Friday, January 18, 2013

Adventure Tour in Costa Rica

View of Lake Arenal

I spent the holidays on a tour of Costa Rica with my extended family this year. Although I missed the traditions of home during the holidays, I enjoyed learning how the Ticos (native Costa Ricans) celebrate Christmas.  Like most Latin Americans, Ticos celebrate Christmas on the 24th of December starting at 11:00p.m.  They get together with family and enjoy tamales, grilled chicken or pork, and pupusas(thick corn tortillas that are stuffed with cheese, beans and/or pork and cooked on a griddle).  They also look forward to bullfights called Toros a la Tica, where dozens of young men jump into the ring to scare the bull into charging.  The bulls are never harmed, but the men are sometimes gored.   Costa Rica is a great destination for anyone that enjoys nature and adventure.  For a romantic getaway, there are secluded bungalows overlooking the Pacific ocean.  Families will enjoy hiking, ziplining, rafting, and seeing all the wildlife that is offered. I was most impressed by the eco-resorts, the friendly people, and the cleanliness of the country as a whole.

We toured the country with Tauck Bridges, a tour operator that specializes in escorted travel for grandparents and grandchildren. These trips “bridge” the generations because the activities appeal to all the ages in the group. Everything is included in the price of the tour, such as private guides, meals, hotels, gratuities, transfers, and domestic airfare. The trip was enhanced by knowing that we didn’t have to carry our wallets with us each day or worry about tipping protocol. Costa Rica’s bio diversity is what makes it such a unique destination. You can be sailing in a catamaran in the morning and three hours later be ziplining through a misty rainforest.

Orange chinned parakeets

We started out in the Guanacaste area which is located in the northwest Pacific area of the country. Our resort, El Bosque Del Mar, was hidden behind tall palm trees yet steps from the beach. The weather was perfect, clear skies, nice breezes and temperatures in the low 80s. We all relaxed before the formal tour started by strolling along the beach, splashing in the surf, playing in tide pools, or kayaking out to some nearby islands. Fishing was great and we caught tuna, snapper, and jack crevalle which were cleaned and prepared for our lunch. We snorkeled in the clear, cool Pacific on the way back in. A troop of Howler monkeys were our alarm clocks in the morning as they feasted on the tamarind fruit from the trees surrounding us. Before leaving Guanacaste we took a day trip up to Rincon de la Vieja National Park to ride horses, zipline, race down an enormous water slide, and soak in a natural geothermal spa.

Great Kiskadee

Our next stop was a rainforest lodge on the San Carlos River. We took an amazing River Float tour and saw huge American crocodiles, various parrots and parakeets, toucans, spider monkeys, sloths, and many other of species of birds. Along the river we stopped and had lunch with a 101 year old native homesteader and his family. Later that day some of the group went horseback riding and ran into a lively troop of white-faced capuchin monkeys.

Tortuguero National Park on the Eastern Caribbean side was our third stop. This is the area where four different species of sea turtles come to nest in June, July, and August. Our eco-lodge, Evergreen, was a verdant paradise carved out of the jungle which ran solely on solar power. We were greeted by spider monkeys on the front porch and toucans at the pool. From here, we took river boat tours near the Nicaragua border to see rare wildlife such as the spectacled caiman and the Great Green Macaw. A highlight for the kids was a flashlight hike guided by our main tour guide Federico and several local wildlife experts. The kids had the chance to closely inspect many kinds of frogs, toads, insects, spiders, and snakes.

Howler Monkey

We ended the trip on New Year’s Eve in San Jose, the capital. After a city tour, we visited Sibu, a chocolate plantation where we learned the process of chocolate making and the history of the cocoa bean. The kids got to make and package their own chocolate bars and we all sampled a plate full of the most unique and delicious handmade chocolates to be found. We spent our last night in luxury at the Intercontinental Real, San Jose. We relaxed by the pool while the restaurants and club filled up with affluent young Ticos dressed to the nines and ready to party the New Year in. As the sun set on New Year’s Eve, a flock of emerald green parakeets sailed into the courtyard around the pool and filled the air with their chatter. It was a fitting farewell from such a wild and beautiful country.

