Tagged Beach Town

Paracas, Chalana restaurant

Seafood and serious relaxation at Hotel Paracas, Peru

Guestrooms at Hotel Paracas.
Guestrooms at Hotel Paracas.

Words and photos by Nadia Ibanez

I’m a sucker for a great hotel. Yes, I love the outdoors and I loved roughing it on the Inca Trail. But sometimes a girl’s gotta check into a four-star hotel and lay in the bathtub for a full reset after a strenuous adventure. Our travel group saw so much in Peru. From Rainbow Mountain and Macchu Pichu to city living in Lima, our bodies and minds were exhausted. So when it came time to chilling out on the beach in Paracas for the two days before we all had to head back home, the timing couldn’t have been more perfect for a stay at Hotel Paracas.

After a three-hour bus ride from Lima, we landed in Paracas, a small beach town offering all kinds of tours (more on that later), water sports, seafood, and R&R. While the rest of our group checked into a super rad hostel down the street, the girls and I checked into Hotel Paracas. We were still a bit early for our room so we ended up checking out the grounds and grabbing a drink to kill time.

The pool at Hotel Paracas.
The pool at Hotel Paracas.

And what a place to kill some time. The grounds were sprawling, the property was quiet, and everywhere you looked, you found a comfy spot to just sit and relax for a bit.

Hotel Paracas
Seating is everrrrywhere at the hotel.

Once we were able to check into our room, I could not have asked for anything better. The room was enormous, my bed was perfect, the rainfall shower head was calling my name, and the patio was just waiting to be sat on. The hotel also offered free use of their kayaks and paddle boards, as well as a 30-minute catamaran ride, weather permitting. Had we had more time at the hotel, we definitely would have hit the water.

Gin cart at Hotel Paracas
Never did I ever think that a hotel in Paracas would have its own gin program.

We weren’t able to spend too much time in our rooms before we went back to the hostel to meet up with everyone and share a meal and some drinks. Our friends were staying down the road at Kokopelli and their place was so fun. The hostel had its own pool, bar, hammocks, games, dogs, everything. If you’re in town and need a cheap place to stay, this place is it.

One of the many paintings at Kokopelli.

Dining at Hotel Paracas

I’m usually weary of hotel breakfasts because they can be so terrible, but the one at Hotel Paracas was stellar. We had our pick from fresh breads, local fruit, eggs, bacon, yogurt, charcuterie, granola, and so much more. There was even a gluten free section and an entire slab of honey comb on the brunch spread. We seriously could not stop eating and we loved every moment of it.

One of the best meals we had in Peru (and quite possibly the best ceviche I’ve had) was from one of the hotel’s restaurants, Chalana. Located just a short walk from the pool, the restaurant sits on the hotel’s boat dock in a beautiful outdoor space. Sans electricity and fuel, the restaurant specializes in cold dishes and uses seafood caught in the bay that day. The menu was small, yet mighty: ceviche, causa, chalacas (Peruvian steamed mussels), and tiraditos (Peruvian-style sashimi). We ordered one of everything.

Paracas, Chalana restaurant
Chalana’s tiradito and chalacas.
Causas from Chalana's
Chalana’s causas.
Paracas, Chalana's ceviche
Have you seen anything more beautiful? Chalana’s ceviche.

The dishes were amazing. I’m usually not a mussels person, but Chalana’s were bright and briny. The tiraditos were perfect and I could have licked up the sauce if the girls would have let me. The causas were packed full of flavor. And the ceviche…I’ve never tasted anything so fresh. The colors, the smell of the water, the sunshine…it all worked together to make for a wonderful lunch.

Outdoor seating at Chalana.
Outdoor seating at Chalana.

Our stay at Hotel Paracas was perfect and I made sure to make time for a dip in the tub. I just wish we had one more time to lounge around the pool. For more information, visit http://www.hotelparacasresort.com/.

 

Danner boots

Savoring San Francisco – My Golden Gate Park urban trek

Danner boots
Breaking in my Danner’s and seeing the nooks and crannies of Golden Gate Park.

