From blue-footed boobies and howling monkeys to spewing volcanos and black sand beaches, a family vacation to either of these two adventure meccas is sure to create long-lasting family memories.

In Costa Rica

1. Visit Tortuguero National Park.

One of the best parks in Costa Rica, this is a major nesting area for the green sea turtle as well as home to more than 300 species of birds, including herons and kingfishers, monkeys (howler, spider, and white-faced capuchin), sloths, caiman, iguanas, frogs, and butterflies.

2. Go batty.

Learn about bats at Costa Rica’s Tirimbina Biological Reserve. Bats represent almost 50% of the mammals in Costa Rica (113 species). You’ll find out about the natural history of these curious creatures as well as their adaptations, reproduction and how they are captured for research.

3. Raft The Rio Sarapiqui.

Enjoy the thrill of Class II and III whitewater amidst Costa Rica’s beautiful scenery while observing abundant wildlife beyond the water’s edge.

4. Explore Arenal Volcano National Park.

Hop aboard the Sky Tram Gondola and check out the Arenal Volcano and Arenal Lake.
Next up: ride ten zip lines down for the ultimate adrenaline rush.

In Ecuador

5. Discover Otavalo.

  Home to one of the most popular indigenous markets in South America, your family will long remember the colorful Ecuadoran market, brimming with handmade items sold by the native people in traditional dress.

6. Visit Punta Pitt.

 This is one of the only sites in the Galápagos where the three species of the famous boobies can be found, along with two frigate species, plus a colony of bachelor sea lions along the beach.

7. See Santa Fe Island.

Find out who will be “Beach Master” among the sea lions. Snorkel and swim or observe the sea life from a glass bottom boat. Check out the native land iguanas that are unique to this island.

8.Sleep aboard a cool ship.

Travel by night. Explore new islands and habitats by day. (Families will like the quadruple cabins) Tilt your head to see an albatross cross the sky overhead. Sleep well, rocked to sleep by extraordinary natural beauty.

Published in Go Global

 

For an update on ash, lava, steam and smoke, visit a volcano. These five destinations provide a multifaceted opportunity to get outside and learn more about planet Earth.

1 Arenal Observatory Lodge, Costa Rica.

Wake to a chorus of tropical wildlife on this volcanic wonder. The majestic centerpiece of a rich rainforest setting can be observed from most guest rooms, the dining room and an expansive deck. Horseback riding, biking and hiking trails wind through old lava fields and soft jungle trails where howling monkeys, slithering snakes, butterflies and colorful birds beckon visitors. The last major eruption of Arenal took place in 1968. Austin Lehman Adventures offers great family tours to the region. 

Contact: www.austinlehman.com

2 Mount St. Helens, Washington.

 On March 20, 1980, an earthquake of 4.2 magnitude reawakened this volcano, leading to the May 18 collapse and eruption. Today, families visiting the National Volcanic Monument can learn more about the geologic and biologic history of the area though interpretive talks, walks and theater presentations. Hiking, biking and helicopter tours also provide an expansive view of the region’s recovery. Ask about the Music on the Mountain series scheduled for this summer at the Johnson Ridge Observatory. 

Contact: fs.usda.gov/detail/mount sthelens/home?cid=stelprdb 5160336 

3 Katmai National Park and Preserve, Alaska.

  Accessible only by float plane or boat, this remote park is located on the Alaskan Peninsula near Kodiak Island. Spanning nearly 5 million acres, the protected region is the site of the Novarupta volcano’s 1912 eruption, considered to be the 20th century’s most powerful and heard as far away as Juneau. Today, visitors come to observe the dense population of brown bears and to fish for trophy rainbow trout, salmon and Dolly Varden trout that run in Katmai’s streams and rivers. During the summer months, meals and lodging are available at Brooks Lodge, a popular spot for bear viewing. The National Park Service also staffs a visitor center and offers interpretive programs. 

Contact: nps.gov/katm/index.htm 

4 Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii.

The historic Volcano House reopens this summer after a recent renovation, offering families the opportunity to wake to a magnificent sunrise over one of the world’s most active volcanoes. The only lodging option within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on Hawaii Island, the hotel rests on the rim of Kilauea caldera with a view toward Halemaumau crater. Learn about active volcanism, the region’s biological diversity and Hawaiian culture through driving and walking tours as well as the Junior Ranger program. Ask about helicopter and boat tours. 

