Exploring the Yucatan Peninsula: Glorious Haciendas & Mayan Culture

Traveling to the Yucatan peninsula is such a short journey but feels like a million miles away! Flights into Merida are currently non-stop from Houston, Miami, and Mexico City. I enjoyed an unplanned stopover in one of my favorite food cities in the world: Mexico City.

I took advantage of this quick stop to check into the gorgeous boutique property, Las Alcobas which has its own fantastic restaurant on property and a renowned restaurant near by.

Anatol Restaurant is a seasonal, consciously-sourced, ingredient-driven restaurant. The menu consists of composed small plates, presented in a social and casual environment. Renowned Chef Justin Ermini has assembled a menu that is ideal for those seeking a laid back dining experience with a touch of Italian influence. Anatol’s contemporary and fresh environment amplifies the passion its food inspires.

Dulce Patria, directed by talented Chef Martha Ortiz, is a 90 seat, high energy venue that has redefined the Mexican dining experience. The menu is comprised of traditional plates reinterpreted in a modern context, set in a lively, stylish and urban environment. The restaurant boasts two terraces that give the inside of the restaurant a serene, spacious and open-air feel.

IMG_3879IMG_3882

As we arrived very late into the city, we walked a block down to Pastor for some truly delicious tacos!

IMG_3883IMG_3885

The next morning we arrived into Merida and were met by our driver for our drive through the beautiful remote and ancient villages of the Yucatan and to our first Hacienda visit.

IMG_3890IMG_3892

 

Welcome to Hacienda Tixnuc! Truly built in the ruins of this old Hacienda. Romantic and authentic with modern Air-Conditioned rooms.

IMG_3896IMG_3898IMG_3901IMG_3907IMG_3908IMG_3910

IMG_3912
The Master bedroom is especially spacious and lovely!

IMG_3913IMG_3915IMG_3917

IMG_3926
Every little snack is a surprise and a treat.
IMG_3927
This simple and delicious and healthy little snack is served all the time – jicama, cucumber, mango with lime and a chile citric spice! Love it!

Hacienda Tamchen was an absolute favorite for me. This 4 bedroom home has a massive master suite and two additional modern suites plus a fabulous bedroom with views in the main house. The suites are so large and set up to easily accommodate a family of 4 who would like to share an accommodation or wonderfully spacious just for a couple.  Ideal hacienda for a couples trip or several families sharing.

IMG_3928

IMG_3930
The pool is surrounded by a lily pond
IMG_3931
Just the place for an after lunch nap
IMG_3932
Looking back at the main house
IMG_3937
The suites have a king bed on one side….
IMG_3939
….and a spot for two kids on the other
IMG_3941
One of the two modern suite additions
IMG_3943
Lunch time on the terrace

IMG_3944

IMG_3952
View from the suite in the main house
IMG_3954
This is a sweet room with a bit of a view of the grounds
IMG_3959
What a delightful surprise to have a cold mini-coronita waiting for me.
IMG_3964
Expect homemade tortillas at every meal
IMG_3966
The meals are always creative and locally sourced – this is a cucumber stuffed with a pumpkin seed puree!
IMG_3968
Delicious frijoles at nearly every meal
IMG_3969
Wonderful Yucatan products
IMG_3972
One of the many Cathedrals and churches throughout the region

Next was Hacienda Itzincab Camara, which boasts 14 bedrooms – five in the main house and eight in the original hacienda outbuildings.  I fell in love with this dramatic property: its gardens, pools, and very own Mayan pyramid!

IMG_3975
The lovely team here was so welcoming!
IMG_3980
Always a delicious welcome drink and cold towel
IMG_3981
The indoor and outdoor public areas
IMG_3983
The natural gardens throughout are stunning!
IMG_3989
One of three swimming pools
IMG_3992
Two Bedrooms in the former Stables
IMG_3996
One bedroom is in the charming school house

IMG_4061

IMG_4067
My room is in the Secret Garden – I love it!
IMG_4003
Morning bird watching with our absolutely wonderful guide!

IMG_4007

IMG_4008
A breakfast surprise
IMG_4010
I love huevos motulenos for breakfast!
IMG_4011
My room is called the Secret Garden – so romantic!

