La Botella De Leche Hostel
We stayed at the Botella de Leche Hostel in April of 2021 and I visited it in 2012 and 2006. If you have any interest in a hostel, this place is wonderful. This hostel has both dorm rooms and private rooms. We stayed in a private room. It cost $50 per night. Add on 13% tax when paying by credit card. Stock Photo of La Botella Rooms Rooms are simple and much smaller than a typical hotel room, but great for the price. Note that they don’t have hot water in the hostel but the tap is warm enough that the shower is fine once you get used to it. At least in the private rooms, they will give you basic soap, shampoo and towels. They are happy to exchange towels for clean ones whenever you want. They seemed to clean the room once during our 6 night stay, not sure if there is a schedule to that. Also note that their plumbing is not designed for toilet paper. Don’t expect the room to be perfect. The door knob maybe coming off a bit (easy fix after I borrowed a screw driver), there will be chips in the paint, and other minor imperfections. There will be some ants, little spiders and maybe a cockroach or two. They must spray as most of the critters I found in the room were dead. Either deal with this or consider vacationing outside the tropics. The best part of the room is that it has a very powerful “mini-split” style air conditioner. You can adjust the temperature on the remote control and forget that it is 95 degrees outside. Internet The internet seems to work fine in the common areas though not so well in my room. Gym The hostel is one of the few places with a on-site gym. The best part of the gym is that it has working air conditioning. The downside is that it isn’t much else but a large room with some mats, and a few weights. At the time they had a pair of 30lb kettlebells, pair of 20lb kettlebells, some adjustable dumbbells (maybe ~12lbs each or one with ~30lbs) and a pair of ~4lbs dumbbells. They have a good sound system you can plug into and good wifi in the gym, so you can youtube whatever workout you want. Try Caroline Girvan if you are ready for a challenge. They also generally have at least one fitness class a day. Currently they have yoga 2 or 3 mornings a week, some sort of training a couple of afternoons a week, a few pole dancing classes and maybe some other dancing clases. Unfortunately, I never had a chance to take any of their classes. Note that during their classes or when the masseuse has an appointment, you won’t be able to use the gym. Vibe It was extremely friendly and very chill for a hostel. It is NOT a party hostel but still a nice place to meet people. There was no bar onsite and quiet hours start at 11pm (common areas effectively close down except maybe for solo work). Kitchen It had a kitchen that seemed well used but always available. We happened not to use it but I would feel comfortable doing so. While tap water in costa rica is said to be very safe, it is way too warm for my taste without ice. They have a chilled water filler but charge ~$0.40 for a half liter refill and $0.80 for a full liter refill (pretty much my only gripe, though very minor). They also sell bottled water for $0.80 for a half liter and $1.60 for a full liter. Staff / Service The ownership, staff and volunteers were as friendly as could be. I want to specifically call out the following staff: David (2021) - Normally at reception in the afternoons and extremely nice and helpful. He is a Costa Rican with perfect english. He seems to really like his job and is happy to chat when not checking someone in. Julietta (2021) - Julietta is a volunteer normally works reception in the evenings but seems to always be around. She is from Argenitna and spending some time here on a world tour. She is super sweet and helpful. Marcos (2021) - I believe his family owns the Hostel and he seems to be focused on managing the surf school. I didn’t get to know him very well, but seems like a lot of fun. Matias (2021) - Nice guy that is usually at reception in the mornings. Everyone else I interacted with there was wonderful, I just regret that I forgot their names. They have coverage at the front desk 24/7 though call ahead if you want to check in late at night or before 7am. Note that if there isn’t someone at the desk, just wait a minute, someome will probably come over quickly. It won’t always be obvious who is staff and who are guests as pretty much everyone turns into friends and many of the staff will hang out there during their time off (and still happy to help when off the clock). Note that the Botella changed ownership between 2012 and 2021. Back in 2012, the owner, Mariana, was super, super sweet, gives great hugs and speaks great English. Back then a private room was only $30 but, hey, inflation. As seems to be the trend, the former owner’s sons are all surf instructors. Affiliated Services / Staff Surfing - they have an affiliated surf school that also operates out of the Captain Suizo Hotel. Massage - they have a masseuse that operates out of the hotel gym by appointment. Summary I absolutely love this place and would certainly stay again, but you need to be a certain type of low maintenance traveler that priorities experiences and relationships over luxury. La Botella de Leche Avenida Central Frente al Banco 50309 Tamarindo, Guanacaste Province, Costa Rica +506 2653 0189 info@botelladeleche.com Facebook Instagram Read More ›

