Foodie Destination in Guanacaste

March 11th, 2016

Costa Rica’s Guanacaste province makesScreen shot 2016-03-09 at 9.37.05 PM up the northwest region of the country and is famed for its many Pacific Ocean resorts.  In many coastal communities around the world, once-sleepy areas beloved by locals, surfers, and a few ex-pats “in the know” sometimes turn into something louder, more expensive, and become an intrusive threat to the natural beauty that drew visitors to the area in the first place.  But all is not lost.  As Eric Lipton recently wrote in the Sunday New York Times’ Travel section, there’s an “anti-resort resort” on the Nicoya Peninsula, where “no new development is allowed in beachside conservation areas within 200 yards of the ocean,” and there are “no high-rise buildings, no fast-food restaurants, very few beach bars—there are not even chaise lounges on the beach.”

 

Screen shot 2016-03-09 at 9.41.34 PMWelcome to Nosara

This would-be Shangri-La is about 25 miles south of—and a world away from—Tamarindo. And, like Shangri-La, Nosara is a bit of a dirt-road challenge to get to. But once you’re there, you will discover a place that may be turning into the tropical Montauk of Central America, minus the day-tripping crowds and vehicular traffic. The draw? In addition to the surfing, the abundant natural beauty, and the emphasis on its preservation, the town and its beachfront areas are a gastronomic destination, with more great restaurants per square kilometer than perhaps anywhere else in the country. There are four beaches in Nosara, and culinary activity takes place in all of them. In Playa Guiones, there’s Tibidabo (whose chef was trained at El Bulli in Spain), and Burgers & Beers (precisely!), and Rosi’s Soda Tica (In Costa Rica, a “soda” is a small restaurant serving homemade, native cuisine.) In Playa Garza, there’s the mom-and-pop Bahia Garza.  In Playa Pelada, there’s El Chivo, and La Luna.  These are just a few of the many dining options in this high-bohemian paradise.

 

High Tech, Low Tech

Two of the engines of Nosara’s quiet Screen shot 2016-03-09 at 9.47.05 PMrenaissance are BuzzFeed co-founder John S. Johnson III, and his wife and business partner, filmmaker Susan Short. Johnson and Short own two small hotels, two condo resorts, and the local news weekly Voz de Guanacaste. In the Times, Lipton reported, “they are determined to prevent large-scale, resort tourism from taking hold, and have enough available capital to actually stop it.” Local activity—and what’s turned into an international “scene”—is centered at one of their hotels, which has a juice bar, day spa, yoga center, and an open-air restaurant (which does not serve junk food or sugary drinks). In the world of entrepreneurs, this kind of deep-pocket consideration amounts to a form of philanthropy. 

Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast a Top Destination, Says Lonely Planet

March 8th, 2016

Lonely Planet—the world’s biggest and most successful travel guide series—ranks Costa Rica’s lush Caribbean coast as one of 2016’s best vacation destinations. The respected publication claims the region offers unbeatable value, and a taste of everything that makes Costa Rica one of the greatest places for a family vacation or romantic escape.

Caribbean coast garners praise from Lonely Planet

playa-cocles-costa-ricaLonely Planet writer Tom Hall is a veteran globetrotter and knows the inherent benefits of getting off the tourist trail for a more authentic travel experience. In places like Cahuita and Manzanillo, he claims you’ll discover “a still-evolving destination that’s likely to become a big noise over the next few years.” In sum: the entire coastal region, both north and south of Limon, boasts all of the natural beauty of Costa Rica but without the heavy crowds.  Hall’s other destinations that made the cut for best value included Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City, Estonia, Galicia in Spain, East Africa, Quebec City, and Western Australia.

Ideal for surfing, snorkeling and beach lovers

While the Caribbean draws its share of visitors each year, most are independent travelers, birdwatchers or die-hard surfers who come to test their mettle on the pounding waves churning off the coast of Puerto Viejo and Playa Cocles. Beyond wild surf, the coast is dappled with gorgeous black and white sand beaches. For extraordinary underwater explorations, head to Manzanillo and book a snorkeling tour of the coral reefs. Or, swing by Cahuita National Park where tour guides offer a combo trip that includes a short hike along sandy trails followed by a glass-bottom-boat tour.

?????????Sea turtles of Tortuguero

If the reggae beats of Puerto Viejo and neighboring beaches isn’t quite your scene, set your sights northward to the river town of Tortuguero, where black-water canals and rugged beaches host incredible biodiversity. In all, five species of endangered sea turtles nest on Tortuguero’s beaches, with most of the action happening between July and October. When you’re not watching 350-pound reptiles lay eggs by moonlight, you can relax and enjoy the copious wildlife that inhabits the protected wetlands, including spider and howler monkeys, basilisk lizards, sloths, herons, toucans and spectacled caimans.

Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica

Lonely Planet pays special tribute to one notable tourist attraction—Limon’s Sloth Sanctuary near Cahuita. Admission fees go toward the veterinary care and feeding of injured and orphaned sloths. Tours feature a guided canoe ride through the sanctuary’s tropical lowland rainforest and visits with resident two and three-toed sloths, including the beloved mascot named Buttercup. Their coveted behind-the-scenes tour even includes a trip to the Slothpital clinic, and a chance to see adorable babies in the on-site nursery.

Shopping your way through San Jose – 5 Best Spots

March 3rd, 2016

San Jose is the vibrant capital city of Costa Rica – the go-to destination for a memorable day of culture, arts, and theater. The city is also fantastic for a bit of retail therapy, whether you’re picking up some souvenirs for friends or want a piece of original Costa Rican art for your home. The 10 Best series in USA Today recently extolled the capital’s best shopping spots and walking streets. Here’s a recap of the top five.

