Category Archives: Central America

Costa Rica: Volcano, Cloud Forest, & Beach

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One Week Itinerary for a Taste of Costa Rica

There are few things I like more than a warm escape from the NYC winter.   The usual fix is a weekend in Miami, but this past December, a few of us traveled down to Costa Rica for a real getaway from Christmas to New Year’s.

Not only was it one of the easiest places to travel that I’ve been, but the range and diversity of places to go and things to do — even in such a small country — meant that we were never bored!

We planned our trip with an adventurous start – beginning at the Arenal Volcano and then off to the Monteverde Cloud forest – and a relaxing finish – ending at a surf camp in Tamarindo for a few days at the beach.

Here are my recommendations

Arenal/La Fortuna

We flew into the Liberia airport — and boy are we glad that we hired private transport for the 2.5-3 hour drive to La Fortuna, the town outside the Arenal Volcano.  The roads were horrendous and poorly marked.  Thank you, blogs and friends, for that good advice. We spent 2.5 days in Arenal, which was great – there certainly was more to do – particularly with outdoor activities, but we felt like we got a great overview.

 
Top photo: In front of the volcano…before we began the hike…
  • Hike the Arenal Volcano National Park and go to the Arenal Observatory.  Arenal is one of the ten most active volcanos in the world.  Note to the non-athletic (like me): the Cerro Chato hike is the devil.  Awesome, but the devil.  Caveat hiker.  You only have to pay an entrance fee to the park, there are free tours at 8:30am.
  • Go to the Tabacon Resort geothermal springs – total luxury.  Spend the whole day and get lunch.  If you want to book a massage, do it ahead of time.  Also, get on line EARLY – check-in is very slow.
  • Other things we didn’t do but heard were awesome: La Fortuna waterfall hike, ATVing, hiking around the lake, bungee jumping, horseback riding, and more hiking (sensing a theme here).

Where to eat in Arenal

  • Mediteranneo had very good Italian food (I know!) in La Fortuna, though terribly slow service
  • “Sodas” are small, family run restaurants that are a great place to eat local cuisine and offer amazing value – pricing is usually half of that at other destinations.  Meals ran at $2-5  each!
  • Local food: Casados: you pick a protein (or vegetarian) and get a plate with rice, beans, salads, and plantains.

Where to Stay in Arenal

  • Luxe: We wanted to stay at Tabacon, but alas, we booked too late during peak season
  • Budget: We stayed at Selvita Lodge, a Costa Rican B&B run by an adorable family. Located in La Fortuna

Monteverde

From Arenal, we took a van to the MonteVerde Cloud Forest (we used Anywhere Costa Rica for transportation – far and away the safest drivers we found and nicest vans).  Note: bring layers for Monteverde, it was much cooler (much!) and windier than anywhere else we were in Costa Rica

Cloud Forest Monteverde Costa Rica

What to do (everything in Monteverde centers around nature) – our top highlights:

  • Incredible guided tour of the cloud forest.  Well worth it to have a knowledgeable guide who can point out the different animals hiding and the flora, as well as explain what, exactly, a cloud forest is (I still don’t know).  There’s also an adorable humming bird sanctuary on the premises and a great coffee shop.
  • Ziplining.  Errrrmagad.  The scariest thing I’ve ever done (and I’ve zip lined elsewhere).  We used Sky Trek for walks along the hanging bridges (can skip, particularly if you do the cloud forest walk).  And then we went zip lining.  High Winds. Insane Heights. Not for the faint of heart. Only in Costa Rica.

Tamarindo

Tamarindo was quite the experience. Because we traveled to Costa Rica during Christmas week (and booked last-minute), all of the “normal” hotels were booked.   So we ended up “Glamping” at the Dreamsea Surf Camp, which was a hilarious (and awesome) adventure.  While next time I’ll plan to stay at a hotel on the beach, we definitely had the best food of our trip at the Surf Camp (the chef there is amazing) and had built in surf lessons every day (well, some of us) – and even some yoga.  Pack DEET.

The Tamarindo beaches get very crowded – and it’s a young crowd.  It’s a bit of a party town with a strong bohemian, surf vibe.  If that’s not your thing, check out some of the other beaches in Costa Rica. During the day, the one street that runs along the beach is wall-to-wall with cars.  Despite all this, we were able to post up for free on beach chairs outside La Palapa restaurant every day.

What to do

  • Take a surf lesson – it’s probably why you came to Costa Rica!
  • Those sunsets though

Where to eat

  • Tamarindo Diria for dinner. Al fresco on water with hanging lamps under tree. Great fish dishes.
  • Noguis for pie.  All of the pies.  Seriously though.  Fish tacos are also great.
  • Mandarina for make-your-own smoothies
  • La bodega for fresh, healthy lunches and breakfasts

For other itineraries in Central America, check out my post on Guatemala

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August 19, 2015 · 11:46 pm

Guatemala!

