10 Reasons To Ditch The USA For An Extended Stay In Costa Rica

Almost all of us have had the feeling when we are on vacation of never wanting to return to our lives back home – the grind of work, the phone constantly ringing, and the sense of always having to be connected by technology, not to mention, the big house, nice cars, “keeping up with the Jones’” basically, what has become the normalcy in the United States. So the thought of never leaving your favorite vacation destination is quite appealing.

Often when we are engaged in conversation with either local Costa Ricans, tourists and expats like ourselves, we are asked if we came to Costa Rica on vacation and never left. While this would be a simple answer, it is not the truth, nor is it simple. Since we’re not surfers who need nothing in this world but a good wave; or hippie beachcombers who spend all day sipping margaritas on the beach; or survivalists wanting to live in the jungle Mosquito Coast style, the truth is, we need more. So these are the top ten reasons we quit our jobs, sold our houses, packed up the kids and our dog and moved to our favorite vacation destination we now call home: Costa Rica.

1.     CLIMATE

Costa Rica has the best climate in the world. It involves 12 different microclimates, appealing to just about everyone, whether you like it hot, or not so hot, even cool and dry to rainy. From cloud forests in the mountain peaks of Montverde to the steamy beaches of the Nicoya Peninsula, to the thick, lush, rainforests and jungles, there is the right climate here for living, gardening, sporting and just plain growing old. We live in the mountains West of the Central Valley between Atenas and Grecia and the temperature is moderate, subtropical with lows in the 50’s and highs in the low 80’s. Oddly enough, when we drive less than an hour to our favorite beach, the air is never as hot as it was in Texas. This is a picture of a Tamarindo beach sunset.

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2.     HAPPY PLANET INDEX

You don’t have to be a genius to know which countries are happy and which countries are sad, but thanks to Ted Talks and some research, we validated our love for Costa Rica. The Happy Planet Index (HPI) is an index of human well-being and environmental impact, in which Costa Rica ranks #1. After living here, we attribute a healthy mood to great weather, protected environment, slower paced lifestyle, active lifestyle, abundance of fresh foods and a culture that takes care of their own, often with extended family. The life expectancy is 78+ and in remote areas of the Nicoya Peninsula, Ticos live into the 100’s. We should only be so lucky to be so happy. We often joke that every day we take a walk in the park and eat ice cream, but we do, and so do all the locals. The parks are filled with grandparents holding the hands of their grandchildren while eating ice cream at 9am. Every city has a park in the center of town across from the church and each park is full of locals; morning, noon and night and most of them are eating ice cream with smiles.

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3.     PURA VIDA!

The National Phrase is “Pura Vida” meaning pure life. Many Ticos use this phrase as Hello or Goodbye, what’s up, excellent, how’s it going, take it easy, enjoy life, and the list goes on. The phrase has been tattooed as an everlasting motto for locals and tourists alike. Living here, it is easy to see why the pure life is so important. Waking up to perfect weather every morning and appreciating every lovely minute of every day is the pure life. You can see it on every Tico’s face, whether they are sitting under a tree in front of a small, humble house, or working a field in the warm afternoon sun, they are always smiling, no matter how rich or poor. So next time you are having a bad day, or you think you might not have it so good, always remember there are other folks out there that have it way worse than you, so be thankful for what you do have. One day we walked back to our Ford truck (obviously from Texas!) and it was dirty, but someone wrote the words on the back of the truck – Pura Vida Costa Rica, gotta love it!

