three months, and during the three months your driver's license from your home country allows you to legally drive in Costa Rica. YOUR PASSPORT MUST NOT EXPIRE WITHIN 180 DAYS OF YOUR ARRIVAL or you will be refused entry into Costa Rica by Immigration.
As of May 1, 2003 there is no longer the exemption for Americans or Canadians without passports -- from May 1, 2003 on everyone from every country MUST have a passport, including children and infants. A full list of requirements for foreign visitors is available at
Now that Costa Rica's airport allows ONLY ticketed passengers inside the buildings, Centaura guides can't go to the airline desk to help with LOST LUGGAGE!
To retrieve lost luggage, before leaving from USA get a PHOTOCOPY OF YOUR PASSPORT to leave with the desk clerk, and an ADDRESS for the airline to deliver your luggage to. So give them the NAME of the hotel where you will be the first night, and a copy of your passport, Centaura's local PHONE (558-1030) and the claim number on your baggage check (be sure to write down the claim number for your records, too). Sorry we won't be able to help you in this ordeal but only ticketed passengers can get into the service counters.
In the past there have been "spot hand-outs" of customs forms on the airplane. The form asks you to declare everything you are bringing into the country. List one line, "personal effects", with a value of question marks. If you have anything special or awkward, like your saddle or scuba gear, list these separately, with question marks on the value again. If you have more than 2 suitcases/bags per person, you will probably be stopped. If you have any food (including fruits, vegetables, sausages, etc.) or substances which can be sniffed by dogs, you will be stopped. When you get off the plane you will first be shuffled through the immigration area, where they will check your passport. Once through passport control go downstairs to pick up your luggage (there are free metal carts there to move your stuff about in the small baggage area). If you have more than two bags per person you will go through inspection; two or fewer, AND HAVE A U.S., CANADIAN or EUROPEAN PASSPORT they waive you past.
Even if you speak fluent Spanish, speak only English or some other language to make it clear you are not a resident. The customs people are really only interested in inspecting returning Costa Ricans who may be bringing back things from their travels. If an agent asks to inspect your bags, allow him to do so, but continue to "not understand" his Spanish.
If you are carrying things we've asked you to bring for us (it's hard to get some auto parts and special horse medications here), don't volunteer these during inspection; they are "personal goods" because the guides will be using them during your trip.
AFTER CLEARING CUSTOMS: You cannot remove your luggage from the area unless you produce the airline's check-in claim check. They really do check the numbers match, too.
If your itinerary from us tells you we will meet you at the airport, here's what you do. Once you are out the front door, you get to run another gauntlet all alone -- don't believe the taxi drivers who tell you "your guide won't show up and you're supposed to go with me". Turn left once you are out the doors and beyond the metal railing, then again TURN LEFT and stand under the television screens (where your guide will also be standing). If we get really well organized, we'll have a sign with your last name on it.
Once we've got you, you're done with the hard stuff. The rest is all easy - like racing waves, ascending jungle trails, swimming rivers, startling a few toucans from their nests, etc.
Bring only U.S. dollars in cash and in traveler's checks. Any other currency must be exchanged only at the central bank in San José, and is a long process (read: half a day!). The exchange rate in the airports in the U.S. is something like $1 = 450 colones; in San José the exchange (February 2011) is $1 = 495 colones and changing daily.
There is an exchange booth in the IMMIGRATION area (but will probably be closed when your flight arrives). The exchange rate for travelers checks is lower, and must be exchanged in banks (read: 2 hours in line!).
If your travels includes a Centaura Personal Guide who will meet your flight, we'll help with the exchange, or provide you with cash you've pre-arranged with us.
Credit cards work well in the Central Valley and the more established communities where there are phone lines for authorization. You may pay a premium to use the card. Tourist hotels take credit cards, but not to confirm reservations (under Costa Rica law, all credit card payments MUST have a physical credit card imprint and a signature. Phoned confirmations are not binding on you and therefore hotels, etc. will not guarantee hotel rooms on credit card numb without FAX'd copy of your passport and both sides of the credit card.) Some hotels accept the cards on the phone, but in the end many hotels will sell a confirmed room to people with "real" money who show up). CAUTION! Many places accept only VISA, or only Mastercard, but not both. American Express is less widely accepted (about the same proportion in Costa Rica as in the USA). The lesser known cards (Discover, Diner's Club, etc.) are rarely accepted here.
