Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Costa Rica - Part I

        Where to go to escape the winter? When thinking about Florida or Mexico, there came a thought why not tropical place? why not Central America? why not Costa Rica? And its one such place which doesn't require a visa application, phew!!! thanks Costa Rica. So as long as you have a valid USA/Canada/Schengen visa(tourist/business/work), they will issue a visa on arrival for 30 days/6 months(Japan), visit this website for more details.

Costa Rica is a place where everyone gets to do something, beach lovers? Hikers? bird watchers? Wild life photographers? Surfers? you name it, it has everything! It has pacific and caribbean beaches, coral reefs, swamp lands, volcanoes, hot springs, abundant wildlife, rain forests and cloud forests. 

Flight tickets around December, which is usually the peak time are costly, especially after Christmas/New year. Anywhere between 300$ to 400$ is a very good price for a round trip ticket from East coast (USA) to Liberia/San Jose. You can either do a round trip to a single city (Liberia/San Jose) or arrive at Liberia and depart at San Jose or which ever way the ticket works out for you. 

Some websites to go over details on national parks, public transports, arranging taxi pickups/tours:
Which hanging bridge is the best? check this link

Renting/Driving a Car Vs Taking a taxi/shuttle/public transport:
I did both, I was told not to drive and it would be pathetic to drive there!!! And its wrong. I came from a place where traffic and driving is crazy, beyond imagination, well mostly because of its population and this place is nothing compared to it. But I still booked taxi's for the first 4 days ( Liberia - Arenal - Monteverde - San Jose) and a rental car ( Enterprise rent a car) from San Jose for rest of the trip, which i can either pick it up or cancel based on seeing the roads in Costa Rica. But trust me it was absolutely great driving there. Glad i booked one and sad that i didn't for the first four days. The roads were super awesome, dotted lines/lanes to pass, stop/yield(ceida)signs, no potholes, no one was driving rash, everyone is courteous and respectful. The only thing i was told by localites was not to leave anything visible in the car, don't invite the thief by yourself!

Manual/Automatic drive/Insurance:
If you are not comfortable driving manual/stick shift, don't!!! pay extra bucks and get automatic drive. There will be some slopes and hills where you should be really quick at it. Ask yourself, can you stop on a slope with a car behind you and move quickly without going backwards?? Then coming to a question if you need 4 wheel drive or not? Some places requires 4WD, like Rio Celeste/Tenorio Volcano needs it, although we managed to do in 2WD with some struggles. So i highly recommend 4WD for peace of mind. We rented a 2WD swift dzire - manual drive. It really did a great job- no complains!!! If you are picking up at one airport and dropping at a different one then be prepared to pay a drop off charge of 35-50$. On the topic car insurance, I just had to take the liability coverage (~5$/day) from the rental company as its not covered by the Credit card company ( Chase sapphire preferred was what I used). But I am covered (collision Ins.) by Chase if anything happens to my car damage/theft/road side assistance and in order have this coverage in effect you need to decline collision insurance provided by the rental company and charge the entire rental cost to your card, bingo!

My trip was 9 days & 9 nights - Round trip to Liberia (LIR)
We started off from Liberia, then to Arenal/La fortuna - Cano Negro wildlife refuge- Monteverde- San Jose, then from San Jose couple of day trips to Manuel Antonio & Poas volcano -Doka coffee estate-La paz gardens, then drive up north east to La selva Biological station (OTS)- Rio Celeste/Tenorio Volcano National Park- Playa Hermosa beach (via Liberia)- Playa Ocotal/panama and near by beaches- then back to Liberia airport.

Day 1: Arenal Volcano National Park

Shuttle arrived at 6:30am (by Anywherecostarica) to get us dropped at Arenal Backpackers hostel. Its a 5 star hostel :). The hostel was great, with a swimming pool and an amazing cafe inside (loved their burrito and fresh fruits). We stayed here for 2 nights and you get to meet a lot of people around the world. The drive from Liberia to Arenal was 2.5 hrs, not bad at all. This was when we realized we should have rented a car!!! After getting freshened up, we went to Arenal Volcano National park for a hike (10$ entree fee), it took us about 3 hrs to complete the yellow trail (5 km) which was through the rain forest and cooled molten lava areas(1968 eruption).

p.s: Take poncho, umbrella, water proof Jacket and rain boots!!! I had a poncho even for my camera.

