Central America

A Costa Rican Itinerary

What feels like too long ago, I spent nine glorious days with my sister in Costa Rica. When deciding on where to go within the country we couldn't decide between the Caribbean or Pacific coasts, and missing the rainforest wasn't an option so we decided to get a see of all three! If you are looking for a weeklong Costa Rican itinerary, here it is!

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When & Where to Go

If you are looking to visit many parts of the country as I did, January to April are a pretty safe bet weather-wise. This period is high season but unlike most major beach destinations in the region Costa Rica doesn't feel super touristy. Maybe it's because of the country's strong commitment to eco-tourism, regardless it was quite a treat!

We flew into the capital, San Jose, and spent an evening and half of the next day exploring the city before heading for the Pacific Coast (3 nights) by bas (check out bus schedules here). We decided to go the bohemian town of Montezuma on the Nicoya peninsula. One hour and a half bus trip, a sunset ferry ride, and a second 2 hour bus later and we were there! Next was off to the Rainforest (2 nights). We rode past banana plantations and into the mountains toward Santa Elena, Monteverde. After a day or so of hiking and ziplining across the rainforest canopy, we chose to leave the mountains early to head to laid back Puerto Viejo de Talamanca and spend our last days on the Caribbean Coast (3 nights).

 

Where to Stay

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We stayed in hostels throughout our trip, and we didn't book ahead for any of them except for Hostel Bueko in San Jose. Bueko is an awesome place a little way out of the city center. The key to finding a good hostel are reviews, reviews, reviews. But honestly in Costa Rica you just need a safe place you can lock up during the day while you are out exploring! When I return with more people in town I will probably opt for an airbnb

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What to Do

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Monteverde

Arenal Volcano & La Fortuna

Ziplining over the rainforest canopy

Hiking & butterfly watching

Puerto Viejo

Playa Negra

Punta Uva & Punta Cocoles

Surfing

Montezuma

Montezuma Beach

Montezuma Waterfalls

Tortuga Island & Snorkeling

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Where to Eat

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In Montezuma we managed to eat at Bar Restaurante Moctezuma not once, but twice! Sitting right on the Montezuma Beach the views are undeniably beautiful and they offer all 3 meals a day.

Tree House Restaurant & Cafe is literally a restaurant in a tree! It's a little touristy but has awesome ambiance. And if you are in the area you must go to Taco Taco, we ate there at least three times in the couple of days we were there.

There are many great restaurants in Puerto Viejo's town center, but if you are looking for a fun and more upscale meal try KOKi Beach Restaurant & Bar. The cocktail menu was great and the ambiance colorful and totally beach chic.

Other Things to Know

You will have to pay an exit tax of about $30 USD at the airport, have some cash ready so you aren't caught of guard. Public buses take longer than private shuttles but they are significantly cheaper and you get to see more of the country than you would with private transport. 

¡Pura Vida!

Amazing Beaches You'll Want To Add To Your Bucket List

If you Google 'world's most beautiful beaches' you are sure to find listicles naming pristine places in Greece, the Carribean Islands, the Phillipines and definitely Hawaii. But in addition to those dreamy destinations I want to share 5 beaches I absolutely adore. And once you see these photos I am sure you'll be adding them to your bucket list too!

In no particular order here they are...

Coastal Catalonia 

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Coastal Catalonia is the southeastern most area of Spain on the Mediterranean Sea. Well known for being home to the beautiful city of Barcelona, this area is all home to many stunning beach towns with even more impressive beaches than those of Barceloneta Beach (pictured above).

Costa Rica

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Costa Rica has some of the most diverse beaches, especially considering it is a small country. It is located on the Central American isthmus that connects North and South America. This geography gives it warm Caribbean waters (and vibes) to the east and cooler Pacific waters to the west.

Cote d'Azur 

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The French Rivera, or Cote d'Azur, is known for is pebbly beaches and oh so relaxed French-ness. The Riviera spans the southern coast of France so there are many beach towns from Marseille to Nice (pictures above) from which to choose.

