San Jose, Costa Rica, from Above

(Trip courtesy of Marriott Costa Rica)

Ah, Latin American cities: what’s not to love? Wide boulevards, awe-inspiring palaces, gorgeous old-world-new-world architecture…packs of stray dogs, beggars, choking smog, bewildering transportation options… San José is better than most, but it can be difficult to maintain perspective while tired and footsore, your head all a-whirl from the noise and traffic and giant billboards.

Check out the view from here.

I was standing on the top of a hill overlooking San José, Costa Rica, a little travel-worn and stressed about a frank exchange of opinions (about Obama’s healthcare plan…how blasé) I’d had with another, wealthier American I had met there. It happened at Tiquicia, a nice, though tourist-focused restaurant serving traditional Costa Rican fare.

There’s a full bar, live music and dancing on weekends—but the real attraction is the view, which, as you’ve already seen, is breathtaking.

It was a foggy night that was beginning to clear as I shot the view. From there, from that distance, perspective was forced into my brain with a jolt, forcing me to recalibrate. San José had transformed from a manic whirlwind of cars and dogs to a sea of twinkling lights and orange-illuminated clouds far beneath me. And, the inevitable analogy: that even my most deeply held beliefs are, in the long run, silly preoccupations. I didn’t even care, as it turned out, about that asshole’s position on healthcare, and I can’t change his mind for him. Proselytizing is pointless. Just, focus on one point, breathe, and enjoy the view.


By: Ben Britz

The Anti Tourist goes to Costa Rica 2k10!

What follows is a series of photographs by Ben Britz and Elizabeth Seward which, we’re confident, perfectly capture the bon vivant essence of this beautiful country. And if not perfectly, then acceptably. Anyway, here are some pictures of Costa Rica.

Carara National Park, Costa Rica

Carara National Park, Costa Rica

Carara National Park, Costa Rica

San Jose, Costa Rica

San Jose, Costa Rica

San Jose, Costa Rica

Elizabeth in our room, looking out…

at the view.

A restaurant. A Costa Rican restaurant…in Costa Rica.

Costa Rican Surf ‘n’ Turf in that restaurant.

On a mountaintop near the Pacific in Costa Rica.

Tropical storm’s a-brewin’.

Elizabeth Seward chillaxin’.

Outdoor massage huts, Los Sueños, Costa Rica.

Los Sueños Marina by night.

Costa Rica from above.

A Rainforest Resort: Costa Rica

(Scarlet Macaw at the resort).

Marriott’s Los Suenos Resort on the coast of the Pacific in Costa Rica isn’t something I’d normally think I’d write about. I mean, I’m trying to tell you all about things you wouldn’t know about already, right? Well, here’s something you might not know: this ocean-side resort is smack in the middle of the rainforest. And by rainforest, I mean, we had lunch outside one day (with some top-notch ceviche and maracuya drinks no less) and Scarlet Macaws were frolicking about in the trees by our side. Costa Ricans are used to this. Gringos are not. I was amazed. I felt like a child chasing them with my camera and when I finally wore myself out, I slumped down in a chair on the beach with my computer in hand—determined to document the experience.

The rainforest is all around Los Suenos and it’s no accident that I saw those macaws. I later found out that the hotel has actually planted a certain breed of tree specifically to attract macaws to the grounds. And the golf course there? It’s beautiful. And I don’t even play golf! But the 18th hole? Yeah. It’s right in the middle of the rainforest. I saw an eagle there. I’m definitely learning how to golf.

Of course in addition to the awesome landscape surrounding the hotel, there are other things worth seeing. Nuevo Latino is a restaurant on site with molecular cuisine. You would not believe what these people can do to a papaya, or a piece of coconut. It’s like Bill Nye the Science Guy meets Julia Child. Ridiculous, weird, and also delicious. The art throughout the place ain’t so bad, either. A ship ornamented with glass bottles, waterfall architecture, and the nearby Carara National Park make it all worth while.

We were sad to leave the resort but couldn’t really complain while kissing the country goodbye from the first class windows of our American Airlines flight home. Now that was a comfy ride back to NYC.

(Carara National Park)

By: Elizabeth Seward, Photos By: Elizabeth Seward and Ben Britz

Costa Rica Zip Line Canopy Tour VIDEOS!

Hurtling through the dense rainforest canopy at 40mph, the ground far away and nearly invisible through the dense foliage, I couldn’t just NOT take a video, could I? It was INTENSE. I’m going back, I promise. I had already done it once before in Ohio, and it was equally awesome, but still, you know, the rainforest, man. So cool.

Here is what it looks like from another angle; I love how you hear the buzz of the cable long before she appears out of the treetops:

Woooooooooooooooooooooooooo!

Videos and text by: Ben Britz
(Check out my photography site! I just started it, but be on the lookout for more pictures.)

Crocodiles in Costa Rica–Alive and Everything

The first time I went to Costa Rica was last summer. I was staying at an eco-lodge called Nicuesa in the middle of the rainforest close to the Panama border. For whatever reason, I preoccupied myself with Google searches before the trip, trying to figure out which creatures down there in the wilderness would kill me. I started having nightmares of crocodiles. I studied exactly how I should run away from a crocodile should it chase me (in a zig-zag), but was surprisingly disappointed when the local crocodile at Nicuesa didn’t show his face.

