If you saw my last travel post, you’ll know that I’m a big fan of self-planned travel. That being said, sometimes planning out an entire trip just doesn’t sound like your version of a vacation. Sometimes you want to just sit on a beach resort and drink margaritas day-in and day-out. Still other times, you want something a bit in-between: a fun travel experience where you get insight into the culture of the place but that doesn’t require you to do all the work to put it together. For moments like these, I’ve found the best deal ever in pre-planned travel. It’s called Caravan Tours.
Caravan is a guided tour company based out of the U.S. but provides trips all throughout Latin America, Canada, and the States. This means that you’ll be traveling with a group of people on tour buses. Robert and I went on the Costa Rica Natural Paradise tour for our honeymoon a few months ago and were astounded with how fantastic our experience was – especially for the price! We paid $995/pp for a nine day trip across the country. The price includes all hotel accommodations, transportation from the airport (not airfare), food & drink (including alcohol), activities, and gratuities. Wow!
One of my favorite parts of our trip were the hotels we got to stay at. Because Caravan continually brings large numbers of customers to these hotels, the tour company receives ridiculous discounts on room rates. For example, we got to stay two nights in the J.W. Marriott Resort and Spa, which has the second largest pool in Latin America and a beautiful beach front location. Two nights here normally would have cost us the entirety of what we paid for the trip for one person! We got to stay in multiple gorgeous hotels throughout our trip and had everything else included for the same price. You really can’t beat that.
As examples in case you don’t believe me, here’s a few pictures of some other hotels we stayed at.
The only nuance that I would add to this section is that, for a double room, you may get a King-sized bed or Double Queens. You can request a particular arrangement, but depending on availability, you may not get the one you requested. Robert and I experienced both across the various hotels that we stayed in. Regardless, we were very pleased with our accommodations.
On the Natural Paradise tour, we got to do so many fun things. Most of the activities were sightseeing based, which included hiking through the rainforest, relaxing in volcanic hot springs, wildlife watching river cruises, and more. Based on what tour you choose, these will obviously differ, but according to my experiences, they will be well worth it! Costa Rica was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, and I’m glad that Caravan was able to tour me around the entire thing so that I could see it all.
Another great part about the itinerary is that, though you may start out early in the morning, this means that you have the entire rest of the afternoon to relax and enjoy some time away from the group. Caravan does a great job of balancing activities with down time, so I never felt like we were over- or underloaded with things to do.
The meals on our trip were all buffet-style, so you can eat literally as much as you want! And you’ll want to stuff yourself, because every meal that we ate was delicious. Fresh squeezed juices, a mixture of light and heavy foods, and yummy desserts always filled our plates.
The food does reflect the area that you’re visiting, though they always had options that reflected standard American fare, too, in case you’re a picky eater. Overall, we were very pleased with the meals that they provided.
In addition to this, bottled water is always available. They provide you with water at every sit-down meal and on bus rides between activities. We were never without sufficient hydration.
And, most exciting, Caravan often provided a happy hour at the hotels where we could get free drinks. While the selection was limited, they served the basics that everybody likes. And, you can always pay for an upgraded drink if you’re wanting something a little more fancy.
Caravan makes sure to have someone ready to pick you up from the airport, and Robert and I easily found our guide right outside even though, thanks to an overnight flight delay on American, we arrived a day late! Our driver caught us up with the rest of the group, and we quickly got situated like everyone else.
The 9-day tour took us all around the country, and to get from place to place we rode in a large tour bus. I will say this was my least favorite part of the trip, mainly because I easily get car sick and spent most of my time on the bus knocked out on dramamine.
That being said, Robert had a great time, and the tour guides do a good job of keeping you entertained on the road. During travel, your guide will go over the history of the places you’re seeing, tell you about the culture of the people who live there, and hit lots of interesting topics like politics, education, the economy, local foods and activities, etc. When I wasn’t asleep, I found these talks very interesting and helpful to understanding the country.
Obviously, our chances of having the same tour guide on your next Caravan trip is slim, but I can tell you that our tour guide was awesome! Funny, knowledgable, and friendly, we could ask him any question we had and always felt comfortable with him guiding us.
Our bus driver was equally skilled. Costa Rica has lots of small, winding roads, and maneuvering a massive tour bus is hardly an easy feat. We didn’t have one problem with any of the driving, however, and felt safe the entire time.
Note that your tour guides are the only gratuities that aren’t included in the initial price package. Plan on bringing an extra $150 or so for tips for them. That may sound like a lot, but after you take the trip with them and realize how much work goes into their jobs and how well they perform them, you’ll realize that they certainly earn their keep.
Like tour guides, yours will obviously vary from the trip we went on. However, we can say that we really, really enjoyed the group aspect of Caravan (even on a honeymoon!). The age range varies considerably, but consider Caravan a very family-friendly environment. Robert and I were the only ones in our early twenties (the next closest being in their early thirties), while most were either working parents with children or retired adults. We actually preferred it this way. The people who go on Caravan tours are people who like to travel and enjoy culture, so we got to pick a lot of their brains about other travel experiences they had and write down some future destinations for ourselves. Everyone was extremely amiable in our group, and by the end of it we were exchanging numbers and emails.
So, if you’re slightly put off by the prospect of meeting new people who may be different than you or at other stages in life, I’d say, “Don’t be!” The group aspect was a great part of the trip, and making new friends made the activities even more enjoyable.
Basically, I just don’t think you can get a better pre-planned travel deal than Caravan. The company gives you sightseeing, fun activities, easy transportation, great hotels, delicious food, and experienced tour guides for pennies in comparison to what you would pay for those things separately. And, depending on when you plan your trip, you may be eligible for the Super Value or Great Value trips in the off-seasons, so be sure to check those dates! Caravan also provides you with a detailed itinerary and informational packet that provides you with all the information you’ll need for a successful trip (including any safety concerns, medical information, etc.) With all of these things, I of course highly, highly recommend Caravan Tours. They are the best pre-planned travel deal I’ve ever come across!