Surf Lessons in Tamarindo
Tamarindo is an amazing place to learn to surf. You can stand up at the wave break and there aren’t rocks to worry about. The waves are big enough to get up without being overly dangerous. Expert surfers will often sleep in Tamarindo, but go to an adjacent beach to catch bigger waves, beginners don’t need to. Most places on the beach provide group lessons for $45/2 hour session. Some hotels charge even more. However, the best deal on the beach is booking through the Botella de Leche Hostel. I started taking lessons there in 2006 under prior ownership. As of 2021, they are charging only $35/person for a 2-hour group lesson and they have good instructors. Marcos who owns (or family owns) the surf school is good. And Jonas, their primary instructor, is the best. Generally you meet at the Botella de Leche hostel at the appointed time and then walk ~10 minutes to the Captain Suzio hotel on the beach where they store most of their equipment. Includes rash guard (short or long sleeve)and use of a surf board. Instructors are fully bilingual. La Botella de Leche Avenida Central Frente al Banco 50309 Tamarindo, Guanacaste Province, Costa Rica +506 2653 0189 info@botelladeleche.com Facebook Instagram Alternatives Selina Hostel Tamarindo Tour Desk +506 402 055 12 - $45/group session Captain Suzio Hotel - $51/group session (book the same instructor at Botella instead for $35/session) Witch’s Rock Surf Camp - expensive hotel on the beach designed around surf & stay packages. Iguana Surf Camp & Surf Shop - $45 / 2-hour group lesson Back in 2012 I also took lessons from “Fran” (cell: +506 7026-9757). Fran’s mom used to own the Botella de Leche Hostel and is based out of there. He gave my wife and I a great surf lesson. Back then it was $30 for a ~2 hour group lesson. Read More ›

Hilton Garden Inn Liberia Airport – Costa Rica
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Massage in Tamarindo
Tamarindo is a great place to get a massage at a reasonable price. I thought I would share my experiences with two great options. Sandra Sandra works out of the gym at the Botella de Leche Hostel among other places. She is wonderful and easy to talk two. She is from Spain and can speak english fluently. As of 2021, she was charging $45/hour for a regular massage and $55 for deep tissue. La Botella de Leche Avenida Central Frente al Banco 50309 Tamarindo, Guanacaste Province, Costa Rica +506 2653 0189 info@botelladeleche.com Facebook Laydy Laydy is the best deal in Tamarindo for a deep tissue massage. She is strong and willing to work each knot. As of 2021, they are charging $35/hour or $20/half-hour. Tamarindo Massage by the Sea +506 8415-1868 tamarindomassagebythesea@gmail.com Facebook Current as of April 2021 Read More ›

JW Marriott Guanacaste Resort and Spa
The closest major brand to Tamarindo is the JW Marriott Guanacaste Resort & Spa in Hacienda Pinilla on Playa Mansita next to Playa Avellana. At low tide, you can walk from Tamarindo Beach to the JW Marriott in about 1.5 hours though this is not for everyone. I have done it, but it requires crossing an river mouth (there are crocodiles in the rivers and there is a tiny risk that they could get lost and end up at the river mouths) on Playa Langosta, walking over many rocks area between the beaches and probably walking for long stretches without seeing another human. Driving between the JW and Tamarindo takes about 30 minutes as you need to go pretty far inland for the roads to connect. The Marriott’s beach itself is very small, but it is only about 10 minute walk on the beach (at least during low tide) to Playa Avellana which is huge and very nice. At the other end of Playa Avellana (maybe another 10 minutes or so) is a famous restaurant called Lolas which is a great place to have a $10 drink and watch the sun set. Though be careful not to stay too long as you may not want to do the walk back once it is pitch dark. The JW is part of a private golf community Hacienda Pinilla nestled in Marino Las Baulas National Park. I briefly visited in April of 2021. If you are looking for a place to social distance, this is it. On one afternoon there may have been 10 people total in the entire pool area (which they claim to be the largest in Central America). It felt a bit like a ghost town, but many people will like that during COVID. Summary: this would be a great place to go if you have Bonvoy points and like out of the way resorts or even as a place to recharge after spending some days hiking Guanacaste’s national parks or having very full days and nights in Tamarindo. Personally, I would prefer to stay in Tamarindo. While Tamarindo is expensive for Costa Rica, it will feel normal or cheap compared to large US cities and there is plenty of competiton for most every good or service you want. More info on Marriott’s website +506 2681-2000 Pictures from April 2021 Read More ›