Words and photos by Nadia Ibanez 

The thought of leaving San Francisco has crossed my mind recently. The city can be a real bitch sometimes. The weather has been a serious issue for me. Coming from San Diego, these “SF summers” have shown me the monster that is seasonal depression.

San Francisco is stupid expensive, the city streets are harsh, and it’s not always easy to find an escape from the chaos when you just need a moment to think something through. Thankfully, living by the beach – away from the epicenter of downtown – has offered some solace.

And of course, now that everyone knows I’m dating the man of my wildest dreams, everyone is asking when I’m moving to Washington.

I love San Francisco and sometimes I wonder if I’m ready to leave it. East Bay is tempting me with its warmer temperatures and its true understanding of community – two things I’ve been craving since I’ve made the move.

In an attempt to break in some hiking boots to prep for my trip to Peru, I spent a sun-filled afternoon trekking across the city starting at the entrance to Golden Gate Park and ending up at the Ocean Beach, all while making friends and discovering hidden gems along the way.

At the end of my nine hour urban trek and sun bathing trip, I had walked 10.4 miles. Want to see the journey? Here’s the beauty that is Golden Gate Park…through my eyes.

Croissants from Arsicault from nadia ibanez on Vimeo.

My girlfriend and I started our day with a visit to my favorite croissant shop (and apparently everyone else’s), Arsicault. I’ve been coming to this place for about a year now but after the bakery received some national headlines, my trips have been less frequent. The stars must have aligned because we showed up with only four others in line ahead of us while trays of freshly baked ham and cheese croissants waited for us.

Conservatory of Flowers, San Francisco
Blue Skies in SF

We walked from the bakery to entrance of Golden Gate Park at Arguello to the lawn of the Conservatory of Flowers. I love coming to the park on the weekends because the main roads are closed to cars and you can usually find some form of music playing in the background. We had a jazz quartet playing in the cave by the Conservatory and decided to lay out a blanket and get some sun.

Jazz in Golden Gate Park from nadia ibanez on Vimeo.

I count only sunny hours sun dial
I count only sunny hours — Golden Gate Park

When my friend had to leave, I walked through Haight Ashbury to see if any excitement was going on before walking back to the park and starting my trek. I made my way to the Shakespeare Garden where I’d often walk by and see a wedding ceremony or someone taking photos. The sun was blazing by this point and I laid in the grass while a newlywed couple took some family portraits.

dog at golden gate park
Making furry friends at the Park.
Is it weird that I think we look alike?
Is it weird that I think we look alike?

The wind and clouds weren’t making an appearance yet so I decided on some new change of scenery and headed back to the courtyard in between the De Young museum and the Academy of Sciences. There was a concert going at the Music Concourse but I pushed through and headed toward John F Kennedy Dr. Before I could make it to the road, I met the most adorable dog and his equally sweet owner. After getting my dog fix and making a friend, I continued on to the Rose Garden.

Rose Garden, Golden Gate Park
Rose Garden, Golden Gate Park

I’ve walked by this place dozens of times and finally checked it out. You could see the roses blooming from afar and the scent of English roses permeated the area. I’m in love with this place and might end up spending some other sunny days in the flowers.

I walked up to Stow Lake to see all of the couples rowing in their little boats before laying down at Hellman Hollow. I love this hilly and grassy part of the park and it’s perfect for people watching. After walking up to the Polo Fields to see what this place looks like when it’s not infested with Outside Land attendees, I walked up to the Golden Gate Angling and Casting Club to watch some neighbors practice their casting skills. It never even crossed my mind to check this place out, but I quickly became hypnotized by the fishing lines as they gently touched the surface of the water.

After saying hello to the bison at the Paddock, I kept walking until I reached the Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden and Dutch Windmill. The sugar from the croissants was finally started to wear off so I treated myself to a late Lobster Roll lunch at Beach Chalet to re-fuel. The sun was still out and the wind was picking up but I found myself standing on the boardwalk looking out onto the ocean.

Whale watching at Ocean Beach.
Whale watching at Ocean Beach.

