Welcome to episode 11! This week, MAST President and COO John Werner interviews MAST Member Kristi Peek of Embrace the Journey Travel. John and Kristi discuss travel regulations and first-hand experience in Costa Rica. Kristi has traveled to Costa Rica several times, most recently in November of 2020, where she stayed at Secrets Papagayo. Aside from Costa Rica, Kristi focuses her travel expertise on the Caribbean, Mexico, Hawaii, Alaska, Disney, and more! 

Key Points Mentioned In The Podcast

#1  American Airlines is not blocking the middle seat

“People should be aware of American is not blocking middle seats. Instead, they’re doing safety protocols that they feel are as effective as blocking the middle seat.” 

#2 –  Costa Rica provides lots of options for social distancing

“Costa Rica has so much outdoor space, all the national parks. It’s a great place to go for socially distance activities.” 

#3 – Costa Rican people are extremely happy and welcoming to tourists

“They say it’s one of the happiest populations on earth.” 

#4 – Active travelers rejoice in Costa Rica

“Costa Rica is really popular for that active adventure.” 

Full Podcast Transcript

John Werner 0:00
Good morning. Welcome to the MASTers of Travel advisors series. I’m John Werner, the President of MAST Travel Network. We are a network of about 1000 travel professionals. With me today is Kristi Peek, who is also a member of our network. Welcome, Kristi

Kristi Peek 0:24
Thank you so much.

John Werner 0:25
Today we’re going to talk about your trip to Costa Rica. I believe you went there in November? Was that your first trip to Costa Rica, or have you been there?

Kristi Peek 0:38
I’ve been there before we actually took our kids one time with backpacks and went across the country. So, I love Costa Rica.

John Werner 0:46
So, you know the country pretty well, it sounds like.

Kristi Peek 0:49
Yeah.

John Werner 0:50
On this trip in November, what airline Did you fly?

Kristi Peek 0:55
I flew American Airlines. And I’ve flown them quite a bit and attended training with them. They have a Clean Complete program. They’re filtering the air out every two minutes with HEPA filters and UV lights, and it was really good. Everything about the flight was good.

John Werner 1:08
Good. So, the in-flight experience went just fine. Was the flight full?

Kristi Peek 1:16
It was fairly full. So that’s one thing people should be aware of American is not blocking middle seats. Instead, they’re doing safety protocols that they feel are as effective as blocking the middle seat.

John Werner 1:29
Okay. I know back in November, there wasn’t any testing requirements to get into Costa Rica or to leave and come back to the United States. What else was required to go?

Kristi Peek 1:46
You have to fill out a health pass so, you don’t have to test, but you have to fill out a health pass and you get a code in your phone that you can show the QR code. And then you’re required to purchase travel insurance to cover certain stuff. They have to travel insurance providers through their country, and you can purchase with them and know you got exactly what they’re looking for. They also have outside third parties that you can purchase with and we purchased with the Costa Rican government. And now the new updates you will have to test to return and that testing is going to vary based on the resort you’re staying yet on what the process will look like for that.

John Werner 2:23
Right. Yeah, that requirement took effect this past Tuesday {January 26, 2021}. But as far as you know, are many of the resorts going to provide on property testing?

Kristi Peek 2:39
Yes, they are I AmResorts has a great program where they’re providing the testing. And if you test positive and the rare chance that that happens, they have a program after where you can stay for free for 14 days, and they have a special section of the hotel you stay in and they would deliver food to you and that type of stuff. You get the free testing, and they have a backup program. If you did test positive, there’s a plan in place.

John Werner 3:04
Okay. Yeah, that’s, that’s great that the resorts have stepped up like that, and it’s wonderful to see the industry help people travel safely. It’s all about the insurance there are several other countries around the world that are offer offering traveler’s insurance program, which is fantastic to see because it usually seems to be at relatively low cost and covers you while you’re visiting a country. I know a few countries also require that you have health insurance, when you’re a visitor that country. When you arrived you flew into Liberia, which is sort of on the northwest side of the country, not too far inland from the Pacific Ocean side of the country. Is that correct?

Kristi Peek 4:12
That is correct and it’s a really small airport. So, it was really easy arriving there.

John Werner 4:16
Okay. Once you arrived at the airport, what kind of transportation did you use to get around?

Kristi Peek 4:26
I used the Amstar private transfers, so it was just me and my husband. You arrive, you turn in your paperwork, they have you wash your hands and sanitize your luggage. And then we were in the transfer by ourselves and he actually cracked the window. You’ve got air circulating, the driver had his mask on, we wore our mask, and it was a pretty seamless process.

