Costa Rica

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“Pura Vida”! This is the greeting you will get everywhere in Costa Rica. It’s a Spanish phrase that means “pure life”. Now how can you not love a people that great you literally everywhere with this phrase? It makes you want to be a better person.  I even greeted people this way for a short while when I got back to the states. A very short while – I got some strange looks.

Costa Rica is one of the top vacation destinations in Central America. Vacations planned to Costa Rica usually need to be booked well in advance – months, or sometimes up to a year can be essential. It’s only April, yet space is already getting hard to find for Christmas in some of the beach destinations and rainforest resorts.

Costa Rica has coasts on both the Pacific and the Caribbean. The water is always warm and the beaches are beautiful. Most beach areas have good infrastructure, hotels, restaurants, and night life. The area of Manuel Antonio on the Pacific has the well -deserved reputation of being one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.  And nearby Playa Dominical is known worldwide as a surfer’s paradise. On the Caribbean side, the beaches of Tortuguero are famous for their unspoiled beauty and biodiversity. If you’re really lucky you may spot a nesting sea turtle.

The most popular beach destination for US travelers has been the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica. This Provence (the region is known by the name of the Provence) is in the northern part of Costa Rica on the Pacific Ocean. The JW Marriot and the Westin Playa Conchal are two luxury resorts right on the beaches of Guanacaste. Guanacaste is also the driest part of Costa Rica, which, put together with the beautiful beaches, helps to explain the area’s popularity with US travelers.

The highlight of our recent trip to Costa Rica was the Pacuare River Lodge. The journey into and out of this amazingly beautiful spot is an adventure all its own. Although you can get to the lodge by 4 wheel drive vehicle, the preferred method is by raft. The rafting trip in to the lodge is about an hour and a half through some class 2 and 3 rapids, and your departure is a 4 hour raft trip through class 2 ,3 and 4 rapids. We always felt safe, and the guides in the rafts were really fun. They even spoke English.

The Pacuare River Lodge is a luxury resort. The suites, ranging from the 3767 square foot Jaquar Villa to the 670 square foot river suites, come furnished with canopied beds, sitting rooms, decks, and hammocks. Our Linda Vista suite had an outdoor shower and a plunge pool. There is no electricity in the suites so you will spend your evenings after dinner in candle light. There is electricity in the dining hall and internet is available at the lodge office.

The food at the Pacuare Lodge is prepared by locals. They are not trained chefs. However you would never know this from the quality of both the presentation and the taste of the meals. The food was really good. The lodge also offers a romantic dinner by the riverbank complete with candle light. My wife and I ended up sharing our riverside dinner with some friends we met at the lodge. There is also a bar where guests gather prior to dinner and after to share their days with new friends.

White water rafting to get to the lodge isn’t the only adventure activity offered at the Paquare Lodge. The lodge has a great canopy zip line which ends in a thrilling rappel just steps away from the main lodge.  We also booked a waterfall rappelling adventure. You rappel in steps through waterfalls in the side of a canyon starting with a simple 6 foot decent and ending in an amazing 65 foot decent to the base of the canyon. This was really great. There are also birding hikes for early risers and excursions to indigenous villages.

You can end a day of adventure and hiking with a Spa treatment at the Jawa Ju Spa. They use local natural products to invigorate the body and soul. The Spa will bring you back to Pacuare Lodge even if the rainforest isn’t your thing.

Finally, Pacuare Lodge is committed to a vision of tourism in harmony with the lush rainforest that surrounds the property. They are dedicated to maintaining a sustainable environment while catering to the discerning traveler. The lodge is working to protect the indigenous people in the area, and to help preserve their way of life. All of the employees of the Lodge are locals. And their love for the land and river is evident.

Don’t forget to great everyone with “PURA VIDA”!

Paquare Lodge, A 5 star experience with no electricity in the middle of the jungle.

Stella Australis Cruise through the straits of Magellan to Cape Horn

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A parka? You’ve got to be kidding. This was my first thought when I saw the packing list for the cruise we were taking. I knew we were going to southern Chili and Argentina, but really? A parka? This was not my idea of a vacation cruise. I also saw we would be getting into open Zodiacs (inflatable boats) for the daily excursions in our parkas. This was one reluctant cruiser!

We had booked this cruise through Lori Snow at Condor Tours and Travel. Lori’s expertise in travel to South America is unmatched.

After a week touring Chili including Santiago, Valparaiso, a winery, and three days in Patagonia at the five star Singular Patagonia, we were headed to the tip of South America for this cruise. The boarding process for this relatively small ship went smoothly, and we were soon enjoying a cocktail and were ready for a one of a kind adventure. I was trying to keep a positive attitude about the weather.

The channels of the Strait of Magellan are pretty restricted, so the water for almost the entire cruise was smooth. The ship’s crew said this was mostly the case down here, but the weather is really changeable, so no guarantees. We only had one evening for about an hour when the ship was in open water, and for that hour, we had quite a ride!

The first day, we visited Ainsworth Bay and Tucker’s Islet. In the two and a half hour walk on this island, our guides explained about the ecosystem of this part of the world, and we saw virgin forests and local wildlife. In the short time we were on the Islet, we had some snow, a light rain and some sun and temps in the 50’s. Like they told us – the weather is changeable!

On the second day, we went to Pia Glacier and visited this massive river of ice up close. It was an awesome sight. The crew even chipped some 400 year old ice from the glacier to cool a good glass of scotch, which was a very nice touch! You’re really close to the glacier and when it calves (chunks of ice breaking loose and falling into the channel) the sight is really impressive. After visiting the Glacier, the ship cruised through a channel they call Glacier Alley. We cruised by five glaciers while enjoying dinner. Some were hanging glaciers (glaciers that don’t reach all the way to the channel) with water falls from melt falling into the channel.

On the third day, we visited Magdalena Island. This was a really cold day, but thanks to the packing list, we were prepared. Magdalena Island is home to a large colony of Magellanic Penguins. We stayed in the Zodiac for this encounter, but spending time with these unique birds was a highlight of the trip. The penguins mostly ignored us, but one seemed curious and came really close to our Zodiacs. No touching allowed, but the close encounter was very rare according to our guide.

The fourth day was also a highlight, as this was the day to land at Cape Horn. Unfortunately, the wind was blowing at over 30 mph, and we couldn’t land. Surprisingly, the seas out from shore weren’t too rough, so we were not uncomfortable. We did get some good pictures of the Cape, and even though we couldn’t land, we were still there, and that felt special on its own.

The last day was a visit to Wulaia Bay. There is a museum there in an old radio station dedicated to the native Yamana people and the early missionaries in the area. You can take a climb to an overlook that gives a great view of the beautiful surrounding area. The fitter you are, the higher you can climb to get the best views.

The crew of the Stella Australis is amazing! The crew was 100% Chilean and most spoke at least some English. The food was good and plentiful. And drinks are included in the fare, so there is no big bar tab to settle at the end of the cruise. The ship has 100 cabins with a maximum of 210 passengers so you will get to know at least some of your fellow adventurers.

Besides the incredible scenery and wildlife, there were two other highlights worth sharing. For five days (except for about 15 minutes) there was no internet or cell service, which meant we were really able to detach, and in today’s world, that is really liberating! Also, for the entire five days we saw no other ships or tourists. These places are really remote, which makes the trip seem that much more special.

If you’re looking to get away from the everyday grind and go somewhere where the word vacation really lives up to its name, then this trip is for you. And by the way – I’m glad I brought my parka.