 

galeria-namu-shopping1. Avenida Central  This bustling pedestrian street has dozens of excellent cafes and restaurants that will fuel a long day of strolling, people-watching, and shopping. Browse the ever-popular Universal and La Gloria stores after taking in the Avenida’s permanent art displays.

 

2.  Galeria Namu  This little gem isn’t far from the Jade Museum in downtown San Jose. The gallery features dozens of handcrafted, fair-trade items from local artisans that are affordably priced. You’ll find lovely pre-Columbian pottery, oil paintings, woven baskets, and hand-carved masks, plus lots of other textiles and interesting home décor items.

 

3.  Boutique Annemarie  Looking for that one-of-a-kind gift on your Costa Rica vacation? Visit the lobby of Hotel Don Carlos for a wide selection of unique leather goods, handmade jewelry, crafts, figurines, clothing and specialty gifts. The shop has a distinctive old-fashioned ambiance, complete with antique photographs, memorabilia, and artwork.

 

4.  Caballo Loco Boutique  The horse lover in your family will appreciate a trip to this San Jose boutique, which stocks authentic equestrian clothing, gear, gifts, and more. Think leather chaps, cowboy and cowgirl hats, and the ever-popular bolo tie. Bonus: you can shop in air-conditioned comfort!

 

san-jose-mercadocentral5. Mercado Central  No visit to the nation’s capital is complete without exploring the labyrinth corridors of the Mercado Central (Central Market). A staple since 1880, the market encapsulates the lives and livelihood of Costa Ricans. Vendors sell everything from fresh produce, flowers, and cheeses to souvenir T-shirts and coffee socks. You can easily spend a full day wandering through the maze of shops, watching people as they enjoy a “cafecito” and catch up with friends. And be sure to go with an appetite—traditional food is sold everywhere and rumor has it the cinnamon vanilla ice cream is to die for!

Costa Rica at a Glance – Interesting Stats & Facts

March 3rd, 2016

In the context of memorable vacations,costa-rica-map Costa Rica evokes images of palm-fringed beaches, sultry rainforests brimming with wildlife, and the delighted yips of zip-line adventurers as they hurl their bodies from one platform to the next. But did you know that Costa Rica is also a model of environmental stewardship and boasts a long history of pacifist policies? Read on for interesting tidbits about Costa Rica’s people, history, and culture.

The people of Costa Rica

As of 2016, the population of Costa Rica hovers just under 5 million, with the majority of residents centralized in the San Jose metro area and Central Valley. More than 95 percent of “Ticos” are of European descent, and less than 2 percent of Costa Rican residents are of indigenous ancestry, many of whom live in the country’s remote mountain regions. More than a century ago, legislators declared that education was to be mandatory and free for all citizens, accounting for today’s high literacy rate of 97 percent.

No longer a cash crop nation

Formerly a cash crop nation reliant on coffee, sugar, and bananas, Costa Rica is now a major exporter of software technology and medical instruments. The country’s growing economy is driven by tourism, electronic exports, and some agriculture, and it enjoys robust foreign investment, thanks to highly incentivized free-trade zones. Compared to its Central American neighbors, Costa Rica has a large middle class, largely comprised of working class, highly-educated professionals.

Green policies and environmental focus

In 2012, Costa Rica was rated the planet’s 5th Greenest Country by the Environmental Performance Index (EPI). This tiny nation has demonstrated what many have found inconceivable: achieving nearly 100 percent renewable energy through natural resources. A winding river system and substantial rainfall provide hydroelectric power, which accounts for 80 percent of all energy production. The remaining is made up of geothermal, solar, and biomass power. With renewable-energy targets being met, Costa Rica continues a steady path toward becoming entirely carbon neutral by 2021.

costa-rica-no-armyNo army since 1948

You’ve probably heard (or learned first-hand) that Costa Rica is one of the most biologically diverse nations, housing an astounding variety of flora and fauna. Biologists claim that you’ll find more than 600 species of animal for each 10,000 square miles—compared to 104 in the U.S.! But did you know that Costa Rica abolished its standing army in 1948? This bold feat was ordered by then-President Jose Figueres Ferrer, who announced the country’s military spending would be directed toward education, health care, and environmental protection. Nearly 70 years later, it’s obvious that this bold decision has paid off.

Costa Rica Ranked Among Top Whale-Watching Destinations

March 2nd, 2016

Costa Rica has garnered numerous accolades for its earth-friendly policies, pristine beaches and incredible biodiversity. 2016 is shaping up to be another banner year for this popular eco-tourism haven. According to a recent article in National Geographic magazine, Costa Rica’s Bahia Ballena (Whale Bay) is among the world’s top ten destinations for dolphin and whale watching.

 

Bahia Ballena scores 7th place on the list

The lovely Bahia Ballena,humpback-whale-breaching located on the southern Pacific coast, is one of the planet’s crucial habitats for the humpback back whale, which migrates twice a year to the bay’s warm waters to mate and calve. Bahia Ballena was ranked seventh for whale and dolphin sighting by the venerable publication, which added that manta rays, sea turtles, bottle-nose dolphins and other marine species also enjoy protection in the sanctuary of Ballena National Marine Park. Australia’s Hervey Bay, the Valdes Peninsula in Argentina and South Africa’s Hermanus also made the list for top whale watching locales.

