Travel

Icelandic Adventures Through the Seasons

2016 has been a very exciting year for us here at Ends In Style! Christina has now made three trips to beautiful Iceland, one with me (Susie) and Victor for our elopement which she photographed!
Clearly, Iceland is near and dear to our hearts now and we want to share with you why we love it so. We also encourage you to book a trip and see if for yourself! We do our best to take beautiful pictures and to describe things in a way that makes you feel like you're there--but they cannot do the real thing justice! 
We'll help you prepare for your trip and have the best time possible. We're bringing you a series of posts in the coming weeks about traveling to the country that droves of people are flocking to, and with good reason! 

Posts you can look forward to are:

Iceland in Spring: 

 Photo by Christina Wedge

Photo by Christina Wedge

  • What to do 
  • What to see
  • What to pack
  • Where to stay
  • Advantages of visiting in the spring
  • Preparing for your trip and more!

Iceland in Summer: 

 Photo by Christina Wedge

Photo by Christina Wedge

  • How to make the most of the warmest Icelandic weather
  • Capturing the golden light
  • Places to visit while you can (some places are only open in summer)
  • What to eat
  • Maybe even a stop in Greenland :)
  • Advantages to visiting in summer
  • Best short hikes and more!

Iceland in Fall: 

 Photo by Susie Prince

Photo by Susie Prince

  • What to pack
  • Getting around
  • Best ways to see the Northern Lights
  • Tours that are worth the money
  • Self-guided tours you HAVE to take
  • Advantages to visiting in fall
  • Where to stay

And Finally....

Eloping in Iceland:

  • Why we chose to elope (and why you may want to as well)
  • Best places to take wedding photos
  • Pros and cons of wedding sites
  • How to get paperwork in order to make your marriage legal in the US
  • Gorgeous photos by Christina of me and Victor (she's a wiz with light!)
  • What to wear and what not to wear for an outdoor Icelandic wedding
  • Luxury stays for your honeymoon 
  • Flower options, and more!!!

We look forward to sharing all of this with you and hope you'll be inspired to take a trip to a country that has captured our hearts and is beautiful and magical enough to make us want to go back in the dead of winter!

Yo, Semite! I Think I Love You!

This year is the 100th Anniversary of the United States National Parks Service. Our big, beautiful country is home to volcanoes, waterfalls, HUGE mountains, canyons, caves, geysers, pools of bubbling colorful goo, and pretty much everything else in between. There are 58 National Parks in the US, so it's time to start checking them off your list if you haven't yet been to many. 

Until mid-July, I'd only been out west once. In 2013, I went to Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park. Both of these were incredible! Never before had I seen such high mountains, and I'd never seen mountains that just came out of nowhere, surrounded by plains and soaring up thousands of feet into the sky.  This July, Victor planned a trip to Yosemite National Park in California. We flew into San Francisco (my first time seeing the Pacific Ocean in the USA), which was beautiful. We will be back when we have time for more than just lunch. 

After driving through countryside speckled with windmills, we arrived at a Bed and Breakfast we found on AirBnB. It was very cute and had two dogs on staff helping our sweet hosts. We mapped out a basic plan of attach for our trip before we left, so we chose an AirBnB that was equidistant from each of the entrances we'd use to get into the park while we were there. Since we planned our trip without tons of notice, most of the camping in the park was booked up. But I'm not complaining because the AirBnB was super comfy and the breakfasts were HUGE and delicious--perfect for fueling up for long hikes each morning. 

 On the way in, we stopped off the side of the road and I lifted this boulder just to warm up ;)

On the way in, we stopped off the side of the road and I lifted this boulder just to warm up ;)

Day 1, we did a tour-de-valley. We drove around a little, parked, and started our full day of hiking. We hiked so long on day 1 that we came back to the car and it was pitch black for some time. We had tired feet, were a little sore, but very happy. 

From the valley, you can see the very famous El Capitan and Half Dome. We walked along the meadows, hiked up to Yosemite Falls and bouldered to the bottom of the falls. The boulders were hot as they baked in the sun, but it was way worth the reward! A fine mist of cool water from the falls blew around and was so refreshing. We did kick ourselves a little for not wearing swimsuits. The pool at the bottom of Yosemite Falls was filled with swimmers--and we were instantly jealous. We made our way down, headed to Bridalveil Falls, which was almost dried up for the season. The bouldering here was a little more treacherous. The rocks looked like polished metal and were super slick. Though we went for somewhat more challenging routes and climbed up rocks for better views and less crowd, the park really is accessible to everyone. There are handicapped ramps, viewing platforms, and buses to help those who may be less able to get around still be able to enjoy the park fully.  

