Friday, March 30, 2012

Liberia and a Lesson - Travels in Costa Rica (Part 4)

March 11, 2012
The 6:00am bus rumbles and bounces down the mountains from Santa Elena. I like how much you can see from a bus. Especially a rickety old bus that goes so slow. The houses in their bright colors, with metal roofs and curtains covering the windows, capture my attention. Most homes seem to have a dog, and sometimes a chicken or two. Fences stretch out alongside the road, boundaries for cows or horses, or declarations of ownership. The fences use living trees for many posts, the wire digging into the trunk and bark growing around it. A living fence.

We’re supposed to get off at Lagartos and catch another bus to Liberia. But which stop is Lagartos? We don’t know (there are no signs), and the bus driver doesn’t feel like telling us. Even though I asked. Twice. So we ride the bus to Puntarenas, forty kilometers and an hour out of our way. We figure it’s better to reach another town, rather than risk getting off at one of the unmarked, unnamed stops, where who knows when the next bus will pass. I am still frustrated when we arrive in Puntarenas, a small city with a huge cruise ship docked at the beach. More than anything, I think I’m bothered by the bus driver’s nature, his overt apathy to my helplessness and situation. It would have taken so little of his effort to listen to me, to help me understand. I don’t understand people like this. I am saddened by this nature. Thankfully, a stranger on the sidewalk is nothing like him, and he kindly shows me the way to the Liberia bus, making sure I walk to the correct one. We’re in luck - this bus leaves in just twenty minutes. It’s another few hours on a bus, this one newer and faster, at least. Now we travel through flatter land, with lots of farmland and farm stands that I wish we could stop at. The piles of watermelon and pineapple are so tempting....

Finally, finally, we arrive in Liberia. Miraculously, we walk straight to the hotel Freddy recommended, even though we have no idea where we are going. We rinse off in the cold trickle of water that passes for a shower here and then are ready to wander around town.
There’s not much to this town - basically, a large, modern, white church with a few blocks of stores and restaurants around it. I heard there is an older church nearby, but we don’t come across it (we also don’t really look). Finding food that sounds good AND is reasonably priced is proving to be difficult in Costa Rica. The local soda looks dark and dreary inside. The restaurant on the corner with the really nice upper deck serves a $10 bowl of soup. No thank you. We eventually settle on grabbing some pastry and enjoy our late lunch on a bench in the large park next to the church. Afterward, we pick up some pineapple and mango to eat for dinner and drop it off at our hotel. On our way out to walk some more (what else is there to do?), we inquire about the shuttle to Rincon de la Vieja, the national park we plan to visit tomorrow. We’re told - to my horror - that this park isn’t open on Mondays. What?!?! I’ve never heard of a national park that closes weekly. I am shocked and dismayed. Disappointed. Discouraged. The only reason we’re even in Liberia is to visit this park. Of course, we have the option of staying an extra night and visiting the park on Tuesday, but what would we do all Monday? We’ve already pretty much seen the town, and a shuttle to another national park, such as Palo Verde, is way too expensive ($85). Plus, we’d also lose a day at one of our beach destinations, which we’re not willing to give up. So, essentially, all the frustrations we went through earlier were for nothing. My whole body deflates. We walk, and I work on getting over my disappointment. I know I shouldn’t let it get to me, that I should remember I’m on an incredible adventure in Costa Rica, but I can’t help it. It’s my fault. I’ve wasted our time and energy. I apologize profusely to Nick because it was me who planned our itinerary. I never in a million years would have thought to look at a national park’s schedule. This is a good travel lesson to learn: Just because something is one way in America, don’t assume it’s the same way in other countries. Which brings me to a good life lesson: Don’t make assumptions. And if you do, be prepared to accept reality, preferably with a positive and optimistic attitude. Unlike the sulking manner I now display.
We find a seat on a bench in the park again, where an orchestra - complete with conductor - is setting up in the gazebo. As the throngs of people filter out from the church doors after Sunday mass, they begin to play. I sit, listening to the music, watching others sit and listen, too, watch the children riding bikes, the older boys riding skateboards, and then I remember. I remember the beauty of traveling is immersing yourself in another culture, and sometimes it doesn’t look like much. It’s an ordinary Sunday evening, and we’re just here, enjoying the warm weather, the pink sunset, the music. Me and them. I am able to relax into the moment, enjoy just being a part of their evening. Sharing the ordinary. I realize it’s one of the first moments since our arrival that I feel like I’m actually experiencing Costa Rica, not just witnessing it. And I’m grateful for this moment, for remembering.

