beach vacations

Costa Rica - Pura Vida (Part I). Arenal Area.

Costa Rica is the ultimate destination for active travelers, families and those seeking to soak in a bit of Costa Rica’s famed “Pura Vida” (“pure life”).

Costa Ricans live in the purest sense of the word – Costa Rica’s electricity is produced almost entirely using renewable energy; most of the food is locally and organically sourced; and 25% of the country's land has been set aside and turned into protective parks and reserves.

Costa Rica family vacation

Our family of five, with the addition of one Grammie, recently spent time in Costa Rica. We split our time between La Fortuna, near the Arenal Volcano, and in the Guanacaste region on the Pacific coast. Although, I am sad our time in Costa Rica is over, I am so happy to share our experience.

La Fortuna and the Arenal area

Primarily rainforest, the Arenal Volcano National Park is home to a tremendous amount of flora and fauna. Creatures you may see include sloths, white-faced capuchin and howler monkeys, coati, poison dart frogs and snakes, including the infamous fer-de-lance, pit vipers, parrot snake and boa constrictor.

An “off the grid” destination, there is much to see and do in the Arenal rainforest: hiking, fishing, rafting, hot springs, zip lining, rappelling down waterfalls, and wildlife viewing (to name just a few of the available adventures!) – as well as visiting the friendly town of La Fortuna.

After a long day of adventuring, you can retire to your resort and relax in the hot spring pools while toucans frolic above you and iguanas try to steal the fruit from your drink! 

Where to Stay in Costa Rica: 3 Options

1. The Springs Resort and Spa   

The Springs Resort in Costa Rica

The Springs Resort and Spa is an experience within itself. Located at a higher elevation than the other hotels and surrounded by exquisite tropical gardens and waterfalls, The Springs Resort and Spa offers one of the most luxurious experiences in the area.

The resort is impressively designed and offers stunning views of the volcano. The 28 hot and cold springs are spread throughout a forested expanse with several small pools perfect for those seeking privacy. There is also a small slide that kids love!

If you tire of the springs, you can take the complimentary shuttle to Club Rio – located a mile down the hillside – for fishing, tubing, kayaking, biking and climbing adventures. You can also visit the wildlife sanctuary for close-up encounters with sloths, monkeys and wild cats!

Who? Families (although I don’t recommend it for kids younger than 3); couples; multi-generational trips; adventure seekers.

Pro tip: Request a table close to the window for phenomenal views while dining at Las Ventantas, the resort’s signature restaurant. 

2. Tabacon Grand Spa Thermal Resort

Tabacon Grand Spa in Costa Rica

Arguably the most famous hot springs complex in Costa Rica, Tabacon boasts some of the best dining in the region at Los Tucanes and a spa that easily joins the ranks of Leading Spas of the World.

Guests love the sweeping rainforest views from the resort’s 103 eco-friendly guest rooms and suites, which feature handcrafted furnishings made by local artists.

Tabacon is set on 350 hectares of rainforest about 20 minutes outside of La Fortuna. The thermal springs flow uninterrupted through the local rainforest offering the perfect opportunity for relaxation and rejuvenation. Closest to the volcano where water temperatures are hottest, you’ll find an adults-only ‘secret garden’ that features six natural pools, cocoon-shaped hanging cabanas and a full bar.

Fun Fact:  A favorite resort for the celeb set, Will Smith stayed at Tabacon while filming his bomb of a movie “After Earth”.  While a guest, he participated in Tabacon’s now famous “Plant a Tree” program.

Pro Tip: Tabacon is a new member of Virtuoso! So by booking through Amanda Watkins Travel, you will unlock all kinds of extra goodies!

Who? Weddings, honeymooners, couples, adventure travelers who also want great food and a phenomenal spa; wellness seekers; mutligenerational trips.

3. Arenal Springs Resort and Spa

Arenal Springs Resort in Costa Rica

An ideal location for exploring the Arenal Volcano region, Arenal Springs Resort and Spa offers more moderately priced accommodations than either Tabacon or The Springs. But don’t think you are skimping on your experience by stayed at Arenal Springs Resort. This highly rated eco-resort delivers incredible views, lush tropical gardens and private hot springs exclusive for their guests. The swim-up sushi bar is a great place to park after a long day of adventuring.

