Living La Pura Vida

Making friends

I’ve been lucky enough to visit Costa Rica many times on inspection trips and it’s a destination I have always enjoyed. This trip, however, has taken our relationship to a new level. True, I did get to channel my inner princess while staying at some of Costa Rica’s finest properties….. 

Latitude 10 Pool

In Costa Rica, nature rightly takes centre stage with its gazillion shades of greens and blues. It’s well documented that the environment has a direct effect on its inhabitants and the Ticos are no exception. So yes, I surrender. I have fallen head over heels in love with this tropical jewel of a country and been totally bowled over by the genuine warmth and friendliness of its people.

Arrival into SJO airport 

I’m delighted to report that it took us a mere 10 minutes to go through immigration. (And that was coming off a full BA flight). Once through, there was a team of smiley and enthusiastic Travel Excellence guides to greet us. These are the people who will greet your clients when they go – you can never underestimate the importance of a warm welcome.

Gran Hotel Costa Rica, San José

This luxury hotel is a fantastic new addition to San José’s hotel inventory and right in the heart of the action near the Gold Museum and National Theatre. It’s also Costa Rica’s only hotel in a listed building – its beautiful colonial exterior houses a surprisingly industrial chic interior with crisp, clean and contemporary rooms. Reception and the restaurant are up on the 5th Floor and – unusually for San José – these offer superb views over the capital.

Escalante District, San José

This former residential area is well and truly on the up with streets lined with fairy-lit trees. The gorgeous old homes of the area with their tumbling gardens have been converted into an impressive array of restaurants ranging from pop-up to fine dining which should appeal to clients of all ages, especially as they’re just a short taxi ride from central San José. Lovely safe atmosphere.

Pacuare Lodge – the arrival! 

Lunch stop on Pacuare river

I can’t think of a more exhilarating and beautiful way to arrive at a lodge.  Pacuare Lodge is the only lodge in the world where your arrival and departure involves over an hour of whitewater rafting! The adventure begins with an easy 2.5-hour drive from San José, including stopping for a potato tortillas breakfast en route, to the banks of the pristine Pacuare river where your rafts (and guides!) await. And off you go – floating, paddling and occasionally spinning around or tumbling over a few grade 2 or 3 rapids, all under the expert care of the wonderful Pacuare guides. I am the living proof that pretty much anyone of any physical ability can manage and enjoy this 90-minute journey. Even in the rain, it’s a fantastic experience. Also, and I almost did a double-take when I noticed, these guides are multi-talented! Not only do they keep you safe while you’re on the water but once on dry land, they metamorphose (well, shower and change) into Pacuare’s waiters. Love it!

Pacuare Lodge – ultimate eco-luxury

Me enjoying Pacuare’s pool

Perfection in Paradise! As a direct result of swimming in Pacuare’s pool, I pledge to do a blog about the top pools in Latin America, and this one will be Numero Uno! Seriously, I’ve swum in a lot of pools but this one wins hands down. Also, their new spa is fabulous – just relax and be pampered to the sounds of nature and the river below.

Linda Vista suite

All Pacuare’s rooms, regardless of category, are incredibly comfortable, beautifully furnished and practical. They will you to embrace the natural beauty of your surroundings. Since my last visit, there’s been a subtle but welcome addition of some colour to bring the décor a bit more up to date. Our Linda Vista Suite was insanely large, but all categories have outdoor seating with areas to sit out and enjoy the sunshine – or indeed the rain! One of my favourite mornings was spent on our swinging couch on the deck, listening to birds and the sound of the river. Bliss! It’s not just the spectacular setting and the exquisite rooms that make a stay at Pacuare so memorable. It’s the entire team of staff. They are so genuinely attentive, caring and kind. 

Pacuare – the departure

Pacuare scenery

I didn’t think it possible but the scenery on the journey out is even more spectacular than on the way in. And, with rapids of up to Grade 4 to get the adrenaline pumping, it’s even more exhilarating! The journey includes a riverside picnic lunch of freshly prepared deliciousness.  All beautifully served up on our upturned rafts. Heaven! It’s worth keeping in mind that when you raft in and out as part of Pacuare Lodge package, you’re in a small private group. We saw many large groups of day-trippers raft along the same stretch of river meaning that in high season, I would imagine it could be a bit like Piccadilly Circus.