Frequently clients prefer to give guides personal checks rather than cash or travelers checks. This is a good and safe way to give the guide money, but please make the check out to Centaura Costa Rica rather than to the guide. Very few of our guides have a way to cash a foreign check, while our company can cash your check immediately and give the cash to the guide.
Electrical power is the same as for the USA (110 Volt) but most places have only with 2-prong (polarized style OK) outlets. Bring a three-prong to two-prong adaptor (availing in USA at most hardware stores) if you are bringing any computer cords, etc.
And Costa Rica is still economically in the Third World (the per capita GDP of Costa Rica is only 5% of the USA). This results in a few deprivations we Americans take for granted. These include:
COSTA RICA ROADS: the worst in the world. Costa Rica has no military need to keep roads free of potholes. The people living in town and in the countryside do not own vehicles, so they have no appreciation of the advantages of smooth pavement. In many instances the local population is not in a particularly big hurry to walk their horses to town. So the roads are atrocious.
By far the most dangerous activity of Centaura is driving on the main roads of the country, especially after dark, with no white outer edge lines, no center yellow lines, no reflecting cat eyes on curves, no guard rails, a LARGE selection of deep potholes, lots of trucks going 10 miles an hour with no taillights, and pedestrians who believe that, if they can see your headlights, certainly you can see them in the middle of the road, and, the crowning glory, dense, tropical fog. Did we also mention, no direction signs or route numbers?
Centaura guides do almost anything to avoid driving at night, but sometimes it is unavoidable (there's only 12 hours of daylight year round, so sometimes the driving gets pushed into the foggy night...)
To point out something that straight numbers, especially really big numbers, only hide: In 1999 Citibank, the credit card company, paid computer programmers more to fix the Year 2000 computer bug than the whole country of Costa Rica used to operate its national government, including its heath care, education, retirement, and ROAD BUILDING AND MAINTENANCE. Does this give you an idea of what it means to be in the Third World?
ROAD MAPS in Costa Rica were written for the gullible. Many of the "roads" shown are really political boundaries. Some roads shown as paved were once paved with 4 inches of hand-pressed asphalt, then destroyed by heavy trucks, mud slides, volcanoes, earthquakes, hard rain, bomba de aguas and other natural disasters. The distance from Arenal Volcano to Monteverde, for example, is shown as about 35 miles. The route on the map is clear, but once on the dirt roads up to Monteverde you'll find it's like driving through an English maze-- no markings, nothing at forks in the road to point you to the cloud forest, no clear major road, and only a local "caballero" can save you now. The drive, for the in-the-know, takes about 3 hours and is ill-advised without 4 wheel drive.
So think of the getting there as half (or more) of the adventure, and remember -- relax, you're in paradise, and the adventure of the journey is exactly that. Yet you may want to look at a map of Costa Rica, just to get an idea of where things are. Don't be fooled by distances; things may appear close, but the time to get from one place to another may be horrendous.
As in: finding a phone somewhere. Costa Rica's rural phone system is quite good by neighboring country standards, but it sometimes means standing in line for an hour for your turn. The government monopoly has distributed lines all over the country, but restricts the number of lines even for a hotel. So, making calls, even from hotels, is sometimes nearly impossible. If your family at home try to reach you at one of the hotels and can't get through, they should not panic that you've been swallowed by a volcano. In an emergency they should call the Centaura office and ask us to PAGE your group (the guides carry cell phones which work in about ¾ of the country). Guides also try to call the office each day during a trip, to check for messages.
HOT WATER SHOWERS IN COSTA RICA: Even in truly elegant hotels you are likely to find a unique Costa Rican electrical shower torture system. Hot water showers are often created with electrical wiring connected to the inlet pipe. Usually only one control handle delivers water; the second, if even present, does not deliver water at all.
