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Our Guides and Team Members

Our team is made up of amazing people in both Costa Rica and the United States. We feel we have the best group of Costa Rica vacation experts and support staff to help you have the best vacation possible. Whether you are working with our U.S. based team to plan and schedule your trip, or with our Costa Rica team to make sure everyone in your group is enjoying the trip, we are here to help you.

Our goal is simple: make sure you have the most enjoyable, hassle free Costa Rica vacation.

Meet our team below.

The Costa Rican Dream Team

Walter Wife

Walter Centeno

Co-Founder & CEO/COO & Guide

Certifications: ACA Swiftwater Rescue

Walter@AmazingVacationsCostaRica.com

Walte-Paddlin Costa Rica

Walter is one of the co-founders and owners of Amazing Vacations Costa Rica. He’s the boss and guy who is in charge but he’s always pitching in and doing things to help others. He’s our boots on the ground, Native Costa Rican + Rock Star Guide and Operations Director. He’s spent more than 14 years working in the Costa Rica travel industry and seems to know everyone. He has worked as a guide and operations manager learning from three of the most well respected travel companies in the country.

He always had dreams of taking everything that he had learned over the years to create the best travel/tour company in Costa Rica. One that would focus on using innovative technology to create an amazing experience for its guests. His goals are to 1) provide family friendly jobs and a better life to the families of Costa Rica, 2) Give back to our local communities and 3) Share amazing experiences with travelers who visit Costa Rica.

Arnaldo Cespedes

Arnaldo Céspedes “Pelon”

Co-Founder /
Trip Leader & Kayak Instructor /
Director of Costa Rica Kayak School

Certifications:

  • ACA Swiftwater Rescue
Arnaldo Cespedes Presenting

Arnaldo is a native of Turrialba, Costa Rica and one of our co-founders. His favorite thing to do is teach people to learn to kayak and safely run a river. He is an incredible teacher and guide.

He is also one of the top kayakers in Costa Rica and has competed in the World Freestyle Championships in North Carolina and Costa Rica. He’s had many amazing opportunities to paddle around the world but he’s also one of the most humble people you will meet. He has so many funny stories about his experiences paddling rivers that he can keep you entertained for hours. If you have a chance to spend time with him, be sure to ask him about being chased by killer bees, getting lost in the jungle after losing his boat or having to hike out of the jungle because the water was too high to safely run.

He has an amazing family and three young boys who are full of energy and you’ll always find a smile on his face.

He knows the rivers of Costa Rica as well as anyone in the country and has guided hundreds of trips along the rivers of Costa Rica. He is an incredible teacher and loves working with newer kayakers to help them gain confidence on the river. He has provided instruction and classes to hundreds of people in both Costa Rica and the United States and has taught kayak classes at area universities to promote recreational kayaking and river conservation.

Deivis Class V Sloth Saved

Deivis Montenegro

Trip Leader, Guide and Kayak Instructor

deivis Family Fhoto

Deivis grew up on the outskirts of Turrialba and has been a top competitor in many national Triathlons including TicoMan. He loves the outdoors and also serves as a volunteer in the local fire department. He is an exceptional kayaker and river guide and has represented Costa Rica multiple times in the World Rafting Championships. He has completed ACA’s Swiftwater training and loves helping others learn to be more confident and safe on the river.

If you are kayaking behind Deivis, he will show you the best lines down difficult stretches of a river and is exactly the type of person you want to paddle with if you are looking to improve your skills.

And… he has great rescue skills. His favorite rescue happened when he was paddling on a Class V section of river and he saw a sloth that accidentally swam through an entire Class V rapid. It was stuck clinging to a rock in the rapids. Yes, that is a picture of the sloth that Deivis was able to save.

Unfortunately we aren’t aware of any life jackets made for sloths, but luckily after he helped paddle the sloth to safety, the sloth gave him a smile and slowly headed on its way, grateful to be back on dry land.