Gracias Pacuare – Pura Vida!

Rios Tropicales Lodge

While staying at Pacuare, I took a wander around the bend in the river to visit Rios Tropicales. This is the more affordable option in the area and the views are absolutely stunning. The rooms are all sweet and rustic –simply furnished and tastefully decorated with ample hammock-strewn balconies. 


Arenal volcano

The 2.5-hour (wifi included!) transfer from Siquerres was a joy. Helped by our expert TE guide Manrique, we got to see masses of birds en route but the mammals were elusive. Full disclosure – it rained. A lot. Both our La Fortuna hike and Sloth Tour were rained off. And, those of you who read my Argentina trip last year may remember that I renamed El Chalten the Invisible Mountain. Well, after this visit, Arenal will now be referred to as the Invisible Volcano. Seriously, she didn’t lift her skirts once the entire time we were there. Oh well – it’ll be a pleasure to come back.

Our shower with forest views

Amor Arenal – small, romantic, boutique

This stunning new boutique property is on a quiet private road up a very steep hill and has just over 30 secluded casitas with floor to ceiling windows, mini plunge pools and double head rain showers that overlook the lush vegetation of the surrounding rainforest. The spa is wonderful and the perfect place to spend rainier days when outdoor activities are rained off. For now, Amor is Arenal’s small classy boutique option, but Amor has expansion plans and will become a much bigger resort (like its competitor Nayara) over time.

Tabacon Grand Spa Thermal Resort

An evening site inspection allowed us to experience their thermal springs and a delicious buffet. Overnight guests enjoy unlimited bathing in the Thermal River and benefit from exclusive access to their adults-only hideaway ‘Shangri-La Gardens’ – a peaceful section away from the busier public area. 

Santa Teresa, Nicoya Peninsula

Horse riding in Santa Teresa

An easy drive and a ferry ride later, and we’re on the Pacific coast. Santa Teresa is fast becoming one of the world’s top surfing spots, and the former hippy-dippy fishing village already boasts an impressive collection of upscale souvenir shops and boutiques, artisans’ studios and restaurants; 30 years ago, there wasn’t even any electricity! Thankfully, the developments are all low rise, and the vibe is relaxed, with locals and tourists alike making the most of the ocean and Santa Teresa’s miles and m-i-l-e-s of magnificent beaches.

Nantipa Beach Resort – luxury, beachside, boutique

Nantipa beach sunset

Last year Marco from Travel Excellence spent a few nights at Nantipa and came back raving about it. And now I understand why. Although Nantipa is in Santa Teresa itself, its light and airy suites are nestled in a small clearing amongst the trees and it’s this clearing that makes all the difference – the suites are filled with daylight. They are bright and contemporary, and so close to the beach that I was literally lulled to sleep by the sound of the waves. Nantipa’s pool has been cleverly designed with a curve so you can be in it with others but feel as though you’ve got it all to yourself. Lovely! And the food was to die for. Probably the best I had all trip.

Latitude 10 – homely, low key, barefoot comfort

Latitude 10 Habaticion

A 10-minute drive up the coast took us to Latitude 10. It is quite a bit further out from Santa Teresa but feels like you’re staying with old friends (and their 3 adorable dogs!) in their rustic beach house at the far end of the beach. The windows are fitted with mesh rather than glass and the bathrooms are outside – it feels a bit like indoor glamping! No aircon, just a freestanding fan at the end of the bed. Latitude 10 is where you go when you really want to get away and pretend you’re on a desert island – I loved it but appreciate it’s not for everyone.

And finally…

Golfo Dulce, Osa Peninsula

Two scenic SANSA flights and a boat ride (complete with dolphins!) and we arrive at our final destination.

Playa Cativo – exquisite, remote, relaxed, rainforest house. 

