Photo Bytes: Bonita Costa Rica

A moment in time
A moment in time

Kyle and I have always dreamed of spending Christmas at the beach, and this year we finally made it happen.

Playa Tamarindo is such a beautiful strip of sand and sea just about a 10-minute walk from the Beach Bungalows where we stayed. There’s plenty to do on the beach from going horseback riding to taking a surfing lesson. All of the sailing and scuba trips leave from the beach, so there’s always a lot of activity. Each time we set out for the beach, we headed directly for Langosta Beach Club where we could have a drink at the bar and store our bags. Lunch there is excellent, and we were lucky enough one day to watch a family of monkeys playing in trees above us. Unfortunately we didn’t have our camera with us!

We took a day trip to Arenal one day, despite the fact that it was a four-hour trek in one direction. Lake Arenal is beautiful and divides two regions of Costa Rica: Guanacaste where we stayed and the Northern Lowlands. We took a hike through El Silencio Mirador and Trails at the base of Arenal Volcano. It was so strange to be in this cooler wet climate after spending a week in Tamarindo, where it’s always 90 and sunny—at least for the next six months of year. But here, it rains 11 months a year, and is nearly 20 degrees cooler. We watched birds and leaf cutter ants on our hike. We were amazed to see downed trees without any rings in the center. Since the weather conditions are so similar here all year—lots of rain and no change of seasons—there’s never extreme differences to cause the trees to form a ring in their bark.

We finally saw a Howler Monkey—the creatures that acted as alarm clocks every morning at the Bungalows. This guy was in a tree near Lake Arenal, but his furry friends were back in Tamarindo greeting the morning with their unearthly grunts and howls. Seriously, imagine someone is being strangled, and that’s the sound of a howler monkey. It was an interesting way to wake up every morning!

The whole reason I wanted to go to Arenal was to see the beautiful hot springs! I had thought long and hard about staying at Tabacon Grand Spa Thermal Resort since it’s so unbelievably beautiful, but in the end, decided to spend the entire time in Tamarindo. But the day trip to Tabacon was perfect, and we enjoyed several lovely hours swimming in the delicious volcanic water. Tabacon has quite the system of hot springs, linked by beautiful pathways. The farther up you trek, the warmer the pools become.

Back at Playa Tamarindo, things get fun in the evening. As you walk the beach, you can see the finished sand art that lots of locals have worked hard building all day. Then you can go to any given restaurant and enjoy the traveling fire show that somehow seems to appear at each eatery at some point during the course of your meal. And the Tamarindo sunsets are absolutely to die for!

Places

Playa Tamarindo

Playa Tamarindo, Guanacaste, Costa Rica

Lake Arenal

Lake Arenal

Tabacon Grand Spa Thermal Resort

Tabacon Grand Spa Thermal Resort, Nuevo Arenal, Alajuela, Costa Rica

Playa Tamarindo

Playa Tamarindo, Guanacaste, Costa Rica

Lake Arenal

Lake Arenal

Tabacon Grand Spa Thermal Resort

Tabacon Grand Spa Thermal Resort, Nuevo Arenal, Alajuela, Costa Rica

The Beach Bungalows: Our Home Away from Home

The Beach Bungalows
The Beach Bungalows

I have wanted to visit Costa Rica since the idea was brought up in my Spanish club in high school (which Kyle and I were both in!) Just hearing about the tropical rainforests, the active volcanoes, and the pristine beaches was enough to have me dreaming about an adventure. But it never happened, and the idea of going there has been stuck in the back on my mind for nearly a decade.

Why Tamarindo?

When we decided we needed to spend Christmas at the beach, I knew just where to go—well, almost. I started researching the best parts of Costa Rica to visit, and quickly became overwhelmed by the offerings of the various regions. There are so many things to do and places to see, and they’re all spread out, separated by hours of driving on unmarked roads. Past travelers advised against renting a car, and as much as I hated to abandon my MO of packing every little thing I can into a trip, I knew I had to pick one place as a hub for our nine-day trip. The thought was a bit unnerving. I have never stayed in one accommodation so long on any trip—aside from my apartment in Italy during my study abroad, and I don’t think we were ever there for a nine-day stretch.

