Winter in Whistler when you don’t Ski – Adventurous Activities

It is two weeks before I am meant to be jetting off to Whistler, Canada, for a week on the slopes but I am sat in hospital. The X-Ray scan comes back. It is 2 fractured wrists….”Hi Dad, it’s Emma. I think you’re going to have to cancel my snowboard rental and slope pass!”

As of September 2018, my older brother and his girlfriend had moved to Whistler to complete a ski season and my dad and I were flying out to see them. My wrists were wrapped up in metal plated splints and my fear of falling over had now increased twofold but I was determined to get the most out of my holiday. I wasn’t able to board down the mountains anymore but I equally didn’t want to miss out on all the adventures that Whistler had to offer so I layered up like the Micheline man, locked my feet into the sturdiest boots I could find and set out into the cold. I was quite surprised to find how much was actually on offer off the slopes, around every corner was another adventure company offering everything from snow-trekking to sledding with huskies. There was even a giant bungee jump open all year round! I had 6 days to fill and a whole load of jet lag waking me up before the sun had even risen so plenty of time for activities and adventures. I am going to highlight my top experiences in this post.

One thing that needs to be said is that Whistler is not the cheapest of locations to visit. The price tags were as steep as the mountains that encase the town and for that reason I have split this guide up into 3 sections – cheap, mid-range and expensive. This way you can find an activity to do no matter what your budget is. (Prices correct as of February 2019)

Cheap – It was our last day in Whistler and we had a morning to kill before our flight home. It had hit the bitter temperature of -15 degrees each day of the holiday so there was definitely an appeal for something that wouldn’t involve venturing into the bitter cold again. The perfect solution came in the form of the Escape! Escape rooms. The 4 of us took on the Pinball challenge and were taken into a puzzling arcade world that involved a lot of balls, buttons and wires to escape from. I don’t want to go into too much detail as I don’t want to ruin the experience if any of you do decide to take it on but I will say that so much effort had clearly gone into the décor and the puzzles themselves, it was an incredibly fun but flabbergasting experience. Located a stone’s throw from the base of the gondolas it was really easy to get to and if we had more time I would be loved to have taken on the other 3 rooms they offered. The Pinball room was in their mid-tier of difficulty but they did have one designed for families and another for brain-boxes who wanted a big-old challenge. Now I have put this in ‘cheap’ section but at $33 per person I will hold my hands up and say it isn’t a bargain but it was the cheapest thing we did there. When I said the beauty and adventure of Whistler came at a price I meant it! (Just a heads up in my next blog post that is focused on more relaxing things to do there are some free options!) We managed to escape with around 3 minutes to spare so I challenge you all to go and see if you can beat us!

I don’t have any photos of the escape room seeing as it’s all meant to be kept a mystery sorry!

Mid-Range – Just because you can’t/don’t want to ski down the mountains doesn’t mean that you have to miss out on going up them. The Whistler Gondola runs daily from the centre of the town up to the top of the mountain. Leaving every minute, it takes endless streams of skiers and boarders up to their start point and for $70 you can join them. The gondola itself takes about 23 minutes and, on a clear day, gives you stunning views back over the town as well as the open winding ski runs that twist and turn down the face of the mountain. At the top there is a small shop and café where you can warm your hands up with a toasty hot chocolate and watch skiers glide down the slopes. I have added this into the adventurous part of the blog series because at the top you also get access to the Peak 2 Peak. Included in your ticket price, it is a separate Gondola that connects Whistler to Blackcomb Mountain. At 436m, it is the highest cable car above ground and if like me heights aren’t your thing then it will certainly leave you a little shaky at the knees. It takes about 11 minutes to get from one side to the other and does give you the most incredible views of snow topped trees and the frozen valley below. You can either get off at Blackcomb and spend time in the little café up there or you can just stay in the car as it takes you back to Whistler. There is no limit to the amount of times you’re allowed to go on it and if you want something to get your heart racing a bit more there are a couple of pods with glass bottoms. When you’ve taken all the phots you want and drunk as much hot chocolate as you can manage then just simply catch the Whistler Gondola back to the base again.

