Trip Review

As told by DIWYY reader, Stephanie Blankemeier, who traveled with GAP Adventures to Costa Rica in May 2010.

Tour Operator: GAP Adventures

Trip Name: Budget Costa Rica

Starting/Ending Point: This trip starts and ends in the capital city of San Jose.

Number of Days: 8 days

When I went: I traveled in May 2010.

Highlights of trip: After meeting the 14 other travelers in San Jose, we quickly departed the next morning for the more adventurous parts of Costa Rica. Our first couple of days took us to La Fortuna at the base of Arenal Volcano. La Fortuna is filled with many outdoor adventure activities like rainforest excursions, ziplining, canyoneering, volcano hikes and rafting. They also have great all-inclusive adventures. I particularly enjoyed the Liquid Lava Arenal Volcano Hike, Baldí Hot Springs & dinner adventure. It took us on a sunset hike through the rainforest that ended with viewing the molten lava from Arenal Volcano. We then headed to Baldí Hot Springs where we had dinner and soaked in the natural hot springs until late into the evening. It was a wonderful late afternoon/evening activity with adventure and complete relaxation. The following day in La Fortuna involved ziplining and canyoneering for more extreme adventures. If choosing between ziplining excursions in La Fortuna, I highly recommend spending a little more money to do the ziplining with Costa Rica Sky Adventures, which includes a Sky Tram ride through the rainforest and Sky Trek ziplining with 8 lines. The longest lines were 2,460 feet and 660 feet above the forest floor!

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The second half of the tour took the group to a small ex-hippie town called Montezuma on the Nicoya Peninsula (Pacific Coast). May is the beginning of rainy season in Costa Rica and unfortunately, it was an unusually early and heavy rainfall for May. I made the most of my trip despite the weather by practicing yoga, reading, and relaxing in the quaint outdoor lounge at Hotel El Tajalin. Most of the day adventure trips were canceled due to treacherous ocean and road conditions around the area. However, the group took a day trip to Malpais, Playa Santa Teresa, and Playa Carmen on the west side of the peninsula. The beaches there are renown for epic surfing and the long endless coastline. The towns, including Montezuma, are very small, quiet beach towns. It was very easy to wonder around town and relax.

The tour begins and ends in San Jose. Although most of the gems of Costa Rica fall outside of the capital city, I ventured out independently to experience the sights and sounds before my trip ended. A highlight was the Mercado Central, which is a bustling bazaar with everything from spices to purses. Nearby are also the Teatro Nacional and several museums.

Overall, this is a great tour that gives you a taste of rainforests and beaches at an inexpensive price. Meals and adventures are not included and can easily double the price if you do not spend wisely. Additionally, I found ways to enjoy my adventure despite the rain, but if you are set on spending sunny days on the beach, I recommend this trip in the “dry season” from November to early May. Pura Vida!

Tunisia Paris 09-10 110 As told by DIWYY co-founder, Kristina, who traveled to Tunisia in December 2009.

Tour Operator: Peregrine Adventures

Trip Name: Highlights of Tunisia

Starting/Ending Point: This trip started and ended in Tunis, the capital of Tunisia. A complimentary arrival transfer from the airport was included.

Number of Days: 10 days

When I went: I left on a late December 2009 departure of this tour. Even though it was winter, it was beautiful. The days were mild, sunny and full of blue skies but the nights did get a little chilly. I would much rather have these conditions then the 45 degree celcius summer days the locals were telling me about!

Highlights of trip: Tunis is a modern capital city rich in both French and Middle Eastern influences. You can spend a few days exploring The Medina, the historical site of Carthage and the beautiful ocean-front city of Sidi Bou Said, known for its blue and white color scheme. While in Tunis, we also explored the Bardo Museum, housing numerous mosaics and other relics. During my free time, I would walk around the main strip, Avenue Bourguiba, and also ventured to the local parks.

The trip continued to the holy city of Kairouan but not before a day excursion to the city of Dougga. It is beautiful and, if you didn’t tell me, I would have sworn I was in Tuscany. The landscape is lush and green, full of immaculate rows of olive trees. The site of Dougga is also impressive and the tour allots a few hours here to explore the ruins and take photographs.

Throughout the next few days, as your head south, you will see the landscape transform for greenery to the desert terrain. Most of the towns you encounter along the way, either for rest breaks, lunch or overnights, will be an oasis of the Sahara Desert. You will overnight in Tozeur, a small oasis primarily centered around tourism, and Ksar Ghilane, a beautiful spot where you will overnight camp in luxury tents.

Venturing north again, you will visit Matmata, a popular stop for any Star Wars fans, as that is where they have shot many of the scenes for the movies. On the way back to Tunis, a brief stint in Mahdia, a seaside town, will complete your journey. My favorite things here were a day trip to El Jem, home of the famous coliseum, and walking alongside the ocean on the nice, paved pathway.

Tips for future travelers:

-Be prepared to bargain when shopping in the markets. Never accept a first offer! Same thing goes for cab fares. Ask your guide or someone at the hotel if you need a realistic idea about prices.

-Speaking of shopping, most items will be available throughout the country so you can get things at the end of the trip in most cases. Only some items are region-specific and your guide will point those out. Also, the Monoprix grocery store in Tunis is a great shopping zone. While you can’t bargain, you can get Tunisian-made goodies like sea salt and olive oil which make great gifts (just remember to put the olive oil in your checked bag since it is a liquid over 3 ounces).

-98% of Tunisian residents are Muslim so conservative dress is a must, especially if you’ll be visiting a mosque. Choose lightweight fabrics that are breathable and try to layer with scarves and a jacket for the varying temperatures. In Tunis, I opted for jeans and a hoodie but, in the desert, I lived in my Lululemon pants, long-sleeve shirts with built in SPF, and a tighter fitting hoodie with a wind-breaker style jacket over. Sunglasses and hats are essential as well.

-Most dishes contain meat in this country so, if you are vegetarian, bring extra snacks in your bag and plan on meals of couscous and pasta. Fruit is readily available here so you’ll always be able to grab a banana, oranges or some dates for a quick bite. If you have a food allergy or want to ensure you truly get a vegetarian dish, use Google Translate to make a card in Arabic and French that says no fish/no meat or the specific items you cannot have.

-Smoking is very common in Tunisia. In most tourist restaurants, there will be a non-smoking section so be sure to ask for that. As much as you try to avoid it, you will still find yourself smelling like it. Bring Febreeze to refresh your clothing at the end of the day and perfume or essential oils to mask the odor.

-Surprisingly, hair dryers were not available at all hotels (and if they were, there was sometimes a fee). If you use one daily, you may consider bringing a small travel-size one with.

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