A few favorite sun and sky photos

While recently sorting through some old vacation photos, I came across an abundance of snapshots of skies and sunsets. Several dozen photos of the same scene make up hundreds of files, taking up precious space on disks, thumb drives and memory sticks. Before these get buried back into the depths of storage, I wanted to publish just a few of the most recent photos:

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Sunset view from Princeville Resort, on Kauai’s north shore.

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Late afternoon sky at The Windmill Winery, near Florence, Ariz.

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Sunset over a choppy Sea of Cortez near San Carlos, Sonora, Mexico.

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Dusk at Ashurst Lake near Flagstaff

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Setting sun near San Carlos, Sonora, Mexico

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Sun peaks through huge cottonwood tree at San Pedro House near Sierra Vista

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Nightfall on the Pacific Ocean near Jaco, Costa Rica

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Brilliant sun prepares to sink over Isla Venado near San Carlos.

 

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Know before you go: Tabacon Hot Springs Resort & Spa

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To many travelers, Costa Rica’s Tabacon Hot Springs Resort & Spa may seems like an expensive and out-of-reach vacation choice, but this popular thermal springs luxury resort can be accessible to most with a little common budget travel sense.

Tabacon is located at the base of Arenal Volcano near La Fortuna de San Carlos. Geothermal hot springs in the local area have made it extremely popular for tourists. Although there are several places to experience the hot springs, Tabacon — with its beautiful gardens, iconic waterfalls, natural wading pools and romantic private grottos — remains on the bucket list of many travelers. Here are some items to consider if you plan to visit this beautiful resort and attraction:

Opt for an overnight stay at one of the nearby resorts. If the nightly rates at Tabacon are out of your budget, if you’re visiting during a peak season, or if the only room available is one of the $1200 honeymoon suites: don’t despair. You can stay at a nearby resort such as the Arenal Lodge and still purchase a day pass for Tabacon. And unless you’re planning to stay a few nights and book several spa treatments, I’d recommend this option. For example, consider buying a day pass for a morning of soaking and strolling in the hot springs followed by a leisurely lunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for $70. Or you could get a pass for the entire day — from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. without a meal for $60. There are other meal/day pass package combinations available, and I would recommend having at least one meal at the resort, just to top off the experience.

Relax in the lobby bar. Okay, so you’ve decided to stay one or more nights at Tabacon, and maybe your bus or taxi has dropped you off before your room is ready. Know that you can explore the resort or simply relax in the lobby bar. This is a great place to catch up on some U.S. sporting events, or grab an appetizer while you wait for your room.

Explore the resort. Start out by walking Tabacon’s paths weaving through throughout the property. After getting settled in your suite, obtain a map and take some time to inspect the gardens. Take some dusk or nighttime photos of the spectacular plants and tropical flowers. Visit El Palenque Bar for happy hour at the far reaches of the grounds. Get to know your way around the resort before you spend the next day soaking in pools and being showered by warm waterfalls. You can learn at which water features you will want to spend most of your time.

Wear water shoes or at least flip-flops with some decent tread. Tabacon River rocks and stepping stones can be extremely slippery. Because this tropical paradise gets an average of 137 inches of rain and the springs supply a constant mist over the earth, almost every walkway seems constantly wet. Exercise extra caution when stepping into the deeper pools — and use care when negotiating a seat under the waterfalls — that water pressure is very high. Also, know that water temperatures vary. Some pools are a cool 77 degrees, while others are a steamy 102 degrees.

Schedule your spa treatment early. If you don’t reserve a massage or other spa treatment before you arrive, you may miss out. Consider making a reservation when you reserve your room — or at least a week before you arrive. These time slots will book up early — obviously even more so, during peak seasons such as late fall, winter and early spring.

Learn practical photography tips about shooting in high moisture areas. In an effort to save my new Canon from the moisture, I made the mistake of buying a single use, disposable, waterproof camera for my stay at Tabacon. Unfortunately, my prints — those taken while enjoying the pools and waterfalls — came out extremely grainy when I had them developed. I can’t say what exactly caused that, but I understand now there are much better ways to capture Tabacon experiences on film. I’ve heard this will help: Store the camera in an airtight plastic bag until it can brought outside and adjusted to the current temperature and humidity. Online searches will produce even more suggestions for photography in humid, moist, misty or foggy conditions. And just in case your photos didn’t turn out the best, you can always download some from the resort website.