Daniel Bustos Araya

Daniel Bustos “Pelos”

Rock Star Kayak Guide and Kayak Instructor

 D.B.A. Martial Arts and Fitness Center 

Daniel Gustos Group

Daniel is a Turrialba native and comes from a large family that works mostly in agricultural activities. He loves working with our guests on tours and helping them experience the rivers and amazing places in Costa Rica.

Daniel is not only an incredible kayak guide and support on our trips, but he loves Martial Arts and runs D.B.A. Martial Arts and Fitness Center and MMA training academy.

He has had a successful career as a professional MMA fighter and has participated in fights in Panama, Nicaragua and other locations in Central America.

He is one of the most friendly and welcoming people you will ever meet but when he steps into the MMA Octagon he can be incredibly focused and competitive. He’s exactly the type of person you want watching your back as you paddle through a difficult rapid on a river.

Diego Solano “Pina”

River, Jungle and Adventure Guide

Diego

Diego is a native of Turrialba, but spent numerous years working as a river guide up in La Fortuna – which is home to Costa Rica’s most famous volcano, Arenal.  Diego met his wife while working on a rafting trip in La Fortuna – she and some friends were on a trip  from England and she never went back home.  They have a beautiful daughter and son and are so excited to now be living back in Turrialba near Diego’s family and friends.  Not only is Diego a great rafting guide, kayaker, and instructor, he also is an exceptional photographer.  If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to have him take some pictures while you are on your trip – so if you see him with a  camera on the river, be sure to flash a smile his way.  Due to growing up in Turrialba, Diego’s favorite river is the Pacuare and he’s had experience boating it at all stages of water levels – from rocky low waters up to an unexpected scary day at flood stage.  Everyone finished unscathed, but it certainly is a fun story to ask him about!

Manuel Rafting Backflip

Manuel Fallas Calvo “Maleku”

River, Jungle and Adventure Guide

Manuel Kayaking Waterfall

Manuel is a certified wilderness first responder and grew up in downtown Turrialba. From an early age he learned to love the outdoors. After finishing a tourism diploma at the university, he started as a rafting guide and kayaker. He loves to be on the river or any other body of water and to share all the good energy that is created by being in the outdoors.

In addition to running trips for all ages, he has spent three seasons working as a head guide, leading humanitarian service and adventure trips for thousands of youth ages 14-18.

His favorite thing to do is paddle Class IV and Class V rivers. He also loves mountain biking and rappelling. His experience as a guide includes cycling, rafting, kayaking and trekking trips in all parts of Costa Rica and the surrounding countries.

juan river guide

Juan Daniel Molina "Juancito" Little Juan

River Guide

Juan represents the next generation of up and coming river guides with Amazing Vacations.  Juan may be the youngest of our guiding team, but he doesn’t lack in  experience on the rivers. Juan has been kayaking since he was 12 years old and loves spending time on any  river.  Juan spent some time in Quepos, enjoying the Pacific rivers before moving to Turrialba and becoming an expert on the Pejibaye and Pacuare rivers as well.  Juan is competitive and enjoys kayak races across the country including our very own El Cacique del Reventazon race held every year. In his free time Juan loves working with animals—especially cows and horses.  He has plans to go to university to become a large animal veterinarian and is a good student in all of his current studies.  Juan can be quite shy when you meet him because speaking English makes him nervous.  But he enjoys practicing so seek him out and give him a chance to talk with you while you’re in Costa Rica as he wants to improve!

Mayra "Franci" Centeno

Logistics, Administration
Franci keeps everyone in Costa Rica organized.  She is almost always working behind the scenes to make sure everything is taken care of, hotels are reserved, transportation has been finalized, payments have been sent and people have been followed up with.   She gets things done and keeps us running smoothly down here in Costa Rica.   She is an office administrator extraordinaire!

