Costa Rica (Rum & Reggae Guidebooks)
by Jonathan Runge and Adam Carter

Reviewed by Ben Mitchell-Lewis

Rum and Reggae’s Costa Rica by Jonathan Runge and Adam Carter has everything one could want in a guidebook. Direct and honest opinions, humor, and obviously a vast knowledge of the country are all included. Weighing in at a hefty 589 pages, it has more information than one could digest in a lifetime, but all that you do will surely be accurate and helpful.

The opening sections of the book focus on a variety of subjects and are incredibly informative. In the introduction by the authors, they state their mission with the book. They say that they, “travel with an opinion” and that they offer “definitive points of view.” They then move on to some basics: climate, packing list, and lists of tour operators. Costa Rica’s history has a lengthy segment, then the author’s move on to lighter subjects. The list of superlatives (Best Beach Resort, Best Zoo, Best Seafood Spaghetti etc.) is all-inclusive; one could use it as a tick list of things to do and see. There are also a few pages on the ten best beaches. Runge and Carter also give the reader some nice local knowledge: common breakfast, lunch, and dinner foods, local sayings, and even a list of common fruits.

The real meat of the guide starts after this basic info. There are six main sections, each covering a large region of the country. Each section is broken down into small segments about specific towns and places. Each of these sections has info on local history, things to do, where to stay, where to eat, how to get around, and other helpful bits of info.

In the sections on hotels, the definitive opinions come to light. The hotels are arranged by what the authors found most comfortable, with price playing a secondary role. Contact information (phone number, website) is provided. Simple, helpful icons show basic info such as if there is a meal plan and if they take major credit cards. They are very specific when describing each hotel. In many descriptions, they mention their favorite rooms and why. For all the praise they give however, Runge and Carter give as much criticism. They are brutally honest, which, while harsh at times, should be appreciated by the reader. If a hotel stinks, they say so and why. All aspects of each hotel is noted, from the pool to the balconies to the bar. They leave no stone unturned and base their opinion on all the factors.

The restaurants are described in the same way as the hotels; a lengthy paragraph with explicit opinions and explanations. Mouth-watering descriptions of the food will make any reader hungry, and will leave them with all the knowledge they need to find a delicious meal.

The “What to Do” sections are very thorough as well. Activities from National Park visits, soccer games, and hot bars are all covered with equal enthusiasm. Many cultural events are discussed as well, and the detail in each description shows the authors really know what they are talking about. Stars next to an activity’s name point out a can’t miss opportunity.

One humorous aspect of the guide is the “Touristo Scale.” This scale ranks places with small icons reminiscent of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.” One icon: “What century is this?” Ten icons: “Swarms of tourists and total development. Run for cover!” This is used to rate towns and regions, not every hotel and bar, so it doesn’t show up too often in the book, but when it does, it’s certainly a welcome indicator of an area’s tourist atmosphere.

Located a few pages before the “Touristo Scale” are some other useful bits of info. The index gives readers a quick way to find the page they need on the go. The Spanish Survival Guide has dozens of phrases and words to help the traveler navigate through Spanish culture.

As one can see, this guide has it all. Incredible attention to detail and straightforward honesty make it an invaluable companion to a Costa Rica bound traveler. The humor and well-written descriptions of fun activities make it enjoyable to read on the plane or beach, and it will surely become dog-eared in its role as constant companion.

Jonathan Runge and Adam Carter
Costa Rica
(Boston: Rum & Reggae Guidebooks, 2006).
ISBN: 1-893675-13-0  $18.95 592 pages

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