I chose sun-splashed Guanacaste for its warm temperatures, white-sand Pacific beaches, and proximity to day-trip options, including Arenal Volcano, which I was bound and determined to visit.

But where to stay?! I explored traditional hotel options and came up short. Did I really want to stay in another big, impersonal hotel with its packed pool and overpriced drinks? Nah—been there, done that; not doing it for our first Christmas away from home.

Although I’d never booked an Airbnb property before, I’ve always loved the idea of the sharing economy, and have been intrigued by the amazing places people post on the site. I searched in the Guanacaste region, and lo and behold, I saw an oasis pop up on my screen.

The Beach Bungalows in Tamarindo looked absolutely idyllic. I sent the host, Trish, an e-mail, and she answered all of my initial questions in no time at all. I booked almost immediately, feeling very good about my decision to stay there for our entire trip, and so looking forward to lounging in my own private hammock. Ironically, when I was booking, Trish was visiting family where she grew up—an Upstate NY town roughly two hours from where we live. And there I was thinking I was talking with someone a world away. Loved that first connection!

The Best Hosts on the Face of the Planet

I booked six months in advance, which is very uncommon for Airbnb, but it allowed me to talk with Trish periodically as I was trying to book a few activities. She was so incredibly helpful, even booking the majority of them for us and arranging our airport transportation.

Finally the day arrived. Our plane was late taking off, and since we were already supposed to arrive late at night, I let Trish know. Much to our surprise, her boyfriend Claudio was waiting up for us when we got there at almost midnight. Not only did he want to show us our room, but he sat and had a “welcome beer” with us, regaling us with tales about his adventures as a dive instructor. Originally from Milan, Italy, he moved to Costa Rica 20-some years ago to teach people how to explore the 70% of the world we can’t see on land. If only I weren’t terrified of sea creatures, I’d go back right now and learn to dive from him! He made it sound like such an amazing experience. And he’s such a nice guy with a great outlook on life. He embodies the “pura vida” saying you so often hear in Costa Rica. One of his dive boats started sinking on Christmas day, and he worked tirelessly to get in back on land for a handful of days. When I told him how sorry I was, he said, “It’s not about how many times you fall, but how you get back up.” Grazie, Claudio!

Our first morning at the Bungalows, Trish greeted us with big hugs and a beautiful breakfast prepared by Maria who comes each day to cook and clean—and she’s phenomenal. (As is Edwin who works to make the ground and pool look beautiful). We enjoyed the first of many breakfasts spent lingering at the table talking with Trish and other guests from around the world. Trish took a lot of extra time with us going over a map. She covered everything from where to go to get the best whole red snapper to where to leave your beach bag when you’re playing in the waves. Most helpful were her tips about what not to do. It’s so evident that she wants each guest to have a wonderful time in Tamarindo, and she helps you figure out what experiences are right for you. Do you know of any front desk staff at a hotel who would do that?! I certainly don’t! She also does one heck of a howler monkey impression, letting you know that’s the source of the unearthly sound you hear in the trees each morning.

The Girls: Parker and Stella

Perhaps the sweetest dogs on earth, Parker and Stella, help welcome guests to the Beach Bungalows. It’s hard not to fall in love with these two! Trish has taught them adorable tricks from fetching her a tissue when she “sneezes” to grabbing her a beer, and even putting their paws together to say their prayers before they eat. They were too much fun, and we loved it when they decided to spend an evening with us on our patio. I miss them already!