Paola Sanchez Solano

Spanish Lessons & Office Logistics

Paola is a native of Turrialba, born and raised in a family of five.  She recently graduated with a bachelor degree in sustainable tourism management and is a certified local guide.  Paola has studied English for many years and is an excellent teacher – maybe she’ll be your instructor if you sign up for Spanish classes.  Paola assists in the office with logistics, working hard to make your trip smooth and memorable.  Paola is a nature lover and loves being able to share the love of the outdoors with individuals like you.  Ask her about her experiences working with turtle hatches.

Wilberth Sánchez Ramírez

Office Logistics

 

Wilberth’s skill with technology makes him an asset to the Amazing Vacations Costa Rica office team.  A native of Turrialba, Wilberth studied information engineering at university before taking his skill set to the tourism industry. He makes sure that your tours are booked and paid for and helps make your trip run smoothly.  In his free time Wilberth likes technology and hiking through the forest. “Sometimes I close my eyes and listen to the sound of nature, listen to how the wind blows the trees leaves and the birds sing, it sounds incredible. For that reason I love Costa Rica, because in each corner I can hear nature calling for me.” 

Rafael Oviedo

Logistics, Guide, Spanish Classes

Rafa helps in the office planning trips, organizing the logistics, and helping to make sure your trip runs smoothly.  He also could be your guide and might be your teacher if you sign up for our Spanish classes.  From the volcanos to the beaches, Rafa can tell you so much about the history of Costa Rica in each location, the wildlife, and the things that make this small country special.  Rafa has a contagious smile and enthusiastic personality that will ensure your time spent in Costa Rica is enjoyable!

mario avcr team member

Mario

Adventure Driver

Mario

Mario is one of the best drivers that we could ask for! He has been in the industry for over 30 years taking people safely throughout the country. When he is your driver, you can be assured that you are in safe hands. Like all our guides he is fun and engaging and enjoys families with children and all ages in between. He likes to sharing his knowledge and love of nature, especially of butterflies. If you take a tour to the butterfly gardens, you will for sure meet Mario as he owns the gardens and they are his passion. If you’ve ever had a question about butterflies, he is the man to ask and you will come away with a love and respect for them as well. We like to say that Mario knows about everything! He is helpful and involved with arranging our logistics, great at guiding, and knowledgeable about all aspects of travel in Costa Rica. The one thing he isn’t—is a water guide. So you’ll say goodbye to him at the rivers edge but he will catch you in the vehicle on the other side!

Jonathan Alvarez

Driver

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Jonathan grew up on the outskirts of Turrialba in San Rafael.  He is extremely passionate about cars and loves driving.  He previously served as a police officer in Cartago and Turrialba and knows the streets like the back of his hand making sure that you will be on the most direct route to your destination but also safe.

As you drive along in the care of Jonathan he will smile, friendly honk (It’s a Costa Rica thing) and wave at practically everyone who passes his way.  We think he knows almost everyone who lives in San Jose and anywhere east of San Jose. He loves to joke and loves challenging you to a game of pool. He has a deep love of soccer, fishing, and making people smile. 

Make sure to ask him about the latest photos of his family.  

Team USA

Amazing Vacations USA

Our USA team is part of our Travel Agency partner Amazing Vacations USA. While they aren’t officially part of the Costa Rica company, we work together daily and feel like we are part of one big family. If you are booking a trip with us, you’ll work directly with the team in the USA to book your trip and they will work with us to make sure your trip is AMAZING!

The team in the USA also offers trips to anywhere in the world and specializes in Cruises, Disney Trips, Educational and Humanitarian Tours and Family Vacations. You can check out their website at www.AmazingVacationsUSA.com.

Jason Tonioli

Jason Tonioli

Co-Founder & President

Jason@AmazingVacationsUSA.com

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Jason leads the team in the United States and manages sales and marketing for Amazing Vacations. He is an Entrepreneur, Piano Musician and Composer, Record Label Owner, Banker, Marketing Executive and Founder of a FINTECH Software Company. He loves starting new businesses and helping them use technology to thrive.

