Travel

A Wedding in the Land of Fire and Ice

In January of last year, Victor and I decided that we wanted to get married and have a wedding somewhere beautiful and different. Somewhere that combined our love of adventure and the outdoors. We live in Atlanta, but no place here really felt like the place we wanted to say "I do", because it didn't feel special to us and also an appropriate setting for a wedding (I guess we could have a wedding at Big Lots of Takorea? Yes, we do love those places that much). We discussed options like maybe renting a mountain cabin and having the wedding there and inviting friends and family to come and go as they pleased for a full wedding weekend, but that felt limiting because we wouldn't be able to include as many people as we wanted and where would we find a house that could comfortably accommodate like 75 people? 

Saying our vows

Saying our vows

My bouquet by   Blómabúðin Upplifun

We thought about a destination wedding, but we didn't want to have any guests feel like they couldn't come due to cost of travel, or have it be too difficult for family to travel to be at our wedding due to restrictions of time off if it was further away. 

Walking around Seljalandsfoss

Walking around Seljalandsfoss

So after a lot of thought, we chose to elope. That way, we could have our ceremony be intimate and "us" and then enjoy a party with family and friends after we returned to celebrate together. We chose Iceland, a place both of us had always wanted to see, and it was the perfect setting for our wedding. I've dreamed of seeing the Northern Lights for as long as I've known they existed. Iceland has the most amazing landscape. You can be standing in a hot river while looking at a glacier while listening to sheep chat with each other as they scale the side of a mountain made of volcanic rock. We were able to say our vows to each other and commit our lives to one another privately, in the most beautiful setting and I wouldn't have it any other way. 

The most handsome man you've ever seen getting ready to get married.

The most handsome man you've ever seen getting ready to get married.

Can you even believe someone this handsome exists?!

Can you even believe someone this handsome exists?!

Youtube tutorials helped me to figure out how to do my hair so it would stay put. It did stay up, but the wind had other plans for the curls and helpfully straightened them out for me.

Youtube tutorials helped me to figure out how to do my hair so it would stay put. It did stay up, but the wind had other plans for the curls and helpfully straightened them out for me.

Thankful for these warm boots and wrap! And I love how my custom sleeves turned out on my dress!

Thankful for these warm boots and wrap! And I love how my custom sleeves turned out on my dress!

The first thing to do when planning a wedding abroad is to decide where exactly you want to have it. And obviously make sure they have cute animals near by. 

Icelandic horses are super friendly!

Icelandic horses are super friendly!

Image via Flickr

Image via Flickr

My first choice was Landmannalaugar which is stunningly beautiful, mineral streaked mountains in the Highlands of Iceland. Unfortunately, we weren't able to have our wedding there (or even see it during our visit) because the Highlands are totally inaccessible starting at the beginning of October. So next time we go to Iceland, we'll have to go in the summer when we can get into the Highlands and maybe even camp at Landmannalaugar!

Image via Maupintor

Image via Maupintor

Our next choice was SeljalandsfossIt's a waterfall in the Southern Region of Iceland that YOU CAN WALK BEHIND! That is almost too cool, so we made our choice and started planning to have our wedding there. Thankfully, Christina had been to Iceland the April before, then went again in August, so she was able to do a little scouting and figure out the best places to set us up. Sadly, a wedding behind the waterfall wasn't possible, and she broke the news to me early so as not to crush my wedding day dreams when we arrived. Maybe if we were wearing ponchos and it was summer--but it was about 45 degrees and windy. 

The AirBNB we got ready in on our wedding day. 

The AirBNB we got ready in on our wedding day. 

First look--yes, we both teared up.

First look--yes, we both teared up.

You'd stare too if you were me. He's the best.

You'd stare too if you were me. He's the best.

Once we determined the location of the wedding, we contacted the officials for that region and began getting our paperwork together. You really can't go wrong anywhere in Iceland. Even in the towns, you round a corner and there's a beautiful waterfall or glacier, or adorable fuzzy ponies, or huge fields of chubby sheep. The fishing villages are also beautiful, so even if you're not surrounded by wonders of nature, you're around colorful little houses and sculptural artwork.

Saying our vows. Isn't our officiant, Kristin, adorable in her official uniform?

Saying our vows. Isn't our officiant, Kristin, adorable in her official uniform?

We got ready in Reykjavik the morning of the wedding and had our first look in the garden in front of the building where we stayed. It was such a great morning! Christina took our photos individually as we got ready and then set up outside (in the VERY windy cold) to take first look photos. Since we had to drive to the wedding site, there was a lot of first looking before the wedding. Riding together in the car, thinking about what we were able to commit to each other was really special to experience.

Caves at the Vik beach.

Caves at the Vik beach.

My friend Carly taught me to do my makeup for the big day so that I could confidently do event makeup on myself, that was a gift that I treasure! I still use the tricks she taught me on everyday looks now, just lighter on the application for day-to-day. She is extremely talented and has a way of making everyone look and feel their best and like themselves on their wedding day! 

