Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Pops' Travel Guide, Villa Caletas Hotel, Costa Rica

Think back and try to remember the most beautiful sunset you have ever seen. Everyone has seen a beautiful sunset but can you remember the time and place? I just came back from a place where I can truly say I've seen my most beautiful sunset!

Villa Caletas is a resort in Costa Rica located on the central Pacific Coast just north of Jaco. I have stayed there twice already and have written about the hotel. This will be entirely about the sunset.

To me the hotel was built just for the sunset. It is high on top of a mountain right on the coast. The hotel has incredible views of the Pacific Ocean. In the bar area they built an amphitheater and every evening starting about 4:30 pm people will start to show up just to view the sunset. If you get there early you can get a table on top or if all tables are taken you can sit in the amphitheater. Another option is to have dinner there. You will get a table, a great dinner and still have the same view as in the bar area. The Villa Caletas even has their own music they play just for the sunset. The entire experience is awe inspiring.

The best thing is nature. Every time you go you will experience something new. It could be from different cloud patterns, Macaws and Toucans flying about and in the trees, or bringing someone new to experience it for the first time.

Villa Caletas information

Monday, February 9, 2015

Pops' Travel Guide, Jaco Tranopy

I have done the Tranopy in Jaco three times now and it never gets old. For those of you that don't know what the Tranopy is, it is a play on words. In Costa Rica, zip-lines are called Canopy Tours. This particular one uses a tram to get to the top of the mountain. The combination of tram and canopy gives you tranopy.

The Tranopy is about a fifteen minute drive from the center of Jaco on the central Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. What I like about this tour is the attention they give to safety. There are two cables on every line and at least two guides with every group. One guide will get you connected and the other is at the other end to help brake you. You don't have to worry about braking yourself. Everyone goes through a safety class before you go up the mountain.

The Tranopy Tour consists of ten zip-lines. After a relaxing ride on the tram up the rain forest mountain you ride each of the ten zip-lines down to the bottom. They start out fairly short and easy and in the middle there are a couple that are as long as three football fields. The ride down also has incredible views of Jaco and the Pacific Ocean. Along the way you will be able to notice a difference in climate. The bottom being dry and warmer and all of a sudden, like going through a door, you get hit with a cooler wetter feel with waterfalls view-able from the tram.

Give it about 2.5 hours for the entire tour. At the bottom they also have a reptile zoo that they will take you to. There you can see some of the wildlife from the area. Before and after they have a nice covered area to relax, get something to eat or drink. We had a nice cold beer that sure felt good.

Cost is about $75. For more information here is their site.


Friday, February 6, 2015

Pops' Travel Guide, Jose's Crocodile River Tour

Did you know that there are wild crocodiles in Costa Rica? One place to view them is as you are driving south along the coast to Jaco make a stop at the bridge crossing the Tarcoles River. There you will see 18 foot or longer crocodiles resting along the bank of the river.

To really experience the crocodiles you need to go on a crocodile river tour. There are a few that leave from Tarcoles. Some are larger pontoon boats and some like Jose's are smaller boats. The smaller boats mean you can get closer to the action.

Jose grew up in the area and is more than familiar with the river and the crocodiles. It looks to be a small operation with Jose and his partner on the two tours I have done. What I like about Jose is his personality, sense of humor, and his experience. The smaller boat, not too small, gets right up to the crocodiles. His partner will even get out of the boat to hand feed the crocodiles. It is a terrific experience to see. The tour takes about 2 hours and the boat ride is very relaxing. Not only does Jose take you to the crocodiles but also follows the river to the Pacific Ocean and then takes you into some mangrove areas to see other life such as brightly colored crabs.

Jose has a website and takes reservations. I would suggest giving him a call when you are in the area and make a reservation. His tours leave about every 2 hours.

Here is a link to a video we took.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Pops' Travel Guide, Manuel Antonio Park, Costa Rica

About one hour south of Jaco is a national park in Costa Rica, Manuel Antonio. I had never been there before so we rented a car and made the trip down to check it out. Once you get to Quepos there will be signs directing you to the park. There is plenty of parking outside the park and from the parking lot you will need to walk to the ticket center. Don't let that walk discourage you. The walk to the entrance of the park is pretty dirty but once you get to the park that will all change.

Once at the ticket center you have options. You can buy a ticket to enter the park and guide yourself but I would recommend getting a guide for an additional fee. The reason for the guide is that without the guide and their telescope you will miss a lot of wildlife that the normal eye won't be able to see. The guide would actually stop us and say there is something in front of us and asking if we could find it. Most of the time it was right in front of us and we couldn't see it. Also, with the telescope , we got a close-up view and could even take a picture through the telescope.

The park has many hiking trails and the highlight is at the end of the trail where you are dropped off at two beautiful white sand beaches. There we stayed and took a swim in the ocean. The water is warm and not overly salty. The swim felt really good after the long hike. At the beach there are showers to wash the salt water off before you start walking back.

In the park you are going to see a lot of wildlife. Some that we saw were White Faced Monkeys, Sloths, Frogs, Bats and Birds. I got some good pictures of a White Faced Monkey we came across just a foot away.

