Friday, July 20, 2018

Winter Wanderlust: From Hawaii to Costa Rica

It’s high time to book sun-kissed jaunts to Texas, Hawaii & Central America, too. 

We’re entering that soggy season when the darkness descends, and we scramble to ration Vitamin D reserves intended to get us (happily) through hibernation-heavy months ahead. If we’re wise, this is when PNW residents remember the importance of plotting warm-weather travels. This is also when we here at Seattleite decide it’s time to help you plan—while simultaneously stoking our own wanderlust-fueled fires.

Photo by Corinne Whiting

Photo by Corinne Whiting

Ocean Hopping Hawaii Way

Ubiquitous coconut trees, open-air huts and cotton-candy sunsets, complemented by carafes of mai tais, plates of pineapple, bowls of poke and kind, laid-back souls who roll with the rhythm of the waves and swaying palms. There’s no denying that Hawaii carries a magic unlike anywhere else on our globe.

If you’re wanting to stay on U.S. soil but still feel worlds removed from reality this fall or spring, consider visiting Hawaii Island (or the “Big Island”), easily reached from our NW hub. Highlights here abound, but the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival (November 4 through 13) proves the perfect excuse to “toast the roast” and check out some of this diverse island’s tastiest offerings. (Added bonus: Alaska Airlines is offering discounts on flights into Kona between November 2 and 15.)

Photo by Corinne Whiting

Photo by Corinne Whiting

Every November, the local community gathers to celebrate Kona’s annual coffee harvest and the region’s rich agricultural community. Recognized as the oldest and one of the most successful food events in Hawaii, the award-winning Kona Coffee Cultural Festival fetes the accomplishments of its coffee pioneers, farmers and artisans. During the 46th annual fest, nearly 50 delicious and fun-filled events fill the 10-day schedule, including a lantern parade, coffee and food tastings, hands-on cultural events, a collection of farm and mill tours (be sure to check out the ever-welcoming Greenwell Farms), coffee art exhibits and more.

Get a deal on accommodations at nearby Courtyard Marriott King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel (ask about their special festival rate), or—if you’re up for a bit of driving—select any of the luxurious resorts that line the island’s western coast. Manau Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows, for example, is a dreamy oceanfront oasis about 30 miles north with amenities so plush and staff so kind (not to mention, a breakfast buffet so decadent!) you may never want to leave the property. The resort features a deliciously open-air layout and, although the exterior’s a bit of a throwback, the rooms prove luxuriously comfortable and the pool chairs sufficiently alluring.

Greenwell Farms, Photo by Corinne Whiting

Greenwell Farms, Photo by Corinne Whiting

On an island that’s so diverse and large—the approximate size of Connecticut and big enough that all the other islands in the main Hawaiian chain could fit inside it twice—it’s often hard to wrap one’s head around the scope of landscapes and mixture of vibes. Superlatives here abound; as home to two of the world’s greatest mountains, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, 10 of the world’s 14 climate zones and “the wettest city” in the United States, the Big Island promises to impress. If you have time to explore several different regions, consider flying into Kona (on the west coast) and then driving via the island’s southern tip to the east coast’s laid-back, lush Hilo (which has an airport, too).

Photo by Corinne Whiting

Photo by Corinne Whiting

Aside from obvious island draws like Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, recommended activities include exploring Kona’s vibrant hub of surfers, tourists and scrumptious, can’t-miss bowls of rice, fish and kimchee at Da Poke Shack. Book sailing excursions, whale watching tours and inland adventures with companies like Hawaii Forest & Trail; we highly recommend their sensational stargazing adventures to the Mauna Kea Observatories that will forever change how you view the night sky. Dress warmly (even warmer than you think!), and be prepared to savor above-the-clouds sunsets at 14,000 feet.

One afternoon, road trip up north to taste the flavors of teeny towns like Hawi (pronounced “Havi”), described by a gallery owner there as a mecca of “hippies, artists, organic farmers, naturopaths and shamans.” Return south via the interior “mountain road,” a land so lush, rolling and rainbow-splattered, you may be convinced that your car accidentally veered toward Ireland.