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4.     FOOD

The national plate in Costa Rica is simple and full of starch. It is called the casado and usually features a grilled, fried or stewed meat, cabbage, lettuce and or beet salad always with lime and sliced tomato, potato hash called picadillo, rice and beans. While the plate may vary from soda to soda (a term for small restaurant) the casado has become one of my favorite dishes, especially for lunch, when a sandwich just won’t do. This house plate; however, is not the food I am talking about. The perfect climate also brings perfect fruits and vegetables, super-sized.  The first time we had a bite of pineapple in Costa Rica was orgasmic, it tasted as if it had been soaked in vanilla and honey. The first time we saw a beet at the local feria, my eyes popped out of my head because I had never seen a beet the size of a cantaloupe. The radishes are ruby red and the squash look more like pumpkins. The best part of it all, the price. Fresh food is incredibly inexpensive while processed, fast food is very expensive.  There is a roadside vendor just outside of Tárcoles who sells 6 watermelons for $2 US. We used to pay $6 US for 1 watermelon back in Texas. Watermelon translates to Sandia.

45.     BEACHES

While Costa Rica is smaller than the state of West Virginia at 19,700 square miles, it contains over 933 miles of beaches, half of which are not navigable by car since they are either protected or contain rivers, estuaries and mangroves with poor, winding roads and treacherous terrain. The natural beauty still leaves plenty of amazing beaches to wander, no matter where the vacation takes you. Since Costa Rica has plenty of volcanoes, some of the beaches vary from light brown to black volcanic sand, with only a few white sand beaches. The best part, in my opinion, about the beaches of Costa Rica is the natural shade offered by the towering Palm trees, Dragon blood trees, Centennials and many more. Not only do they offer shade for our Gringo family, they offer habitats for all the wonderful wildlife in Costa Rica. Since there is a Maritime Zone on over 95% of Costa Rica’s beaches, there are no buildings, hotels or homes within the first 200 feet from high tide, leaving the natural beauty to the beach. And since all beaches are considered public, no one may own beaches exclusively. We often see monkeys and macaws when we go to the beaches along the Pacific. This picture was taken in the Caribbean where you see many sloths.

56.     WILDLIFE

I don’t need to bore you with numbers, but there are over 840 different bird species in Costa Rica, more than in North America combined. Since so much of the country is protected National Parks and Reserves, Costa Rica offers the best birding in the world, for such a small country. Other notables include pumas, tapirs, 2 and 3 toed sloths, frogs and lizards of various types, alligators and crocodiles, monkeys and some scary snakes and spiders. Costa Rica is home to over 500,000 species of animal and insect making it one of the 20 countries with the highest biodiversity in the world. We have definitely seen some colorful insects from the size of a 1cm ladybug to an 8 inch cave roach. We have had tarantulas in our house and, we witnessed a 12 foot Boa Constrictor accidentally be driven over in the street across from our house. The kids kept saying, “That’s a big snake Daddy.” Every day is a new day to view wildlife in its natural habitat in Costa Rica, and sometimes in your home.

67.     RECREATION

World Class: Surfing, Scuba diving, Snorkeling, Fishing, Hiking, Cycling and Mountain Biking, White water rafting, Wind surfing, Zip lining, Jungle tours, ATV’s, River boats, Waterfalls, Volcanoes, Lakes, Rivers, Mountains, football (soccer), volleyball, basketball, baseball, the only thing Costa Rica does not have is snow skiing and ice fishing…enough said

Max on the trail for some fishing with Coffee Dog on Lake Arenal

78.     GEOGRAPHICAL LOCATION

Costa Rica has an excellent location in the middle of Central America with 2 International Airports offering nonstop flights to the US and other Latin American countries. It has Pacific beaches on one side and Caribbean beaches on the other. A direct flight from Houston, Texas takes only 3 ½ hours. Cruise ships also port in Costa Rica bringing tourists from Florida and California. With the location and microclimate, Costa Rica does not receive direct hits from hurricanes. Being from Houston, Texas, this was music to our ears, considering we have endured our fair share of hurricanes. While there is a rainy season and a dry season, the weather is very consistent due to an excellent geographical location.

