One Week Costa Rica Itinerary

Last year, Drew and I escaped winter for a week by traveling to Costa Rica at the end of February. We loved Costa Rica–there’s so much to see and do there! In fact, there are so many options that we struggled to put together an itinerary that combined adventure and relaxation. Knowing how challenging it can be to plan a week-long trip, here is our itinerary for Costa Rica in hopes that it can help give you a good foundation for planning your own trip!

Day 1

We landed in San Jose, Costa Rica in the early afternoon on Saturday and hit the ground running. We used Service Car Rental as they were reasonably priced while including all necessary coverage and meeting Costa Rican insurance requirements.

La Paz Waterfall Gardens

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The entrance fee is a little steep, but the multiple stunning waterfalls made it worth it. We had fun visiting the aviary house to hold toucans, seeing the various animals throughout the park, and hiking to the waterfalls. It’s very easy to spend a few hours here!

We had also hoped to hike to a viewpoint for Poas Volcano following the La Paz Waterfall Gardens, but daylight wasn’t on our side and we had to drive to our hotel. Next trip!

For lodging, we stayed at Volcano Lodge and Springs in the Arenal/La Fortuna area for three nights, four days. The property was nice and the staff was welcoming. Breakfast is included which certainly adds value. Though the springs on the property pale in comparison to the Tabacon Resort’s hot springs, it was still a nice way to relax in the evenings.

Day 2

We had hoped to visit La Fortuna waterfall, but the road was closed. There had been a lot of rainfall recently, so the roads were washed out and the waterfall basin was overflowing. We were super bummed and plan to go back to see this waterfall someday. However, you should definitely try and visit while you’re in Costa Rica!

Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park

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This was a fun way to spend the morning–good hiking, incredible views, great bridges! We visited on a rainy day, so we had the place to ourselves. Probably not a great place for anyone who is uncomfortable with heights, but the forest, bridges, and waterfalls were all beautiful! Note: admission is $26 USD for a self-guided walk.

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After traipsing through the rainforest, we ventured into town for a late lunch at Restaurante Mi Casa for some delicious arroz con pollo. We closed the day relaxing in the hot springs at our hotel.

Day 3

Tabacon Hot Springs

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We decided to spend the whole day at the Tabacon Grand Spa Thermal Resort. We bought the Day Spa Package for $150 per person which included access to the hot springs all day, $100 spa credit towards any spa service, and one meal. We elected to do a couples massage in a private bungalow–it was so peaceful and relaxing.

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That evening we went to a popular night spot in the center of town called Lava Lounge Bar & Grill. It was a hopping spot with a great atmosphere!

Day 4

Cerro Chato hike – Arenal Volcano viewpoint

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I previously chronicled this insane hike in this post. Drew and I are avid hikers and have put miles in on trails around the globe, but this hike was one of the most challenging we have encountered. However, this should not deter you from doing it. The hike is strenuous, but the view of Arenal Volcano from the top of the dormant Cerro Chato Volcano is worth the effort!

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After the Cerro Chato hike, we stopped at Soda Mima in La Fortuna for a bite. We were ravenous and the food hit the spot–one of the best meals we had in Costa Rica! The owner was incredibly welcoming and the food was great and wicked inexpensive. Highly recommend if you’re looking for a casual meal in La Fortuna.

After a late lunch, we hit the road to travel to our next hotel, Rio Celeste Hideaway. With beautiful individual bungalows, this remote hideaway is a great spot for couples and honeymooners. Conveniently located by a national park, you can both relax and enjoy recreation at the Rio Celeste Hideaway.

Day 5 

Tenorio Volcano National Park

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Walk to a breathtaking waterfall and then hike alongside a river for spectacular views and gorgeous scenery. You may even see coati and monkeys on the trail if you look closely. If it’s rained recently, the trail will be a little muddy, so be sure to wear shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty.

Day 6

Zip Lining in Monteverde Cloud Forest

We were so excited to zip line in the Monteverde Cloud Forest. We used Sky Adventures‘ sky trek canopy zip lining tour for $81 USD per person. The zip lining offered incredible views and satiated our appetite for advenure. The zip lines are on top of a mountain overlooking the cloud forest and the Pacific Ocean. The guides are great–super knowledgeable, very friendly, and fun.