Tamarindo Night Market
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The Hostel at Jackson Hole
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Hyatt Regency Maui, Hawaii
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Hawaii Trip
I took my family on a 2 week trip to Hawaii during the 2019 to 2020 holiday season. Itinerary Summary Started the journey on December 17th with a long but well priced flight on AA from Boston(BOS) to Maui(OGG) with an overnight in Philly(PHL) (staying at the Renaissance Philadelphia Airport at a great rate and a nice Titanium upgraded) and stop in Dallas(DFW) for only 30k points per person. Arrived in Maui in the early evening. Reserved a mid-sized car from Avis, but maybe through being nice to the agent or my preferred status, was able to get an upgrade to a Jeep Wrangler, the perfect rental car for Hawaii in my opinion. Stayed at the Aloha Surf Hostel (see review) in Paia from Wed to Sat morning. Paid $185 per night for the “Ohana” shed. Moved to the Hyatt Regency (see review) on Saturday (12/21/20) and stayed through the following Saturday for 20,000 hyatt (transferred from chase) points per room per night. This was a great use of Hyatt points as rooms were going for over $600. On Saturday flew from Maui (OGG) to Kauai (LIH) in the mid afternoon on Hawaiian Airlines using 7,500 AAdvantage points per ticket Checked into the Grand Hyatt (see review) and stayed through Jan 2nd Mid-day on Jan 2nd flew from LIH to LAX on United for $404 per person Reserved a midsized car from National and got a Minivan from the executive aisle so canceled my parent’s reservation for a 2nd car and put 6 of us and our luggage into the Minivan. Stayed at a well priced Marriott in the Valley and got upgraded (Titanium status) to a suite so the 6 of us piled in shortly after midnight to get a bit of sleep Moved to an aunt’s house in the Valley for the next night and got to spend some quality family time Took a direct flight from LAX to BOS midday on Jan 4th using 12,500 Avios points per ticket. Maui Haleakala Volcano On Dec 19th, we left the kids with a babysitter (hostel employee) and drove to the Haleakala Volcano. There is an 11 mile hike starting at the top of the volcano and ending part way down the road though requires a ride from the lot to the top to start the hike. I had done this hike years earlier with my sister-in-law so I knew the ropes. We drove up to a hiker’s parking lot then hitch hiked to the top. After about 10 cars passing by, we got picked up by a women who was looking to hike the Volcano herself. We decided to hike together with a plan to drive her back to her car at the end of the hike. It was a beautiful hike through what looked like Mars to us. Looking down at the clouds we even saw a rainbow. 5 hours later we were back at our car and drove our new friend back to hers. Then headed back to the hostel. Paia Paia is a very nice surf town on the North side of Maui. It is not near any large resorts as it can be rainy, but it is near the big waves and the airport and is very centrally located to get around the island. Paia has a very convinient supermarket about a 5 minute walk to the hostel and plenty of cafes and restaurants, but do note that it is hard to get breakfast before around 8:30am. On Dec 20th, we explorer Paia and some areas close by. We went to Twin Falls, a small waterfall that is at the very beginning on the road to Hana. Has a fruit stand out front and a very short and pretty easy walk to the water, though not quite easy enough to get a stroller all the way down. There wasn’t any Verizon internet by the waterfall and I needed to send an email so backtracked 15 min or so to a store/cafe called “Jaws”. It was a nice place but their internet wasn’t working. Luckily, I was saved by a very nice real estate agent that had a working hot spot. If you are looking for real estate in Maui, let me know and I will introduce you. There are various small shops where you can buy stuff you forgot though at full retail. E.g., $60 bathing suit for a kid. Also not so far from the airport