 

Costa Rica whale-watching season                             

Seeing a 45-foot whale breach in the ocean with a tremendous splash is on a fair number of bucket lists. Travelers to Costa Rica are especially fortunate in that whale season is happening virtually year-round. In Bahia Ballena, humpback whales are frequently spotted plying the shallower coastal waters from December to the end of April and again from July through September.  Powerful swimmers, humpbacks can weigh more than 40 tons and are easily recognized by their long pectoral fins and distinctive knobby heads. Their entertaining surface displays make them a superstar in the whale-watching community, though scientists aren’t sure what motivates breaching. Some speculate the aerial twirls are a form of communication or a means of marking territory, while others say breaching is nothing more than play.


whale-watching-costa-ricaOff the beaten path in Uvita

Bahia Ballena lies just south of Dominical and encompasses a string of uncrowded yet breathtaking beaches, including Uvita. While the area is easily accessed by car, bus or plane, it has remained relatively tranquil and undeveloped. If you’re looking for a gorgeous beach to dig your toes in soft sand, enjoy a little surfing, and watch one of Mother Nature’s most incredible marine mammals, add this spot to your Costa Rica vacation itinerary.  Boat tours depart daily during peak whale-breeding months, and afford ample opportunity to see playful dolphins and humpbacks doing what they do best. In addition, travelers to the Dominical region can also book everything from zip-line and horseback-riding tours to private yoga lessons.

Wildlife Photography Tips from the Pros

February 25th, 2016

Opportunities for amazing nature photography abound in Costa Rica – whether you’re trekking through Manuel Antonio National Park or meandering the dark river canals of Tortuguero. Follow these tips and tricks to ensure plenty of captivating wildlife shots during your next foray into the mountains, rainforests and scenic landscapes of this bio-diverse nation.

1)  Lighting Conditions in Costa Rica – foodapp_12.JPGCosta Rica lies practically on the equator, so, for most of the day and throughout the entire year, the sun is perpendicular to the earth’s surface. If the day is cloudy that is not an issue, but being a tropical country, you will have sunlight most of the time.  This creates a condition where you will have extreme light and shade – a very challenging situation for any photographer, as you will always be dealing with harsh shadows. The best way to manage this is to take photos in the early morning as the sun is rising or late afternoon as it is setting. Of course, this shouldn’t stop you from taking photos during the remainder of the day. One trick of the pros is to expose for the highlights and then bring out detail in the shadow using your image editing software.

 

2)  Play it Safe – If traveling on your own, keep your camera gear as inconspicuous as possible in order not to make it tempting for someone to try to snatch it from you. This is a good practice with all valuables.

 

costa-rica-wildlife-photography  3)  Focus on the eyes – Whenever possible, try to photograph animal subjects from eye level, which helps diminish feature distortion. And for  the best chances of capturing a superlative image of that frolicking capuchin monkey or brilliant morpho butterfly, remember to shoot  continuously.

 

4)  Importance of timing – To make a wildlife photo truly interesting, the experts recommend observing the animal’s behavior and waiting      for the right moment when the animal looks up, opens its wings, makes a turn, or catches the light. Luckily, most nature tours in Costa Rica afford  plenty of time for lengthy interactions with exotic and interesting tree-dwelling and marine creatures.

Annual Envision Festival Epitomizes Costa Rican Pura Vida

February 6th, 2016

Seeking an Enlightenment of Consciousness

Screen shot 2016-02-06 at 2.59.10 PMSince 2011, the Envision Festival, set to kick off February 25th, has brought thousands of people seeking an enlightenment of consciousness mixed with fun and excitement to Costa Rica’s southern Pacific coast. The venue, located near Uvita, is a celebration of music, the arts, self-expression, and the bringing together of different cultural backgrounds. For 4 days, activities run virtually 24/7, and vary from music by Central America’s best artists, interpretive dance, and fire and juggling performers, to numerous workshops on yoga, meditation, and healing. All of these activities are set amid a backdrop of beautiful beaches, unspoiled rainforest, and, of course, the indigenous wildlife so plentiful in Costa Rica.

All are Welcome!

People from all walks of life and from around the world come to the festival to be challenged to raise their consciousness of their relationship to the environment, learn valuable lessons to improve their health and well-being, and simply have fun doing it. It’s a party with a purpose! Children are welcome, making this a great family experience. (Children under 12 are admitted free with their parents, and anyone under 18 must be accompanied by an adult parent.)

Screen shot 2016-02-06 at 3.01.12 PM For the Adventure Seekers

For those who want to add some adventure to their time at the festival, Costa Rica offers a multitude of activities  for attendees. For water buffs, the area boasts some of the world’s best snorkeling, diving, and surfing. If dry land  is your thing, then zip-lining along the canopy of virgin rainforest, hiking or riding horseback to magnificent  waterfalls, or even hopping on your own ATV and riding along the backtrails of the rainforest and along the  mountain rivers are some of the available ways to see the beauty of Costa Rica.

Provisions and Accommodations

Food—including locally grown organic fruits and vegetables—is available on the festival grounds, and water is provided free (as long as it holds out). A store (mercado) is set up for essentials, so it’s not necessary to leave the venue for the entire 4 days in most cases. Sleeping arrangements range from tents and hammocks on the beach to large vacation rental homes and villas for a VIP experience.

Don’t Miss this Great Event!Screen shot 2016-02-06 at 2.47.20 PM

According to officials, this year’s Envision Festival is nearly sold out.  Check the website http://www.envisionfestival.com/ for last-minute availability. And we can help you plan for Envision 2017. There are a lot of intriguing areas to explore and enjoy in Costa Rica. Come and see for yourself. Pura Vida!

 

Souvenir Shopping in Costa Rica

February 1st, 2016

Your Costa Rica vacation is everything you’d ever hoped for, but what about some keepsakes for friends and family back home…or a little token to remind yourself of the Pura Vida you enjoyed.   You will find great Costa Rican souvenirs throughout your travels, and our advice is to snap them up as you go rather than waiting until your airport departure. Here’s a small sampling of our favorites!

costa-rica-souvenir-wooden-bowl

Fresh roasted coffee

You don’t have to be a connoisseur to appreciate Costa Rica’s rich, award-winning coffee, which flourishes in the nutrient-rich volcanic soil. Doka’s Tres Generaciones and Café Britt offer both whole bean and ground coffee in several varieties, whether you prefer a light roast or deep espresso. You’ll find these premium brands on their coffee plantation tours, as well as select tourist shops. Other tasty options include Café Milagro and Café Monteverde, which are sold in local supermarkets. Your luggage will smell delicious and your friends will thank you!

Indigenous art

From gorgeous ceramic pottery to colorful masks and delicate textiles, Costa Rica’s indigenous peoples – including the Boruca and Chorotega Indians – showcase their talent in myriad ways. Unique Guaitil pottery , hand-made in a wood burning kiln, makes a wonderful gift as do Boruca masks made of balsa wood. You can pick up authentic creations in San Jose-area galleries as well as other shops that promote artisan crafts and indigenous tourism.

Miniature ox-carts of Sarchi

Oxcarts, known as carretas in Costa Rica, were originally used to transport coffee from the Central Valley to the coast.  They have since become a symbol of the culture of Costa Rica. Featuring vibrant blues, yellows, reds and greens, each oxcart is a piece of art, hand-painted by talented artisans in the town of Sarchi. These artisans also create mini-reproductions for souvenirs – a terrific gift for someone who enjoys table knick-knacks.

Handmade wood crafts

oxcart-souvenir-costa-rica

Fine woodworking is somewhat of a tradition in Costa Rica, where you’ll find exceptional bowls, jewelry boxes, salad spoons, cutting boards, vases and other items made from exotic timber. For the best selection of hand-crafted items, head to Biesanz Woodworking in Escazu. If the San Jose metro area isn’t a part of your itinerary, tourist gift shops usually stock these items in popular areas like Jaco, Arenal, Tamarindo and Manuel Antonio.

Remember that haggling over prices is not the norm in Costa Rica. If vendors are negotiable, they will immediately lower the asking price if they sense some real interest. And you’ll always do best when paying cash in the local currency.

 

Responsible Travel in Costa Rica

January 10th, 2016

Costa Rica aims to become the first carbon-neutral nation by balancing its carbon dioxide (CO2) inputs and emissions. This lofty goal, which is set for 2021, will undoubtedly require cooperation by industry officials, the government and individuals – both residents and tourists. Travel plays a crucial role in sustainability, as every choice made and dollar spent has a lasting impact. Consider the following tips on how to be a responsible traveler on your next vacation to Costa Rica.

Look for eco-friendly accommodationsresponsible-tourism-costarica

Escape Villas is proud to offer a number of luxury vacation villas throughout Costa Rica that employ sound ecological practices. Solar panel heating, recycling programs and energy-efficient insulation are just a few of the green features in our Manuel Antonio rentals.

Support the national park system

More than one-quarter of the nation’s land mass is dedicated to national parks, biological reserves and wildlife refuges. Support these conservation efforts by organizing a tour to one of Costa Rica’s amazing parks.

Be mindful about energy &water conservation

If your vacation rental or hotel emphasizes sustainable practices, such as linen or towel reuse, take advantage of the opportunity to be a green traveler. In this line, remember to turn off lights or the air conditioning before leaving your room for the day.

Transportation considerations

Several car rental agencies in Costa Rica now have reforestation and unique carbon-offset projects that make their vehicles more eco-friendly. If flying to your destination, consider Nature Air, the nation’s only regional carrier that has been carbon neutral since 2004.

carbon-neutral-costa-rica

 Shop responsibly

Buying locally grown and sourced foods will lessen your carbon footprint. When picking up trinkets or souvenirs, steer clear of products made from endangered hardwoods or animals. Look for locally-made items such as bamboo clothing, body salts, soaps, lotions, candles, and creams using organic and earth-friendly products.

Keep paradise pristine

When hiking through or touring one of Costa Rica’s many natural attractions, be mindful about carrying out your trash.  And remember, potable water is available virtually everywhere, so fill up your Nalgene as you go rather than buying water bottles.

 

Must Have Apps for Your Costa Rica Travels

December 2nd, 2015

Be prepared for every contingency with this year’s best travel apps that put critical information at your fingertips. Installing a few of these on your smartphone may prevent hassle and headaches, which nobody wants to deal with on their much anticipated vacation.  From tracking itinerary details to navigating Costa Rica’s roads, these apps are worth checking out!

TripCase collates itinerary detailstravel-apps-costarica-vacation

As you book your flight, car rental and begin to schedule tours and accommodations, you may need a little assistance organizing and managing all the details. TripCase consolidates confirmation emails and the most essential travel information like addresses, pertinent data and dates, listing everything in a chronological itinerary.

Learn local phrases with Costa Rica Idioms

Your high school Spanish will serve you well on your Costa Rica travels, but it won’t help with local slang and idioms that are a part of the daily Tico lexicon. Developed by a Costa Rica couple, this handy app instantly translates Costa Rican slang – phrases not found in textbooks — into English, giving you the upper hand in communication.

costa-rica-travel-apps

Currency conversion made simple

The Costa Rican colon usually hovers around 530 to the US Dollar, which makes on-the-fly conversions a little challenging. For exact exchange rates every time, download the OANDA Currency Converter app.  It features a simple interface and stands out from the pack for its ability to factor the typical credit card or ATM rate (usually 2 to 3 percent) into conversions.

Never get lost with WAZE

While it’s true that road signage in Costa Rica has come a long way, even the most seasoned of travelers can use a little navigating help from time to time. WAZE to the rescue! This practical app provides real-time traffic information, and is ideal for first-time drivers in Costa Rica who are headed to parts unknown. Sourced from other drivers, this app gives you a heads up on traffic jams, detours and road closures in addition to step-by-step GPS navigation advice.

Get the scoop on weather changes

With Costa Rica’s many micro-climates, temperatures can fluctuate by as much as 15 degrees in the span of a few hours drive.  Be prepared with weather alerts, hourly and daily forecasts as well as boating and beach conditions with the Weather Channel app. Just enter your next destination for customized alerts on your smart phone.

 

5 Tips for Whitewater Rafting in Costa Rica

November 25th, 2015

Costa Rica’s frothing, wild rivers have been rated among the best in the world for whitewater rafting and kayaking.  Whether you’re tackling Class IV rapids on the Pacuare River or taking a more leisurely paddle down the tamer Sarapiqui, you’re guaranteed an unforgettable experience filled with adventure and unspeakable beauty. Water levels are typically higher during the green season (late May through October), when afternoon downpours swell the rivers, providing even more of a challenge!costa-rica-rafting

Before setting off on this epic excursion, heed these practical tips:

1. Expect to get drenched! Leave all valuables at home (this includes fine jewelry, purses and cell phones) and don’t carry anything onboard that isn’t waterproof. Your guides may offer to safeguard must-have items in a water-tight bag.

2. Wear quick-dry clothing and sturdy river sandals instead of sneakers. Even if your raft doesn’t tip, the occasional sprays and gushes will soak you from head to toe if you’re paddling on Costa Rica’s more advanced Pacuare and Reventazon rivers.

3. Consider a waterproof GoPro camera for amazing footage. Strapped to your helmet, this tiny camera captures every action-packed second of your journey past towering waterfalls and through lush, dramatic canyons. And since you’re wearing a helmet, don’t bother with a hat but don’t forget to apply plenty of water-resistant sunblock even on overcast days.

whitewater-rafting-costa-rica

4. First-time rafters or those who are anxious should confirm with guides about difficulty levels before the tour. Some rivers, such as the Sarapiqui, Naranjo and Savegre Rivers, are better suited for beginners, and feature mostly Class II and III rapids, with small stretches of Class IV. Though more challenging, the Reventazon and Pacuare are still popular options for travelers of all ages and abilities, but it’s important to know your comfort zone first.

5. Listen to your guides, they are seasoned pros and can help you master any situation on the water. A pre-tour safety talk will outline the basics, and you’ll be wearing a lifejacket for the duration of the trip, which can last anywhere from three to six hours, depending on location and currents. And most importantly of all, have fun and enjoy the ride!

 

Recipe for Sweet Plantains, a Costa Rican Favorite

October 17th, 2015

A larger and starchier cousin of the banana, plantains are a staple in most Central American homes. In Costa Rica, plantains are enjoyed in a number of ways, and at different levels of ripeness. One time-honored dish in many households is “platanos maduros,” which literally translates to ripe plantains. The dish is so deliciously sweet it could be served for dessert, but usually ends up as a side for lunch or dinner. This simple recipe can be adjusted according to personal preference and yields 6-8 servings.

Ingredientscosta-rica-ripe-plantains

4-5 ripe plantains (the skin must be black)
1½ cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon  ground cinnamon
½ cup of unsalted butter or margarine
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup water
1 lime

Directions

    1. The blacker and riper the plantain, the sweeter it will be. Platanos maduros is wonderful on its own, but is great served with salad, mashed potatoes, rice and beans or an accompaniment to any meal.Cut the ends off the plantains, then peel and cut evenly into one inch slices.

    2. In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter and slowly saute the plantains until they take on a golden color.

    3. After the plantains are golden brown, flip over gently with a spatula  repeating on the other side.

    4. Add 1 cup of brown sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla and juice from one lime. Stir together and let sit for one minute.

    5. Add water and slowly sprinkle remaining half cup of sugar over the plantains.

    6. Turn down the heat and let the plantains simmer until the liquid has reduced and the sugar has caramelized.

    7. Serve immediately while hot!

      Platano Maduros

 

Nutritional value of plantains

Pound for pound, plantains are higher in calories (about 125 calories each) compared to bananas, but are still considered very healthy. Rich in iron, magnesium, potassium and phosphorous, plantains are also an excellent source of fiber and B complex vitamins. In Costa Rica, plantains are sold year-round in grocery stores and farmer’s markets, and they are becoming more widely available in the United States.

 N

Day Trip to La Paz Waterfall Gardens

October 3rd, 2015

Often described as “Disney-esque” for its majestic qualities, La Paz Waterfall Gardens is a great spot to experience magnificent waterfalls and the flora and fauna of Costa Rica. Equal parts wildlife refuge,  nature park and conservatory, La Paz makes for an excellent day trip from San Jose or Alajuela, and its animal exhibits, butterfly and hummingbird gardens are a special treat for young children.

An eco-attraction in Vara Blanca

la-paz-waterfall-garden-costa-rica

La Paz encapsulates the lush scenery, diverse wildlife and spectacular waterfalls of Costa Rica in one 70-acre park. With altitudes ranging from 4,200 feet to more than 5,000 feet, the park can get a little chilly by Costa Rica standards, so be sure to bring a lightweight jacket and poncho if you plan on hiking to the waterfalls. Most visitors spend at least three to four hours exploring La Paz, which features more than 3.5 kilometers of nature paths and nearly a dozen wildlife exhibits to enjoy.  Situated in the tiny hamlet of Vara Blanca, the park is a scenic one-hour drive from the San Jose international airport.

Butterflies, hummingbirds, frogs and big cats

The gardens feature more than 1,000 animal species, including native monkeys, rescued jungle cats, snakes, and frogs. To give you a taste of what to expect, La Paz has a massive butterfly observatory (roughly the size of a football field), an outdoor aviary with some 40 avian species, a serpentarium, a frog pond and a spring-fed trout lake where kids can catch their own meal and have it cooked up at the onsite restaurant. Plus, a fantastic hummingbird garden where fearless hummers land right on your hand to feed! For the full-on experience, you may want to block out the whole day for this incredible eco-attraction.

