Newark to Maui for $399 Round Trip on American Airlines

It’s a good week to be a traveler based near Newark, NJ. American Airlines has plenty of dates from Newark to Maui for $399 from early April into late May. These flights have a connection in Dallas before continuing on to Maui. I did a quick sample search from May 4th-May 10th but you can just go to Google flights and play around with your desired dates.AAEWR2OGG2

I also did a quick check on Chase Ultimate Rewards and these flights can also be booked via the UR portal for a bargain redemption of just over 26k Ultimate Rewards points round trip if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve or 32k points if you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred. Flights to Hawaii from the NYC area are rarely this cheap so if you were planning a trip to Hawaii over the next month or so, this is a great deal whether you use cash or points. I made a post about my trip to Maui and you can read about that by clicking the following link:  Travel Itinerary: 3 Days in Maui

Newark, New Jersey to Sacramento, California for $76 Round Trip on United

Airfare from the New York City area to California rarely comes this cheap. While Sacramento itself is not generally considered a destination on most people’s list it can be a gateway to other places in Northern California. If you want to use it as a gateway to get to the Bay Area or Yosemite National Park, this deal is about as cheap as they come. And if Sacramento happens to be your final destination, even better for you. Click here to find your exact dates and availability. This deal is available for April and May.

Southwest Airlines runs out of de-icer, cancels all flights from Midway

Hopefully, none of you reading this had your plans altered. I don’t recall an airline canceling flights because they ran out of de-icer.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-metro-southwest-airlines-runs-out-of-deicer-again-20180211-story.html

Travel Itinerary: 3 Days in Maui

Maui was the first of two islands my wife and I visited during our last trip to Hawaii. The second was Kauai and I’ll have a separate post on that later. Maui, also known as the Valley Isle, is the second largest island in Hawaii and with endless beauty. Our four days didn’t cover everything, but it covered most of the main attractions. We had a total of 7 days in Hawaii (the first day was more like a half day), four which we spent in Maui and three in Kauai. So let’s get started.

How We Got There

You’ll probably notice a trend with just about every itinerary I post.  We rarely use cash to get to our destination and this trip was no different. Now keep in mind, my wife and I have schedules that for the most part, allow us to take these trips during peak travel season.  This trip to Hawaii happened to be during the last 9 days of December which is high season in Hawaii. Likewise, the number of miles that airlines require to get to Hawaii is also doubled from most cities. United usually charges 22.5k miles a person one-way to get to Maui. That redemption rate from Chicago, Newark, and D.C were 45k miles per person one-way. Fortunately for us, Denver still had the saver award redemption at 22.5k miles so we decided to spend two days there (both of us had never visited Denver), and depart to Maui from Denver International Airport.

 Arrival

Even though this was technically our first day, we arrived too late to do anything significant. Our flight to Maui arrived at 4:35pm and by the time we deplaned, got our bags, and picked up our rental car, it was close to 5:45pm. At this point, we only had about 15 minutes of daylight left. We checked into our hotel, the Napili Shores by Outrigger, ate an early dinner and decided to go sleep at 8pm.  The next day was going to be very long.

Day 1: Haleakala National Park & Papawai Scenic Lookout

  • Haleakala National Park

If you’re visiting Maui, you simply can’t leave without witnessing the sunrise at Haleakala National Park. It’s something that can’t be replicated elsewhere and it’s magical. The ideal day is when there is a layer of clouds below you that allows the sun to rise above that layer. Sometimes it can get cloudy enough where there is little to no visibility and that’s the type of day you want to avoid. Your best bet is keeping an eye on the weather. You do have to pay $25 per car at the entrance and you have to make a reservation for $1.50 if you’re going there at sunrise. The ticket for the sunrise is good for 3 days and it can be purchased up to 60 days in advance. My wife and I got there 2 hours before sunrise to assure ourselves a good parking spot.  You should aim to get there no later than an hour before sunrise or the desirable parking spots and viewing areas will fill up quickly. It’s a relatively slow 45-minute that has steep curves and hairpin turns after hairpin turns. It does require your full attention and if you’re the type that gets distracted with a cell phone easily while driving, turn it off until you’re at the top. If you run into fog, it can get a little challenging but fortunately for us, it was clear all the way through during our drive to the top.

