Climber, ex-teacher, and now owner of a travel company that manages more than 70 expeditions a year, Crawford Hill is no stranger to adventure. GearJunkie partnered with Hill and his Ardmore, Penn., based Chill Expeditions this month on a project to send two readers to Costa Rica, with CamelBak as the presenting sponsor. (Sign up here at our “Off Grid & All Clear” page for a chance at the prize!) We caught up with Hill this week to dig in on Costa Rica as well as lessons learned in the adventure world during his more than three decades in the business and out in the field. —Stephen Regenold
You have roots in Costa Rica adventure travel since 1995. How has the scene changed in that time?
More and more people are genuinely interested in sustainable and eco-immersion travel. The flip side, as with most places, is that straight-up eco-insensitive tourism has emerged as well. Though Costa Rica has always been ahead of the curve in terms of sustainable tourism, it can still be a daunting challenge, which speaks to the importance of working directly with folks who are preserving Costa Rica’s culture and natural environment.
You’ve been guiding wilderness adventures since 1974. What have been some macro changes to adventure travel in that time?
Unfortunately, a lot of adventure travel has become tourism whereas in the 1970s and earlier it had nothing to do with tourism and it was about being able to create an expedition on your own. Now there are many people in the business who might know something about adventure but don’t know a whole lot about the educational infrastructure which can leverage adventure travel to something beyond an adrenaline experience.
You talk about an “Expedition Mentality” in your approach to guiding. Explain.
Expedition mentality is about turning obstacles into opportunities. Even on the most meticulously planned trip, challenges are bound to arise. Expedition mentality is about facing these challenges in the smartest and safest way possible to maximize your travel experience.
You taught biology for 35 years. How much “science” gets integrated into your tours?
Depending on our client’s interest, the scientific component of each expedition can range from participating in biological field research to learning about the amazing connections between plants and animals in the rainforest on a more introductory level.
How many people are involved with Chill in Costa Rica?
We have a team of around 25 highly trained Costa Rican naturalist guides, a 7-person expert team of expedition planning guides, as well as a large network of collaborators throughout the country.
What percentage of Chill’s overall business is Costa Rica based? How many trips do you run each year to Costa Rica?
Currently, the bulk is based in Costa Rica, but we are rapidly growing in Ecuador and Galapagos, Andalucian Spain, Nicaragua, and Belize. We run over 70 expeditions to Costa Rica each year for families, teens, and student groups.
Who is the average customer?
A traveler who is looking for more than a typical packaged vacation and is interested in making authentic connections with the people and places she visits, and exploring off the beaten path adventures.
What is your favorite place (must pick one!) in the country, and why?
That’s a tough one. I’d say Diamante Verde Falls (see “day 3” on this itinerary) because it exemplifies what we do. You can rappel in many places in Costa Rica, and you can surely swim at the base of beautiful waterfalls. But at Diamante you hike with a local family (a family of traveling acrobats!) to sleep in a cave situated behind two waterfalls! They take you rappelling and exploring, and cook delicious meals right there in the cave while they share stories about their inspiring life.
What are the absolute two or three “must-do” activities in C.R. for an adventurous traveler?
Check out Corcovado National Park down in the wild Osa Peninsula, a hotspot of biodiversity and an amazing place to hike deep into unspoiled rainforest. And we absolutely love the southern Caribbean for exploring a unique culture, culinary delights, and intact primary jungle on the ocean’s edge at the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge.
What should a traveler to C.R. not do or not go see?
Skip Jaco or any of the overly developed package routes. Costa Rica is way too cool to only see from behind the walls of a could-be-anywhere all-inclusive resort.
Describe Costa Rica in five words or less.
Biodiverse, Unexpected, Awe-Inspiring, Challenging, Incredible!
Describe the people of Costa Rica in five words or less.
Friendly, Engaging, Curious, Welcoming, Tranquilo.
—Read more about Costa Rica and Chill Expeditions’ trips at the company’s “Costa Rican Adventures” page.