Here's the secret: the more forcefully you turn on the water, THE COOLER THE WATER TEMPERATURE (based on the theory that there's a constant amount of heat and you regulate temperature by the flow of water). Some of the shower heads have switches which activate lower or higher voltage settings. If you are trying to get a HOT shower, turn down the water flow, and try different settings on the shower head (also note the effects this adjustment makes on the lights in the room). As Americans with electrical codes and (sensible) fear of exposed electrical wiring, these electric showers seem flirtations with death, but they do seem to work. So far Serendipity guests have had no catastrophes...
Centaura holds no allegiance to any hotel, and we're also not very influenced by hotel commissions. When we design your trips we are designing around your expressed priorities. We of course have our favorite places, and will try to gently persuade you to use them for reasons that won't be completely obvious when you get into your room. We tend to select hotels where you feel more like you are visiting a friend, where the ambiance is tranquil, where conservation is done through the natural process of people simply living, as their families have lived for several generations. We prefer hotels where the people who greet you are the owners, proud to show you their special place to enjoy the natural world.
We do, however, assure you that the selection we make for you is spotlessly clean, the plumbing works, the beds are good, and, if air conditioning is required for the area, that the air condition system installed is acceptable (we don't really like noisy window units).
What Costa Ricans lack in wealth, they more than make up for in warmth. You may think they are poor; but the Costa Rican country folk know they are surrounded by a caring community that always joins in to support those who need help. The Costa Ricans always extend this familial acceptance to even gringos, and this, believe us, is the greatest treasure of Costa Rica -- a genuinely free, energetic and graciously open people. While you are traveling with us (once outside San José -- cities, yuck!) take a good look at the Costa Rican people -- at full faced, open smiles, at the sparkling cleanliness of their clothes and their small houses, at their carefully maintained vibrant gardens. Look straight in their faces and you'll see the pride that the Costa Ricans take in living life well.
WHAT ABOUT THE WEATHER? RAINY SEASON?
BUGS? SNAKES? CRIME?
WEATHER Even though we are only 8 degrees above the equator, we're much more "temperate" than most North American locations: we're cooled by two oceans and no matter where you are in Costa Rica, you are always within 70 miles of a coast. A typical day starts out about 65 degrees Fahrenheit, gets up to mid 80's, then starts dropping before sunset.
It's also a 12 hour day, so no long, hot afternoons. Beaches are warmer (they are at sea level, of course!) and in the central highlands, where 80% of the population lives, almost no one (and few hotels) have air conditioning, and no one has a heating source.
Yes, we have rain! but we have a very different "style" of rain in the equatorial region. First, it's not from frozen ice crystals, so it is surprisingly warm. In fact, we rarely cancel events because of rain -- there's nothing quite so wonderful as riding a horse in pouring rain, unless it's riding a bike, or hiking in the jungle, or, best of all, riding a whitewater river. About the only real cancellation we make because of rain is ballooning.
There are two distinct weather zones, separated by the Continental Divide. San José and the Pacific beaches are in the Pacific zone. The Pacific weather zone has very distinct rainy seasons. From late April through mid June is a short, mild rainy season, with showers normally beginning late in the day. September-November is a REAL rainy season, with intense rains and often morning rain, but certainly rain every day.
The central mountain range (including Arenal, Poás, Irazú, and Turrialba volcanoes) creates the Continental divide, and everything "north" and "east" of the range is in the Caribbean zone. The Caribbean zone includes all the lushness normally shown in photos of Costa Rica -- magnificent rainforests, cloud forests, waterfalls, misty mountains, true wild jungle. It's home to the best horseback, rafting, hiking, canyoning, ballooning, and small, interesting towns and, of course, the very active volcanoes. The Caribbean (Atlantic) weather zone has rain more evenly spread year-round, but (hopefully!!) rain every day or two. Without the daily afternoon rain, the green would turn brown, the rivers would go dry, waterfalls disappear, and the mountains would become barren of the birds and butterflies and monkeys
Unlike weather systems that travel across the United States, the weather here does not get pushed along by frontal systems (like the Jet Stream pushes big storms into the Midwest from western Canada in the winter, or hurricanes drive big rains and tornadoes all along the eastern half of the U.S. in summer). That's the good news.
