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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Exploring a library website’s travel resources

iStockphoto of Popocatepetl Volcano in Mexico

Planning a trip? Gathering information for travel – either business or pleasure — can be overwhelming and exhausting. Before you leave on your next trip, plan a stop at your public library’s reference website.

Online library databases are tremendous resources for travel information. It’s free — all you need is a library card and pin number to log on to a world of information. Find out what you need to know about your destination before you depart: Learn about a country’s currency, languages, customs, food and lodging accommodations and current events by using your library’s geographical or news databases.

I discovered that an immense amount of travel resources are available through Chandler Public Library’s website at a recent library volunteer appreciation event. One of the library staff members gave an informative and entertaining presentation about the library’s online systems and travel resources. She demonstrated several travel research tools and I’ve highlighted them here:

Global Road Warrior provides users with basics about a particular country. A “country snapshot” will allow you to take a quick glimpse of a particular country’s geography, climate, languages, religions, history and current political and economic conditions. Using tools on the home page, one can search by keywords. For example, a search using the words, “travel warnings” will produce 121 different countries where advisories are in effect. Use discretion, however, some of this information appears to be dated. You may need to crosscheck this data with another website such as the State Department travel advisory page.

With Masterfile Premier, you may need to experiment with a search. It’s a little trickier, but a basic knowledge of Boolean methods should allow you searching success. There are several periodical databases worth a deep search. Help tools are there to guide you. For example, I typed in, “Mexico volcanoes” and found an April 2012 New York Times article about Popocatepetl, an active volcano in central Mexico. After I found what I needed, I had several options: save, print, email or listen. That’s right, I could listen to the article being read aloud. Granted, It sounded like a choppy Siri reading on an iPhone, but at least I could hear how to pronounce Popocatepetl. (By the way, it’s poh-poh-kah-TEH-peh-til)

But you may not need pronunciation tools if you sign up to learn a foreign language with links to Mango or Rocket Language learning tools on the Library’s travel resource page. With these resources, you can be ready to speak the language before your upcoming travels abroad.

A click on Gale Travel Research collection button will bring you to a database of DK Eyewitness Travel Guides. Refine your search by keywords. I typed in Popocatepetl and up popped a couple of article listings. I clicked on an article called, “Around Mexico City” from the DK Mexico Travel Guide, then I simply word-searched on the page in text format to find a reference about the volcano. That provided the page number, so I just went back to the pdf format of the article and entered the exact page number. That forwarded me right to that page from the DK guidebook! I could print out a pdf of the page or return to the text version and save the article to my eReader or email it to myself. Now I will have the information stored about Popocatepetl on my device for my next visit to Mexico City. It’s good to have a backup in case I’m away from an Internet connection.

Chandler Public Library’s travel resource page also makes available shortcuts to sites about passport services, currency converters, distance calculators, worldwide weather, as well as international ATM locations for Visa and MasterCard. You also can find links to all the popular guidebook and travel magazine sites: Frommer’s, Fodor’s, Lonely Planet, Rick Steves’ Europe and Insiders’ Guides. Everything you need to plan a statewide trip is here: Arizona tourism information links: ArizonaGuide.com, azstateparks.com, and transportation (airlines, highways, train travel) links.

Many public libraries provide access to this information; I’m just really pleased that Chandler Public Library has made it so concise and easy to use.

Readers: How do you research your international travels? Anyone still using an agent for anything other than cruising?

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