The Bungalows

Trish has been pouring her heart and soul—and incredible design sense—into her property since she moved to Costa Rica about two years ago. She rents out four two-story teak wood bungalows that surround a central pool. The top floor of the bungalows is the bedroom and bathroom area, complete with private shower and other amenities, like a refrigerator and a safe, which were nice to have. There’s no air conditioning, but believe me, you don’t need it. The ceiling fan and bedside fans are more than enough to keep the bungalow cool for sleeping. The entire property is cloaked in the shade of big palm trees, so even during the day, it was much cooler than the beach. We always found ourselves going back to the Bungalows during the afternoon to escape the direct sunlight.

Early on, I equated staying at the Bungalows to “glamping” (glamor camping), which I’ve always wanted to try. I felt like I was in an eco-hotel, getting to listen to the geckos and monkeys while I slept. I won’t say it was the best sleep I’ve ever had in my life, but it was so hard to care! I’d sleep there every single night if I could.

The bottom floor of the bungalows is an open-air private patio, complete with hammock, daybed, and little table. It’s the perfect place to take an afternoon nap, spend an evening reading, or just lounge the day away. There are some privacy screens between neighboring bungalows, but you’re close enough together that you can enjoy great conversations with your new friends. There are outlets on both floors of the bungalow, which was really great for charging phones and iPads (so I could continue to watch my favorite Christmas movies by the pool!)

Speaking of which, the pool is very refreshing after a hot day at the beach. Because of the shade of the palm trees, it’s much colder than the ocean, but again—it’s hard to care! On more than one occasion, Edwin got me a floating lounge chair, and I had to pinch myself several times as I was floating in the pool, looking up at the beautiful bungalows and palm trees—was I really here in this oasis for Christmas?! Oh yes, I was!

Trish allows guests full use of the outdoor kitchen and the grill, something we took her up on several times. Some of our best meals in Tamarindo were spent at the Beach Bungalows! Trish also has a rec room set up for guests to enjoy complete with air conditioning, TV and Netflix, a book shelf, and a phone to call internationally—free of charge. (Our parents really appreciated hearing from us on Christmas day!) Often, she calls over local masseurs who set up in that room. A 60-minute, four-hand massage? Don’t mind if I do—it was heavenly!

Trish also rents out a “treehouse” behind her apartment. At any time, five couples can stay at the Beach Bungalows.

Going Above and Beyond

Trish treats her guests like family, and nothing solidified that more for me than when she invited us to her Christmas dinner. It was actually before we even got there—she asked us if we could find her liquid smoke, as she was going to be frying a turkey for the first time, and she couldn’t find it in Costa Rica. On Christmas evening, all the guests came together to help put finishing touches on the meal. (Trish says Kyle is a great potato masher!)

Some of Claudio’s family lives in town and came over dinner. It was so amazing to not only be staying in this beautiful place, but to be sharing Christmas dinner with new friends from Italy, Switzerland, and Canada. We spent hours at the table, sharing fantastic food and wonderful conversation. For many of us, it was our first Christmas away from home. What had the potential to be a lonely day spent away from family turned out to be one that I know all of us around the table will cherish forever. And it was all thanks to Trish, going above and beyond what any host ever has to do. We could never thank her enough.

 

You Should Stay There, Too!

If it’s not obvious by the length of this post, I simply can’t say enough about our stay at the Beach Bungalows. It is hands-down the best place I have ever stayed on any trip I have ever taken. Trish and her team have created the most perfect place for guests to stay, and I felt so fortunate to have stumbled upon it. It’s within walking distance to restaurants and the beach, but it’s far enough away from the hustle and bustle of the main drag that you feel like you’re in your own little oasis. It felt like home the moment we arrived, and I’m SO glad we stayed there the full nine days we were in Costa Rica. I can’t imagine booking it for a few days, realizing how amazing it is, and then having to move on to our next stop—which many of our fellow travelers did, and they were so sad to leave! This is the place that anyone going to Costa Rica wished they knew about… so here I am telling you. Book an extended stay at the Beach Bungalows, and it will be one of the best vacations you’ll ever have.

Muchos, muchos gracias to Trish, Claudio, Maria, Edwin—and of course, Parker and Stella! We can’t wait to return!