After zip lining, we made our way to Jaco where we stayed at an Air B&B right on the beach.

Day 7

We got our start in Jaco at Sunrise Breakfast for a delicious breakfast. Then we went back to our place to put on our bathing suits, slap on some sunscreen, and grab our beach chairs. We vegged out on Jaco Beach watching the surfers and enjoying the sun for the majority of the day.

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In the evening, we ventured over to the Tiki Bar at Jaco Laguna Resort for some cocktails and appetizers. Then we enjoyed a sunset on the beach.

Day 8

We got an early start this day to drive from Jaco to the outskirts of San Jose to go white water rafting on the Rio Pacuare.

White Water Rafting the Rio Pacuare

We booked our experience with Rios Tropicales and they were awesome–highly recommend! We rafted for more than 4 hours down class III and IV rapids on the Rio Pacuare. Our guide was lighthearted and fun, but also made me feel incredibly safe.

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The river was astounding and the scenery was truly breathtaking. The rapids were perfectly spaced, keeping the raft floating down the river with ease. It was a great way to close our trip.

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After our amazing rafting adventure, we made our way to downtown San Jose where we stayed at the DoubleTree by Hilton Cariari San Jose. We chose the hotel for it’s proximity to the airport as we had a flight first thing the next morning.

Overall, we really enjoyed our time in Costa Rica and truly hope to go back one day as there’s so much more we would like to do and see. It was a great way to break up the winter and the country is so beautiful you have to pinch yourself to know that it’s real. If you have any questions about any of our trip, feel free to reach out–I love sharing our travel experiences and helping others plan their trips.

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Hiking in Zion National Park: Angels Landing and the Narrows

Last summer, Drew and I made a spur of the moment trip to Zion National Park to hike Angels Landing and the Narrows. Because we were booking last minute, we lucked out and scored a cancellation room at the only in-park accommodation, Zion Lodge. This made our trip even better because we were able to spend more time in the park without having to fight traffic in and out of the park each day.

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Angels Landing

Drew was most excited for Angels Landing. I’m not a huge fan of heights, so I was a little apprehensive about the hike. The hike is 5 miles round trip with an elevation change of 1500 feet. When we went, temperatures were in the 100s, so we got an early start to try and beat the heat. The hike starts along a river and slowly works its way up a canyon wall through a number of switchbacks. Then you hit a second group of switchbacks called Walter’s Wiggles. There are 21 short switchbacks here where you gain elevation quickly.

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Tackling Water’s Wiggles.

At the top you’ll reach Scout Lookout which has a great view of the park. From here, follow the trail along the ridge to Angels Landing, using chains for assistance. Truth be told, I started the last half mile out to Angels Landing, but my fear of heights made me a shaky mess and I decided to turn back and wait for Drew at Scout’s Landing. While I’m disappointed I didn’t finish the last bit of the hike to Angels Landing overlook, the thousand foot dropoffs on both sides of the trail intimidated me.

Regardless of completion, we both really enjoyed the hike and would recommend it to anyone who wants to truly experience Zion.

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The Narrows

To prepare for the Narrows hike, we rented canyoneering boots, neoprene socks, and a wooden walking stick from Zion Outfitter. We opted to do the bottom-up out-and-back hike and got an early start to ensure we had ample daylight and to avoid crowds.

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The Narrows hike can vary depending on how far you want to go. We opted to do ~10 miles (5 miles in and 5 miles back). The water was cold, but it felt refreshing since it was over 100 degrees in Zion.

Though Drew and I are avid hikers, we found that the Narrows hike was drastically different than any hike we’ve ever encountered. As much as we enjoyed hiking through the water, we also realized it required use of stabilizing muscles and a bit more endurance than we anticipated. Be mindful that the farther you go into the Narrows, the farther you will have to walk back and that your body will be a bit more tired on the return hike.

Additionally, the water can reach heights as high as your waist, chest, or chin. We went as deep as our waists and came across a section near the end of our hike that would have been at Drew’s chest and possibly at my chin and decided we weren’t up for getting that wet and turned around.

To this day, the Narrows hike is my favorite hike that I’ve ever done. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it and I can’t wait to go back and do it all over again.