John Werner 4:48
Okay, and so then you went directly to your resort. Did you stay at Secrets Papagayo?

Kristi Peek 4:54
Yes, and they have a really nice, very seamless process. AmResorts really has their process down with the cleaning and all the safety protocols.

John Werner 5:05
Yeah, that’s what I understand they’re doing a fantastic job. That resort is right on the beach. Correct?

Kristi Peek 5:17
Yes, and it’s adults-only. So, there’s no kids, just adults.

John Werner 5:23
Now, did you happen to visit nearby areas? Did you get to go off property a lot?

Kristi Peek 5:28
We did go off property, but not a lot. We went on a tour that we had booked through Pleasant Activities. And that was really good. Pleasant is vetting all the tourists that they have to make sure they’re following the safety protocols. The drivers came and got us; all safety protocols were followed. We hiked outside, we went up a volcano and saw that. And we saw some other nature stuff hiking through parts of the rainforest. And then they took us to eat lunch at a local place. And they gave us a tour around town. All of that went really seamless. Costa Rica has so much outdoor space, all the national parks. It’s a great place to go for socially distance activities, because no one is around you. You’re out in the National Park.

John Werner 6:07
Yeah. Eco tourism in Costa Rica, and you mentioned all the national parks, that is a huge part of their tourism, business. All the nature, lots of great wildlife. I know that you mentioned things like, zip lining being available in the area.

Kristi Peek 6:34
My husband did zip line, I was still working because I have the business to manage, but my husband was actually on vacation. My husband went deep sea fishing, and he caught amazing fish. And he also went ziplining. And he loved all of it. Everything went really well for him.

John Werner 6:51
Oh, that’s wonderful. I’m intrigued to hear about the fish story, the chef prepared the fish?

Kristi Peek 7:06
Yes, my husband actually caught a rooster fish. I don’t fish but my husband does. It was huge. He caught several fish. They fillet them on the boat. And then his boat captain brought it up and the chef at the resort took it and they cooked it up. We ate it for lunch. And it was really good.

John Werner 7:23
That sounds amazing. Talk about fresh catch. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Kristi Peek 7:30
My husband is still talking about it. It was a couple weeks ago and he’s still talking about getting to go out and go fishing and having it Friday or however they fixed it while we were at the resort and we ate it, you know within hours of him catching it.

John Werner 7:43
Yeah. Oh, that’s spectacular. That’s a lot of fun. What else did you happen to do at the resort?

Kristi Peek 7:52
It’s been a hard year for most people in travel. So, I worked, then I bought a big giant bag of books. I would sit aside the pool and read. The pools are open, all of the dining was open. We did a lot of relaxing like reading books, swimming in the ocean, swimming at the pool, not having to cook and clean because all your normal cleaning services are still going on. And it was just really relaxing at the resort.

John Werner 8:21
And what’s the beach like on the Pacific coast?

Kristi Peek 8:26
It’s black sand, a brownish black sand from the volcanic ash. And depending on how the waves are coming in and out, the water can either be really clear or it can be cloudy due to the color of the sand from the volcanic activity in that area.

John Werner 8:41
Yeah

Kristi Peek 8:42
It was wonderful. My husband snorkeled and that type of stuff. They weren’t offering snorkeling gear, so people need to bring that with them, for the safety of putting it in and out of your mouth. They’re not doing that cross contamination.

John Werner 8:56
Makes sense. Makes perfect sense. So, the snorkeling, you found your husband enjoyed the snorkeling in that area?

Kristi Peek 9:06
He did. We love Costa Rica; the people are friendly. And I always say Costa Rica is a little similar to Hawaii, except with much more wildlife. You’ve got the short flight and then ots of wildlife out in the ocean and in the rainforest.

John Werner 9:23
Yeah, spectacular rain forests, cloud forest. There are all kinds of different ecosystems and I know Costa Rica is a country of about 5 million people. They’re known to have a very, very high literacy rate, like I guess the highest literacy rate in all of Latin America. I know they have a great healthcare system. In fact, medical tourism, to Costa Rica is very popular. The people that you meet there are wonderful people very friendly. How would you describe them?

