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Turtle Nesting in Costa Rica

December 7, 2010
The mystique of the sea turtle is almost universally popular, but alas, for both positive and negative reasons. Four of the seven worldwide species of marine turtles live in the waters and nest on the beaches of Costa Rica. These are the Leatherback, the Hawksbill, the Pacific Green and the Olive Ridley. Sea turtles can be found on both the Atlantic and Pacific sides of the Costa Rica and they play a significant role in the country’s tourism.

Sea Turtle populations worldwide have dramatically declined over the last century due to poachers who harvest turtle meat, eggs and shells to sell for consumption and souvenirs. While conservationists have brought attention to the dire circumstances of some species and the importance protecting these marine reptiles, the endangered status continues. Less sinister than poachers, but still with significant impact, is traditional drift net fishing that inadvertently catches and kills adult sea turtles.

photo credit Hybrid Vigour (cc)

Viewing the nesting grounds is a spellbinding experience as the large female comes ashore, painstakingly prepares her nest and lays her eggs. This activity is done at night and at dawn, she returns to the sea. In about 2 months, dozens of hatchlings toddle to the sea, although it is estimated that only about one in 1,000 survive.

In addition to a high death rate, sea turtles mature very slowly; some species are 40-50 years old before they mate and reproduce. Beach development and human encroachment on nesting grounds has reduced populations over the last 30 years, as has global warming. Warmer water affects the reefs that turtles feed from and rising seas engulf nesting beaches. Sea turtles also have the unique characteristic that the gender is determined by the temperature of the egg during incubation. A slight rise in beach temperature results in almost all female populations, which has obvious consequences on future reproduction. All of these factors make these giant marine reptiles’ future existence very precarious.

Some facts about the sea turtles of Costa Rica:


photo credit reiner.kraft (cc)

The Leatherback – 

  • The largest living reptile – up to 9 feet and 1900 pounds!
  • Food – jellyfish and other gelatinous organisms.
  • Nesting – September to March on the Pacific side, February to July on the Atlantic side of Costa Rica. Up to four times a season, she digs a deep hole in the sand and lays 45-100 eggs in a clutch (nest).
  • Critically Endangered status – estimated less than 25,000 in the world, one fifth of 1980 population.

The Hawksbill –

  • Small to medium-sized – 25-35 inches, 100-150 pounds.
  • Food – Beak like mouth gives it the name allows it to reach into holes in coral reefs for marine sponges.
  • Nesting – Returns to natal beach (birthplace) every 2-3 years, nests 3-5 times per season, 130 eggs each. Builds nests high up on beach in little to no sand.
  • Protected status – Threatened by loss of coral reef (food source) and commercial exploitation of its shell.

The Pacific Green –

  • Largest of the hard shell sea turtles – up to 3 feet and 350 pounds
  • Food – Herbivore (seagrass and algae).
  • Nesting – June to September but varies by location, returns to natal beach every 2-4 years, nest every 2 weeks on average 5 times in a season, lays 135 eggs per clutch. One of the largest nesting populations is at Tortuguero, on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica.
  • Endangered status – threatened by harvest of eggs and capture of adults. 


Olive Ridley Arribada - photo credit Nodnarb Truk (cc)

The Olive Ridley –

  • Relatively small –  22-31 inches and up to 100 pounds
  • Food – Omnivorous (shrimp, crustaceans), highly migratory
  • Nesting – Arribada occurs June to December on certain beaches. Females gather offshore of nesting beach and thousands come ashore at same time to dig nests.
  • Protected status – Most abundant sea turtle in the world, many populations not depleted.

Visitors to Costa Rica can help with the conservation of these endangered creatures. In addition to learning about their plight, it is most important to never purchase any turtle product or support the illegal poachers in any way. There are many volunteer opportunities to assist with turtle conservation efforts in Costa Rica as well.  Covington advisors can help you plan a trip that includes seeing turtles nest or helping with conservation efforts. If you have seen or worked with the turtles in Costa Rica, please share your story in the comments below.



A Year’s Worth of Adventure

December 3, 2010

As the year comes to a close, I inevitably start dreaming of future travel adventures. Here are 12 experiences that are on my personal “bucket list.” They roughly align with the months of the year, although it would be quite a feat to check them all off in 12 months!

Ice Hotel Sweden, cc license

1) Sleep in the Ice Hotel in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden – Every winter, a hotel made entirely of ice and snow is rebuilt north of the Arctic Circle. Everything from the beds to the bar, the sculptures to the sauna is -5° C! The Ice Hotel is open from mid-December through March when it begins to thaw.  