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View of the sunrise at Haleakala National Park

A few important things to keep in mind. When you’re at the viewpoint, you are at an elevation of about 10,000 feet. Not only is it cold, it is very windy! You will need a warm jacket and ear covers or I promise you it won’t be pleasant. The air is obviously much thinner so If you’re sensitive to elevation or have had trouble breathing in elevation before, please reconsider. Once you’re done with the sunrise, you can stop at other viewpoints on the way down. There are fantastic picture opportunities of the surrounding craters and landscape

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View of the craters from one of the scenic lookouts on the way down

  • Papawai Scenic Lookout

  • On our way back to Lahaina, we decided to stop at the Papawai Scenic Lookout. Locals recommended this spot as a great place to whale watch from land. During the winter months, mother humpback whales will birth their calves and teach them important behaviors in the waters right off of Maui. It took a little bit of patience but it paid off and we got a show of a lifetime. About 15 minutes after we got there, we noticed a mist of water that was sprayed about a quarter mile offshore.  And there it was, a baby humpback whale under the watchful eye of its mother practicing breaching behaviors. At first, the calf looked like it needed a bit of support just to breach halfway.
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This was as far as the calf could go the first few times.

After about 8 attempts of getting halfway up, it completely breached the water. I kept my camera in rapid-fire mode and I was fortunate enough to capture a memorable moment.

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Even if you don’t manage to see whales, the lookout provides excellent photo opportunities.

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At night we walked around Lahaina Town and stumbled upon one of the best Ice Shave’s you will ever have. It’s called Ululani’s Hawaiian Ice Shave and they have over 50 flavors. I had the ‘Haleakala’, a mix of coconut, leche, and condensed milk. I really wish I took a picture to post here but I guarantee you’ll find whatever you’re looking for.

Day 2: Road to Hana

Along with Haleakala National Park, the Road to Hana is another excursion you simply cannot leave Maui without experiencing. It has black sand beaches, waterfalls, bamboo forests, flower gardens, breathtaking ocean views, and it was one of the highlights during our stay in Hawaii. The Road to Hana from start to finish is about 52 miles it is a journey which will take the majority of the day if you factor in the time you will stop at various stopping points. There is over 600 hairpin turns, 54 bridges (46 which are one lane), and you will have to concentrate while driving as the roads can get very narrow at certain points. My wife and I had a rental car so if there were certain stop points we liked better, we were able to spend more time. You can opt to take a tour bus but then you’re on their time. If you are driving there,  fill up your tank before you start. The last town prior to starting this journey is Paia and the gas prices over there are expensive. You’re better off filling up in Kahului. There no gas stations between Paia and Hana. If you are driving yourself, I highly recommend downloading Gypsy Guide – Road to Hana on your iPhone or Android.

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It costs me $5 and it was the best $5 I spent on the island.  The app will recommend which points of interests are worth stopping for, which ones don’t require a lot of time, and which should be skipped altogether.  It honestly felt like we had an actual person with us and the app even told us of approaching food shacks and cafes. The great thing about this app is that it worked even when we lost data connectivity. On the way back, the app tells you more of the cultural significance of different points in Maui. These are the places we stopped in chronological order:

1. Garden of Eden Arboretum

This is one of the only points of interests on the Road to Hana where you have to pay to get in since it is privately owned. The cost is $15 for adults, $5 for children, and infants are free. They do offer student and AAA discounts. My wife and I found it to be worth it and you can budget about 30 minutes here. They have numerous native and indigenous plants, many you might have never seen before and it also offers some great photo opportunities. The garden also has a smaller waterfall and you’ll see peacocks on the premises as well.

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Garden of Eden Arboretum

2. Waikamoi Ridge Trail

This was a hike which really stimulated your senses. The best thing about this trail? There are mango trees all around and it smells like heaven. They also have one my favorite trees, the rainbow eucalyptus tree which looks like the bark has been colored by a pastel. The trail can get extremely muddy so if you’re wearing flip-flops or don’t want to get your shoes destroyed, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to skip this and spend more time at Twin Falls (which we skipped).

