Costa Rica

July 16, 2014

New UNESCO World Heritage Sites and a Bit About Selection

South China Karst

South China Karst

After a recent 10-day meeting of the World Heritage Committee, a number of sites have been updated or newly added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. We’re proud to say that many of these sites are found within countries we have the pleasure of visiting on our family adventures – but before we get into which ones those are, you may be wondering what goes into the process of selecting a site for such an illustrious honor.

According to UNESCO, “To be included on the World Heritage List, sites must be of outstanding universal value and meet at least one out of ten selection criteria.” These criteria range from naturally occurring phenomena to sites of vital cultural significance and shining beacons of human ingenuity. The decision process is not taken lightly; every site on the list has very rightfully earned its place, whether for “exceptional natural beauty” or “conservation of biological diversity,” cultural/historical significance or for being a quintessential example of human creativity.

At this recent meeting, an extension was added to China’s “South China Karst” World Heritage Site, praised for its unique and breathtaking karst formations, “including tower karst, pinnacle karst and cone karst formations, along with other spectacular characteristics such as natural bridges, gorges and large cave systems.”

Among the cultural sites newly added to the distinguished list: the “Andean Road System” that runs through Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru; the “Grand Canal” in China; the “Precolumbian Chiefdom Settlements with Stone Spheres of the Diquís” in Costa Rica; and two sites in Turkey – “Pergamon and its Multi-Layered Cultural Landscape” and “Bursa and Cumalikizik: the Birth of the Ottoman Empire.”



June 5, 2014

Spotlight on a Stellar TFA Family

Larry zip lining in Costa Rica

Larry zip lining in Costa Rica

Since Thomson Family Adventures first came into existence over 15 years ago, it’s been clear that our adventures attract a special breed of family travelers. Thomson travelers are the type of families open to new and exciting experiences; they love to learn from the great, big world around them, and they’re committed to the people, wildlife, and natural landscapes of the countries they visit.

I’d like to highlight a man whose family epitomizes that special something TFA clients have, and the reason we love what we do: Larry Taylor. Larry and his wife, Mina, brought their teenage grandson on one of our adventures to Costa Rica in March of 2013 – a trip that provided us with one of our all-time favorite photos of Larry zip lining through the jungle. We just received another batch of fun photos from the Taylor family’s recent trip to Belize, along with some heartwarming anecdotes of cross-cultural interactions with local Maya children.

Larry and his family are the type of people that have that inspiring spirit of adventure we love to see. I had initially intended to make a quick Facebook post about one encounter they had in Belize, but decided instead to go a little deeper and give the consistently cooperative, enthusiastic Larry Taylor a call to find out a little more about him and his family and how travel and adventure play into their lives.

The Taylors live in San Diego, which has proven to be the perfect location for a family as physically active and ecologically conscious as they are. Larry walks two miles every morning, and loves to meet friends at a café by the beach at the end of his walk. His wife runs six miles every other day, spends two hours at the gym on her “off” days, and has been known to run marathons– not exactly a couch potato! The mellow, 17-year-old grandson they brought to Costa Rica and Belize is a true Southern California boy who loves to surf, snorkel, swim, and lifeguard.

Larry was born in California and lived all over the U.S., growing up in an Air Force family. He met Mina after she moved out west from her hometown of Brooklyn, New York, and it didn’t take her long to evolve into a lover of the outdoors amid gorgeous West Coast weather and scenery. They’re an ideal pair of world travelers; Larry’s a naturally curious history buff, into the people-to-people politics of things, geography, culture, nature, and geology (which is actually what his undergraduate degree was in). He worked in government for 18 years, taking measures to eliminate air pollution. In his personal life, Larry is still admirably active in fighting the ill effects of climate change and trying to protect the environment – he’s currently working to install solar panels in his home, and he recently ripped out his front yard and replaced the grass with rocks as a way of saving water.