 We finished our day after Hiking to Mirror Lake to see the sunset over Half Dome.

We finished our day after Hiking to Mirror Lake to see the sunset over Half Dome.

 We saw Yosemite Sam, too! 

We saw Yosemite Sam, too! 

Our second day in the park, we headed first to Glacier Point. If you're going in the summer, get there early or stay in the park. We took a more leisurely approach to our morning on our second park day and so we had to park in a far off lot and be bussed to the Glacier Point trailhead. That was the only thing about that day that wasn't perfect. 

Naturally, these photos don't even come close to doing the view justice. Victor is braver than I am with heights. I crept to the edge and the took pictures from a "safe" distance. The photo above of Victor on the scary edge is at Sentinel Dome. The wind whips around so fast and so hard up there, it's a thing to behold. 

 On our way from Sentinel Dome to Taft Point, we found this huge cluster of solid quartz. Everywhere you look, flowers and trees find their way to root between rocks and on the side of cliffs. They're determined!

On our way from Sentinel Dome to Taft Point, we found this huge cluster of solid quartz. Everywhere you look, flowers and trees find their way to root between rocks and on the side of cliffs. They're determined!

Once we got to the top of Taft Point it looked like this: 

And then...THIS HAPPENED

WE'RE GETTING MARRIED!!!

Next, we hiked around the Giant Sequoias. They're incredible. Unfortunately, the portion of the park with the largest and oldest tree in the world was closed while we were there. Everything feels bigger in Yosemite. 

Our final night in Yosemite, we stayed at May Lake High Sierra Camp. It's a fairly steep hike in, full of prehistoric looking petrified wood and tumbled rocks with twisted trees forcing their roots between the rocks and just dealing with the rocks around them by bending and squeezing around them. The High Sierra Camp was awesome! Little huts with tiny fireplaces in each one were shared by 4 people in each. There's a food tent for dinner and breakfast. The manager of the camp blows a conch shell to call everyone for meals and hot beverages. It was 96 degrees in the valley and got do to a very cool 34 degrees at the camp that evening. I was not prepared for that--but a fire, hot cocoa, and layering saved the day. 

Victor LOVES the water. He even swam in the 54 degree May Lake. I watched from the warmth of the beach. He's a champ! After dinner, we hiked to the top of the ridge to watch the sunset. It was so beautiful that Victor wished he had held onto the ring for one more night. We met a very active pair of grandparents who gave us marriage advice and life advice--to keep active and stay interesting. They've been married for 54 years, are in their 70s and hiked up to the nearly 10,000ft elevation with us!

We hiked to the same ridge for sunset the next morning, then we heard the conch shell call and enjoyed breakfast. The views and hiking around the camp were gorgeous, but we loved the company equally. Everyone was so friendly and kind! We got to talk with people who had grown up coming to Yosemite each summer along with people like us who were just visiting for the first time. It felt like grown up summer camp in the best possible way. 

 Because of the elevation, these cuties are the cargo haulers who bring the food and supplies up to the camp. 

Because of the elevation, these cuties are the cargo haulers who bring the food and supplies up to the camp. 

Also worth mentioning, we saw MARMOTS! They were so cute and fluffy and not afraid of us being nearby. 

For our final day (we flew out late that night), we made our way to Tuolumne Meadows which is where we saw the most Yosemite residents. It was pretty clear who had been backpacking for weeks on end. They even have a post office at the store for those who have supplied shipped to them to extend their trips. We definitely looked like the "squares" among all the dreadlocked hair, but at least we hadn't showered in a couple days either. In Tuolumne Meadows, we saw lots of little ground squirrels that very cutely popped up like prairie dogs, we saw the biggest hawk I've ever seen flying just over our heads (yikes/cool), and even some mule deer bedded down in the reeds along the river. It was peaceful, cool, and beautiful. 

 There's the deer! 

There's the deer! 