Nick has gone off to buy some water, and he returns with it, but also chips, a local fruit, and a bottle of wine. He even remembered to buy a bottle opener. He is trying to cheer me up, and I love him for it. The fruit is small and green, kind of like a grape but larger, with slightly thicker, mottled skin. The skin is tart, but the flesh is sweet and juicy. They are messy to eat, having to tear the flesh from a large pit, and juice dribbles down my chin. We bring the wine and chips back to our hotel room, adding them to our mango and pineapple dinner. The wine, a Trapiche Pinot Noir from Argentina, is good, bold but smooth, and we drink it from the improvised cup Nick created by cutting off the bottom of a water bottle. (If you’re checking a bag, it’s handy to travel with a knife.) The day, despite its ups and downs, can only be called a good day.

Hotel Liberia
One block from Parque Central, Telephone: 666 0161
The hotel is a renovated old house with a lovely inner courtyard. A room with a bathroom cost us $36 a night. It’s very close to the church, shops, and restaurants, so it’s very convenient. If coming by bus, get off at the stop just after you pass Hotel Boyeros (the next stop is the bus station, but it’s a further walk). Take the side street at the light (on the same side as Hotel Boyeros), follow it a few blocks, take a right at the shop/hotel with a deck on the second level onto Calle Central, and you’ll see Hotel Liberia on your right.

Panaderias (Bakeries) - Pan y Miel is a local bakery with a small selection (the pastry filled with chicken was very good, but the bread roll was very dry). Musmanni is a bakery chain found throughout Costa Rica with a much larger selection (the pineapple strudel was yummy, but the beef empanada wasn’t that good). They are across the street from each other, about a block from the church, so you can easily check out both.

Rincon de la Vieja National Park
IT’S CLOSED ON MONDAY!!!! At least that’s what we were told by the clerk at Hotel Liberia... When I look at the website, it doesn’t say anything about being closed on Monday. Hmmm, I sure hope I didn’t miss out on Costa Rica’s version of Yellowstone for no good reason... Well, if you get to go and need a ride, there are shuttles available. Hotel Liberia offered a shuttle for $20. Since I didn’t get to go, I’m unsure if this price is one-way or round-trip.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Santa Elena and the Cloud Forest - Travels in Costa Rica (Part 3)

March 9, 2012
The alarm wakes us up at 5:30 am, and I’m happy to discover that the sun’s already up - it just feels better and more natural than rising in the dark. We take a quick taxi ride through the sleepy streets of San Jose to the bus station. My mind is still sluggish, and I foolishly pay ten mil colones ($20.00) when the fare should have only been $5.00. Grrrrr, I’m agitated that it’s my first morning, and I’ve already been ripped off. Naively, I thought that if I was sweet and friendly, put a big smile on my face, the locals would like me and not have it in their hearts to rip me off. That is apparently not the case. :(  I will definitely have to be more careful (and get the currency exchange straight in my head). The five-hour bus ride costs only 2400 colones (what my taxi ride should have cost!), and I doze off an on. In some small town we switch buses. As the sun rises in the sky, the air grows increasingly hot and stuffy, so I’m happy the driver decides to keep the door open, providing more breeze. The bus trudges along, grinding up and screeching down the narrow dirt roads, winding through and over the ridges.
Santa Elena is a tiny town. It’s windy, and short spurts of a light, light rain intermittently fall. After lunch at Bar Amigos, we take a long walk down the road leading to the cheese factory. It feels good to move after sitting on the bus for so long. We see fighting birds, pretty green ones that are related to the tucan. One actually has the other in a chokehold, the unfortunate victim dangling limply from its beak. Fortunately, both birds survive the ordeal. We see two dogs doing it in the middle of the street. Huh, I guess it’s as good a place as any... There are actually plenty of dogs roaming around; I have no idea if they have owners or are strays, but they seem healthy and are uninterested in any attention.

