Costa Rica: Arenal

My second visit to Arenal within a year. Arenal is a great area for all types of adventure activities but also offers a lot in terms of nature and wildlife.

aavtravel arenal volcano costa rica

The Arenal Volcano is spectacular and source of the hot springs which can be found on many hotel properties. Some of the best hot springs belong to the Tabacon Resort. Access can be purchased in form of a day pass if you are not staying at the hotel. I would recommend visiting in the evening when the crowds are gone. It is wonderful to dip in the natural hot springs, enjoy a drink, and relax below the volcano.

aavtravel arenal costa rica hot springs

Arenal’s main town, La Fortuna, is charming and offers a little bit of everything. Shopping, restaurants, coffee shops, ice cream… It is a great place to mingle with locals and soak in some Costa Rican culture.

Whilst in the area we visited several of the resort properties but stayed at the Arenal Kioro. This family run hotel sits closest to the volcano and all rooms boast spectacular views. They also offer a very nice, cascading hot spring area on site. We were personally welcomed by the owner, his son and grand-daughter which was very touching. This is the view from our room:

View from Arenal Kioro Resort

During my stays I had the opportunity to experience several activities. My personal highlight was the waterfall rappelling which was really exciting. The first rappel was down a straight wall of 168ft. Looking over the ledge was very taunting. As you go along you will rappel down more walls, sometimes in a waterfall, sometimes next to it. It was real fun and I can definitely recommend it. The hardest part probably was getting out of the canyon. It is a steep walk up the side cliffs in the middle of the rainforest. The guides made sure we were safe and took very good care of everybody.

Arenal area waterfall rappel

The Hanging Bridges are one of the area’s major attractions. A scenic walk in the middle of the rainforest, crossing different hanging bridges. We were accompanied by a guide who pointed out plants and wildlife. This area is great for snakes, birds, spiders, frogs, and also monkeys. I would classify the walk as moderate, however, there is a fairly steep finale.

Arenal Hanging Bridges

Penas Blancas River Float is a very relaxing activity with 6 people sharing a small boat. It’s a great activity to do with smaller children. You are likely to see birds, lezards, monkeys, and other wildlife, whilst floating down the river.

Arenal Penas Blanca River Float

From a vacation concierge standpoint I would recommend Arenal to anyone who wants to do plenty of adventure activities, see an impressive live volcano, and relax in hot springs. There are plenty of different resorts in this area and I would recommend trusting a specialist to help you choose the right one.

Posted by: Stefanie Pichonnat can be reached at 812-917-2149 or

Costa Rica: From San Jose to El Silencio

This is the first part of a series of blog posts covering my trip to Costa Rica, early August 2011. This was my second trip to Costa Rica within a year, visiting additional areas and properties.

After the first night spent in San Jose we left early next day to visit the Poas Volcano. The area around the volcano is famous for excellent strawberries (best I’ve ever had) and string cheese. It has a very alpine feel to it – intensely green meadows and incredibly fresh air. Once at the Poas Volcano park we had to walk up the hill to see the crater of this active stratovolcano. It is really exciting to get this close to an active, water filled crater and the information center is very informative. The walk up the hill takes about 10 minutes and is very easy, despite the high altitude.

Poas Volcano Costa Rica

From Poas Volcano we traveled around more volcanic mountain ranges to get to a unique lodge called “El Silencio”. It is nestled in the middle of mountainous rainforest and comprises 16 luxury cabins with Egyptian Cotton sheets, gas fireplaces and wonderful outside hot tubs. Each cabin has a patio area with rocking chairs boasting views of the mountain range and rainforest.

El Silencio is a retreat in every sense of the word and the name is very suitable. It is a place in tune with nature – a place to reconnect and appreciate. There is no entertainment and a typical day consists of hiking, relaxing on the terrace, reading a book, and enjoying organic meals prepared from the goods harvested from El Silencio’s gardens and green house.

There are no tvs in the cabins and wifi is only available in the bar and entertainment room in the main building. Since the hotel is so secluded you have to book the lodge including meal plans. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are selected from a seasonal a la carte menu. There is a fridge with snacks and juices in the cabin which are also included in the cost.

El Silencio Lodge & Spa

El Silencio also has a wonderful spa! The conical treatment room is probably one of the most spectacular massage areas I have ever seen. It offers an absolutely magnificient atmosphere, especially at night, when you can see the moonlight shine through.

One morning we visited El Silencio’s gardens, greenhouse, fish pond, chicken den, and went on a hike. The walk took us to 3 spectacular waterfalls. We also spent half a day zip lining about an hour away from El Silencio. Some people in our group chose to take a cultural tour to Bajas del Toro instead. They learnt to make tortillas in a locals home and planted coffee plants in a back yard.

El Silencio hiking trail with waterfall

From a vacation concierge standpoint I would recommend this area to anyone who loves seclusion, rainforests, and supports eco-friendly efforts. You will enjoy this area if you like to be close to nature, away from it all, secluded in the silence (and noises) of the rainforest. I do definitely recommend contacting a specialist to make your travel plans since it is an out of the way destination and there are ways to optimize your stay.