2) Witness the Aurora Borealis near Reykjavik, Iceland – The Northern Lights are one of the most hauntingly beautiful natural phenomenons in the world and the 11-year cycle of activity will reach its peak in 2011-2012.

3) Snorkeling/Diving on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia – Swim with a magnificent array of marine life that lives around the largest coral formation in the world. The reef is easily accessible by boat or even from some beaches.

Image by Dr Zizimun

4) Zorbing in Rotorua, New Zealand – Envision hurtling downhill inside a 10’ diameter soft plastic ball. This crazy adventure sport was born in New Zealand, though courses have sprung up across the globe.

5) Heli-hiking in Banff, Canada – Combine spectacular aerial views from a helicopter with the exhilaration of a hike through the scenic Canadian Rockies wilderness.

Gorilla licking wound, cc license

6) Gorilla tracking in Rwanda/Uganda – Less than 700 mountain gorillas survive in the world, so seeing them in the wild is a special and exclusive experience. They roam along the Rwanda/Uganda border and in the Bwindi Rainforest.

7) Hot air ballooning over Cappadocia, Turkey – Silently float above the unique volcanic chimney rock formations and subterranean caves that were inhabited for centuries. The mystical field of natural minarets is an other-worldly experience.

8) Culinary focus in Tuscany, Italy – Hunt for prized truffles or visit a family-run olive oil farm. Taste flavorful wines at a local vineyard, and then learn how to use all that new knowledge with a Tuscan cooking class.

9) Elephant wrangling in Chiang Mai, Thailand – Meet the herd of rescued Asian elephants at the Elephant Nature Park and help to feed and river bathe these giants. Learn about conservancy in Southeast Asia for the endangered creatures.  

10)  Ride camels at the pyramids of Giza, Egypt – Cleopatra surely had more plush transportation, but visualize sauntering through the desert on the swaying back of a dromedary within view of the some of the largest structures ever built. These pyramids are the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World remaining.

11) Cave tubing in Belize – Float on an inner tube past underground waterfalls and swirl around stalagmites protruding from the water with only a headlamp to light the way through the “River of Caves.”  This was a spiritual place to the ancient Mayans.

12) Tango in Buenos Aires, Argentina – Titillate the senses with this passionate dance that is one of the hallmarks of this vibrant city. Watch, learn, or practice the improvisational moves that make tango so breathtakingly sensual.

What is on your travel bucket list? Let Covington help plan your ultimate adventure!

Responsible Travel – Organizations That Give Back and Make a Difference

November 30, 2010



Image courtesy of Duluth News Tribune cc license

Environmental and social responsibility in travel is a hot topic and for good reason. Through technological advances we can now travel to previously inaccessible places. Wonderfully, it’s now relatively easy to visit foreign lands and cultures that our great-grandparents could only experience second-hand through books and adventurer’s tales. But this contact has brought its own hazards. While we now have access to virtually the whole world, the impact of that access has damaged some of the very lands and people that we find so appealing. It has become vital to reduce the negative environmental effects and to protect and improve the standard of living of the indigenous people if we want to sustain these travel privileges for future generations to enjoy.

Many of us make an effort to carry out responsible practices in our daily lives, and we also have choices when we travel. Here are some travel organizations that have programs in place that make a difference to the environment or social landscapes where they travel.

1)      Micato Safaris changes lives in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya through AmericaShare. The non-profit organization funded by Micato helps “orphaned and vulnerable children get a quality education, assists women in creating businesses to support their families, and helps to provide care for those affected by HIV/AIDS.”  

2)      Big Five Tours & Expeditions runs the Spirit of Big Five Foundation which is committed to “sustainable tourism through conservation, poverty alleviation, education and healthcare initiatives in Africa, Asia, and Central and South America.”  

3)      Tauck World Discovery’s World of Giving supports “collaborative efforts in conservation, cultural and historical preservation of treasured sites upon which tourism depends and protecting fragile places in perpetuity.”

4)      The Sandals Foundation is the philanthropic arm of Sandals Resorts International. The largest tour operator in the Caribbean harnesses their “passion, energy, skills and brand power to tackle issues under three broad headings, Our Community Our Education Our Enviroment.” 

5)      The Cruise Industry has widely adopted environmental policies to reduce the impact of the industry on the marine ecosystems and oceans, waste reduction and fuel disposal.  Some of the lines that have programs in place include: Costa Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Disney Cruise Line, Holland America Line, M/V Galapagos Explorer II, Orion Expedition Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Lines, Princess Cruises, and Royal Caribbean International.

