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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Under this World – Rio Camuy Caves – Puerto Rico

When I decided on vacationing in Puerto Rico a few years back, I immediately started looking for something unique to do. I would definitely hang out in Old San Juan, and Rincon was getting my relaxing time. I needed something else. I kept reading about these huge caves called The Rio Camuy Caves. There was one company that stood out as being organized and very knowledgeable about the caves and just about everything else in the outdoor world of Puerto Rico, Aventuras Tierra Adentro. Aventuras Tierra Adentro is owned and operated by Rossano Boscarino, who promises an intense, genuine, and entertaining adventure.
As I boarded the van for the trip to The Rio Camuy Caves, with the theme to Indiana Jones blaring over the P.A. system, I knew I was in for something great! After gearing up and running through a safety demonstration, we repelled over 250 feet into the huge mouth of the cave. As the light from the surface got smaller and smaller, the real adventure began. We hiked, swam, climbed, slid, ran, and jumped through the darkness, with nothing more than the dim lights atop our helmets showing us the way. The guides shined bright LCD lights on some of the most outstanding formations giving us a glimpse into this strange and unique world. We finally looped back to the original entrance and hiked up from the depths to the van. Exhausted, but thrilled with the sense of accomplishment, I booked Aventuras' Canyoning Tour for the following week right away! Thanks to Rossano, and all of the guides who made this a wonderful experience, in fact, National Geographic chose Aventuras Tierra Adentro’s Rio Camuy Cave Tour as one of the 500 of the World’s Greatest Trips. I certainly understand why.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Is Costa Rica the Adventure Travelers Dream?

I was recently reading an article about Costa Rica from Lonely Planet citing the many adventure opportunities this tiny country offers.  Costa Rica is definitely an adventurers dream.  The often copied Canopy Tour was invented here, but the Ticos also offer exceptional white water rafting through stunning landscapes, surfing for all skill sets, canyoning, active volcanoes to explore, world class deep sea fishing, and great reefs for SCUBA diving. Unless you go there just for the stunning beaches, you will likely be checking a few of these off of your adventure list.  I experienced many of these adventures on my trip to Costa Rica and found them perfectly safe and accommodating for first timers.  These wonderful Costa Rican adventures have added another layer to my travels.  Now, in addition to experiencing the culture, I find myself searching out some sort of active outdoor activity anytime I am visiting a new country.  Since then, I have trudged through muddy caves and via ferrata’d in Puerto Rico, rock climbed and hang glided in Brasil, and deep sea fished in Mexico, and recently hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon.  I traveled to Costa Rica on a whim, and it quickly changed who I would be forever.  Costa Rica is an Adventure Travelers Dream, whether you are just thinking about dipping your toe in, or you are just looking for another thrill.
Canyoning in Costa Rica

Monday, February 21, 2011

Is Adventure Travel for you? You may be suprised...

When you hear someone talk about adventure travel, you probably conger up visions of scaling a sheer rock face, rafting through a deep canyon gorge, or hang gliding over a vast expansive landscape.  While you would be correct on all accounts, there is a whole other, tamer side of travel that is also categorized as “adventure”.  While hard adventure travel requires you have a unique skill set, soft adventure travel just requires the desire to pass on the typical tourist spots and step outside your personal comfort zone.  Today, many people are looking for a more authentic vacation.  This trend is making adventure travel one of the fastest growing segments of travel today.  There are many benefits to taking the road less traveled, but mainly, you get to have truly unique experiences that many .  There are always the “must sees” on any excursion, but when I travel, I always attempt to search for an experience that will bring me closer to the culture and further from the overcrowded beaten path.  The world is full of wonderful places for the adventure traveler, and you don’t have to climb Mt. Everest to tap into them.  Test the limits of your comfort and let the adventure take care of itself.
River Crossing outside of Natal, Brasil

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Our Travels to San Diego

     We arrived in San Diego at 11:00 pm local time, got our rental car, and headed to our hotel.  The kids were so excited, they had yet to sleep.  Finally, around 2:00 am local time they passed out.  It would be an early morning, as we had the world famous San Diego Zoo on the itinerary.   

We awoke early for our zoo adventure to dreary overcast skies and a good chance of rain.  Having faith in the San Diego weather reputation, we set out undeterred.  The zoo is located in the spectacular Balboa Park and the parking was free.  We entered the rather unassuming gates, and were blown away by the size of the map.  A good tip would be to view the map online and plan your route because this place is just massive.  We plotted a course and headed forward.  As the day went on, the overcast misty skies quickly turned into the bright blue sunny skies San Diego is known for.  We saw Lions, Koala Bears, Jaguars, Rhinos, Giraffes, Elephants, Kangaroos, and lots of other interesting animals that you would rarely, if ever see.  And of course, we could not miss the Giant Pandas!   The other thing that was really amazing about the zoo was the landscaping.  There were trees and plants and shrubs from all over the world that were as unique as the wildlife.  We even stumbled upon some of our favorite Madagascar Palm Trees.  The zoo is really a must see for adults and kids alike.  Just make sure you plan to be there a whole day because it is hard to see all of the expansive grounds in any less.

