Crystal clear water, beautiful sunsets, echo tours, great fishing and ice-cold beverages close at hand; these are just a few of the visions travelers have in mind when planning a tropical getaway.
With a little luck, you’ll pull off that vacation of a lifetime just fine. After all, there are numerous package deals available on the internet, recommendations from friends are easy to come by, and the television splashes the latest and greatest travel deals across the screen during almost any sitcom, newscast or sporting event. How can you miss?
Well, read the feedback on any major internet review site and you’ll quickly discover not every booking turns out to be a slam dunk of luxury, thrills, fast boats and fun times. Some thorough research can, of course, tilt the odds in your favor, but overall you are probably best off to work with a professional travel agent should that option be within your budget.
“You want to deal with agents who have personal experience in the places you hope to visit,” advises Glen Mumford of Blue Water Sportfishing Charters . “That should be your starting point. Working with a booking service that has first-hand knowledge can assure you’ll be in the right place at the right time for the sights you want to see, adventures you want to experience or fish you wish to pursue. They’ll be able to turn you onto the best deals, most gorgeous beaches and top tours, sights or activities.”
Mumford’s agency for example, has a small staff that specializes in setting up trips for anglers and eco-tourists in Costa Rica, Panama, the Galapagos Islands, Bahamas, Dominica and Cuba.
“Cuba is new for us, of course, but we have staff that have stayed, toured, fished and even lived in every area we offer,” explains Mumford who, with his wife and company co-owner, Cindy, lived in Los Suenos, Costa Rica for four years and has visited more than ten tropical countries. “We’ve been in most of these places for a long time, dealing with people we’ve met face-to-face, so we have great contacts and sources we trust. Most of the businesses and operations we work with have been with us for 10 to 15 years, a few even longer. All of our recommendations come from people we’ve gotten to know.”
That first-hand knowledge really does make a difference as my wife, Felicia and I discovered on a trip to Costa Rica last year. Undecided as to where to go, we asked Mumford’s group for a suggestion and they helped us set up an itinerary for Los Suenos that included fishing for huge roosterfish and jumping mahi on the charter boat Wing Man, plus an eco-tour at The Park at Ocean Ranch on which we saw poison frogs, huge snakes, leaf-cutter ants, giant blue morpho butterflies and Macaw parrots while ascending through the forest to rappel down 300-feet of waterfalls. Our condo was immaculate and just a short walk from town and its bevy or tasteful restaurants, gift shops, bars and ice cream shop. Better still, the condo included free access to a first-class resort across the street. Sweet! We never could have put together such a terrific package on our own.
“We really like to get to know our clients,” explains Mumford, “so it’s like dealing with family as we work out your plans. We want you to get the best experience possible and that’s where having personal contacts really pays off. We’ve been on the boats, slept in the condos and rentals, eaten at the restaurants and shopped in the towns, so there’s no guesswork when we set things up.”
Whether you use a travel agency or not, Mumford offers several suggestions to keep things moving smoothly and help ensure your safety while abroad:
1. Make sure that the agency you deal with has international cell phone numbers so you can reach them at any time. That way, if something goes wrong or isn’t quite right, you’ll be able to speak directly to someone that can rectify the situation as quickly as possible.
2. Make at least three photocopies of the front page of your passport to bring along. Keep one copy on your person, another in the car and a third in your luggage, condo or apartment. That way, if you happen to lose it or it gets stolen, you can walk into any US embassy, hand in a copy, and get a new passport in a matter of hours instead of days.
3. In terms of currency, bring crisp, clean US dollars. Torn bills or bills with the corners rumpled are sometimes hard to exchange for local currency. That’s especially true for larger bills.
4. If you drive or walk into an area where you feel uncomfortable or threatened, simply turn around and find another way to get where you are going. Don’t push deeper into a questionable neighborhood. If staying on a private boat, keep your vessel locked at night or if you are away for the day.
How far ahead should you book your ultimate tropical vacation? While most reputable travel professionals can accommodate you right up to the last minute, you’ll do best to make plans as far ahead as possible – especially if fishing or boating is on your agenda.
“We have people step off the boat and call us that night to book for next year,” says Mumford. “That way, they are assured of prime dates with the most options and best captains.”