Kristi Peek 10:07
I would say they are some of the happiest people on earth. We took our kids five years ago, and our kids still talk about the people there. Because they’re just so happy, kind friendly. Most of them can speak English and Spanish, which is really nice. And they’re well educated, like you said, and I have cutting edge medical technology. Even in the town we live in outside of Dallas, people have gone there to get medical treatments before for multiple sclerosis and stuff like that. And just really, really friendly. And happy go lucky. I mean, they say it’s one of the happiest populations on earth is what I’ve read before, and I believe it from traveling there.

John Werner 10:45
Yeah. Yeah, I know, they have a very stable government and a stable economy and stuff. Although certainly, especially in tourism, the pandemic has had a huge impact. So, I’m sure the people, at the resort were very gracious and welcoming, really glad to see you there.

Kristi Peek 11:16
Yes, they were all really glad because our driver talked to us about how from March to mid-summer, they had no tourism. For the economy that relies on tourism, that’s really hard, because they were not working. Every country doesn’t have the exact same backup systems that we do. So, it’s a struggle for them, when they’re not having that tourism economy come in. They were happy to see all tourist, because that’s bringing economy back to them, and they’re happy to show their country off. Costa Ricans are very proud of their country and the ecosystems that they have going on and all of that, and so they’re happy to have tourists back.

John Werner 11:57
Yeah. Yeah, I know that. I read that there’s about 110,000 jobs that are directly related to tourism, and there’s at least that many indirectly, tied to tourism. That’s a significant portion of their economy.

Kristi Peek 12:16
Yeah, I think it’s 2-3 billion plus per year, and for a 5 million population size, 2-3 billion is a large section of your economy. When it’s totally turned off, they’re not getting that tourism economy in.

John Werner 12:30
Right. Right. Going back to the resort, you said the restaurants were all open. Were you able to go to probably different place every night? What was your favorite?

Kristi Peek 12:49
Well, my favorite was the meal of the fish that was cooked. I also like the grill that does the seafood and it’s right on like the edge where you can look at it the ocean as you eat. A lot of the resorts in the Caribbean and Central America and Mexico are set up for social distancing, because it’s outdoor open space. We ate a lot of meals outside. It was awesome.

John Werner 13:13
It’s great. The fish was your favorite meal. What was your second favorite meal?

Kristi Peek 13:24
There is probably the coffee, which is not a meal, their coffee is amazing. And I love their breakfast. I love the fresh fruit because, they grow so much fresh there. I love to eat the fruit and drink the coffee and breakfast because their coffee is grown there too.

John Werner 13:45
Yeah, they have a great coffee industry. They’re very conducive to coffee production. I love Costa Rican coffee myself. How many nights were you there?

Kristi Peek 14:14
I stayed five nights, six days. Nice relaxing, you know, after everything that everyone has been through, it’s nice to just get away. It almost escapes reality. I mean, we were wearing the mask practicing all this, you know, normal safety protocols. But it’s a very relaxed feeling to be there out in the sun and just sitting at the beach or by the pool.

John Werner 14:40
Yeah, I was going to ask you a question related to being active or relaxing and so forth. Because Costa Rica is the kind of destination where you know they have the beaches, they have the resorts, you could certainly go there and have a very relaxing vacation, but you could also go there and be very active. If you are somebody who is looking for some adventure, more activity, what’s the kind of things that you would recommend that they do?

Kristi Peek 15:09
I actually had people go after us over Christmas and they did stuff every day. They went to a chocolate farm and toured it and made chocolate. They went to a coffee farm. They fished two or three days, they zip lined, and I had them do a multi-stay. They were in close to the volcano in the cloud forest, and then down on the beach to get that experience too. Costa Rica is really popular for that active adventure. They zip lined, fished, hiked, toured a animal nature preserve where they got to see sloths. They went to different farms and saw the farm production. They did something every day. Yeah, they were busy the whole entire time.

John Werner 15:51
Well, that’s wonderful. Yeah, I know they have a big sea turtle population on the Caribbean side of the island of the country. And, you mentioned sloths, and they have spider monkeys and Macau.

Kristi Peek 16:12
It’s really popular for bird watching. We saw a python or a boa constrictor, one of the snakes. I’m not a snake fan. But we did see one as we were hiking the volcano and I just didn’t go near it.

John Werner 16:29
Yeah, I could do without the snakes myself.

Kristi Peek 16:32
On the rainforest walk we saw the monkeys running through the trees. We sat for a really long time and we could see them just migrating through the trees. And it’s really popular for bird watching.

John Werner 16:42
Yeah. Oh, and I also know they have canopy walks. If you want to walk, like, what, 50 feet off the rain forest floor.