Italian Riviera

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A bit further south of the French Riviera you will find the Italian Riviera. Rocky like it's French counterpart, it is home to Cinque Terre and many cliffside villages. At the base of the mountains are exquisite waters perfect for sunning beside and dipping in after an incredible Italian seafood pasta.

Riviera Maya

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And the so called Mexican Riviera (aka Riviera Maya)... *swoon*. Last year I fell in love with the beaches (and everything else) in Tulum and nearby Coba. These beaches are unspoiled, and if you are traveling from the US like myself, easy to get to. I mean just look at these waters! Who doesn't want to be there right this moment!?!

So there you have it, 5 bucket list worthy beach destinations! Which beaches would you add to this list? Share them in the comments below!

Overcoming My Fears in Paradise

I have a fear of heights and this acrophobia comes up pretty often while I am travelling and this trip was no exception. While in Mexico my partner and I visited some of the beautiful Mayan ruins and Yucatan cenotes which challenged my fear and proved to me once again that I am more courageous and capable than I realize.

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I had my first minor scare when visiting the ruins in Tulum. This beautiful place is the only coastal ruins site in the Yucatan and sit atop cliffs overlooking the sparkling Caribbean Ocean. Hiking the ruins were not a big deal until we came to climbing down the steep wooden steps to reach the beach below. I held the rail and scaled the steps slowly, fortunately escaping the scalding sun outweighed my slight hesitation and before I knew it I was in the water.

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A couple of days after our visit to the ruins we boarded a bus to Coba, a small town south of Tulum with ruins we heard we could climb. The Coba ruins were very different from Tulum's; they were shaded by forest canopy with structures intact enough to easily identify (like recreational ball courts!). It was here that we climbed the Ixmoja pyramid. I didn't expect these ruins to be as high or steep as they were but I really wanted to see the view from the top. The climb up and down were far more difficult than the steps in Tulum (that I had since forgotten), and as soon as I made it to the top I found a safe place to tuck myself away. But I have to say, standing above the all the trees was an incredible sight.

Looking back now I see each adventure in Tulum was a ramp up our to our afternoon at the Coba cenotes. My honey and I decided hire a cab driver to take us to two: Choo-Ha and Tamcach-Ha. Choo-Ha is a relatively shallow underground swimming pool-like cenote while Tamcach-Ha is 30 feet below grade with an additional 40 foot water depth.

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After a quiet swim in Choo-Ha we headed over to the far more "exciting" Tamcach-Ha. I began down the long, wooden spiral staircase but halfway down I panicked. The drop seemed far too high and a very shaky and frantic version of myself rushed back topside with my partner not far behind. After many minutes, the two of us in our bathing suits negotiated my way back down the stairs in an embarrassingly slow fashion.

A tour group was already diving from the 10 and 20 foot high diving boards. While I composed myself on the large platform at the water's surface my boyfriend went for a swim. I watched the old, the young and everyone in between jump from the 10 foot board, I even watched many (including my brave man) jump from the 20 footer. After nearly a half hour of just watching I began feeling some serious FOMO. Maybe it was the scared 10-year old that took the plunge or watching my boyfriend go up and down several times, but I realized that I wanted to be the type of person who could make that jump. I didn't want to go homing knowing I didn't do something I had the chance to try. And I didn't want to be ruled by an irrational fear. I wanted to make that jump, or at least try to. So I climbed up those scary stairs, stood 10 feet above the water (it seemed higher by the way!) and after a few minutes looking down at the water, deliberating my sanity, I jumped!

I JUMPED!

And it was terrifying, and a little painful, but I did it and it was INCREDIBLE. 

This little experience was big for me. I learned more about the woman and partner I want to be. I want to make memories a push myself outside of my comfort zone. It's that little step that did just that for me.

Tulum House Tour

My partner and I have had many excellent airbnb experiences and a few so-so ones over the past few years. Our most recent place in Tulum shot right to the top of the excellent list, and since it was so great I just have to share!

