Traditionally the bulk of tourists have travelled to Canada and the USA, but with the World Cup past and Olympics coming up in Brazil, a lot more people are turning their attention to the southern part of the American continent.
Of course, Brazil is just one possible destination in South and Central America, with Costa Rica holidays providing a fantastic alternative for anyone looking to enjoy the tropical landscapes of the region, minus the crowds attending these major sporting events over the next couple of years.
Here are just some of the exotic attractions you can enjoy south of the US border:
Costa Rica has a beautiful lush jungle interior, which transports the visitor to another world. The crisp, clean air is filled with the sound of exotic birds – it’s a million miles from the grit of city living. Lose yourself for hours walking muddy pathways through the trees, far from the madding crowd.
These forests harbour thousands of species – making Costa Rica the most biodiverse country on earth relative to its size. Among the five per cent of the Earth’s biodiversity that is squeezed into just 0.03 per cent of its surface area are incredible birds such as the rare resplendent quetzal, the keel-billed toucan and scarlet macaws. Mammals thrive here too, including the three-toed sloth, the howler monkey and the elusive jaguar.
Running down the spine of the country is a chain of volcanic mountains, some dormant and some active, ready to erupt spectacularly at any moment. Arguably the most impressive of these is the perfect cone of Volcan Arenal in La Fortuna, which has adorned a thousand postcards. Visitors can walk its lava-strewn foothills, while nearby Cerro Chato is safe to climb. At the top lies a magical crater lake – a fine reward for a steep hike in sweaty conditions.
Boasting two coastlines, Costa Rica has more than its fair share of exotic beaches. White sand backed by palm trees, warm waters teeming with marine life and waves to tempt surfers from across the globe await on both the Pacific and Caribbean sides of the country. The beach is the perfect destination when the sun is shining – as it frequently does during the long dry season.
If you like adventure sports, you’ll love what Costa Rica has to offer. Zip line over the treetops, raft down raging rivers, surf the breakers on the coast, hike up volcanoes and ride through the countryside on horseback – you certainly won’t be bored.
In between adrenaline-pumping adventures, there are plenty of opportunities to relax. Take a soak in the thermal pools or have a massage among the trees in La Fortuna, Costa Rica’s premier spa town, or head to a yoga retreat on the Nicoya Peninsula.
What other country can you think of that follows an ethos of ‘pure living’? Pura vida is the motto of the Ticos (the locals), who use it as a greeting, a farewell, an expression of positivity and to give thanks. It encourages people to live life to the full and appreciate the beauty around them, of which there is plenty in Costa Rica. But it’s also the perfect holiday mantra, so use it liberally on your trip.
Coming from the South East of England meant that each and every day I could see France, that’s a fact that some people struggle to believe but trust me I could see our neighbour’s coastline on a daily basis! The Dover ferry port was only twenty minutes away so my friends and I would use any excuse we could to take a day trip over to Calais and beyond. Of course we always used to bring the car along with us, I mean who wouldn’t? There’s tastier food, cheaper wine and lots more for you to bring back home! Having done the trip on several occasions I can tell you that I learnt some essential things about driving over on ‘the continent’ some of which I wish I knew before we headed off.
I know that heading off with your car to Europe is very exciting and something that we all look forward to but that’s no excuse to forget about safety and make sure that you are fully prepared for the trip ahead. Some of my advice might seem very straightforward and simple, you would however be very surprised how many people make these mistakes. The best way to have fun driving in Europe is to make sure that nothing goes wrong so here are the things you should definitely not leave off your checklist!
The driving licence
Yes, quite an obvious one this for most people. There are a lot of us who may not have it on us when we drive at and therefore will forget to take it with us before we hop on the ferry, you cannot forget it! If the police stop ask then you must be able to show it and if you want to hire a car then it goes with out saying that it is one hundred percent essential.
Check your insurance
More often than not car insurance will cover you for short periods of time when driving abroad usually that’s 14 days or so, but you have to check your cover before you leave and make sure that it’s valid for all of the countries that you will visit. I learnt that you should always add an extra drive to your insurance for the trip, you never know when you will be too tired or even ill to drive.
Get your breakdown cover in order
Nearly everyone has got some form of breakdown cover for when they are in the UK, this doesn’t mean that you will automatically be covered in Europe. We always chose European breakdown cover from the AA, always fantastic and always reliable. Having that extra peace of mind when you are driving to the hotel or stock up your boot is well worth it!
No matter where in Spain you are planning to visit on your holiday, tapas is one thing that you absolutely have to try. Ordering a host of small dishes and sharing them among friends, while drinking some sangria or wine, is one of the quintessential Spanish experiences.
As the capital city, Madrid is a wonderful place to come for a holiday thanks to its plethora of artistic, cultural and historical attractions, not to mention its cosmopolitan vibe and bustling nightlife. Naturally, the city is home to numerous tapas bars – we’re going to talk you through a few of the best, as well as give you some tips for making the most of your tapas.
One of the best pieces of advice when it comes to eating tapas is to get stuck in. You don’t need to stand on ceremony with this kind of food – and you can certainly mix your dishes if you want. As it’s usually eaten with friends, it’s an incredibly sociable meal and a fantastic way to sample a host of authentic Spanish flavours in one go.
In fact, the next tip is to be adventurous – tapas is designed to be served in small portions, so you can order some of your favourites along with a few bits and pieces you may never have tried before. If you don’t like them, chances are someone else will.
You should also check whether you actually need to pay for tapas – in some bars, little plates of tasty snacks will be provided free of charge. Of course, this means you won’t have the same level of choice as you would if you were ordering and paying, but it’s a brilliant way to sample tapas like the locals and stave off hunger along the way.
Where to go for tapas
There are, unsurprisingly, lots of tapas bars in Madrid, so you won’t be short of choice if you want to sample this quintessential Spanish meal during your holiday in the capital. The following are a few of the best places, but they are by no means the only ones you should consider.
Bodega de la Ardosa – This is one of Madrid’s classic spots for tapas and, having been here for over a century, the pedigree of Bodega de la Ardosa speaks for itself. Step inside and you’ll be greeted by a cosy interior where the drinks flow freely and the tapas tastes amazing.
Taberna Tempranillo – The first thing that will strike you about Taberna Tempranillo is the vast rack of Spanish wines behind the bar. Choose your tipple from its extensive selection and then sit back and enjoy the delicious tapas on offer. It gets busy here, so it’s sensible to arrive close to 8pm, when the bar opens, if you want to get a seat.
Vi Cool – Vi Cool isn’t a standard tapas bar, what’s on offer here is gourmet tapas that uses many of the staple Spanish ingredients in an inventive way. Catalan chef Sergi Arola has certainly put his mark on the menu. The interior is cool and chic, without being overly showy – and it attracts Madrid’s trendy crowd once the sun goes down.
Regardless of what food you want to sample during your trip to Madrid, make sure you get the best deal on your accommodation so you have plenty of spare cash to enjoy all that this vibrant city has to offer. Hotelopia is a good place to look for top deals.