The water seemed calm and tons of people were out on the beach. I must have stood there for an hour watching the surf and a pod of whales that were feeding. It was a beautiful sight to see and I’ll never forget how magical that afternoon was. I started to head home, admired the neighborhood’s curiosities and walked up a massively steep hill to complete my trek.

Sutro Heights SF
These hills will get ‘ya.
Outer Richmond SF
I love my neighborhood.

That Saturday afternoon, from the croissants, coffee and girl talk with one of my dearest friends, to the impromptu whale watching trip, was absolutely perfect. I didn’t expect to spend nine hours in the sun walking around, but when you’re surrounded by so much beauty, time definitely escaped me.

I always tell people, “San Francisco is what you make of it. You can be a recluse and stay in and be weary, or you can see all that it has to offer.”

While I might not always live in San Francisco, I will forever be grateful to this city and all that it showed and taught me.

 

 

 

 

Red Eyed Tree Frog

Things to do in Costa Rica – An Adrenaline Junkie’s Oasis

Written by and photos by Michael A.

COSTA RICA, COSTA RICA, COSTA RICA! As you can tell, I’m just a tad bit fond of my recent adventure in this beautiful country that really has everything for all types of travelers. I’d love to write a book on all you can do in this small country, but I’m going to try to keep it as brief as possible and let the pictures do the talking as words just won’t do this place justice. If you’re looking for things to do in Costa Rica, let this be your guide.

For those tired of exploring cities, Costa Rica really has it all for you. Just to name a few things before I get into my recommendations, Costa Rican highlights include: volcanoes, natural hot springs, beautiful beaches, rain forests, jungles, some of the most diverse wildlife of any country, all classes of whitewater rafting, zip lining, canyoning, rappelling, waterfall jumping, surfing, scuba diving, big game fishing, massages to knock your underwear off, and most importantly AMAZING customer service and knowledgeable guides.

I’d love to go on and on about how great the country is, but I really want to focus this article on a few companies that you absolutely must use when traveling to Costa Rica, or at least still searching for things to do in Costa Rica. I assume that you’re all smart people and have already decided that Costa Rica is the perfect vacation so I’m going to just tell you what you should do there. The customer support and service at all these below mentioned places are truly unlike anything I’ve ever experienced and that’s what really sets Costa Rica apart from the other 40 something countries I’ve traveled to. All of these guides or owners never seemed to be catering to its guests because it was part of business. Rather, it seemed as though each company really enjoyed its guest and was legitimately having a great time with each of us. I really recommend all these companies below!

Where to Stay Near Arenal Volcano – Chachagua Rain Forest Hotel


Chachagua Rain Forest Hotel Bedroom
Spacious rooms with very fine wood giving the room a very earthly feel.
Chachagua Rain Forest Hotel bathroom
Spacious bathrooms with large windows to keep you constantly surrounded by nature.
Chachagua Rain Forest Hotel Patio
Spacious patio to lounge on in the middle of the rainforest.
Private hotel homes
Private hotel homes
Chachagua Rain Forest Hotel Pool
The beautiful pool right next to the restaurant/bar
Chachagua Rain Forest Hotel is truly a unique stay and a vacation within a vacation in its own right. Chachagua Rain Forest Hotel is smack dab right in the middle of the rainforest while still relatively close to La Fortuna (the very touristy town next to the Arenal volcano). Personally, I couldn’t imagine staying in La Fortuna as I just didn’t find it very nice because it’s really just a place for excursion companies to operate. Chachagua Rain Forest Hotel is just a 25 minute drive away which allows you to really experience the rainforest of Costa Rica while still having access to all of the fun excursions that Costa Rica has to offer.

The rooms are beautifully kept and are built out of very high quality wood. Furthermore, as you can see in the picture above, each room comes with a beautiful patio with furniture and a table so that you can relax in the morning as the rain comes down or watch a sunset while listening to the hundreds of different species chirp. The rooms are very modern yet they still do a great job in keeping its natural feel of being in the middle of the rain forest.