Playa Cativo

Believe all the hype about Playa Cativo. It’s paradise. Enjoying the idyllic beach, stunning gardens, home-cooked food, yoga, stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking and rainforest trails are the order of the day at this gorgeous lodge. Rooms in the main house are closer to the sea, and also perfect for your birdwatcher clients as they offer fantastic views through the treetops that teem with parrots and toucans. The individual casitas in the grounds are more spacious with their own plunge pools. The sea swimming here is phenomenal. The water is calm and you can swim in complete solitude across the tropical bay. You don’t have to be a keen swimmer to enjoy Playa Cativio, there are numerous walks through the forests. We enjoyed very close encounters with monkeys, a Kinkajou and beautiful Tayra. Playa Cativo is bliss. 

All too soon, it was time to head home but there is always more to see – I’ll certainly need another trip in the not too distant future!

Hopefully this has tickled your tastebuds and will help you inspire your clients to visit or even revisit Costa Rica. 

With so many new properties opening in Costa Rica, the choice for your clients can be overwhelming but the team at Travel Excellence go on regular inspections and keep up-to-date in order to be able to answer your questions. 

As ever, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with any queries or training requests.

Low Season Travel in Latin America

Casa Molle, Chile


Latin America is a huge region with many different terrains and climates. Typically, the most popular time to visit is from December to March but each of the four countries I represent can be enjoyed all year round. Below is a guide to help you encourage clients to consider travelling during off-peak times.  

Whether you’re selling Patagonia, The Pantanal or trips to see turtles in Costa Rica, there are good reasons and many benefits to visit these regions in low season.


The lake district in snow

Argentina is packed with fantastic off-Peak and Shoulder season options to tempt your clients to break away from the herd and travel when it’s quieter. You’ll almost certainly be flying your clients around Argentina – seat availability on the planes is far less of an issue out of season, and your clients should be able to get their first choice of hotel and room type, as well as spending far less time getting from A to B as the roads are quieter.

Have you ever been to Buenos Aires in January or February? Well, I have and it’s h-o-t. And sooooo humid. With temperatures in the city rising to the high 30’s, an off-Peak visit is a much more attractive proposition for your clients who want to go shopping and sightseeing. Spring is a particularly beautiful time in this city of tree-lined streets.


People always think they have to go to Patagonia between December and March. Well, they don’t! Argentine Patagonia is drop-dead gorgeous in April when the reds and yellows of autumn stand out against perfectly deep blue skies. Equally, October heralds the arrival of spring when the days start to get a little longer, and the landscape gives up its wintry monochrome in favour of some springtime flora. April and October are ideal for hiking the trails around El Chalten – in the summer, these trails can be busy with tourists from all over the world but if your clients can travel off-Peak, they will be rewarded handsomely with peace and quiet and enjoy the superb views from the trails they’ll pretty much have to themselves.

If you have clients who are up for a mid-winter visit to Patagonia, this is totally doable with the correct planning. Services are reduced and some properties do close down for the season but there are still a fair number that operate year-round and greet their winter visitors with welcoming arms.

Seriously, these seasonal destinations benefit enormously from out of season tourism so if your clients make the effort to get down to the El Calafate area in winter, their hosts will go overboard to make their stay as comfortable as possible.

Branco Vicugne di Fabrizio Ghilardi

Further north, Salta and its environs are lovely year-round but the January to March rainy season up in the Northwest can severely disrupt road travel and is another good reason to urge your clients to visit Argentina outside of the January and February peak. It’s also worth remembering that Mendoza is also a year-round destination but the wine harvest that takes place in late February/March brings in lots of visitors. Best avoided – unless, of course, it’s your clients’ whole reason for going!

And finally Iguazu and the Northeast. I visited this region in February 2019. Yes, it was hot. V-e-r-y hot. In an ideal world, I may not have chosen to have gone when it was sooo hot. But you know what? I still had a fantastic time!