Posted by: Stefanie Pichonnat can be reached at 812-917-2149 or

Visiting Tortuguero National Park – Costa Rica

Traveling by land from San Jose to Tortuguero National Park is quite an adventure. Leaving San Jose behind we drove through the National Park of Braulio Carrillo which offered great cloud forest views. Around 10am we stopped for breakfast in Guapiles and continued our way along a 14 mile dirt road afterwards. We stopped to visit one of the banana plantations which are the main income source of the area.tortugueronp

As I learnt along the way, Tortuguero is located on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. Not only is it supposed to constantly rain there, it is also “Jamaican” territory. We quickly understood that there was a certain rivalry between the two sides, the Caribbean/Jamaican and Costa Rican that is. For one, they do not agree on the recipe for rice and beans, and for two, the Caribbean side tends to listen to reggae music. Adrian, our guide was a lot of fun and very knowledgeable. During the 5 hour drive we learned a lot about his country.

After the two hour dirt road drive we arrived in Palacio, from where we contiued out journey by boat. We stocked up on supplies at the General Store.

Turtle at TortugueroThe National Park was an archipelago of volcanic islands until alluvial sediments from the interior mountains, filled in the spaces and formed a network of marshy islands. The beaches, canals, lagoons and wetlands of Tortuguero are areas of exceptional biodiversity. Houses are mainly on stilts along the different canals. People travel by boat. After about 1 hour and a half on the boat we finally arrived at Pachira Lodge, our home for the night.

Pachira Lodge Tortuguero Costa RicaPachira Lodge has a rustic rainforest charm. No air conditioning, just ceiling vans. Rooms are spacious, bathrooms tiny. They don’t offer much privacy. Windows are closed by screens only. Our cabin was located somewhere in the rainforest about 5 minutes from the main complex. We learnt later that the night before our arrival they had to remove an 8 foot boa constrictor right out of our back patio.

Most people visit Tortuguero during turtle nesting season. This is the place to see large turtles waddle their way up the beach, laying their eggs, covering them up and making their way back to the ocean.

Visits are arranged in groups with a guide who makes sure no flashlights or flashes are used. They also scare of hungry Jaguars. If you don’t wish to participate in one of the evening adventures you can make your way to the beach in the early morning and see if you can spot a baby turtle hatching and making its way to the ocean. It is amazing to see how these small creatures struggle through the sand to reach their goal.

Tortuguero is also home to a large amount of birds and other wildlife, incl. several monkey species. You can see plenty of exciting things with patience and a good eye. There really is not much to do in the area other than appreciate nature. As a matter of fact you can consider yourself lucky to find an internet connection. Most people stay for two nights and spend their days on wildlife safaris. Some resorts also offer canoes and there is the possibility to zip line in the area. Given that the area is flat, the zip line is more a chance to get a closer look a the tree tops than an adrenaline rush.

Sunrise at Totuguero beach Costa Rica
From a vacation concierge standpoint I would recommend this area to anyone who loves nature, particularly birds, and is patient enough to be rewarded. It can also be a romantically secluded destination for couples who are looking to be cut off from the world. Although I spent two days without an inkling of rain I was assured that it rains all the time. Whilst you can travel to Tortuguero via land both ways you might want to consider flying at least one way to save time. I do definitely recommend contacting a specialist to make your travel plans since it is an out of the way destination and there are ways to optimize your stay. Also, should you decide to travel one way by plane you will be subject to considerable luggage weight restrictions and a travel concierge can help you making arrangements to avoid problems.

Posted by: Stefanie Pichonnat can be reached at 812-917-2149 or

Pura Vida! – Costa Rica -Nature Makes it Hard to Leave

I had very high expectations for Costa Rica. Oftentimes when you travel, high expectations are not necessarily rewarded. In this particular case however, Costa Rica exceeded anything and everything I imagined. As a lover of lush, green nature I was more than compensated. The country is small and versatile and within a week you can experience several different regions and micro climates. It is an instantly gratifying place as there is always something to see or do.

What probably surprised me most was the friendly and ease-going people. Having traveled to quite a few so called 3rd world countries, I not once felt harassed or unsafe.

The country is surprising on many levels. Earlier this year, Costa Rica welcomed its first female president, Laura Chinchilla. They have not had an army since 1949. Independence from Spain in 1821 wasn’t won during a bloody fight. As a matter of fact the King of Spain simply sent a letter granting them their freedom.

arenal hanging bridges costa ricaCosta Ricans understand that they are only as rich as their nature and are very much into protecting the environment. Everywhere you go, recycling is top of mind. The country’s people are very aware of the nature surrounding them and make a sincere effort to protect it. Costa Rica has very strict rules on cutting a tree and animals are highly protected. They are re-educating their children, teaching them to respect nature and wildlife.

During my 8 day visit I had the opportunity to experience different areas of the country, and I will be writing separate blog posts covering Tortuguero National Park, Arenal as well as Guanacaste.

From a vacation concierge standpoint I would recommend this country to anyone who loves nature, likes to explore and be active, and feels comfortable meeting a different culture. It is an excellent destination for couples, families and adventure travelers. Different areas offer different things to do and there is a perfect itinerary for everyone. However, I do recommend contacting a specialist to make your travel plans since it is easy to underestimate travel logistics and infrastructure.


Posted by: Stefanie Pichonnat can be reached at 812-917-2149 or