6)      Marriott Hotels is dedicated to a five-point environmental strategy that focuses on “rainforest preservation; reduction of water, waste and energy consumption; greening its supply chain; building greener hotels and engaging employees and guests to take action.” They also devote significant resources to social issues of children’s vitality, shelter, and food programs such as SOS Children’s Villages, Habitat for Humanity, and Feeding America.   

7)      Other Hotel Chains who have social and environmental programs in place Include: Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, Hilton Hotel Corporation, InterContinental Hotel Group, Joie de Vivre, Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants, and Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, Inc.

8)      There are many Voluntourism organizations that offer travelers opportunities to help with everything from animal rescue to home-building projects, environmental work to humanitarian endeavors. If this type of hands-on helping is for you, be sure to choose the organization or project carefully. The Ethical Volunteer provides a good checklist to help you choose the right voluntourism organization. 

9)      Another excellent resource for sustainable travel is Travel Green, produced by the U.S. Travel Association. This site lists many more travel suppliers and industry associations that have committed to environmental and social responsibility.    

Whether traveling for business or vacation, it is imperative that we be mindful of the impact on our world. By supporting these and other organizations that give back, each of us can make a difference.

Giving Thanks

November 26, 2010

It’s Thanksgiving night and the house is quiet. All the visiting family has gone home and those who live under this roof are sound asleep. The dishes are washed and the leftovers packaged for later. I’m tired but happy. I hadn’t planned to write this post, but in the still aftermath of the whirlwind day, I started thinking about all that I have to be thankful for. That’s pretty much the point of the American Thanksgiving tradition so I want to acknowledge the people and events that make my life better.

I give thanks:
· For the colorful beauty of Virginia as the leaves glow crimson, gold, and burnt orange in the cool fall sun and…
· For the good health to enjoy it from the seat of my bicycle.

· That my job is so much fun that it never (well, rarely) seems like work and…
· For my professional, creative and dedicated coworkers and teammates at Covington Travel.
· For family that drives 12 hours for a weekend visit so we can all be together and…
· For local family who helps me wrangle the sea of leaves that fall from those beautiful Virgina oaks.

· That there are so many wonderous places in the world to visit, explore and experience and…
· For my Mom sharing her wanderlust with me so that I’m driven to go see those places.

· For inflight wifi that allows me to stay connected and productive as I cross time zones and…
· For a stellar Technical Department that understands more about computers, programs and apps than I do and support me with the ever evolving technologies.

· For the dedicated vintners from Virginia to Argentina who bring luscious wines to my table and…
· For the friends who share that table with me. 

· For the exhilarating rush of adventures like zip-lining and…
· For the luxury of a sumptuous resort. 

· For  my healthy, happy kids who brought home mountains of laundry from college and make the house a loud, messy carnival and…
· For quiet times with that special someone. 

· For Tidewater seafood and…
· That there are people who like to cook more than I do and are much better at it.

I hope that you have many things on your list tonight, too.


Sailing Solo, Cycling in Croatia & Addio to the Adriatic

November 23, 2010

Old Town and harborfront of Split, Croatia

The last leg of my Adriatic cruise on the lovely Azamara Quest included a port call in beautiful Split, Croatia then a final overnight port in Venice, Italy. Previous posts tell about Naples and the Amalfi Coast and marvelous Montengro, but this third installment will be about my cycling experience in Split and my solo finale in Venice.

Andro from DuVine Adventures and your's truly.

Being the avid cyclist that I am, I knew I would be missing my bike after a week, so I contacted my Twitter friend Andy DuVine, president of DuVine Adventures, to arrange a day ride when the ship was in port in Split. He put me in touch with the charming Andro, his senior guide in Croatia. Andro met me at the dock with a bike and helmet and off we went. We rode past the historic old town and busy waterfront, along the beautiful coast of the peninsula. Andro was a delightful host, chatting about Croatian lifestyle and cycling in this spectacular country as we rode.

You tell me...hill or mountain?

I live and normally cycle at sea level with very few hills, so I was a bit apprehensive as we started to climb and Andro pointed to our destination far above us! The vantage point at the top of a hill (I thought mountain), overlooked the whole city nestled at the foot of the mountains, the harbor and the Adriatic beyond. The route to the top was laced with switchbacks to mitigate the angle of ascent, but much to my chagrin, I had to stop for a break at the last one before the top. My ego took a bit of a hit when I just couldn’t push through that last stretch, but the ever-affable Andro never blinked and kept on chatting as I caught my breath! The views from the top were worth the effort, and then the descent was much faster! We returned through the tiny winding alleyways of the city where Andro left me to explore the remarkably preserved Diocletian’s Palace and the historic Old Town.