Arenal Lake

Behind the clouds is the Arenal Volcano

My fellow travelers

Cooled lava from 1968 eruption.

Almost end of the trail.

How about a relaxing Hot springs after a tiring hike!!! :), yea we went to the public free hot springs (next to tabacon resort), which is a natural river and quite a few people was sitting comfortably on the river. I heard from a fellow traveler that Baldi hot springs are nice enough and they charge 45$ per person for hot springs with buffet dinner (Baldi is like pumped water from the river, since the property is not as such located next to the river unlike Tabacon which is why Tabacon is costly ~75$). We tried Le chorizo restaurant and the organic chocolate store near by, they both were fabulous.

Top to bottom: Chicken platter, Squash soup, sour sap juice and veggie platter with fried banana.

Cardamom/Elaichi Chocolate


Right next to the border of Nicaragua is a boat accessible wildlife rich forest. We took the tours from anywherecostarica, they picked us up from the hostel at 7:30am, boat ride/wild life watching/refreshments, lunch and dropped us back to the hostel at 3:30pm.

Iguana - On the way to Cano Negro


Jesus Christ Lizard

Long Nosed bat

Amazon woodpecker

Howler Monkey


Green Heron

Spider Monkey

While checking out La Fortuna downtown, we met this interesting guy few blocks from Arenal Backpackers hostel, he is from Philly and the agent of Eco hostel. He promised us with the best night tour in Arenal from a guy called Giovanni. And the photos below are the proof of them! we simply enjoyed it, not only night tour, Giovanni even took us the next day early morning for watching toucans and other birds. Thanks to both Philly guy and Giovanni for such an amazing experience.

Blue Jean Poison Dart Frog

Glass Frog
Jesus Christ Lizard

DAY 3: Cerro Chato Hike/La fortuna water falls

After taking non stop photographs of birds eating banana & papaya, we had a strong coffee in Giovanni's tour. Then we took a taxi (the pain of not having your own car!) to cerro chato passing the la fortuna falls, its like 10 min drive from Arenal Backpackers hostel. Leaving all camera gears at the reception of the Cerro Chato lodge, we paid 12$ for gaining access to this beautiful and strenuous hike. The rain forest was splendid, though we were not lucky enough to see the crater lake since it was cloud covered. The hike took us around 5 hrs, but was helping a guy who broke his wrist while running downhill, so probably time it as approx. 4 hrs round trip.

Brown mandible Toucan 

Green Honey Creeper

Red legged Honey Creeper ( female)

Red Legged Honey creeper (male)


Red eyed tree frog ( Gaudy)

Cerro Chato hike

After an amazing calf muscle workout, we went to La fortuna water falls (entree fee 11$). Its a walking distance (down hill) from Cerro chato lodge. And i kind of know it has steep steps like Uncle Tom's trail in Yellow stone. But this one killed it! it had ~550 steps each way :-|. if you have time, go for a swim, simply worth it!

La Fortuna falls

water taxi from Arenal to a pick up point and then shuttle to Monteverde.

Time to pack up for next town! we took a taxi at 2:30 pm (shuttle - water taxi - shuttle) to Monteverde (cloud forest region). Which can be booked locally through Eco hostel guy (~15$/person). Desafio/anywherecostarica charges approx 18-25$/person. The night stay at monteverde is 2 min walk from downtown and booked through Airbnb (Don Taco Hotel).

Days 4-9 will be continued in next post!!!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Grand Tetons National Park

#Grand Tetons and #Yellowstone ranked top on my National Parks list. Grand Tetons is just south of the yellow stone park, So don't miss out if you are planning for yellow stone. The nearest airport is Jackson hole, WY, but the tickets are way costly no matter what. So we were left with two options, either fly to Boise, ID and drive (5 hrs) to Jackson hole or fly to Salt lake city and drive since both got the same driving distance, unlike flying to Denver which will be close to 8 hrs of drive.