Back at the hostel, I quickly rinse off in my maybe-warm-but-mostly-cold shower. Then we go check out Common Cup, a local coffee shop that roasts its own beans. It’s great coffee, and they have really nice outdoor seating. For dinner, we pick up a pineapple (one of my absolute favorite foods) and some beer at the supermarket. The pineapple is incredibly delicious - it rivals the pineapple I ate in Hawaii. And it was crazy cheap, too, somewhere around 480 colones (less than a dollar). We eat the whole thing.
Oh wow, the wind. It’s unwavering throughout the night, whirling and swirling in a crazed frenzy, a tumultuous cascade of sound and force. Howling through the hallway (the doors to the patio are left open), banging around the corners, and slamming against the shutters. “Don’t reckon with me,” it seems to say. And I don’t want to. I stay safely tucked in the warmth of my bed.

March 10, 2012
Mystical. That is my first and last impression of the cloud forest. It is so alive. Life grows on life grows on life. Trees, fronds, vines, and moss tangle and entwine each other. The forest is shrouded in white and sunlight struggles to reach through. Cloud particles cling to you, wrap you up, claim you as part of this land. It becomes a fantasy, as I find my fairy throne and imagine mythical creatures hiding in the shadows. Here, you really can believe. This is one of the best hikes I’ve ever experienced. We travel the outermost loop, hook onto another loop, make it last as long as possible. There’s not much for wildlife - one type of caterpillar that we see again and again, the song of a bird that we hear but never see.

That night, it is cold and windy outside, so we head back to our hostel after dinner at Inka Verde. We stop at the grocery store, and I pick up a pack of Butter Rum Lifesavers. They remind me of being a kid.

Cabinas Eddy
It’s a very short walk to the hostel from the bus stop, which is especially convenient when you’re lugging a heavy pack. I instantly like this hostel better than the one in San Jose - I can’t explain it, it just feels better. Our room feels cozier, too, with wood paneling, a large window, and a decent bed. And a towel, yay! The last place didn’t have one. I also learn the trick to a hot shower - turn it on slowly and just until the water has decent flow. Actually, I didn’t learn the trick - I made Nick come start my shower for me because I couldn’t figure it out. Breakfast is included, and it’s delicious. Coffee and a plate of fresh fruit are served first. Then I enjoyed a pineapple banana pancake with marmalade syrup, and Nick had eggs with toast. On the morning we had to leave super early to catch the bus, Freddy got up early, too, and had coffee and fruit waiting for us.
For outdoor space, there is an upper deck patio with a few chairs and a hammock. Inside, there is a kitchen space for your use, a lounge area with couches and a television, a couple computers with Internet access, and some tables and benches for meals. It was a great place, and everyone working there was extremely friendly and helpful. If coming by bus, there is only one stop in town, and it’s a short walk to Cabinas Eddy. Walk to the grocery store and then take a right down the hill. You’ll see the hostel on your right, set back from the road.

Bar Amigos (In Spanish)
The girl at Cabinas Eddy suggests this restaurant for lunch, describing it as cheap and good. I have the casada, a typical Costa Rican dish with meat, beans, rice, veggies, and plantains. Nick orders french fries and sausage, which sounds good, but we burst out laughing when it’s set down in front of him (actually, we smirk and wait for the waiter to leave so as not to appear rude). It’s actually crinkle-cut fries (the kind that comes from the frozen foods section of a grocery store) and chunks of hot dog. It looks like a kid’s meal. I don’t think I’ll be ordering anything labeled “sausage” for the remainder of my time in Costa Rica. We also share a plate of yucca fries, which are tasty, but they sit in your stomach like a load of bricks.

Stella’s Bakery
The bakery is on the road that leads to the cheese factory. It has a small display of tempting treats. I choose a piece of coconut cake that is delicious.

Common Cup
We enjoyed a nice cup of coffee on the outdoor patio of this charming shop. They have a small menu, but I didn’t eat anything. There is another coffee shop near this one that looked good, too, but we didn’t get around to checking it out.

Inka Verde
Dining options (especially ones that aren’t overpriced) are limited in Santa Elena. Our second night, we ended up eating dinner at Inka Verde, a Peruvian restaurant, even though I really don’t like the idea of eating an entirely different country’s cuisine while traveling in another. I expanded my horizon and ordered the cold sea bass ceviche. It was okay, but I wouldn’t eat it again if I had a choice (although if you like that type of dish you probably would really enjoy it). The orange-pineapple ice cream at the local heladeria, on the other hand, was really good (the ice cream shop is on the way back to Cabinas Eddy, and it’s cheap).