89.     NO MILITARY

In 1949, Costa Rica abolished its military in the Costa Rican Constitution, dedicating the previous military budget to security, education and culture, maintaining a Police Guard forces. Costa Rica has not endured a civil war since and maintains law enforcement with no standing army. This is another testament to the National slogan, Pura Vida, choosing to embrace education and culture over war. The social services of Costa Rica are excellent in comparison to other Latin American countries and the medical care here can be equated to that of the states, offering public hospitals and some of the best private hospitals in Central America plus many specialists at a fraction of what it costs in the US. There are several International schools throughout the country offering International Baccalaureate (IB) education accredited by any university and college in the States.  We have had excellent treatment in a private hospital when we gave birth to our newest child, Sofi; and Max and Sara attend an excellent private school offering 1 hour of English. We attribute our quality experiences to Costa Rica’s government spending money on books, not bullets.

910.  FAMILY

Last, but certainly not least, family comes first in Costa Rica. This was the most important aspect of all, for us, since we are now a family of 5. While it may not be high up on someone else’s vacation scale, it is for us. Traveling with kids can be challenging, but Ticos embrace children. We noticed that even in restaurants, the servers and restaurant owners will come and take your kids for a walk around the kitchen to give you a break, without asking. If you have a baby, they will beg to hold the baby, because they simply adore children here. Instead of getting an eye roll like in most restaurants back in the States, they smile and repeat, “muy linda” and “muy lindo”, meaning so cute. We don’t need to worry about constantly keeping our kids quiet and sitting in their seats, which is so hard for a youngster. Often, our son Max will greet someone at a table next to us and they will offer him a seat and start feeding him. We always appreciate this since their food is obviously better tasting than ours. We have never felt embarrassed because our kids are being kids; in Costa Rica, a child can do no wrong. An elderly local told us that the life expectancy of children in the early history of Costa Rica, like many under developed countries, was very short. Therefore, the culture has adopted letting children live their lives to the fullest. Also, the Costa Ricans do not like confrontation in general, so they try to keep kids happy instead of suppressing their natural childhood curiosity. Beyond children, we have noticed the extent of family living. It is common to see a small piece of land with 3 or 4 houses, all being shared by an extended family. Ticos are extremely family oriented and love music, dance, and the occasional party. Whether they are on the beach or in their homes, the family is the most important role in their culture. We are so proud to be a part of the Costa Rican culture and celebrate our love for family in the park. When we travel, we always stop in every town and let the kids run around in the park, usually with some ice cream and smiles.

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In our view, Costa Rica boasts the best of all worlds. It is a place that marries the well-being of its people and the preservation of its precious natural resources. Our favorite vacation destination began and ended in Costa Rica so I guess we will never have the feeling of never wanting to go home again. Pura Vida!

About The Authors

We are the Meeks Family, Matt, Niki, Max age 5, Sara age 3 and Sofi 2 months. We packed up some belongings and our dog and left Houston, Texas 1 year ago and moved to Costa Rica to begin a new life focused on quality time with each other, our family. We just opened a beef jerky company using Costa Rican beef smoked with local Costa Rican coffee wood and share our funny, interesting and playful to serious experiences traveling, opening a business and parenting through our blog and website. We write about our experiences in the Happiest Place on Earth, Pura Vida!

Top 7 Reasons To Go Glam-Camping AKA Glamping On Your Next Vacation.

Planning your next vacation? Make certain you consider glamping as an option.

Here are 7 reasons why.

1.  Glamping locations tend to be located in the most beautiful parts of the country,  often in spots where hotels and resorts can’t go.

Imagine Waking Up To These View?

Rockwater Secret Cove Resort and Spa offers unique Tenthouse Suite accommodations on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia Canada.  Nestled in the arbutus trees, overlooking Secret Cove, each suite opens onto an endless expanse of Pacific Ocean.

2.  Return to a a simpler way of living.  You are practically one with nature, almost living outdoors, yet without giving up luxury creature comforts.

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River Dance Lodge On The Clearwater River

River Dance Lodge in Idaho, features luxurious glamping tents and a  range of  outdoor adventures including horseback riding, rafting, biking, fly-fishing, hiking and simply being in nature.