Planning for Hotels/cabins is a challenging one for yellow stone, since you need to book at least 5 to 6 months ahead of time. They have free cancellation policy up to 24 hrs prior to your reservation, so people book in advance and then a bunch of cancellations as usual. So keep calling them often to complete the booking for all your stay or book in advance. Based on the cabin booking, you can tend to plan your travel inside the park. Also based on that you will know which entrance to take for yellow stone.

 we crashed in a hotel at Driggs, ID closer to Grand Tetons entrance.

Some links on planning for hikes:

Day 1: Sunrise at Mormon Row Barn.

Most of the scenic locations are on U.S route 191.
Right after the Moose junction on route 191, you get to see a road towards your right called Antelope flats. Take that road to see one of the most frequently captured shot in Tetons.

Mormon Row Barn

From there just continue to the next look out place, schwabacher landing. Park the car and walk a bit to get to this beautiful location.

Schwabacher landing

Next look out point, snake river overlook.

Snake River outlook

After the schwabacher landing spot, while going north on route 191, if you want to do rafting there is an access point to the snake river at deadman's bar road, continuing further north you get to see some cabins to your left.

When you are at the intersection of route 191/89 and 287, make a left to enter Moran Junction. And there comes a beautiful look out point, ox-bow bend. A breath taking view of the Tetons reflected on snake river.

Oxbow bend

On taking the Tetons Park Rd at Jackson Lake junction, the Jackson Lake dam is a good spot to stop by and check. Then we had our late lunch at Signal mountain lodge, the food was good we enjoyed it.

Our next stop is at Jenny lake and we did a hike to hidden falls and Inspiration point. Before that we went to Jenny lake outlook to get this picture and then to Jenny lake visitor center to park our car to catch a shuttle boat for the hike. The last return boat was at 4-4:30 pm, else you have to hike back around the lake, which is what we did and it was fun, I highly recommend it.

Jenny Lake

Hiking back from Inspiration point/hidden falls

So if we further go down south we get to see the Moose junction which we passed by that morning (its a big loop around the park), but we are running short of time to reach yellow stone for dinner and cabin check in. So the plan was to go north from here, either through route 191 or through Tetons park rd. We took Tetons park rd since we want to drive up to the signal hill mountain before heading to yellow stone. And there we were blessed with some wild life, we saw some deer mule with an amazing glow of the sun, which made our day !!!

Signal Mountain

The day came to an end, while we drove to yellow stone for the night to our cabins at Lake village.

Yellow stone lake

After dinner was trying to take some shots of milky-way with my friend. That's the end of Grand Tetons, wish got more time to explore and do more hikes around. Will continue my Yellow stone trip in the next post.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Cherry Blossom - Sakura

#CherryBlossom #sakura is once a year bloom which happens sometime between end of March to 2nd week of April, however the peak lasts only for 3 days. (For the past three years it was around April 9th-12th). Millions of people flock from all over the world to see this beauty, which means it will be crowded like anything.

1) How to know if its the peak or not?:

One good way to know is to follow nps website and its live webcam.

I personally like this below website to follow upon and check the various stages of the bloom from a week before up till the peak. They pretty much cover A-Z on the subject matter.

2) What time to plan for?:

With the morning sun kissing the just bloomed flowers is the best time for brilliant shots. To get into the city most people recommend metro and the nearest metro to get down would be Smithsonian station. Trust me metro will over flow during these times as well. 

But if you are doing a picnic or carrying a bunch of camera gears, I would say early morning commute is easy for both driving into the city/parking and photography. In general DC parking is one hell of a pain and needless to say during cherry blossom season, so again go early morning. I usually park in one of the parking lots (A,B,C or road side parking) near Hains point, you will see these lots once you enter Ohio drive SW. Hains point as such is a beautiful place for picnic along with the bloomed trees on either side of the road, so don't forget to pack for your picnic.

GPS co-ord: 38.863364, -77.025632

3) What to see and photograph?:

The trail map in the nps site is very handy to know what to see and where to go.
I would recommend to do these trails and have given some GPS co-ord for the photos below.
i) Memory Loop
ii) Tidal Basin
iii) River walk

 GPS co-ord: 38.887390, -77.041172

  sunset from tidal basin, GPS co-ord: 38.885260, -77.044611

This view is just across the Kutz bridge, next to the Independance Ave SW. GPS co-ord: 38.887638, -77.038104.

Enjoy the blossom !!!