The large grocery store is conveniently located right around the corner from Cabinas Eddy. We stop here often for drinks and snacks. I particularly like their bakery case, full of empanadas, strudels, and other tempting pastries. One afternoon, I watch a woman place a pan of warm orejas in the case, so I get one of these large, flat, sugar-covered pastries. It’s cheap (280 colones) and yummy - that’s how all pastry should be!

Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve
The cloud forest has a Santa Elena Reserve and a Monteverde Reserve (the area where Santa Elena is located). From what I read, both sections are similar, except the Santa Elena Reserve is less visited. That is why I chose the Santa Elena Reserve, for more seclusion on the trails. I don’t know if the hiking trails are more extensive, or if there are better views, at the Monteverde Reserve (but I would be curious to find out if anyone knows). The Santa Elena Reserve has 12.5 kilometers of trails that are very well maintained and marked. We arranged for a shuttle to pick us up at 8:00 am at our hostel (a staff member at the hostel or the tourism building will call for you). It cost 2000 colones each way, so about $8 USD total.

There are plenty of other activities to keep you busy in the Monteverde area, such as zip lines, an insect museum, and a cheese factory tour.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Arriving in San Jose - Travels in Costa Rica (Part 2)

March 8, 2012
We arranged for transportation from the airport to the hostel where we’re spending our first night in Costa Rica. Our driver has to drop someone else off first, so he leaves us in the car...with the key in the ignition...for over twenty minutes. I’ve heard ticos (what Costa Ricans call themselves) are friendly, happy people, and apparently they’re trusting, too.
After dropping off our things at the hostel, Nick and I walk the streets. Parrots are screeching and swooping around a small grove of trees in one of the many parks. On the sidewalk, a man asks if he can help us in any way - “A little green? A little white?” People smile at you on the street. I already like Costa Rica, but I’m happy we’re only staying in San Jose one night. Too big. Too many loud, honking horns. (I’m so glad we didn’t rent a car.)

Costa Rica Backpackers (
This is a hostel with a genial, laid-back atmosphere. Our room was sparse, to say the least, but it had a bed, and that’s all I needed. Most hostels offer a dorm-style room (you purchase a bed) or a private room. The private rooms have a shared bath, but many hostels also offer private rooms with a private bath (for more money). Whenever possible, we stayed in a room with a shared bath, just to cut down on costs. It’s really not too bad - there were only one or two occasions when I had to wait a few minutes to use the bathroom. I can’t comment on if the showers here have hot water because I didn’t take one. This hostel has an outdoor area with a tiny pool, some tables and chairs, and a few hammocks. There is also an outdoor bar/kitchen/eating area and an indoor lounge area with computers. It’s a nice set-up.

When we asked the young man at the front desk for dinner recommendations, he told us that he likes to eat at Taco Bell. Hmmm, not very promising... Costa Rica is not known for their cuisine, so many dining options, especially in cities, are international (Chinese, Italian) or chains (Burger King, KFC). We chose to eat at Restaurante Nuestra Tierra (Calle 15, Frente de la Plaza de la Democracia, San Jose, Costa Rica) because their sign claims tipico cuisine (food typically eaten by Costa Ricans). This place is a tourist trap, but I wanted to eat tico food my first night, and I also preferred it to the Taco Bell alternative. Nick and I shared the tabla chicharrones, which came with little bites of fried pork, beans, rice, salad, and plantains. It was good, but definitely overpriced. If you want to eat typical Costa Rican food, you’re better off looking for a soda, their equivalent of a diner, which serves typical dishes and is generally cheap, too.

I’m sure there’s plenty to do in the largest city in Costa Rica, but they only reason I was there was so I could catch an early bus to Monteverde. It’s interesting to walk around, and there are some nice parks to relax and people-watch.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Pura Vida! - Travels in Costa Rica (Part 1)

Pura Vida! This is what I’m bringing back from Costa Rica. It’s a phrase that literally means “pure life”; however, the use of this simple phrase goes far beyond its literal translation. Ticos use this expression in greetings and farewells, when something is going well or not so well. I’m bringing back more than the phrase, though; I’m bringing back the Costa Rican attitude and mindset that goes along with it. It’s a laid-back, happy, optimistic type of vibe, a “hey, things are going good, even if it doesn’t seem so good, because life is pretty great, right?” I like this type of mindset, and I love that they created a phrase to capture and express it. So, pura vida, my friends, and I’m excited to share my adventure with you!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Travel Gear Review: Collapsible Water Bottle