Contact: 1-866-536-7972; nps.gov/havo/index.htm 

5 Yellowstone National Park.

The landscape that became America’s first national park in 1872 experienced the first of three volcanic eruptions 2.1 million years ago. More than 640,000 years have passed since the most recent blowup. Although not currently erupting, the molten rock beneath the surface of the park is active and has recently caused the closure of roads near the most famous geysers. Visit this wonderland to learn more about what bubbles below and to see the herds of bison, elk, grizzly bears and wolves that make this park so popular. 

Contact: nps.gov/yell/index.htm; 1-866-439-7375

 

Published in Explore

Since the early 1900s, the Izalco Volcano northwest of San Salvador remained active, emitting steam and heat into the atmosphere. It was such a popular site from neighboring Cerro Verde Mountain that the government decided to build a resort at the top of Cerro Verde, but there was a problem. Three witches who lived at the base of the mountain asked the resort not be built because it was a sacred mountain.

Well who cares about a bunch of witches, certainly not the Salvadoran government, and it told the witches it would proceed with the development. The witches put a curse on the project and sure enough after it was completed Izalco Volcano went quiet.

Eventually the resort went quiet as well. Today, when people go to the summit of Cerro Verde, whether for a picnic or simply to enjoy the salubrious mountain air, they usually end up climbing around the boarded-up resort as if it was a Mayan ruin.

I’m not sure what happened to the resort, but to my mind it still seemed like the perfect place to have a lodge of some sort. The air is cooler than in San Salvador, the views of Izalco are still there, and the ride to the summit is absolutely a treat. 

Lake Coatepeque 

Just before the mountains is a massive crater formed by volcanic eruption years before. Over the centuries water accumulated, forming, in this almost perfectly circular geographic structure, Lake Coatepeque. From high above, as you look down into the lake, you notice a small island had formed and that the edges of the lake were dotted with private, vacation homes including one belonging to the president of the country.

From the waters of the Coatepeque, the cone rises up sharply. It’s all very wooded now, from the water’s edge to the peak circumference of the cone and as I looked about, the top of the cone seemed to be a thin line of rock, but I was wrong because the road to Cerro Verde was along one of the conical sides of the old volcano. It was a two-lane thoroughfare that followed the circumference geography and in its simplicity a nice piece of engineering, although I was fairly sure the ancient civilizations, the Mayans or the Olmecs, probably had created the first path along the very same route.

Later, on the road back from Cerro Verde, my guide and I would stop for a lunch at a restaurant with an overlook of the lake – one of the great sites in a land of many great vistas not much visited by non-Salvadorans. 

A Land of Volcanoes 

I’m told by my guide that El Salvador counts 25 volcanoes, which is an extraordinary for such a small country. The land there is restless. Every once in a while it all comes to life either through an eruption, earthquake, landslide or any combination thereof. We are not talking dinosaur life but in modern times. The last volcanic eruption in El Salvador was in 2005.

If one looks at the topography of the capital city, the population sits in a broad valley between a couple of high peaks, one of which is a volcano, and the other, La Puerta Del Diablo (The Devil’s Door) is a popular park area that really completed its geographic formation early in the 1700s when landslides reformed the mountainside. Today, La Puerta Del Diablo is framed by two immense rock formations, the highest of which is 3,250 feet and is a major climbing location. For the rest of us, there is a short trail to a cavern. Make the walk because the view from there is stunning. On a clear day, you may not be able to see forever, but you can see to the Pacific Ocean.

The most visible volcano from the city is the defining peak of San Salvador, the Boqueron Volcano at Cerro El Picacho at almost 6,328 feet. At the summit is the popular El Boqueron National Park, with the most visible attraction being the immense crater. A tourist trail with look-out points wraps around the conical summit. The crater can’t be entered without a guide, but even without that excitement the view from the top is worth it as oddly, within the larger crater is a smaller, distinctive crater at the bottom of the formation.

El Salvador’s volcanic peaks seem to come in bunches. Probably the most accessible, historically significant and picturesque are in the mountain ranges to west. I skirted the mountains, heading along what is sometimes called the Mayan Route, since this was an area settled by the Mayans after the volcanic eruption in a nearby lake region. My first stop was the ruins of Joya de Ceren, a relatively recent discovery. Unlike the big Mayan ruins stretching throughout Central America from Honduras to southern Mexico, Joya de Ceren, was not a ceremonial place but a living area that was covered by volcanic ash. As a result, this site is one the few places where archaeologists go to learn what common-folk, Mayan life was life. 