Today we head out to explore the area:

First we are led on a private tour of Uxmal, the largest of the sites famed for their elaborate Puuc-style architecture, whose principal buildings are aligned to observe astronomical events. We visited the Pyramid of the Magician and the Palace of the Governor—two of the finest pre-Hispanic Mexican structures in existence—as well as the Nunnery Quadrangle and the House of the Turtles.IMG_4014IMG_4025

In the afternoon – another WOW experience that we can’t wait to plan for our next clients visiting the Yucatan. Hacienda Xocnaceh—a private & exclusive property is something unique. At its zenith, Xocnaceh produced cattle and henequen, the “green gold” that brought tremendous wealth to the Yucatán in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. After a visit to the pyramids, we were surprised and delighted with a  delicious lunch served in the chapel ruins!

IMG_4029
Oh my, what have we come upon…

IMG_4031

IMG_4032
…a jungle affair prepared just for us!
IMG_4035
Bienvenidos!
IMG_4042
“Jungle love, its driving me mad, its making me crazy!” – well they were not playing that, but these musicians made my heart sing.
IMG_4047
Perspective!
IMG_4050
That is my kind of quesadilla!
IMG_4059
Can you name these local fruits?

After a wonderful night’s sleep, I awake to birds singing and wandered in the main house early in search of a coffee. The team informs me that this morning coffee is served at the top of the pyramid (which sits incredibly just adjacent to the main house).

IMG_4080
Out is 7am and the Pyramid climb awaits!
IMG_4074
Oh the details and the view at the top. I imagined what the Mayans felt and saw.
IMG_4076
Indeed worth the trip up – strong and lovely brewed coffee!

This morning as we set out for our next adventure we came upon another simply magnificent restored hacienda. We saw it being prepared for a jet setter wedding from abroad. I envisioned so many over the top parties being held here! We can absolutely help! My iPhone pictures won’t do justice so I won’t try but if you are looking for a truly singular experience ask me about Hacienda Tekik de Regil.

IMG_4083Next I had the privilege of visiting the new Chable Wellness Resort and Spa. I have been talking about it incessantly since its debut and finally got a peek. The groups and buildings are very special, and the spa and wellness regimes are completely customized. It is a first class resort to relax at while visiting the area, but it’s also an excellent destination spa to completely focused on well being. Like all of the properties I am highlighting in this blog, it is a former hacienda with a rich story.  The restoration and modern additions are gorgeous!

IMG_4107

IMG_4091IMG_4092

IMG_4094
The modern bar
IMG_4096
The welcoming terrace

IMG_4098

Their villas are designed for maximum relaxation and boast spectacular jungle views, indoor and outdoor showers, and a private pool. It also features a signature restaurant by Jorge Vallejo, one of the most prominent chefs in Mexico, where we’ll taste their specialties.

IMG_4099IMG_4101

IMG_4104
The entrance to the ruins of the Presidential Suite

IMG_4108IMG_4111IMG_4112IMG_4113IMG_4115

Of course the spa is a significant part of the experience and the resort:

IMG_4116IMG_4118IMG_4119

One of the main pools and restaurants….where we enjoyed lunch

IMG_4121

IMG_4123
The largest tequila selection in the world!

Since the Spanish conquest, Mérida has been the cultural capital of the entire Yucatán Peninsula. At times provincial, at others ‘muy cosmopolitano,’ it is a town steeped in colonial history, with narrow streets, broad central plazas and the region’s best museums and restaurants.  Many consider Merida the new San Miguel de Allende where artists, free spirits, and those looking for something different are settling.

IMG_4131

IMG_4129

IMG_4133
Our hosts were the TOPS!  These are the people that make our clients’ experience in the Yucatan over the top special!
IMG_4134
Some of the best chocolate you will ever have!

IMG_4135

IMG_4137
Perfumes from Coqui Coqui
IMG_4138
Who knew beans and pork is a coveted ice cream flavor!IMG_4139

Finally we arrive to Izamal —where almost every structure is egg-yolk yellow! But Izamal is no mere tourist trap—it’s a living Maya town and art colony.

We stayed at two private villas here: Casa de los Artistas and Casa de Madera. Both full of character and charm and perfect for those wanting a fully serviced home in a more urban setting in order to explore the peninsula.