While wandering city streets for hours at a time, I realized that I get pretty thirsty. And while the strong espressos in tiny cafes are delicious, they don’t do much to quench my thirst. So, to stay hydrated and environmentally-friendly, I decided to start traveling with a re-usable water bottle. I was concerned about how much space a water bottle would take up in my backpack; however, as well as the limited amount of room in the bag I like to carry around (stuffed with a camera, book, journal, sunglasses, etc.). My brother opened my eyes to a backpacker’s dream: a collapsible water bottle. He recommended the Platypus brand, and after reading many positive reviews on Amazon, I went with it. I chose the PlatyPlus bottle ( because it’s the newest, most compact version. It is only available in a 1-liter size, but if you fill it with less water it will take up less space. There are two different closure designs: push/pull and a cap. Even though I like the speed of using a push/pull closure, I chose the cap design because I thought this would minimize the chance of water leaking in my bag. (Now I just have to worry about losing the top. :/ )

Here’s what it looked like when it arrived:


Travel Gear Review: Collapsible Daypack

When I’m traveling, I like to keep a small backpack with me while I’m on a plane. This is to keep important/expensive items (passport, money, camera) and travel items (book, earplugs, dramamine) safe and accessible. When backpacking, this becomes a little inconvenient (have you ever tried carrying two backpacks?). So, when I arrive at my destination, I like to put everything into my large backpack, including the other backpack. Anyone who backpacks knows that space is a premium, and the lighter the load, the better (your shoulders and hips will thank you). The first couple times I backpacked to Europe, I took a backpack I already owned, which was bulky and a pain to stuff into my large backpack. So before jetting off to Costa Rica, I decided to look into my problem.

And, I found a great solution: collapsible backpacks. They are designed to be light and scrunch up into a small space. After doing some comparison shopping online, I chose the REI Stuff Travel Pack (

Reasons I chose this pack:

  1. It has a drawstring close, rather than a zipper. I thought it would be easier to keep things from slipping out, and I wouldn’t have to worry about a broken zipper.
  2. It has side mesh pockets to hold a water bottle or anything else I want to keep easily accessible.
  3. It was cheaper than most, costing $29.50.
  4. It’s made of ripstop nylon. It feels like it’ll stand up to some wear-and-tear.
  5. It will protect belongings from light rain. I always get rained on at some point.
  6. It’s a good size for me, large enough to carry my camera, a book, and a few other small belongings.
There are lots of other options out there, so you might want to do some looking of your own before choosing the collapsible daypack that’s best for you.

The Good, the Bad, the Excellenté - Part 6

Planning your own vacation to a resort

Having only been on more adventuresome vacations - couchsurfing in Italy, driving across the country, hiking in Hawaii, I was a little apprehensive about a resort vacation. Is it too expensive? Will I be bored? Will I get restless staying in one location for the entire trip? Not only would I answer "no" to all those questions, but I would even consider another resort vacation in the future. Considering all we got at the resort, plus the discount we received by booking through, I think the vacation was reasonably priced. Yes, it was more expensive than some other vacations, but I usually find free accommodations (i.e. my car). Paying for a closet to hang my clothes and a comfy bed to collapse on was part of the experience. Surprisingly, I wasn't bored at all - I adjusted very well to just lying around. It gave me lots of time to enjoy reading a couple books, something I normally don't have as much time for as I'd like. It also gave me time to just completely enjoy Nick's company. Our place was so lovely, I completely enjoyed every moment I spent there. In fact, it was a relief to wake up each morning and know I didn't need to drive or catch a bus or make the first train out. So, yeah, I would stay at a resort again. It is truly a relaxing vacation, in every sense of the word, and sometimes that's exactly what you need.