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Zion Hiking Tips

  • Hydrate. We went in summer and it was a scorcher with temperatures in the 100s each day. We made sure to hydrate before hikes (including sipping Pedialyte to ensure we had enough electrolytes) and brought more water than we normally would for our hikes.
  • Bring snacks. Angels Landing took ~4 hours round trip and we spent 5-6 hours hiking the Narrows. We had hearty meals for breakfast and dinner, but supplemented our hikes with salty snacks like granola bars, almonds, and cashews.
  • Start early. The early bird catches the worm…or at least beats the crowds and has the trails to themselves. Not only will you get to enjoy the trails in solitude, but you’ll also beat the heat.
  • Bring a dry bag. As mentioned, there are parts of the Narrows hike that were waist or chest deep. If you have a dry bag, you won’t have to worry about your camera, phone, car keys, etc. getting wet. It’s good peace of mind if you happen to slip and fall in, too.

Lower Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend

Over 4th of July, Drew and I flew to Phoenix to catch an Arizona Diamondbacks game, visit Sedona, and explore the great outdoors. It was hot as hell (109°), but we made the most of our long holiday weekend in Arizona.

Lower Antelope Canyon

To visit Lower Antelope Canyon, you will need to go with a guide. A friend recommended Ken’s Tours, but they were completely booked the date we wanted to go, so we ended up going with Dixie Ellis’ Lower Antelope Canyon Tours. We were advised to arrive 30 minutes before our tour, but that was completely unnecessary as they were super behind schedule and we ended up having to wait over an hour past our tour start time. Once our group was called, we walked 100 yards or so above the canyon to the staircase entry to Lower Antelope Canyon.

The canyon was a welcome reprieve after standing in the heat for so long–it was much cooler down there and it was great to escape the sun. Our guide slowly led us through the 1 mile lower canyon, assisting with photos and teaching us how to best capture the light and color on our digital cameras and phones. Before going down, I was concerned that we would be rushed through the canyon and wouldn’t get to enjoy the experience and capture the images we wanted. However, I never felt rushed. Our guide was very knowledgeable and shared history and highlights of the Lower Antelope Canyon, while giving us ample time to take photos and enjoy the canyon’s natural beauty.

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Overall, we enjoyed our time at Lower Antelope Canyon and we would recommend visiting and using Dixie Ellis’ Lower Antelope Canyon Tours. Be sure to dress appropriately (since we went in summer, moisture-wicking materials and good sneakers were clutch), eat beforehand (Lower Antelope Canyon has very limited food options nearby), and to hydrate (we each filled our Camelbak bladders to the brim and we crushed them.)

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Horseshoe Bend

If you’re visiting Lower Antelope Canyon, then you definitely need to check out Horseshoe Bend, too. Horseshoe Bend is a quick 15 minute drive from Lower Antelope Canyon and it’s truly a breathtaking sight. It’s also great because it is a stunning location that’s accessible to people of all hiking levels.

Park in the Horseshoe Bend parking lot and make the half mile walk out to the overlook. Since the hike is short and easily accessible, don’t expect to have the overlook to yourself. However, there are plenty of vantage points where you can walk over to the edge to stare in awe and get tourist-free photos.

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If you’re in Arizona or southern Utah, I implore you to visit Lower Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend. Drew and I loved this day and were so glad we planned to see both locations while in Arizona. If you go, let me know what you think–I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

Memorial Day Weekend in Yosemite National Park

This year I spent Memorial Day Weekend in Yosemite National Park. With the snow finally melting, Memorial Day is a great time of the year to visit Yosemite to see the raging waterfalls and beautiful views…if you can handle the crowds.

For Memorial Day Weekend 2017, Yosemite National Park estimated about 100,000 park visitors. Fortunately for us, we had booked a VRBO property that was located inside the park, eliminating a lot of driving time. Below are the highlights from our trip:

Sunset at Glacier Point

An amazing overlook with a view of Half Dome, Yosemite Valley, and Yosemite Falls. On the evening we went for the sunset, the valley was covered in clouds, but the panoramic view was amazing even when cloudy.

Tip: During the summer, Yosemite park rangers hold sunset talks at Glacier Point. Lots of great information and stories–don’t miss it!