Jason is fluent in both English and Spanish and loves anything to do with adventure sports, whether that be SCUBA diving or snorkeling, kayaking, rafting, surfing, rock climbing, etc. He loves spending time with his wife and four kids and spends hours each week coaching his kids’ soccer teams.

He is also a professional musician who has released 8 piano albums as well as combined albums with amazing people such as the former singers of the Irish group Celtic Woman and Riverdance, Violinist John Knudson, Country Music Singer Brenda Burch, Violinist Ryan Shupe (Ryan Shupe and the Rubber Band) and Chuck Myers. You can find out more about this music here.

Julie Erkelens

Julie Erkelens

Travel Consultant / CFO / Accounting

Julie@AmazingVacationsUSA.com

Julie is our jack of all trades that helps make sure everything gets done.  She loves to work with people and make sure everything goes smoothly through the process.  She works with clients creating trips but can often be found preparing our Blog posts or filling in wherever she’s needed.  She’s constantly working with our team in Costa Rica to make sure everything is set for your trip.

 She absolutely loves our team, the people of Costa Rica, the food, the country and pretty much everything Costa Rican.  When she’s not working she is busy trying to improve her Spanish skills for her next Costa Rica trip, enjoy her family, and serving in her neighborhood and community.  

Paige Allen

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Paige is here to help plan your individual, family and group vacations. She is here to help create a trip uniquely made for you. She works with families and different types of groups so if you want to plan a business retreat, creative workshop, mastermind retreat, or family vacation, she’s your girl. Not only does she plan trips but Paige also helps capture experiences, places, people, and more through videography and photography. She focuses on adventure and outdoor footage and photos. 

Paige loves spending all of her time outdoors in nature creating new experiences. She has a love for travel, learning new cultures, and making friends in new locations around the world. Her love for travel has led her to live in places like Alaska, Hawaii, the Philippines, and others… more places to come in the future. Come join in on our adventures in Costa Rica!  

Gwen Haycock

Gwen is able to jump in and help our team with any task that needs to get done!  She is a willing and hard worker who loves to travel and share her love of places with others.  She will go the extra mile to make sure your trip is amazing!

Her favorite spot is England and would love to go every year.  She loves the Yucatan Peninsula and Yellowstone in the winter but would love to travel anywhere with the right people.  If you’re lucky you’ll be able to go down on a trip to Costa Rica with her as she loves to lead groups and take people on the perfect vacation for them!

When she’s not traveling or working we can find Gwen doing her hobies of reading, needlepoint, horseback riding, HEMA (long swords), and Food.

Lisa Boyko

Travel Consultant and Costa Rica Expert

Lisa@AmazingVacationsUSA.com

We love having Lisa on our team.  A former middle and high school teacher, active raft guide, and a whitewater paddler herself (She kayaks, canoe’s, SUP and rafts). 

She loves discussing Costa Rica’s best spots, many of which most travelers don’t ever hear about, as well as the different rivers with clients of all backgrounds. She loves helping people discover the culture and amazing people in Costa Rica. 

Victoria Gaffney

Marketing Consultant

Trips@AmazingVacationsUSA.com

Vicky loves to travel!  She got the bug to travel internationally in high school through the People to People Student Ambassador Program and has been traveling ever since.   Vicky jumps in to help the team wherever she is needed with a smile on her face and enthusiasm.  She lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with her husband and their young son where they love exploring the natural areas around them.

David Faber

David Faber

Co-Founder

Amazing Vacations was started because of a trip that David and Jason took to Costa Rica. He is one of the founders and owners of Amazing Vacations. David owns several businesses in Utah and stays actively involved in the important decisions of the company. You’ll also find him visiting Costa Rica a few times a year and if you are on one of the kayak trips, you just might get to paddle with him.