Photo by Corinne Whiting

Photo by Corinne Whiting

When heading south on the Belt Road from Kona, make pit stops at the quaint Painted Church, Punalu’u (Black Sand Beach) and perhaps the bucket list-worthy southernmost point in the country. Pull into Hana Hou Restaurant, dubbed the “southernmost restaurant in the U.S.,” for a delightfully simple feast, enjoyed in the presence of open windows, lazily whirring fans, turtle artwork and vintage turquoise chairs. Our suggested trifecta: the macadamia nut chicken salad wrap, island ‘slaw and a to-die-for hunk of coconut-chocolate goodness as the grand finale.

On the island’s eastern side, highlights range from fertile rainforests, blooming gardens and dramatic spots like Laupahoehoe Point County Park to the welcoming town of Hilo, the gateway to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (located just 45 minutes south). By day, wander the farmers market and colorful shops found along Hilo’s waterfront strip; by night, tuck into casual restaurants with chill vibes (and Jason Mraz playing overhead most everywhere). Please the palate at gems like Conscious Culture Café (for revitalizing pints of kombucha and farm-fresh salads/sandwiches), Huang Mai (delicious Thai best complemented by BYO wine) and Pineapples (an open-air institution where highlights include the pineapple-jalapeno margaritas and scallops). Sinking into island time; is there anything better on Earth?

Photo by Corinne Whiting

Photo by Corinne Whiting

PREPPING YOUR PASSPORT FOR COSTA RICAN PARADISE

There’s good reason why so many PNWers have already discovered the beauty that awaits down in Costa Rica—the land of pura vida (or “pure life”) and kind, welcoming Ticos (as the locals call themselves). As the eco- and adventure-tourism capital of Central America, this hot spot appeals to adrenaline junkies and sun worshippers alike, allowing guests to choose their own adventure as they explore by horseback, foot, kayak or perhaps from their waterside chaise lounge.

Photo by Corinne Whiting

Photo by Corinne Whiting

The country “wows” with its rainforest canopies, high-altitude trails, white-water rapids and world-class surfing, not to mention an impressive infrastructure and sustainability practices that began long before being “green” was the trendy thing to do. (More than a fourth of the land benefits from some form of environmental protection, and greater biodiversity exists here than in the entire U.S.)

Thanks to its manageable size (a three-hour coast-to-coast drive or 45-minute flight), prevalence of the English language and usage of the U.S. dollar most everywhere, Costa Rica also proves a relatively easy destination, even for those who haven’t done much international travel. Here you’ll become spoiled by some of the freshest, most colorful fruit you’ve ever tasted, and you’ll quickly learn how to coexist with nature in a land where otherworldly flora and fauna often stop you in your tracks (we’re talking rainbow-hued birds and whimsical monkeys performing acrobatics on the side of the road).

Photo by Corinne Whiting

Photo by Corinne Whiting

The dry season typically lasts from late November through April, and December and January in particular offer lush landscapes and very little rain. Although Pacific NW travelers can’t yet fly to Costa Rica directly, Alaska Airlines, Delta Air, United and American Airlines offer one-stop flights into San Jose with reasonable layovers in LAX, IAH and DFW.

The Caribbean region of Costa Rica makes waves for its variety of aquatic ecosystems and exquisite white and black sand beaches, ideal for sport fishing, snorkeling and sunbathing. On the Pacific side, however, you’ll find concentrated tourist hubs and beaches known for their coveted surf (like Esterillos, Jaco, Hermosa and Boca Barranca). In the Golfito region, near the Marino Ballena National Park, dedicated surfing fanatics search for the famous “long lefthander wave.”

Photo by Corinne Whiting

Photo by Corinne Whiting

In recent years, Costa Rica has also become a magnet for those seeking hippie-chic yoga retreats and alluring eco-lodges—including those you raft into and reach by covered tractor, as well as those like Macaw Lodge that offer ultimate tranquility on a sprawling 264-acre property.

Adventure seekers go volcano hunting in Arenal National Park, hiking through Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve and Manuel Antonio National Park, sea turtle kayaking in Tortuguero National Park, crocodile cruising down the Tarcoles River and ziplining in canopies throughout the country.