View through telescope

The park does have an entrance fee but on some Wednesdays the park is free to everyone. Check out their site for prices, directions and free days.

Their site is Manuel Antonio Park  .

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Pops' Travel Guide, Mariposa Hotel, Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

We took a drive one hour south of Jaco on the Pacific Coast to tour Manuel Antonio Park. I'll talk about the park in the next post. After walking the park we went to the Mariposa Hotel to relax, watch the sunset and have dinner.

In Spanish Mariposa means butterfly and that is the symbol of the hotel. The hotel sits on top of a mountain high above the coast with incredible views of the Manuel Antonio beach and the sunset every night. I haven't stayed there but I do plan to stay there on a future trip. What I like to do is either have lunch or dinner and drinks while taking in the view. The hotel has two infinity pools facing the ocean. There is a smaller swim-up pool by the bar and a larger pool below.

The service is great and we ended up having the same waiter at the bar and then for dinner. He made sure we had a table with a perfect view of the sunset. For food, there had many options. In the bar I had Ceviche which has to be the freshest and tastiest I have ever had. For dinner I had the surf and turf which was a rib-eye and grilled shrimp combo.

I can't comment on the rooms since I haven't stayed there but if you get an ocean facing room you won't be disappointed. I checked the room rates and they are very reasonable and breakfast is included.

For more information visit their site Mariposa Hotel .

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Pops' Travel Guide, Monte Carlo Luxury Condo's, Jaco, Costa Rica

Well, I'm back from another perfect trip to Jaco, Costa Rica. On this trip I brought along a friend who was visiting Costa Rica for the first time. So, I was able to relive experiences through showing them to John for the first time. At the end of the week John told me that this was the best vacation he has ever been on. 

I wanted to start by writing about our accommodations in Jaco. I usually stay in a hotel but for this trip I decided to stay in a condo. After a lot of research I decided to stay at the Monte Carlo Luxury Condos in the heart of Jaco. Since I have stayed in Jaco many years I was familiar with the area but not the condo itself.

The Monte Carlo is made up of about twenty units with only two floors. The complex is fairly new. and well kept. Ours was on the ground floor with our patio just a few feet from the pool. The inside has two bedrooms and two bathrooms. The master bedroom has an on-suite bathroom with a nice shower and two sinks. The other bedroom also had a queen size bed and a bathroom down the hall. That bathroom had a bath/shower combination. The floors are tile and the counter tops were granite. There was also a large living room. The living room and bedrooms all had a flat screen tv, ceiling fans and fully furnished. The kitchen was also fully stocked with dishes, silverware and glasses as well as a coffee pot, crock pot, pots and pans for cooking. There was also a dishwasher and a washer dryer that we took advantage of.

Now for the experience. Staying in a hotel is nice and you usually meet people during your stay. Some you may end up staying in touch with. In the Monte Carlo you will have residents that live there year round, people that stay there every year and all know each other and people that are staying there for the first time like myself. By the end of the week I think I can fit into the second category as I made a lot of friends and I plan on staying there on future trips. I have to say that hotels have their place and sometimes you need that experience. Staying at the Monte Carlo had a completely different vibe. We met some friends that I will stay in touch with. There was more than one night where we had a patio full of friends over for wine. During the day we stayed at the pool and shared experiences. I don't know if it was the condo but this had to be one of the most relaxing vacations for me.

Here comes the logistics. The Monte Carlo is located in the heart of Jaco across the street from the beach. It would take less than five minutes to walk to the beach. There is a small shopping center next door with a grocery store, pharmacy, KFC and Pizza Hut. It was nice to go to the store for snacks, bottled water and beer to fill the fridge. There are also two ATM's in the grocery store. You can get your money in either Colonies or Dollars. For dining you can stay in the complex and cook your own food, they also have a community grill by the pool, or you can walk to the main street which is only a few yards away, for hundreds of eating options. Being across the main street from the beach it was very quiet there. It was a perfect place to relax.

The office at the Monte Carlo will handle all of your needs. Christian will be glad to help. I arranged for a driver to pick us up at the airport, made dinner reservations, booked excursions, and rented a car through the office staff. For the rental car they even had the rental agency bring the car to our condo unit where we filled out the paperwork on our patio.

The condo is very reasonably priced for the week. If you have a friend or another couple traveling with you, you can split the cost. That with the fact that you can buy snacks or meals at the grocery store makes for a very inexpensive vacation.

I would highly recommend the Monte Carlo for a pleasant vacation experience.

For more information visit their site

Monday, December 29, 2014

Pops' Travel Guide, My Top 8 Places To Go You May Never Have Heard Of (5 - 8)

My next 4 destinations are not as obscure as the first 4 but still need to be considered as you may not know what you are missing.

5. Lolland/Falster Denmark -  The southern islands of Denmark have a charm of their own with each offering something different. Copenhagen is on the island of Zealand and because of Copenhagen most people are aware of what there is to do in and around Copenhagen.Did you know that south and west of Zealand are the islands of Mon, Falster, Lolland, Funen, Langeland, Aero and Als. My family lives on Lolland so I am very familiar with Falster and Lolland but I have also been to Mon and Funen. All of these islands are connected by bridges and ferries. I will give you a brief description of each with some things to see and do.