Just outside Seljalandsfoss

Just outside Seljalandsfoss

Thankfully, Christina had a curling iron with her that would fit the plugs. Phew! Word of advice to the traveling bride, be sure your conversion outlet will accept your hair tool plugs! Mine would not fit in the converter so I was about to have to go sans-fancy hair for our wedding. 

Waiting at the office to sign our marriage papers

Waiting at the office to sign our marriage papers

Before we got to Seljalandsfoss, we had to stop at the South Iceland regional office to sign paperwork and to have copies made of our passports and birth certificates. Victor even had to make a trip to the bank downstairs from the office to get Icelandic cash to pay our officiant. So, if you're planning a wedding abroad, you may want to have enough of their cash on hand in case of a situation like that. 

Seljalandsfoss in the background and just casually leaning on a volcanic rock

Seljalandsfoss in the background and just casually leaning on a volcanic rock

The wind here took the boutonniere right off of Victor's lapel!

The wind here took the boutonniere right off of Victor's lapel!

We headed to Seljalandsfoss after we signed our papers and read our vows to each other, exchanged rings, and sealed it with a kiss! It was COLD! Beautiful, but very cold, and I can tell you that my wrap, while warm, wasn't a parka. So between shots I was wearing my big down coat over my dress. Slightly less glamorous than my wrap, but certainly very effective for warmth. I wore snow boots and over-the-knee socks with my dress which kept me fairly warm from the knees down. Victor's wool suit by Ted Baker (with the coolest lining of all time) kept him nice and warm as well, but when the wind picked up, we huddled up. The winds in Iceland are STRONG! It's one of the first things you'll learn traveling there. If you rent a car, which you will need to, they'll tell you to hang onto the car doors when entering and exiting the car because they may be pulled backwards by the wind and snap the hinges. THIS IS NOT A DRILL! It almost happened to us once. And the wind took Victor's lovely boutonniere very shortly after the ceremony. RIP, little floral guy. 

Top left of this photo is the Christmas ornament my wonderful seamstress gave me. She did the alterations for my gown to make it fit perfectly and she did an amazing job if I do say so myself.

Top left of this photo is the Christmas ornament my wonderful seamstress gave me. She did the alterations for my gown to make it fit perfectly and she did an amazing job if I do say so myself.

Here we are standing just below the volcano you've probably heard of,  Eyjafjallajökul,  which erupted in 2010.

Here we are standing just below the volcano you've probably heard of, Eyjafjallajökul, which erupted in 2010.

It's easy to feel like you're the only ones in the world when you're promising yourself to the love of your life, even when tourists are watching--which they did. It was pretty fun, actually. We heard a round of applause just after the kiss! People were very sweet to congratulate us in English, or just smile and look excited for us if they didn't speak English. We felt warm and lovey-dovey inside all day. A couple of people approached and asked if we were Icelandic. I guess that would make good since because we are very pale and were getting married in Iceland. There are more foreigners than Icelanders in Iceland as far as we could tell. Tourism there is booming!

Tiny hillside turf houses at drangshlíð

Tiny hillside turf houses at drangshlíð

At the farm just at the base of Eyjafjallajökul

At the farm just at the base of Eyjafjallajökul

Victor and I would not have had the wedding of our dreams without Christina. She knew where to go, how to get there, made sure we were comfortable, braved the cold, and hung with us all day long as we made the trek around the Southern Region of Iceland, taking advantage of every pretty place we saw for a photo. 

Just off the beach at Vik. A mist was rolling in and the winds were fairly strong.

Just off the beach at Vik. A mist was rolling in and the winds were fairly strong.

The beach at Vik. How handsome is he?! I mean!!!!

The beach at Vik. How handsome is he?! I mean!!!!

After the best day ever began to wrap up with hot chocolate at the Vik coffee house, we got in the car and headed to Hotel Grimsborgir for dinner and a perfect evening. We ate a delicious meal of Icelandic fish and lobster. While we were eating our dessert, a man ran in from outside yelling in Italian. Victor went out to see what was going on. IT WAS THE NORTHERN LIGHTS! So everyone in the dining room of the hotel, including the staff, went outside to stare up at the sky in awe. 

Christina will be horrified that I put up a dimly lit screenshot...sorry Christina! This is our dinner at Hotel Grimsborgir.

Christina will be horrified that I put up a dimly lit screenshot...sorry Christina! This is our dinner at Hotel Grimsborgir.

It was the most perfect night. Victor ordered champagne and we sat in our private hot tub, drinking champagne, looking up and a brilliantly colored light show. You can't even script that! It was absolutely perfect. 

Speaking of hot tubs, every place we stayed in Iceland during our week long stay had hot tubs. Icelandic homes and businesses use geothermal energy and route naturally heated water to spas and baths. It may smell a little bit Sulfuric, but it's not that noticeable, and it will leave your skin feeling smooth and hydrated. 

