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Costa Rica eco trip, 10 nights, $1,550

Human rights organization Global Exchange takes you on an environmentally friendly adventure on the southern Caribbean coast to explore beaches and wildlife reserves and partake in sustainable-living workshops.
Image: Tourist in Costa Rica
U.S. tourist Jill Van Nortwick, of Santa Fe, New Mexico, walks through the canopy of the cloud forest at Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, Costa Rica.Kent Gilbert / AP file

The Real Deal: Ten nights' accommodations, some meals, sightseeing excursions, workshops, and local transportation, from $1,550 per person — including taxes.

When: June 21-July 1, 2008.

The fine print: Breakfast and dinner daily, hotel taxes, airport-hotel transfers, sightseeing, activities, workshops, transportation by van, and the services of a bilingual tour guide are included. Based on double occupancy; single supplement is $200. Airfare, lunch, tips, and personal expenses are not included. Group size ranges from 5 to 15 participants. A limited number of partial scholarships are available for low-income applicants. Must be 18 to participate; those under 18 must be accompanied by a guardian. Please note that program activities and workshops may vary and are subject to change. Read these guidelines before you book any Real Deal.

Book by: At least 60 days before departure; based on double occupancy.

Contact: Global Exchange, 800/497-1994 ext. 221,

Why it's a deal: The $1,550 breaks down to $155 a day, and it includes 10 nights' accommodations, two meals daily, transportation, excursions, and the services of a bilingual tour guide. But more than just cost cutting, this package is about getting access to a hands-on learning experience whose sightseeing tours, workshops, and meetings with local activists and indigenous groups would be impossible to organize independently.

Trip details: The Caribbean Coast Experience is not a typical Real Deal; however, we do feature similar socially conscious or volunteer-based packages from time to time.

The trip is a Reality Tours program offered through Global Exchange, an international human rights organization founded in 1988 with a mission to promote political, economic, environmental, and social justice. The organization endorses trips (also known as delegations) that focus on socio-political issues and provide a firsthand look at the struggles of local communities.

The goal of the Costa Rica trip is to provide an understanding of both the benefits and the drawbacks of an economy that relies heavily on tourism and what the social and environmental implications may be. Participants will get to chat with local activists and leaders who have developed sustainable alternative solutions. Intrigued? Read on for more details of the tour. Or look through the list of Reality Tours to find another destination or an issue that's close to your heart.

The Costa Rican journey begins in the capital, San José. Your group leader will meet you at the airport at 1 p.m. or 5:30 p.m. to take you to a hotel chosen by Global Exchange (at press time, participating hotels had not yet been finalized).

As you travel along the southern Caribbean coast, you'll discuss the repercussions of sexual tourism in the town of Cahuita, learn about the struggle over land between peasants and corporations, meet with indigenous groups in Talamanca, and speak with local leaders fighting against oil exploration in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca.

In addition, you'll learn about the Afro-Caribbean and Bribri cultures and the medicinal and edible uses of various trees and plants. The trip also includes a stay at the Punta Mona Center for Sustainable Living, where you'll tour an organic farm and partake in a permaculture workshop. (Derived from the term permanent agriculture, permaculture is an ecological design system for sustainability in all aspects of human life, from growing our own food to restoring damaged ecosystems to building our own homes.)

But just because this trip grapples with weighty issues, it doesn't mean that participants won't have plenty of lighthearted fun. On the contrary, you'll bask the sun on the beaches of Cahuita National Park and Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, go on a canopy tour in the Braulio Carrillo National Park, hike through the Kekoldi Indigenous Reserve and the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, and kayak and watch dolphins at Punta Mona.

For more information about the area, visit the official Web site of the Costa Rican Institute of Tourism. Before you go, check the latest exchange rate, the local time, and the weather forecast at

Getting there: International airfare is not included; participants will be picked up and dropped off by their group leader in San José. The lowest round-trip fares we found on a recent SideStep search for travel in late June are $234 from Miami (Martin Air), $330 from New York City (Delta), $410 from Chicago (American Airlines), $509 from L.A. (Mexicana), $565 from Houston (multiple carriers), $572 from Denver (American Airlines), and $718 from Seattle (American Airlines).