Mina worked as a clinical psychiatric social worker in a hospital, helping patients who were going through crises, so she’s very much a people-person. Ever since she retired from that career four years ago, they’ve made it a point to travel as often as possible, and they never miss an opportunity to get out there and meet the locals, snorkel the reefs, test out the zip lines, and seek out those truly special travel moments that happen organically and unexpectedly. Larry loves both the structure and flexibility of our Thomson Family Adventures, as well as the unique chance to bond with his grandchildren while someone else handles the logistics and arranges a solid collection of activities for them to engage in together, instead of just dropping the grandkids off to do their own thing.

He shared several phenomenal examples of that togetherness making for some special memories, and of the beauty of unplanned events during his past family adventures. In one such anecdote, Larry told me:

“In Belize, the local guide took us out to a reef (all three of us love to snorkel; our grandson is a surfer and a lifeguard, so he’s a great swimmer, and we still love to get out there and join him!) He took us out to a spot where he said he’d show us some turtles, but what we didn’t know was that when we got there, the ocean floor would be covered with literally thousands of conch shells under the 40 feet of crystal clear water. The guide dove down and grabbed two conch shells and started banging them together. He told us that works as a dinner call for the loggerhead turtles, because the fishermen pound them against the decks and sides of the boats to get the meat out, so the turtles know when they hear the banging that bits of meat will fall out into the water for them to eat. The dinner call worked, and some beautiful loggerhead turtles showed up, and soon after eight to twelve harmless nurse sharks came over. That type of knowledge is what’s so great about the local guides we’ve had on Thomson trips — they can take us places and show us things non-locals wouldn’t know about.”

It’s those surprises – the unforgettable occurrences that can’t be written ahead of time into any itinerary – that keep the passion for travel alive in the Taylor family, and in all the wonderful families we’re lucky to have had on our family adventures.

The family ready for action in Belize

 

The Taylor family in Costa Rica

The Taylor family in Costa Rica

Maya children in Belize

Maya children in Belize

Teen grandson canyoning in Costa Rica

Teen grandson canyoning in Costa Rica

 



December 5, 2013

Family Reunions – Five Ways to Make it Work

Together in Peru

Together in Peru

The holidays have always been a time for families to come together, and more than ever families are meeting up in a new location, to share new experiences as well as each others’ company.  Whether it’s holiday time, a hard earned graduation, a milestone anniversary or birthday or just an excuse to get away, a family reunion can be a legacy trip of a lifetime. So how do you ensure your time and financial investment don’t go to waste?

1) Plan ahead! If your family is flexible and has an excellent sense of humor, a regrettable last minute decision to ‘wing-it’ may give you material to laugh about for years to come.  But if you prefer to not spend your vacation troubleshooting and negotiating every day, you’ll take your time and start planning for next year. The perfect villa, the right hotels, the ideal guide – those things don’t wait for late planners.

2) Support, Support, Support . Leave yourself unfettered to nonstop planning. Whether your familiy is 6 people or 26, knowing someone else is managing tasty on-time meals, arranging safe and reliable transportation, and showing you the best things to do – this is the gift of freedom to enjoy every minute with your family without a care in the world.

3) Use local expertise on the ground. Don’t try to guess how long it takes to get somewhere or what activity will be best when, or how to find the special secrets of your destination. Make use of a local guide experienced in family, and committed to showing you the way while managing every detail in advance. An unexpected plus: a terrific guide makes everything more fun!

4) Make every day count. Instead of unscheduled days wandering aimlessly while bored kids glue themselves to their video games, try experiencing new things together.  One terrific group outing to start each day gives you a framework, and something to talk about forever. Your afternoons can be more restorative or more active, depending on each person’s desire – hang by the pool, playing board games – or head out shopping or hiking. Then everyone unites again over a wonderful dinner, to reflect on the day. Plenty of together time, plenty of flexibility!

5) Consider a thread of special meaning to weave throughout your vacation. For some it’s a community project, or starting a family journal together. It might mean creating a treasure hunt (we can do this!), or a quest to check off your list of flora and fauna. With the help of your reunion planners and guide these things can be simple for you to include, and inspiring for your family to do together.

