Just returned from a great trip to New York and Costa Rica over 16 nights and it was amazing! Arrived in New York on 30 November and instantly loved it! The shuttle I’d booked got us there as quickly as possibly given it was rush hour Friday -it was pretty hair raising as the driver weaved in an out of the traffic – never experienced anything like it! We arrived in the Stay Hotel which was just round the corner from Times Square so amazing location right in the hub. As it was dinner time but we’d experienced going back 5 hours so would have been 11pm at home, we headed straight out – and were hit by the noise and lights of Times Square! Wow! We found a little cafe to grab something light and then headed back to our hotel as we were shattered. Next day after a good sleep we began our ‘itinerary’. We had 3 full days so decided to split this into lower, mid and upper Manhattan and tackle one part each day. First thing we noticed – it was Christmas everywhere – New York does Christmas big time! First day we headed for an Ellis Island cruise to see the Statute of Liberty. We got a subway and walked through Battery Park (very nice – lots of New Yorkers out running there – wished I had my trainers). We only waited about 30 minutes for our cruise which was great though very, very cold. It was 38 degrees F that day! The Statute of Liberty was really great to see in the flesh – so to speak – we took endless photos of every which way and angle. We had commentary throughout and saw Ellis Island and the harbour. Brilliant. After returning to dry land we then walked through to and over Brooklyn Bridge- and on the other side walked down to the beach so we had a great view of the Manhattan Skyline at night. We then walked back and made our way up to China Town before returning back to Times Square on the subway. That night we went to the Rockerfeller Centre for something to eat – great burger! Next day we did mid-town. Walked back to Rockerfeller and the Grand Central Terminus – which is an amazing art deco building. Unfortunately we hadn’t done our homework and realised that New York Public Library and the Chrysler building were closed and St Patricks Cathedral had a service. We window shopped along 5th Avenue, though found the Uniqlo shop very affordable and there are several H&M’s. We looked at the amazing Christmas displays – especially at Macy’s. Christmas was singing out everywhere with Salvation Army people dancing and shaking their bells on the street. This was the day we went to the Empire State Observatory – great views of New York! After we came out we found a brewery next door and had to try the beer – 3 pints later (and a meal to soak it up) we staggered out and made our way back to our hotel. Day 3 dawned – my Birthday – I’d had my presents in advance but took my cards. We’d bought some things in Walgreens the day before – so had breakfast in bed! We headed off for Central Park to have a carriage ride – special birthday treat one! Then we spent a further couple of hours walking in the Park – it was a lovely sunny day – perfect! We visited the Duggenheim museum – with a Picasso black and white exhibition and then went off to 52nd Street for a birthday photo! That evening birthday treat 2 was a trip to the Top of the Rock at night – for views of New York and to see the Empire State at night – we spent a while taking loads of photos! We hadn’t planned where to eat but found a nice Irish Bar across the road from our hotel – which had good food and a nice waitress from Barnsley (of all places) who’d done her degree in the US and was working there. We had a great conversation – hope she didn’t get into trouble as we kept her talking so long about all sorts.
Costa Rica. We booked our holiday here through Llama Travel and it included a 9 night tour and 3 nights at Manuel Antonio at the end. We arrived quite late and just a transfer to our hotel and off to bed for a 8.00am start the next day. This was to be prove one of our ‘lie in’ days compared to what was ahead. First day and after a quick introduction to the rest of our group (there were 13 of us on the tour) we were off to see the sulphar fumaroles of the Poas Volcano and the Botos Lagoon. Following that we went for a tour of the Doka Coffee Plantation. After our guide gave a tour of the plantation we had some lunch, bought some coffee and then headed back to our hotel. The following day we were off at 6am for our trip by road and boat to the remote Tortuguero National Park where we were to spend 2 nights at Pachira Lodge. During the journey we passed through the clouds in the continental divide. Our lodge in Pachira was comfortable but had no glass in the windows – only mesh covers to keep out mosquitos. It was a great place for wildlife and we saw howler monkeys, toucans, a tarantula, rain frog, caiman and lots of other birds during our stay and boat rides on the canals. They also had a 2 for one offer on massage in the spa, so me and Den took full advantage and had an hour of wonderful relaxing massage outside (under cover) hearing the birds sing in the trees, with beautiful smells – superb! The only downside to this stay was that I got an upset tummy the second evening which made me quite ill and missed the chance to see baby turtles hatching – which I was quite upset about. It also rained ALOT -strange that – being in a rainforest! This did mean we got very wet and because it was humid our clothes didn’t really dry out. After a couple of days we headed to La Fortuna de San Carlos and the Arenal Volcano. We arrived out our fantastic hotel Nayara late afternoon. We were blown away by our individual casita with 2 showers (one inside, one outside in a small private garden area) an individual hot tub on our balcony and also a hammock. The room was fabulous, the staff couldn’t do enough. We were brought water and cake and little chocolate covered nuts and had complementary spumante. Really lifted me after feeling so ill. The grounds were great with secluded jacuzzis, many birds and a parrot that said ‘hola’. We could have spent a lot longer here. The following day we were off again for lunch in town and then off to the Arenal Volcano for a hike, followed by a trip to the Tabacon Hot Springs – which were hot water rivers and small mineral pools. Very nice! The following day another early start and we were off to Monteverde. This meant a lake crossing and very very bumpy ride to get there. Monteverde (green mountain) was founded by a small group of North American Quakers who were attracted here in the 1950’s when Costa Rica had disbanded its army. They found the the land was suitable for dairy farming and started a cheese factory. When we got there we went to the Sky Walk – suspension bridges in the canopy of the trees in the cloud forest. The bridges gradually got longer and Den got more and more nervous of crossing – I went first and kept walking while he stared straight ahead and kept walking! We were lucky with the weather though as it rains alot here and we had pretty dry and sunny weather. In the evening we went for a night walk in the forest and saw 3 Green Pit Vipers, birds asleep and a sloth. The next day was a trip to Monteverde Cloud Forest reserve. The area is rich in biodiversity with many species of mammals, butterflies, reptiles, birds and plants. I was lucky enough to see a female quetzel through a telescope. A highlight of the trip here was a visit to the Hummingbird Gallery where we saw loads of different hummingbirds at feeders – stayed here for an hour just watching and taking photos. That night when I went to bed, every time I closed my eyes – I could just see hummingbirds – very happy! Our main tour over, we began the next day by heading out to Manuel Antonio – saying farewell to part of our group at a half way point – six of us continued on. We stayed at the Hotel Parador, again a great place with grounds with trails full of animals and birds. Here we saw many white faced monkeys, birds and a racoon. The place was great to relax in adult only swimming pools and just nice to sit on our terrace. We spent a morning in Manuel Antonio National Park where we saw more monkeys, racoons and a three toed sloth high up in the trees. It rained and we had to put our raincoats on – Den said he felt he’d been boiled in the bag. Time we got to the beach there the sun was out and it was baking hot! Time to be grilled! After our trip and lunch we returned to our hotel for some more chilling out (in the pool) to finish our trip off very nicely. In contrast to New York, Christmas in Costa Rica was very low key – a few decorations here and there but nothing over the top. All in all a great trip, with many contrasts and lots of fabulous memories.