 

Places

The Beach Bungalows

The Beach Bungalows (Bed & Breakfast), Tamarindo, Guanacaste, Costa Rica

The Beach Bungalows

The Beach Bungalows (Bed & Breakfast), Tamarindo, Guanacaste, Costa Rica
http://www.tamarindobeachbungalows.com/
thebeachbungalows@gmail.com

The 14 Best Travel Moments of 2014

Rainbow over Costa Rica
Rainbow over Costa Rica

Each year, we like to look back on some of the highlights from our year of travels. Check out the post from 2013! We did a lot of traveling this year, going everywhere from Washington D.C. to New York City, Charleston to Orlando, Cancun to Costa Rica. We’ve decided to each pick our seven favorite travel experiences, and share them with you in no particular order.

Feel free to share your favorite travel experiences in the comments below!

Kim’s Top 7

Be Free, Little Turtles!

What fun it was to release several hundred baby sea turtles to the ocean one evening in Cancun. I got to hold three of them, feeling their flippers beat against my fingers as they squirmed to be set free. There is no flash photography allowed, as it could disorient them, but watching the tiny turtles slip and slide their way to the ocean in the dim light is something I won’t forget anytime soon.

Escape to Alcatraz

After a failed attempt to see Alcatraz last year due to the government shutdown, I was bound and determined to see the famed prison this year while I was at a conference in San Francisco. It was surreal to walk the hallways and see the cells that hardened criminals once inhabited. And what an eerie calmness passes over you when you go out to the courtyard area of the prison which overlooks the city, seemingly a world away.

Science, Stars, and Sharks… Oh, My!

Exploring the Nightlife of the California Academy of Sciences was a real highlight for me this year. What a fun place! With a rainforest, aquarium, natural history museum, and planetarium, this place has a little bit of everything. This adults-only event happens every Thursday night, and I just so happened to be there for Sharktober, which was awesome!

Christmastime in the City

As an Upstate New Yorker, I’ve long wanted to go to NYC to see the Rockefeller Christmas Tree and the beautiful seasonal window displays, and this year, we finally got to do it! The City is one that always hustles and bustles, but there’s something special—almost magical—about it on an evening in December, and I’m so glad I finally got to experience it, cup of hot cocoa in hand.

Home Away From Home

I’ve often heard that some people find their “home away from home” while on vacation, but it hadn’t happened to me before. That all changed in Costa Rica. The nine beautiful days we spent at the Beach Bungalows in Tamarindo were absolutely perfect—both in our surroundings and the company. Our hosts Trish and Claudio were the friendliest, most generous people we’ve had the pleasure to meet while traveling, and they made our time there an absolute joy. And, of course, we loved spending time with their beautiful dogs, Stella and Parker. What a paradise they have created in this seaside town!

Soaking in the Hot Springs

I have wanted to go to Costa Rica since high school, and one of the things at the top of my list was to soak in some natural hot springs. Tabacon Grand Spa Thermal Resort was certainly the place to do it, with the beautifully manicured grounds, and gloriously warm water cascading throughout the resort near Arenal Volcano. Whether you wanted to sit under a waterfall, or relax in a shallow pool, the options were limitless, and there seemed to be enough room for everyone to enjoy the water—something I had been worried about since it’s such a big attraction. It was a great way to spend an afternoon!

Christmas in Costa Rica

Kyle and I have been talking about spending Christmas at a beach for a long time, and this year, we finally did it! How amazing it was to spend the entire day splashing in the waves, and soaking in the sun. This year convinced me I’d trade a snowy Christmas for a sandy one any year!

Kyle’s Top 7

Visiting the Newseum in D.C.