The Ruins of El Tazumal 

Further to the northwest can be found the much grander ruins of El Tazumal, which looks much like the great Mayan ruins of ceremonial places found elsewhere in Central America. Tazumsl is not as tall, as say, Tikal in Guatemala, looking more like a squat palace, but its impressive nevertheless. There is a small but wonderful museum on the site, where resides the largest Mayan ceramic statue ever found.

After La Tazumal, I headed southwest in the heart of Mayan mountain country, but now dotted by many small villages, basically unchanged from their Spanish heritage. I stayed two nights in the cheery Ahuachapan, temporarily residing in the town’s fanciest accommodation, but in American lexicon, just a bed & breakfast, which was built out of a traditional, one-story colonial habitat. The proprietress, a former beauty queen, decorated the place with bits of antiques, arts and crafts and family heirlooms.

From my base in Ahuachapan, I spent a day visiting the villages of Apaneca, Juayua, Salcoatitan and Nahuizalco. All the villages are connected by a two-lane mountain road that looked precarious at best, but never slowed down the local drivers or pedestrians. On the road out of Nuizalco you should actually slow down and find the overlook along the side of the road. From this single spot you can see seven volcanoes. Five in a long line and two more in the distance.

Coffee Country

This is coffee country and just for something different to do, I stopped by the coffee plantation called the Carmen Estate for a lesson as to how coffee is grown and prepared – and I have to say, to get from seed to the coffee bean we know, is a lot more complicated than I imagined. I got to help “sweep” the seedlings into drying position using not a traditional broom, but one with a flat wooden face instead of a brush. My reward, a fresh-brewed coffee from locally grown beans. It was like drinking a fine cognac.

The steep mountains look lush and green, but if you look closely this is mostly coffee being grown on the mountainsides and divided into plots by other types of vegetation. Coffee has been a blessing and a curse to El Salvador. Beginning in the late 1800s, it became the country’s first major cash crop, but when the market collapsed after World War I and with the coming of the global depression, thousands of native peoples were thrown out of work. They rebelled only to be slaughtered by the tens of thousands.

There is a small cultural center in Juayua that is in effect a museum of the genocide.

The conflicts of the 1930s in a sense festered and grew until the 1980s when the country entered into 12-year civil war.

In Apaneca, my guide took me to visit the home a friend who had been part of the guerilla support network during the civil war. Surprisingly, the home was chock-a-block with crafts, collectibles and bits of antiquity. With thousands of years of Mayan civilization and then Spanish domination beginning the 1500s, there seems to be so much antiquity about that I had not gone into an El Salvadoran home that didn’t have something that looked like it belonged in a museum.

Although the old revolutionary was quite proud of his collection, I took a picture of him not alongside his treasures but standing near a large, iconic photograph – of Che Guevara.  

IF YOU GO:  

GETTING THERE:

Coming from Phoenix, I flew first to Los Angeles International where I got a direct flight to San Salvador via Taca Airlines. www.taca.com 

WHERE TO STAY:

My first two nights in San Salvador, I stayed at the Holiday Inn, near to the American Embassy (www.holidayinn.com). In San Salvador, I also stayed one night at the Hotel Mirador Plaza, a beautiful, boutique hotel favored by businessmen and occasional celebrities (www.miradorplaza.com). In the village of Ahuachapan, my accommodation was the Hotel Casa de Mamapan, a pleasant Salvadoran version of a historic inn ( http://lacasademamapan.com). Finally, a real surprise was the ultra-modern La Cocotera Resort on the shores of the Pacific Ocean (http://www.lacocoteraresort.com). 

GUIDES:

I was traveling alone and Salvadorean Tours (www.salvadoreantours.com ) arranged not only my itinerary but furnished me with a car and driver the whole time I was in El Salvador. Excellent service all around.

Published in Go Global

Summer is a time for exploration.

Check out these five places to uncover grand, new adventures:

1 Learn about life in Cuba.

With a strong focus on lifelong learning, Road Scholar educational adventures provide multigenerational travel opportunities in 50 states and 150 countries around the world. Now, you can travel to Cuba, where you’ll have the opportunity to meet with local community leaders, artists and local families to discuss the changes under way. Crafted for children 9 and older, and their adult family members, you’ll also visit local landmarks and sample local dance, music and cuisine.

