Bermuda is Calling. Will you Answer?

I have been to the Caribbean more times than I can count. I have tried to visit as many of the Caribbean islands as I could. I have visited 28 islands there as of the date of this blog. The Caribbean is a major destination for Minnesota residents due to its proximity to the state and the warm climates that help us escape the cold winter weather. There are other island escapes that are not Caribbean and should be considered. They include the Florida Keys, Hilton Head, Galveston, and the subject of this blog  BERMUDA.

Bermuda holds a lot to offer the tourist. Bermuda has stunning pink beaches. Chaplin Bay Beach, located next to Horseshoe Bay Beach where Warwick and Southampton Parishes meet, is a relatively quiet spot for sunbathing but only a low tide because at high tide it disappears! You can get to the beach from South Shore Park or by walking from Horseshoe Bay.  Just don’t fall asleep on the beach or you might wake up swimming. John Smith’s Bay is another good beach to try. Even with nice public restrooms and changing facilities, it won’t be too crowded even in peak season. You’ll discover three beautiful, secluded beaches in Cooper’s Island Nature Reserve in the East End section of Bermuda.

You cannot rent a car on Bermuda. The cars are privately owned only. You can however, rent a scooter and many of the tourists do just that. You can also rent bicycles, walk or take a taxi or bus to get around.

Crystal Cave and Fantasy Cave offer spectacular views underground and they are the reason that many come to the island to see the spectacular beauty of these two very different caves. See the clear underground lake in Crystal Cave or the calcite mineral deposits of Fantasy Cave that look like ancient waterfalls. Hours are 9 to 5 every day with tours leaving 3 times per hour.

Water sports of every kind are available in Bermuda. Visit the wonderful world of the Atlantic Ocean in many ways. For the most fit, try SCUBA diving (certification required). You can visit most popular destinations such as the Cristobal Colon, a Spanish Luxury Liner sunk in 1936, the Mary Celestia, from the US Civil War sunk in 1864, or the Constellation schooner that sank in 1943. If you are not certified or planning to take a resort certification while there, go snorkeling. And if you are not a swimmer, you can always take a glass bottom boat to view.

Geocaching is big in Bermuda. This is searching for caches left for you to discover with a GPS. There are at least 20 locations on the island and most are fairly easy to get to and locate, according to the Geocaching site, though you may have to register for some of them.

Take a walk or bike along the Bermuda Railway Trail. Eighteen of the original 22 miles of this abandoned railway right of way are available for use to see the beauty of this amazing island. You can rent a bicycle to ride most of this trail, although some sections are better for hikers.

Golf Golf Golf. There are more than seven great 18 hole golf courses located on the island, most of them offering stunning Atlantic ocean vistas. Some of the courses have the ocean come into play on holes. Talk about a water challenge! Bermuda is a perfect spot for your gof foursome to go to. Check out the Belmont Hills (Par 70, 5263-6017 yards) , Ocean View (Par 71, 5186-6842 yards), or Port Royal golf course (Par 71 5186-6842 yards), three of the challenging but fun courses there.

You have your pick of different accommodations when you go to Bermuda. You can stay at a luxury hotel, B&B, boutique hotel, private villa, or a moderate priced hotel. Some are on the beach, some have golf courses on the property or nearby. For a luxury hotel, try the Fairmont Hamilton Princess. The owners, the Green family have recently renovated the property, spending $70 million renovating the hotel rooms and adding a new restaurant by the harbor operated by chef Marcus Samuelsson. And they rennovated their two penthouses to accommodate guests that came to Bermuda for the 2017 America’s cup. They have a beautiful new infinity pool overlooking the harbor and Atlantic, that I was tempted to jump into when I toured the property recently. And of course, you will find the typical Fairmont quality service at this hotel.

Or try the Grotto Bay Beach Resort. A great mid priced beach resort within minutes of two golf courses, but right on the beach near blue hole. As the name implies, there are underground caves right on the property. All rooms are either ocean front or ocean view, and very attractively priced.  We also recommend the Elbow Beach Bermuda. an ocean property with a half mile beach with four restaurants, tennis courts, and six private spa suites. All rooms offer bathrobes and Nespresso coffee makers. Contact us for more recommendations.