I highly encourage everyone, no matter what your hiking skill level or comfort with camping to go and enjoy Yosemite. It is now extra special to us and we plan to be back soon! Next time, we will plan further in advance and camp in the park each night in tents and perhaps another visit to the High Sierra camps-it's worth it!  

Happy National Parks Centennial!

Across the USA

Across the United States, Christina and her friend Danielle made the trek from Northwest to Southeast, stopping at beautiful locations along the way. It's amazing to see the photos of our beautiful nation. 

If you've ever said the USA is boring and lacks beauty, you should plan to drive across the country and then prepare to eat your words. America is home to deserts, plains, mountains, coastlines, cliffs, and everything in between. There's so much to see, it would be a shame not to get out there and enjoy it! 

We've prepared a little photo journal for you so we can all follow along as they drive through San Francisco, San Luis Obisto (Hwy 1), LA, Salton Sea, Joshua Tree National Park, Phoenix, Sedona, Sante Fe, Taos Pueblo, Texas countryside, El Paso, Marfa, Austin, Houston, Louisiana, and Panama City, FL. Enjoy!

 Photo by Christina Wedge

Photo by Christina Wedge

  Photo by Christina Wedge

Photo by Christina Wedge

  Photo by Christina Wedge

Photo by Christina Wedge

  Photo by Christina Wedge

Photo by Christina Wedge

  Photo by Christina Wedge

Photo by Christina Wedge

  Photo by Christina Wedge

Photo by Christina Wedge

  Photo by Christina Wedge

Photo by Christina Wedge

  Photo by Christina Wedge

Photo by Christina Wedge

  Photo by Christina Wedge

Photo by Christina Wedge

  Photo by Christina Wedge

Photo by Christina Wedge

  Photo by Christina Wedge

Photo by Christina Wedge

  Photo by Christina Wedge

Photo by Christina Wedge

  Photo by Christina Wedge

Photo by Christina Wedge

  Photo by Christina Wedge

Photo by Christina Wedge

  Photo by Christina Wedge

Photo by Christina Wedge

  Photo by Christina Wedge

Photo by Christina Wedge

  Photo by Christina Wedge

Photo by Christina Wedge

  Photo by Christina Wedge

Photo by Christina Wedge

  Photo by Christina Wedge

Photo by Christina Wedge

  Photo by Christina Wedge

Photo by Christina Wedge

  Photo by Christina Wedge

Photo by Christina Wedge

Summer Travels (or How to Be a Gracious Southern Hostess in a God-Forsaken Yankee Town)

“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy. The loved ones are visitin’, and the temperature’s high.” – Porgy and Bess as reimagined to fit this blog post.  

Hi there! I’m Susie’s sister, Sara Jane, and I have the privilege of chatting with you lovely Ends in Style readers today! 

A quick little bit about me – I’m a Southern transplant who calls Chicago home.  I’ve been here for almost four and a half years, pursuing my comedic dreams, soaking up city living and petting every animal I can get my hands on.  (Can you see the family resemblance?) In my time here, I’ve had the joy of hosting a number of friends and family who want to see the Windy City in person.  As a born and bred genteel Southern lady, I know the importance of keeping my guests well-fed and entertained. 

When you live in a city that attracts tourists and visitors, it’s always nice to keep a running list of popular attractions and favorite restaurants – you’re the insider and your insight will ensure that your guests see the best possible parts of your hometown!  Since I live in Chicago, I have a recommendation for the best pizza, the best Italian beef, best comedy show, best tours and best sporting events* ready to go.  By preparing this list of tips, you’ll spare your guests the pain of mediocre meals or lackluster attractions. Of course, if my guests insist upon visiting Navy Pier, I will gladly give them directions. If they insist on visiting the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. at Navy Pier, I will gladly give them the number to a decent hotel. (Kidding, sort of.)

One of the best parts about living in a cultural melting pot like Chicago, New York, LA or Atlanta, is the abundance of ethnic restaurants available to you.  When I have friends or family come in, I love to take them out for meals - Senegalese, Peruvian, Turkish, Vietnamese, Pakistani, Ethiopian - they might not otherwise get to sample.  