The people of the Amazon riverside, Caboclos

Rio is exceptionally exciting and busy over New Year and during Carnival. If your clients are not party animals, you’ll be doing them a massive favour by suggesting they visit Rio between March and mid-June, or between mid-September and mid-December. You’ll almost certainly be able to secure them their preferred hotel and room type, and nab a booking for them at one of the best tables at that amazing restaurant they’ve heard all about…

But it’s not just Rio that comes into its own out of season. The chances are your clients will be heading to the Pantanal or the Amazon. Think about it – all National Parks are places of outstanding natural beauty but it’s fair to say that the experience might be spoilt if there are lots of other tourists around. If your clients were given the choice, wouldn’t they prefer to visit a pristine waterfall when they’re likely to get the place practically to themselves? Or enjoy the serenity of a canoe ride along a brackish waterway in solitary splendour? All this is possible if they travel off-Peak.

Here’s a detailed rundown of what happens in the Pantanal and Amazon regions during the different seasons. Please keep in mind that this guide is not definitive – there are some crazy weather patterns out there that no one can predict. All the more reason to travel off-Peak in my opinion!


To be honest, there’s never a bad time to go to the Pantanal. The experience is outstanding any time of the year. It’s what your clients want to see and do that will dictate when they should go. As a rule of thumb though, the rainy season usually runs from December to March and it’s drier between May and November, but here’s a more detailed description of what goes on in the Pantanal throughout the year

October to December – Transition from Dry to Wet Season (aka Enchente)

Birds of the Pantanal
  • Smaller waterways and lakes fill up with rainfall that’s fallen in the surrounding mountains and flows into the Pantanal basin.
  • There’s a concentration of small birds at this time.
  • Beautiful sunsets are reflected in these new bodies of water.
  • The Pantaneiros move their cattle to higher ground.

January to March – Wet Season

  • 60 to 78% of the Pantanal is submerged with 20 to 40cm of water during the wet season.
  • Vegetation is at its peak.
  • Migratory birds arrive from as far as Canada and USA, flying over 20,000 km (12500 mi), attracted by the abundance of fish.
  • Boat tours explore the flooded forest.
  • Daily showers and high temperatures reaching 33°C (91°F) and 80% humidity.

April to June – Transition from Wet to Dry Season (aka Vazante)

  • Rain stops, water flows down to the Paraguay and Cuiaba rivers, and out of the basin.
  • There’s a switch in the birdlife – the Northern hemisphere birds are gone, but newcomers arrive from as far as Antarctica and Patagonia.
  • Nights are cooler and days are drier.
  • Fish trapped in the lakes are a feast for other animals.
  • The Pantaneiros bring cattle back to low lands.

July to September – Dry Season

  • The rivers are much drier.
  • Your clients will get to see the majestic Ipe trees blossoming in beautiful shades of pink, lilac and yellow.
  • This is the best season for watching reptiles and mammals roaming the plains.
  • The days and nights are much cooler, reaching 16°C (60°F) at night.


Photo courtesy of Blumar

The Amazon is beautiful in any season, but activities can be quite different depending on the water level of the rivers. The rains are heaviest between the months of January through March. Even though it does rain more this time of year, it is still a good time to travel. The rain tends to be in the middle of the day or at night.  In the rainy season, there are many flowers and the fruits attract birds and monkeys. From July to November the river levels start to go down, getting about 5cm lower every day.

Carolina & family

Carolina from Blumar travelled with her family in July 2019. They enjoyed blue sky on the entire trip. Not a single drop of rain. However, they were only able to enjoy one beach day as the water levels were still very high and the beaches hadn’t yet reappeared. (The best time for swimming stops is from October to January). During the wet season – December to June – the flooded forest can be explored by canoe.

December – the beginning of the Wet Season.

  • The Andean rains and melt water bring about a considerable rise in the river levels.