Getting there: There are currently no non-stops to Hamilton, Bermuda from Minneapolis. However there are several air carriers that connect to Hamilton via their hubs. This includes Delta (Atlanta), United (Newark), American (Miami) and Air Canada (Toronto).

Dubai and Abu Dhabi — Old Meets Ultra Modern

When you think of the Middle East, what comes to mind? Oil fields, war torn countries, and similar themes?  Well Dubai and Abu Dhabi are going to surprise you.

I love architecture. Drop me in New York, Paris, London, or even Chicago, and I go wild seeing all of the great architectural wonders. Dubai is eye candy for architecture lovers. It’s as if the greatest architects of the world were told there was a contest to build the most impressive building in the world. Dubai has grown from a sleepy desert fishing village by the side of Dubai Creek into this futuristic city where every building design tries to outdo their neighbor. This city is home to the tallest building in the world (at least for now) called the Burj Kalifa. You can rent either of the conference rooms comprising the two top floors, floor 162 and 163, for a mere $10,000 per hour. That is not a misprint. While I did not visit those rooms, I understand that companies often will rent a conference room for an hour for a product demonstration or handing out rewards to employees.

This is certainly a city of excess. You will see plenty of Rolls Royces and Bentleys and similar cars. You can stay at the Burj Al Arab, the sail like hotel for $2000 per night and upwards. You will have a two story accommodation with your own butler. And you can eat in the restaurant where, if you have the money, you can eat a desert that has real gold in it. This city has the largest man made land, the tallest building, the tallest hotel, and the one of the largest malls, to name a few. And the shops. You will nearly everything sold here, especially if it is a luxury good.

Dubai is one of seven Emirates that comprise the United Arab Emirates. While the UAE has a lot of oil reserves, the Emirate of Dubai has only 4 percent of the total oil reserves of the UAE. The government knew they had to do something to make Dubai prosperous over the long term, and not just with oil. So they set out to build a stable business and tourist center for the Middle East. They have accomplished that and visitors will be surprised at what they find here. Unlike most areas of the Middle East, alcohol is available here. You cannot go to an independent restaurant for booze, but the restaurants at the hotels serve it. Women can easily walk the main streets of Dubai safely. Western clothing is acceptable in most places, although there are strict clothing requirements when visiting a Mosque. Western beachwear is acceptable at the western hotels beaches. Children and persons with disabilities will find accommodating facilites at the major hotels. Many western businesses have made Dubai the center of their Middle East business due to its western friendly atmosphere.

Dubai Airport, one of the largest in the world, is one of the busiest as well. In terms of the number of passengers boarded, it was 3rd in the world in 2016, and passenger traffic is growing faster than it’s chief rivals, so who knows, it might be number one soon.

The Metro train is a good way to get around the city of Dubai. Its very clean and efficient and ultra modern. It runs alongside most of the major tourist destinations and hotels, and more stations are planned. The cost of a one day ticket  is AED 14, or a little less than US$4 at the time of this writing in 2018.

The Dubai Mall is the 5th largest in the world with 1200 shops and the Burj Khalifa, the largest skyscraper adjacent to it, with “Las Vegas Bellagio like” water fountains in the water next to the mall in an artificial “lake.” You can purchase a ticket to visit the observation level on the 128th floor. But unless you want to pay more, plan to purchase your ticket at least 2 days in advance at a discount. There is a 2 million gallon aquarium and an indoor skating rink at the Dubai Mall. A few miles away, at the Emirates Mall, there is an indoor ski hill complete with a quad chair lift! The indoor area has man made snow and the entire area is kept below freezing.