Exterior walls of the historic Diocletian's Palace

Although this was only a day adventure, I am absolutely sold on the beauty of Croatia and fully intend to return to do a longer cycle through the Croatian islands. Andro told me that the islands are even more hilly, so I’ll have to do some serious training first! DuVine Adventures’ forte is the cycling, with almost equal emphasis on food, wine and cool places to sleep, and I like all four of those, so I will definitely be back – although I think this is a fun group type of trip. Who’s in with me?

A foggy arrival in Venice as our ship sailed past St. Mark's Square

The last port of the cruise was the incomparable Venice and Azamara scheduled an overnight port so guests have plenty of time to explore the intricate alleys and charming neighborhoods beyond the famous St. Mark’s Square, Bridge of Sighs and glass blowing on Murano. I’ve visited Venice several times and to write about all of her magic would take an entire post. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit but had one last solo adventure to log. I decided to take all public transportation from the ship to the airport via an overnight stay near the airport, due to a very early flight. The difference in taking public transport instead of a private water taxi or cruise transfer easily paid for my hotel night and I wanted to put my new found solo skills to one last test.

It turned out to be so easy! I marched myself off of the ship and down to the vaparetto (water bus) ticket office. I put on my best Italian, “Vorrei un biglietto per Piazzale Roma.” (I’d like a ticket to the bus station.) Fortunately, the kind man there understood Italian with a Virginian accent and I was on my way. When I got off of the water bus at the land bus station, it was a hectic scene and it occurred to me that I chose to leave the island on a local bus at the end of the work day on a Friday! I bought another ticket (in Italian – so proud!) and found the right bus in the sea of busses in the yard. Figuring out the stop for my hotel took a combination of rudimentary Italian and sign language, but I established that the driver would tell me when to get off. Long story short, I did it…SOLO.

As my solo cruise experience came to a close, I found that I had become quite comfortable in my solo skin.  I met some delightful and interesting fellow cruisers from California, Texas, Scotland and Wales, as well as lovely folks in each of the places I visited. Sometimes I dined with new companions, other times I kept my own company. I explored ports alone, with said new companions, and enjoyed one hosted excursion. I found that solo does not really equate to alone and certainly not lonely. I got a taste of what my solo-traveling friends rave about and really understand the draw now. More than anything, it was a very empowering experience – one I recommend and one I think I’ll repeat!

Indian Springs Resort and Spa

November 20, 2010

Indian Springs Resort and Spa is one of my favorite places on earth. Located in the tiny town of Calistoga, in California’s Napa Valley, it is reasonably priced, unpretentious, and unique. I’ve stayed in both the Lodge and the cottages, and both are very comfortable and beautifully furnished. Within walking distance is the main street of Calistoga, with shops and restaurants, or you can use one of the resort’s complimentary bikes to explore nearby wineries. I never seem to leave the resort once I arrive, except for a quick walk to the small market across the street for baguette, cheese, fruit and wine. Once I step foot in the geyser-fed mineral swimming pool, and have a couple of spa treatments, I am content to slow down and stay put.

The original Indian Springs Spa was created back in 1861, and has offered their classic volcanic ash mudbaths for more than a century. It is a unique experience not to be missed. I recently enjoyed a mudbath and massage that both relaxed and recharged me.

I was led into a room that contained what could only be described as several large concrete bathtubs filled with pure volcanic mud. As I reclined, I slowly sank down into the mud as the attendant picked up handfuls of mud and placed them over my body. The mud was warm, and surprisingly had no distinct smell. Once I was completely covered, after declining to have my face covered in mud, I felt my body slowly sink deeper and get more relaxed by the second. I began to realize how warm the mud really was, which felt great on my sore muscles. I found that if I wiggled my fingers, it would release more warmth from the depths below. The mud was heavy, and I had the sensation of being weighed down, which was actually very pleasant. I closed my eyes, cleared my mind, and lost track of time.

The attendant gently awakened me, and instructed me to shower off the mud, then placed me in a claw- foot bathtub filled with hot mineral water from the geysers on the property. She handed me a wooden stick to remove the mud from under my nails, and continuously filled a glass of iced cucumber citrus water for me to sip. After about 15 minutes, I headed off to the steam room, which was scented with eucalyptus and lavender. I’m not normally a steam-room kind of girl, but I found myself sitting back and enjoying the experience until it was time to head off to a quiet room where I was wrapped in a warm blanket and cucumber slices were placed over my eyes.  When I was awakened by my massage therapist, I could barely force my body to walk to the massage treatment room. I think I actually floated.