IMG_4170

IMG_4143

Dinner at the One Bedroom Casa Azul –

IMG_4150IMG_4146IMG_4147IMG_4148IMG_4149IMG_4158

Waking up at the 4 bedroom Casa Madera:

IMG_4165IMG_4168

A morning visit to the 6 bedroom Casa de los Artistas:

IMG_4169IMG_4173IMG_4174IMG_4175IMG_4176IMG_4179IMG_4181IMG_4182

Perhaps my favorite day was our afternoon at  Xocempich, a private cenote on the ruins of an historic ranch. We had a refreshing treat where we swam in the cenote’s crystalline waters and relaxed for hours in total privacy.

The cenotes through out the region are very unique to Yucatan. They are sink holes hundreds of feet deep that have pure filtered water from underground rivers – a pure delight to swim in! Some are in caves and some are in collapsed caves with lovely sunlight.

IMG_4209IMG_4215IMG_4236IMG_4241

The best treat of all was a lunch of cochinita pibil – my favorite Yucatan specialty – pork slow cooked in sour orange, wrapped in banana leaves and cooked underground.

Here the delicacy is being dug up and served – tremendous!

IMG_4226
The slow cooked pork is unearthed
IMG_4228
succulent local pig is slow cooked in sour orange and banana leaves – incredible.

IMG_4229

IMG_4231
Served with all the local Yucatan accompaniments makes for a feast!

Many people have been to Chichen Itza but if you have tried to go in the past 10-15 years, you know that the crowds are insufferable. Let us set you up with a private after hours tour with a reknowned archeologist!

IMG_4244
Fascinating afternoon with this world renowned expert archeologist

IMG_4246

IMG_4250
Touring after hours with our private guide…
IMG_4253
….means access to areas not open to the general public.
IMG_4259
Another spectacular surprise – a flutist so moving that many of us were in tears.

Farewell dinner was held at one of the three Haciendas that are small hotels, also restored haciendas, and now run as small exclusive hotels managed by the Luxury Collection – Temezon, San Jose and Santa Rosa.

IMG_4263
Here is our fun arrival to Hacienda San Jose for our farewell dinner.

IMG_4269

IMG_2636
I have always loved the Yucatan Peninsula – the Mayan culture, the history, the food, the people!  My heart has been captured yet again and I will most definitely be back to this rich civilization quite simply on our door step!

Cuba Libre: A Magnificent Island on the Verge of Transformation

Cuba is an isolated island nation full of life, music, and people that give so much!

It is such an exciting but tenuous time as Americans are starting to travel legally under the 12 officially allowed categories enforced by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). The one by which most American travelers enter the country is on a educational trip or a People-to-People.  I can legally arrange a completely customized itinerary on a private basis for just you, a couple, or a small group of friends. We arrange our visits with our hand-selected private guides and ensure you are staying the best possible hotels and dining in the most exciting restaurants in Cuba. If budget is a concern or you like the idea of traveling on scheduled and escorted small group itineraries run by outstanding and trusted tour operators, Resort to Laura Madrid can suggest and reserve the best options.

Check out my photos below for a taste of Cuba Libre – this happy and impressive island nation! (Tip: Hover your mouse over photos in order to see the captions)

img_2484
Commercial flights have started from the US to Cuba and we flew from Miami directly into Santa Clara (in the past Charter flights generally from Miami and in and out of Havana)

For our first stop, we traveled to the gorgeous and historic city in the rural area of Trinidad and we luckily arrived on the last day of a week long festival. The Cubans know how to party and the streets were lively until the wee hours!

We walked the streets and came across a mobile brewery, lots of art, and many historical buildings. When walking past the bank, there was a line out the door! Americans cannot get cash anywhere in the country – bring all the money you will need. There were chalkboards in stores we went to outlining what you can get per capita of different items. In Cuba, everything is rationed and each person is entitled to a certain amount.

img_2637
In Trinidad, Yes, We Can!
img_2489
Ham and cheese
img_2492
Bring your own bottle and fill it up at the mobile brewery
img_2496
Rum everything!
img_2502
Showing off his colorful glassware
img_2503
Che Guevara is a national hero and his image is more prevalent than even Fidel
img_2505
Taxi Luis can take you
img_2508
The Cathedral
img_2531
The bank -There is always a line to get into the bank. Americans cannot get cash anywhere in the country – bring all the money you will need!
img_2532
The library
img_2534
Cuba has stores where everything is rationed and each person is entitled to a certain amount.
img_2535
Here is the chart of what you can get per capita, eggs, rice, coffee, soap…

Music and art are everywhere on the streets of Cuba!

img_2540
Music is everywhere, it is spontaneous and it is always very, very good!
img_2544
This artist carves older Cuban figures in wood – the talent is incredible….