The bungalow style rooms offer comfort and privacy and the showers give the illusion of being outdoors.

Walking paths take advantage of the scenery, crossing the stream with small bridges. Eventually, the trail leads to the open-air Yoga Deck, where complimentary morning classes are offered several days per week.

Who? Families (all ages of kids), multi-generational travelers, groups, adventure seekers


The skinny on Costa Rica's Arenal Springs Area

  • Upon your drive (by rental car or private transfer) up to Arenal, take a pit stop at Macadamia’s for amazing views, delicious limonada and a snack/meal.
  • Arenal is in the rainforest. Bring ponchos and be prepared to embrace the rain if it comes!
  • If not staying there, buy a day pass to The Springs and visit their animal sanctuary and take advantage of their many hot springs. The day pass includes one meal – lunch or dinner in their main restaurant. For spa seekers, you can also purchase a day pass to Tabacon.
  • Venture into La Fortuna for dinner at one of the local restaurants and finish ice cream for POPS.

Contact us with any questions about your next Costa Rica vacation!

Turks and Caicos: Providenciales

Amanda Watkins Travel specializes in beach destinations is here to help make your dream vacation a reality. Visit us here to learn more about Amanda Watkins Travel or click here to get started!

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Are the Turks and Caicos calling your name? If so, then you are in the right place. Amanda Watkins Travel knows all of the best spots and can even get you lots of fun “extras” at all of the top resorts.

If you are looking for sun, soft white sand, impossibly blue water and delicious food, then the island of Providenciales in Turks and Caicos perfectly fits the bill. 

The island of Providenciales in Turks and Caicos has long been one of my most favorite places for a beach vacation. It is wonderful for couples, families, girl/guy trips, everyone! I first vacationed there 15 years ago when few people had heard of it and there were just a few resorts. That has certainly changed. Now you can find many wonderful fine dining options, a Thai restaurant that is worth the return trip alone, great shopping, and really fun snorkeling/boating excursions. 

The Turks and Caicos Islands consist of 40 islands and cays, eight of which are inhabited. The islands are located 550 miles southeast of Miami, Florida, just below the Bahamas chain and just to the east of Cuba and the island of Hispaniola (Dominican Republic and Haiti.) The island of Providenciales (“Provo”) is the island where most all resorts are located.

There are many beautiful resorts on Provo each unique in their own way. All but a few of the resorts on Provo consist of individual owned condo units - meaning the accommodations are more spacious than your would find at most resorts and are often appointed with kitchens and laundry facilities. This is really great when you are traveling family style. I stayed at two resorts and toured several more. It is so much fun thinking about which clients would be best suited for each resort!

While I could go on and on about all of the resorts and how they are different, I am just going to highlight the two I stayed this visit. Please contact me if you want more info on the two resorts discussed below or any of the other resorts in Provo. I will help you find your "perfect fit".


The Shore Club on Long Bay Beach

The Shore Club, the only resort located on Long Bay Beach, is the newest resort on the Island. The resort has 110 rooms and 38 suites. It offers so many flexible room configurations that I can’t imagine anyone not finding a suitable option. The rooms are beautifully appointed and evoke the Caribbean with blue and white hues. My favorite room is the Ocean View One-Bedroom with Study. It has a fully equipped kitchen, large dining area, comfortable living area, king master bedroom, luxury master bath with shower, soaking tub and double sinks, a study area with a sliding door and pull out sofa that is PERFECT for kids, a half-bath and washer/dryer. It is 1500 square feet of fabulousness.

There are three pools – one is adult only – so you can always find the perfect place to perch. The beach is lovely and the water is clear, calm and shallow. In fact, you can WALK three miles out without the water being over your head (assuming you are of average adult height). It's truly amazing!

Virtuoso amenities I can add:

  • Free breakfast for two (per room) daily

  • Free Wifi

  • $100 Resort Credit

  • Upgrade to next room category upon arrival, subject to availability


The Palms on Grace Bay

I was fortunate to also be able to stay at The Palms over on Grace Bay. Grace Bay is where you will find most of the resorts on the island. With 12 miles of wide beach and crystalline water, you may never find yourself by the pool!

