Our route to Costa Rica, one of the Central American countries in the group such as Panama, Guatemala and Mexico, started at the end of July, 2002. The trip was organised by "Trips Worldwide" although there was fair bit of input into the final itinerary by us - not always to our benefit!
We landed in San Jose, or rather the airport about 20 minutes away from it, after a tortuous route from Heathrow (London) to Madrid (Spain), via Miami (USA) and finally San Jose. Door-to-door, 17 hours, excluding the 3 hours waiting in Heathrow at 4am waiting for the Iberian Airlines check in desk to open (eventually) at about 5:30am for our 7:30am flight to Madrid. The more expensive alternative was with United Airlines, directly from London to Miami and then San Jose. But budget constraints meant either this option or more days in Costa Rica. Easy choice really.
Things we would do differently
1. Don't fly with Iberian airways. I'm sure that millions of (Spanish) passengers fly with them happily every year but if we received a representative level of customer service on board, then British Airways and Virgin have nothing to fear. I've never seen such a miserable, unfriendly set of air stewardesses/stewards. Perhaps the fact that most of them were past 40 had a bearing on their attitude. Oh, and they don't speak English really either. And they pretend not to understand your tourist Spanish. ¿Qué?
1A. Just to put both sides of the story here, they did let us check in for the entire journey at Heathrow. Our luggage was given up there and arrived, intact, in San Jose. So even if the on-board personnel were a bit miserable, at least the airline did what it was supposed to.
2. Don't stay at the airport hotels in the belief that you will get up more refreshed than if you stayed at home, got up at 3am and drove down to the airport. You won't sleep in the airport hotel. Just because you have to get up at 4am to get that early flight, don't expect other clients of the hotel to respect that. Doors banging, guests talking, aircraft landing will all ensure that you barely get any sleep and turn up at the airport bleary-eyed, ready for a fight with anyone stupid enough to touch your baggage. That's after the snappy comments to the wife and children.
The only thing the airport overnighter gives you is the reassurance that you will actually turn up at the airport without a major motorway accident preventing you reaching it in the first place.
3. Pack less. Even third world countries have chemists, supermarkets and clothes shops. Taking the equivalent of a small Boots (the chemist) store with you may ensure that you can cure all your fellow travellers of scurvy and beriberi, but will add weight to your already overloaded suitcase.
4. Listen to your tour operator. If they suggest a certain route "may involve less waiting" then they mean that you will avoid that 2 hour wait in Madrid for your connecting flight. Remember, they have done it before.
Next: Experiences in San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica or Back to Contents Page