Below you can see a cathedral, the bell tower, a wealthy colonial home, the courtyard of that home and an image from inside a Santeria Church.

img_2552
The Cathedral
img_2553
The belltower
img_2559
A wealthy colonial home

img_2561

img_2567
Visiting a Santeria Church – Afro-Christian

We had a beer break, saw a whole roasted pig on a spit, and listened to some incredible singers! Lobster was served at almost every meal–it was never more than $15 and was always delicious!

Our fun and motley crew was led by the unflappable Marcel, our expert guide for the week.

img_2563
Beer break
img_2570
A whole roasted pig on the spit
img_2571
Their voices were incredible!!
img_2572
Lobster served at nearly every meal – never more than $15 and delicious!

16174407_10212799096360637_5983668365341088954_n

img_2593
Marcel, our expert guide was unflappable.

img_258016114342_10212799096240634_6743977959420481432_n

img_2603
Banana anyone?
img_2608
….I think I will!
img_2613
Climbing the watch tower on a sugar plantation
img_2617
The view from above.

img_2621

img_2627
The plantation house
img_2633
Stopping for a drink of fresh coconut water
img_2636
Our guides Marcel and David took amazing care of us!

16114133_10211579980478831_1622853195196171383_n

img_2640
The drive from Trinidad to the UNESCO world heritage city of Cienfuegos involved a stop at the local yacht club

img_2641img_2642

img_2644
It is Rum O’Clock somewhere!
img_2645
Our driver, Fernando, and guides David and Marcel really made the trip!
img_2648
Taxi?
img_2650
A cigar with famous Cienfuegos musician Benny Moré
img_2652
Even a lady on the phone stops to smile – the Cuban people are lovely!
img_2656
Gil and Tony posing with our guides – great group of guys (Conrad missing in action)
img_2657
The Colonial architecture is stunning…
img_2661
…inside and out!
img_2663
This is a serious shave!

img_2672

img_2679
Schoolgirls with their sitter
img_2683
Schoolboys
img_2685
Political art everywhere!

img_2686

img_2688
When in Cuba, the answer is always rum!

img_2691

img_2696
When on our bus, this crew was always sleeping off the last party!

If you are lucky, you will dine in several Paladares, or private homes. It is a very exciting time to eat in Cuba, and this was the best meal of the trip at La Guarida. La Guarida is a massive mansion in the process of being restored – it will take years and years and a lot of money!

img_2708

img_2716
Roof top bar at La Guarida

img_2718img_2720img_2722img_272316174920_10211579978518782_1873901268057492783_n

A stroll through Havana:

img_2732img_2736

img_2737
The Cubans are proud of their defeat of the Americans at Bay of Pigs – propaganda everywhere.

img_2738

img_2739
Old city walls
img_2747
A square in Old Havana

img_2758img_2765img_2769img_2770

img_2781
School kids in old Havana – the color of the uniform designates elementary, middle and high schools.

We visited and had a private performance at the Habana Compas Dance School and Professional Troupe. These talented musicians played with sticks on the back and on the seats of beautifully decorated chairs.

We had a fabulous lunch at El Carbon where everything is cooked on an open fire. Here we had lunch with Carlos, a Cuban international relations expert and former Ambassador to the UN for Cuba

Visiting the oldest boxing school in Cuba. All Cuban school kids are offered after school sports for free.

Art is other worldly and so prevalent in Cuba. Bring money to buy something special.

Without question our best and most fun night out was at Paladar San Cristobal dining in the very same seats and being served by the same team that just took care of President and First Lady Obama. They were so proud, as were we!

img_2906img_2919img_2920

img_2921
The most delicious rum I have ever had!
img_2922
Par for the course!
img_2931
Girls Gone Wild!