If you haven’t been to Costa Rica and you are seeking a Spring Break or Summer escape, call me to help plan your trip. You now have a Costa Rican expert.

Julie Harris
Solis Escapes, LLC

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Two Best Ways to Get a US Passport


There are two main ways to getting a passport. One is going through an expediting service and the other is directly through the government. How to get a passport through an expediting service   Using an expediting service allows you to speed up the passport application process, getting your passport to you in as little as 1-3 days. In addition, expeditors walk your passport through the government application process providing convenience and security to you. You may wish to use one of the following trusted Passport Expediting Services.
How to Get A Passport through the Government The government is a safe and secure way of getting your passport. The best way to get more information is by visiting an acceptance agency (such as your local post office) or by visiting the following government site, which provides a comprehensive array of information for passport services:

 Other US Passport Information   A passport application is one of the first steps to getting a new passport, renewing a passport, adding more pages to a passport, changing the name on your passport or getting a passport for a minor. Often people use the terms passport form and passport application interchangeably.    

What is a passport application? A passport application is a form designed by the government to permit you to obtain a passport, which will allow you to travel abroad and to be re-admitted in your home country.

Remember to get your passport pictures before submitting your application. You can have them taken at a CVS pharmacy or your local photo store.  
Julie C. Harris
Solis Escapes, LLC

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Virtuoso Travel Week

I just returned from the best luxury travel show of the year hosted by Virtuoso in Las Vegas.  Virtuoso is a consortia of travel suppliers which offer the highest standards in the industry.  Members include tour operators, hoteliers, cruise lines, and airlines.  I spent a week meeting with travel providers from around the world.  Although I specialize in Latin America and the Caribbean, I now have contacts for any destination in the world.  I was continuously shopping for amazing experiences for you, my client.  There were 3900 total attendees including 1860 advisors and 1700 suppliers.  There were also classes offered on social media, business management, and sales.  I learned from successful business owners that started their journey like me.
One of the 4- minute appointments with a supplier from London.
South African supplier meeting with Pam Gaye and myself.

    During the Opening Ceremonies we had a surprise guest speaker, Francis Ford Coppola.  He is a famous film director, producer, and screen writer.  He produced and directed the Godfather I, II, and III series as well as Apocalypse Now.  Coppola went into winemaking in the Napa Valley region in California.  He also owns two beautiful hotels in Belize - Blancaneux Lodge and Turtle Inn.  His message to us was to have fun in any line of work we are doing.  He also added that he wasn't looking for wineries or resorts to invest in, but that he stumbled upon them.  Alot of times in life, you find something that you want to do and it is not neccessarily part of the plan.   You should follow your passions and go for it if you think you will enjoy it.
Francis Ford Coppola

Honey Mistry, Amanda Klimak, Lena Brown, and myself at the Opening Reception - Bellagio Hotel.

The Destination Showcase Dinner was an invitation only event hosted by the Virtuoso Suppliers.  Each supplier's table was beautifully decorated as you can see in the pictures.  My Table was hosted by Beyond Times Square, a New York City tour operator that organizes group multi-night stays and independent tours, as well as special events such as the U.S. Open.  Their website is
Dominican Republic Tourism Board

Mai 10 - Argentina On-site

Classic Vacations - One of my favorite suppliers

Regent Seven Seas - One of the finest Luxury Cruise Lines.

When you arrange your travel through Solis Escapes, you will receive special amenities such as complimentary upgrades upon arrival, early check-in/late check-out, resort credits, club level privileges, just to name a few.  Through participation in world-class trade shows such as this, I have increased my knowledge and made contacts with the best suppliers and tour operators all over the country and throughout the world.  This will allow me to give my clients unforgettable travel experiences at the best prices possible, no matter where their dreams may take them. 