If you’d like for your out-of-towners to meet your in-towners, don’t stress over planning an elaborate dinner party or making reservations somewhere only to deal with the dreaded split the check ordeal.  Host a wine and cheese party! Pick up some crackers, fruit and a few chocolates. Ask your guests to bring a bottle of wine and a hunk o’ their favorite cheese.  Set out a few plates and glasses and let the conversation flow. It’s a simple, fun way to make your guests feel welcome without putting any pressure on you, the host. 

If you have visitors for an extended period of time, or guests who’ve visited more than once, it’s nice to step out of the ordinary and try something completely new to showcase your fine city. Sign up for a 5K that will lead you through a landmark.  Take a cooking class together – a fun way to knock out a meal and an activity all in one! Pack a picnic and stroll through a pretty neighborhood. Picking up tickets to a show one night won’t seem like such an extravagance if the rest of your visit is peppered with fun, low-key activities. 

*Pequod’s, Johnny’s, Improvised Shakespeare, Chicago Architecture Foundation river tour and a Sox game.

A Weekend in Lexington, KY

When you think about Kentucky, what comes to mind? Bourbon? The Kentucky Derby? Lousiville Slugger bats? Before visiting last Labor Day weekend with my Mama and my sister, I didn't really think about Kentucky much at all. We found a travel Groupon getaway hotel deal that we jumped on for a very reasonable rate and decided that we would visit Lexington, KY.

 Photo via Susie Roupe

Photo via Susie Roupe

I am so glad we did and am so excited to share our trip with you!

Lexington is only about five hours from Atlanta, so it's an easy long weekend trip with a drive that is pleasant from start to finish. You'll pass beautiful rolling hills, plant covered canyons, mountains, cities, and much more on your drive through the countryside. 

 Photo via Susie Roupe

Photo via Susie Roupe

Did you know that Lexington is the horse capital of the world? Not only is the Kentucky Derby held in a nearby city, but there are many breeders and thoroughbred farms for raising the next generation of race horses all throughout the area. 

 Photo via Susie Roupe

Photo via Susie Roupe

Many retired race horses become studs (how's that for a retirement plan?!) and charge a fee to any mare interested in having his quick-footed foals. Stud fees are fascinating! Whether or not you're currently interested in horse racing or breeding (which I have to admit I was not before our visit) I highly recommend touring a local farm. 

 Photo via Susie Roupe

Photo via Susie Roupe

We did a little research and found a nearby farm that hosts tour groups for free and made our way over after having breakfast at a local farmer's market. Claiborne Farm is a must for your Lexington vacation! Be sure to call and make a reservation before stopping by, but you can put your credit card away.

 Photo via Susie Roupe

Photo via Susie Roupe

They have knowledgable tour guides who are not just there for tours, they actually oversee mating and care of the horses so they have a wealth of knowledge and are not shy about answering even the most snicker-worthy questions.  

Stud horses have a worth assigned to them based on their offspring's performance in races. For instance, the horse above is worth SIXTY MILLION DOLLARS! Below is what petting $60 million looks like. Thrilling!

 Photo via Susie Roupe

Photo via Susie Roupe

These studs generally have many investors who co-own them and charge a range of fees for mating. This fella charges $150,000 per mating session! In other words, his kids race really, really well. While at Claiborne Farm you get to pet a few horses, watch them eat peppermints (extremely cute!), learn all about the horse business, and even see the graves of some of the most famous race horses of all time. 

This entire tour was free. For me, Claiborne Farm was the highlight of the trip. It was educational, beautiful, and it included animal petting which is pretty much always the best part of a day. Tour guides appreciate tips, of course, and they definitely deserve them!

 Photo via Susie Roupe

Photo via Susie Roupe

Horses aren't your thing? Good news, there's booze! One of the other famous Kentucky exports is bourbon. If you're looking for something else free to do, look for a distillery tour at one of the many local bourbon makers. Some charge a small fee, but Buffalo Trace Distillery offers a free tour that is incredibly interesting and includes a little taste of the good stuff at the end! You'll learn about the distilling process, the delicate balance of light and moisture allowed, and all about the bottling and years of aging required, plus why Pappy Van Winkle costs as much as your fanciest purse.

 Photo via Susie Roupe

Photo via Susie Roupe

After the tour, each 21+ guest is given a taste of 3 different bourbons and a bourbon ball--YUM! After visiting the gift shop and stocking up on whiskey stones, bourbon balls, and Bourbon Cream, we walked around the property which is beautifully landscaped. Don't miss out on walking around the lodge or visiting the giant buffalo sculpture made from one large piece of wood. 