What a grand time in this cigar lounge having a private demonstration

img_2963img_2964img_2966img_2969

img_2970
Rum, espresso and cigars very much sums up this trip!
img_2975
Gil shaking the cigar makers hand
img_2971
The impressive making of a Cuban Cigar

img_2972

Castro banned American auto imports since 1959 – these beautiful cars are everywhere in Cuba and painstakingly and meticulously kept.

img_2992img_2982img_304116142289_10212799162722296_2118879924274354882_nimg_2865img_2895img_289916143014_10212799019718721_936396032267129378_n16105827_10211578085591460_3206417062489635657_n16178541_10211578087671512_3776731837259771198_o16178901_10211578087991520_3858376488734100348_o

16114053_10211578089071547_1432107720128869390_n
The people waiting in line are all buying wifi cards and those hanging around are taking advantage of the wifi hot spot. This is how people get on the internet in Cuba.

16177692_10211578090591585_9031974260229040522_o16142585_10211578813609660_1234247842011549610_n16142339_10211578815569709_7979201350476934983_nimg_2578img_2732

Another incredible night included dinner and drinks in the tower at El Cocinero, a former oil refinery. Incredible night!

img_2993img_2995img_2996img_2999

img_3012
Another incredible gem of a bar where the owner could not have been more of host and the drinks all hand made – so cozy and so much fun!

img_3016

img_3019
Homemade sangria, worth it!

An entire little town created in tiles by the artist Fuster – below are images of the town and Casa Fuster

All of this glamor and history, relived by visiting a by-gone era, seemingly frozen in time but simultaneously full of life. This is Cuba today. It is an exciting time for our Cuban friends full of hope and opportunity.  The hands on the clock will undoubtedly start spinning a whole lot quicker on this island.  RUN, don’t Walk

16114178_10211579977678761_6581534977505664905_n

16106013_10212800943526815_3400621861133321389_n
Only made so special due to my spectacular partner in crime. Our guides around the globe are always top notch, but Marcel totally rocked it!  I cant wait to send you more clients!! Viva Cuba!

Las Catalinas: Costa Rica’s Great New Little Town

Who doesn’t love an easy escape on a non-stop flight to a little piece of beach paradise yet without giving up any of the  comforts of home?  Las Catalinas is just the answer with wonderfully built and tastefully designed homes of all sizes, complete with it’s very own Main Street, a beach club, a toes-in-the-sand restaurant, a surf and activity shop, and miles of mountain cycling and hiking in the most pristine and relaxed environment.  The town is pretty perfect, but it is unique in that you dont just see the snow birds hunkering down for the weekend, the guests are a mix of school kids, year-round residents and visitors alike and Las Catalinas encourages local Ticos to be a part of the Pura Vida life-style by enjoying the mountain biking and the local bar.

There are many sized homes to choose from one bedroom studios to 7 bedroom estates and everything in between.  Many of the larger homes come with beautiful bunk rooms which are terrific for a bunch of kids.

IMG_7430

IMG_7380
Girl’s Trip to Las Catalinas
IMG_7366
Welcome to Las Catalinas!
IMG_7368
Beautiful Outdoor Entertaining Areas
IMG_7364
And Indoors Too
IMG_7379
My Room with a View
IMG_7382
This pool can be a shared entertainment area between two 6 bedroom homes
IMG_7385
The Perfect Spot for a long lunch or a chef-prepared Dinner
IMG_7555
Drinks at the Beach Club
IMG_7391
The Beach Club Pool

 

IMG_7392
Sunset
IMG_7396
Even in the Dry Guanacaste region, the nature is lovely.
IMG_7398
Another View
IMG_1437
What a great way to transport your things through town!
IMG_7432
Toes-in-the-sand restaurant “Limonada”

IMG_7401

IMG_7493
These guys are glad to set you up with your equipment and activities for the week at Las Catalinas!
IMG_7402
All the non motorized water sports are right on property
IMG_7447
Trails for mountain cycling and rentals right on property
IMG_7448
Off on a Hike

IMG_7452IMG_7458IMG_7464

Trails of mountain cycling are right on property including rentals

IMG_7407

We love our house moms who came each day to prepare breakfast and tidy our home

IMG_7474IMG_7475IMG_7476

IMG_7473
We can get use to this!

 

IMG_7536
I definitely suggest you consider a dinner chef for a least a couple of nights during your stay – such a treat!

