San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Eyewitness’ Guide Has Visual Appeal

There are many kinds of travelers, and, for some, the “Eyewitness Travel Guide to Costa Rica” would be a wonderful asset.

As its name suggests, the “Eyewitness” guide, written primarily by Christopher Baker and published by Dorling Kindersley, is highly visual. With hundreds of crisp photographs and maps, it gives a vivid image of Costa Rica.

Numerous cutaway illustrations and a detailed introduction also make this guide a good planning tool. The illustrations, such as one detailing the different parts of the rain-forest ecosystem, present facts with simple grace reminiscent of the best elementary school textbooks.

The introduction spans 50 pages and touches on climate zones, indigenous groups, holidays and history.

Particularly useful is the history section. Well written and readable, it contains snapshot descriptions of important figures such as José “don Pepe” Figueres (1948-49, 1953-58, 1970-74), a utopian socialist who started the 1948 civil war and went on to serve two terms as President, and William Walker, a U.S. filibuster who attacked Costa Rica from Nicaragua in 1856.

A survival guide at the back, which includes practical hints such as instructions on using public telephones, is also a plus.

For travelers who want to go into their trip feeling informed, with a sharp sense of what to expect, this guide is an excellent bet.

This is not, however, a guide for the freewheeling explorer who wants a reliable paper-pulp companion to look to for the straight scoop on wherever he or she happens to be at dusk.

The “Eyewitness” guide’s organization makes it clear that this is not its intent. Lists of places to stay and eat are tucked away near the back, color-coded in pleasantly mild orange and blue.

The placement of restaurant and hotel lists near the guide’s rear preserves the book’s visual appeal by preventing the details of food and shelter from intruding upon the immaculate images of places and activities. This focus on flow and readability emphasizes the guide’s construction as an informative planning tool, not an encyclopedic reference.

The “Eyewitness” guide is prettier than some more traditional guides, but it contains significantly less information. For example, the 288-page “Eyewitness” guide lists 43 places to stay and 33 places to eat in San José, while the 512-page “Lonely Planet” guide lists 69 places to sleep and 55 places to eat in the capital city, and the 384-page Tico Times “Exploring Costa Rica” guide lists 116 places to eat and drink, and 65 places to stay in the city.

Some of the frank, witty commentary that characterizes guides such as “Lonely Planet” also gets lost in the glossy pages of the “Eyewitness” guide.

At about ¢10,500 ($21), “Eyewitness” is about the same price as “Lonely Planet,” so the decision comes down to taste.

If you want a guide to help you find shelter and food when the torrential downpour of a summer afternoon catches you without an umbrella, you might want to keep looking.

But if you want to visualize your dream vacation in Costa Rica and learn about the varied species of marine turtles, wildcats and snakes that inhabit the country, take a look at the “Eyewitness” guide.


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