During this 2013 holiday season start dreaming of what can blossom for you and your loved ones in 2014. Maybe it is hiking at Machu Picchu, zip lining in Costa Rica, or snorkeling in the Galapagos.Imagine the flora, fauna and music of Brazil, the souks and mountains in Morocco, or breathtaking wildlife in Tanzania… Whatever your dream, enjoy it with your family!



November 4, 2013

Chris Gamel Pro Photo Tip – Rule of Thirds

Capuchin monkey in Costa Rica, by Chris Gamel

Quick Tip for better photographs: Use the rule of thirds.

When creating a picture, many photographers place the subject right in the middle of the frame.  It’s easy, but it is rarely the best option.  Instead, consider using the rule of thirds.

The rule of thirds is a simple, yet powerful way of placing a subject in the frame.  To apply the rule of thirds, imagine a tic-tac-toe grid over your image.  This gives you 4 intersection points; places where two lines intersect each other.  Photographers call these intersections “points of power.”  The key to the rule of thirds is to place the most important part of your image on one of the points of power.

This image of a capuchin monkey (taken in Costa Rica) is a perfect example of the rule of thirds in action.  The monkey is the most important part of the image, so I placed her directly on top of the top, left point of power.  Why does it work?  I have no idea, but artists have been using the rule of thirds for hundreds, if not thousands of years.

So, how can you use the rule of thirds to improve your next photograph?

Join Chris on a special family photography adventure in Costa Rica or Peru and put the rule to use!

For more photography tips and wildlife images, visit Chris Gamel’s website.



October 5, 2012

What’s Happening for the Holidays (v. 2012)

Paddle into the Underworld in Belize

Traveling over the holidays is a popular trend. Some families do it as a personal celebration; some do it to get away from the rush at home. But ALL families love seeing how other countries celebrate in their own way. Here are a few ideas:

Did you know that if you go to Baja over Christmas you may be invited to our guide’s home to help decorate the Christmas tree, Mexican style. Then afterward, how about hunting for scorpions with a black light? Pretty cool, yes? Or travel on our December 26 trip, and have the opportunity to celebrate New Year’s Eve with a bash at the famous Hotel California – we have a few tickets we’ll include with your adventure!

On December 24th the largest and best Christmas pagent in all of Ecuador takes place in Cuenca. If you join our Galapagos Islands and Inca Ruins December 22 you’ll have the chance to partake of the Pase del Niño festival, an all day event filled with music, floats, and costumes. Or try the Galapagos MultiSport Adventure December 25, and enjoy a miraculous New Year’s Eve stargazing from your campsite on the beach.

Belize will be celebrating an event we just might not ever see again. December 21 represents the end of the Maya calendar, and the end of the 13th B’ak’tun, the Maya’s linear long count cycle of 394 years. Though recently Maya calendars have been found that continue on in time, no one disputes this is expected to be a great time of change and transformation, and the festivities will be plentiful throught out the month. Arrive just in time for ‘the end’ on our adventure December 21, or come later (December 27) and celebrate New Year’s Eve on the beach. Either way, it’s a Mayan adventure from beginning to end.

Peru, Costa Rica, Panama – all of the South and Central American countires have deep traditons surrounding Christmas and the New Year, and each country tells the story in their own way. There can be special markets, festivals, fireworks. No matter your own traditions and holidays, why not learn how others do it?

Really you should be planning for December 2013 – so if you haven’t figured it out yet for THIS year it’s time to make a plan!



September 10, 2012

Update on Costa Rica’s Earthquake

After the earthquake with a magnitude of 7.6 degrees on the Richter scale occurred on September 5th at 8:42 am, near Playa Samara and Sardinal, on the northern Pacific coast of Costa Rica, according to data from the National Emergency Commission (CNE), the Costa Rican tourism industry led by the Costa Rican Tourism Board (ICT), reports:

Both Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport and San Jose International Airport are reporting normal operations as well as normal flight arrivals and departures. All the country’s national parks are open and operating normally. The chambers of tourism of the country and the regional offices of the ICT are reporting normal tourism operations. Tourism has been completely unaffected.