February – May Wet Season (Flooding)

  • Trees burst into bloom with new flowers and fruits.
  • Mating season: the jungle comes alive with the noisy courtship of the animals.
  • Overnight temperatures drop in April, and the almost-daily showers are short and sharp.
  • Humidity is high but your clients will enjoy the colourful sunsets that come with it.
  • The sunrise is spectacular too as it breaks through the morning fog that forms on the jungle canopy.
  • All that noisy mating a few months earlier means babies! This is when the mammals produce their young.
  • Add to that the daytime warmth and the myriad of butterflies at this time of year, and you’ll see why this is the best time for your clients to do boat tours along the tributaries into the flooded forests.
Photo courtesy of Blumar

June – August Dry Season (Flood Peak)

  • In June, the Amazon reaches its peak (between 10 to 14 meters) and rainfall starts to dwindle.
  • By August, the river levels are rapidly subsiding. This is the time of year your clients should visit the Amazon if they’re interested in interacting with people of the riverside communities to get a feel for how they adjust to these seasonal variations, and to make the most of a canoe tour through the flooded forests to get up close to the canopy.

September – October Dry Season (Ebb Peak)

  • September heralds the formation of sand banks and beaches where the wet season river used to be
  • Larger animals like Capybara can be spotted as they head for the water.
  • Birds gorge themselves on fish that get trapped in the lagoons and are joined by birds that migrate from North America.
  • Forest hikes become accessible during this period.

To get a feel for all the Off-Peak and Shoulder season deals in Brazil, please head over to the ‘Special Offers’ page in the Client area on Blumar’s website.


Torres del Paine

You can go to Patagonia in winter and have an amazing time! Yes, it’s true! Patagonia is an absolute peach of a winter destination. 

So, what goes on in Patagonia in winter? Well, for one thing, Patagonia enjoys a break from the constant wild and windy weather that epitomises the far south. True – a winter storm or two might add to the drama and stir things up a bit but on the whole, Patagonia becomes all calm and serene.

One of the best aspects of travelling in this region during the winter is the coziness – (dare I say ‘hygge’?) of the accommodation. When it’s particularly nippy outside, who doesn’t like arriving somewhere with a roaring fire and the aroma of a tasty dinner wafting through from the kitchen? Winter is the perfect excuse for tucking in to hearty meals and your clients won’t be disappointed.

Winter barbecue in Torres del Paine

Make sure your clients have all the gear – temperatures can plunge to an extreme of -10 °C so the right clothing is a necessity: advise them to dress in layers. They’ll need a down jacket, gloves, a decent hat and plenty of socks. It goes without saying that your clients need to be made aware that winter travel needs to be planned with more care than at other times of year as the days are shorter and there are fewer services to work with. You may have to slow it all down a bit and do a bit of juggling but that’s where Southbound come into their own – they know which lodges are open, which flights and buses are scheduled. Plus, if a winter storm does come along and blankets your beautifully-crafted itinerary in snow and ice, the Southbound team are nearby and will swing into action (yes, they’ve done it before) to provide the best possible solution. 

Deserted hiking trail in Torres del Paine

As I mentioned earlier, Team Southbound donned their thermals and ski gear for an in-depth winter visit to Punta Arenas and Torres del Paine NP in August. A night or two in Punta Arenas is recommended before the 3-hour scenic drive up to Puerto Natales. From there, it’s just a short drive into the Park. It may be the middle of winter, but the main trails are open year-round, unless snow (unusual) prevents access. The upsides of travelling this time of the year are:

  • Hiking in near solitary splendour on the main trails is an absolute joy – your clients will experience the true immensity of Patagonia.
  • The chances of seeing the local wildlife are far higher than in summer. Tell them to look out for guanacos – and maybe even a puma!
  • Winter snow on the mountain peaks makes for stunning photos! This region is so photogenic – your clients will come back with albums and albums of the Massif reflected in calm, mirror-flat lakes.

So, send your clients to Patagonia in winter! They’ll be rewarded with spectacular snowy mountains, deserted trails and the silence of the mountains. And no crowds – just how a wilderness should be!

Chile’s best-kept secret in Peak Season? La Serena and Elqui Valley.

So, your clients have busy schedules and can only go to Chile in January and February… Well all is not lost! With Chile’s massively diverse geology, it’s actually really easy to get off the beaten track even at the busiest time of year.