A recent second trip to Costa Rica left me more satisfied. On a winding, hilly, beautiful drive out to the Los Suenos Resort on the Pacific, my driver stopped off the newly built Caldera Pacific Highway for what I thought was a courtesy, a blessing from him to me, a way of saying, “go ahead, go buy handfuls of the $5 handmade earrings hanging from the roadside stand”. So I bought the earrings. I went to the restroom. I eyed some tapestries. And then I realized what everyone else at the stop had already realized: there were a shit-ton of crocodiles nearby.

Just a minute walk away from us was the Tarcoles River—better known to gringos (and maybe locals?) as Crocodile River. I approached the bridge over the river with caution, fully prepared to zig-zag back to my car. I peered over the bridge’s edge and gazed down onto mud-brown waters ornamented with the bulging eyes and thick skins of crocodiles—many of them. I mean, at least twenty of them. Maybe twenty thousand.

I’d bet any nearby locals were scoffing at my excitement over a creature they’ve grown up with, but you know what? Whatever. Seeing crocodiles in the wild is freaking awesome and viewing them from atop a little bridge like this is the best way to do it…and, you know, probably the safest way.

By: Elizabeth Seward, Photos By: Ben Britz

A San Jose Spa Specializing in Sunburns–Unofficially

When I first scheduled my appointment for a massage at Kuo Spa (a part of Costa Rica Marriott San Jose), I did so idly. “When isn’t a full body massage a good idea?”, I asked myself. I also answered myself: massages are always a good idea. Always. Except for when you have a full body sunburn hot enough to fry a…frittata on.

I’d been out white water rafting the previous day with Exploradores/Swiss Travel. Though normally diligent beyond reason about lathering myself with 50+ sun-block (ear lobes and toes too, I can’t help it, I’m a beaming 5’7 worth of white on white), there’s something about the crashing water of Class IV and V rapids that just wipes that stuff right off. I surrendered to The Pacuare River and baked myself all afternoon. I still don’t regret it. I had a blast.

But did I want someone rubbing me up and down the next day when I could hardly pull on my sheer cotton tee without wincing? No. I did not.

I walked into Kuo spa–a sad sight I’m sure. Frowning, I showed the man working at the front desk my hands. They were blotched with some kind of burn that looked more like I’d spilled boiling coffee all over my hands than been out rafting. I’m not that great at Spanish and he wasn’t that great at English, but the cherry red streaks across my body said it all and this man called in my masseuse.

Speaking in Spanish, they looked at me, exchanged ideas, nodded, and then told me they were going to craft a special “Sunburn Treatment” for me on the spot.
My masseuse used more (all natural) products on me than I can even remember. His hands, which I’d bet are normally strong and forceful on muscle, were like feathers. Fresh aloe. Soothing music. Really good smelling stuff. I half expected the red to have disappeared by the time I hovered, glowing, out of this 60 minute treatment.

My point: The Kuo Spa at this hotel is amazing. If burnt by the vengeful equator sun in the San Jose area, you’ll be hard pressed to find another spa so resourceful with their products and flexible with their menu as to whip you up a customized post-burn treatment. Remember I said this. Take this knowledge with you to Costa Rica. Thank me later.

By: Elizabeth Seward

Challenging The Pacuare River: White Water Rafting in Costa Rica

If you’re going to go white water rafting for the first time ever, why not go down The Pacuare River in Costa Rica (a river named one of the best in the world for this sport by National Geographic)? I mean really, if you’re gonna do it, go all out. We did. TAT Editor, Ben Britz, and I jumped on an AA flight from NYC to San Jose and hitched on to Swiss Travel while recently visiting Costa Rica. I know, I know. A travel company doesn’t exactly seem like the most anti-touristy way to see a country–but these guys beat the odds and actually do a hell of a lot more help than they do harm. Grossly over-informed guides, Andres and Jorge, can give you a class or two in an array of subjects while speaking perfect English and handing you an ice cold Imperial simultaneously. That’s what I call an education.

They drove us all the winding way from San Jose to the eastern side of Costa Rica. I got carsick. I played tough and denied it. We met up with rafting guides from Exploradores at a section of the river that was shadowed by a towering hill, from which a dirt road paved the path to the riverbed. Having been aptly instructed on the necessary skills for white water rafting (I realized half way through the overview of the rules that I hadn’t been listening and kind of freaked out trying to mentally catch up, certain I’d pay for my mistake with a busted skull within the hour), we piled into the bright blue boat.

Down the river we went. While we didn’t plummet down the Niagara, we did tuck some Class 4 and 5 rapids under our belts from this trip. “Down!” our guide would shout during the scariest moments. He screamed excitedly like this in between making fun of us each for being clueless Gringos with poor hand-eye coordination. He did this during calm waters and he did this with a friendly smile and for whatever masochistic reason, I liked it.

We pulled over for a lunch and watched the Costa Rican guides dice up watermelon and pineapple for us. We kicked back on the dirt beside the river and got to know the guides. One of them threw me in the river by surprise.

We leeched onto Swiss Travel for some other Costa Rican adventures, all of which were successful and will likely be documented. But the white water rafting was our favorite date with Swiss.

With all of the constant splashing, our sun-block abandoned us during the ride and the result was a very red and hurt version of us both. I wore a floor-length gown to dinner that night in an effort to spare the public at large the sore sight of my torched skin. I sipped my Cabernet that evening and gazed onto the San Jose night light—glowing like a fire out of control. I was scorched badly enough that no amount of wine would remedy my burn, but I was smiling ear to ear, even in those several hours later, about what a blast I’d had that day.

By: Elizabeth Seward, Photos By: Exploradores and Ben Britz