area where there is a Walmart and Target. Paia Bay Coffee Bar - decent cafe with good coffee, though very limited cooking facilities meaning limited hot options. It was also open the earliest in the morning for those transitioning time zones. On our second visit there an order for an ice americano came out hot and they thought that then pouring it over ice was a appropriate fix (ends up too watery). No big deal, but at their prices, I wasn’t expecting that. Charley’s Restaurant & Saloon - fairly traditional american diner breakfast options. Pretty good. Though I think they only have drip coffee if you are looking for something more advanced. Kaanapali On Dec 21st, we left the hostel and drove to the Hyatt Regency on Kaanapali Beach on the northwest of the island to meet up with my extended family. This area is shielded by a mountain range from the rains so stays pretty dry even in the wet season. We stayed at the Hyatt Regency (see review) for a very enjoyable week. The beach was very nice and we enjoyed the resort and some surf lessons nearby. Starbucks - there is a Starbucks in the Marriott on Kaanapli beach which was a 5 minute walk on the boardwalk so we ended up there most mornings. Note that the line could be 20 minutes long during the holidays. Whaler’s Village - Whaler’s Village is an open air mall on Kaanapali beach accessible via the boardwalk from the major hotels, though a bit of a walk. It has a few large restaurants. We at lunch one day at Leilanli’s and it was very nice. They also have a low end food court (Subway, etc.) and a few other food options including Acai kiosk. There is also a cookie store where if you walk in and say “Airport” they will give you a cookie for free (you can also sample mini cookies). There are various retailers there as well. We checked into the boxing day sale at LuLuLemon for forgotten sportswear. Road to Hana Went with part of the family for a round trip to Hana. We got lucky with great whether. This is the second time I have done this road (years earlier I did it as a full loop) and the big lesson learned is that there just isn’t enough time to enjoy it in one day. If I ever did it again, I would certainly either bring camping equipment or book a room in Hana for the night. The drive along from Kaapapali to Hana if you didn’t stop is over 3 hours each way and the whole point is to stop a lot. With 6 hours dedicated to just driving, there isn’t really that much daylight left to enjoy. We used the Shaka Guide audio tour app (something like $30 to buy all of the Maui tours). While the speaker could be a bit annoying with bad jokes, it was very nice to be guided. He had some wonderful ideas. We first stopped back in Paia at the Hana Picnic Lunch Company. They seemed to be set up to sell picnic lunches for people doing the road. There selection is limited, there is some food on the road to Hana and by the time you get to lunch, the food may already be bad unless you have a cooler (which, of course, they will sell you). Instead, I would pack a lot of dry trail mix that you can eat if you don’t happen by a nice lunch on the road at the right time. We stopped at a waterfall that I forgot its name. Went the wrong way in the woods for a while with my 7 year old daughter and 70 year old father so not the most fun, but eventually found the first waterfall. Though by then we weren’t in the mood to get above it. We stopped at a “Secret” Lava Tube Cave, kind of cool to walk through. Would be nice to have a flashlight, but the phone’s worked well enough for this very short walk. We stopped at various state park waypoints for quick views from the car. We made it to the black sand beach shortly before dark. It was really cool for the kids to play in the black sand and see the roaring waves (certainly not a swimming beach). There were a lot of people camping nearby which made me jealous as I still had a 3 hour drive back to the hotel in the dark. Finally making it to Hana, we looked for the red sand beach before dark, but didn’t make it. We then grabbed some dinner at a local restaurant. Read More ›