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Rainbow-eucalyptus tree

3. Halfway to Hana Stand

They’re known for their banana nut bread and it’s delicious. If it wasn’t worth the hype I wouldn’t tell you to stop here.  It won’t take long and you can park on the side of the road.
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4. Upper Waikani Falls

There is only room for a couple of cars on the side of the road to see this trio of waterfalls but it certainly is beautiful and worth stopping if parking allows.

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4. Nahiku Market Place

Two words: fish tacos.  Perfect place to have lunch. The fish tacos were super fresh and delicious. I wish I had a picture but I inhaled them before I realized I’d had forgotten.

5. Wai’anapanapa State Park

This is one of the places where you absolutely have to stop. A beautiful black sand beach which also has an abundance of volcanic rock, a cave that takes you to the waters, and you can also go for a swim. The waves are very strong so something to keep in mind. We spent a solid hour here and honestly we wished we could have spent more.

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Black sand beach and volcanic rocks

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There’s a story behind this cave but I won’t ruin it. Download the app above and it will tell you all about it

6. Wailua Falls

Another point of interest that you should definitely stop by. You can park on the side of the road and walk down to the base of the falls. I even saw a few people swimming near the base and they seemed quite comfortable doing so. I have no idea how deep it is so please be cautious if you decide to go in the water. It’s a beautiful waterfall and probably the largest one you’ll see on The Road to Hana.

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7. Oheo Gulch (7 Sacred Pools)

This was our last stop on The Road to Hana. Unfortunately, due to mudslides, access to these pools was closed during our visit to Maui. We were able to see some of the falls from the trail but no one was allowed to swim at the base. Oheo Gulch is located 15 minutes past the town of Hana. Here is a very important detail to keep in mind. If you go beyond this point in your rental car and if something were to occur, your insurance becomes void! Even your credit card coverage would be voided.  The road beyond this point is mostly gravel and dirt and the major rental companies have this written out explicitly in the contract agreement. Many tourists will risk it because there are some beautiful sites to see even beyond Oheo Gulch. But even something as minuscule as a flight tire means you’re on your own.

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Oheo Gulch

Day 3: Napili Bay

Maui has plenty of amazing beaches that you can choose to spend your day. Or you can even go beach hopping and get a taste for almost all of them. Since our hotel was situated at Napili Bay, we decided to spend the day on the beach over here. If you’re into snorkeling and seeing marine wildlife, this was an awesome spot for that. I saw plenty of colorful fish and was lucky enough to see a few sea turtles, one which was managing to get by with a flipper missing. You can see the video below.

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You can see me snorkeling in the distance with the island of Moloka’i in the background.

If you happen to be in the Lahaina area, I strongly recommend stopping by Gazebo Restaurant for breakfast. Their white chocolate macadamia nut pancakes with homemade whipped cream were amazing. They are also very generous with their portions.

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So this was Maui for us in a nutshell. We wish we could have stayed a day longer but that meant subtracting a day from Kauai. We felt pretty satisfied with our 3 days here (excluding travel) and felt like we accomplished just about everything we wanted to accomplish. In the not too distant future, I hope to have our ” 3 days in Kauai ” itinerary and recommendations up.

Review: The Langham, New York City

Thanks to my cousin Salma Hatia for this detailed review on The Langham.

This was my 2nd time staying at the Langham in NYC, but my 1st time staying at the Langham as an AMEX Platinum Member—which was a whole new experience! Don’t get me wrong, I had a great first stay, it was what I expected for a 5-star hotel, however as an AMEX member I felt like the experience was so much better—like, seriously, who was I?When I checked-in, they immediately upgraded me to an executive suite with a kitchen on the 21st floor because I was an AMEX Platinum member. Along with the upgrade, they told me that I had a $100 credit to use on whatever I wanted, like the spa or room service, complimentary breakfast for 2 at their Michelin-star restaurant, Ai Fiori, and late checkout at 4pm, which was clutch because our flight was at 5:30pm on Sunday.

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When we went up to our room the first thing me and my cousin immediately noticed was the view through the large windows—we were able to see down 5th avenue and we could see the beautiful Chrysler building.

