Monthly Archives: September 2019

BELIZE and COSTA RICA … Easy Getaways That Are A “World” Away!

By Robyn Bushong

Eager for a getaway to a destination that would seem to be a “world away” – yet only a 2-4 hour flight from many major U.S. airports?  In the last several  months, I’ve had the opportunity to spend several delightful days on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica and to also visit Belize for the first time.

First, Belize… Dorothy Trevino (my dear friend, neighbor and travel buddy – aka DT) and I decided to visit the small Central American country of Belize – both of us as first-time visitors this past January.  Contributing  factors to choosing this delightful Central American country was that it was an easy two-hour flight on Southwest Airlines from Houston’s Hobby Airport and we were eager to spend a few days at a new, tropical” and enticing destination.

Belize is best described as a “small country packed with endless vacation opportunities” certain to appeal to almost everyone – ranging from  high-energy adventurers, honeymooners, to diving enthusiasts and sun-seekers… the choice is yours!  Belize is a  “tropical destination” with its culture defined by both the Caribbean Sea and Central America – i.e.  “reef and rain forest, ancient and new, adventurous and relaxing,  exotic and friendly.  And that’s just the beginning!

Since Dorothy and I have friends in Galveston who enjoyed a “fabulous experience” at Hamanasi – Adventure & Dive Resort  – located near Hopkins,  we decided to check it out.  Working with our travel advisor, Debbie Parker, at Fox Travel in The Woodlands, Texas – we learned a lot about the resort and decided this was the place for us.

When we first landed in Belize City, we were surprised to find that ALL directional signs, billboards, etc were printed in English. Quickly, we learned why:  Belize had been known as British Honduras until 1973; and was granted independence September 21, 1981.  Although many languages are spoken – including Spanish, Garifuna and Maya – English is the official language. This small country (slightly smaller than Massachusetts) is bordered by Guatemala and Mexico and shares maritime borders with Honduras.

We arrived in Belize City on a Sunday afternoon and spent the first night in the country at a Radisson property near the beachfront.  Monday morning, we did some sightseeing – on foot – in Belize City and then took a taxi to the airport for our short 20-minute flight/transfer from Belize City to Dangriga Airport. (We flew aboard a small 12-seat single engine prop plane.)  At the airport, we were met by hotel staff for our short drive to our resort – arriving late afternoon.

Hamanasi -Adventure and Dive Resort… a beautiful, intimate and secluded resort overlooking the Caribbean Sea. (Photo by Robyn Bushong.)

First of all, it’s important to note that Hamanasi is situated in a lovely – but remote location. Hopkins – the closest town – is a small, residential village  about 15 minutes away.  There are only 21 accommodations –  spread throughout the property – including Tree House, Deluxe Tree House and Ocean-Front accommodations. The accommodations at the resort are not furnished with televisions, internet, or Wi-Fi ( although TV is available in the library and complimentary Wi-Fi is available inside the Great House (i.e. lobby, dining/bar area, front desk/reception.)  The Great House overlooks the beautiful pool and Caribbean Sea. The resort’s goal (and ours, too) : “Get away from it all!”

Our tree house accommodation was spacious and delightful (Photo by Robyn Bushong.)

The resort is very casual.  The food is fresh, beautifully-prepared and quite delicious.  Service was not only exceptionally good, it was friendly and fun!

Our tree-house was a large  two-double bed accommodation, with a sitting area, large bathroom and an especially lovely balcony – furnished with a hammock and relaxing chairs – perfect to enjoy your first cup of coffee each morning and listen to the creatures in the trees.  Truly a “tree house” as you were level with the tree tops when sitting on the balcony.   And, it was always very quiet and peaceful throughout the resort grounds.

Our favorite spot to enjoy early-morning coffee… (photo by Robyn Bushong.)

We had signed up for two  tours – including  a “Specialty Adventure” scheduled for our first evening: “Night Hike in Cockscomb Jaguar Preserve.”   Dorothy and I were the only guests on this tour that evening and together with our excellent guide we walked/hiked throughout the natural habitat of nocturnal animals in the “world’s only  jaguar preserve.”  Creatures (albeit very elusive) that live in this preserve include – besides jaguar – puma, jaguarundi (small cat that is closely related to the puma), foxes and other nocturnal creatures.   We hiked for a couple of hours throughout the preserve  before returning after dark  to our resort (about a 45-minute drive.)  We didn’t see any jaguar, but we’re quite confident: They saw us!

This was the only jaguar we saw on our night-time tour. (Photo by Robyn Bushong.)

To say that there were a plethora of activities in which to partake was an understatement.  An incredible resort for diving and snorkeling, plus such active adventures as their “Mayflower Jungle and Waterfall Hike” and “Cave and Jungle Adventure” – both described as: “VERY Challenging (all caps on VERY.)   Other options included a Cave Tour, Cave Tubing, Ziplining,  Horseback Riding, Monkey River Tour, Waterfall Rapelling, Garifuna Cooking Class, Che’il Chocolate Tour and the very popular “Magical Mayan History Tour” – which we took.