The waterfall experience

la-paz-butterfly-garden

Hiking trails to the park’s five waterfalls are beautifully landscaped but do include several long stretches of steps, so wear comfortable walking shoes and be prepared for some exercise. Photo opportunities abound as you encounter five towering cascades, with viewing platforms so close your skin is gently misted. If your travels take you here between May and October, pack a rain jacket or umbrella in the event of an afternoon shower. Self-guided tours are certainly fun, but if you’re a first-time traveler to Costa Rica, take advantage of the knowledgeable guides, who offer great insights into the biodiversity of this incredible country.

 

Relocating to Costa Rica? FAQs and Answers

September 30th, 2015

costa-rica-livingConsistently ranked one of the happiest, greenest and healthiest places on Earth, it’s no wonder Costa Rica has evolved into one of the world’s top vacation and retirement destinations. Drawn by the country’s verdant landscapes, low cost of living, pleasant weather and first-rate health care system, expatriates (expats) have settled in droves, embracing the pura vida lifestyle.  If you’re thinking about permanently relocating to paradise, it’s wise to test out your potential home first. As they say, it’s wise to try before you buy, and there’s no shortage of vacation rentals in desirable spots like Jaco, Tamarindo, and the San Jose metropolitan area.  The following are some frequently asked questions about living in Costa Rica; we hope you find them helpful!

  1. What are Costa Rica’s most popular retirement locations? Thanks to its enviable Spring-like weather, which eliminates the need for air conditioning, the Central Valley is the definite winner. Atenas, situated on the western edge of the valley, has one of the largest enclaves of American and Canadian retirees, and is praised for its blissful climate (the world’s best, says National Geographic!). Grecia, slightly cooler than Atenas, is another popular town, as are Escazu and Santa Ana – both suburbs of San Jose. Beach lovers typically beeline for Tamarindo and Jaco, renowned for their epic surf, modern amenities and wide range of housing options.

  2. How easy is it to get residency? These days, with the help of a skilled immigration lawyer, most folks can qualify for one of four categories of residency in Costa Rica: pensionado (retiree), rentista (annuity), inversionista (investor), or those given to executives and scientists who possess special work-related skills. Additionally, temporary residency can be secured through marriage to a Costa Rican national, or having a child in the country.

  3. Is there access to quality health care? Costa Rica has a model health care system, rated one of the best in Latin America and among the world’s top 20.  Residents have access to both the public hospitals and private facilities, which are staffed with highly-trained, bilingual specialists. Clinica Catolica, CIMA and Clinica Biblica are some of the nation’s best private hospitals and are affiliated with U.S. facilities. And costs for medical care are generally 1/3 to 1/2 less than that in the States.

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  4. Can I stay as a tourist? If you hail from the United States or Canada, you’re welcome to stay in Costa Rica for up to 90 days, at which time you can leave the country for 2-3 days and return for another 3 months. Since perpetual tourism is largely frowned upon, prospective residents should invest the time and money into securing temporary residency, which eliminates this hassle. After three years as a temporary resident, you’ll then qualify for permanent residency.

  5. Should I ship my stuff down or buy new? That is largely a personal decision, depending on the sentimental value placed on your belongings. Rest assured, you can furnish an entire household with flair in Costa Rica, though the selection of furniture, appliances and finishes may not be as expansive. Plenty of companies will ship your entire household for you, but this may prove a lengthy and somewhat expensive undertaking.

Diving with Sharks at Cocos Island

September 25th, 2015

cocos-island-hammerhead-sharksSituated 340 miles off the coast of Costa Rica, Cocos Island is one of the world’s greatest spots for scuba diving with sharks. A 34-hour boat ride takes thrill seekers to this lush and secluded island, where scalloped hammerheads and whitetips school in billowing masses amid the nutrient-rich currents. This UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site was declared a national park in 1978, and offers divers unparalleled opportunities to swim with large numbers of marine predators.

Cocos Island fast facts

  • The island is uninhabited

  • Cocos receives approximately 275 inches of annual rainfall

  • Best time to see large numbers of hammerhead sharks is May-November (rainy season)

  • Visitors dive from a custom live-aboard boat for the 10-day trip

  • Accessible via San Jose to Puntarenas, where live-aboard boats depart

  • Named the world’s most beautiful island by Jacques Cousteau

  • Recommended for advanced divers due to strong currents

  • Most of the dive sites are volcanic islets with a max. depth of 130 feet

  • Average water temperature is  72-83 degrees; wetsuits required

Diversity of aquatic life

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Circling masses of hammerhead sharks are the main draw of Cocos Island, but divers can also expect to cross paths with other species including tiger, silky, Galapgos, blacktip and whitetip reef sharks that scour the underwater seamounts for food. Though slightly less common, whale sharks – some reaching over 18-feet in length –also swim through the strong currents surrounding Cocos Island. Divers often glimpse graceful manta rays, marble and eagle rays, as well as green sea turtles, dolphins, parrotfish, moray eels, jacks and snapper.

Popular dive sites

There are nearly 20 dive sites around this volcanic seamount, which is home to some 260 species of fish. Pelagic sea life among the submerged pinnacles is especially abundant between 60 and 90 feet. Bajo Alcyone is the most notable site for massive manta rays and scalloped hammerheads, which can number in the hundreds at this cleaning station. Dirty Rock is another dynamic site known for its pelagic marine life and thriving masses of hammerheads and other apex predators. Night dives at Manuelita promise close encounters with unbelievable numbers of whitetip reef sharks as they hunt their prey.