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View of Bank of America Tower and the Conde Naste Building (with H&M sign)

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Beautiful view of the Chrysler building and looking down on Fifth Avenue

The 2nd thing we noticed was that we had a powder room—when does that ever happen? Needless to say, we had more than enough room. We even had some of our friends and cousins come up to hang out with us in the room, 6 adults and a baby were hanging out comfortably. All the cafes around us were closed, so we ordered lattes from room service (using my $100 of credit) and they were excellent!

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Full kitchen via AMEX Platinum upgrade

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Views of Manhattan from the bathroom

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Soap, shampoo, and conditioner were all Chuan, a holistic proprietary brand owned by Langham

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Another huge selling point for the Langham is their location. The hotel is centrally located in Manhattan, so we were able to walk to most of our destinations on Saturday. We walked to Washington Square Park, Times Square, and the Highline. The next day, we had to check out by 4pm and catch our flight at 5:30pm so we didn’t have a lot of time to waste. We woke up at 8am and called the doorman to arrange a ride to central park at 11am using the hotel car service (which is free!).

Pro Tip: The hotel has a Jaguar that will drop you off wherever you want to go up until 59th street, they start taking appointments in the morning at 8 am, and it is on a first come first serve basis.

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Jaguar that’s provided for guests of The Langham

After we had our ride set up, we got ready and cashed in on our complimentary breakfast at Ai Fiori—which was phenomenal! My cousin and I decided to order a couple of things and share. We ordered the buttermilk pancakes, uova in purgatorio, and the house potatoes —everything was phenomenal. You can see the picture below.

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If you asked me what the stay was like after my first time, I would’ve said it was great—all the basics of a 5-star hotel. But, staying here as an AMEX platinum member really made this experience next-level amazing, to say the least! It is rare to have a travel experience where you don’t find yourself compromising on something, whether it be the room, service, or location. But I can truly say that there was no compromising at the Langham NYC, everything was at the top of its game—the room, the service, the amenities, the location, and the (free) food were all a 5 out of 5.

 

Review: American Airlines First Class Albany to Chicago

It had been a while since I used an award redemption for a first class ticket on a domestic route.  I wasn’t really left with much of a choice since I needed to get home to Chicago and I had the following options if I wanted to book with American Airlines:

  • Spend $381 for a one-way ticket in economy
  • Spend $511 for a one-way ticket in first class
  • Use 25k American Advantage miles to book in economy
  • Use 12.5k British Airways Avios (transferrable from Chase or AMEX) to book in first class

Given the options above, using British Airways Avios to book first class on this flight was a no-brainer. Had economy tickets been available for redemption using B.A., it would have only cost 7.5k miles. For whatever reason, American didn’t make economy seats available to British Airways. Still, this is a great redemption and one which I’m getting greater than 4 cents per point. As I’ve mentioned before, this is one of the sweet spots when using BA to book on American.

My flight was on an Embraer-175 regional jet operated by Envoy Air, one of American Airlines’ regional partners. Generally speaking, people will roll their eyes when they hear their flight is on a regional jet as opposed to a mainline aircraft. This is especially true when flying in economy. In a surprising twist, I found the first class cabin to be more comfortable in the E-175 relative to a Boeing 737 or Airbus A320/321. One big advantage with the E-175 if you’re flying solo is the left side of the plane in first class is configured with only a single seat. You get to look out the window and not have to worry about asking people to move if you have to use the lavatory. The right side of the plane has the traditional two adjacent seats.

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The seat was spacious and comfortable and since I was fortunate enough to have seat 1A, I had more leg room than I needed to stretch out.

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There are only a few routes such as Dallas to Chicago where American Airlines will serve a full dinner on their regional jets for flights under 900 miles. Since we were under that threshold, I was served a snack box with hummus, pita chips, and Fannie May chocolate (Chicago folks are familiar with this).

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The hummus and pita chips were decent, certainly better than the normal mini-pretzel bag served in economy. The flight attendants came by multiple times during the two-hour flight to ask if I wanted anything to drink so they were certainly attentive. If you’re a T-Mobile customer, don’t forget that you get an hour of free wifi on American Airlines when flying within the U.S. and Canada. You are also able to text throughout the flight for free by turning on your wifi calling.

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American Airlines serves 3-course meals on all first-class flights over 900 miles. They have certain routes under 900 miles where they will still serve a 3-course meal in first class.