Again, she will be horrified. Sorry! Also inside the dining room at Hotel Grimsborgir.

Again, she will be horrified. Sorry! Also inside the dining room at Hotel Grimsborgir.

I have one million more things to tell you about Iceland, and Christina has a lot to SHOW you! We'll be posting more about our travels soon, but in the meantime, mark your calendars for a beautiful show of Christina's photographs from Iceland. 

Icelandic Images by Christina Wedge
Gallery Opening

April 27th @7-9PM
BALANCE DESIGN
1653 McLendon Ave
Atlanta, GA 30307 

Y'all come see us and stay tuned for more!

PHOTOGRAPHY: Christina Wedge  |  WEDDING GOWN: Custom Pandora Gown by Modern Trousseau  |  HOTEL: Hotel Grimborgir  |  GROOM'S SUIT: Ted Baker  |  GROOMS WATCH: Shinola . |  WEDDING SITE: Seljalandsfoss  |  OTHER SHOOT LOCATIONS: Vik i Myrdal Drangshlio, Skogar Hvolsvollur Reykjavik

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!

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

Modern Day Nomads

Have you ever thought to yourself as you're sitting in your cubicle, looking at a spreadsheet, drinking bad office coffee, "If only I could just travel the country making money doing what I love"? That is precisely what Mackenzie and Blaine of The Local Branch do every day!

Photo by Christina Wedge

Photo by Christina Wedge

Mackenzie and Blaine live and work out of a 1979 Airstream trailer they bought when it was in serious need of some love and they transformed it into a rustic chic cabin on wheels. Please do yourself a favor and take the tour of the transformation on their blog! Christina and I both love transforming spaces that have been neglected or just aren't being utilized to their full potential--we particularly love that in small spaces where every area must work double or triple duty. The Local Branch live/work/play Airstream is all that and more!

Photo by Christina Wedge

Photo by Christina Wedge

Not only does this couple travel the United States selling their goods at festivals and events, they also make and sell all American made items for their shop IN their Airstream trailer. Anything you buy from The Local Branch will have an American made story and will include the city it came from on the tag. Since everything is made by hand here in the USA, you can be sure your purchases from these two nomads are supporting our national economy and small business. 

Photos by Christina Wedge

Photos by Christina Wedge

Photos by Christina Wedge

Photos by Christina Wedge

Photos by Christina Wedge

Photos by Christina Wedge

Follow The Local Branch on social media to see where they will show up next. Mackenzie and Blaine have me feeling inspired to take risks, make old things new, and support American small businesses and I hope you feel inspired, too!


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!

Spotlight On: Lori May

Happy Monday, everyone! Today, we're turning the spotlight on Lori May, interior designer and owner of Lori May Interiors here in Atlanta. Let's get to know her! 

Photo via Christina Wedge

Photo via Christina Wedge

How did you get your start?

I have always loved making my surroundings beautiful.  Before my interior design career, I was a corporate buyer and product designer.  International travel was a huge part of my job.  I loved the travel, but once we started our family, I no longer wished to be away all those weeks each year.  I had also always wanted to have my own business.  I made the decision to leave the corporate life and start my own company.  I was able to create my own boutique design firm that married a high level of customer service with my feeling that everyone deserves a beautiful home. It has given me the best of both worlds, the ability to do what I love and the flexibility to spend more time with my family.
Photo via Christina Wedge

Photo via Christina Wedge

 

Was there one job or contact that set the course of your career?

My job with The Bombay Company changed my life.  I grew up in a town of 2500 people.  I had not been on a plane until I was in my 20’s.  With The Bombay Company, I traveled all over the world.  I designed my own product.  My love of interiors was expanded by the flavors and colors of all of the places I visited.  Paris, London, New York, California, Hong Kong, Beijing, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore and India 
Photo via Christina Wedge

Photo via Christina Wedge

What is your favorite/most successful way to advertise?

We provide an incredibly high level of customer service and work hard to create long term relationships with our clients.  It is our goal to create an unparalleled experience for each client.  Because of this, our clients are our best advertisements. 
Photo via Christina Wedge

Photo via Christina Wedge

If there was one thing you could change about your career, what would it be?

I would have started my design firm earlier! 
Photo via Christina Wedge

Photo via Christina Wedge

What is your favorite stress reliever?

My favorite stress reliever is a cup of Jasmine tea on my back porch.  
Photo via Christina Wedge

Photo via Christina Wedge

What is your favorite destination?

It is so hard to say!  I have so many favorites.  There is a sweet cottage in the mountains that we try to get to at least once a year.  There are very few places that I find as relaxing as this place.  Simple, beautiful, serene.  We hike, we visit the small mountain towns and we just relax.  It helps that I get no cell service there at all!   I always leave incredibly invigorated and inspired.  
Photo via Christina Wedge

Photo via Christina Wedge

Thank you for joining us while we put the spotlight on Lori May of Lori May Interiors! If you'd like to know more about Lori, get in touch with her via her blog, Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram.

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.