3. Glamping isn’t limited to traditional “out of the way” campsites.   New glamping areas feature stunning beachfront locations,  guest ranches, mountain retreats.

The Resort At Paws Up Montana

Pinnacle Camp situated on a bluff overlooking the confluence between the Blackfoot River and Elk Creek is a truly special camp that offers its guests one of the most spectacular views around.

5.  Glamping is about the experience –  it’s a way to truly experience the best of life.  The best that nature has made and the best luxuries created by man.  Glamps tend to offer you the amenities of 5 star resorts, some even including your own Glamping Concierge.

Beautifully Appointed Interiors 

Glacier Under Canvas is located in one of the most breathtaking spots in the world. 7 miles from Glacier National Park, where peaks reach to the sky, glaciers move the earth, waterfalls carve rocks, and the wildlife roam free, as they always have.

6.   Privacy and connection to the rhythm of nature.   Luxury in nature, amongst the trees,  hearing the sounds, sights and smells, that are missed when staying at a traditional resort.

Treehouses designed by Kevin Mooney and Pete Nelson. Animal Planet and The Discovery Channel filmed the building of one of the tree houses and it was shown on a show called Tree House Masters.

7.   No setting up shop.   Camping typically brings to mind tents, hard grounds, uncomfortable nights,  wet sleeping bags, chilly feelings, annoying insects,  dirt,  hauling equipment and getting a fire started.   Gone are those days. Glamping is about sleeping in a world-class bed,  in a warm and beautiful accommodation, surrounded by the healing sounds of nature.

Siwash Lake Guest Ranch

Perhaps the worlds premiere, luxury dude-ranch experience. Personal yet sophisticated, Siwash is dedicated to the most discerning travelers, adventurers and active travelers seeking freedom, and a life-enriching experience.

Things to consider when going glamping.

There is no “one size fits all” definition for glamping.   Different locations offer varying services.   Where you sleep will also vary depending on the glamp.   Some glamping resorts features canvas safari-style tents, others yurts, to teepees, trailers and tree houses.

Experiential travel comes alive at El Capitan Canyon situated minutes from Santa Barbara. Just bring you and your bags and experience the Californian Riviera at this beautiful glamping resort.

The one thing that is the same is that these offerings are designed to be comfortable and luxurious. Structures typically are very sturdy,  set atop platforms, keeping you and your guests off the ground.   Amenities vary, though often include:  high quality beds and linens,  beautiful bathroom facilities,  heaters,  down duvets,  rugs, pre-made fires,  morning coffee service and built at the best locations in the most beautiful parts of North America.

Lake Superior’s Magical Ice Caves Accessible To Adventurers

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore located in the northern region of Wisconsin are beautiful.  So beautiful that they have been named the “Jewels of Lake Superior.”    More intriguing though for travelers in search of the path less traveled is  the area here known as “Apostle Island Sea Caves.”

The Sea Caves recently ranked in the top #10 out of “160 amazing places that people may never have heard of” in an active discussion on Quora.com, the Question and Answer Community.

Submitted by Jason Nelser,  from Minnesota  who says they are “pretty amazing sight to see. I’ve kayaked through them over the summer once before, but apparently people go in them during the winter as well.”

It has been possible to see the caves in winter.  Winter is when these caves turn into a magical ice palace.  The problem in recent years is that warmer winters have taken this striking natural wonder from us.  This winter frigid temperatures have returned this miraculous place to the people of southern Lake Superior – and for those travelers looking to experience a part of the world, that is relatively untouched by guides, guide-books and tourists.

The reward for this cold journey, as seen from the following instragram pics, is a real-life fantasy world comprised of stunningly gorgeous icicles.

The lake’s ice hasn’t been thick enough to walk on on since 2009.

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Almost 11,000 people walked to the caves last weekend.

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The National Park service, offers in depth information on their site about making the trip, says to get to the caves, and then back, visitors must walk about 2 miles over the frozen lake.

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The cave formations change from day to day and the look is completely different depending on the amount of sun and light.

