Belize ~ A Family Destination

Belize is another hot destination in 2015.  Located on the Eastern coast of Central America, Belize is a great family destination.

The official language in Belize is English; it is a destination with a very diverse ecosystem and a rich culture, with a Colonel British influence.

I wrote about Belize back in 2013 after I had planned several dive trips for clients.  Each one coming back and raving about the destination. I will include a link to that post here, so you can easily find it for more information.

http://secretsofatravelconcierge.com/belize-adventurers-paradise/

If you are looking to snorkel or dive, get off the mainland of Belize and head to one of the Caye’s, such as Ambergris Caye or Caye Caulker.

Ambergris Caye is the largest of the 200 + islands off the coast of Belize.  A premier destination for scuba divers as it is about 1/2 mile from the Barrier Reef and the Great Blue Hole.  A really cool place to stay is Portofino Resort.  They have about 16 villas, it is very low key, but a 4 to 5 star resort.

http://portofinobelize.com/

If you are looking for a dive company, two recommendations are Amigos Del Mar and Ramon’s.  My clients had a great experience with both.

Travel helps for Belize:

1.  Suggested vaccinations are Hepatitis A, Typhoid and make sure you to have your Tetanus and Diphtheria shots up to date

2.  Visa’s are not required for stays 30 days and under.  You need to have at least one blank page in your passport for stamping.  Your passport needs to have at least 6 month’s remaining from the time you return, otherwise, it is time to renew your passport.

3.  High season is late November to late April.

For more safety tips to Belize, jump over to the travel.state website at;

http://travel.state.gov/content/travel/english/consularnotification/belize.html

 

 

Travel to Cuba in 2015

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One of the top destinations I’m hearing a lot of buzz about is Cuba.

Experts and travel guides are saying this may be a good year to travel to this Caribbean Island.  With the President’s recent announcement in regards to U.S citizens traveling to Cuba, now may be the time to go.

Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean Sea.  The locals refer to the island as “El Cocodrilo”, the crocodile, due to the shape of the island.  The Republic of Cuba surprisingly has more than 4000 islands and cays.  Varadero is known as Cuba’s Cancun with it’s beautiful white sandy beaches.

Going to Cuba and stepping off the plane is like taking a step back in time, a bit shabby chic, yet colorful and vibrant.  A country rich in culture and known for it’s rum, music and art.  Cuba also has beautiful bays, beaches and mountains.  There are quaint cobbled streets, museums, tiny villages and an 18th century fort to explore.  The people of Cuba are warm and friendly and love to share their culture and country.

Cuba is known for being a country full of old historic and classic US cars.  Old Buick’s, Ford’s and maybe a Plymouth.  I love the old cars and you will too, especially if you are a car buff.  Up until last year the old Pre-1959 cars were the only cars the people could legally own.  The cars had to be on the road before Fidel Castro’s 1959 Revolution and are the only cars allowed to be owned and resold.  Many of them have Russian engines, Russian parts and are held together with parts made from common household products, chicken wire and duct tape.

In 2014 the laws were changed and Cuban’s can now buy new and used cars from State owned car dealers.  However, the locals cannot afford the 400% markup on the cars when their average monthly income is between $20 and $30.  So the old cars are going to be around for a while.  They add to the culture of Cuba and are fun to photograph.

If you aren’t real adventurous and don’t want to explore Cuba on your own, there are several very good tour companies that offer people to people travel or guided vacations.

Once the tourism to Cuba really blossoms, the landscape will change.  So if you are looking to see the authentic Cuba, 2015 may be the time to get out there.

Happy Travels,
Terri

 

Sierra Mar, Post Ranch Inn

Sierra Mar at the Post Ranch Inn  offers stunning, unobstructed views of the Pacific Ocean and the food exquisite and is art on a plate.

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Post Ranch Inn, Rustic Luxury

Traveling up the coast of California, the landscape definitely changes from beaches and crowds to rugged, rocky and beautiful.  This trip we are going to Big Sur to visit the Post Ranch Inn.  Leaving Cambria, we attempt to set the GPS, no surprise, it can’t find the address, so we will wing it.  I should have brought the good ol’ paper map.

Driving into Big Sur, we are on the lookout for a sign directing us to the Inn.  Aha, there it is, very non-descript, blending into the hillside.  We turn off of Hwy 101 and drive up to the guard gate. Continue reading

Scarecrow Festival ~ Cambria, California

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Do you have fun memories of scarecrows?  For me, I have several.  The scarecrow from one of my favorite movies, The Wizard of Oz and the rough homemade version my grandfather would carefully make every year to keep the crows and birds from eating the apricots off his tree. 

Getting off Highway 101 I was excited to see a banner hanging in town “Cambria Scarecrow Festival.” Nearby was an open field, filled with handmade scarecrows unlike any I have seen.

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Chateau du Sureau, Pure European Elegance

Gates to ParadiseDo you have a hotel bucket list?  Places that intrigue you and you just have to go?  Chateau du Sureau is one of those places for me.  After reading about the owner Erna, her life and the serene inn she has created, I knew someday I had to go.