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If you find yourself booking between Chicago and any of the cities above, you would get enhanced value with the 12.5k Avios redemption for first class because dinner is included. Since BA has a distance based award chart, you can travel as far 1,150 miles from your departure city to get the 12.5k redemption in first class.

 

 

Featured image via UPGRD.com

Ethiopian Airlines Announces Service to Chicago. Air New Zealand Expected to Announce Auckland to Chicago Non-Stop Next Month

Great news for travelers in Chicago-land area and really the Midwest in general. Chicago will have its first non-stop flight to Africa starting June 2nd, courtesy of Ethiopian Airlines. West Bound passengers will depart Addis Ababa and arrive in Chicago via Dublin. East Bound passengers will fly non-stop to Addis Ababa and will be able to connect to any of the 55 cities Ethiopian Airlines serves throughout Africa. The flights will be operated on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and you can read more about that here. Currently, Ethiopian Airlines flies to Washington D.C, Newark, and Los Angeles.

There is speculation that Air New Zealand will announce non-stop service from Auckland to Chicago during President Obama’s visit to New Zealand next month. This route would be served on the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner with a flight time pushing 17 hours. You can read a bit more about that here.

Since both airlines are Star Alliance members, you could use United miles to book an award flight on either airline. If you’re flush with Chase Ultimate Rewards points, you can transfer into United or Singapore Airlines (another Star Alliance member) to book an award flight. Redemption rates may vary so always check the redemption chart prior to transferring.

While Chicago is an international gateway for many cities in Asia, South America, Middle East, Central America, and Europe, it always lacked a non-stop flight to Africa. I’ve never flown on Ethiopian Airlines but they do have an excellent product with lie-flat seats in first and business class so it’s something to consider if you’re considering an award redemption to Africa. Air New Zealand also has a very good premium cabin so if the Air New Zealand non-stop to Auckland comes to fruition, it will also make travel to Australia a bit easier. It might be just a matter of time before we see Qantas initiate a Sydney or Brisbane non-stop to Chicago.

Marriott Extra Points Sunday is Back For The Super Bowl

Marriott gave Twitter users the opportunity to earn over 10,000 Rewards Points throughout the course of the NFL season just by answering trivia. Accruing those points was a great way to save towards a free hotel night. Marriott tweeted today that they will have trivia questions on Twitter throughout the game, giving everyone a chance to score 1,500 Rewards Points.  Redemptions at Marriott start at 7,500 for a category 1 and 10k for a category 2 hotel. If you participated enough since the beginning of the season, you might have earned yourself a free night at a Marriott just by answering trivia questions on Twitter. I wrote a post earlier on how to link your Marriott account with Twitter. You can find that here.

Travel Itinerary: 7 Days in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a beautiful and affordable destination and one which I get asked about quite often. It has such a diverse landscape that you can be on the beach taking in the sun one day while trekking the trails near Arenal Volcano the very next day. There is something for everyone in this beautiful country and you’re going to see wildlife, landscape, and other sites which you might have never seen before. My wife and I took a flight from Albany, NY to Liberia, Costa Rica and rented a small SUV to get around. We started on the northwest side of Costa Rica and made our way southeast. We returned the car to San Jose International Airport. It’s not really far in terms of distance but there are roads where you will have to drive slow either due to the speed limit or due to the poor conditions of the road themselves. If you are going to rent a car, I highly recommend an SUV. It doesn’t have to be huge and anything with decent ground clearance will suffice. You can see the distance between the two airports below.

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Arriving in Costa Rica

We arrived at Liberia International Airport from Newark at 1:40 pm. 17.5k United miles per person was what got us here. We headed straight for the car rental counters which were adjacent to the airport and this was probably the worst part of our trip. We pre-booked with Budget so I assumed I would just have to show my license and passport, give them my credit card, and we’d be on our way. That’s not how it went. First of all the line was long and it was slow moving. The issue at hand with just about everyone in front me? Not reading up on their car rental laws prior to arriving and then assuming that Budget was in the wrong. Here is how it works: In Costa Rica, you are BY LAW, required to purchase government issued liability insurance  (SLI). This is different than benefits from your credit card. The concern with most people was that purchasing this insurance would void the collision damage waiver (CDW) their own credit card might provide. It does not void the CDW because purchasing the SLI is law. Now it’s true that the rental agencies might try to upsell you their own insurance in addition to the SLI. That’s where they earn most of their profits. For your sake, it’s redundant and a waste of money. We spent nearly two hours in line before we finally got our SUV. And again, I strongly recommend an SUV because you will find gravel roads and roads that are poorly paved in Costa Rica.