Lolland is a flat island and is one of the southern most islands. It is an easy drive from Copenhagen on E47. you will drive across bridges connecting Zealand, Mon, Falster and Lolland. The road may end in Rodyhavn but from there you can catch a car and passenger ferry to Germany which is a 45 minute ride. My relatives ride the ferry to Germany to do shopping and to also take advantage of the duty free shopping on the ferry. Lolland has beautiful beaches and also a very nice beach resort and golf course outside of  Rodyhavn called Lollandia. There is a nice beach facing Germany with plenty of lodging and an indoor swimming pool. Lolland itself is very laid back as it is primarily a farming community but there are things to do and see. Knuthenborg Safari Park is located just outside of Maribo and is an animal park that you can drive through. You feel like you are more in Africa than Denmark. It is located on an old estate with plenty of room to drive around. Maribo Domkirke is the seat for the Church of Denmark in Lolland. The church is very old and worth taking a tour. One other interesting tour is in the town of Naskov. A few years back Naskov was a ship building city and built a lot of the ferries in Denmark. When bridges took over the ship building declined and Naskov needed something to attract visitors. They sent a letter to Russia asking if there was an old submarine they might want to part with. Russia replied that there was a WWII era submarine and they could have it if they could get it back to Denmark. Well, now it sits in Naskov and you can tour the submarine. Now Naskov is flourishing as a builder of electricity  producing windmills. For me the charm of Lolland is the small towns and countryside. Take a drive and see towns like Nysted and Saskobing. You won't be disappointed

Falster is connected to Lolland by a short bridge. The channel between the two islands is more like driving across a river. Middelaldercentret is  medieval park with knights and buildings. I have been to Marielyst Strand as my cousin camps there a lot. The beach there is one of the best in Denmark and faces Germany on the other side of the channel. Marielyst is a typical beach town. One like you would see on the Pacific Coast Highway in California. There are plenty of places to stay in hotels, cabins, tents or trailers. This is one of my favorite places to go in the summer. As with Lolland, just drive around. You will see castles, glass blowing factories and beautiful countryside. Both Lolland and Falster are small and can be seen in a day.

The only other island I have spent time on is Funen. Funen is the home of Hans Christen Andersen in the city of Odense. You can tour his house and when we were there they had an outdoor theater showing plays from his famous stories. I would recommend going there especially if you have children.

6. Jaco, Costa Rica - For those of you that read my blog you already know that Jaco is one of my favorite places to go. How could you not like it with the warm weather, great beaches, activities and friendly people. If you want to know more just read some of my previous posts. I like Jaco so much I am going back this January 2015.

Riviera Coast

Only clock in town is a sundial

Italian Riviera Resort - Loano

7. Italian Riviera - I know that you already have heard of the Italian Riviera but how much do you actually know. Many of you have been to the French Riviera but in my opinion the Italian Riviera is much better. Start with the beaches. Where beaches in France, such as Nice, are rocky the beaches in Italy are sandy. Then you have the drive along the coast with the mountains stretching to the Mediterranean Sea like fingers touching the water. Drive along the coast and you will either be in a tunnel, one of the fingers, or on a bridge with a coastal town below. The coast has plenty of beach resorts in towns such as Pietre Ligure, Loano, Savona and San Remo.  You also have the birth place of Columbus, Genoa. If you want to venture outside of Italy you can also do a day trip to Monaco or Nice. If you desire you can also take a drive up one of the fingers and end up in the Alps with towns like Torino where they held the 2006 Olympics. If you want to go to a place with beautiful beaches and rich history with great food then I would research the Italian Riviera.

View from our room

On Lake Como

8. Italian countryside - If you go to Italy I would certainly suggest Rome, Florence, Venice and Milan but after seeing those cities I would get out and see the country. Driving in the different regions, especially Tuscany is really a treat with the food, wine and beautiful cities. Do some research and pick a few cities to stop in. The experience is completely different than the larger cities and you will experience history and society that you had never known existed. One recommendation is after a trip to Italy you may feel like you have seen a lot and maybe had over did it. Not feeling as relaxed as you could. Italy has a lot to offer and you may be overwhelmed.

One year my wife and I visited the relatives and then went to Venice and Rome. All with a rental car so there was a lot of driving. We were flying out of Milan so for the last few days of our vacation I booked a hotel about an hour from Milan on Lake Como. I think that made the whole trip. We stayed at the Clarion Collection Hotel Griso Lecco in Malgrate. We had a suite overlooking the lake in the town of Malgrate on one of the tips of the lake. Lake Como sits at the base of the Alps and the views are incredible. One day we went to the store, bought some wine, salami, cheese and bread and rented a boat for a half day on the lake. There we passed villas along the shore, churches and towns. That night there was a thunder storm and we sat on the deck with the view of Malgrate and watched the lightning. We were able to relax before heading home and brought back some additional memories.