Watch the volcano. You may not see much action, since Arenal’s activity level has decreased considerably since 2010. We visited in 2007, so we were fortunate to see Arenal still shooting up smoke and ash. And In the evening from our patio, we could distinguish a few strings of lava rolling down the mountain. Although volcanic activity has decreased, you may be fortunate to catch a rare display!

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More photos of Costa Rica can be viewed here.

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Cure winter blues with tropical vacation memories

Recent freezing mornings in Arizona prompted me to recall a January trip to Costa Rica. Just revisiting my photos from the trip brought back great memories and helped thaw out some winter blues. Here are some reasons we’ll be anxious to return:

Los Suenos Resort's gardens
Los Suenos Resort’s gardens

 

Views of the marina, Herradura Bay and Los Suenos Resort from The Hook Up Restaurant and Bar
Views of the marina, Herradura Bay and Los Suenos Resort from The Hook Up Restaurant and Bar

 

Many species of birds like this egret are common sights at Los Suenos
Many species of birds like this egret are common sights at Los Suenos

 

Manicured gardens and covered walkways in the Los Suenos Resort/Herradura area.
Manicured gardens and covered walkways in the Los Suenos Resort/Herradura area.

Spend a day or two at Marriott Los Suenos Resort

While the others in our vacation group we’re out on the La Iguana Golf Course, the rest of us enjoyed exploring the resort — its beautiful gardens, arbor-covered walkways, creeks and canals, expansive pool area and marina. Tip: It’s an easy stroll to the marina village. Consider a leisurely lunch at the nearby sports pub, The Hook Up, overlooking the Herradura Bay and marina. This luxurious resort has all the finest points of superior lodging. But for the room rates, we’d expect to be on a nicer beach property. Nearby to Jaco, and other Costa Rica resort towns, the resort makes a nice option for a fine dinner, spa treatment or shopping venue.

One of the best Costa Rica vacation memories -- the wonderful coffee
One of the best Costa Rica vacation memories — the wonderful coffee

Visit Cafe Milagro in Manuel Antonio

While in Costa Rica, we enjoyed Cafe Britt coffee also, as that seemed to be found everywhere, and we brought some of it back with us. But we had a special memory of eating a delicious breakfast and sipping some the best coffee I’ve ever tasted at the Cafe Milagro restaurant on the morning before our trip to the Manuel Antonio National Park. Once back in Arizona we were pleased to know it was easy to order this coffee online — both brands. There’s no better way to bring back tropical vacation trip memories and fend off chilly Arizona mornings than a cup of great Costa Rica coffee.

Warm waters throughout the winter -- Manuel Antonio beach
Warm waters throughout the winter — Manuel Antonio beach

Water temperature = 83 degrees

While my swimming pool is probably 40 degrees or so, I can’t help but think about the warm waters in Costa Rica. Checking online for water temperature reports I found a great surfing info website. It gives me a great sense of warmth just knowing that somewhere there’s a destination within a five-hour flight with beautiful beaches — a lush tropical paradise with a seemingly endless amount of activities stretching across one’s imagination of vacation dreams. Sorting through Costa Rica vacation photos is great way to cure the winter doldrums — even in sunny Arizona.

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10 favorite images of Costa Rica

Of all things to see in Costa Rica, we’ve chosen 10 favorites. These are only ten images out of hundreds we photographed while vacationing in Jaco, Quepos and La Fortuna. These ten photos prompt the most memorable experiences from this beautiful, tropical Central American country. And we can’t wait to go back for more…

1. Black Ctenosaur explores the gardens at Casa de Mariposas, Jaco

2. Infinity pool, gardens and view of Arenal Volcano at Arenal Lodge, La Fortuna

3. Blue and Yellow Macaws near Arenal Lodge, La Fortuna

4. Crested Guan outside our suite at Tabacon Grand Spa Thermal Resort, La Fortuna

5. La Paz Waterfall Gardens

6. Blue morpho butterfly feasts on bananas at La Paz Waterfall Gardens

7. American crocodiles bask in the sun at Rio Tarcoles Bridge

8. Dark sand on Jaco Beach, near Club del Mar Resort

9.White, fine sand beach at Manuel Antonio National Park near Quepos

10. Red ginger blossoms at Tabacon Resort

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Costa Rica vacation home: Casa de Mariposas

 

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Casa de Mariposas' spacious front porch welcomes visitors

In one sense, Costa Rica seems so distant, so remote. Yet at times it seems comfortably close to home – especially if you stay at Casa de Mariposas.

