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Costa Rica to Belize Travels

It’s been almost two weeks since we came home from our Costa Rica to Belize travels. I can’t believe how quick that went by! Work was waiting as you can imagine and now here we are.

That trip was spectacular! Cathy and I are very grateful for the effort you made to organize everything. You helped us choose the perfect locations and resorts at the perfect times along the trip. I know you were concerned about all the moving parts, especially since we elected not to take the trip insurance. I realize that even one plane delay or a flat tire on a ground transport would have gummed up everything! Had that happened, Cathy and I would have been prepared and made the best of it. But it didn’t, and it was wonderful!

Andaz was the perfect beginning. Elegant, relaxing, and the perfect way to ease into Costa Rica. The restaurants at the resort were wonderful. The service was as attentive and comfortable as any of the finest resorts in the US. Each night we went to bed and each morning awoke to the sounds and scenes of the wildlife throughout this desert jungle resort – birds, monkeys, lizards, raccoons – amazing. And the view from our room – WOW! Unforgettable setting. I can’t help but compare our five nights at Andaz to our five nights at the beginning of our trip to Greece more than 12 years ago overlooking the Caldera on Santerini. We mostly relaxed – Cathy had a 90 min massage and I woke each morning with a workout at their terrific gym. But we did take a day and arrange for our own boat with a two-man crew to cruise around the Pacific and come back to the resort after the sunset – beautiful!

We had a terrific drive from Andaz to Aranal. Our driver stopped about halfway at a touristy store overlooking Lake Arenal. I had a good draft beer (not readily available in many places in Central America apparently), used the restroom, and took a couple photos of the Lake. Our driver was nice to stop at a supermarket along the highway so we could reload on sunscreen and buy a couple snacks. He was also happy to select a PowerAde drink from a selection of flavors we picked up.

Then there was Tabacon. Another fine resort, but much more authentic Costa Rica. It was clear Tabacon has been there longer than most other resorts. This is not because it looked aged. To the contrary, it was impeccably maintained. This place knows what it is and what makes people want to come there. Palapa restaurants, beautiful jungle vistas, quaint walking trails through the gorgeous grounds. And then there is the one of a kind mineral spring. It’s like a dozen personal Jacuzzis joined by the hot mineral spring. The spring is public along the highway below the resort, and tourists and locals used it all the time while we were there. In the resort, people not staying at the hotel made daily arrangements to use the facilities along with hotel guests – the spring, well appointed showers and lockers, very classy. And then – Shangra La. At the top of the spring in the resort was an exclusive part of the spring that was reserved for adult hotel guests – wow, that was special. I could see why people might go to Costa Rica just to come to this place.

Where we relaxed at Andaz, we ramped up the activities at Aranal. We did a white water rafting trip, zip lining, a hike tour to explore the lava flow on the Arenal volcano – all spectacular experiences. One thing became obvious in Costa Rica while we were at Tabacon. The people of Costa Rica are welcoming, kind, and proud of their country.

So next, we head to Belize. Our driver took us on a mountain pass road that reminded me of a two hour jungle version of Ortega Highway between Orange County and Riverside County. It was very beautiful and a wonderful way to see the region. When we arrived at the Marriott in San Jose, Costa Rica, we expected a quick overnighter and a day of traveling the next day to Belize and Chaa Creek. But we got so much more! The Marriott was everything that makes us stay at Marriott – familiar, professional, perfectly appointed, comfortable. And it turns out we were ready for some of that. We sat in the bar that afternoon/evening, had a burger and nachos, a couple of good draft beers, and watched US sports on multiple televisions. I could have been in Palm Desert – which was a welcome reset before our next adventure. We woke in the morning, had a wonderful breakfast and set off for the airport and Belize. BTW – the bellman at the Marriott had our bags at the curb, asked us to wait in the lobby for the shuttle, and forgot to come get us. So we missed the shuttle to the airport, and I was thinking the whole trip was about to come unraveled as we would miss our plane. But we got a cab – and the Marriott picked up the tab. I thought that was a classy thing to do.

So I am still mystified why we had to go from San Jose to San Salvador to Belize. I figured if the trip was going to go haywire that was where it would happen. But everything worked out perfectly. Avianca is a quality airline, even though they gave us customs forms for entering Belize in Spanish. Someone should tell them that everyone on the plane speaks English, including the people from Belize. Oh, and they gave us one form per family. When we got to Belize customs, the agent shook his head, gave each of us a form in English, and asked us to fill it out and get back in line – the line was two people.:)

Our driver was waiting at the curb, as usual. We shared the ride with a nice couple from Florida who were also going to Chaa’ Creek. That driver worked for Chaa’ Creek and was born and raised in San Ignacio. He was a wealth of knowledge about Belize – more than just the stuff you’d get from a tour guide. We drove two plus hours from the airport to the resort. This place was definitely not Costa Rica. It’s flat. The peoples’ homes are immediately along the highway. And there is British Empire history everywhere.

