In recent years, I have had the pleasure of touring with Be Local Explorers…twice. In May 2022, we visited Lisbon and its surrounding area. I already had a keen interest in Portugal, its history and culture, so selecting a tour of its striking capital was easy. This January, I chose a Costa Rica package focusing on the Central/Southern Pacific region. Ricardo Cazorla-Harisiadis, who conducts Be Local Explorers’ Costa Rica expeditions, had actually been my tour guide in Spain four years ago. He was working for Intrepid Travel then, and did a phenomenal job presenting his homeland to our group. I wanted very much to tour with him again, particularly in the Central American hot-spot he now calls home. The excursions in Costa Rica and Portugal were fun and memorable. They also introduced me to the idea of ‘slow travel.’
Slow travel is something Be Local emphasizes on their tours. It basically describes traveling in a specific region of a country, but at a relaxed pace. It is all about enjoying the moment rather than rushing from one destination to another. Slow travel also includes supporting local small businesses, limiting overcrowding at popular attractions, and being eco-friendly, such as using public transportation instead of driving long distances all the time. It is simply an easier, more responsible way to go on holiday.
When I toured Lisbon with Be Local, my guide Isabel Chaves and I spent a couple of days exploring several of its old neighborhoods. But we also went on a few outings to other parts of central Portugal like Sintra, Almada and Óbidos. Although Isabel is a native of northern Portugal, she was incredibly familiar with what to see and do in the Greater Lisbon Area. We confined ourselves to trains and buses for getting around, and we did our best to avoid popular attractions during peak times. Pastéis de Belém is a Lisbon café famous for its egg custard tarts of the same name, and tends to draw huge crowds. Isabel had us go there early in the morning before long lines developed. Sure enough, only a few customers were there then and we enjoyed our scrumptious breakfast in peace.
My original plan for the Portugal trip was to visit Porto as well, which is in the north and far from Lisbon. Eventually, I chose to stay in the Greater Lisbon Area since it would be more affordable to room in one destination. This turned out to be a wise decision. I spent all my time exploring the magnificent Portuguese capital and learning what it had to offer. As there is so much to see and do in the north of Portugal, I realized it would be best to go there on another trip.
In Lisbon, I thoroughly enjoyed walking by its pastel-colored architecture, learning about its history at attractions like the Castelo de São Jorge (Saint George’s Castle) and Quake Museum, and dining at its spectacular restaurants. Isabel focused on quiet mom-and-pop places instead of overpriced touristy eateries. Lisbon was a wonderful place to spend a week, and I consider it one of my favorite cities in Europe.
For the Costa Rica tour, our group was scheduled for three destinations. We started with Santa Ana in the Central Valley, then went down to Uvita in the Southern Pacific, finishing at La Fortuna in the Northern Zone. Most of the excursion followed the country’s Pacific Coast. During our stay at a small, independently-run guesthouse in the rainforest, each day was dedicated to a different (and thrilling) nature-based activity. This made a lot of sense. Any more than one activity a day would have proven exhausting.
We surfed at Playa Dominical (Dominical Beach), whitewater rafted in the Río Savegre (Savegre River), and ziplined through the Osa Rainforest Canopy. Each activity was supervised by local businesses: Dominical Surfing School, Dominical Adventures, and Osa Canopy Tours. Although many of us were new to these activities, we enjoyed them just the same. Our instructors were always kind, patient, encouraging and safety-conscious. None of us got terribly hurt, which is all that matters.
We were also given ample time to relax. We lounged by many waterfalls and at the stunning Playa Ventanas (Windows Beach). It was nice to unwind surrounded by gorgeous tropical scenery; palm trees swaying in the wind and the vast, blue Pacific Ocean. We even had the chance to see capuchin monkeys swinging through the trees at the Hacienda Barú Wildlife Refuge; breathtaking to say the least. During the Central/Southern Pacific leg, my group experienced the best of Costa Rica’s Pacific region with its awesome biodiversity and enriching activities.
I had a wonderful time visiting the land of ‘pura vida.’ All the more so after following such a thoughtful and creative plan.
All in all, Be Local Explorers is the ideal tour company for the slow travel experience. You get the opportunity to absorb one destination encountering its many good qualities, as well as having local guides who are familiar with the ins and outs of certain attractions. I loved my two trips with Be Local. I look forward to my third.