The landscape of this property is absolutely stunning. This hotel owns a lot of the land and they have trails on their property, which are perfect for horseback riding, night tours, bird watching, day hikes and more (all of which you can purchase for a very affordable price through the hotel). You really don’t have any reason to leave the property between your beautiful room, gorgeous landscape, pool, wildlife, and a good restaurant all on premises.

The rooms are beautiful and the landscape is unreal, but my favorite part of my stay was getting to talk to one of the owners and hearing about how this is a hotel for the community. More times than not, business is all about money and getting the most out of each visitor. Chachagua Rain Forest Hotel has done something extremely unique in this aspect which really makes this place extra special and gives it a very real Costa Rican vibe. These owners want to make sure that each of their guests really gets a true Costa Rican experience while still making sure to not turn the area into another resort where Americans visit and wipe out the culture to the point where you don’t even realize that you’re in a foreign country anymore. Chachagua Rain Forest Hotel is a very self-sufficient hotel where they grow a lot of their crops, recycle (obviously), and hire only those from the local town to ensure that this property remains not only a profitable business, but also a major contributor to the lives of the locals. You’ll see brothers and sisters working together or a uncle and nephew and so forth. I thought this was something truly special as you don’t have this authenticity elsewhere in Costa Rica.

Bottom line: Do yourself a favor and spend at least a few days here so that you can really enjoy Costa Rica for what it is and not just stay in the tourist trap of La Fortuna.

TripAdvisor rating: 4/5
TripAdvisor link

Arenal Combo Volcano Hike with Red Lava Tourist Service Center

Arenal Volcano
View of the famous Arenal Volcano at the start of the tour
They allow you to take a dip halfway through at this waterfall
Take a dip halfway through the tour at this waterfall

 

Natural hot springs
Nightcaps and mud facials in the natural hot springs.

The guides at Red Lava Tourist Service Center are knowledgeable and friendly! GREAT customer service! They have amazing reviews all over TripAdvisor for a very good reason. The company’s big seller is the Combo 2 Volcano Hike which I strongly recommend. I unfortunately only was able to do the second tour but it was still a great treat. The combo hike compared to the one I did are pretty different from one another. During the Combo hike, the morning hike is a bit rigorous as you climb the Chato Volcano, which is right next to the Arenal volcano. Make sure you bring solid hiking shoes; anyone in decent shape shouldn’t have any issues with the hike. I opted for the second hike as it’s much more leisurely. You could probably get away with wearing tennis shoes as there isn’t really any climbing. Your guide will take you to beautiful locations where you’ll have stunning views of the Arenal volcano. You’ll also visit a beautiful waterfall and end the day with shots in natural hot spring. The nature aspect of this trip is obviously stunning. However, the most impressive part of the hike was all of the knowledge our guide provided. We weren’t just walking from location to location. Every so often, our guide gave us facts about the plant life or a beautiful bird call we heard echoing throughout the rain forest. He made the trip very educational and fascinating. I couldn’t have been more pleased with this hike.

TripAdvisor rating: 4.5/5
TripAdvisor link

Rappelling and Whitewater rafting with Pure Trek Canyoning

 

175ft waterfall rappel
First Rappel of the day; 175ft down a waterfall
waterfall rappel
Rappelling through waterfalls

PIC (82)

Oh boy! If you want adrenaline, look no further. Start your morning off with a 185ft rappel down a gorgeous waterfall with Pure Trek Canyoning. Not your cup of tea? Well, I didn’t think it would be mine either since I’m kind of afraid of heights and I’ve never rappelled before. Somehow though, these great guides wiped away all my fear and got me to go through with the tour.

Although this trip is great for those seeking thrills, this actually turned into a big growing experience for many of us on this tour. These guides face customers with my similar fears on a regular basis. They are nice and friendly and really help you believe in yourself to overcome fears. Before you know it, you’re rappelling down 100ft waterfalls like it’s absolutely nothing. I think we went down a total of around nine amazingly beautiful waterfalls. Also, there is a zip line/monkey drop where you essentially zip line about 50 ft. At that point they stop you and then you just drop another 50 ft or so right before the stop you a few feet above the ground from your free fall. SO MUCH FUN!