Monday, June 18, 2012


Historic Dockyard We arrived to Bermuda aboard the Enchantment of the Seas, a large Royal Caribbean ship that sails out of Baltimore, MD.  We docked at King's Wharf which overlooks the historical Royal Naval Dockyard.   Boasting Bermuda's largest museum, a marina, a shopping mall, restaurants, and an authentic British pub, Dockyard is one of Bermuda's key attractions. We ventured to the Bermuda National Museum where the Dolphin Quest is located.  The dolphins which have been trained from birth are very friendly and amusing.  This is a must-do in my opinion!
Clock Tower Mall in the Navy Dockyard
Dolphins performing in Dockyard

The area where the dolphins are housed used to be the keeping where the ships would pull in to receive supplies.  It is a great area for a  dolphin center.

For dinner, we stopped at the Frog and Onion for some live music and English pub food.  The fries, meat pie, and burgers were to die for.  The Frog is also home to the Dockyard Brewing Company, Bermuda's only brewery.  Brewmaster Robert Beck offers five great brews - my favorite is the St. David's Lager.
The Frog and Onion was one of the restaurants open on Sunday in Dockyard.  Sunday is a family day for the Bermudians so most stores and commercial areas are closed.
Bermudians and tourists alike enjoy riding their scooters around the island.  This cheetah print was too cool!
One evening, there was a parade in honor of the Queen's birthday. There was a lot of culture to be experienced by the children.
The Bermuda regiment in action with their music and marches.
Gombey's dancing in festive costumes for the Queen's Birthday.
St. George, the lovely little seaport in the eastern end of Bermuda has been capital of Bermuda and was the seat of government until 1815.  Everyone you turn, you see memories of yesteryear.  St. Peter's Church was rebuilt in stone in 1713, but the section around the pulpit dates from the 1600s.  
St Peter's Church in Bermuda is believed to be the oldest continually used Anglican church in the Western hemisphere. 
You will see that like many other churches in Bermuda, St. Peter's Church also has a separate gallery at the western side so that the blacks could attend the services. This gallery was built in the early 1700s. The entrance to this gallery was through a separate door at the north west corner of the church.

The sunrise as we pulled out of the dock.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Cave Tubing - Blue Hole National Park

Today we met our tour guide Omar Deras at the entrance to St. Herman's Cave in the Blue Hole National Park.  St. Herman's Cave is of great archaeological interest. It was used by the Maya during the Classic Period up to 2,000 years ago.  The ancient Maya believed that caves, particularly those with rivers flowing through and out of them, were entrances to the underworld, Xibalba.  We saw remains of pottery vessels which were used for the collection of Zuh uy Ha (virgin water) from driping speleothems, actively growing stalactites.  There were also charred remains of pots which were used to catch and burn blood sacrifices to the rain god Chaak during droughts.  The blood was collected during bloodletting ceremonies in which priests and elders would pierce their tongues or foreskins.  No evidence of human sacrifice has been found in this cave, unlike some others in Belize and Guatemala.  All of the pottery pieces found in the cave have been shards, since the ancient Mayans believe that it was necessary to smash sacrificial vessels to release the spirits within.  All those items are now studied by the Department of Archaeology in Belmopan.  This cave system has been carved out of limestone by the Sibun River.

 We hiked up the cave, looking at the various formations and artifacts, then drifted slowly down the river for about an hour.  We didn't see or hear another soul for the entire tubing trip.  We then hiked back up through the river to the entrance.  We completely lost track of time and space for the 2 1/2 hour expedition.  It was a jolt emerging into the tropical sunlight after so long underground.
 We saw a few cave-dwelling animals during the trip, such as this short-tailed bat.  There were several species of bat flying throughout the cave during out trip.  They roost in holes, or "pots" in the ceiling carved out by their acidic urine eroding the limestone.  There was a large, active colony of cave swallows at the entrance to the cave.  There were also many camel crickets as well as their main predator, scorpion spiders or whip spiders, which are actually not spiders, but arachnids closely related to scorpions, but without the stinger.  They are harmless, despite their fierce appearance, and Omar even picked a large one up to demonstrate.  Mary was not amused.
  After the tubing trip we stopped by the inland Blue Hole for a quick swim.  The Blue Hole (not to be confused with the much large and deeper oceanic Blue Hole located int the barrier reef), is a formation where the river upwells into a limestone sinkhole, then travels as a daylight river for a hundred feet or so, then dives back down into another cave system.  The hole itself is about twenty five feet deep and crystal clear.  Our visit coincided with a huge group of army ants, which livened things up.  Despite their large numbers they were very orderly, so it wasn't too difficult to step over their trails.  John learned that they have painful stings when he decided that it would be a good idea to flick them into the Blue Hole for the waiting tilapia to snap up.  They found a red-rumped tarantula with an egg sac and forced her out of her hole.  She was still struggling to escape when we left.  It was the only time I've ever felt sorry for a spider.  The highlight of the stop was a large purple-crowned fairy hummingbird taking a bath in the river just below the Hole.  The emerald, white and black hummingbird repeatedly hovered right at the river surface and buzzed in the water, their form of bathing.  She then perched on a branch and preened herself.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Chaa Creek and Xunantunich