Who remembers the 2019 solar eclipse? Who doesn’t, more like?! Well, La Serena and its surrounding valleys attracted several thousand eclipse-seekers for a few days in early July and did its best to try to keep everyone happy. But when there’s not an eclipse going on (i.e. 99.99% of the time), this is the area you should be recommending to your clients who want some peace and quiet while getting their fill of sunshine hiking along bone-dry mountain trails with views over the lush green valleys below.

Valle de Elqui

In terms of getting there, La Serena airport (LSC) is about an hour-long flight from Santiago or a scenic drive of a little under 5 hours that’ll introduce your clients to rock-covered mountains and desert pastures framed by cactus hedges until you get to the ocean stretch with its huge sand dunes and giant Pacific Ocean waves that just keep on rolling in as you head north.

For accommodation, Southbound recommend your clients stay at Casa Molle in the Elqui Valley. This stylish lodge with just 24 rooms estate features an outdoor swimming pool and lots of lovely space outside in which to relax and soak up the sun. They could even play golf on the private course if it takes their fancy but it’s also perfect for families or groups who want to make the most of the great outdoors by doing some trekking or horseback riding. Or even a spot of kayaking in a private lagoon, no less.

Stargazing in Valle del Elqui

The valleys inland from La Serena enjoy year-round sunshine. Their clear dark skies at night have meant that it’s become one of the best areas of Chile to stargaze and the area is home to many observatories that can be visited such as La Silla, Mamalluca or Alfa Aldea.

To sum up, the Elqui Valley is one of those magical high season spots where you can be up in the mountains in the morning but down on the coast in time for an afternoon of seafood indulgence, but without the crowds. Now if that doesn’t sound attractive, then I don’t know what does.

Costa Rica


With its amazing range of different habitats and microclimates, Costa Rica might be tiny in size but it packs a punch in terms of biodiversity. To be honest, it’s always the right time of year to visit Costa Rica, but if your clients want to reduce their tourism footprint, just encourage them to visit in green season (June to November) or during the transitional months of May and November. In doing so, they’ll be rewarded with bright and sunny mornings for wildlife viewing, hikes and exploration, and rainy afternoons that lend the perfect excuse for relaxing or enjoying a massage. Full disclosure: I’ve only ever been to Costa Rica in May, September and November, so I know first hand that the Green Season is a great time to visit Costa Rica. I should also point out that with its size and all its microclimates, if it’s raining in one region of Costa Rica, you’re never very far from another region where it won’t be raining!

Fortuna Waterfall

Tortuguero on the Caribbean coast boasts one of the largest nesting populations of Green turtles on the planet. They start arriving in July to lay their eggs and this lasts right through until early October. With it taking just over 9 weeks for the eggs to hatch, your clients may be lucky enough to see the hatchlings emerging from the sand and making their way into the water as late as early December but the core time for this amazing sight is during September and October.

Meanwhile, over on the Pacific coast, Southern Humpback whales start arriving between July and October from the Antarctic. The warm shallow waters of the Uvita area are just right for the whales to give birth and raise their calves. If possible, encourage your clients to include the annual Whale and Dolphin Festival hosted by the Bahia Ballena community. Sea conditions permitting, they will get to go out on boats and get up close and personal with whales and dolphins who seem to enjoy showing off their well-honed acrobatic skills.

The green season in the Central Valley and Guanacaste region also conjures up some meteorological magic – namely the “Veranillo de San Juan” (Little Summer of Saint John). It’s hard to predict the exact dates, but this two-week climatic phenomenon during which virtually no rain falls usually happens during the last two weeks in June.

Canales Tortuguero

And, finally, as if they needed more incentive, green season travel in Costa Rica offers better value for your clients, as there are lots of special offers such as free nights and lower rates. Travel Excellence will be happy to provide you with all the information you need to give your clients the green light for a green season visit to Costa Rica.

So, it just goes to show that it’s still possible for your clients to have an amazing trip out of season wherever they choose to go.