Chaa’ Creek was an eye opener. Now we were really in the jungle. After being spoiled with AC for a week, it was an adjustment to spend our first night in a thatch roof cottage with only fans to cool the humid night. But that adjustment was made by the time we woke up the next morning. What a scene! Birds and monkeys like we had not yet seen. The river below us, the jungle above us, and nature everywhere. We were excited to get some mileage out of our hiking clothes, and boy did we. So much to see. We hiked that whole reserve in two days. Probably a total of 10 miles. Up and down cool, uneven trails – all the while taking in jungle scenes, creeks, meadows with horses, Mayan ruins. Oh, and once again the food was great. Two palapas were the restaurant and bar. The food was Belize authentic – wow fry jacks are wonderful! I was impressed at the quality of our meals at the prices we paid, including the wine. As usual, the people were so welcoming and kind. Along one of our hikes we came upon the camp ground cabins. We met the caretaker of the camp ground and cabins there who built them for the owners 25 years ago and now runs the camp site with his wife. They maintain the site and cater to the cabin guests. We met a young couple who were enjoying the resort at the camp. They loved it and the husband and wife team that treated them so well. Turns out they traveled with us in the shuttle to the airport and on the plane to Ambergis Caye.

And now finally, we head to Ambergis Caye. The airport is 5 min from Chaa’ Creek – little tiny place with a 1,000 SF “terminal” building. Tropic Air uses single prop planes that are new, clean, and dependable. We made one stop on the way to Ambergis Key at a small town that had a “building” that was the size of a large outhouse. Cute. We took on two people, and we were off to Ambergis Caye. There is no way to adequately describe or photograph the view over this area. That shallow green/aqua water, the reef – breathtaking. It was hard to believe that we came from this jungle paradise to this ocean paradise in a such a short time. Las Terrazas had the driver waiting for us in San Pedro. The boat ride to the resort was cool. Like most resorts in the area, the reception area is outside, under a palapa. This overlooked the pool, surrounded by three stories of units. When we arrived, we came upon all our friends arranging themselves in the pool for a photo. They saw Cathy walking up, made a big commotion, which somehow led to her jumping into the pool to be in the photo. Classic. Good thing I was engaged at the desk checking in and stayed dry until after I put on suitable swimwear.

So the party was on! The wedding was beautiful (glad I wasn’t paying for it)! They originally planned to have the wedding dinner along the beach, where the ceremony took place. But they changed up beautifully when the wind picked up, and set the whole thing up for 75 people around the pool. Thank you and apologies should go out to the few people staying at the resort that were not part of this group!

Las Terrazas is a pretty resort. It reminds me of the nice timeshare units that we have stayed at over the years. I haven’t checked, but it would not surprise if we could trade our Palm Desert Marriott timeshare for Las Terrazas. No surprise – it’s not Andaz.

The day before we left was like Mardi Gras. We went to Secret Beach, a carnival of bars and beachgoers along a strip of beach that joins 3 to 6 feet of water out into the ocean for miles. It was a non stop back and forth from the bar to the water to the bar to the water – wash, rinse, repeat. Our crew of maybe 50 people drank the bar out of tequila. No problem, we just went to the bar next “door”. After that craziness, we returned to the room to clean up, drove our golf carts into San Pedro, and enjoyed a party atmosphere dinner at Palapa Bar on the beach. Good burgers, local gnoshes, Belikin beer (eh), a live band and dancing. A great way to end an epic vacation.

All the travel home clicked like a Swiss watch. There was a little tension in Houston as everyone struggled to connections during a Homeland Security combo of shift change and some kind of dog sniffing experiment. I had to laugh as hundreds of people were funneled into a line that ended in one at a time walking along a 60 foot gauntlet as a dog on leash sniffed around as they passed. What next, betting on a chicken in a pen to walk north? I thought we just left a third world country! But it all worked out, and we made it home. Always nice to step off a plane in Southern California and feel the weather. Turns out, we live in a pretty special place too.

I know this has gone on a while. But I also wanted to document this amazing experience for my own purposes. I once again want to thank you for your help in making this trip so special. The next time we want to have an amazing experience anywhere in the world, we surely know who to talk to. And I would not be surprised if you might get a call from one or more of our friends from the wedding, seeing as how we must have told the story above 20 times. So until the next time…

There are so many types of experiences to take on your travels. Whether you are doing a trip from Costa Rica to Belize or an another travel adventure, travel advisor Renee D’Avirro will help you explore all the possibilities available for an amazing experience during your travel adventures.

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Wendy Swenson

Wendy Swenson, CTC, first joined World Travel as Controller in July 1986 The travel industry became her favorite industry because it was constantly changing, and there were always new things to learn and changes to make, which is what makes life so fun for her. Wendy was quickly promoted to VP of Finance in 1986 and most recently to VP of Finance and Operations in 2012. Wendy’s most recent projects were to upgrade the World Travel Email system to Microsoft Exchange/Office 365, change payroll vendors, and to change internet providers for better cost and service. Wendy’s personal mission is to provide the best accounting and administrative support for our agents, so they can provide the best service to our customers. "Travel ~ Your Inspiration ~ Our expertise ~ Your dreams fulfilled"
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