Days 1 & 2: Puerto Potrero

For the first two days, we stayed right on the beach at Sugar Beach Hotel.  It was a relatively inexpensive and comfortable place with a very friendly staff. One of the biggest appeals of this hotel was having their own private beach. A clean pool and complimentary breakfast were huge pluses. They also have their own restaurant but my wife and I opted for the local food scene instead. The sunset views from the beach were incredible. If you’re into surfing, boogie boarding, or water paddling, this place was perfect for that. There are plenty of hotel options on the west coast of Costa Rica and you’ll get sunset views and clean beaches from just about all of them.

Day 3: Bijagua and Tenorio Volcano National Park

We left around 9:30 and arrived at our B&B called Sueno Celeste around 11 am. This is the area near the Rio Celeste waterfall and if you happen to find yourself in this area, I would definitely recommend this B&B. Rather than one large building with multiple rooms, they have several colorful cabin type rooms in a lush green garden setting that is frequented by several unique and colorful birds. I saw birds on this property that I’ll probably never see anywhere else. You can see some of them below.

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The lush grounds of the Sueno Celeste B&B. All the birds that were seen below frequent the property so always have your camera ready

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Toucan

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We arrived at Sueno Celeste, dropped off our luggage, and drove to the entrance of Tenorio Volcano National Park. There is only one road to get there and not only is it gravel, there are bumps, potholes, and craters everywhere. It was hard enough traversing this road with an SUV, I can’t imagine how difficult it would be with a sedan or smaller car. Once we were there, the entrance fee was $10 per person and off we were. The hike to get to the Rio Celeste Waterfall is about an hour and there is some steep uphill climbing involved. The return is about 45 minutes. Bring a couple of water bottles and some granola bars because the uphill portion can be exhausting. Since the trails get frequent rainfall, it will be very muddy and you will likely get mud over your clothes. Make sure you bring a decent pair of hiking shoes and hiking clothes that you wouldn’t lose sleep over if they got dirty. I saw a few people trying to do this hike with flip-flops and they struggled. The mud was eating their flip-flops alive. The views along the way are picture worthy and the reward at the end of the hike, the Rio Celeste Waterfall, is incredible.  Swimming in the national park is forbidden but since the Rio Celeste runs 9 miles, you’ll find locals swimming in the portions that are outside of the national park territory.

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The blue color of the Rio Celeste

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Rio Celeste Waterfall. Well worth the hike.

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Capuchin monkey high in the trees. These monkeys spend almost all of their time near the canopy. They won’t bother you but please don’t feed them. That’s how they lose their fear of humans.

Tenorio Volcano National Park closes at 4pm  and they don’t allow visitors after 2pm so the earlier you get there the better. After we were done with our hike, we drove the bumpy road back to Sueno Celeste. The family that owns this B&B has a rotating menu for dinner each night (for pay) that they cook themselves. That particular night, fish cakes with peanut sauce, steamed vegetables, and jasmine rice were on the menu. We never had anything like it and it was delicious. This property also had a large outdoor jacuzzi that can fit 8-10 people. Since no one was using it, we figured it would be a nice way to cap off a productive but tiresome day.  We stayed in Bijagua for just one night and the next day it was on to La Fortuna, about a 2-hour drive southeast with Arenal Volcano National Park being the main attraction.

Day 4 & 5: La Fortuna and Arenal Volcano National Park

La Fortuna is a small town near Arenal Volcano and one that is used as a base camp to get to the sights near the area.  We stayed at an inexpensive but comfortable hotel called Hotel Eco Arenal for two nights. On the day we arrived, we did a quick hike to La Fortuna waterfall. The entrance fee was $15 and the hike took about 20 minutes. This hike will take you through the lush tropical forest and will provide you with plenty of spectacular picture opportunities.