Sara Hansen

Graphic Design & Web Development

If you like the look of our webpage and find it easy to use it’s all thanks to Sara! She keeps everything up and running smooth, and looking it’s best and we are grateful to have her on our team. Branding, User Experience (UI/UX), and marketing materials are her main duties. One of her favorite things about her job is the challenge of constantly improving the visuals, keeping up with technology, and improving the experience of visitors to the website.

Sara is recently married and lives in southern Utah with her husband, The warm temperatures year-round provide lots of time to get out and explore their beautiful desert home with their three dogs.  Sara Loves to travel and wishes she could do more. Yellowstone and Mexico have been a couple of her favorite places to see. She hasn’t been to Costa Rica yet- but it is next on her list! 

Trip Leaders

Kris & Neleh Nielson
(The "Survivor" Marquesas Corn Dog Family)

When Kris and Neleh aren’t running their Marquesas Corndogs food truck in Northern Utah, you’ll likely find them both talking to people about their next trip to Costa Rica. This family has explored nearly every corner of Costa Rica over the past several years by spending nearly 3 months of every winter visiting the most amazing spots in Costa Rica.

They’ve spent most of that time bringing their kids along with them, but you’ll also find Neleh leading “Mom-Cation” trips, “Mother-Daughter Trips” to Costa Rica and family trips for their friends. 

If the name Neleh sounds familiar, you may have seen her on Season 2 of Survivor “Marquesas” as the 2nd place contestant. She has a passion for adventure and loves talking to people about Costa Rica. 

If you are thinking of bringing your family to Costa Rica, there is likely no better person to talk to in the world than Neleh and Kris (or their kids if you’d like a kid perspective of the different places.)

David Sartoni Kayak

Davide Sartoni

The River SUP Guy

David Sartoni Sup

Davide, aka “The River SUP Guy”, originally from Florence, Italy, is a professional whitewater SUP athlete paddling for Hala Gear. He promotes the sport of river SUP through his instruction and guiding business operating out of Northern Nevada and California. He was first introduced to a SUP on the crisp, blue waters of Lake Tahoe, CA. Captivated from the very first paddle stroke, he now spends over 100+ days a year SUPing on rivers all over the world. Davide is a certified river SUP instructor with the American Canoe Association and he is also certified in Swift Water Rescue and as a Wilderness First Responder.

Ben Morton

Ben Morton

Kayak Instructor, Guide & Advisory Board

Canoe, Kayak, and Paddle Co.

Certifications:

  • ACA Level 5 Advanced Whitewater Canoe, Instructor
  • ACA Level 5 Advanced Whitewater Kayak, Instructor Trainer
    ACA Level 4 Whitewater Kayak, Instructor Trainer Educator
  • ACA Level 4 Whitewater Canoe, Instructor Trainer
  • ACA Level 3 Whitewater SUP, Instructor Trainer
  • ACA Level 3 Coastal Kayak, Instructor
  • ACA Level 3 River Safety and Rescue, Instructor
  • Wilderness First Responder
  • Leave No Trace Master Educator

Ben is a native of Orange, Virginia where he grew up paddling the Rapidan, Robinson, and Rappahannock rivers. His passion for the outdoors led him to Garrett College’s Adventure Sports Institute in western Maryland after high school where he pursued a degree in adventure sports and leadership. After graduating Ben took a position at the Virginia Outdoor Center in Fredericksburg, VA as their manager. While in Virginia, Ben would guest instruct and guide for Canoe, Kayak, and Paddle Co.(CKAPCO) in Northern Virginia and for Garrett College’s Adventure Sports Institute. After increasing both his professional and personal outdoor resume Ben began pursuing work opportunities in different regions. Over the past 10 years Ben has worked with the National Outdoor Leadership SchoolNantahala Outdoor CenterJackson Hole Kayak SchoolCosta RicaDeRiemer Adventure KayakingOtter Bar Lodge Kayak SchoolNew Zealand Kayak SchoolWilderness Rescue International and many others.

