Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Tabacon experience in Arenal

Volcan Arenal in the Alajuela province of Costa Rica is considered as one of the most active volcanoes in the world and the most active in Costa Rica. This perfect cone structure spits out lava and hot boulders at regular intervals which makes for a spectacular display of natural pyrotechnics on cloudless days/nights. The surrounding regions are covered with dense primary and secondary rain forests interspersed with meandering rivers and streams. This natural paradise also treasures some of the best natural hot springs found anywhere in the world. These geo-thermal, volcano-heated waters are fed by fresh rainfall and are very rich in mineral content.

The healing properties of the warm waters and its de-toxification effects, combined with the enchanting surroundings of a lush tropical forest makes it for a surreal experience. Tabacon Grand Spa and Thermal Resort is one of the premier destinations for soaking in the waters of the hot-springs. The most amazing feature of Tabacon's hot springs is that the facility is built around several hot streams at varying temperatures forming tiny natural pools and several small waterfalls in an exotic tropical paradise. This setting is as natural as it can get, coupled with an impeccable service and well-kept grounds. Each pool or a waterfall gives a slightly different feel based of the depth, the temperature, the volume of water flow and the type of setting. The hot spring setting ranges anywhere from a swimming pool complete with a wet bar, to an intimate and a secluded pool well into the tropical gardens.

The Grand Spa facility is one of it kind in the world offering an array of world-class specialized services, the most notable being the Temazcal based on ancient rituals and the ever popular Tabacon massage. The Temazcal is intended to be a complete spiritual and a physical cleansing experience with the help of the forces of nature like the water, fire, air and the earth. The Tabacon massage for the couple is an enchanting experience that starts at a secluded bungalow that is set amidst gurgling streams and aromatic gardens. It's an hour long synchronized massage for the couple using warm Volcanic mud from Arenal, with a final soak in the comfort of a private thermal stream, only accessible for the Spa's guests. The Tabacon Grand Spa and Thermal Resort is a member of the Leading Hotels of the World and definitely the most luxurious in Arenal. The entry to Tabacon's Thermal Springs is free for Tabacon resort's guests while other visitors can access this facility with a day-pass.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The secrets of La Paz

Lush and verdant, misty and rainy, greens of all shades imaginable, the resounding thunder of waterfalls, abundant flora and fauna; that's how one would describe the La Paz Waterfall Gardens in Vara Blanca (Costa Rica). This Waterfall Garden Park is a well-kept facility that was built to give easy access to 5 magical waterfalls in the dense rain forest areas. The easily marked trails run from the main visitor center to the last waterfall with an option of trekking back on a steep terrain or climbing aboard a shuttle for a quick hop back to the visitor center. The access to these areas are mostly self-guided with a detailed map from the visitor center and clearly-marked directions on the trails. For an additional fee, guided-tours are also available.

The trails run around a number of attractions before actually leading to the waterfalls. The trail, first leads to a bird cage that houses a number of tropical birds including the colorful Toucans that Central America is so famous for. Though it's a huge netted enclosure, the grounds are lush, the birds fly free all around the visitors and give a sense of being in the middle of a jungle. After passing the main bird cage, there is an option to continue walking on the trail to see butterflies, insects, monkeys and humming birds in their own separate enclosures. Fishing enthusiasts often seek an alternate trail that leads to a trout lake and a trout bar. The Butterfly observatory is a unique setup which allows the visitors to witness the complete life-cycle of a butterfly (from egg to caterpillar to butterfly). They have used it as a breeding ground for a large collection of colorful butterfly species. Another unique aspect of this observatory is that student internship programs are available to learn more about their growth and behavior.

The hungry visitors on the trail can relax and catch a quick bite in one of the restaurants in the path. Casita de la Paz is a mock-up of a traditional Central American house and living. A friendly Tico offers delicious warm sugar drink and freshly made tortillas to sample. A ride on the Ox-driven cart takes you to a trip down the past. There are more offerings in the form of Serpantarium, Orchid gardens and a frog exhibit along the way. Venomous and colorful snakes of Costa Rica can be found in Serpantarium exhibits. Many snakes camouflage really well in their surroundings. Often, help of an experience eye is needed to spot them. Like the Ranario frog pond of Monteverde, this frog exhibit has a huge collection of Central American frogs such as the poison dart frog, the red-eyed tree frog and the flying frogs.

After all the exploration of the fauna, its time to see the waterfalls. This portion of the trail inside the rain forests that lead to the different waterfalls (El Tempo, Magla Blanca, the twin falls of Encantada & Escondida and finally the La Paz) is the longest, the steepest and the most scenic too. The trail traverses through the dense jungles that give a real sense of being in an exotic rain forest as seen in popular Hollywood blockbusters. It's a real treat to the senses as the eyes feast on lushness beyond comprehension and the body soaks in freshness beyond conventional belief. The real beauty sets in when it's raining in the gardens. Numerous other small waterfalls suddenly come to life and all the plants and trees in the forest seem to sway to the wind in a rhythmic pattern. In short, mere words just cannot describe the magical experience.

The La Paz Waterfall Gardens is open every day of the year between the hours of 8 am and 5 pm. The last shuttle pick up is at 5 pm from the exit trail near the La Paz waterfalls. The entrance fee for an adult visitor is $32 (Child - $26) for the self-guided tour. Costa Rican influenced Lunch buffet is available at the Colibries restaurant near the visitor center.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Amphibian sightings in Monteverde

The Puntaneras region of Costa Rica treasures an area of cool and misty cloud forests at high elevations of 4000+ feet above the sea level. Known as Monteverde, it is a region of lush forests teeming with numerous plant, mammal, bird and insect species. Among the various unique wildlife in Monteverde, the frogs deserve a special mention. Ranario's frog pond in Santa Elena - Monteverde houses some of the most interesting frogs from Monteverde and other regions of Costa Rica. There is an entry fee ($9 per adult entry) to visit the frog pond. The entry fee includes a 1 hour guided tour to the numerous terrariums and an additional second entry. The frogs are kept in various Terrariums, where the environment is simulated to be as close as possible to their natural habitat. This provides an opportunity to witness their true behavior and interactions.

The 25+ species of frogs here include the dart frogs, crowned frogs, leopard frogs, marine toads, the red-eyed tree frogs and the rare glass frogs. Certain frogs like the colorful dart frogs are quite poisonous to the predators. The crowned frogs get their name because of the characteristic crown like protrusions on their skull. The red-eyed tree frogs inhabit the high canopy ares of Costa Rica. They have bright-red colored eyes with orange feet and they are considered one of the most beautiful species of frogs.

The glass frogs have very thin transparent skin on their bellies and limbs which almost exposes the internal organs to the naked eye. These bright green tree frogs are mostly found in the rain forests of Central and South America. Most frogs are nocturnal and are very active in the night time. So, its highly recommended that one of the 2 allowed visits per ticket is in the night time. The gift store in the frog pond is a very interesting shop set in a kind of natural surrounding with pebbles and gravels on the ground instead of conventional flooring.