Please contact me to discuss the many styles and sizes of homes available to rent as I toured several of them during my visit!

 

IMG_7408IMG_7411IMG_7413

IMG_7415
Many of the homes have terrific bunk rooms for kids, groups of friends or families to share
IMG_7416
How clever is this bunk bed!

IMG_7417IMG_7418IMG_7423IMG_7425IMG_7428

IMG_7499
Drinks at Limonada
IMG_7517
These are a little TOO good!
IMG_7521
Playing on our front lawn in front of the fabulous Casa Brewer

IMG_7530

We are already planning a return visit – Love Las Catalinas!

PERU: An Epic Family Adventure

My husband and I hiked the Inca trail over a decade ago, and throughout that experience I dreamed of not IF, but WHEN we would return with our children! I challenge you to float to the end of these images – each experience tops the last! Let me know when I can help craft your customized journey to the fascinating land of the Incans – gastronomy, culture, nature, art, history and active adventures await!

FIRST STOP: THE SACRED VALLEY

The most beautiful place to acclimatize, take on some active pursuits, and experience a bit of culture:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Alpacas, Llamas & Vicunas, oh my!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
An afternoon snack on our way to our hotel

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

IMG_7607
Weaving is an incredible art, done the same way for centuries

IMG_7608

IMG_7611
A young beauty
IMG_7613
Indigenous family
IMG_7619
Making friends in the market

IMG_7621

IMG_8056

SOL Y LUNA, our hotel in the Sacred Valley – this stunning boutique hotel is made up of free standing casitas and is the perfect oasis to welcome you to your Peruvian holiday.

IMG_7627IMG_7629

Each casita is a gorgeous peaceful oasis decorated with local art and extremely spacious and comfortable – a great way to shake off the fatigue of travel and acclimatize to the elevation.

IMG_7631IMG_7633IMG_7636IMG_7638IMG_7639IMG_7640IMG_7642

IMG_7645
Our lovely welcome amenity

IMG_7646

Peru is the most important gastronomic stop in Latin America, and the first night at Sol Y Luna did not disappoint!

IMG_7656IMG_7661

IMG_7663
Everyone must try the local favorite, guinea pig

IMG_7665IMG_7666IMG_7668

BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS – Pork Tamales, Quinoa Pancakes, local cheese and fresh produce!

IMG_7674

IMG_7794IMG_7795IMG_7796

Equestrian enthusiasts will love the family of horses at Sol Y Luna. Explore the area on horse back, ride around the grounds, or simply come to enjoy the Peruvian horse show at lunch time

IMG_7680

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

IMG_7782IMG_7783

Dinner and site inspection at Tamba Del Inka was an excellent treat – another fantastic hotel in the Sacred Valley

IMG_7811

IMG_7806IMG_7808IMG_7810

AN EPIC DAY OF MOUNTAIN CYCLING IN THE SACRED VALLEY: from Moray to the salt-pans

IMG_7689IMG_7697IMG_7714IMG_7719IMG_7728IMG_7734IMG_7743IMG_7748IMG_7761

IMG_7764
GOURMET PICNIC IN THE HILLS DURING OUR DAY OF CYCLING

IMG_7765IMG_7767

IMG_7773
Sharing lunch with some new friends

IMG_7775

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Visiting the salt mines
IMG_0165
Uphills were difficult, but the downhills rewarding!

A VISIT TO OLLANTAYTAMBO IN THE SACRED VALLEY

En route to the train station:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

IMG_7831
Learning how the ancient warriors fended off invaders

IMG_7835

ONE VERY SPECIAL TRAIN RIDE TO AGUAS CALIENTES (AKA MACHU PICCHU TOWN)

ABOARD THE PRINCESS CLASS ON THE INKA RAIL – For a family trip, a group of friends, or to celebrate a big birthday – this is the WAY TO TRAVEL!

Guests have their own private rail car with two servers and a chef, the car has a bar, comfortable sitting area and sit down dining space for up to 8 persons, and a private balcony.  The food, wine, views and service are surreal!