Grand Hyatt Kauai, Hawaii
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Aloha Surf Hostel, Maui, Hawaii
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Smuggler's Notch (Summer)
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JW Marriott Venice
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Free $15 from Lyft
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Discounts for Brazilians
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Hilton & Waldorf Bonnet Creek – Orlando, FL
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Tamarindo and Liberia, Costa Rica
See lessons learned from my trip with my wife to Tamarindo Beach in Guanacaste, Cost Rica and the surrounding area. Read More ›

Tenorio National Park – Costa, Rica
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Rincon de la Vieja National Park
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Best Western Vista Villas – Tamarindo, Costa Rica
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Free Travel Genius Kiva Challenge
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The Phoenician and Scottsdale, AZ
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Liberty Hotel – Boston, MA
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California Trip 2010
Our 2010 trip to California including hiking along the Pacific Coast Highway in Big Sur, a jam packed day in San Francisco, and a relaxing weekend in Napa Valley, biking around, sipping wine, eating well and seeing old friends. Includes detailed hotel and restaurant reviews. Read More ›

Israel Trip
My wife and I decided to take a last minute trip to Israel since we just got an infusion of over 200k Delta points by combining offers from two American Express cards with a Membership Rewards transfer bonus. Read on to hear about our travels to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, the north and more along with our luxury hotel, budget hostel and car rental experiences. Read More ›

Hilton Amsterdam
My wife and I stayed at the Hilton in Amsterdam for one night last week. It was a very nice place, but beware of its location, it is nowhere close to the center of Amsterdam. Although I believe it is technically in the city, it feels like a close by suburb. They do treat Diamonds well, however. Read More ›

Climbing Kilimanjaro with Zara Tours
My wife and I summited Uruhu Peak of Kilimanjaro on July 10, 2011 at 7:06AM. It was a very exciting. For those considering a similar trip, I would like to share my thoughts. Air The trick is to fly into Kilimanjaro Airport (JRO). JRO is half way between Moshi and Arusha (apx. 30 minutes from each), the two cities that Kili trips are based out of. The alternative is to fly to Dar Es Salam or Nairobi and take either a puddle jumper or a long bus ride. The only flight from outside the region to JRO is a once a day flight by KLM from Amsterdam (AMS). Delta has multiple direct flights from Boston to AMS, so the whole trip only required one stop each way. The best part of all is that we were able to do the trip on miles (80,000 delta miles per person round trip). I was able to get 150k of the 160k miles we needed from the Platinum American Express Card. Basically, Amex offered 100,000 Membership Rewards points for getting the card and then Delta offerred a 50% bonus on MR transfers netting 150,000 miles. Keep your eyes on my credit card blog for more ideas like that. Or if you are getting your ticket directly with FlyingBlue points, you can top up your points here. Climb Choosing an operator is a bit difficult. There are travel companies around the world advertising Kili trips, but almost all of them appear to use a local operator. Save your sell a couple of thousand and book direct. Read More ›

Doubletree Times Square (Hilton)
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Element Lexington Hotel
The Element Lexington hotel by Westin (Starwood) is great if you have a need to be in the western or northwestern suburbs of Boston. The Element is a great concept. Very functional rooms, fairly good free meals and green tog boot. However, they are not a business friendly hotel (as much as they think they may be). The hotel needs to have the option of a direct dial phone line. Charge us $1 a day or something, but if someone is staying for an extended period, they should have a phone number. And now with Google Voice, we really need it. The Element claims to be an extended stay option, but charges full service hotel level outrageous rates for a domestic calls? A call into the same metro area (e.g., Boston), costs $1.50/minute! you need to renew your internet every day (even for wired!). This makes many applications unusable. For example, logmein/citrix/remote desktop in the case you leave your machine in the room and want to be able to login to it from your jobsite. Also, imagine being in the middle of a video conference and lose your connection since it happens to be 24 hours after you last re-upped your connection. they need more staff – the front desk doesn’t always pick up the phone. Certainly consider some type of VOIP (e.g., Vonage, Skype) solution if you are there long-term. Element Lexington 727 Marrett Road – B Lexington, MA 02421 USA +1 (781) 761-1750 Read More ›

Mekong Delta Bike Tour with Sinh Balo Adventure
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M.A.X. Pass – Unlimited Skiing
Get nearly unlimited skiing for $599 with M.A.X. Pass. Includes 25 mountains. See article for a detailed review of all of the worthy mountains on the pass. Read More ›