Expensive – For all those adrenaline junkies out there I am sure you’ll be laughing in the face of my escape room and gondola. Sat there thinking they’re about as adventurous as a trip to garden centre but I see your thrill-seeking desire and I raise you a 60mph snow mobile adventure through the back country of Canada. If you really want the kind of adventure to take your breath away then the Wilderness Run Snowmobile Tour with Canadian Wilderness Adventures should be at the top of your list. We all gathered at their shop located in the centre of the town before getting driven out and up to the back country. We were decked out in warm layers, boots, helmet and goggles then given an overview on how to use the snow mobiles safety. If you have a valid driving license then you can drive your own or you can ride along on the back of someone else in your group. Seeing as I couldn’t grip the handle bars, I hung on to my Dad for dear life as he followed the guide through the forest and up the mountain side. Our guide was so much fun and took us over bumpy terrain, round tight corners and even let us run loose on a frozen lake where I think Dad reached speeds close to 70mph. The highlight of the trip for me though was the view at the top of the mountain. Framed by rolling mountain tops and blanketed by thick, untouched snow that glistened in the sunlight it was the kind of view that belonged on a computer screensaver! After taking some beautiful photos we sped back down the mountain, handed back all the equipment and were returned to the town centre. The thrill factor definitely shot up but so did the price, at around $600 for the 4 of us it was the big treat of the holiday but what a treat it was! They also offered dog sledding adventures that I would have loved to try had we had more time.

The host of the 2010 Winter Olympics, Whistler is renown for its snow-sport activities and facilities but you don’t have to Ski to enjoy your time there! It is a beautiful Canadian town nestled amongst the Coast Mountains. The streets are lined with bars and restaurants and there isn’t an unfriendly face in sight as the locals embrace and welcome the endless streams of tourists that flood there annually. Fancy a more laid back, chilled out holiday in Whistler? Don’t worry I have you covered. My next blog post will be highlighting all the best things to do when you don’t really want to do anything at all.

Go and grab another cuppa on me, Em x

Why not become friends with me on Twitter and Instagram

LIKED THIS POST? read my other post on Guide to Costa Rica : Monte Verde & Tamarindo

Guide to Costa Rica : Arenal Volcano

Part one of my trip around Costa Rica can be found here!

5 days in and we had already experienced the life in the capital city of San Jose and saw wild animals roam free in the rainforest of Tortoguero so what was next? A volcano.

Now we were back on dry land our new mode of transport was a mini bus that became more like a second home. The drive to Arenal took around 5 hours but as soon as we pulled through the gates of Arenal Springs Resort we knew it was worth it.  Situated at the base of the volcano this resort felt more like its own little village than a hotel. With multiple restaurants, a tropical pool, a spa and even a golf cart system in which you could order one to give you a lift, almost like an Uber, it was the little bit of luxury we’d been craving. The long drive left me with a killer migraine but it seemed to disappear instantly as soon as I found a spot by the in-pool-bar. Funny that!

IMG_5749.JPG

Just as soon as we had settled in however it was time to get back in the van and head out on our next adventure. Fabio, from Wave Expeditions, greeted us at the door with a signature Costa-Rican smile as he talked us through all the safety points of the day. We were driving up stream in order to turn right around and white water raft all the way back down. I have to admit I had been rafting before but this one set the bar so high even a giraffe on top of the shard couldn’t reach it. Paddles in hand we flew over rapids and expertly manoeuvred around waterfalls. It did get a bit scary when I fell out the boat but it wasn’t too much of a concern as I was only left with a mildly bruised hip and a realisation that I should’ve paid more attention to those safety points! I think the reason this white water rafting stood out above the rest however was the water was deliciously warm. We didn’t mind getting splashed by the waves and could even get in the water and float alongside the boat when there weren’t any rocks around. It is definitely a more enjoyable experience when you don’t feel like you’ve just had an ice bath. Once safely back down the river, beers in hand, we were taken to a sugar cane plantation and taught how to make moonshine from the juice of the plant. It is safe to say that we all returned to the resort that evening in a very, very jolly mood!