Kristi Peek 16:55
On our last trip, we did some of that with our kids. It was amazing, you can see it from a different vantage point because you get to look down instead of looking up.

John Werner 17:04
So besides that, flying in and out of Liberia, have you been to other parts of the country on your previous trip? You can fly into San Jose?

Kristi Peek 17:16
Yes. I’ve done that before and went down to Manuel Antonio. Manuel Antonio was amazing, too. Manuel Antonio had more of the howler monkeys. And so even at our resort, the monkeys were just like running through the trees. And our kids had never seen anything like that before. So, they would sit on the balcony for hours and just watch the monkeys fly.

John Werner 17:37
Yeah. Do you have advise renting a car there? I know sometimes people will. They like to self-drive.

Kristi Peek 17:45
I think that varies on what kind of traveler you are. I’ve never rented a car there. And their roads will sometimes rain a lot and have washouts. If you’re a savvy traveler, and you’ve traveled a lot, and you know what you’re doing, then I have had clients do it. I personally like the private transfers and like to go on guided tours, rather than drive it myself. But a lot of our clients do, do it. I just make sure because also the travel insurance on the cars can be just a little bit tricky in Costa Rica sometimes.

John Werner 18:21
Yeah. Do you have any plans to go back there soon?

Kristi Peek 18:24
Yes, I do plan to go back. I hope to be back this year. My father-in-law, my husband’s dad, is ready to go back because he wants to do the fishing.

John Werner 18:35
Sure. Well, after they read the story of catching that fish and everything. That’s a good, great reason to go back.

Kristi Peek 18:44
Yes, again, it’s just an amazing place. It’s so naturally beautiful. And then the food is good. It’s fresh, and the people are just super kind. It just lends itself to any kind of vacation you want. If you want relaxing, you can have a relaxing if you want adventure, here’s a lot of adventure to be had there.

John Werner 19:02
Wonderful. This sounds like a great time. Is there anything else you would like to tell us about your experience?

Kristi Peek 19:10
The thing I would want people to be aware of is just how wonderful people are and how you can travel safely there. We’ve had lots of clients go there, and I’ve been there myself. I would bring my children back in a heartbeat. And the people are really kind, and they need the tourism to return so that they have jobs stabilization there.

John Werner 19:31
Yeah, absolutely. Well, that’s great. Yeah, where’s your next trip?

Kristi Peek 19:39
I’m in Sedona right now. And I’ll be heading to Mexico the 31st of this month [January], and headed back on February 3 with Kelly Ortiz, another MAST member and Jamie is a member so, that we can do the testing and experience that firsthand to share it with our clients.

John Werner 19:57
Yeah, yeah. That firsthand experience is invaluable for your clients to feel comfortable and know what to expect and are ready. A lot of people definitely want to travel and they want to do it well and safely. It’s great to have that first-hand experience.

Kristi Peek 20:24
I feel like seeing the people there, we should lead with our actions and go and do it ourselves. So, that what they’re experiencing we know exactly how to prepare them and make sure that it is safe to do it.

John Werner 20:39
Yeah, absolutely. Well, I really appreciate your time today. And it sounds wonderful. I’m ready to go myself I had once from a cruise ship actually. I was only there for a day and haven’t been able to take a trip to stay overnight or multiple days everything but I’m ready. And it’s just sounds like you have had a wonderful time there.

Kristi Peek 21:11
It’s amazing, you will fall in love with the people there and the beauty of the landscape.

John Werner 21 :18
Yeah, I expect to I’m looking forward to the day when I can do that soon. So well, Kristi, thank you so much for spending time today. We really appreciate it and you have a wonderful trip coming up to Mexico.

Kristi Peek 21:35
I can’t wait to see how it goes.

John Werner 21:38
Take care.

Kristi Peek 21:39
Thank you have a good day.

Amber Zakem

Amber Zakem

Amber Zakem has worked in the travel industry since 2014. Although, her love of travel began far before that. Amber grew up visiting cousins stationed throughout Europe and worked as an Au Pair in Germany for a year between High School and College. She started working at a local travel agency in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, after graduating from Central Michigan University. Amber began working for MAST Travel Network in 2016 and is the Social Media Specialist. She runs the MAST Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and Snapchat and she teaches twice monthly webinars to travel agents on using social media to promote travel. Amber has continued her passion for travel and social media by also teaching a course at Moraine Valley Community College in their Hospitality program.