The resorts white mansion exterior of cut limestone evokes the feeling of being on a colonial estate. With only 72 rooms and suites, you won’t feel like you are at a mega resort. But you will never lack for amenities, either. There is a delightful shopping promenade that has a darling market where you can grab wine and gourmet goods.  The Palms also boasts what may be the finest spa on the island with 25,000 square feet in which to pamper you to pieces. Parallel 23, the award winning fine dining option at The Palms, is absolutely delicious. I had the best grouper I have had in my entire life.

Virtuoso amenities I can add:

  • Free breakfast for two (per room) daily

  • Free Wifi

  • $100 Resort Credit

  • Upgrade to next room category upon arrival, subject to availability

 


The inside skinny and pro tips:

  • Try to make a dinner reservation (in advance) at the Coco Bistro.

  • Take a day cruise from Grace Bay to one of the unpopulated parts of the island to swim and snorkel.

  • Cabs are easily available but are quite expensive.

  • If you think about renting a car, be sure to know that they drive on the opposite side of the street as we do in America!


Amanda Watkins Travel specializes in luxury and adventure travel. Our affiliations ensure VIP treatment and amenities on any trip - including local weekend getaways. Plan your trip.

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— Jonathan L.

Girls Trip to Cuba

Whether you are interested in Cuba specifically or just a getaway with your besties, Amanda Watkins Travel can help. Click here to learn more about Amanda Watkins Travel and click here to get started planning a trip you will never forget.

Grab your girls and let’s get to planning.

Grab your girls and let’s get to planning.

*Despite recent changes to the law, travel to Cuba can still be accomplished legally (as of the date of this posting). However, it is imperative that you work with a well-connected and well-advised travel specialist or tour company. 

I had the opportunity to spend 4 nights in Cuba with 4 super fun and adventure loving ladies. We spent time on the beach, danced the salsa, learned how to properly smoke a cigar (which I am terrible at BTW), ate fabulous food, and relaxed by the pool of our breathtaking villa. But we also connected with the friendly Cuban people, immersed ourselves in the vibrant culture, and ate a lunch and dinner in the home of locals who welcomed us as family.

Every day in Cuba was a myriad of experiences, which makes sense as Cuba is like a kaleidoscope. Every time you look, you are seeing its beauty and complexities in a different light. I have written and re-written this post, but in the end, it is the pictures that will do this trip justice. Contact me if you are considering a trip to Cuba!

The inside skinny and pro tips:

  • Use an experienced and trusted travel advisor or tour company to make certain that you are traveling to Cuba legally.

  • A driver or guide (preferably both) is necessary. Even if you speak fluent Spanish.

  • Be flexible. “Operating Hours” are a loose concept.

  • Pack plenty of cash. Your credit cards are worthless and there are no ATMs.

  • Do NOT just “go.” You will be wasting your time and money. You need a plan.

  • Do make sure you have the opportunity to spend time with the locals. They are warm, friendly and love to share their country with tourists.


Amanda Watkins Travel specializes in luxury and unique travel adventures for couples, families or groups. Our global affiliations and connections ensure that clients receive VIP treatment and amenities and have access to the very best and the most unique experiences.  All trips should be "wow" trips! Plan your trip now.

Un-Belize-Able

The pun just had to be there. I tried not to do it. But it was unavoidable.

How is spring break already over? We looked forward to it for so long and then – poof – it was over in the blink of an eye. This year we decided to take our kiddos to Ambergris Caye in Belize.

 I wanted easy. I wanted relaxed. I wanted water. Somewhere where flip flops and swim suit cover ups were welcome everywhere. Somewhere where my kids could be entertained with natural experiences. I wanted something out of a Jimmy Buffett song.

Belize is a great destination for active, low maintenance travelers. It offers great fishing and truly fabulous diving and snorkeling. The locals are friendly, the American dollar is welcome and you can easily rent a golf cart and explore the island. 

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Spring Break 2017. Family edition.

I have been having so much fun planning Spring Break 2017 vacations for families. With (literally) a world of options, the Discover phase of my planning process is vital to choosing the perfect spring break vacation for clients. Below are some of my favorite family spring break destinations. Have you started planning your family's 2017 spring break? Contact me today and let's get started!