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La Fortuna Waterfall from a distance

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Once we were done with this excursion, we headed back to La Fortuna and just walked around the town. They have a beautiful park located in the town’s center and there is an abundance of restaurants, boutique shops, and souvenir shops throughout town. The following day, we did the hike at Arenal Volcano National Park. The Volcano is easily seen from La Fortuna but to hike the trails, we had to drive about 40 minutes to the entrance of the park. The park is open from 8am to 6pm and there is an entrance fee of $15 per adult. If you’re in Costa Rica, this is one of the must-see places you should add to your list. Arenal Volcano is still considered an active volcano and it last erupted in 2010. On a clear day, there will be multiple points on the trail where you will be able to take incredible pictures of the volcano and surrounding landscape.

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Arenal Volcano. The ashy gray areas are from the last eruption in 2010.

The hike was mostly flat grounds but if you wanted to get better photo opportunities, there are trails that diverged from the main path and required some steep uphill climbing. If you’re able to do it then I highly recommend taking advantage of this opportunity. As an FYI, you don’t need a guide to do these trails but if you feel more comfortable having one, you will find guides at the entrance of the park (for a fee). Now it was time make the 3 hour drive southwest to Monteverde.

Day 6: Monteverde and Cloud Forest Biological Reserve

Even though the straight line distance isn’t far, the drive from La Fortuna to Monteverde took us 3 hours since there are no roads that cut through the center of Arenal Volcano National Park. We also had to drive around Laguna de Arenal and this added considerable time and distance. But 3 hours later we were in Monteverde and we stayed at a very cheap hotel called Hotel El Bosque. In places like Costa Rica where we were going to be out and about almost the entire day, we opted for cheap but comfortable accommodations. Although this place was cheap, it certainly wasn’t comfortable so I wouldn’t recommend it.

The main attraction in this area is the Cloud Forest Biological Reserve, a sanctuary to over 500 species of birds, 130 species of mammals, and 120 species of reptiles and amphibians. For this excursion, we opted for the guided tour ($37 per person for foreigners and $27 if you have a student ID) on the recommendation of friends who had been here before. They had tours at 7:30am, 11:30am, and 1:30 pm. Since we had a 3-hour drive from La Fortuna, we opted for the 1:30pm tour.  You can choose between a few different types of tours including a night tour if you’re feeling more adventurous. The website for booking the tour is http://www.reservamonteverde.com/guided-tours.html.

Having a guide for this tour was worth it. Our guide was able to point out reptiles and birds that were well camouflaged in the trees which we would have certainly missed without his expertise. He was able to identify the species of birds based on their chirping noise and had some powerful Nikon binoculars that he passed around to everyone in our group when an animal or bird was spotted. This walking tour took about 4 hours and the trails were mostly flat and easy to navigate.

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Beautiful view from the hike at Cloud Forest Biological Reserve

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One of the rarer birds in the forest, the resplendent quetzal

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This concluded our hiking/nature/adventure portion of our trip to Costa Rica. It was off to the capital city of San Jose early the next morning.

Day 7: San Jose

Our return trip home was via San Jose International Airport so we made sure we gave ourselves an entire day to experience Costa Rica’s capital city. San Jose is a vibrant city and the largest city in Costa Rica. They have plenty of museums, theatres, parks, and interesting architecture. You can experience most of this by choosing a central hotel location and walking around. We decided to stay at Hotel Aranjuez which I highly recommend. Their complimentary breakfast had a huge selection and it was a clean and comfortable accommodation.  It only cost us $67 for the night so there was a ton of value there.

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The National Theater of Costa Rica, which opened in 1897

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Central Park in San Jose, Costa Rica

The following day we returned our one-way rental to San Jose International Airport and off we were back to the U.S. We used Southwest Airlines for our trip back and we got an incredible redemption of 6,200 points per person for our flight back to Albany via Baltimore. In a span of 7 days, we were able to enjoy the beach, spectacular sunsets, multiple waterfalls, volcanoes, exotic wildlife, and a beautiful city. That’s what makes Costa Rica very special. There is something for everyone and you can customize your itinerary based on your specific interests. The people are so friendly and helpful and it’s a place I’d highly recommend. Just remember to bring mosquito repellant, a good pair of hiking shoes/clothes, and read up on the car rental laws prior to arriving.