Ben’s strengths lie in his excitement to share his passion for paddlesports with others, his eagerness to continue to grow and develop as a paddler and instructor, and his positive interpersonal skills. Ben will be excited to work with you whether it’s helping you improve your paddling technique, guiding you down beautiful tropical rivers in Central America, or leading you on your first multi-day river experience.

Anna Levesque - Mind Body Paddle

Who is Anna Levesque? Paddler, yogi, wellness coach, and named one of the Most Inspirational Paddlers Alive by Canoe and Kayak Magazine, she’s incredible!  The inspiration, empowerment, and zeal for life that Anna brings to her passions creates an unforgettable Week of Rivers in Costa Rica! 

Her paddling journey took her to the Canadian National Freestyle Kayak Team (five-time member), to a podium spot at the Freestyle Kayak World Championships, to paddling and competing in over twelve countries on five continents. She’s been named one of the Most Inspirational Paddlers Alive by Canoe and Kayak Magazine and voted the Most Inspirational Outdoors Person in the Blue Ridge by Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine.

Teaching, inspiring and empowering women on whitewater became her passion. She has produced instructional DVDs for women and lead women specific trips in Canada, the US, Mexico and Costa Rica.

Combining yoga and paddling has always been a natural fit for Anna and she’s passionate about helping paddlers take care of their bodies so that they can paddle for decades without pain and while reducing the risk of injury.

To read more about Anna’s incredible journey and her empowering organization – check out  mindbodypaddle.com.

Glenn Rawson

Story Teller and World Traveler & Advisory Board

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Glenn Rawson worked as a teacher for 30 years but has been a storyteller even longer. For the past 20 years his inspirational stories have been shared on radio programs across the United States. He has authored and published dozens of books on history and led groups of travelers to all corners of the world including Israel, Asia, South America, Europe, and the United States. 

In a normal travel year Glenn will be on the road leading travel groups as much as 8 months out of the year. 

In 2020 (before covid-19) Glenn visited Costa Rica on a scouting trip to build what would be the perfect trip for travelers 55 and older. He had visited all the sites and locked in what would be the perfect trip for one of his travel groups. He is super excited to be able to start running his first Costa Rica trips in early 2021 and looks forward to sharing stories along the way about the people, the culture and may most important of all, the history of chocolate.

Brittany Parker

Brittany Parker

SUP (Stand Up Paddle Board) Instructor, Guide & Advisory Board

 www.bpsurfs.com.

Brittany, from Rifle, Colorado, is a professional whitewater SUP paddler and river surfer paddling for Badfish Stand Up Paddle. She’s working to grow river surfing and whitewater SUP through her co-owned instructional business RVR 2 RVR. Her love of SUP and river surfing has taken her all over the world, from Japan to Zimbabwe, where she was part of a team attempting the first descent of the Zambezi on boards.

She co-produced and starred in a film called ‘Can I Surf That’ where she traveled around the country in search of the “perfect” river wave. Her love of writing transcends her paddling career and has been a part of her life as far back as she can remember. She’s been published in several magazines and regularly writes poetry; all of which lives on her website www.bpsurfs.com. She believes nature and the river is life’s greatest teacher and will do everything she can to protect it.

Ned Johnson - Paddleboard Orlando

Certifications:

We think Ned was born to be on the water. He has an extensive background in competitive wake boards, kayaking, canoeing and Stand Up Paddleboards. He holds an ASI Master Trainer Certification, WPA Level 3, and Paddlefit Level 3 certifications. His love for the water and people is apparent in his warm greetings and vivacious personality!

You’ll find NED leading trips year round in Orlando through PaddleboardOralndo.com and if you are SUP (Stand Up Paddle Board) enthusiast looking to improve your skills and try paddling on a river, you’ll definitely want to join him when he leads his annual trip to Costa Rica.

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