Photo by Corinne Whiting

Photo by Corinne Whiting

While visiting the vibrant capital city of San Jose, take advantage of  weekly “Enamorate de Tu Ciudad” programming, which translates to: “fall in love with your city.” Every Saturday, events and performances in public parks bring modern Costa Rican culture to life for locals and visitors alike.

Other upcoming events include the grueling La Ruta de Los Conquistadores (November 3-5), Costa Rica’s premier mountain bike race and the world’s original multi-day fat-tire stage race, and the December 4 Marathon Costa Rica. On November 27, San Jose hosts Entrada de Santos y Desfile de Boyeros, a parade and celebration that honors the traditional oxcart and cattle, and on December 17, the beautiful Festival de la Luz enlivens the capital city, too. December 27 brings a horse parade galloping through San Jose, and from December 25 through January 1, Festejos Populares San José finishes off the year in style—with carnival rides, food stands, games, music and, of course, dancing.

FLYING SOUTH TOWARD THE SAN ANTONIO SUN

Photo by Corinne Whiting

Photo by Corinne Whiting

Visiting Texas in cooler, non-summer months can be a really pleasant—and wise—move. Though most of us already know how incredibly awesome BBQ- and music-filled Austin can be (especially now that the thriving city has a centrally-located Kimpton hotel), San Antonio, situated about 70 miles to the south, often flies a bit under the radar. Consider booking a stay here to school yourself on some fascinating history (hello, Alamo) and to relish that true vacation feel—with margarita in hand—on one of the many patios along the town’s famed canal.

Courtesy Hotel Contessa

Courtesy Hotel Contessa

As the only Four Diamond all-suite hotel plopped right on San Antonio’s charming River Walk, Hotel Contessa features 265 luxurious suites and perks aplenty. Get pampered in the top-floor Woodhouse Day Spa, dip in the heated rooftop pool, sip a cocktail at the Cork Bar, or snag an alfresco table at Las Ramblas, where delicious dishes range from roasted pork chops and Texas Striped Bass to gnocchi with asparagus and shiitake mushrooms.

Prickly pear margarita, photo courtesy of Hotel Contessa

Prickly pear margarita, photo courtesy of Hotel Contessa

While in town, be sure to visit San Antonio’s newest hot zone—the artsy Pearl neighborhood—and experience local culture at a bounty of upcoming events like the (October 29-30) El Dia de los Muertos at La Villita Historic Arts Village (across from Hotel Contessa). Translated literally as “the Day of the Dead,” this Mexican cultural tradition honors departed loved ones, and the vibrant festival gets in the spirit by showcasing food, music and arts galore.

Other notable dates range from the November 11 Luminaria free arts festival and the November 25 Ford Holiday River Parade and Lighting Ceremony to the November 27 through December 3 music-filled  Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza. On December 2, the Ford Fiesta de las Luminarias perpetuates a centuries-old tradition by illuminating the River Walk in a sensational feast for the eyes that helps kick off the holiday season.

No matter where you wander, we guarantee these bright, friendly destinations will deliver just enough oomph to get you through till our next steady string of Seattle sunshine.

About Corinne Whiting

Corinne, an east coast native who relocated here from the other Washington in 2011, was bit by the travel bug early on. She lived in Strasbourg, France (during her junior year at Georgetown University) and in Edinburgh, Scotland, where she got a masters degree in Cultural Studies. She feels very grateful to have explored incredible spots on our globe ranging from Bolivia and Egypt to Turkey and China, but there are passport pages yet to fill (and travel tales yet to be written!). After serving as associate editor at Where magazine in D.C. for five years, Corinne has embarked on a new adventure here in the PNW as a freelance writer and photographer, contributing to publications like National Geographic Traveler, the Alaska Airlines in-flight magazine, Amtrak's OnTrak, 1889 Washington, 1859 Oregon, Visit Seattle and so on. She loves exploring this incredible corner of the country while debunking the rain myths, upping her coffee quotient, hearing heaps of live music and finding her Zen near the water as often as possible.
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