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The area is no stranger to frigid winters though this year’s temperatures have been consistently low making the  formations particularly beautiful, according to park officials.  The limited temperature fluctuations have stopped “freeze-and-thaw cycles” that cause blurring.

About 35,000 have made the trek and it’s expected to be passable until March.  If the thought of ice has you thinking about staying in doors or visiting a more tropical location, then consider traveling to this hidden gem during spring, summer or fall.  A wonderful place to stay on Lake Superior,  is at a home on Madeline Island.  The island is one of the Apostle Islands,  which itself is beautiful and a vacation wonderland.

When the mood to explore the other 21 Apostle Islands arises get on board the ferry from Madeline Island over to Bayfield.

You’ll love absolutely love the trip.  “Better Homes and Gardens'” Travel section highlighted Madeline Island Ferry Line and the great lakes by saying that:

“There’s no better way to explore these mighty water-ways than from the decks of ferryboats.”

From Bayfield you’ll have a number of ways of getting to the Caves including by kayak.  The National Park Service website is packed with useful information about the Apostle Islands as well as the Caves.

Beauty Is Far From Skin Deep In The Virgin Islands.

It would be a mistake to judge St. Thomas by its pretty face or more accurately its gorgeous beaches, luscious vegetation and stunning blue waters.

St. Thomas is far more than skin deep.  It is an island steeped in history.  After you’re finished snorkeling, scuba diving, and taking in the natural wonders of this island paradise dig a little deeper.  It may require extending your trip, though we can assure you that an additional few days will be more than worthwhile.

Failing to delve into this other side of St. Thomas would be a shame.  The team at VacationDiggs has put together the following mini-cultural tour of the Island of St. Thomas, for your pleasure.

  • First stop is Slave Market. Well it never went by that name, though this spot is a must.  The market goes by the more politically acceptable name of Market Square.  Doesn’t every good city need a Market Square? This is a market square with a difference.  Today it’s a bustling produce marketplace though during the 18th-century this square served as the center of one of the West Indies’ busiest slave markets.
  • Second stop, the 99 Steps of Charlotte Amalie.  Well it isn’t quite a stop and more of a climb. Walk the 99 Steps of Charlotte Amalie.  These step streets, or frigangs  as the Danes call them, were built in the mid 1700s, and are particularly colorful and picturesque. The reward of climbing these steps is a spectacular view plus time to think. Yes a very good thing.  You will have just climbed the 99 Steps of Charlotte Amalie each one constructed out of bricks once used as ballast on Danish and British ships.  If curious you may ponder, if you didn’t count them, whether there are really 99 steps.  Please let us know.99
  • If you’re still thirsting for cultural history, and can delay getting a Bailey’s Bushwacker then a visit to Fort Christian is in order.  Fort Christian is the oldest standing structure (standing is key because if it weren’t standing would it qualify as a structure?)  in the Virgin Islands. The Fort is home to the Virgin Islands Museum,  where you’ll discover plenty of early island memorabilia and maps the retell the “sordid” stories   of the islands’ past.
     Fort Christian on the NRHP since May 5, 1977. At Saint Thomas Harbor, Charlotte Amalie, US Virgin Islands. The Danish fort is the oldest structure in the U.S. Virgin Islands
  • Next stop is one for the kids.  Blackbeard’s Castle towers over Charlotte Amalie and while the name references the infamous pirate,  the Castle actually is the remains of  Skytsborg, a 17th-century fortified watch tower, that served as a place to guard Charlotte Amalie.  Though don’t break this to the kids until after the visit.
    Black Beard Castle
  • Did you know there were Synagogues on the Virgin Islands?   You did?  Well, there were and in fact are Synagogues here. Perhaps more interesting  is that the oldest synagogue in continuous use in the United States, Synagogue of Beracha Veshalom Vegmiluth Hasidim is on St. Thomas.  It also happens to be the second-oldest Synagogue in the Western Hemisphere. Could it be possible that the founders believed they had discovered “Garden of Eden’?Sand floor at St. Thomas Synagogue-Beracha Veshalom Vegemiluth Hasadim on the NRHP since August 15, 1997. At 16AB Krystal Gade, Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands.
  • For the women travelers its always important to remind the male members of the family, who is  in charge of this island paradise.   Do this by taking a trip to Three Queens Fountain.  The fountains commemorate Queen Mary, Queen Agnes and Queen Josiah,  the three women that led a successful 19th Century insurrection against the Danish Government demanding better working and living conditions and higher wages.
  • Next stop….  now it’s time for that Bailey’s Bushwacker!