Although the guides were having a great time with us, we constantly felt safe in their hands.

Whitewater Rafting the Balsa River (Class 2 and 3)

Constant rapids throughout the 2-3 river ride.
Constant rapids throughout the 2-3 river ride.

Once the rappelling in the rain forest wrapped up, Pure Trek Canyoning then took us to the Balsa River where we went whitewater rafting. Much like the rappelling, I didn’t really have much experience with this extreme sport. Once again though, I felt perfectly safe. They made sure to keep the guides/customer ratio very good at around one guide for every four people. Although I thought a Class 3 was going to be a bit easy, these rapids actually turned out to be a lot more fun, adventurous, and continuous than the Class 5 that I did previously.

At this point in the day, we were all pretty hungry as we’d been moving around since around 8 a.m. This tour thankfully comes with lunch. This was no ham and cheese sandwich type of lunch though. They took us to a restaurant where we had an authentic Costa Rican meal and even got to try freshly brewed Costa Rican coffee. Once we finished eating, they showed us how sugar is produced from sugar cane. This trip was much more than just an adrenaline rush, but was also an educational trip leaving us a bit more knowledgeable and cultured about the country.

typical Costa Rican food
An authentic Costa Rican meal

TripAdvisor rating: 5/5
TripAdvisor link

 

Night Jungle Tour with Arenal Oasis Eco Lodge and Wildlife Refuge

 

Red Eyed Tree Frog
Red Eyed Tree Frog
Red Eyed Tree Frog
Red Eyed Tree Frog
There's a SNAKE in my boot!!
There’s a SNAKE in my boot!!

DSCN5886

DSCN5880

Tarantula Tarantula
Tarantula

I strongly advise going on a night jungle tour with Arenal Oasis Eco Lodge and Wildlife Refuge as the jungle really awakens with some amazing creatures at night. This is pretty much a real life Planet Earth experience. As night became dark, we were led through the jungle with nothing but our flashlights. Our guide Issac was extremely knowledgeable and seemed to know just an unfathomable amount of information about each insect, reptile, amphibian or plant. He also taught us about their calls, behavior, and why certain traits evolved the way they did. The tour was around two hours and we saw a ton of wildlife, including poisonous snakes, Banana spiders, and the only Red Eye Tree Frog that I saw my whole time in Costa Rica. I told Issac how important it was to me find one of these and he was thankfully able to come through. This was a surreal experience and a true bargain. Make sure you do at least one night jungle hike while in the area.

TripAdvisor rating: 4.5/5
TripAdvisor link

Desafio Gravity Falls

rapelling in Costa Rica
Literally stepping off of a cliff
One of your rappels
One of your rappels
canyoning
Canyoning through the beautiful Costa Rican Rainforest

I think we all grew up with the love of jumping in rivers off of rocks or swinging into lakes by a rope. Well, this takes those loves to the next level with Costa Rica’s newest extreme excursion which combines waterfall free jumping and some rappelling. You must be in at least decent shape for this one and love a good rush! This was definitely the excursion that I was worried about the most during my time in Costa Rica. Rappelling down 150ft waterfalls and jumping without ropes over waterfalls 30ft down can easily make your skin chill. However, Desafio makes you feel extremely safe as they take you through beautiful canyons deep in the rainforest. They had three guides for the four of us on the tour so that we each had individual attention throughout each jump and rappel. They really emphasized safety with every single jump. Plus, this company had a professional camera that was able to take some amazing photos of you in action as you conquered your fears. They also took us out to a very nice lunch once our goosebumps finally settled.