The bad news is that there are storms (we call them "temporals") that form "right over your head". And the storm stays right over your head sometimes 2-5 days -- there's no jet stream to push it out to sea. Big storms are magnificent, and huge, in the tropics. There's rarely lightening -- only constant, often deafeningly hard, rain. And no wind.
When do we get temporals? Completely unpredictable; they can, and do, happen year round, usually 2 or 3 occur each year in each area of the country. Interestingly you can usually find some place in the country that is free of the storm. Sometimes just cross the Continental Divide and and you'll be out of a "temporal". Or into one.
Bugs like stagnant water. That means in the areas that get regular does of cleansing rain, the water doesn't get a chance to stagnate, and bug larvae gets washed out before hatching (makes great food for the fish and frogs, too). Bugs do grow pretty well in the beach areas in dry season, so this is the most likely place to find mosquitoes, but truly only in the period close to sunset and sunrise.
No, our rainforests are not terribly buggy -- certainly less buggy than Alaska, or any flat, moderately dried climate (like central Michigan) or any swampy areas (like Florida or Mississippi). Why? Most of our rainforests are pretty vertical, and water can't go stagnant if it's running downhill. In the flatland forests, the large quantity of birds and fruit bats (natural predators of small insects) controls the population of bugs way better than spraying chemicals.
Yes, we have snakes, and lots of them, some extraordinarily beautiful. The most dangerous is the bushmaster, very common in the sugar cane fields. The last fatality from a snake bite for ANYONE in Costa Rica was in 1997. The last TOURIST to be seriously injured by a snake bite was in the 1980's; no one knows exactly when. The last TOURIST killed in a CAR ACCIDENT was approximately last week.
The most dangerous activity undertaken by this, and most, adventure companies is to drive on the public roads, especially at night, in the fog, with no yellow lines or white lines, no place to pull off, with nothing to mark huge potholes, and -- did we mention fog?
Yes, we have lots of "petty" theft -- things stolen from parked cars, things stolen by pickpockets in markets. That's the bad news. The good news, however, is we have almost no violent crime in Costa Rica (except related to drug trafficking, but even this is still less frequent, and less violent, than in Detroit or Dallas or San Francisco, so please get it into perspective).
When you hear about crime in Costa Rica in America's press, stop for a minute to remember that the rarity of the act is exactly what makes it newsworthy to the American public. Another piece of good news: Costa Rica really doesn't suffer from the vandalism we see in American cities -- no profane graffiti, no smashed out windows of abandoned buildings, no spray-painted monuments.
How safe are you in your car, or hotel, or bar or restaurant? Using the same standards for selecting where you'd drive, eat, drink, or sleep in Costa Rica will assure the same level of safety you'd have in the USA, if not better. There's a higher chance of you making errors about hotel selection, etc. because you aren't familiar with the "territory" (some really beautiful web site hotels are, in fact, in the middle of high crime or red light districts where "getting rolled" is pretty common...) but since we live here, we really know which hotels and city areas to avoid.
If for any reason you need us, call us! Our phone in Costa Rica is 8812-6939 Monday-Friday 8:30-5:00.
Simply put, it's a higher level of competency. Centaura has set standards tough to meet. All Centaura guides are current with First Aid and CPR. Guides carry complete, current, and refreshed first aid kits. Our vehicles are equipped with all sorts of emergency tools, straps, towing aids -- often to the advantage of other people. Our guides are expert on horse requirements - diagnosing injuries, recognizing symptoms, knowing how to treat the horses as well as our guests. Guides receive ongoing training on handling all types of emergencies, from lost luggage to injuries (we've used this training on other clients and passers-by, much more than on our own clients!), to organizing full-blown rescues (this is a very interesting training exercise we hope we'll never need to put into "real" service!). Centaura guides carry radios and cell phones (when we're operating in areas where they will work), as well as a GPS to pinpoint our location in case of emergencies.
Centaura has evolved as a separately owned specialty branch of one of Costa Rica's oldest and most highly regarded adventure operators, Serendipity Adventures. Serendipity has eleven years experience operating in Costa Rica, providing a wealth of knowledge that only being here and working here for a long, long time can provide.
All of these benefits of Centaura provide a depth of service, with back-up plans and "what if" solutions that makes the difference between having a great adventure and having a lot of frustrations, or worse.