Who said that beauty has to be skin deep?

The Giant Buddha in China

Leshan-Giant-Buddha-

The Giant Buddha is the largest carved stone Buddha in the world and is located in the Mount Emeri Scenic Area of Leshan City, Sichuan Province, by three rivers, namely, Min River, Qingyi River, and Dadu River. This stone statue was built during the Tang Dynasty in 618 and ended in 907 when it was ruled under the Tang Emperors. It was during this time that it was the most powerful and prosperous country in the world.  Today Leshan City is still well known because it was one of China’s most famous period when its culture and military strengths was at its all time high.

In December of 1996, the Giant Buddha was included by UNESCO on the list of the World Heritage sites.

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The statue dates back to the year of 713, it took 90 years to build ending it in 803 even though thousands of workers had exhausted their efforts and wisdom on the project.

Paysage panoramique du mont Emei, incluant le paysage panoramique du grand Bouddha de Leshan

It measures 233 feet high, and 92 feet wide which is about the size of a basketball court.  His feet along are big enough for 100 people to sit on.

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Buts not all about size when you see this enormous figure, it’s the architectural beauty that stuns us.  His coiled hair is made up of 1,021 buns. Each bun has been skillfully embedded in the head. The skill is so beautifully unique that the 1,021 buns seem integral to the whole.

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Another  architectural highlight is the drainage system as it’s structure design was made up of hidden gutters and channels, scattered on the head and arms, and behind the ears and in the clothes. The structural design helps displace rainwater and by keeping the inside dry, which plays an important part in the protection of the Buddha. The large pair of ears, each measures 23 feet long, is made of wood and is decorated by mud on the surface.  Being these were craftsmen of thousands of years ago, it could not have been so easy to fix these to the stone head to where they would fit perfectly.

Having such a long history Chinese government did begin repairing any work needed to maintain its history beauty as it does bring in tourist from all over the world.

How would you get there?

Presently there are not airports in the city. Though you can fly to Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport which is about 93 miles away from Leshan City.

If you happen to traveled to China, would you include the “Giant Buddha” in your must see list?

Romantic Getaways That Light Up Your Nights

Imagine you and that special someone admiring millions of stars along with bright dancing lights in a glass igloo above the Arctic Circle, in the Northern corner of Finnish Lapland.
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You get to choose from either a snow or glass igloo to stay in.

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Completely surrounded by snow you’ll start to notice the silence becomes enchanting while the lights mysteriously begin to shadow your interior walls.  

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Moreover you’both have the opportunity to admire what’s known as the “Aurora Borealis”.  These lights are actually collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earths atmosphere and is considered to be one of the seven natural wonders of the world.

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No need to worry about the cold. These igloos are made with thermal glass walls that insulate the interior and keeps it cozy enough for both of you. You don’t have to worry about the views staying clear even when the temperature dropping to -30 degrees Fahrenheit as you’re glass igloo won’t smog up your views as there built with modern technology.

Besides the romantic nights you’ll enjoy watching the best ice sculptors in the world come together at Kakslauttanen’s Arctic Resort to participate in the international ice-sculpting week at Igloo Village.  Their marvelous ice creations remain displayed during the rest of winter for viewing.

There creations include a Bar made of Ice, an Ice Chapel and the World’s Largest Snow Restaurant.

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What do you think?  Could you stay in an igloo tonight just for two?