Erna has created a magical Chateau full of European elegance and charm.  Located in Oakhurst, California, just outside of Yosemite National Park, along with a 5 star restaurant.

From the moment the huge iron gates are opened to greet you,

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Moorea Adventure

Tahiti037Are you the type of traveler who prefers to take a tour with a guide, or simply lay on the beach and by the pool never leaving the resort or explore on your own?

I like them all, but really like exploring on my own.  You just never know what little hidden treasures you may discover that could have been easily missed.  While driving from the ferry terminal to the resort, we talked to our driver to get his favorite places and recommendations on what we should do and see.  We wanted to experience the island as much like a local as we could.

Couldn’t resist laying by the pool and kayaking, but driving Moorea sounded like an adventure not to be missed, is was so much fun.

Picked up a car at the hotel for 4 hours and off we go.  Driving the island was extremely easy.  Just watch your speed zones and the occasional chicken strutting across the small two lane highway and then you will be fine.  I recommend you take the road to the Belevedere lookout, the road twists and turns like a snake and eventually you will end up at the lookout.  The views are breathtaking and never ending.  You can see both bays and Tahiti from the lookout. 

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Heading back down the mountain, the next stop is the juice factory.  They will pour samples of the liqueurs and fresh tropical fruit juices made at the factory.  There are some little shops, pareo shops, roadside eateries to enjoy and explore.  Stop at one of the many beaches to put your feet in the water, beautiful churches to photograph or pick up some local fruits at a roadside stand.

Have fun and enjoy the moment, it really is a fun adventure and the people you meet along the way adds to the experience.

Lodging on Moorea

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I am going to try and give you some helpful information if you are looking to stay on Moorea, French Polynesia.

I had the opportunity to spend 3 nights and 4 days on this picture perfect island and explore a few of the hotels and resorts.  I love walking around and scouring every nook and around every corner.

We will start with the Intercontinental Resort and Spa.  The hotel is a tropical paradise.  The property is huge and offers several different types of accommodations.  All rooms are furnished comfortably.  The resort offers an abundance of activities, a large infinity pool, expansive beach area and several dining options.  So let’s go explore…..

The bungalows and villas have been renovated in the past few years.  We were in a bungalow beach villa and it was perfect. Each villa is separate and offers a bit of privacy.  The units are one bedroom, with a nice size living room and large bedroom and bath.  The deck was very nice with two cozy lounges and a table and chairs.  The views were unending.  There were two beach lounges out on the sand in front of our unit, with direct access to the lagoon for snorkeling and swimming.

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The resort offers overwater bungalows also, but let me tell you, they aren’t true overwater bungalows.  The only part of the villa that is overwater is the deck.  They do offer direct access to the lagoon, but they do not have glass in the floors for viewing the exotic fish.  The garden bungalows are quite comfortable and they now offer a small plunge pool on the deck.  For the budget minded traveler, they do have hotel style rooms.

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The infinity pool is a great spot to just hang out, they offer a swim up bar so you never have to get out of the water.  There is also the beach bar for food while at the beach or the pool. 

Hotel guests have use of the kayaks for 2 hours free of charge.  The resort has tennis courts, a dive center and snorkel gear.  On the beach you will find a pareo painting hut, where you can design and paint your own pareo.

There is an Avis car rental desk in the lobby of the hotel making it very easy to rent a car for the day or for the adventurous a scooter to zip around the island.

The hotel has 3 restaurants counting the pool bar and eatery, they also offer several special dining options during the week, such as a beach bbq with Tahitian dancers.

The Dolphin Center is a fun spot to watch the dolphins and swim with them if you are so inclined.  Take the time to walk on over to the Turtle Rescue Center and see the sea turtles that are being rescued, nursed back to health and ready to go back to the waters.

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The Hilton Moorea is another beautiful spot.  The grounds are lush and perfectly manicured.  The pool area is very nice.  The overwater bungalows are truly overwater offering glass in the floors for viewing the fish and coral below.  At night, the water is dimly lit, so you can see the fish, it is magical.  The garden villas are very comfortable as well and offer a nice level of privacy.  Their is a nice bar down in the area of the overwater villas, which is really nice.  If you haven’t stayed in an overwater bungalow, you generally have a long walk from the resort to your room.  To have a bar out in that area is a nice touch.

The Sofitel..

I will be honest with you in that I didn’t actually get to explore this property, I simply ran out of time.  I can tell you this, the overwater bungalows are also truly overwater and the resort is located on a nice beach.

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The last resort of the day is Legends.  This resort is very different from the other 2. It isn’t located on the beach, the villas are built on the side of the hill offering incredible views and privacy.  The units have a nice jacuzzi on the deck.  The restaurant has a lovely fine dining restaurant on the property.  I will write more about the dining in a few days.

Moorea ~ The Yellow Lizard

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Moorea, the name means “Yellow Lizard”.  The legend of the name is that a large lizard opened the 2 bays with its tail.  The island is also known as the sister island to Tahiti as they are only 10 miles apart and both can be seen clearly from the other.