Here are some tips for planning your own resort vacation:
ü  Pick a resort that's right for you. 
o   I chose a resort in a location where there wasn't much I wanted to see nearby. I could never stay in a resort in Costa Rica or Spain - I would want to explore the country - wander the streets, eat at local restaurants, etc. (Although I know most resorts offer day trips to the surrounding area.) Plus, I was paying so much to be at this resort, I wanted to BE at this resort!
o   I also chose a resort that was adults-only. I love kids, but had no inclination to be around their screaming and splashing and running and general obnoxiousness (I exaggerate). And I must say, it was rather pleasant.
o   Don't forget about airfare. Flights are pretty cheap between Texas and Mexico, so it was logical to choose Mexico as our destination. A different location might save you money on airfare.
o   Food is a big part of my travel experience, so I wanted to choose a resort that had lots of good dining options. Honestly, there are probably resorts with better food, but I also think they're even more expensive. Some resorts require reservations for dinner. We purposely chose a resort with no reservations because we wanted the flexibility to eat when and where we wanted.
o   Check out reviews online. We chose the Excellence not only because it was recommended by a friend, but also because the reviews online were consistently good compared to some of the other resorts we were considering.

ü  Plan when to travel. We learned that the week before Christmas (the week we stayed), our resort was at 50% capacity. We never had to worry about finding a place to lounge (although sometimes it was difficult snagging one of the few hammocks in the late afternoon).  It was never a problem getting seated right away for dinner, either. After Christmas, capacity goes up to 90% and stays that way throughout the high season (I'm not sure when that ends). So, if you have flexibility in when you travel, it might be worth visiting a resort during the low season.

ü  Determine how long you'd like to stay. This may partly depend on your budget. We stayed for five nights, but decided we'd only stay for four nights when we go to a resort again. By the end of the fourth day, we began getting restless.

ü  Consider arranging a shuttle to and from the airport prior to your travel. Your resort will most likely work with a couple different shuttle companies, and you'll probably be able to make arrangements when you book your room. A shuttle is convenient, and it's cheaper than paying for a taxi.

ü  Pack thoughtfully.
o   Bring your own toiletries. At least at my resort, I found the shampoo and conditioner very low quality. I was happy I brought my own.
o   What I brought and what I actually wore are two different things. Here's what I wore:
§  3 swimsuits
§  1 cover-up
§  1 skirt and tank top
§  Dress for each night with nicer shoes
§  2 pairs of flip flops
§  Traveling outfit
§  Sweater/cardigan/zippered hoodie
§  That's it! Needless to say, I spent most of my time in a swimsuit. Usually, we'd eat breakfast and lunch in our swimsuits (I covered up with a dress and Nick just threw on a t-shirt).
o   Consider bringing $1 bills for tipping. We brought about $80 worth of one dollar bills, and this was plenty to cover the occasional tip. Since we weren't doing any shopping, we wanted to have change available to us.
If you're traveling internationally, you'll be able to check one bag for free. (At least we could. I would double-check this with your airline.) Use this to carry copious amounts of sunscreen. You'll need it!

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Good, the Bad, the Excellenté - Part 5

Service at the Excellence Resort in Riviera Maya, Mexico

Arriving by shuttle, we were quickly greeted at the entrance and handed a cold, damp towel. I was confused by this until I realized that it’s usually much hotter when people arrive, and they would appreciate a cold wash towel to wipe off the sweat. I appreciated the glass of champagne we were handed next much more.

It felt good staying at the Excellence Resort. We were treated very well by all the staff members, who exuded kindness and cordiality. While sitting at a bar, more than once we enjoyed conversation with the bartender. And I won’t forget Eddy, our friendly waiter at Agave. I can’t comment on how helpful they were when we had a problem because we actually never had a problem…

Each day, our room was visited twice: Once to clean and once for turndown service. (I really liked the little chocolates they left each evening.)

When at a resort, there’s always the question: Do I tip? The answer is – yes! I learned that servers and bar tenders are only paid $5 A DAY here, so please tip if you appreciate their service!

In our room, we made good use of the mini-bar (restocked daily at no additional cost). It had water bottles, beer, juice, even a candy bar. And yes, I ate the candy bar, but only because I was starving and dinner wasn’t for another two hours. I swear.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Good, the Bad, the Excellenté - Part 4

Activities at the Excellence Resort in Riviera Maya, Mexico

I use the word “activity” lightly here. When I think of doing an activity, I think of hiking, horseback riding, or skydiving. At the Excellence, my activities revolved around relaxing, lounging, and more relaxing. (And if eating and drinking count as activities, those too.) A resort is a great destination if what you want to “do” is pretty close to nothing at all. The entire resort seems carefully crafted to provide a wide range of easy and relaxing options.