Opened in 2008, the Newseum was created to educate people on the five freedoms provided by the First Amendment. Out front is a display of the front page of a newspaper from every state (and several countries) for that particular day. Aside from this very cool street-side display, the Newseum has some fantastic exhibits worth checking out. Highlights for me included sections of the Berlin Wall, a collection of historically significant headlines (e.g. outbreaks of war), a memorial to fallen journalists including a truck shot up in Sarajevo and a truly touching 9/11 memorial. Overall, I can’t think of a single exhibit that was lacking when compared to the rest – this is a must for anyone interested in some of the biggest moments in history for the last two centuries.

Whitewater Rafting in Costa Rica

I’ve been whitewater rafting a couple of times in the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon when I was a kid. The rapids are class II/III there, but are overall pretty easy to navigate. The opportunity to go again in Costa Rica was one of the things I was most excited for, and the Río Colorado just north of Liberia did not disappoint. We took a tour from our hotel in Tamarindo to reach the Cañón de la Vieja Adventure Lodge – about an hour drive. This tour featured several activities, which we’ll write about in the future, but the rafting was by far the best. There are a handful of calmer spots for you to catch your breath and overall, beginners will have no trouble tackling these rapids; however, there are a couple of thrilling drops to ratchet up the experience. You WILL get wet and it is awesome!

Wormsloe Historic Site

I wrote about this one recently, but let me sum it up for you. Wormsloe is a beautiful plantation built by one of the members of the party that founded Savannah, Georgia. Unlike other plantations in the south, this historic site doesn’t feature an extravagant mansion with large, well-groomed grounds. Instead, Wormsloe is more like a nice nature park centered on the long-abandoned ruins of one of the first homes in the area. It is known best for its gorgeous driveway, which is frequently photographed, but I really liked the tabby ruins themselves. This was my favorite part of Savannah.

Xcaret: The History of Mexico

Part of a group of attractions aimed at educating people on the history, traditions and ecology of Mexico, Xcaret is a park about an hour outside Cancun’s Hotel Zone that features a dinner show similar to Medieval Times – except that this one is infinitely better. The food is good, but the show is awesome, transporting you from ancient Maya to present day and highlighting much of the musical tradition of Mexico. Standout moments included a recreation of two ancient sports from the region: pok-ta-pok and pelota purépecha (similar to field hockey, but with FIRE). This was one of the handful of touristy things that we got to do in Cancun while we attended TBEX and it was a real joy to experience.

Visiting Charleston Plantations

More plantations… really? How many plantations can one person enjoy in a year? Yes – more plantations, but only because each plantation has its own feel. Magnolia Plantation & Gardens features the traditional southern plantation home surrounded by gardens that have been allowed to grow in a more uncontrolled fashion. This means it has a much more natural look and ensures you’ll see more wildlife – we saw alligators, turtles and a bald eagle here. Middleton Place on the other hand is beautiful in that aristocratic sense – its gardens are carefully manicured and beautifully kept. Overall, both are absolutely worth the visit.

The Rides in Disney

We had a rough time in Florida this year, but problems aside – Disney has world-class rides. I’m a big fan of Expedition Everest – I love everything about it from the set dressing to the rapid shifts in direction. Kim on the other hand – she’s all about Space Mountain.

Visiting Central Park for the first time

Despite having been to New York City a number of times, somehow neither of us had ever managed to make it over to Central Park. It’s kind of a weird oversight, I know. We visited in late spring and lucked out as the weather was perfect. As we walked around, Kim pointed out that this was the first time she’d ever really liked NYC. Until that moment, both of us had always seen NYC as a dirty, busy, necessary evil that we had to visit for work or to see a Broadway show. It took us walking around the oasis that is Central Park to understand that NYC doesn’t have to be about fighting your way through crowds and running all the time. Instead, you can enjoy lunch by the boat pond, watching as people of all ages sail their miniature boats. You can stroll about, just taking in the well-kept park as people walk their dogs or play pick-up games around you. Finish out your trip by riding the carousel at least once – it certainly isn’t the most amazing carousel of all time, but it just feels like something you have to do. Overall, walking through Central Park was a standout New York moment for both of us.

Cheers to many more adventures in 2015!

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