A flyover with geologists and personnel from the CNE yesterday verified that the quake did not have major impact on road infrastructure, except for minor damage to homes and some roads.

The CNE explained that the red alert in place is to facilitate the coordination of all agencies and following protocol. It is important to note that due to the country’s strict seismic code, it was possible to minimize the impact of this earthquake.

The country continues to conduct surveillance and monitoring efforts in different parts of the country. Similarly, the ICT continues to coordinate with the regional chambers of tourism, the National Chamber of Tourism, the Costa Rican Association of Tour Operators and the Costa Rican Chamber of Hotels, as well as the National Emergency Commission, and all reports confirm that the tourism industry is operating normally throughout the country.

So come on to Costa Rica! (that wasn’t part of the official report..)



May 23, 2012

Top Five Spots for Teens and Older

The 'kids' bonding in Tanzania

Want to know what’s hot for you and your teenagers and graduates? Here are some great ideas for you to consider while trying to keep everyone happy.

1) Panama. Now, we don’t CALL this a teen trip, but really older kids are perfect for this adventure. With excitement like zip lines and white water rafting it has adrenaline pumping action. And with the engineering marvel of the canal, and the cultural attraction of the Embera tribe there is plenty of sophistication for your kids, and you too! Our guides will engage your family, and you’ll go home with memories you never dreamt of.

2) Costa Rica. This stands by as our most popular family adventure, and the benefit of having older, more tolerant kids is your ability to head to the remote region of Corcovado National Park. It’s far away, out there, and oh so worth it to get to. Surfing, hiking, snorkeling

3) Tanzania. A safari is a sedentary adventure by nature but our Active Safari takes every opportunity for you to stretch your legs and challenge your pre-conceptions. Bike at Gibbs Farm, enjoy walks and village visits at our exclusive private nature refuge, and hike partway up Mount Meru to overnight in a hut before hiking back down the next day. Interspersed with world class wildlife viewing, this adventure will stay with you forever. (And if this isn’t enough you could always think about a trek up Mount Kilimanjaro…….)

4) Peru. You don’t need to fight the crowds on the famed Inca Trail hike into Machu Picchu in order to appreciate all of the wonders Peru has to offer. In fact, we beseech you to NOT join that rat race. Come try some undiscovered trails, and enjoy world class hiking and gorgeous landscapes on trails where you may not see any other people, short of local farmers and their llamas. A Peru Trek can be the way to reassess your life while your older children begin to define their own lives. Prefer the comforts of a hotel? It’s easy to avoid the camping and still enjoy daily explorations. Let the energetic, able bodied kids do the hiking, and you can simply sit and contemplate the beautiful landscape. Want top of the line? Try our Smithsonian Peru Adventure, including Lake Titicaca.

5) Galapagos! Whether you opt for a stint on a luxury catamaran or a unique opportunity to sleep in the islands themselves, the snorkeling, biking, and kayaking in the Galapagos is fabulous. Never just a beach vacation, this is a sophisticated exploration to challenge your mind. Did you know there is wildlife here you just won’t find anywhere else in the world? Come visit these volcanic islands for the chance to think differently.

6) You know me, it’s hard to stop myself. Last summer I went with my kids (18, 22, 25) to Thailand and we had the best time ever. Culture, cities, villages, hiking, zip lines, rafting, elephants, Buddhism, food, massage, wow. A fabulously exotic place that is so warm and welcoming, you might never want to leave.



March 22, 2012

A Few Reasons to Discover a Family Art Adventure

Narda Boughton, Fabulous Artist

1) Your kids are open books, blank slates soaking up new ideas. Why not expose them to a new way of seeing the world around them? They might already love to draw and paint, or they might never have thought of it before; isn’t this an important thing to learn? And have fun in Costa Rica at the same time.

2) We’ve had adults go on an art adventure thinking they will never participate in the art, and they end up being the star creative forces. You never know what new thing you might discover about yourself when you step into something new. Try it.