IMG_5756.JPG

If you hadn’t gathered already from these posts, my family are not very good at doing nothing so with a new day came a new set of experiences and on this day they took place amongst the trees. It kicked off with a Sky Adventures Nature Walk. We emerged at the base of some suspense bridges high above the canopy, birds escaped from the trees below us as the structure swayed in the wind. Normally I am quite good with heights but this left my knees trembling as I shuffled along trying my best not to look down.  Luckily the stunning views over the forest and man made Arenal Reservoir was enough to take my mind off the 230ft drop below me. This was only the start of the heights though; we were about to go even higher and faster on the Sky Trek Zip Wire! Made up of 7 zip lines, the longest being The Daddy at 850m long, and with views that will sweep you off your feet, literally, this was any adrenaline junkies dream. We flew through the sky, sometimes upside down, and looked across at the Arenal Volcano that had broken through the clouds. Definitely a ‘high’light of the trip for me!

IMG_5754.JPGIMG_5752.JPG

However amazing these experiences are, the thing I love most about traveling with my family is the fun we get to have together.  That evening we chose a table in the resort that looked out over the 1,670m Volcano and played endless games of Rummy and Uno. A rule was set that whoever picked the green 5 card had to run out into the rain and shout Uno. An innocent forfeit but that green card shook all our nerves to the core and resulted in us laughing more than anyone would think a card could! Now I never go traveling without a pack of Uno cards in my bag.

For our last day in Arenal we began by getting in a lot of exercise, 400 steps of exercise to be precise. We cascaded the side of a mountain to reach the beautiful Catarata Waterfall and took a dip in the icy pool at its base. The current turned out to be a lot stronger than we anticipated so, like something from an episode of Bear Grylls Born Survivor, we all linked arms and waded through the icy stream to the safety of the bank. The waterfall stood tall at 230ft and was a hidden gem nestled amongst the forest trees. After the mammoth task of climbing back up the 400 steps we were rewarded with one of my favourite things on the planet – chocolate. Unlike your classic bar of Cadburys however this required a bit more effort. We went to a cocoa bean plantation and carried out each step of the dark chocolate making process in the style of a blue peter ‘here is what I prepared earlier’ segment. For those wondering it is…

  1. Plant the cocoa seeds
  2. Wait for them to grow
  3. Pick them when they turn yellow
  4. Dry them out
  5. Sift the husks
  6. Grind the beans either by hand or with a machine
  7. Add sugar and bean butter from the pod to make a paste
  8. Add toppings and flavourings

For my younger brother the chocolate indulgence didn’t end there either. All a bit worn out from the week we decided to head back to the resort and make full use of their spa, after all it would be criminal not to! Most of us were lathered in rich oils and massaged till we were on the brink of sleep but Lewis opted for the children’s package and the oil was swapped out for melted chocolate. I will never forget the sight of my younger brother sprinting out the spa smothered in dairy milk like the swamp monster from Scooby Doo.

IMG_5751.JPG

Like every good thing in life this part of the holiday had to come to an end. I think our adrenalin levels peaked, pardon the pun, in the shadow of the volcano that stands proud at the centre of this town. We flew like birds through the trees and waded through the water like sloths (I didn’t realise they swam either!) but most memorably grew closer as a family. We waved goodbye to the resort but unfortunately not the rain. That wasn’t done with us quite yet!

Go and grab another cuppa on me, Em x

Why not become friends with me on Twitter and Instagram

LIKED THIS POST? read my other post on Guide to Costa Rica : San Jose & Tortoguero

Guide to Costa Rica : San Jose & Tortoguero

Pura Vida. In English “Pura Vida” is simply translated to “Pure Life” but in Costa Rica itself it means more than just words, it is a way of life. It means to live life with a smile, to embrace any new adventure but most importantly to find joy in the simple things in life. It shines out through any local you meet and gives the whole country a sense of peace and joy that I had never experienced before.

We landed in the capital city of San Jose where a friendly driver eagerly awaited to transfer us to our accommodation for the night, the Hotel Gran de Oro. The corridors were all laced with thick wooden panels and hanging plants dangled from every crevice. The building centred around a grand courtyard restaurant where we gathered for a quick snack before setting out to explore the capital. For me the highlight of San Jose was the National Theatre of Costa Rica, founded in 1897 it is one of the most breath-taking buildings I have ever seen and I would’ve loved the chance to experience a performance there under the hand painted dome and blinding chandelier.  Whist reflecting on the trip as whole, San Jose felt quite underwhelming, but it was interesting to learn more about the history and culture of the country at the National Museum of Costa Rica. It was a great kick-start to our holiday but I wouldn’t prioritise it as a place to spend a large chunk of your holiday in.