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I am constantly amazed by the accomplishments of my business school friends.  Take my friend Tony, for example, who spent the two years before business school as a member of the Peace Corps in Guatemala.  Wow.  Lucky for us, he decided over Fall break in October that it was time to visit – and invited some friends to join him.  It was one of the most active trips I’ve ever taken and it felt like we got to see  and do everything: volcano climbing, waterfall hiking, horse riding,  tortilla making, cave spelunking, river rafting, waterpool jumping, Mayan ruin exploring, plane chartering, and home cooking.  Wow.
MUCHAS GRACIAS to Tony and the 3 Graces for an incredible trip and amazing hospitality!
Below is most of the pre-trip itinerary that Tony wrote for us, italics are mine.
October 16 – everyone arrives and will take shuttles from the airport to Antigua. We will be staying in a big and beautiful house right outside of the city and I will be shuttling people from the drop-off point out to the house.    We can do the sunset hike of Volcan Pacaya. This is a beautiful, active volcano that you can hike up and roast marshmallows over flowing lava. A very unique, albeit terrifying, experience.

View from Pacaya Volcano

Everyone hiked up the Volcano…and I rode a horse

Volcano s’mores! Photo Credit: Ira Panova

Roasting marshmallows on the Volcano!

October 17 – we will be leaving early and heading to the rustic, beautiful village of Chilasco. This is where I lived for 2+ years while I was living down there. During the day we will be hiking to El Salto de Chilasco, Central America’s tallest waterfall. This was the main attraction of the community tourism project I was working on down there. It is a beautiful 6 km hike through sub-tropical jungle/cloud forrest. After the hike we have more cool stuff planned. As it turns out, a good friend of mine is graduating from middle school that day (he is 42 with a passion for learning and he went back to school after only getting to 5th grade as a child). We will be having a celebration with his family and my friends from the village, I have sent money for them to purchase food and we will help them prepare it. Anyone that wants will have the opportunity to learn to tortillar (make tortillas). We will sleep in the village. More fun will be had.

We thought it was going to be a light hike…

…but we were wrong…

…we were so very wrong!

School made from recycled garbage

Learning to make tortillas

October 18 – we will make the “scarily adventurous” trip up and over the mountain to Semuc Champey. For those who read the NYT article, this is the place they called “as close to Eden as you can get on earth. No electricity, no cell service, hopefully water, plenty of beauty. This is my favorite place on the planet. Here you will have the option to go spelunking by candle light, swing into the raging Cahabon river on huge rope swings, jump off tall bridges, climb mountains swim in gorgeous freshwater pools, and just soak up some nature. Get excited about this. Probability of fun: highly likely.

Pretending to be scared before the hike…little did we know!

Before the candle went out…

Swing!

The pools at Semuc Champey

The entire group!

October 19 – we will be getting up early again to leave, because we have a little bit of a drive ahead of us. The plan is to head up to Tikal, an enormous Mayan Ruin site in the middle of the jungle. This place is unreal. For those of you that are nerds (Braxton, I’m talking to you) in Starwars IV: A New Hope, the filming of Yavin 4 (one of the three habitable moons orbiting Yavin where the Alliance made their base while trying to restore the republic and eventually launched an attack on the Death Star from) was done at Tikal.

Ruins

Nothing like a little sacrifice!

October 20 – Lunch in Flores, really awesome town close by.  Then, CBS chartered plane back to Antigua!

Flores

Our chartered flight – fancy!

October 21 – Day exploring Antigua, including the Jade Factory and shopping at  Tony’s friend Siggy’s amazing store  Casa de los Gigantes which sells handicrafts from Guatemala artisans – I wanted to buy everything!.  That night we have some activities planned. First we will be having what I call “The Feast”. This is one of my best and favorite ideas ever andI will explain more on Thursday, but for now I need everyone to submit an idea for a unique dish that they can prepare.

Antigua, Guatemala

Beautiful Antigua

Jade Mask

Chicken bus!

Preparing for the feast

Feasting

Our menu and guide for the feast!

October 22 – everyone leaves and sleeps for about a week straight.

Text Credit: Tony Brindisi; Photo Credit: Ira Panova, Tony Brindisi, me

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Maderas Beach, Nicaragua

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I thought that the end of the Pre-MBA traveling would be the end of posting on the blog, but with so many upcoming trips, I realized I wanted to share the photographs and experiences.  So, voila!  I’m back on the blog.

This past week I went on a yoga/surfing retreat in Nicaragua organized by Columbia Business School’s Healthy Living Club.  After the weeks upon weeks of recruiting for summer internships, the grey NYC winter skies, and the anticipation of upcoming exams — it was the perfect R&R.

I had expected a sophisticated, highly commercialized tourist industry.   What I found was  private guest houses tucked away amongst the vegetation and along unadulterated beaches.  The people, the food, and the weather were the stuff to write home about — the roads and the transportation, not so much, but it was all part of the adventure.

 

Where to Stay:  Maderas Village, steps from the beach, the experience at Maderas Village will want to cancel your ticket home.  Gorgeous eco-friendly bunglows, family-style dinners with excellent local cuisine, and surfing & yoga all on premise.  It’s reason enough to go to Nicaragua

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Filed under Central America, Nicaragua