 Photo via Susie Roupe

Photo via Susie Roupe

If you're an early riser, one of the best kept secrets in Lexington is the practice race and breakfast at Keeneland. Keeneland is a thoroughbred racetrack in Lexington that is open to the public each morning for practice. This is a wonderful way to experience the power of these beautiful creatures up close and personal. Each morning, jockeys take their horses out for practice racing and to loosen their muscles with a nice jog. You can enjoy a cup of coffee while standing mere feet from massive horses speeding past. They start at a slow clip and eventually they'll be thundering past at such speed and with such booming sound that it will blow you away. 

 Photo via Susie Roupe

Photo via Susie Roupe

After you've had your fill or watching the practice, take a short walk to the cafe behind the race stalls where a very affordable full breakfast is served up daily. For about $6, you can get coffee, eggs, sausage, grits, and a biscuit.

We almost felt like we were getting away with something getting to enjoy so many wonderful pieces of Kentucky for such little money. Lexington has so much to offer. From horses, to bourbon, to a growing and vibrant food scene to the Mary Todd Lincoln House, you will not regret a long weekend trip to the Horse Capitol of the World!

Costa Rica: Where to Stay & What to Eat

 Image via Susie Roupe

Image via Susie Roupe

When planning a trip to Costa Rica, HomeAway.com is an asset. They were voted one of the most trustworthy companies by Forbes, so you can book with confidence. HomeAway is a network of vacation rental homes all around the globe with photos and reviews to help you make your choice. 

 Image via Susie Roupe

Image via Susie Roupe

We stayed in Tamarindo, a quarter mile walk from our door to Playa Tamarindo. It was a little touristy for us, but we had a nice house with our own pool and most everything in town was written in English, so it does make grocery shopping and ordering from a menu a little easier. 

 Photo via Christina Wedge

Photo via Christina Wedge

Most rental properties require a seven night stay, but if you have more time to spend or want a little more variety in your vacation, choose cabinas which are very affordable little cabins clustered together with the essentials like bed, bathrooms, and sometimes kitchens. Choosing to visit a volcano is a must! Whether you choose one of the smaller ones, or the most recently active volcano, Arenal, you're sure to have a great time staying at the resort nearby.

 Image via Victor Prince

Image via Victor Prince

Remember the adventure pass for Buena Vista I was talking about on Wednesday? Well, it includes a delicious 4 course meal with pineapple juice to drink! We had pumpkin soup to start, followed by the traditional fried plantains with hummus to dip them in, steak with a delicious Costa Rican sauce, salads, and mashed cassava and finished it off with a coconut flan. It was the fanciest meal we had while we were there! 

Image via Susie Roupe

There are a number of beachfront bars along the Costa Rican coast. You can sip on your favorite island cocktail, topped with a Costa Rican lemon (green outside, orange inside) while watching the sun set into the water. Be sure to stop at all of the roadside stands you can and enjoy empanadas, burritos, fried plantains. The ceviche we enjoyed oceanside was the best I have ever had in my life!

 Image via Susie Roupe

Image via Susie Roupe

Playa Brasilito is a great place to eat! There are many small restaurants and convenient stores with hot foods packed into a small area. The prices are cheaper here than in the more tourist towns, and the food is high quality. The restaurants with little or no English on the menus were the best, we found.

 Image via Victor Prince

Image via Victor Prince

Remember the spear fishing trip I wrote about in the last post? This is the meal! We had 3 fish in hand after our trip and walked over to a restaurant our guide recommended (we later learned his family owns it) and had them cook our fish. It was $20 total for beers, rice and beans, salad, and 3 beautiful fresher than fresh fish. For five dollars per person and a fantastic seafood meal, that cannot be beat!

 Image  via

Image via

 Image via Susie Roupe

Image via Susie Roupe

Last but not least, eat as much pineapple as you can, and drink as much coffee as possible. If doable, bring back bags of coffee and hoard it. Even if you're not a pineapple lover, a fresh, juicy pineapple tastes like dessert and is at the very least worth a try. Look for those with yellow bottoms, they're the ripe ones! 

I cannot stress enough how much you need to drink the coffee in Costa Rica. It has a hint of chocolate, it's warm and rich and smooth. It is the exact opposite of break room coffee, it is perfect. No cream needed! 