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Front entrance located on a no-outlet drive
Front entrance located on a no-outlet drive
The entire property is perfectly landscaped
The entire property is perfectly landscaped

Without being very familiar with Tulum we booked the Greenhouse, one of six condo style apartments in a residential area of the pueblo. It was the modern aesthetic, great reviews and infinity pool that really won us over. 

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We arrived late at night via shuttle from the Cancun airport. After a long immigration line and a one and a half hour drive we arrived to no running water! Uh oh! But actually our host was super responsive and quick to fix the issue and by the time we had unpacked and connected to wifi. 

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Bike parking and more common space
Bike parking and more common space
Private back terrace & a peak of the shower
Private back terrace & a peak of the shower

The next morning we were able to see the Greenhouse in all its glory. The airbnb included 2 bikes per unit, an awesome "indoor-outdoor" shower, and a private patio area where I wish I could take coffee every morning! But the best part of the whole experience was the pool [insert emoji heart eyes]which I wish I could have spent even more time in!

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Logistically the Greenhouse was a about a 5 minute (or 40 peso) taxi ride to the town center and 10+ minutes to the beaches (100-120 peso taxi ride). The overall experience the airbnb was overwhelmingly positive. Despite minor bumps such as the water and electricity briefly going out here and there, and more bugs than we are used to (it is the jungle after all!) the hospitality and value were excellent. There was a day time maid service who stayed at the house during the day and we felt safe staying there. All in all such a great stay and so happy we took the chance and booked!

Travel Photography - How I Edit

Last week I shared how I like to shoot travel photography. This week I want to expand on that and show how I edit my photos. My aesthetic is clean and I prefer true to life images so here are my general tips on achieving that look. 

1. Tools

I used to use Adobe's Lightroom to process my imagery but I found that it can be time consuming even when using the awesome mobile app version. Currently I am loving the vsco (visual supply company) app, which is far less expensive and good enough for my style of editing. Vsco has all the editing tools I need in one place, I can use it on the go, and it has lots of fantastic filters. 

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2. Lighting & Exposure

I think every good photo starts with considering lighting. I prefer natural sunlight and diffused light in my pics to give good clarity and color. That means enough light to ensure your camera can capture your subject without producing much grain or losing detail. I also avoid harsh and dark shadows generally. Lighting is something you definitely want to consider when you are shooting, but it will also play a role when editing. If an image is a bit dim I like to bump up the exposure (aka brightness) to brighten it up. I often look for something that should be white in my picture and make sure it is white and not grey or yellowish. I do this just enough as to not overexpose the image (remove all the blacks and shadows) but just enough so the photo feels light and happy.

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3. PERSPECTIVES & LINES

I have a thing for symmetry and spatial balance in photos. I try to find lines whether they actually appear or just give the illusion of one and then rotate my photo to make that line straight. For this I use the vsco straighten, horizontal perspective and vertical perspective tools. The latter 2 tools are great if you picture is a bit askew because you shot it from an awkward angle and the straighten tool can do full rotations or very minute straightening. 

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4. CROPPING & FRAMING

I don't often crop my photos because automatically it reduces the number of pixels and thus resolution so if I go to print or display in large format the pictures could become blurry. But in some circumstances a photo could do with a bit of strategic cropping. Often I will remove unwanted objects. I also like to crop in order to better frame the subject of a photo. In the photo of the ruins below I both removed the tourist rope in the bottom right corner, an artifact in the blue sky, and framed the ruins with the natural plant life in the shot.

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5. FILTERS

Filters help create a mood and bring cohesion to a series of images. I try to find ones with minimal color shifts and decrease its intensity a bit. There are many free filters on vsco but my favorite right now is A6 which I bought (for a dollar) in a set of 3 as part of vsco's "Aesthetic Series." I also love the "Legacy" collection that gives a very analog and serious vibe to photos. Now check out the previously edited photos with the A6 filter. The changes are subtle but give the images that extra polish.

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This ends it for part two of my travel photography series! I hope this was helpful, and if you haven't yet check out part one with my shooting tips!