Today we visited the Cayo District in the western part of Belize close to the Guatemalan border.  As we drove from the coast to the west, we were marveled by the beautiful hills and mountains rich in green dense jungle.  From the humblest of beginnings Chaa Creek Cottages has grown into a 365 acre private nature reserve offering a range of exciting, educational adventures, expeditions and cultural experiences. The Natural History Centre, Butterfly Farm, Conference Centre, Macal River Camp bungalows, Rainforest Medicine Trail, Organic Maya Farm, eco-friendly Hilltop Spa and swimming pool are linked by miles of beautiful jungle trails perfect for bird watching, mountain biking, horseback riding, hiking, or just strolling through a pristine rainforest. The canoes remain the most popular way to explore the river and enjoy scenic excursions into San Ignacio Town.  The Chaa Creek region has been a hub of Maya civilisation for thousands of years.   They are now internationally recognised for providing an authentic Maya experience, and already this year played host to leading Mayanist and author Dr Mark Van Stone as well as a team from National Geographic magazine. Throughout 2012 they will be offering unique Maya tours, presentations, events and activities, culminating in the grand Winter Solstice celebrations on December 21.  They offer the Reef and Rainforest Tour where you can combine a true Caribbean getaway with a Maya experience.

Lunch was served by beautiful Mayan ladies dressed in white dresses with bright floral accents.  The dishes were typical of the Latin culture.
Salbutes stuffed with pico de gallo, cabbage, and chicken.

Ceviche with plantain chips.
Chicken soup with cabbage and potatoes.

Xunantanich, located in the Cayo District is the tallest Mayan Ruin in Belize.
We made the steep, but short, climb to the top of "El Castillo." This vantage point provides a breathtaking, 360 degree, panoramic view over the jungle canopy of the Macal, Mopan and Belize River valleys, as well as a vast area of the Guatemalan Peten District, which is only a few miles away. You will also get a close look at the restored portions of two unique stucco friezes, which appear on the east and west sides of the upper portion of the pyramid.
Located in the Cayo District in western Belize, Xunantunich is easily accessible. Most of the lodging facilities in the area offer day trips to the site, which is very popular with all tourists in the region.


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Almond Beach and Iris' Sunny Side Up

Almond Beach is a beautiful property in Hopkins, a small coastal village.  This area has not become overdeveloped and is quiet in the evenings.  Perfect for a family getaway or couple's honeymoon.  A Garifuna population inhabits the town and these friendly people staff the resort.
These pictures give you an idea of the flora and the fauna that surrounds you.

We are staying on the top floor of this incredible villa.

These are individual cabanas located directly on the beach.
A boat dock directly in the front of the property takes you on snorkeling and fishing trips to the nearby South Water Caye and Glover's Reef.
The view from our veranda and an iguana friend that sunbathed in front of our porch each day.

Yesterday we ate a delicious lunch at Iris's Sunny Side Up, a small restaurant in Hopkins village.  The previous owner, Iris, started the restaurant 16 years ago with no running water or electricity.  She still lives upstairs but the restaurant is now owned by a South African woman.  She kept Iris' name. 
Lightly fried Snapper fingers with a ginger sauce and new potatoes.

Fried plantains and black beans with Chicken curry and vegetable.

Iris's Sunny Side Up