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Yosemite Valley Loop Trail

In order to get our bearings within the park, we hiked the Yosemite Valley Loop Trail on our first day. We started at Bridalveil Falls and then caught the loop around the valley. This is a great hike because you get to see all of the Valley highlights (El Capitan, Yosemite Falls, Cathedral Rocks) while hiking along the Merced River.

Tip: The best part about this hike is you can make it as long or as short as you want, as you’re able to catch the park bus along the route. We ended up grinding out 14 miles on the trail in total and it was totally worth it.

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Mist Trail

One of the coolest hikes I’ve ever done–highly recommend! On the Mist Trail, you get to hike up nature’s staircase right next to Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls. Bring a raincoat and waterproof boots because you will get wet.

Sadly, I was recovering from a hospital stint with viral meningitis, so we took the John Muir Trail after reaching the top of Vernal Falls. Others in our group continued up to Nevada Falls.

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Sunrise hike at Sentinel Dome

For a 360 degree view of Yosemite Valley, head to Sentinel Dome. We went for a sunrise hike and had the trail to ourselves. From Sentinel Dome, you can see El Capitan, Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, and Nevada Falls.

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Tunnel View

For those of you who prefer not to hike, but want to experience an amazing view, head to Tunnel View. From here you can see El Capitan and Bridalveil Falls within Yosemite Valley, and Half Dome in the background.

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Unfortunately, Mariposa Grove was closed during our visit, so we didn’t get to see some of the most famous trees in the world. We did visit the Tuolumne Grove and got our Giant Sequoia fill, but I plan to go back to visit Mariposa Grove sometime in the coming years.

You are in for a treat no matter when you visit Yosemite National Park. The scenery is breathtaking and the hikes will also take your breath away…from exertion.

48 Hours in Northern Ireland

It would be easy to spend a week or more exploring the beauty of Northern Ireland. But if you’re looking to visit Northern Ireland for a weekend, below are some of the can’t-miss highlights.

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Giant’s Causeway
To best experience Giant’s Causeway, choose one of the many available walking paths. I ultimately selected the red trail which went along the clifftops overlooking the shore, before connecting to the blue trail which brought me down to the waterfront and onto the rock formations. Be sure to pop inside the on-site center as it really helps explain how these rock formations came about and how old and remarkable this World Heritage Site truly is.

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Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge
A quick drive from Giant’s Causeway is the Carrick-a-rede rope bridge. This short, shaky rope bridge connects the mainland to a tiny island aptly named Carrickarede. The bridge is suspended 100 feet over the Atlantic Ocean and it’s sure to get your heart racing. I’m not the biggest fan of heights, but I had to experience the bridge for myself!

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Dinner at the Distillers Arms or Ramore Wine Bar
For dinner, I have two great options. If you want to stay close to my suggested lodging, I would visit The Distillers Arms restaurant. Originally the home of the Bushmill Distillery’s owners, it has been converted into an amazing restaurant that will give you a night to remember. If you want to dine by the water, visit the Ramore Wine Bar. Located in the Portrush Harbour, it offers great waterside dining with an extensive wine list.

Causeway Lodge
The Causeway Lodge is a lovely bed and breakfast in a rural setting. The home offers contemporary rooms, a great breakfast, and a peaceful night’s rest all at a very reasonable price. Plus, the owners are incredibly hospitable!

Bushmills Distillery
Known for being one of the oldest licensed distilleries in the world, you should definitely stop by the Old Bushmills Distillery for a quick tour and tasting. The tour will run you £8, but it’s fun to see the production process and the tasting at the end is great. I suggest getting a hot whiskey!

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Belfast
No visit to Northern Ireland would be complete without a visit to the country’s capital and largest city. There’s plenty to see and do, but I recommend walking along the peace walls to check out some of the interesting graffiti as well as visiting the Titanic Museum.

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No matter what you end up doing, I know you’ll enjoy Northern Ireland. There is so much natural beauty and rich history that by the end of your trip I’m sure you’ll be wishing you had more time.

Best Hikes in Banff National Park

Banff National Park is a place I dreamed about traveling to for years before I finally had the chance to visit. After seeing pictures of the glacial lakes and beautiful mountains, it quickly moved to the top of my “must visit” list. During the summer of 2015, Drew and I visited and experienced the trip of a lifetime. Banff National Park offers so many incredible ways to connect with nature, including some amazing hikes. If you’re looking for some of the best hikes in Banff, lace up your boots and strap on your pack and hit the trails below.

Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House

This hike is a doozie, but totally worth it! Starting at Lake Louise by the Fairmont, you walk the perimeter of Lake Louise on the lakeshore trail into the mountains in the distance and ultimately into the woods where you’ll find the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House.

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The trail is ~7 miles round trip with a 1200 foot elevation gain. Along the trail you will see Lake Louise from the mountains, several glaciers, and great alpine scenery.

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The tea house offers basic food and drink which are helicoptered out to the tea house at the beginning of the season and supplemented by horses and hikers throughout the season. The tea house doesn’t have any running water or electricity, but does offer a nice place to rest before completing your hike. Even though the hike was a little challenging, we really enjoyed it and I felt like a champ afterward (and finished wearing substantially less clothing since it was hot hot hot.)

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Johnston Canyon

This was Drew’s favorite hike on our trip and it’s one of the most popular day hikes in all of Banff–get an early start. Seriously. If you can start hiking between 6 and 7 a.m., you will be able to beat the crowds and truly enjoy the canyon.

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Inside the canyon, the trail is comprised of raised walkways and bridges with safety rails that hug the wall and overlook the river. There are two major waterfalls (Upper Falls and Lower Falls) along the path before you hit a dirt path that takes you to a meadow at the top of the canyon. In the meadow, there are numerous ink pots–bubbling water in turquoise pools.

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If you start early, you should be able to make it to the ink pots quickly and without running into too many other hikers. By the time you turn around, you’ll likely run into mass crowds at Upper Falls that will stay with you the entire walk back through Johnston Canyon to the parking lot.\Canada6.jpg

Lake O’Hara

While Lake O’Hara is technically located in Yoho National Park, if you’re in Banff, it’s definitely worth visiting as it’s just a stone’s throw away.

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The best way to enter Lake O’Hara is by making a bus reservation through Parks Canada. Reservations open in April and fill up pretty quickly, so plan accordingly. Otherwise, your only other option is to hike the 7 mile access road into Lake O’Hara…I definitely recommend the bus!

Since Lake O’Hara essentially requires reservations to access the park, there are typically only a couple hundred people hiking within the park at any given time, making this a nice, intimate experience.

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Take the Lake O’Hara trail to the Oesa Lake trail for picturesque views of both lakes and the surrounding mountains.

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Moraine Lake

I know this list is supposed to be the best hikes in Banff–and what I’ve listed so far shouldn’t be missed. However, I’m going to switch things up and recommend you get off the beaten path and hit the water at Moraine Lake. While there are plenty of trails around Moraine Lake, the true beauty of the lake can be best appreciated from a canoe.

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Check in at the dock and rent a canoe for 60-90 minutes. If you’ve never canoed before, fear not! It’s pretty easy to figure out and the water is super calm on the lake.

Wandering Kathleen

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I hope you enjoy exploring Banff National Park and the surrounding areas as much as we did. It’s so stunning there that sometimes it doesn’t seem real. We’re already trying to figure out when we can go back because we loved it so much. If there’s something you think we need to try next time we’re in Alberta and British Columbia, let me know in the comments!

Cerro Chato Volcano Hike in Costa Rica

Whenever we travel, we always try to incorporate at least one big hike into our trip. Costa Rica delivered, giving us plenty of hikes to choose from. We decided to tackle the Cerro Chato hike as we heard it offered a great view of Arenal Volcano and the Cerro Chato crater lake.

We started the hike at the Arenal Observatory Lodge where we signed in and paid a minimal fee. At first, you follow a paved path that then leads to a dirt path with a slow incline up the base of the mountain. After passing several fields, the trail becomes less maintained. The path is super muddy with roots galore and very steep inclines. Be sure to wear clothes that you don’t mind getting muddy and hiking shoes with good traction.

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Once you reach the top, the views of Arenal Volcano and the emerald Cerro Chato lake are spectacular making all the huffing and puffing to get there worth it. If it isn’t too wet, venture down the path to the lake. If you thought the hike up to the top of Cerro Chato was slippery and challenging, the hike down to the lake will really get your heart pumping. Bring a change of clothes and a towel in your pack if you plan to swim in the green lake.

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