We hope you've enjoyed our little tour through Costa Rica and that you will plan your own trip there, soon. PS. Please bring us back a bag of coffee beans :)


Costa Rica: What to See & What to Do

Starting this post is difficult because I could write a 50 page essay on all of the things you should see and do in Costa Rica. Rather than doing that, I'll give you the rundown of what we did each day that made this the best trip ever.

 Photo via Susie Roupe

Photo via Susie Roupe

1. Visit Playa Conchal

It is an absolute dream. Playa conchal gets its name from the sand, "conchal" comes from the Spanish word for a type of shell. That's right, the sand is made up of tiny bits of crushed up shells. It exfoliates your feet and may hurt a little but it's totally worth it. There is a luxury resort right on the beach and massages for excellent prices at the top of the beach. To get to Conchal without paying for parking, go to Brasilito and drive on the beach towards Conchal to the free lot. 
Come for the view, stay for the snorkel trip, which brings us to 2.

 Photo via Victor Prince

Photo via Victor Prince

 Photo via Victor Prince of a starfish found on the snorkel trip

Photo via Victor Prince of a starfish found on the snorkel trip

2. Go Snorkeling/Spear Fishing 

I must admit this part of the trip had me seasick for a while, but it was still incredible. Why? Well, we struck a deal with a salesman on the beach for the four of us to go out on a tiny boat and snorkel while our guide spearfished. The boat was tiny but it took us out to a part of the coast we would never have seen otherwise. Huge caves with waves crashing into them, water a deeper blue than I have ever seen before. The cliffs above the caves towered above us and it was awesome! Tyler and the guide dove into the water and speared fish which we then ate (more on that in the next post) while Victor and Sarah went snorkeling and I sat in the boat feeling sick. Take dramamine if you decide to be adventurous on a tiny boat. 

 Image via Susie Roupe

Image via Susie Roupe

 Image via Susie Roupe

Image via Susie Roupe

3. Watch the Sunset Every Night

This is the sunset from Brasilito, a small beach right beside Conchal. You can have your dinner directly on the beach and watch the sunset and people ride by on horses. Have I mentioned that it is paradise?

 Image via Susie Roupe

Image via Susie Roupe

 Image via Susie Roupe

Image via Susie Roupe

4. Visit Playa Negra & Bring a Snorkel Mask

Playa Negra is a black sand beach with tons of volcanic rocks all along the shoreline. The day we went, there was hardly another soul on the beach besides us and professional surfers. It's worth going if only to watch these amazing athletes ride a wave to a break in the rocks and not get injured! We brought snorkel masks with us, not knowing what we would find. As you can see above, the rocks hold little tide pools between them in low tide, and that is where the magic is. In these small pools is a world of small creatures, crabs, eels, fish with legs!, brightly colored fish, octopi and we even saw a fossil!
 

 Image via Victor Prince

Image via Victor Prince

5. Take at Least a Day Trip to a Volcano

We went to Monte Verde, a more inactive volcano for a day trip. Tyler and Sarah were able to get us a great deal by negotiating ahead of time in the town where we were staying, so we had a full day of adventure for an excellent price! There are many volcanoes in Costa Rica, but the two most famous are Arenal and Monte Verde. Arenal would have meant another 4 hour drive, and I'm not disappointed that we chose Monte Verde because it was incredible! We went to an adventure resort called Buena Vista on a day pass. 
On that adventure pass we were able to go zip lining through the jungle, down a more than 1/4mile long natural waterslide, horseback riding, and we were even able to enjoy the spa which included volcanic mud baths, sauna, natural hot and cold springs, and lots of animal sightings*. 

 Images via Victor Prince

Images via Victor Prince

After you've enjoyed the adventure and the spa treatment, do not miss out on the bar overlooking the valley. This is THE spot to see a sunset. We could see for miles and miles, including the ocean which was a two hour drive away. This valley is the set for the Jurassic Park chase scene and is absolutely gorgeous!

 Image via Victor Prince

Image via Victor Prince

 Image via Victor Prince

Image via Victor Prince

*We saw iguanas, toucans, "the crested one", and howler monkeys. A howler monkey peed on me and then pooped on me while we were in the hot spring. Gross, but also once in a lifetime experience!