Contact: 1-800-454-5768; www.roadscholar.org

2 Head south to ski.

Consider trading ho-hum summer heat for the thrill of South American high country. From June through October, you can access premier powder in Chile and Argentina. The pros from U.S.-based Powder Quest can help you choose from snow ski tours, instruction-based outings and snowboard adventures in pristine mountain environments. There are also cat-skiing and heli-skiing options to provide a dual altitude and adrenaline fix.

Contact: 1-888-565-7158; www.powderquest.com

3 Dive the Great Blue Hole, Ambergris Caye, Belize.

Scuba enthusiasts are eager to dive this large submarine sinkhole once explored by Jacques Cousteau. Located near the center of Lighthouse Reef, the Great Blue Hole is part of the large Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, a World Heritage site.

Experienced divers have the opportunity to see remarkable limestone formations as well as several species of shark in the crystal waters. The dive destination is 60 miles from Ambergris Caye; working with an experienced and reputable outfitter is essential. Las Terrazas Resort is a family-friendly condo-style hotel adjacent to the White Sands Dive Shop, where Professional Association of Diving Instructors-certified owner Elbert Greer will ensure your dive experience is top-notch.

Contact: www.lasterrazasresort.com; www.whitesandsdiveshop.com; www.travelbelize.org

4 Visit a castle, County Mayo, Ireland.

Ashford Castle, built in the 13th century on the banks of the Lough Corrib and the River Cong, was once a monastery and later served as the Guinness family home.

Check in with children 2 and younger and you’ll find a teddy bear and a full supply of baby care items waiting. Older children have their own bathrobes to get cozy after a day spent exploring the spacious grounds. Go for a private Hawk Walk, ride horses or learn the history of falconry with on-site experts. Plan to fly-fish for brown trout and salmon with Orvis-endorsed guides.

Contact: ashford.ie; www.discoverireland.com

5 Relax on the Long Beach Peninsula, Wash. A longtime favorite family beach destination, Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula is known for its lodging options, great birding, digging for razor clams, fishing and kite-flying.

It’s also known for beach-driving. You can ride horses on the beach, go whale watching, enjoy area festivals and hike nearby trails.

Contact: 1-800-451-2542; funbeach.com

Published in Go Global

 ft chaa creek butterfly

Family-friendly lodges provide an activity-rich haven for the adventuresome clan.

Here are five places you’ll want to visit time and again:

The Lodge at Chaa Creek. Near San Ignacio, Belize. Prince Harry chose this remarkable, riverside eco-lodge as headquarters during his recent visit to the jungles of this Central American country. Tucked within a 365-acre private rainforest paradise in the picturesque foothills of the Maya Mountains, Chaa Creek provides the ideal home base for your family’s exploration of the Cayo District, a region where cave tubing, archeological sites, horseback riding and zip lining will lure you from the comfort of your palm-thatched cottage or tree-top suite. While at the Lodge, don’t miss early morning bird watching tours, the hill-top spa, the Blue Morpho Butterfly Farm and the medicine trail where you’ll learn about the native plants that provide globally significant remedies. Contact: (877) 709-8708; www.ChaaCreek.com.  

Skytop Lodge. Skytop, PA. A top spot for family reunions, this Poconos Mountain resort has been welcoming guests to their 5,500 acre playground since the 1920s. In addition to golf, canoeing, kayaking, biking, naturalist led hikes, rafting and paintball, families can explore the newly opened Tree Top Adventure course. Expect high-energy fun that includes zip lines, suspended bridges, nets, swings and an aerial surf board. Ask about the Camp in the Clouds for kids. Contact: 800 -345 -7759; www.Skytop.com

The Lodge at Devil’s Thumb Ranch, Tabernash, CO. No need to leave Fido behind when you travel to this Rocky Mountain getaway 65 miles from Denver. Here, the lodge folks encourage kids to use their “outside voices” because that’s where they will want to spend their time. Whether the junior set is exploring on foot, horseback or mountain bike, there is plenty of country to cover on this 5,000 acre ranch where rustic charm meets luxurious comfort. Grown ups may opt for spa or fly rod time while kids get to know other youngsters in the Cowpoke Camp. The junior set will be engaged with active games, mountaineering and orienteering as well as learning about Native American culture. Contact: 970-726-5632; www.devilsthumbranch.com 