Desafio Cooking Class

homemade tortillas
Making tortillas from scratch
Most of the food that you cook with is all organic grown on their land
Most of the food that you cook with is all organic grown on their land
A typical Costa Rican meal
A typical Costa Rican meal

Although Desafio definitely prides itself on being extreme and for adrenaline junkies, they also cater to those that want to get a little more sophistication and culture out of their Costa Rican experience. For a rather small fee, they take you up to the mountains to a restaurant where 80 percent of the food is grown on that property. They walk you around and show you all the plants to give you a better understanding of spices and medicines in their natural state. Once our small group finished walking around, we headed to the kitchen where we had two Costa Rican ladies help prepare a traditional  meal. By far the coolest part of this excursion was learning how to make tortillas from scratch. Culture is often deeply rooted in food and this was a very cool experience.

TripAdvisor rating: 5/5
TripAdvisor link

Manuel Tour of Manuel Antonio National park

Concerned monkey
Concerned monkey
Howler Monkey
Howler Monkey

 

I'm going to steal your Taco Bell
I’m going to steal your Taco Bell

Photo 10-2-16 8 52 02 a.m.

 

I'm a proud iguana
I’m a proud iguana

Let me first start off by saying, Manuel is the man! I wouldn’t be surprised if the city of Manuel Antonio were named after him ;). Manuel runs his own operation, Manuel’s Tours, and he usually keeps his tour groups very small. He is unbelievably knowledgeable and very well respected amongst all of the guides of Manuel Antonio. When you hire Manuel to guide you through the national park, you actually hire 100 guides as all guides help one another out to make sure that their customers can see as much wildlife as possible and boy did we!

I’ve never spent money on a guide when going through a national park as I just didn’t think it was ever worth it. After trekking with Manuel, please take my advice and hire this man. Otherwise you are completely throwing away your $16 entrance fee down the drain. The animals in this national park are obviously hard to see as animals should be. Manuel let us look through his spotter scope, which made finding all of these animals crystal clear even when far away. Manuel was an absolute godsend and I can’t imagine my time in the forest would be as great had he not been our guide. There is so much more to see than just monkeys, but you won’t see it unless you have a guide like Manuel with a trained eye and his spotter scope.

Manuel’s Night Jungle Tour

A beautiful butterfly
A beautiful butterfly
Ribbbbet anyone?
Ribbbbet anyone?
scorpion-spider
Your worst nightmare; a scorpion-spider
nighttime crawlers - a scorpion
nighttime crawlers – a scorpion
The Fearless MANuel taming the deadliest snake in Costa Rica
The Fearless MANuel taming the deadliest snake in Costa Rica
The deadliest snake in Costa Rica
The deadliest snake in Costa Rica

Once again, let me start off by saying, MANUEL IS THE MAN!! Did I mention that he fought off Costa Rica’s most dangerous snake right in front of me? Yeah, that happened. As with the day tour, it was an incredibly small group (me and one other person) so he was able to answer all of our questions and taught us a lot about the evolution of the landscape and life within it. He taught us some neat tricks on how to spot these creatures in the middle of the night. Among other things, we saw snakes, toads, scorpions, and the hideous scorpion spider. Manuel is truly a good man that cares deeply about his guests having a great time and you will when learning all of the cool facts that he has to offer.

TripAdvisor rating: 5/5
TripAdvisor link

ADR Adventure Park

waterfall zip-lining
Zip-lining through a waterfall. Yeh, that’s pretty damn cool
Rapeling through the rainforest
Rappelling through the rain forest

Eight extreme activities all wrapped up into one excursion! Although the name is a bit confusing, this is NOT a park. The guides at ADR Adventure Park took us into the middle of the jungle for the activities. This is a great value for the amount of different things you get to try, like zip lining through a waterfall (Yes, you read that correctly!). There is quite a bit of zip lining in this excursion which is one of Costa Rica’s main attraction. So, if you’re looking to do some zip lining which I’m sure 90% of you are, then take this tour. You get a taste of a lot of different activities such as a high rope swing, rappelling, a good amount of hiking, a waterfall jump, and more all included in one. The location is absolutely stunning and the photographer they bring is amazing! I had to buy these pictures as these action shots were just so unreal.