This is just a small taste of the things to see and do in gorgeous Costa Rica. You should definitely start planning your trip now!

Costa Rica: Getting There & Getting Around

 Image thanks to Tyler Pearson and his waterproof camera

Image thanks to Tyler Pearson and his waterproof camera

The internet is filled with all-inclusive resort deals for tropical destinations like Costa Rica. This past winter, I visited the beautiful country with a small group of friends and we were looking for a more DIY trip. That week in Costa Rica was easily one of the best weeks of my life. Being in paradise with your best friends, no worries, and the best pineapple ever is hard to beat. We planned our trip on an "adult budget", so it was affordable and budget-conscious, but we didn't stay in hostels and eat Ramen either.

We chose Costa Rica for its weather and location since it is fairly easy to get to, and for its gorgeous scenery. Costa Rica boasts beautiful mountains, volcanoes, beaches, both Caribbean and Pacific, and lots of wildlife adventure so it is a perfect vacation destination! 

So, what time of year is best to travel to Costa Rica?

 Photo via Susie Roupe

Photo via Susie Roupe

The best time of year to go to Costa Rica is between mid-December and April. This is the dry season, which is also the tourist season so you wont have the cheapest airline and lodging prices, but you will have fantastic weather and will not need to worry about your entire vacation being rained out! We elected to go December 13-21 which was just before the Christmas rush and saved us a great deal on our lodging. 

 Image via Susie Roupe

Image via Susie Roupe

We chose the Pacific side for the majority of our trip with a day visit to a volcano further inland. The Pacific side has bigger waves for those who enjoy surfing, and I had never seen the Pacific before so it was the obvious choice for us! 

 Image via Susie Roupe

Image via Susie Roupe

If you decide to stay on the Pacific coast like we did, you have a couple of options for getting there. You can either fly into the airport at Liberia, which is closer to the Pacific or into San Jose (the country's capitol and often more affordable airfare) and drive across the country. It was more afforable for us to fly into San Jose and drive, so that's just what we did!

 Image via Susie Roupe

Image via Susie Roupe

There are buses around Costa Rica, but for long distance travel, renting a car is the best option and will give you more freedom for the duration of your trip. When renting a car, get the insurance as you cannot use your car insurance from the USA to cover you in Costa Rica. Also, get a 4-wheel drive car like the one we got above. The roads are not the smoothest, so it's worth the investment.

 Image via Susie Roupe

Image via Susie Roupe

Before you depart, we recommend downloading the app NavFree. There are no real road signs when driving through the countryside except the occasional sign like the one above. If you download NavFree and use wi-fi to download your maps, you'll be able to use GPS tracking to find your way. The good news is, it's not that hard to get around because there are not too many roads to get very confusing. 

 Photo via Susie Roupe

Photo via Susie Roupe

A bonus of driving through the small towns is getting to see beautiful farm land which extends right up to the roadside and you can enjoy some of the best food ever from small sodaritas along the way. The country towns are chock full of tiny restaurants churning out burritos, empanadas, pastries, and glass bottle Coca Colas.  

For the best prices, book your flight about 5-10 weeks before you plan to depart and always check kayak, expedia, etc for deals. Before you book, read this great article by Nomadic Matt about travel credit cards. You can get some great rates and sky miles if you do your research. He has tons of great travel planning tips and is an excellent resource for those of us who have been bit by the travel bug. 

Last Minute V-Day Getaways

Valentine's Day is this weekend and you may or may not have put too much thought into it.  If you also get annoyed with the crowds at restaurants and the extremely high expectations that lead up to the holiday, go ahead and book yourself a last minute trip.  Whether it is with your loved one or a friend, it's a perfect weekend to get away, and travel always adds special something to the day. 

Our not-so-romantic last minute trip is to try out our new snowboards just a couple of hours away in Maggie Valley.  It was definitely not one of our better Hotwire Russian Roulette games, ending on a Microtel…. but we still always have a good time just getting away.  

Here are a few, more Valentine themed romantic getaways:

Panama City Beach

Yes, it is a little cold to get in the water, but what a perfect way to spend Valentines Day!  There are no crowds, the prices are extremely low, it's only about a 5 hour drive, and you can actually enjoy a long walk on the beach on the most romantic night of the year.  If you don't want to gamble with Howire, Hotels.com has some great deals for hotels normally $240/night for only $79.  With a room that nice, that may be 1 of 2 reasons you won't want to leave ;)

Things to do in Panama City.