Traveling with six other guests, we left the resort mid-morning on Wednesday and arrived back to Hamanasi around 5pm  for this all-day tour. The drive itself was very interesting and provided insight into the culture and life-style of the local – and diverse – populations. Our guide was of Mayan ancestry and showed us first-hand examples of how leaves on different trees were used as medicines for generations of his Mayan ancestors.  This tour truly provides an intimate glimpse into Belize’s history. We saw two of the world’s most incredible Mayan ruin sites. Located near the Guatemalan border is the ruin of Xunantunich  (where you can climb to the top of ruins  over five centuries old!) that also provides a panoramic view of the entire Cayo District.  The Barton Creek Caves are found in the Cayo District and this cave system – which has been carved out with the help of a navigable river – was once a Mayan burial and ritual site.  The highlight of this day was climbing to the top of this ruin – as the view was  spectacular.  However – at least for me – the climb was very challenging, especially carrying a backpack and my camera equipment.   Carved out of stone, the height of each step ranged from 6″ to over 12″.   And, there are no railings.   I made it to the top… albeit very slowly.

View from the top…. (Photo by Robyn Bushong.)
Dorothy and I at the base of the Mayan ruin.

On the two days we didn’t have scheduled tours, Dorothy spent one morning touring the nearby village of Hopkins on a bicycle. (The resort has bicycles available for guests who want to venture out and explore.) DT was far more adventuresome than I that morning as I chose to read and nap alongside the pool, shaded by palm trees and over looking the stunningly beautiful turquoise Caribbean Sea.

The local entertainment was a highlight of our trip! (Photo by Robyn Bushong.)

On our last night at the resort,  a group of local young people performed their native songs and danced out on the veranda.  The troupe was comprised of excellent musicians and performers and provided a very interesting and lively program for guests to enjoy. This evening of entertainment was a great way to conclude our five-day getaway to Belize and the lovely and peaceful  Hamanasi Resort.

Late the next morning we were driven back to the Dangriga airport and took the short shuttle flight back to the  airport in Belize City where we boarded our Southwest flight for another easy 2-hour flight back to Houston.  Indeed… a great and fun getaway!

 

(NOTE: This was a vacation we both enjoyed and there were enough different activities and levels of intensity that would appeal to almost everyone.  Several families were traveling together as it was winter break for many schools and universities (especially on the East Coast) at this time in early/mid January. Multi-generational families traveling together, honeymooners, as well as couples, and a few singles – were among the guests.  The quality of the services, accommodations, food/beverage, bar service,  tours, entertainment by local, native groups – everything was excellent.  With the exception of alcoholic beverages, the tariff was all-inclusive.)  Highly recommended!)

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Now for my other Central American adventure to Costa Rica.  A few months prior to the Belize getaway… Ed Hill (my companion/partner/boyfriend) and I flew into the capital of San Jose. We flew Southwest Airlines from Houston Hobby and took  private ground transportation to Puntarenas (approximately two hours from San Jose) for his son’s destination wedding on the 4th of July.  We stayed – up in the hills -at a secluded,  five-star, tree-shrouded resort – Villa Caletas.

Ed standing on the balcony of our suite at Villa Caletas. (photo by Robyn Bushong.)

Our  secluded accommodations literally were eye-level with the trees and the beautiful birds and other creatures that resided in the foliage.  To reach the beach ( as we were close proximity to the Pacific Ocean), we had to take a hotel shuttle down the hillside to the beach area. We enjoyed the beach – with its rocky shoreline – that included numerous cabanas, lounge chairs and beach towels. The hotel staff provided excellent service –  highlighted with an exceptional food and beverage menu. We both enjoyed a delightful outing on the beach!

Of course, our main purpose for being at this beautiful resort was the wedding.  As father of the groom, Ed participated in the rehearsal on July 3rd, followed by a fun and lively rehearsal dinner that evening… served – al fresco.  Altogether, there were about 40 guests – including family and friends – attending this happy and wonderful occasion!

The bride and groom during the rehearsal at Zephyr Palace -overlooking the Pacific Ocean (Photo by Robyn Bushong.)

The wedding, reception and dinner was held at Zephyr Palace. The palace – located on the same property with Villa Caletas – is a luxurious mansion named after the “mythological Greek god of the west and warm wind.” Showcasing stunning 360-degree views of the Pacific Ocean, the wedding ceremony took place outdoors at  the Palace at 5pm, on the Fourth of July. The vows were exchanged with the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean and sun just beginning to set.  After the beautiful and intimate ceremony, we enjoyed cocktails and hors d’oeuvres,  followed by  a superb seated dinner and great evening of dancing. (The next morning, however… came very early as we departed at 4am for our transport back to the San Jose airport and our easy 4-hour Southwest flight back into Houston Hobby. )

It’s important to note… the Palace itself  offers seven luxury suites – each with a different and unique theme.  Both properties – Villa Caletas and Zephyr Palace –  enjoy an enviable reputation of being a preferred site and venue for destination weddings and for providing exceptionally-fine service.