TripAdvisor rating: 5/5
TripAdvisor link

Surfing in Manuel Antonio with Coconut Surf and Skate

Your Surf scene
Your surf scene
surfing in costa rica
Costa Rica Surfin’

Surfing is big in Costa Rica. Although Jaco and Dominical are supposed to be pretty big surf spots, the town of Manuel Antonio has so much more to offer than these other towns.  Shoot Coconut Surf and Skate an email as his surf setup is right outside Manuel Antonio National park on the free public beach. If you’re driving toward the National Park from Quepos, it’s one of the first parking lots to the right you can enter and you’ll see him right there. He both rents out his boards and gives three hour surf lessons that I was told were pretty good by others. So, make sure to send him an email to get his prices and scheduling.

H2O Adventures (Class 5 Whitewater Rafting EL CHORRO)

With good reason, I was definitely nervous about this Class 5 rafting trip with H20 Adventures since I’ve only been rafting twice and the highest class I’ve ever done was a 3. It’s important to know how the classifications work though so you have an idea of what to expect. Class 5 doesn’t necessarily mean that the Rapids are 10 times tougher than a Class 2 or 3 would be. In fact, the Class 3 might even be tougher. Rather, a very important factor in determining classification is based on the danger level and the magnitude of how badly someone could get hurt. Once again though, this company really emphasizes safety (of course after making you sign your life away via a waiver!). We had a 3:1 rider to guide ratio, which was perfect not only for getting down the river, but also learning logistics on the strategy of taming the beast. We saw a couple of wipeouts as some of these rapids get pretty intense as you drop 8-10 ft followed by hard rights and left turns to avoid slamming into boulders. I felt completely safe the entire time (that could also be because I had a secret plan to ride the body of any of my boat members in case we tipped). This company also had a professional photographer with us.

TripAdvisor rating: 5/5

TripAdvisor link

As I’m sure you figured by now, I was a bit worried about many of these excursions due to my lack of experience and fear of heights. But, that’s what’s so great about Costa Rica; it’s a place far enough from home where you can be whatever you want to be, conquer your fears, get a rush like never before, and really grow as a person. If these words and glowing recommendations on things to do in Costa Rica haven’t convinced you to book a flight to Costa Rica immediately, I sure hope the pictures get you there because this is one special place.

 

 

 

Playa Del Carmen, Mexico: A Gem Not To Miss

Scuba Playa del Carmen
Scuba divers will absolutely love this story. Keep reading…

Written by and photos by Michael A.

We often don’t lump Mexico in as being an exciting international getaway destination. You need to stop this mindset immediately. Born and raised in Los Angeles, but a mere three-hour drive away from the Mexican border, I too was a culprit of this belief. I love my food and I love me some good international travel. I’ve traveled to roughly 40 countries, and other than a brief stint where I got stranded in Tijuana with a donkey painted zebra, I never had any intention of really making a vacation out of Mexico. However, I was absolutely blown away by the food, scuba diving, clear waters, and most importantly, how incredibly affordable Playa Del Carmen is.

Where to stay

The pool at Hacienda Real del Caribe in Playa del Carmen.
The pool at Hacienda Real del Caribe in Playa del Carmen.

For just $33 a night (yes you read that correctly), I’d recommend staying at Hacienda Real del Caribe. It has a beautiful salt-water pool and very spacious rooms. I’m a big fan of flat screen TV’s, which it was lacking, but the location of this hotel is just so perfect that you’ll forget all about that detail. This hotel is literally one block away from all of the night life, a plethora of great restaurants, and only a 5-minute walk to the beach. Ummmm, I think I also mentioned that it was $33 a night…so, yeah…if you’re on a budget, this is an amazing place to go.

A scuba diver’s paradise

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Cozumel constantly gets all of the hype for being one of the most amazing diving spots in the world (and rightfully so), but you have to make sure you don’t miss the Cenotes. I’ve been on some cool dives in the past, but the Cenotes….well….just look at these pictures for yourself. You won’t see much sea life down there, but the colors and the fact that you’re 35 feet under the surface of Earth is a pretty cool and special feeling in its own right. You are literally below the bottom of tree roots.