There are the traditional markets as well as the mall locations. The Arabic word for market is “souk.” The gold souk, where you buy based on the price of gold plus a maker charge, is worth a visit. Most of the gold is 22 ct. in weight. The gold souk is more commercialized than its cousins spice, carpet and perfume.  The spice souk is an open air market where you can buy spices like cardamon, cinnamon, saffron and others in bulk, and other cooking items. The carpet souk sells not only carpets but other textiles. And then there is the perfume souk, with scents you will not find in the US. Its all part of the historic old Dubai. The shops are small and the passageways are narrow but it is worth a trip if the weather is not too hot when you visit.

Fahidi Fort in the center of Bur Dubai houses the Dubai museum. In it, you will get a sense of what old Dubai was like as well as the steps taken to modernize it. In addition to ancient artifacts, there are video displays of the modern activities in Dubai. There are 3D displays of common life. The fort itself is worth a look, and you can also see an example of a common Bedouin dwelling and the Dhow (pictured above), wooden boats used for transportation. It is the main museum in Dubai, the cost is reasonable and it is a good counterpoint to all the modern buildings that have made Dubai their home in the last 20 years.

Dubai caters to tourism and wants the western tourist dollar. They share only about 4% of the oil revenues of the UAE and they had to come up with a plan to be a tourism destination. While a strict Muslim country, they allow alcohol to be served in restaurants that are connected to hotels for tourists. You can find pork products in their grocery stores. Western dress is appropriate for the tourists, even to the point of women wearing a bikini in the pools and beaches of Dubai. Women will feel respected and safe in the Emirate of Dubai.

A visit to Abu Dhabi is recommended if you have the time. Abu Dhabi is about two hours from Dubai and is a different Emirate. Abu Dhabi has not yet developed to the extent that Dubai has, but every indication is that they will develop similarly. Here, you can visit the Shekh Zayed Grand Mosque. This is the 8th largest Mosque in the world, and the largest in the Emirates, all decked out in white marble and gold. At the other end of the spectrum is Ferrari World, the worlds largest indoor theme park. Here, you can immerse yourself in all things Ferrari. If you like museums, there are five, with more coming. They include an art museum and an auto museum.

Getting there: There are no non-stops at present time from MSP to Dubai, and given the distance, there is not much of a chance that there will be in the near future. One stop connecting flights from MSP to Dubai are offered by Delta, KLM, Air France, American, Cathay Pacific, Ethiad Airways, Qatar Airways, United, Virgin Atlantic, Korean Air, Lufthansa and Emirates. Most of these are code share flights meaning that the flights may be operated by a different airline than the name on your ticket. US citizens will need a visa to visit and these are supplied at no charge when you process through immigration at the airport.

Hurricane damaged Caribbean Update – Spring 2018

Sailing out of Phillipsburg, St. Maarten March 2018

My wife and I led a group of 150 travelers to the Caribbean in March on the Celebrity Reflection. We stopped in Barbados, Antigua, St. Lucia and St. Maarten. We wanted to give you a short update on what we found. There is always confusion about the Caribbean and hurricanes. The media will tell you when they hit and will show the damage, but sometimes the viewer is left with the impression that everything is destroyed. This is never the case with the Caribbean. First of all the region is very large and while hurricanes are large as well, they never cover the whole Caribbean. Secondly, the damage inflicted varies by the strength of the storm  and the water damage. So for our 4 ports, the islands of Barbados and St. Lucia were spared the severe wrath of both hurricane Irma and Maria. Even though Barbados has not had a hurricane since 1955, the tourism fell off for this season because people thought there was damage here. I can personally report that all of the tours, restaurants and shops on both St. Lucia and Barbados are running normally as they would during the tourist season.

Antigua was hit with fairly high winds from Irma but the resilient people were able to put their island back in shape in a very short time. Their sister island Barbuda was not so lucky. The full brunt of Irma hit Barbuda, and it devastated that island. The people have been temporarily relocated to Antigua until Barbuda is habitable again. For the cruise tourists, the activities on Antigua as well as the shops and restaurants for the most part are completely open.

Of the four ports, the island of St. Maarten/Ste. Martin is the one that sustained the most damage and is still working on recovery of the island’s infrastructure, buildings and tourist offerings. One of my favorite tours, the America’s Cup sailing race has had to be relocated to Cozumel for the season. Other tours were working. We took a wonderful tour of the western side of the island on a catamaran. It was missing its mast, but the boat could still navigate under engine power and we were able to visit Maho Beach and view the planes coming in for a landing. And we motored past Maho village and beach to the French side.

In Phillipsburg, we were able to find many restaurants and shops that were open. Based on our estimate, about 50% of the buildings were occupied and running. Some of those had damaged roofs but were still able to run as businesses. We had a wonderful lunch at the Holland House Hotel, right on the beach. We could see that many rooms were still under renovation, but both the Horizon and Holland House were accepting reservations. Most of the larger resorts were closed still and undergoing major renovations.

The people of the Caribbean are resilient. This is not their first hurricane season!. It will not be their last. But they have a strong spirit and will rebuild when needed so that they can continue to operate in their island paradise. We were thanked time and time again for coming back so soon after the hurricanes. They desperately need the money as tourism is the number one source of foreign funds for these countries. So, as cruisers, do come back, and spend some money! For the landlubbers who wish to stay at resorts, check with your travel agent for the condition of your hotel you wish to stay at.

After the Wedding … Picking the Ultimate Honeymoon

After the wedding activities and all of the events leading up to the big day, it’s now time for the two of you to relax and spend time together as you begin your new life. Picking the ultimate Honeymoon is more art than science. And it is important that the two of you understand the wants and needs of each as individuals. So the first thing to do is talk about what you want to do on your honeymoon. Do you want to relax on the beach? Spend time in the room getting to know each other? Go sightseeing? Take on extreme adventures? You both may want to do different things. It is our job as travel agents to ask these questions and come up with a honeymoon plan that will meet the needs of both of you.

When we begin discussions, we also ask what is the budget?, how many nights?, and preferences for the type of honeymoon. And the options are as varied as the couples who come to us. You can go on a cruise, stay at an all-inclusive resort, go camping in the wilderness, take a driving vacation, stay in low priced hotels or go all out and stay in five star or even six star properties. Its all about the both of you and what you can afford in time and money.

Some couples take a short honeymoon in Vegas. Others go for a three week trip to Southeast Asia and stay at high end properties. Our most popular destinations are Hawaii, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Here are some ideas for the Ultimate Honeymoon, based on the input we have had from couples who we have created honeymoons for…

  • Stay at the increasingly popular island of Antigua at an adults only all-inclusive resort like Galley Bay, or a boutique hotel like Blue Waters.
  • Visit the legendary Raffles Hotel in Singapore where the service is legendary, and is where the Singapore Sling cocktail started. And sample the amazing cuisine from this region.
  • Visit the romantic island of St. Lucia and stay at the spectacular Ladera or the Capella Marigot Bay. And don’t miss the world’s only volcano you can drive through.
  • Stay at Richard Branson’s Necker Island in the Caribbean. It will cost a lot to rent the whole island for the two of you, but if you do, you will have a one of a kind ultimate honeymoon. Necker was heavily damaged by hurricane and is being rebuilt to accommodate guests by October 2018.
  • Visit the ABC islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao. These islands are just a stones throw from Venezuela and are perfect for active honeymooners and those who would go during the peak hurricane season of July to November as they lie below the path of hurricanes. Colorful Curacao is my favorite place of these three.
  • Take in a safari in South Africa’s Sabi Sands at Dulini River Lodge, or Richard Branson’s Ulusaba resort. Both offer luxury accommodations with your own private pool. There are other lodges in Sabi, and other private reserves adjacent to the Kruger Park. And other countries like Tanzania and Botswana to see the big five. Perhaps adding gorilla trekking in Uganda.
  • Visit Phuket Island in Thailand and stay at the Banyan Tree Phuket in one of their suites with a private pool. They even have one that has TWO private pools. Ride an elephant here.
  • One more recommendation with a private pool is The Plein Soliel in Martinique in the Caribbean. So very French. So very romantic.C’est magnifique.
  • Visit Caribbean’s St. Kitts. Not easy to get to, but worth the travel to one of the most unique romantic Caribbean Islands.The new Park Hyatt is a great place to stay.
  • It will cost you, but romantic St. Barth’s is the place where the worlds movers and shakers go to relax and get away from everything. There are not a lot of resorts here on this French Caribbean island, but they are some of the best you can find anywhere.  We suggest Le Village and Les Ilets de la Plage.
  • Rent a villa with a private pool, and cook in Jamaica, Italy, Greece, or any one of a hundred other locations in the world. Most villas will only rent Saturday to Saturday for weekly blocks, but if off season and no reservation within 3 months, most villas will be flexible on dates. It is best to book these 12-18 months ahead of time.
  • Go for an eco-adventure and explore Costa Rica’s diverse landscapes in the rainforest, volcano region, or the Guanacaste beach region. Stay at the Laguna Lodge in Tortuguero and Hotel Magic Mountain in the Arenal district. The rooms are spartan by world standards, but the experiences are incredible.
  • Take a big island vacation to Jamaica, sample rum, Blue Mountain coffee, climb a waterfall and stay at legendary places like Half Moon, Sandals or Round Hill.
  • Take one of the small ship cruises to locations that the large ships cannot go. Examples include Windstar, and Star Clippers.

Think this is a long list? We have only gotten started! We could go on and on, but we’d rather spend the time focusing on your specific needs.

We have tons of ideas on a honeymoon location. Put us to work finding the right place for you. You will build a memory with your loved one that will last a lifetime.

Traveling to Connect with the Film and TV Industry

Most of my career has been in the radio/TV/film industry. I have had many roles in the industry mostly behind the camera and mike. I have been a radio DJ, done voice-overs and some commercials early in my career. I still do some voice-overs from time to time.  But mostly I worked for companies that supplied the industry with technology. I have traveled all over the world and visited many companies involved in this industry. As a traveler, you can visit some of these places, too. Just like visitors to Minneapolis want to see Paisley Park, and First Avenue due to Prince, and the movie “Purple Rain”, you can visit the places where others have made famous.Here is a (small) list of some of the places you might want to check out and we can arrange to take you there.

Midtown Manhattan — This is where NY radio/TV/Theater is. You can visit NBC studios, take in a Broadway play, and there are tours of the locations you have seen in TV and film. Sex in the City, Seinfeld, The Proposal, Sleepless in Seattle, Breakfast at Tiffany’s are just some of the films you can see their shooting locations on a tour. You can go early in the morning and stand in the courtyard adjacent to the Today show at 30 Rockefeller Center. You do not need tickets, but go early. If you want to see the Tonight show starring Jimmy Fallon, tickets must be obtained weeks in advance online.

Burbank/Hollywood/LA — The film capital of the US. See the Hollywood Walk of Fame, tour Universal Studios, Warner Brother Studios in Burbank, visit their back lots where hundreds of films and television shows were filmed. Nearby, there is Griffith Observatory in Glendale, where Rebel Without a Cause, La La Land, Charlies Angels, and dozens of other TV and movies were filmed. The iconic Bradbury building, 304 S Broadway, LA was a location site for Murphy’s Law, Chinatown, Pay it Forward, and other films, TV series and music videos.The LA County Museum of Art – LA Story; Echo Park Lake – Gilligan’s Island; LA Union Station – Blade Runner; Millenium Biltmore – Ghostbusters. The list goes on and on. Visit the Egyptian Theater where imprints of famous actors reside in cement. Next door, is the Dolby Theatre, current home to the Oscar’s. And of course, there are the incredible residences of the stars in nearby Beverly Hills, Toluca Lake, Bel Air and Malibu. You can also be in the audience for some television shows, depending upon the time of year. You can see the Big Bang Theory, Dr. Oz, or Ellen Degenerous in LA. You may even get to see a production that is brand new. These tickets are free, but you need to apply for them in advance, typically 30 days, and because of overwhelming demand, you may not get your preferred show.

New Zealand — Home to Hobbiton from Lord of the Rings is in the Waikato region. There is a daily tour of Hobbiton for visitors. Other places include Cathedral Cove and Flock Hill for Chronicles of Narnia and Lyall Bay for King Kong, Skull Island.

United Kingdom — The UK has been a location for more movies than I can count. Notting Hill, Pride and Prejudice, Downton Abby, Alice in Wonderland (2005), The Imitation Game, Dunkirk, and many James Bond films. We can help you travel to the locations of your favorite films and television shows.

These are just some of the destinations and some of the locations that are available for tourists to visit to get a sense of the locations in your favorite shows. And many of the studios across the globe are available for tours.

Be an audience member. Several locations above have opportunities for audiences to view production of television shows live. The tickets are usually free and in high demand. If you are interested in a particular show, you will need to locate the production schedule for that show, and then learn about the procedure for obtaining tickets in advance. If you want to see a particular show, do not arrange your flights and hotel until you have confirmed your tickets for a particular date. You are not likely to get the specific date you want, especially if it is a very popular movie or show.

In the recent past, we brought a college group to Downton Abbey, and a large family to Hobbiton. We can help you as well. Call us 612-332-1100. Who knows? You might just be discovered as a future star!

 

Seeking Great Food and Wine while Traveling

There are a lot of experiences you can have while traveling. Food, which when prepared correctly, paired with the right wine, and served in a distant land is one of the great  human experiences. The culinary arts have that power to move you. While traveling over the years, I have come to appreciate great meals and have broadened my palate. My wife Karen and I recently cruised on the Crown Princess. Like a lot of these ships, there are the standard restaurants and the specialty (meaning extra cost) restaurants. We have come to expect that the food is ok but rather uninteresting in the standard restaurants, but exceptional in the specialty restaurants Princess was an exception. The main restaurants served outstanding meals. The whole culinary experience added greatly to our trip.

The picture above is from a special meal we had high atop the Burj Al Arab, in Dubai, a six star hotel. After our meal, we were served deserts with real gold. You read that right, real gold. On this, my first trip to the Middle East, I experienced many new foods that were delightful. It sometimes helps to not know what the food is, but just let your taste/smell/touch senses tell you about the experience.

We have some excellent suggestions on vacations that will thrill your taste sense as much as your other senses. Here are some examples:

  • AMA Waterways River Cruises with Wine Experts, Europe
  • Wine Appreciation Avalon River Cruises, 12-19 days, Europe.
  • “Top Chef” at Sea Celebrity Cruises, 7-15 days, Europe.
  • Sail with Chef Nobu Matsuhisa Crystal Cruises, Mediterranean,
  • Guest Chef Cruises on Holland America, 7-14 days,
  • Culinary and Wine Delights of Spain and France on Winstar

Several local restaurant owners host trips that are focused on food and wine. Some are land tours, some are combinations of land and sea tours. We post details of these on our website when they are open to the public. In addition, we offer cruises on Oceania, Regent, Seabourne, Silversea, and Princess, all known for exceptional food and wine. We also can arrange independent travel where you can experience private or group tours of wineries, vineyards, farms, breweries, specialty restaurants and other locations of interest. We can arrange cooking classes or wine tastings depending upon your needs. The world really is your oyster. Break it open and experience life on a grand and tasteful scale.

Call us at 612-332-1100 or email us at inquiry@schillingtravel.com. We will help you match the destination to your palate.

 

Enchanting Costa Rica — Part Two

Volcano with cloud of steam at top
Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica

This is the second of two blogs on the beautiful country of Costa Rica. Look at the previous blog for our experience in the rainforest.

In the center of Costa Rica, volcanoes rise up as part of the “ring of fire” on the earth. Our next stop was the Arenal Volcano, one of seven historically active volcanoes in this country. It is located in the center of the Arenal National Park alongside the Arenal Lake Reservoir and a large hydroelectric power station. We stayed at the Magic Mountain Inn, from which we had a great view of the volcano. Our guides told us that the best time for a photo was at 5:45 am when the sun bathed it but before clouds obscured it. Sure enough, we took an excellent picture at that time, and that picture is heading this blog. We did two activities here. Zip line and hot springs. The zip line runs in sections for miles through the forest at canopy height. The view is outstanding and well worth the trip. The hot springs were a welcome respite after several days of sightseeing and activities. We visited Baldi hot springs, one of several establishments in Arenal. Water is heated by the volcano and they have 25 pools of varying temperatures from cool to “ouch.” They even had swim up bars in two of the pools. There is a hotel and spa located here as well. After a relaxing time, we got dressed and had a great supper at Baldi. You can get a day pass, with or without lunch or dinner. There are several other hotel/hot springs/spa complexes in the area. The most famous, Tabacon, is a five star property with 12 pools of varying temperatures, a Grand spa and restaurant.

We left the Arenal area a day earlier than recommended so we missed out on hiking on the slope of the volcano. We had a date with the Pacific Ocean and the Costa Rican beaches. Our ride to the Guanacaste area took about 4 hours through lush countryside up to 240 feet above land. We stayed at the Casa Conde Resort. This is a smaller resort with just 26 units. Our accommodations included a porch, and a view of the swimming pool and the Pacific. Visitors to Costa Rica might be surprised at the beaches They are not raked every day as some are in the US and Caribbean. Rather they are left au natural. This means you will find sandy beaches with driftwood and leaves, etc on the beach. While it may look messier than you usually see at the beach, it is all nature’s debris. You will not see litter, just natural items, as you might find on any isolated beach around the world.
Then to Guanacanaste for two days at casa Conde resort. 26 units. Here you can have a relaxing massage overlooking the pool and beach. We took a catamaran cruise in the pacific and saw an amazing school of dolphins, as well as other species of fish. The end of the day, sunset over the Pacific while on the Catamaran, was just magical.

The best option for an international flight out of Costa Rica when on this itinerary is to fly out of the smaller international airport of Liberia. This is close to the Guanacaste region. Our plane flights required us to drive back to San Jose, which meant almost an all day travel back. The main roads are single lane each way, and if there is an accident, as we encountered on our way back, we had a forty minute delay while that was sorted out. While on the subject of roads, I want to caution you about renting a car in Costa Rica. There are the usual car rental companies (Hertz, Avis, National), but according to Costa Rican law, if you are in an accident, regardless of fault, you cannot leave the country until the accident is legally resolved. Imagine a situation where someone is in the hospital because of an accident where you were driving, and you could not leave until they recovered! This has happened and some unfortunate souls have spent unplanned months in Costa Rica! So arrange all your ground transport to others!

Getting there: The main international airport is San Jose, and the secondary airport is Liberia. Your itinerary will dictate the best airport for you to use. Delta has non stops MSP to Costa Rica at high season. Connecting flights from MSP are offered by Delta, United, Aeromexico, Sun Country, and American.

If you want a unique experience in Costa Rica, call us at 612-332-1100. We’ll put together a vacation you will remember for a lifetime.

Enchanting Costa Rica — Part One

Small boat with guides and tourists on river
River boat at Tortuguero Costa Rica

For 22 years, my parents wintered in Jamaica. And for those 22 years, this became nearly all of my vacations. I saw Jamaica at its best, and also times when it struggled with political demonstrations. We got to know quite a few expats living in Jamaica, and when times got bad, some of them left and went to live in Costa Rica. Over the years Costa Rica has been an attractive place for people to migrate to when there are problems at home. So naturally, I wanted to go visit and see why this place was so attractive to some that they wanted to live out their life there.

Costa Rica had been on my bucket list for years. But it took my purchase of a travel agency to finally get busy and get to Costa Rica. We did this in November of 2013. The visit was two fold. Knock one off my bucket list, and to get to know the people we trust with our clients who visit Costa Rica and Panama. What you might not know is that while we as travel agents put together these fantastic private tours of foreign lands, we rely on the expertise from locals who arrange all of the activities in country. They are the ones we have used for decades and we know they will deliver on all levels. They know the hotels, the roads, the activities. More importantly, they know what the typical traveler is looking for. For those who visit Costa Rica for the first time, they have a 7-9 day excursion that focuses on three main areas of Costa Rica. Since it was our first time, we did the recommended introductory trip.

So our trip started with traveling on Delta to Atlanta and then to San Jose Costa Rica. We overnighted in a typical Costa Rican Inn, called the Casa Confi. It had a layout like a typical Costa Rican Village. Our trip was not without problems. Our MSP-ATL flight was late, causing us to miss our connection and so we got into San Jose at night instead of the afternoon. And the van that picked us up in the morning was involved in a traffic accident with a motor cycle. (Cyclists fault, no one was hurt, very minor damage.) I point this out, because this is one of the reasons why a travel agent is worth it. We know and trust the people who deliver the tours. So this little accident required a new van, and our local guides arranged it rapidly. We had to wait about 40 minutes for a new van and we were on our way again. Oh, and we would not have recommended the tight connection we took via Atlanta or at least advised our clients about the possibility of a missed connection.

After picking some other travelers up, we were off to breakfast and then to the rendezvous point for the boats that took us to the tropical rainforest in Tortuguero. We stayed at the Laguna Lodge in the tropical rainforest. There are no roads here, and there is not even that much electrical power; this was one of the greenest places to be compatible with nature. No air conditioning, but the rooms have fans, spartan rooms, and the food was more like cafeteria food. You will need to bring your own shampoo. This is the sacrifice one must make to commune with nature, but not destroy it. I certainly came back with the impression that CR was doing more about being green than the US is.

My wife and I had been to the El Yanque rainforest in Puerto Rico, but this was  one hundred times better. At the lodge, we heard all sorts of creatures making sounds, including howler monkeys which sound more like gorillas. Once we saw their size, it was funny to hear such a loud sound out of a small body. The lodge had a waterfall and three pools, and we saw a lot of wildlife right at the lodge. Iguanas, Ibis, kingfisher, herons and other species. While we were there, the monkeys stayed away, but we were told that they come every once in awhile to grab some food. The staff knows the drill and they shoo the monkeys away, but they are clever and usually loot some food. The lodge even had WIFI so I was able to keep in contact with the outside world. In this lodge, there were rooms for people with physical disabilities.

From the lodge, our guide would take us out at the right times to visit the nature activity planned. We visited the small town of Tortuguero by boat. There we could do a bit of shopping. All the tours except one were by boat. We went out early to see the monkeys. We saw three species. The Howler monkey, Spider monkey and the Capuchin monkey. There is a fourth, the squirrel monkey, but we did not see one on this trip. Our guide, Alex is an expert and he knew just when to stop the boat, and where to point to see the wildlife. We would have missed a lot of it without him. One of the amazing creatures is the large mostly white King Vulture. Our guide says they are rare in this rainforest, and we saw one on our second day there.

The green turtles nest in this rainforest and they lay about 100 eggs per nest from which the turtles hatch. Tortuguero is the most important green sea turtle hatching site in the Atlantic region. Since it was hatching season, we walked the beach with our guide for about an hour right at dusk and we found two nests with turtles hatching. They dont all make it to the sea, which is only about 20-30 feet away because the vultures swoop down and eat them. But we humans kept the birds at bay, and all made it to the sea that evening under are guidance. I dont know how, but they all know the way to the sea and make a mad dash for it and start swimming right away. This was such an inspiring sight and just this alone was well worth our trip to the rainforest. Isn’t nature grand?

On the third day, we packed, and reported to the dock to be taken by boat back to our bus for the next Costa Rican adventure.

Look for more information about Costa Rica’s volcanoes and beaches in my next blog, part two.