The Whiteface Lodge.  Lake Placid, NY. Relax in luxury amidst the Adirondack wilderness. Here, the Lodge concierge can help you and your clan mix hiking, fly fishing, canoeing, and rock climbing into your family holiday. Splash in the pools, bowl, play platform tennis or enjoy the spa. During the summer months, kids ages three to 14 can tap into a full range of activities provided by the complimentary KAMP KANU. After sunset, a fine dining experience awaits the parents while the youth crew enjoys a pizza dinner as well as themed activities that range from Pirates at Play to Space Night. End the evening roasting marshmallows with your family around the campfire. Contact: (518) 523-0500; www.thewhitefacelodge.com/

The Lodge at Tiburon. Tiburon, CA. Visit this quaint Northern California sailing town for a taste of seaside history. Enjoy magnificent waterfront shopping, galleries, dining and bike paths where your family can cycle in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge. A perfect jumping off place for side trips to San Francisco, Muir Woods, Stinson Beach, Sausalito, and Napa Valley, the California Craftsman-style Lodge offers 103-rooms, complimentary wi-fi, DVD rentals, and fitness center. Bike rentals are also free and your pets are welcome. Contact: 800-762-7770www.lodgeattiburon.com.

Published in Lodges & Inns

Learn to sail or relax and let the wind ( and your ship’s captain ) set your course. Spending time on the water gives family travelers a chance to reconnect and see the world from a different point of view.

Here are seven ways to set sail with your family on board:

1.Out The Front Door. Beautiful resorts like the Palau Pacific Resort, in Micronesia, offer colorful sailboats for the use of their guests. Relax on the beach, then invite one of your family members to share time on the water. (Go ahead. Race! ) This enchanting 160-room resort opened in 1984 on the site of a WW2 Japanese Seaplane base. Abiding by Palauan law, it was constructed no higher than the tallest coconut tree on the property and provides a picturesque, natural setting for a family holiday. Plan to spend time at the spa, snorkel, dive, kayak, hike nature trails and of course, sail! Contact: www.palauppr.com.

2. Hop on a Maine Schooner. Uniting their passion for historic windjammers with delectable food and top side fun, this “mom and pop” entrepreneurial pair (mom is the gourmet chef, pop is on deck) will share their love for the Maine coast with you and your family aboard the J&E Riggin. Book three, four or six day outings. Pitch in or chill out – the choice is yours. Contact: 1-800-869-0604; www.MaineWindJammer.com. 

3. Darwin’s Destination. Have you seen the blue-footed boobies? If not, set sail through the Galapagos Islands where the water and islands are teeming with exotic and colorful wildlife. It’s a trip of a lifetime. Contact: 1-800-941-8010; www.BoundlessJourneys.com 

4. Turkish Delight. Wander through small coastal villages. Explore hidden rock coves, wooded inlets and magnificent ruins from the Roman, Greek, Byzantine and Ottoman empires. Guests explore the coast and learn from local guides. This 15-day adventure is hand-crafted by ROW founder, Peter Grubb, and provides active exploration on the Aegean Sea and Lycian Shore. Departures: June, September, October. Contact: 800-451-6034; www.RowInternational.com 

5. On Your Own. Sail from Tortola , St. Martin , St. Lucia , Canouan , Belize , Baja or the Bahamas and enjoy relaxing days on tranquil seas. The Moorings provides sea worthy vessels, enabling families to sail on their own or hire a crew. Contact: 1-888-952-8420; www.moorings.com.

6.Small ship. Big luxury. Board a small ship and set sail for the Mediterranean, Greek Isles, Caribbean, Costa Rica, or through the Panama Canal. Windstar Cruises operates three sailing yachts known for their pampering without pretense and their ability to visit the hidden harbors and secluded coves of the world’s most treasured destinations. Best for older children. Contact: 1-800-258-7245; www.windstarcruises.com.