My favorite activity was lounging. I was pleased at how many comfortable places there are to just lie around. My favorite place was the X Lounge, a small deck overlooking the beach with beds that have ridiculously comfortable mattresses. It was really, really nice, and I spent at least a part of everyday in the X Lounge. One day I was so tired out from all the lying around I did in the morning that I took a nap there after lunch. Very comfy. There are plenty of lounge chairs scattered throughout the resort, too. The chairs are high quality with comfortable padding and an adjustable back. One morning we picked a couple chairs on the beach. There was a rather relentless breeze blowing up from the ocean, though, and this made it a little chilly, especially when a cloud blocked the sun’s warm rays. Luckily, chairs on the resort property have more wind protection if the breeze becomes too much. On Thursday, we were treated to our first completely sunny day with a clear, blue sky and hotter temperature. We chose chairs by the pool for easy access to the chilly, but refreshing water. There are even chairs in the pool, on a shallow ledge, so you can lounge but still stay cool. They also have some beds in the pool areas. The mattress isn’t as comfortable as those in the X Lounge, but they have a thatched roof and fabric hanging from all sides, which is especially nice when you’re seeking a little bit of shade. In the late afternoon, we’d like to wander over to one of the hammocks and laze around for a bit. My hardest choice everyday was, “Where do I want to lounge?” (Okay, maybe it was “Which drink should I order next?” But this was a close second.)

Unfortunately, it just wasn’t quite warm enough for me to spend much time in the pool. It was only on our last morning there that it finally got hot enough for me to gingerly lower myself into the water. I don’t think it was the time of year; I think we just caught a weather pattern that was a little cooler and windier. The resort has three pools, and one of them has a swim-up bar. Or, in my case, a tip-toe-across-the-pool-from-the-shortest-distance bar. It was fun sitting at this bar, and I imagine it’s quite popular when the heat is in full force. I liked ordering a mango colada, and Nick discovered a drink called the iceberg – it’s cerveza beer topped off with frozen margarita mix. This was a good place to hang out and strike up a conversation with some of the other resort guests.

Despite how it sounds, I didn’t remain sedentary the entire time (but definitely the majority – that was the whole point). On Wednesday morning, Nick and I took a walk on the beach, heading left away from the resort. We passed a few other establishments, and based on the beach chairs and building conditions, decided that the Excellence was the nicest. We couldn’t walk too far in this direction, as the beach eventually reaches a point where you can’t walk any further (at least it looked that way). On Thursday morning, we turned right for a walk down the beach. We took a longer walk and eventually reached the fishing town of Puerto Moreles (about three miles away). Since we were only wearing our swimsuits, we didn’t walk into town, so I can’t tell you what you’d find there.

The resort does actually schedule a bunch of activities. Nick played poker one afternoon. We were going to participate in air rifle shooting, but when we arrived to a line of men waiting their turn to take two shots at a berm twenty feet away, changed our minds. They had cocktail classes, aerobics, napkin folding lessons, beach volleyball, and a bunch of other things. Lying around just always sounded better to me.

In the evening, there was always entertainment. We’d go for dinner and then get a drink and find a good seat to watch the stage show. Our first night, we got to watch “The American Way” – cute girls dancing around. On Tuesday, it was “The Caribbean Show” – more cute girls but with really fun, feathery costumes. The Michael Jackson show on Wednesday was honestly a little creepy, something about that impersonator…. Fire spinning was exciting, and another night I was amazed by acrobatic feats during the circus show. After the shows, they often had a band playing near one of the outdoor bars. For a classier setting, there’s the martini bar, where you can listen to a gentleman playing the piano while you sip your cocktail (in my case, the girly Flirtini).

Not only is drinking an activity at the resort, it’s practically a sport. With it already all paid for, it’s easy to drink throughout the day. I’d like to start off with a mimosa or bloody mary and then explore other drink options. I discovered the Hemingway mojito, which includes champagne. I tried out a drink recommended by a friend – the BBC (banana, Bailey’s, and coconut). One afternoon, we drank from a coconut. A guy hacks off the top, and then a girl dumps in a bunch of alcohol. Vodka, rum, tequila, champagne, beer, wine…oh, and bottled water. Wouldn’t want to get dehydrated – everyone knows that’ll only make the hangover worse.

To be sure, no matter your activity level, you’ll find it at the Excellence Resort (or the excursion representative would be happy to help you find it elsewhere…for a fee, of course).