The Great Smokey Mountains

The Smoky Mountains are so beautiful and there are so many great trails.  Ideally you would find a cabin, but this can be hard to find on Valentine's weekend.  A hotel is still a great option, especially if you book one with an indoor pool and hot tub.  Bring warm clothes and be ready to cuddle.  Just 3 hours away, this is a great weekend to hike all day, eat a good meal, and warm up with some wine and hot chocolate at the end of the evening.

Things to do in The Great Smoky Mountains

Chattanooga

Chattanooga is a great city and only 2 and a 1/2 hours away.  It is perfect for a Valentine's getaway because it is a walking city with delicious restaurants, great parks and fun little shops to see along the way.  I highly recommend Chattanooga, especially if you have never been there, you will be so pleasantly surprised!  Try to stay downtown so you can enjoy walking all over!

Things to do in Chattanooga.

When booking your last minute Valentine's getaway checkout these sites for the best deals on hotels:

Hotwire, Trivago, Hotels.com

Porto, Portugal

Christina’s recent trip to Porto, Portugal reminded me of why I love to travel.  I have never been to Portugal, but after seeing her pictures and hearing about the trip, it has definitely moved up the list on places I want to see in the next 5 years.

  Photo By Christina Wedge

Photo By Christina Wedge

Portugal is a wonderful country sandwiched in between Spain and the coast of the Atlantic rich in culture, history and beautiful architecture.  Here were a few highlights of what do see and do while there.

  Photo By Christina Wedge

Photo By Christina Wedge

Walk over the Dom Luis Bridge

This bridge is over 100 years old and for its time was an architecture feat.  The upper level is for the metro and the lower level if for pedestrians and cars.  The views from this bridge are spectacular and the views of the bridge are pretty sweet too.

  Photo By Christina Wedge

Photo By Christina Wedge

Take the Duoro River Cruise

If you decide to take the Duoro River Cruise, which is definitely worth it, you can see four other magnificent bridges.  The most impressive one, the Dona Maria Pia Bridge, designed by Gustave Eiffel was one of the longest bridge spans of its time and continued to be for 7 years.  It has been designated as an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.  The other bridges are Ponte do Infante, the triple-arched Ponte de São João, and Arrabida Bridge.

  Photo By Christina Wedge

Photo By Christina Wedge

Explore The District of Ribeira 

Once you get off the water, checkout Ribeira.  You can start on the edges and enjoy dozens of cafes, bars and restaurants.  If you visit during a feast day, especially on Saint John’s Day in June you can enjoy one of the most lively times in the city and major fireworks shows over the water. 

  Photo By Christina Wedge

Photo By Christina Wedge

The alleyways and medieval architecture makes the district of Ribeira so fun to explore. Traditional boats floating by and beautiful homes lining the edges of the river, compose such a picturesque image.

  Photo By Christina Wedge

Photo By Christina Wedge

The Spanish tile roofs against the bright blue sky are enough to take your breath away.

  Photo By Christina Wedge

Photo By Christina Wedge

Famous for its beautiful tile, the city is filled with accents of vibrant colors.  The buildings made of traditional tile pop throughout the city and hillsides.

  Photo By Christina Wedge

Photo By Christina Wedge

Wine Tasting at Sandeman

The city of Porto is famous for its Port Wines.  At Sandeman there is a wonderful wine tasting.  Located on the Gaia hillside, they have free guided tours and tastings that will enlighten you about the delicious port wine you are enjoying while overlooking the river.

  Photo By Christina Wedge

Photo By Christina Wedge

Sao Francisco Church

After you have been up and down the river and explores Ribeira, checkout the beautiful church of Sao Francisco.  From the outside it looks like an ordinary Gothic Church, but the inside will blow you away.  The inside of the church is mostly covered in gold and what is not is made of beautiful marble.

 Photo By Christina Wedge

Photo By Christina Wedge

Below the church are catacombs that are now a museum that you can explore.

  Via

Serraveles Museum of Contemporary Art 

This is a great place to see great art and beautiful architecture.  Designed by Alvaro Siva, the building is a beautiful exercise in integration of the existing landscape.