7. Great Lakes Getaway. Spend a few hours or a few days aboard a charming, but floating “bed and breakfast”. Sailing from Traverse City, Michigan, you’ll enjoy the grandeur of the Great Lakes from a majestic sailing vessel. Contact: 1-800-678-0383; www.TallShipSailing.com 

 

School's Out For Summer

Ahhhh.... The vibrant sound of the school bell on a mid-afternoon June day is exhilarating.  It signals to rambunctious youth that 20 year-old textbooks, chewing gum-covered desks and tedious homework can all be left behind for a new summer of adventures.  Most kids reflect upon the sultry beaches and crowded amusement parks that they will visit.  But it is different in my family.
My dreams are not of the wonders of silky sand caressing my toes.  Instead I dream of adventure--- rich experiences I can take home with me.  I dream of foreign culture--- exotic encounters in unique communities.  In my family, that unreachable daydream can become a reality overnight. And it did.
It was like I was in a trance, because the next thing I knew, a jungle of mysterious creatures surrounded me. I felt the eyes of the wild animals tracking my every move.  It seemed in this Costa Rican paradise, a blink of an eye can change everything.
 
Into The Jungle
                                           
At one moment I was suspended hundreds of feet in the air, whooshing through a blur of foliage as I glided 2,000 feet over the gorgeous green canopy on my zipline cable.  Volcanoes on all sides hemmed me in, as I took in this rare aerial panoramic view.  Sooner than I thought possible, I found myself riding a roller coaster of whitewater bouncing from boulder to boulder in my humble little vessel -- a rubber inner tube.  It was like hitching a ride inside an aquatic pinball machine.  The next thing I knew, I was strolling the simple, funky city streets of coastal Tortuguera, walking by fluorescent-colored buildings and photographing its lively culture. 
 
Meeting The Monkey
 
I was even lucky enough to encounter two beautiful treetop-clinging mammals.  Before long I caught an almost perfect glimpse of an elusive, wild monkey.

At first it seemed the beast was deliberately antagonizing me, with its mocking howls echoing for miles.  Suddenly, I spotted his full head, which appeared with a surprised expression.  I was thrilled to meet my ancient cousin.  And, just when I thought I had reached the height of wildlife-spotting fortune, the clownish grin of a three-toed sloth came into view; the "lazy animal"  (his nickname amongst the indigenous people) only leaves the top of his canopy perch for a weekly defecation ceremony.

High Energy Adventure

While it may not have been a thoroughly relaxing trip, it was just the perfect tempo for an energetic family like ours.
In fact, I was in Central America to teach photography along with my father for Tauck Bridges- a fun-filled, family-focused program run by a high-end, luxury tour company (You can watch my photo/video presentation about the trip here- http://bit.ly/ontJsd). With my mom an accomplished writer, and my dad an award-winning travel journalist, I have been part of a creative and artistic family since birth. Becoming a photographer was a natural path and seemed an obvious progression that was bound to happen. I got into the art young, having always been transfixed by my father's work.

The Adventure Continues 

The end of our one-week Tauck adventure wasn't really the end of our Central American exploration, it was more like an introduction. Continuing our journey through Costa Rica, we made a luxurious two-day "pit stop" at the Tabacon Resort and Spa. Situated near Arenal Volcano, this dreamlike lodge hosts an array of luxuriant lava-fed hot spring pools and waterfalls deep within the rain forest.  

On To Nicaragua  

After several soaks, I had the realization that we were only five hours away from another intriguing nation--- a melting pot of indigenous Latin culture--- Nicaragua. I looked north towards the horizon, longing to experience a new nation.  

But the next morning, like out of a Biblical passage, it became so. My parents arranged a vehicle that whooshed us north beyond the borders of customs and immigration, and toward fabled Lake Nicaragua. We passed the jade-colored waters of the only freshwater lake in the world that sharks inhabit, before arriving at the colorful lakeside town of Granada.
"The rocking chair capital of the world," my dad proclaimed, as he observed the presence of that swaying furniture on every residential stoop.  I watched as elderly ladies consumed their dinners while rocking away in the doorways of their simple homes. A palpable energy pervaded the nearby market, chock-a-block with live fowl, spicy fragrance, narrow alleyways and frantic hubbub. Straddling the equator, tropical daylight here seems far too short, and this day was becoming shorter and darker as a violent storm ripped across the sky. We had to make the voyage toward the center of Lake Nicaragua in a small boat. As we made our journey across a windswept bay, a waterfall of rain doused our heads and poured on top of the vessel. We finally chugged our way to a Shangri-La--- the only lit island on the horizon of this monstrous lake.