IMG_7974IMG_7990IMG_7993IMG_7995IMG_8008IMG_8011IMG_8028

IMG_8030
So special to have our own private balcony!
IMG_8042
One course after another-Delicious!
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
River views all along the route

IMG_8028IMG_8043

Exploring Macu Picchu & climbing adjacent Huayna Picchu:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

IMG_7964

IMG_7915
Machu Pichu is even more mystic and beautiful surrounded by clouds

IMG_7953OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

IMG_7964

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

AGUAS CALIENTES (MACHU PICCHU TOWN):

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Fabulous City of Cuzco and a special stay at La Casona, Relais & Chateaux

IMG_8060
Welcome to La Casona!

IMG_8061IMG_8063IMG_8067IMG_8070IMG_8071

IMG_8073
Getting a shoe shine

IMG_8075IMG_8083IMG_8084

IMG_8088
Buenos Dias, Cuzco!

 

IMG_8089

Lake Titicaca, the highest elevated navigable lake in the world at 12,000 feet and the gorgeous Titilaka Hotel, Relais & Chateaux:

IMG_8239

IMG_8101IMG_8104IMG_8111IMG_8114IMG_8116IMG_8125IMG_8130IMG_8136

IMG_8139
Lakeside cocktails

IMG_8140IMG_8147

One of the most wonderful experiences at Lake Titicaca is visiting the indigenous people who live on the floating islands made of reeds.

IMG_8152IMG_8160IMG_8171IMG_8174IMG_8175IMG_8179IMG_8183IMG_8184IMG_8192IMG_8195IMG_8199IMG_8201IMG_8206IMG_8207

We also had the opportunity to visit the unesco world heritage island. Taquile Island is a living museum, a secluded island of weavers whose textiles have been hailed as heritage masterpieces by UNESCO. Part of the uniqueness of the island’s culture comes from their traditional social structure which is reflected in their dress, traditions and greetings.

IMG_8213IMG_8214IMG_8223IMG_8224

IMG_8225
A gift to our family from our hosts

IMG_8230

Gorgeous Hotel B, in the bohemian Barranco Neighborhood of Lima for our last night:

IMG_8244IMG_8245IMG_8247IMG_8252IMG_8257IMG_8259IMG_8263IMG_8271IMG_8272IMG_8274

A wonderful lunch with the locals at El Mercado in Lima:

IMG_8293IMG_8305IMG_8307IMG_8308IMG_8309IMG_8311IMG_8312

Our final dinner at the fourth best restaurant in the world, Central, where the 12 course tasting menu features foods from every altitude:

IMG_8324IMG_8326IMG_8328IMG_8331IMG_8332IMG_8336IMG_8338IMG_8339

Costa Rica – More PURA VIDA than ever! Just need to know where to look!

Join me on a journey to the more remote and special Costa Rica!

I lived in Costa Rica as a youngster in the 1970’s, my daughter took her first steps at Four Seasons Costa Rica, and I have returned many times on my own and with my family to this country that I adore.

On this trip, I wanted to go a bit off the beaten path to uncover a new places that have not been exploited by tourism. My trip took me to a relaxing and luxurious horse ranch resort in the Southern highlands, a raft-in and raft-out river lodge on the Pacuare river in the Caribbean region of Limon, to the authentic coffee lodge in the coffee zone of Naranjo outside of San Jose, and to the nature reserves of the Osa Pensinsula for two unique encounters with raw nature interpreted by local naturalists.

We love Costa Rica and our favorite thing to do is organize seamless trips for families, romantics and nature lovers to explore the “Pura Vida” in a comfortable and enriching way!

Pacuare Lodge

Our driver met us in San Jose and drove us up to Limon and to the Pacuare River where our luggage was packed into water-proofed bags and secured onto our raft.  The class 3 rapids were a wonderful and manageable way to ease into river life with our excellent and experienced guide.  (All of the guides have been working on the river their entire lives and are incredibly accomplished).

The more challenging rafting is on the way out and involves class 4 rapids and is incredibly scenic!

Our arrival to the Pacuare River Lodge – first sights of our home for the next days:

River Suite are on the river and lovely but for a real splurge go for the Linda Vista Suites with incredible views of the river below, lots of privacy, and their own spring fed plunge pools.

River side breakfast is breathtaking!  The food at Pacuare lodge is spectacular and all included. The grainy banana pancakes and strong Costa Rican coffee were a huge hit for me!