Top 5 Activities in Manuel Antonio

September 20th, 2015

Need inspiration planning your Manuel Antonio beach vacation? From wildlife watching and jet skiing to sipping fruity cocktails at sunset, there’s no shortage of things to do and see in this dreamy beach town. And if you’re searching for a villa with ocean views, Escape Villas has an extensive portfolio of luxurious Manuel Antonio rentals – some with direct views of the park! Here’s a few of our favorite things to do in this Central Pacific hamlet, where jungle meets sea.

Banana boat rides – not just for kids!

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Hang on to your friends and fellow guests as you traverse the warm Pacific waters in an inflatable banana boat. Equal parts relaxing and adrenaline-pumping, this tour jumps into high gear as riders – who are always wearing life vests –occasionally get bucked off the boat. A fun and exciting trip for both the young and young-at-heart.

Monkey watching in Manuel Antonio National Park

A budget-friendly $10 gets you entrance into one of the world’s most beautiful national parks (according to Forbes magazine). And within these boundaries live hundreds of curious and playful primates, among other interesting creatures. You don’t have to be super sleuth to discover the park’s crafty white-faced monkeys, which love to hang around Espadilla Beach. In fact, the park is home to three species of monkey –white-faced, squirrel and howler monkey – which scour the canopies in search of their favorite leaves, fruit and insects.

Giddy up, partner – explorations on horseback

Horseback riding is a national pastime in Costa Rica and the secluded backcountry roads and plantations surrounding Manuel Antonio make the perfect backdrop for an equine excursion. Tours are available for riders of all levels and ages, and typically include a pit stop for lunch and a swim at a hidden waterfall.

Up, up and away – Parasailing

Take flight on this popular tour that is sure to get the adrenaline surging.  Parasailing tours in Manuel Antonio take guests a staggering 600 feet above the beach, offering jaw-dropping views of the coastline and adjacent islands. This 15-minute tour will be one of the highlights of your trip!

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Pool or beach side relaxation

There’s no shame in enjoying a little relaxation during your beach getaway, and Manuel Antonio has three gorgeous beaches from which to sunbathe, people gaze, snorkel or snooze. Choose a shady spot beneath a sea almond tree or rent a comfy beach chair with umbrella for the day. Delicious snacks, cooling drinks and massages will come to you.

 

Stand Up Paddle Boarding in Costa Rica

September 20th, 2015

sup-costa-rica-arenalStand up Paddle (SUP) boarding is making waves in Costa Rica, where this burgeoning sport has proven an excellent way to explore scenic waterways while improving your balance. If you’re new to SUP, don’t fear. Paddle boarding is a fun and relaxing way to walk on water (so to speak), and can be as easy or challenging as you’d like. Placid waters are a dream to meander and for those who yearn for more heart-thumping action, Mal Pais, Nosara and Pavones offer bigger waves for the advanced. Hopefully, your Costa Rica vacation will include some water sports, and if SUP is on your list – follow these five handy tips for beginners!

Flat water is a SUP beginner’s best friend

Stand up paddle boarding is a bit like yoga in that it demands a certain degree of balance and flexibility. If this is your first time on a board, consider taking a SUP tour on Lake Arenal, where the waters are calm and the winds usually whip up baby waves that won’t throw your balance.  Plus, you’ll be paddling in full view of Arenal Volcano – an extraordinary backdrop for any visitor!

Falling is normal (and fun)

Unless you’re a pro, you can expect to take a tumble or two on your first paddling foray. Everyone’s learning curve is different, but it usually takes a few tries to get the hang of paddle boarding. A life jacket and ankle leash are important safety gear to use, no matter where your adventure takes you.

Go with experience

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There are tons of trusted operators who offer SUP adventure tours in Costa Rica, complete with veteran tour guides who can show you the ropes. An experienced instructor will show you how to take a wide stance, keep your paddle in the correct position and maintain stability in choppy waters. If you’re already an expert at SUP but want to travel light, you can rent gear in popular surf towns including Jaco and Tamarindo.

Keep your eyes on the horizon

In your quest for a Zen-like yoga pose on the SUP board, many paddlers say that looking at a fixed point in the distance really helps keep your balance.

Popular SUP destinations in Costa Rica

Learn the basics of stand up paddle boarding or test your mettle on Costa Rica’s epic waves in these hotspots:

  • Lake Arenal near La Fortuna

  • Playa Herradura, on the outskirts of Jaco

  • Playa Avellenas, near Tamarindo Beach

  • Manuel Antonio

  • Pavones – home to one of the world’s longest left breaks

 

Statistics Indicate another Banner Year for Costa Rica Tourism

September 15th, 2015

The Costa Rican Tourism Board (ICT) reports that tourism is up this year, with 4.4 percent more visitors arriving in the country’s two international airports during the first six months of 2015. The bulk of travelers hail from the United States, Canada and European nations, say tourism officials. These numbers reflect an increase in the number of flights and routes offered by international carriers to meet the rising demand for Costa Rica vacations.

Average stay is just over 12 days

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During the first half of 2015, travelers stayed an average of 12.4 nights, which according to ICT officials, is one of the lengthiest stays in the realm of travel. Visitors are also spending more money during their holidays in Costa Rica. Travelers arriving via the San Jose international airport spent roughly $1,635 during their vacation contrasted by $802 for tourists who flew into the Liberia airport in Guanacaste.

More flights and strategic routes offered by airlines

Costa Rica Tourism Minister Mauricio Ventura attributes the uptick in travelers to enhanced promotion efforts abroad as well as the availability of new non-stop flights from a number of carriers. Acclaimed airline British Airways announced it will begin a direct London to San Jose route in May of 2016, which will surely boost numbers of U.K. visitors. Costa Rica takes the honor of the first Central American destination for this prestigious airline.  Budget carrier Spirit Airlines made headlines this year when it began non-stop connections between San Jose and Houston, Texas, offering flights four times a week. And United Airlines announced they will start direct flights between both San Jose and Liberia and Denver, Colorado.

Local airline expands fleet

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One of Costa Rica’s premier regional carriers, Nature Air, is also taking measures to accommodate larger numbers of travelers. The company recently purchased four new aircraft (seating 19 passengers each), which will take to the skies this coming December. Nature Air currently flies to 15 destinations within Costa Rica, including hot spots like Tamarindo, Manuel Antonio/Quepos, Tortuguero, Arenal , Nosara and Drake Bay. In addition, this carbon neutral airline also connects to popular destinations in Panama and Nicaragua. Most domestic flights last only 20 to 45 minutes, saving tourists two to five hours of driving time to beach destinations.

Indulge Your Senses in a Costa Rica Spa Day

September 5th, 2015

 papaya-body-wrap-spa-treatmentHeading to Costa Rica for a family vacation but crave some personal pampering? If so, you’re in for a treat… Costa Rica boasts numerous award-winning spas that promise to melt away tension, make your skin glow and ease the sunburn you got while snorkeling! How does a naturally exfoliating body wrap of warm papaya sound? Or a nourishing facial with aloe, jojoba oil and honey? Indulge your senses in these exclusive spa treatments that highlight organic and locally-sourced ingredients.

Cinnamon, sugar & coffee polishing scrub

You don’t have to be a coffee lover to appreciate this spa treatment that pampers the skin in the most delicious way possible. Coffee has natural anti-inflammatory and diuretic effects, while cinnamon is known to boost the immune system. Your skin will feel hydrated and ultra-soft after this exotic scrub that awakens the senses.

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Organic chocolate body wrap – made with local cacao

Take a moment to disconnect as the rich aroma of velvety chocolate envelops you. This sensual body wrap not only relieves stress and leaves skin radiant, it can actually help trigger the body’s own fat burning process. Cacao stimulates the body to produce endorphins that act as cellulite-busters, so this tension-relieving therapy wins on two fronts.

Skin rejuvenation with organic botanicals

Silky coconut cream, avocado and sea salt are used to gently exfoliate and massage your hands and feet, removing any callouses and leaving the skin smooth and rejuvenated.

Nourishing facials for any skin type

Spa professionals can assess your skin type and damage to determine which products will do the trick. Whether you have dry or sensitive skin, you can rest assured a glowing result. Aloe, banana, chocolate, honey, mango cream and papaya milk are just some of the moisturizing options available for an unforgettable facial.

Purifying volcanic mud wrap

Costa Rica’s volcanic terrain isn’t just great for sightseeing. A soothing body wrap with warm volcanic clay is heaven on Earth for any road weary traveler. Applied over the entire body, this natural clay pulls out skin impurities and helps replenish the skin while wicking away tension and stress.  This wrap is a must during your Arenal vacation!

Dominical Beckons with Wildlife & Adventure

August 31st, 2015

Dominical’s palm-kissed beaches feel worlds away from civilization. Perched in a hammock overlooking the shore, travelers are lulled by the surging crashes of water against rock and sand. Yet this burgeoning Costa Rica vacation destination is more accessible than ever, thanks to smoothly paved roads and local airlines SANSA and Nature Air. Oft described as a sort of Robinson Crusoe type of town, Dominical lures adventurers, wildlife lovers and surfers who want to hang ten on one of the world’s longest left breaks.

Dominical at a glancehumpback-whale-watching-dominical

Location: Pacific Coast, 29 miles south of Manuel Antonio & Quepos
Major Attractions: Nauyaca Waterfalls, Hacienda Baru Wildlife Refuge and the Osa Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary
Accommodations:  Ocean view and jungle villas, all-inclusive resorts, hotels, and budget hostels
Mostly caters to: Nature lovers; couples; families and nature enthusiasts
Weather:  Dry season months (December- April); Green Season (May-October)
Temperature: Average daily temperatures 77 – 89 degrees F

A secluded beach destination 4 hours from San Jose

Driving to Dominical from the San Jose international airport (SJO) is a snap via the Caldera Highway 27 and Route 34, which meander past dense African Palm fields and the popular beach towns of Jaco and Manuel Antonio. In less than four hours (or just 35 minutes by air!) you have arrived in paradise. Most of the town’s roads are unpaved, a signal that you’re off the tourist trail and in relaxation mode.

Tree climbing and canopy tours in Hacienda Baru

The rugged mountains framing Dominical are filled with primary and secondary rainforest, tumbling waterfalls and brackish rivers that are teeming with flora and fauna of every size and shape. Two-toed sloths, toucans, howler and white-faced monkeys and vibrant poison dart frogs make their home in this biodiverse habitat. Just a mile north of the town, Hacienda Baru Wildlife Refuge offers tree climbing and zip-line tours in its massive protected area.

Family-friendly ride to Nauyaca Waterfalls

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Giddy-up partner, it’s time for a leisurely and scenic horseback ride to some of the area’s most stunning cascades at Nauyaca Waterfalls. Cool, mountain water flows over three tiers in this 130-foot natural wonder. The excursion includes pit stops for wildlife watching and a hearty, tropical breakfast before arriving at the falls where you can swim in the natural pools or climb up for a jump.  The horses are well-trained and suitable for riders of all levels including children as young as five.

Dolphin & whale watching at Marina Ballena National Park

This privileged part of the country enjoys nearly year-round whale watching in nearby Ballena National Marine Park, where humpbacks come to breed and bare their young. Depending on the weather conditions, tours may offer snorkeling in addition to sightseeing.

To enjoy this transcendent setting in the lap of luxury, please contact us about our available Dominical vacation villas – and be sure to ask about low season specials!





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