When you arrive in Papeete, it is very easy to transfer to Moorea.  You can transfer from the airport to the ferry terminal and take the Aremiti 5 ferry for a 30 minute ride or take a plane.  Personally, I like the ferry. It is a beautiful ride and sometimes you can spot dolphins in the pass.  The ferry lands at Vaiare where you then transfer to your resort.  A quick story about taking the ferry and your luggage.  When you check into the ferry, you toss your bags into these metal bins with wheels.  The bins are rolled on to the ferry and at the other end, they roll them off and it is a grab and go.  It’s like the scene from the most recent “Parent Trap” movie when the kids bags are tossed into a pile, and you try and grab your bag before it gets to the bottom.  You need to just go with it, and look at it as an adventure.  Your luggage won’t come down a chute and go around until you get it, you have to work for it and laugh along the way.

We had Albert Tours pick us up at the ferry and take us to the resort.  Please take advantage of the opportunities you are given with the locals.  They are friendly and love sharing their island with you.  We chatted with our driver all the way to the resort to get a lay of the island, what there is to do, what we shouldn’t miss, and where to eat like a local.

Moorea, is breathtaking.  The island is lush and is home to Cook’s bay and Opunohu bay.  A funny story about Cook’s bay, it is not the bay where Cook anchored.  He actually anchored in Opunohu, but it already was named by the locals, so they named the other bay after the explorer.  The pure white sand beaches are beautiful, the crystal clear turquoise waters are full of tropical fish, and other unusual creatures making snorkeling an adventure.  

Their are several resorts on the island and I had the opportunity to see two of them.  We stayed at the Intercontinental Moorea, and loved it.  The Legends resort is located on a hill across the road from the Intercontinental.  The Hilton, is another beautiful property and the Sofitel.  There is so much information about them all, it won’t fit in to today’s post, so meet me back here tomorrow to talk about the hotels and what your options are. 

 

French Polynesia ~ Here I come

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la orana,

Life doesn’t get any better than spending 14 glorious days in French Polynesia, it truly was a trip of a lifetime.  Check this one off the bucket list, but I’m not crossing it off the list completely, I can’t wait to go back.

After landing in Papeete, Tahiti, it was time to store a bag before heading to Rangiroa.  I can tell you that this was a breeze.  The airport has a bag storage area that is quite secure and the cost is minimal for a few days storage for one large bag.  Just not in the mood to schlep the big bag for the cruise to Rangiroa for a few days.

Down to one small bag it is off to Rangiroa, just a hop, skip and a jump from Papeete with a stop in Tikehau.  Landing safely on a small strip of land, I am instantly in love with this atoll.  Several staff members from the Hotel Kia Ora were on hand at the tiny little airport to greet the guests with a tiare flower lei, the sweet scent from these delicate flowers fills my soul.

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Arriving at Hotel Kia Ora, I can tell you I will never want to leave.  The open air lobby is everything you dream French Polynesia to be.  The staff could not be more helpful.  We were greeted with cool towels and pineapple juice to enjoy while completing the check in process.  We are whisked off to our villa by golf cart, and promptly delivered to our pool villa.  As soon as the door is opened, Wow!  The villa is beautiful, plenty of closet and storage space, a nice desk area with flat screen TV, open bedroom with a lounge next to the window, spacious bath and a wall of glass to the backyard.  Yes, you read that correctly, backyard.  There is a large plunge pool, chaise lounges, dining table, sofa, outdoor shower and soaking tub.  A soaking tub, to lose yourself under the stars, it’s pure heaven.

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Would you ever want to leave?

The property is incredible.  Lush grounds, a turquoise lagoon with water so clear you can see every grain of pure white sand on the bottom.  The hotel has overwater bungalows with endless views of the lagoon, glass floors and direct access to the water for snorkeling.Tahiti021

The hotel is one place on this earth you can truly get away from it all.  The activities desk is willing to help you plan several adventures.  You can check out the church on the island, head to the Blue Lagoon for water unlike any other.   A great spot for scuba diving or snorkeling.  The resort will also take you for drift snorkeling.  There is a dive center on property and you can pick up snorkel gear, dive gear or take out a kayak.  They have bicycles, scooters and cars you can rent right at the resort to explore on your own.

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The overwater bar is one spot you will want to just hang out.  With glass in the floors for fish watching, it is the perfect spot to watch the sunset.  The restaurant at the hotel serves exquisite food, perfectly prepared, presented and served.  The fish is local and so fresh, steak perfectly cooked and full of flavor.  The restaurant has a nice wine list and with the bar close by, you have a full cocktail menu at your disposal.

If you are looking to really escape it all and would like your own private island.  Hotel Kia Ora has La Sauvage, recently visited by Anthony Bourdain.  A tiny little atoll about 20 miles from the resort, this piece of paradise will accommodate 10 guests, electricity is limited and the island will feel like you are the only one in the world.

There is so much more to share with you, but I will sign off for now.  I will hope to see you back on Wednesday where I will talk a little about the only French Polynesian winery.  For now, here is to French Polynesia.

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