And, it’s also important to note …that the closest town to the resort was Jaco.   (Jaco is located just about 15 minutes from the resort and is an approximate two-hour drive from San Jose.)  Known as a “beautiful, energetic beach town – highlighted with exceptional aquatic activities, and a care-free party atmosphere,”  Jaco bustles with “animated nightlife and friendly locals.”  In fact, this town proved to be quite the popular hangout for many of  the bride and groom’s friends who had traveled from the Houston area for the wedding.)

What a wonderful, happy and fun four days! We definitely want to return this resort.  Highly recommended!

 

 

Putting the NEW back in New York!

By Robyn Bushong

Our annual trek to the Big Apple earlier this summer was dedicated to “putting the NEW back in New York!”  Together with my dear friend, neighbor and travel buddy, Dorothy Trevino, we were eager to see the new Statue of Liberty Museum (that opened in May) and the new and exciting Hudson Yards (debuting this past March.)

But first… a little background about our annual New York City adventure. For almost a decade, Dorothy (aka “DT”) and I spend 4-5 days every year in New York sight-seeing, going to Broadway shows, walking throughout the City, finding unique, off-the-beaten-path eateries; enjoying the ambiance of lively neighborhood bars and restaurants, as well as experiencing fine-dining establishments.  We’ve taken the water sightseeing tours around the city, walked the High Line and even walked from our hotel, The Ritz Carlton*, at 59th and Central Park South, ALL THE WAY across the Brooklyn Bridge! ( We did take the subway train back, however.)   We generally make our annual trip  in May or June.

First stop on this year’s agenda was the new Statue of LIberty Museum.  We had read about the museum (as well as Hudson Yards and The Shed) in both USA Today and The New York Times before our arrival.  We think the headline in the May 15th edition of USA Today said it best: “Lady Liberty gets a foot in the door.”  This 26,000 square-foot museum  – loaded with historic relics and interactive exhibits – and constructed on the central pedestrian mall on Liberty Island – was funded by  a $100 million public campaign.  The museum is divided into three sections: Upon entering the museum, you will be directed first to the Immersive Theater – a series of three oval theaters that screen three-minute segments about the statue’s history, construction and symbolism.

Look forward to seeing interactive visuals that showcase Lady Liberty’s place in our culture. (Photo by Robyn Bushong.)

Next, the Engagement Gallery – where traditional and interactive visits expand on the statue’s construction, as well as an overview of its place in our culture.  The last section is the Inspiration Gallery, where the highlight of this part of the tour is getting to see – up close –  Lady Liberty’s original torch.  The torch is positioned in the center of a glass-enclosed space that offers truly breathtaking views of Lady Liberty and the stunning New York skyline.

It’s also important to note… that we enjoyed so much seeing all the young children in awe of the gleaming copper replica  of Lady Liberty – where youngsters could clamber over and sit on the gleaming copper replica of Liberty’s toes, put their fingers on her nose and touch her face. Indeed, the perfect spot for a family photo!  (Note: Admission to the Museum is included in the price of the ferry ticket that is required to travel from either Liberty State Park in New Jersey or Battery Park in New York. We purchased our tickets through the concierge at our hotel and took the subway from our hotel to Battery Park.)  DON’T MISS THIS!!

Our next adventure was to Hudson Yards.  The Yards are located between 10th and 12th Avenues  from West 30th to West 34th Streets. Considered the “most elaborate construction project in New York’s history – since the establishment of the Rockefeller Center, in the 1930s,”  this project is massive!  Presently, there are more than 100 diverse shops and culinary experiences to explore and enjoy, new offices for leaders in industry, significant (understatement!) public art (especially The Vessel)  and dynamic cultural institutions – specifically The Shed, modern new residences, 14 acres of public plazas, gardens, groves and so much more.

The Vessel at Hudson Yards is an interactive centerpiece comprised of 154 intricately-interconnecting flights of stairs, with 80 landings. What a view from the top! (Photo by Robyn Bushong.)

The Shed, recognized as a “new arts center for the 21st century”  commissions works of art – across all disciplines and for all audiences.  In addition, this new  entity brings together established and emerging artists in fields ranging from hip-hop to classical music, painting to digital media, theater to literature, and sculpture to dance….and all in an “unprecedented movable structure that adapts to support all kinds of inventive work under one roof.”

A view of Hudson Yards from the High Line. (Photo by Dorothy Trevino.)

It’s been said that “Hudson yards has become the cultural center of Manhattan’s New West Side.”  And a “template for the future of cities”, as this new neighborhood has not only changed the way “New York looks to the world… but the way the world sees new York!”

 

 

(Footnote)*The quality of service, friendliness, excellent food & beverage, housekeeping, and the appreciation the staff shows for their guests at The Ritz Carlton, 59th & Central Park location… is unsurpassed. We have become friends with the Assistant Chef Concierge, Maria Trejo-McDonald, whom we met on our first trip in 2011.  Each year when we return – it’s like “old home week.” Maria’s advice and suggestions for things to “see and do” are always excellent and of  great value. (Plus… Maria even got us great tickets to “Hamilton” in 2016 – when Lin Manuel Miranda was still performing!)