Ditch Cozumel and stay in Playa Del Carmen

The best chile relleno I've ever had.
The best chile relleno I’ve ever had.

Don’t make the mistake that my buddy and I made and get a hotel on this island. There really isn’t all that much going on there other than the best chile relleno you could possibly imagine! Cozumel is known world-wide as being one of the top dive locations in the world because of its ridiculously clear waters and visibility. However, I strongly suggest just staying in Playa Del Carmen and paying the extra $5-10 to the dive shop to take you to some diving out there. If you really want to spend some time on the island, it’s literally a $20 35-minute boat ride that leaves every hour from two different ports in Playa Del Carmen. Don’t bother renting a car either, since you won’t see very much other than the port and undeveloped areas.

Lionfish
Don’t touch the Lionfish…

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Do make sure that you go on some dives out there though as the swim-throughs are spectacular and plentiful. If you go within the next couple of years, be ready to see a lot of Lionfish and don’t be an idiot like me and get too close. Yes, they’re beautiful, but they are also extremely poisonous. Enjoy them from afar but don’t try to take that coveted selfie with one. Your underwater selfie can wait until you’ve entered one of the very few shipwrecks in the area. Look for the slightly dirty restroom and make sure you keep your eyes open for some of the biggest eels you’ve ever seen hanging underneath the cracks of the floorboards.

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Overall, Playa Del Carmen is definitely a place you don’t want to miss. The food is great, the stay is cheap, and there is beauty all around you — and under you in the case of the Cenotes.

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Head to Park Chalet Coastal Beer Garden for alfresco dining this Indian summer in SF

Written by Nadia Ibanez, photos by Kevin Kelleher

Summer is here in SF and I’ve been searching for the best parks, green spaces, patios and rooftops to get some sun while exploring the City’s offerings. I’ve been so used to non-stop perfect weather since living in San Diego so whenever the thermometer hits above 75 degrees in SF, I take advantage. I recently visited Park Chalet Coastal Beer Garden for drinks and dinner in the sun. You definitely need to make the trek out to Ocean Beach if you want a seafood-centric meal by the water.

Beer lovers will absolutely love this place, which is butted up right against Golden Gate Park, because the restaurant brews their own beer right next door at sister restaurant, Beach Chalet. Check out the Chalet Ale menu for brews like a Riptide Red, Presidio IPA or High Tide Hefeweizen. For a fruity twist, opt for a Shandy with fresh lemonade and a V.F.W. Golden Ale, or a Radler with grapefruit juice and Hef. Oh, and the beer garden’s lawn is dog friendly making this place even cooler for the summer months.

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Park Chalet got a bit of a sprucing up lately with new additions to the refinished bar. The dining room has skylights, massive windows, retractable glass doors and the patio seating is great for parties of all sizes.

Pacific Clam Chowder at the Park Chalet
Pacific Clam Chowder at the Park Chalet
Seafood Ceviche at the Park Chalet
Seafood Ceviche at the Park Chalet

The restaurant has a new Executive Chef, Ian Hockenberger, and he’s got a few seafood and brew-inspired items. We started out with a couple cocktails, clam chowder and ceviche. The chowder was smoky and creamy and the ceviche had a mixture of calamari, cod and shrimp. The ceviche is no joke and is the perfect way to start your meal.

Fisherman's Catch at the Park Chalet
Fisherman’s Catch at the Park Chalet

In keeping with the beer and seafood theme, we opted for the bountiful Fisherman’s Catch. The seafood boil was enormous and delicious and had piles of snow crab, mussels, clams, prawns, sweet corn, sausage and red potatoes. I highly recommend sharing this dish with your peeps. Other menu items include a Seared Ahi Sandwich, Bacon Crab Melt, Fried Seafood Platter, and all kinds of pizza.

If you’re headed to Ocean Beach for a bonfire, strolling through the west end of Golden Gate Park for its windmills and Dutch tulip garden, or are just looking for an outdoor setting for an Indian summertime meal, check out Park Chalet. For more information, www.parkchalet.com.