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Costa Rica has sights set on boosting cruise business

The tiny nation of Costa Rica has an essential message for you. The glorious tourist destination in Central America, located in an ideal spot touching both the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean, has rolled out the welcome mat for visitors with its new tourism marketing campaign.

“Essential Costa Rica” beckons those who haven’t already discovered this ecological wonderland to consider coming for a vacation. And the cruise industry is poised to play a big part in these plans.

I've been to Costa Rica on a port stop in Limon during a cruise and quickly fell in love during my visit to the Caribbean side of the country. The day ashore ranks as one of my greatest travel experiences to date. I zip-lined, swam at a beach, toured a banana plantation, savored local beers, got my fill of the freshest and most delicious fruits you’ll ever find at a roadside fruit stand, mingled with howler monkeys and held a sloth.

I crave a return to the home of “pura vida,” or the pure life. I need to stay longer and visit with more people who exude vibrancy and smiles that make you feel like you’ve found a new home.

“Costa Rica has a lot to offer,” said Allan Hidalgo Campos, chief executive of the port of Limon, which sees two to three ships call each day during the cruise season, which runs October through May. “We are ranked as one of the happiest countries in the world.”

It’s easy to see why. The jungles and waters provide the backdrop of one of the most ecologically diverse places in the world. The nation’s two coasts, jungle and mountains create a landscape for a multitude of microclimates, providing habitat for more than 500,000 plant and animal species. Costa Rica works to protect what it has, too. More than a quarter of the territory is under some kind of protected status.

Adventure travelers find it ideal. You can zip above the rain forest canopy, ride white-water rapids, hike volcanoes, soak in hot springs and dive into a wide range of watersports, such as snorkeling and diving amid the colorful reef systems, which are home to thousands of marine species.

But the cruise business has been waning. The port of Limon expects 64 cruise ship calls this season, down from a robust 127 calls in the 2008-09 season. A range of factors has caused this according to tourism officials. Strike activity at the port on the Caribbean side has been cited as a reason as well as fuel prices and weather.

Total calls for all of the nation’s cruise ports, Limon and Puntarenas and Caldera on the Pacific side is expected to tally about 190, down from 345 just two years ago.

At the port of Limon, officials are making a push to develop a terminal exclusively for cruise ships. The industrialized dock area is somewhat uninviting to cruise ship passengers and serves both cruise vessels and cargo ships. Dutch company APM Terminals is in charge of a project to develop a container terminal in Limon that would allow the cruise facility to be developed to cater to tourists who get off at the dock. The APM Terminals Moin cargo facility is expected to begin service in 2016.

According to the master plan for the port of Limon, the port would be dedicated solely to cruise ships. Restaurants, duty free shops and arts and crafts stores would be added. The port continues to work to generate interest in the major cruise lines to take part in the development process, and officials also are approaching entrepreneurs in Costa Rica who might want to be stakeholders in the growth of the port as a cruise destination.

“Cruise lines are very important for the promotion of Costa Rica,” said Costa Rica’s Tourism Minister Allan Flores. “With the efforts of the government and the port authorities in both the Caribbean and Pacific, we will increase the number of operations in both ports and give more opportunities to the local people who are wishing to combat poverty. We will also generate employment, which is very important in our society.

“So we are willing to have more opportunities for development, not only with regards to cruise lines but with tourism overall.”

The bottom line for me is that however you get to Costa Rica, by cruise ship or any other way, it is a remarkable country worth exploring. The greatest joy in my travels is knowing that my visit can benefit not only myself but the residents who live and work there, too.

Written by John Roberts

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