Casa de Mariposas, located just on the outskirts of Jaco, is a vacation home at the point where the rainforest meets the beach, and where ‘town meets country.’ Even when you pull up to the house, you’ll have this feeling that you could be in the middle of a jungle. The sound of exotic bird calls greets you, as does the warm friendly charm of the front porch. It’s like you were meant to be here. When you step inside, you get that feeling you’ve come home, almost as though you never left the city, but then you smell those wonderful flowers and plants that could only come from the Costa Rica rainforest.

 

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Jaco's beach is only a two-minute walk from Casa de Mariposas

 

You could call it luxury with a fringe of the wild side. I mean, all the resort amenities are there in the home: spacious living room with flat screen TVs, luxurious beds and huge walk-in showers of tile and glass, but the views from the second floor through the green canopy to Pacific Ocean beyond the beach, make you feel like you might be in a tree house or on a deserted island. Then you hear the faint sounds of Latin music and laughter coming from the boutique resort, Club del Mar, located across the street, where you, as a Casa de Mariposas guest, have complimentary use of most facilities.

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Club del Mar is just across the street from Casa de Mariposas

 

Imagine both ends of the spectrum: that of a remote, private little world in the rainforest or on an unspoiled beach, then the images of a comfortable, familiar, welcoming vacation home. After spending nearly two weeks here, I concluded it really does have the best of both worlds, one of uncivilized: adventure, excitement and intense natural beauty, coupled together with another world of civilization with its full rewards — lounging around the pool, feasting on fresh seafood, enjoying a massage at a spa or golfing at the nearby Los Suenos Marriott.

 

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Manuel Antonio's sandy white beaches are less than an hour's drive

A visit to the owner’s website is the best way to get more clear idea of region’s beauty plus you can be impressed by all the fine details of the home and also obtain additional information about the huge amount of local attractions and activities. On the website, you may conjure up an itinerary of deep sea fishing, surfing, Scuba diving and snorkeling, zip-lining and rafting, beach sports, beautiful wildlife parks and nature preserves filled with the most amazing flowers, plants, and some of the most fascinating creatures you never knew existed. After you consider the “uncivilized,” think about the “civilized” – Jaco and neighboring towns have it all: casinos, great restaurants, nightclubs, big box stores, a yacht marina, fine golf courses. And right in the heart of it all is Casa de Mariposas.  It really does have the best of both worlds.

 

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Jaco Beach at dusk

Don’t miss Costa Rica’s La Paz Waterfall Gardens

No trip to Costa Rica is complete without a visit to La Paz Waterfall Gardens. Even if your only stop in Costa Rica were to be this wonderful combination resort and sight-seeing attraction, you would have seen much of what this Central American country is famous for: beautiful butterflies, amazing hummingbirds, colorful snakes and frogs, lush tropical gardens surrounded by spectacular rivers and waterfalls. All of this flora and fauna is set in a magnificent hillside cluster with fishing lake and boutique spa resort. But the Costa Rica ‘to-do’ list wouldn’t be finished without volcano and coffee plantation tours, forest canopy zip-lining and river rafting. Guests at the adjacent Peace Lodge can arrange nearby day tours to these areas as well. La Paz Waterfall Gardens and Peace Lodge are centrally located between Costa Rica’s capital, San Jose and other iconic Costa Rican tourism highlights: Arenal Volcano and hot springs resorts near Fortuna. It’s an ideal location for those considering a vacation in Costa Rica.

Butterfly feeding time at La Paz Waterfall Gardens

Hummingbird taking a rare rest break

Aviary birds are perfect close-up 'models'

Colorful ox cart ready for passengers

Favorite photo opportunity along 'Trail of Falls'

Restaurants, lodge rooms -- even restrooms have the feel of the tropics

These photos don’t really do justice for this wonderful Costa Rica park, wildlife refuge and hotel. Find more descriptions and a photo gallery on the website.

US Airways flies from Phoenix to San Jose International Airport daily. Best times to visit are November through April. This is the high season, so expect rates to be higher.