Jicaro Ecolodge is a magical and hidden paradise in the middle of a spectacular volcano-dotted lake. Jicaro was the perfect, relaxing escape from the crowds of the city and the now cascading deluge. That night, the sounds of chirping insects and gulping frogs enveloped us as we indulged in a mouth-watering feast of local cuisine in Jicaro’s open-air dining room. The next morning I acknowledged the sad truth: we had only one day left. But in the Guttman family, no hour goes to waste. So we tried to cram yet more adventures into the trip.

The Powerful Masaya Volcano 

On our last day, we kayaked to a secluded area of the lake, where through a small opening in the marsh grass, we were permitted access to a secret hot spring. In that small cove, we swam and relaxed before hiking the winding trails in search of wildlife. To finish off the afternoon, we got up close and personal with the active, belching, powerful Masaya Volcano.  As night approached, we descended beneath the edges of Masaya’s crater and trekked through a forbidding bat cave.  Our footsteps moved closer to the edge of the pitch-dark cavern and like a scene cut from a horror movie, thousands of bats screamed out of the cave and flew right at me. Crashing into my hardhat, the vampire bats flooded the air and caused the others around me to scream. To make matters scarier, another torrential downpour suddenly began. We managed to dodge a porcupine and get away from the cave, but we still had to somehow get down from atop the crater in the dark.

Beyond The Lava

As we reached our car, the visibility dwindled down to zero. The rain had mixed with steaming lava to create a thick sulphuric whiteout fog.  It was so bad that our guide had to direct the car down the road on foot in the middle of the raging lightning storm.  Save the bolts lighting the slopes, I could see nothing.  All I heard was our guide and driver screaming frantically in Spanish as we slowly crept our way down the mountain. Suddenly, we hit a big bump and I heard a loud thump. Everyone had a shocked expression across their faces. My heart rocketed out of my body as I thought we had fallen off the cliff edge into a chasm of lava. My dad opened the door to double check. It seemed we were still firmly on the road and okay. After playing hide and seek with Mother Nature we finally made it to the bottom. Safe. 

Back at home, I had a chance to reflect. School may be just around the corner again, but as Mark Twain once said, “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”

Chase Guttman is a passionate and talented photographer, political junkie, intrepid explorer, and world traveler. Chase visited more than 35 countries, 45 U.S. states, and 8 Canadian provinces by the time he was 12. All photographs that accompany this story are his. Find out more at www.ChaseGuttman.com.

Published in Go Global

Hike with your family

Introduce your young children to the world of adventure travel.

Here are a few great places to get started:  

Appalachian Mountain Club Adventures. New England.

Beginning at age five, kids can participate in pond studies, GPS treasure hunts, forest ecology lessons, and wildlife watching and tracking activities. It is all part of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s family camp and adventure programs. In beautiful outdoor settings in New Hampshire and Maine, the whole family will learn outdoor skills and safety tips. Also, participate in flat water canoeing, nature walks and even a day hike to a backcountry hut. Spend the night in a bunk room or your family’s own private quarters. Contact: (603)466-2727; www.outdoors.org/adventure_camps.

Wild West Train Ride. Horseshoe Bend, ID.

Add a little zest to a first train ride when you book Thunder Mountain Line’s Wild West Train Robbery ride through southwest Idaho. As the story goes, a sneaky con-man and his sidekicks set out to steal a chest of gold as it is transported on the rails. The US Cavalry is on board for protection, but passengers, young and old, experience the adventure, drama and suspense as the tale unfolds during the 3.5 hour round trip excursion. Available selected dates, July through November.   Contact: 208-331-1184 www.thundermountainline.com/wildwest11.htm

Windjammer Landing Resort. St Lucia.

Children under six and their older family members can choose from a range of soft adventure opportunities while staying at this Caribbean island resort. Hop aboard for a banana boat ride, play on the floating trampoline or check out the inflatable climbing wall. Learn to snorkel or try a guided SNUBA experience, a kid-sized, first step toward learning to Scuba dive. Experience sailing on a Hobie Cat. Then visit a nearby volcano or take a rainforest tour. Contact: 1 (877)522-0722; www.windjammer-landing.com.

Four Seasons Resort, Jackson Hole, WY.

Park your family within exploring distance of Grand Teton National Park, the Bridger Teton National Forest, the National Elk Refuge and Yellowstone National Park. In this ideal Rocky Mountain setting for first time adventure, young nature lovers will enjoy scenic float trips, horseback riding, wall climbing and some of the most majestic scenery available within our nation’s boundaries. The resort’s resident wildlife biologist is on hand to answer questions. Ask about the National Parks Explorer package, designed to maximize your time in the area.