The naturalists on site do not miss a beat! Here, a Preying Mantus enjoying his breakfast, a cricket:

IMG_4738And a big hairy tarantula:

IMG_4736

The four hour hike up to see a Cabecar Indian Village.

The Talamanca Mountains are host to the Cabecar Indians, the largest indigenous group in Costa Rica, and one that retains many of its traditional customs and beliefs. In contrast to many other indigenous groups, the Cabecar do not live in villages, but prefer small family units scattered throughout this isolated region that includes the Pacuare zone.

From the Pacuare Lodge it is possible to visit an isolated family group to learn about their way of life, as well as enjoying the alluring tropical rainforest. The experience to walk to these family clans is a challenge due to the difficult conditions of the trails; nevertheless, the trail offers a wonderful opportunity to discover many secrets of the forest, interact with the ecosystem, and hike the same trails the Cabecar Indians have for centuries.

After a day of activities, many guests like to organize a lunch or meal in the tree house at Pacuare.  Zip line into dinner!

IMG_4735

Canyoneering is popular in Costa Rica! At Pacuare we rapelled on five different water falls. It was a gorgeous experience!

Lapa Rios

Lapa Rios has been famous for a long time, as it was one of the very first eco lodges in Costa Rica. Lapa means “Macaw” in Spanish, and the resort is named after the colorful, long-tailed natives of Central America which are so prevalent in the rain forest of the Osa Penisula.

Morning and afternoon tours are included in the price of your stay, as are meals. The food is quite good and the rooms are very comfortable, many with lovely views of the ocean.

Afternoon nature walk with our guide:

The walk to the beach here is quite far and can be arduous for some, but  you can opt for a shuttle pick up.

Morning bird watching walk with a naturalist:

Playa Cativo

Playa Cativo was a very special find!!  A tiny 7 room hotel can only be reached by boat either from Golfito or from Puerto Jimenez, both of which have very small airports.

We were met at the dock by the incredibly knowledgable and hospitable Gerardo and were taken for the 25 minute boat trip across the bay.  It sprinkled along the way, but there were ponchos and the the views were stunning and included  a school of dolphins who seemed to guide our boat.

First sights of Playa Cativo, and the gracious team waiting to receive us. We felt like VIPs!

The small hotel is completely charming and very well appointed. We were quickly on a first name basis with all of the team including Daniela who was our lovely waitress for all of our meals. As in all of the eco-lodges of Costa Rica, there is no air conditioning, bedrooms are screened, and the public spaces are very much open so you can enjoy the afternoon rains while you sip a coffee or a cocktail.

IMG_4512

We love our room on the second floor with windows of the incredible gardens and water on two sides.

Third floor rooms are open on three sides so you can really enjoy the views and have even nicer air flow. The bathrooms are also very large and stunning! This is my pick for my clients!

The stand alone cottage is also a nice option for guests.

Playa Cativo has a calm bay, idea for paddle boarding.

The black sand beaches are beautiful and empty, so it very much feels like Playa Cativo is all yours!

IMG_4545

Playa Cativo is located right on Piedras Blanca National Park and the highlight was walking through here with our expert and affable guide, Gerardo!

Playa Cativo has its own farm where much of the produce is grown for the resort. We loved stopping in for some fresh coconut milk!

Leaving Playa Cativo was not easy, we could have settled in here for a few more days! Boat, flight, and onward….

Chayote Lodge is a special new lodge opened just an hour outside of San Jose in the heart of the coffee zone of Naranjo.  This is a perfect option for guests that need an overnight in San Jose but don’t really want to waste a night of their holiday by staying in the city. A stay at Chayote is an experience and a way to immerse your self in the local culture. Activities include a coffee tour that will allow you to see and learn about the coffee production, as well as of course taste some amazing local organic coffees. Guests are encouraged to meet locals whether at a cooking class with a local woman in her home, or by going to the local dance hall on Saturday night–the experience curator sets it all up.  So while you may have your adventure activities, bio-diverse nature hikes in many locations, this is your chance to actually stay in a real local working town in a beautifully designed retreat where each element of the property including the rooms are a nod to Costa Rica’s coffee culture.

On this trip, I also had the immense please of staying at the Hacienda AltaGracia, which I devoted an entire blog post to here. Please check out these beautiful images and my previous blog post to read about the rest of my Costa Rican adventure and this amazing new property: