As I wake up, I hear the rushing of the Pacuare River outside my door, birdsong mingled in. I lie in bed still not quite believing that this is where I’ll call my office for the day. I’m a tour guide and my profession takes me all over Central America. Today I’m in one of my favorite spots, a river lodge in Costa Rica, with a group that is on an overnight white-water rafting trip. I’m not a river guide; we have expert outfitters to fulfill that role. My job is to make sure the overall trip goes smoothly from start to finish and that the guests are enjoying their experience.
After rafting today, we’re off to a laidback Caribbean town to visit a wildlife sanctuary. We’ll enjoy some beach and surf time, and then it’s back to the big city to make sure everyone catches their flights home. This is the daily variety on which I thrive. As a tour guide, every day is different. It’s a solid, rewarding way to earn, and it’s given me the stability to make a home here in Costa Rica.
My home is on a beautiful stretch of coastline that spans from Dominical to Ojochal. I bought a lot within walking distance of the beach a year ago and have worked with an architect to design my home and build in stages. It is still possible in Costa Rica to buy a lot and build a home for under $100,000. It is a long process, but it is exciting to see the dream of owning a home near the beach become a reality.
I first came to Central America as a Peace Corps Volunteer in 2010. I lived in Guatemala for five years, my first two years in a remote coffee farm as a volunteer, and then spent three years in the colonial city of Antigua. That’s where I started tour guiding. I saw a niche in custom travel and grew the business by taking visitors to places that are hard to find without a guide and local knowledge. By word of mouth and through my website, business steadily grew.
In April 2015 I decided to make the move to Costa Rica. I always wanted to live by the ocean. Here I can live within walking distance of the waves and still have conveniences like fast internet, banks, and supermarkets close at hand. There is clean drinking water in Costa Rica and I don’t have to worry about sanitizing fruits and vegetables before eating them.
I picked this area of Costa Rica for its wildness and remoteness with some easy access to fun waves. I love the fact that wildlife outnumbers people and the only traffic jam is caused by a sloth crossing the road.
There are other countries where the cost of living is much less expensive than Costa Rica. The minimum recommended monthly budget for living here is around $2,000 and with this you can live well.
The expat community where I live is a mix of people from all over the world. Some are families with kids that wanted to escape the culture of materialism back home and immerse their kids in nature and culture.
Others are retirees who sold their homes and moved abroad for a fun new adventure, embracing the pura vida lifestyle. There are quite a few singles who also moved into the area for the freedom and outdoor lifestyle that we all enjoy. The commonalities tend to be a love for nature, community, peace, and tranquility.
Living in such a beautiful and peaceful spot, I’m happy that guiding is seasonal.
You might have a few months of very intense work and then a month or so where the work is light and you can take that time to recharge. Yesterday I got up, did some yoga on the beach and followed it up with an ocean swim and a surf session. I came home later in the day and got to work on a couple of itineraries, and then handled some accounting.
Part of your work is to plan and get all the major components set up—lodging, activities, outfitters, meals, and transportation. However, as much as we plan, life rarely goes as expected. That is where your opportunity to excel and problem-solve comes into play. I’ve found most clients are understanding about problems that may arise while traveling; it’s in how you react and help fix the problem that your clients really see your true strengths and why they hired you.
If you are a social person, it’s perfect.
I meet hundreds of new people every year and I learn something new from each one of them. It makes the world seem like a smaller and friendlier place. Almost anywhere I travel, I now have friends, from San Francisco or Hawaii to Germany or France.
The biggest challenge when starting out is finding groups to guide. Many guides start off working through a large tour company and then branch off on their own. Here are some helpful tips to make yourself more valuable as a guide:
- Work in something you are passionate about—find your niche. Health and wellness, yoga, surf, food and wine, culture, etc. If you’re passionate about your field, it won’t feel like work.
- Have first-hand knowledge of the country(s) that you want to work in. Live there, travel extensively there, learn the language and check out all the best spots so you truly are an expert.
- Get certified—CPR, First Aid,Lifeguard, Wilderness First Responder—make sure you’re prepared in case of an emergency
The key to success is the right balance of interaction with the group, behind the scenes prep work, and giving yourself personal downtime so that you’re recharged and can keep your energy high for your clients. That’s one of the more fun parts!
The great part is that my office is my kitchen table and I can schedule my day as I choose. Each day is unique and I’m able to incorporate all my favorite things into my life here in Costa Rica. Life is never dull.
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