Contact: 1 (307) 732-5000; www.fourseasons.com/jacksonhole

Costa Rican Adventure.

Explore the rainforest with your junior adventurers where they will delight at spotting monkeys and sloths, plus color-rich birds and butterflies. Plan for easy walks through national parks and kid-friendly rafting on the Rio Penas Blancas. Learn about volcanoes and later explore tide pools and build sand castles at the beach. Sail and snorkel in the Gulf of Papagayo and scope for whales, dolphins, turtles, and rays.

Contact: http://adventureswithinreach.com/costa-rica/itinerary.php?trip=9_day__Multisport_Volcanoes_And_Tropical_Coasts_

ft yell grizz

Photo: Copyright Lynn O'Rourke Hayes. Yellowstone National Park, June 2011

Published in Adventure

On your next holiday, stay somewhere surprising. Here are a hand full of out of the ordinary options:

Kokopelli's Cave Bed & Breakfast, Farmington, NM.

Not far from the Four Corners where Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah converge, you’ll find this underground sanctuary, originally created as a one-of-a-kind office for a geologist. Expect plenty of creature comforts including a waterfall-style shower and Jacuzzi tub. Southwestern style furnishings fill the 1650 square foot haven carved into sandstone 70 feet below the surface. Breakfast items, including oatmeal, fresh fruit and muffins, are provided. You’ll also find plenty in the cave fridge to create a picnic style lunch, assuming you’ll be exploring the surrounding area. Bring your own grill-friendly food and enjoy cooking on the balcony while enjoying sweeping views of the surrounding mountains. The cave entrance is a ten minute hike from the parking area. Recommended for children eight and older. Contact: 505-860-3812;This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. (their website is under development) 

Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica.

No oxygen masks required when you check in to stay inside this refurbished Boeing 727 fuselage. Located in the jungle, minutes from the Manuel Antonio National Park, the whole family will enjoy the unique lodging that once served as transport for South Africa Air. The aircraft now rests atop a 50 foot pedestal, offering magnificent views of the treetops and ocean in the distance. Kids will love telling their friends about relaxing on the deck and communing with the local residents that include toucans, squirrel monkeys and sloths. Sleeps six in two air-conditioned bedrooms. Contact: 1 (866) 854-7958; www.costaverde.com/727.html 

Big Bay Lighthouse, Big Bay, and MI.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this lighthouse is run by three avid preservationists eager to share local history. Their goal is to maintain the romance of an era when mariners relied on the skill of a Light Keeper to bring them safely through this challenging stretch of Michigan coastline. Today visitors enjoy the peaceful solitude of the pristine location on Lake Superior. Hiking, biking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are available on 40 acres of trails. A full breakfast is included. For safety reasons, children must be 16 or older. Contact: (906) 345-9957; www.Bigbaylighthouse.com. To discover other lighthouses that welcome overnight guests visit: www.USLHS.org

Houseboat Holiday, Boston MA.

Book the 58-foot Cuckoo’s Nest house boat docked in Boston’s Charlestown Navy Yard to begin your floating holiday. Fall asleep to the sounds of waves gently lapping in the harbor. Relax on the roof top sun deck then hop aboard a free shuttle bus, water taxi, or water shuttle and head into the city for sightseeing and dinner. Children and pets are welcome. Explore houseboat getaway options in Baltimore, Annapolis and Philadelphia. Contact: 413-652-1400; www.SleepAfloat.com

Mary Jane’s Farm. Moscow, ID.

Check into a stylish wall tent on Mary Jane Butters’ farm and the worries of the world will melt away. Gather your own eggs for breakfast. Pick vegetables you’ll enjoy for lunch. Visit the library housed in a barn. Burn calories helping out with farm chores. Relax in the outdoor living room area nestled in a grove of plum trees. Go for a hike or play cards or board games. Later get clean in the outdoor tub or showers. Contact: 888-750-6004; www.MaryJanesFarm.org.

Published in Sleep

This page is brought to you by Pride of Maui offering fun-filled, action-packed snorkeling/sailing trips to Maui's Molokini.

Snorkeling is a great way to explore the beauty of our underwater world.

Here are six places the family can learn about coral reefs, colorful fish and more:

Published in Adventure
Page 1 of 2