After a 50 minute massage, I proceeded to the Buddha Pond to relax and nap. The pond is surrounded by palm and olive trees, comfy lounge chairs, and dispensers of cucumber water and orange slices. I watched a group of hummingbirds make the rounds to the plants and flowers around the pond. They seemed to play and dance, and even barnstormed me a few times for fun. I dozed in the comfortably cool air, and finally made myself go back to the dressing room to shower and change.

The rest of the day was spent floating in Indian Springs’ unique pool. Built in 1913, the pool is fed by the four thermal geysers nearby. You can see the steam rising from the geysers just beyond the pool fence. Because the natural mineral water coming from the geysers is 230 degrees, it is cooled to a comfortable 102 degrees for the pool. If you’ve ever swam in a pool of 102 degree water, you know it is pure heaven. Especially on a starry, cool October night, there is nothing better than floating on your back to watch for shooting stars. The pool is open from 6:00 am to midnight, and my favorite times to swim were early morning and late at night, when the air was cool and the steam from the surface of the water made it seem otherworldly.

If you are traveling to Northern California, you owe it to yourself to take a few days in Calistoga, and experience the very special place that is Indian Springs Resort and Spa.

Today’s guest post was written by Lisa Pitzer, Account Manager for Covington Travel. Lisa specializes in Corporate Travel Management and has worked in the travel industry for 18 years. In her personal time, she has traveled widely and is an avid spa lover!

Resort photos courtesy of Indian Springs Resort and Spa.


Montenegro and the Adriatic Coast

November 16, 2010

Part two of my solo cruise sojourn took me to the Adriatic and the Balkans. The coastline was every bit as dramatic as the Amalfi Coast, particularly as the narrow entrance from the Adriatic opened onto the one of the most beautiful bays in the world. Rugged limestone cliffs stand sentinel to the striking waters of  “Boka Kototska” or the Bay of Kotor. The entrance is often called the “fjords” because of the similarity to the Norwegian coastline, although these nearly vertical coastal mountains were not of glacial origins, but are the result of tectonic action.

Our Lady of the Rock Church on the man-made island

At the deepest part of the bay, nestled into the rock wall is the medieval city of Kotor. With history dating back two centuries before Christ, it is now a UNESCO World Natural and Historical Heritage Site. For countless generations, sailors, pirates, merchants and soldiers have trod the narrow cobblestone streets and it was controlled in turn by the Romans, Venetians, Austro-Hungarian Hapsburgs, Napoleonic French, English, and eventually Yugoslavia. Finally, in 2006, Montenegro established independence.


The ancient city walls blend into the mountain.

The ancient city walls encompass the old city and zigzag up the steep mountain in a two and a half mile loop. You must pass through the original city gates to get inside the walls, and you are met with a warren of narrow streets lined with shops and boutiques, restaurants, courtyards and churches. The Cathedral of Saint Tryphon, with its earthquake damaged bell tower dates back to the mid 1100s and is one of the oldest churches in Europe. The Maritime Museum tells of the oceangoing history of Kotor and the Town Fountain, the main source of fresh water for the town for centuries, still stands in a small square.

One of the real benefits of booking an Azamara cruise through a Virtuoso member agency is the inclusion of complimentary amenities. Because Covington Travel is a Virtuoso member, I was invited on an exclusive shore excursion only for Virtuoso guests. Our group was driven up the mountain face which is so steep the road has 25 hairpin switchbacks to climb to the top.  We visited a tiny village at the top and the views of the sparkling bay and the Adriatic beyond were just spectacular. After that we descended the same perilous zigzag road and broke up into a couple smaller groups for an escorted walking tour through the charming old town.

the Church of St. Tryphon

Then the pièce de résistance was a visit to a local woman’s home where she served us local grappa, fresh homemade tarts and sweets and her own wine. Azamara Club Cruises emphasizes cultural immersion in their destinations and this special visit was a true treat that gave me a personal introduction to the local Montenegrin culture.

This segment of my first solo cruise was pleasantly augmented by the dramatic beauty of the Kotor and the excursion where I enjoyed meeting several charismatic local residents. I found I’m quite comfortable traveling solo, sometimes enjoying the company of others and sometimes enjoying my independent status. Have you had a similar experience? Please share in the comments. In part three, I’ll recount my solo cycling adventure on the last segment of the cruise.