     The next morning took us to a beach that is regularly on the Travel Channel's Top 10 List, Coronado Beach.  We had the wide beach practically to ourselves on this cool October morning.  You can not help but notice the stunning Victorian Architecture of the Hotel del Coronado anchoring the beach.  The Hotel was built by the original owners of the island back in 1888 and has been listed on USA Today's "Top 10 Resorts in the World".  It is easy to see why it became a National Historic Landmark in 1977.

     We left Coronado Beach and headed across the island to Coronado Ferry Landing.  This is a great place as it has something for everyone.  We grabbed a gyro and enjoyed sitting by the bay observing the best view of the modern San Diego skyline.  The Ferry Landing has a variety of restaurants and art galleries under the swaying palm trees and amongst flowing fountains.  

     We then left the island and drove back to the mainland to visit Balboa Park.  We intended to take in a few kid friendly museums, but were quickly sucked in to the art and culture in the El Prado district.  We strolled up and down the pedestrian street admiring the amazing architecture and different cultural events taking place in the plazas.  Balboa Park is truly a place where you can do it all with more than 15 museums, many lush gardens, hiking trails, cultural events, art, and architecture.  If you have limited time to visit San Diego, you should visit The Zoo and Balboa Park.

     We left the park just before dark, headed to Little Italy to grab a pizza, then took a drive along the harbor.  My son immediately saw a huge "pirate ship", so we stopped to check it out.  This was the Star of India, part of the Maritime Museum, dressed up slightly for Halloween.  The Museum was about to close for the night so we knew what we would be doing the following morning before heading out to LA.  The next morning we checked out and headed to the Harbor and walked through 4 ships, including the one used in the Russell Crow film, Master and Commander.  There was also a Cold War era Soviet Submarine which was really cool to walk through.  The floating museum is great for kids and any history buff.

     It didn't take long for San Diego to cast it's spell on us.  The people were very courteous and helpful.  There was a lot of things to do and see, and it seems like you can get anywhere you want to go within 10 minutes.  The downtown area is modern and clean.  It seems to be an active city with people jogging, biking, and generally spending time outdoors.  And why wouldn't you want to spend time outdoors? Other than that first overcast morning, the weather was amazing.  San Diego had some lofty expectations to live up to, and it did with ease. 
     Now it's time to hit the Pacific Coast Highway!  Next stop, Newport Beach!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

It's Late September, That Means Oktoberfest

One of the world’s best parties, and on every beer lovers "To Do List", Oktoberfest (known as "Wiesn" to the locals) is underway and its 200 years old.  Oktoberfest once was a wedding celebration of Crown Prince Ludwig to Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen in 1810, but today is the world’s largest fair, lasting 16-18 days from late September to early October in the German city of Munich in the region known as Bavaria.  Oktoberfest started out as a horse race, an agriculture show, and eventually a parade.  In 1818 the 1st beer stand opened.  In 1882 brats were first served, and in 1892 those famous glass beer steins (krug or bierkrug) made their first appearance. 
Over 7 million people attend the Oktoberfest today consuming some serious amounts of beer, chicken, sausage, fish, and pork.  There are currently 14 tents serving up liters of beer for around 8.75 Euros (about $11.60 USD).  Many of the attendees are from the region and wear the traditional Bavarian costume of lederhosen for guys, dirndls for girls.
If you happen to be in Bavaria right now, you are probably already there.  If you are not in Bavaria, your town may have its own version of Oktoberfest, or just pick up some German beer, turn on the oompah music, and celebrate.  Want to go to the real deal?  Well, there is always next year.  Oktoberfest is bigger than ever and it doesn’t look like it is going anywhere anytime soon. 

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Don't be Content...

In my line of work, I talk to people about travel every day. I have found that there are several types of people. There are those who live to travel; taking extended trips that explore far beyond the typical "must sees", sometimes lasting several months or even years. There are those who want to travel; taking their yearly vacation if time and money allow it. And you have those who are content with where they are and travel is just not important to them.  Not too many years ago, I was one who was just content where I was. I thought that by living in Texas, I had everything I needed. The occasional trip to the Mexican border towns for a few drinks in the cantinas and shopping in the mercado was plenty of cultural expansion for me.

Then I was invited, convinced, prodded, and basically pulled to Costa Rica for 9 days and oh how my life was changed.  I remember sitting on the bus between towns surrounded by banana fields as far as the eye could see thinking, wow this truly is a different world. Nothing was familiar, except the Bob Marley music of course, and for the whole trip I was on the edge of my seat wondering what would I see next; what would I experience next; what would I learn next. Sure it was a little uncomfortable at first, but the excitement quickly won out and I had the time of my life. I returned home thinking how small Texas was when compared to the world both physically and culturally.  Not a day has gone by since returning from that first trip that I don’t yearn to be somewhere new, learning about different cultures, foods, customs, and perspectives. My favorite quote about travel: “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” – St. Augustine.  This was truly a lesson learned, as I look back and think about how much more I could have seen and experienced if I wasn't so content.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Welcome to Wheels Up! - The Official Blog of Summit Heights Travel

Welcome to Wheels Up! - The official blog of Summit Heights Personal Travel Consultants.  Summit Heights is a full service travel agency specializing in personalized international itineraries for their clients.  Check back as we will be posting information about unique destinations and valuable tips for travelers of all types.