3) Meet Narda Boughton, our favorite visual artist, who will take you along on these journeys of wonder and discovery. Here’s what we recently learned from her:

Where are you from? Originally from Bayside, WI.

How long have you worked in travel / and how long with TFA? I started working with Thomson Family Adventures in 2009.

What is your favorite part of the job? I love teaching art (and making art)- combining that with exploring fascinating places and meeting interesting people- well, it just doesn’t get any better than that. Thomson takes the “work” out of travel. Every detail is thought of and prearranged. All of your needs are taken care of- which allows you to enjoy everything to the fullest.

What is your favorite food, and favorite color? This changes all the time~ but today I’d have to say eggplant and yellow :)

Do you have children / pets? No kids, but always a lot of students. For pets I have 2 Australian parakeets and 2 cats with a Burmese Mountain Dog puppy on its way. Given the right set-up, I’d have a whole menagerie if I could. Love animals!!

Anything else you want us to know? One of the most satisfying things about my experience of teaching Art Tours with Thomson has been teaching people who didn’t plan on painting or drawing at all. Many times, parents will join us because their kids love art. More often than not, they’ll end up painting, too, only to find out how much they enjoy it. They walk away saying…”Wow!! I can do this!!”



February 12, 2012

Family Travel: Not Just for Kids

Traveling with the Graduates

With my third and last child up and off to college I find myself rethinking the definition of “Family Travel”. Of course we’re still a family even if we don’t have dinner together every night, if we don’t all live under the same roof, and even if my kids are more grown up than I ‘m ready for them to be. And we still love to travel together – none of us are too grown up to discover new places, thank goodness.

But when we call it Family Travel – it might seem too young for what you are really after. How about: Graduate Adventures.

Your children graduate from high school, or from college. Maybe even from graduate school. And you are graduating from a full house of responsibilities to spare time for thinking about what comes next. Just like dinnertime used to be the time to catch up on the day, now your Graduate Adventure can be the place to reconnect with your busy kids. A time to continue to grow together.

When your kids graduate from high school, college or graduate school you don’t stop wanting to travel together – you just want more sophisticated opportunities. Welcome to our Graduate Adventures. Full of history, mystery, and discovery. Great activities to challenge yourself AND your ‘kids’ (won’t we call them that forever??)

It makes sense that we began with 6 year olds 15 years ago, and now have families with 20-someting year old kids traveling with us. So give us a call and see what opportunities there might be for your graduated family. Turkey, Thailand, Tanzania, Peru, Costa Rica – we have older groups going almost everywhere!



January 3, 2012

Five Fabulous Family Multi-Sport Adventures

Surf's Up!

When we talk about Multi Sport Adventures we mean something active with plenty of variety. This helps kids – and parents and grandparents too – to try new activities, learn new skills – and maybe discover a new passion to pursue. What have our kids loved best for lots of action to compliment the cultural and wildlife opportunities? In alphabetical order….

1) Baja. A true adventurer’s paradise, Baja is ideal for hiking, horseback riding, surfing, snorkeling, kayaking. Get out there with our expert instructors for some exciting action, then replace those calories with some awesome Mexican food.

2) Belize. Mayan ruins for climbing, river caves for tubing (sometimes scary for the younger set!), barrier reef for snorkeling and diving. Paradise!

3) Costa Rica. Not boring! Rainforest, beaches, volcanoes and monkeys. Rafting, zip lines, kayaking, canyoning, SUP (know what that is??), surfing. You can try just about everything here, and meet some of the nicest people ever.

4) Galapagos. Between the highlands of mainland Ecuador and the volcanic Galapagos Islands your family can try horseback riding, hiking, kayaking, biking, snorkeling – and real camping for a couple of nights too! Seeing that Southern hemisphere sky from your beach front campsite is about as awe-inspiring as it gets.

5) Panama. The canal, of course, and the great story that goes with it. But also a fascinating native culture to learn about. Then rafting, zip lines, awesome snorkeling and pristine beaches, birds and wildlife galore, biking … and the thrill of going someplace not many have been before. Come discover Panama!!