IMG_5735.JPG

The morning light brought with it our first introduction to a tropical down pour and I think the next 2 weeks were spent in a constant state of dampness. We drove for what felt like hours down bumpy country roads and past rushing waterfalls till we reached our transfer to Tortoguero at the local harbour. The boat sped through the winding rivers blanketed by dense tropical trees, an American Crocodile watched us with one beady eye from the bank, and before we knew it we were out of civilisation and into to the depths of the rainforest. We stayed at the Manatus hotel, named after the old manatee scientific monitoring station that used to be situated there, but we only had time to drop our bags off at our huts before heading back on the boat to the local town. I think if anywhere was to sum up “Pura Vida” it was the town of Tortoguero. It wasn’t a place of wealth or blinding beauty but children ran playfully down the streets whilst their parents gathered under corrugated shelters, sharing food and stories of days past. The sense of community was overwhelming; our tour guide lived locally and was welcomed by everyone with open arms and bright smiles. Even the gushing rain couldn’t dampen the carefree feeling that enchanted the town, it did however leave us shivering so we made our way back to the hotel to hide out from the storm.

IMG_5734.JPGIMG_5541.JPG

That night I was awoken to a noise that I can only compare to a hailstorm (well if boulders were falling form the sky).  The rain trickled silently down the window pains but above us came a whole series of crashes that made the entire roof shake. Had the risk of getting soaked not been so high I would have ventured out to investigate but it was a good job I didn’t. After raising the issue at breakfast the following morning I was told by a waiter it was a pack of howler monkeys that often used the metal roofs of the huts to crack open nuts and fruit for their dinner. Talk about noisy neighbours!

IMG_5530.JPG

For the rest of the day we got to experience the majesty that is the Costa Rican rainforest. All loaded onto the boat our guide Luis took us deep into the lush green canopy, his eyes so fine-tuned to the surroundings that he could spot even the most camouflaged of creature. Three fingered sloths draped from trees, giant Christ lizards lapped up the sun on overhang leaves and monkeys flew through the sky like trapeze artists in a circus.  There truly isn’t anything more captivating than seeing an animal in their natural habitat, though I definitely wouldn’t want to get any closer to the Caymans than we did.  The guided tour finished around lunchtime but our feet didn’t stay on solid ground for long. If I’m ever asked to recall my most memorable moment traveling this is always the one I turn to. Accompanied by my dad, we were kayaking back down the river when a rustle in the trees caught my attention. Camouflaged by his algae ridden fur the three toed sloth was certainly hard to spot but luckily, due to their laid back approach to life, we were able to sit and watch him for what felt like hours. I decided to call him Cedric.

IMG_5558.JPGIMG_5737.JPG

Tortoguero stands for the “Land of the Turtle”, something that we were lucky enough to experience first hand. Instead of a comfortable evening tucked up in bed, we clambered back onto the boat and sped across the river in the dead of night. Our destination was a beach on the edge of the national park. Our purpose was giant turtles. In the warmer months of the year, female turtles clamber upon the beach to lay 100s of their eggs in the sand. Seeing as turtles don’t have schedules we sat in a hut in the dark for around an hour or so before one was spotted. Following the glow of a red light (Turtles use the white moon light as a guide back to the ocean so torches aren’t allowed in case the turtles get them confused) we tiptoed across the beach. Deep in the sand lay a humongous female turtle who was kicking up a sand storm with her back legs. They dig holes in order to lay their eggs then fill them back in with sand to protect their children from predators. It was an emotional experience to then watch the mother turtle crawl back to the ocean knowing that only 1/1000 of her offspring have a chance of making it to adulthood. The people of Costa Rica put in a great effort to protect these beautiful creatures and it was such a humbling experience to see them in their natural surroundings and contribute to the cause.

IMG_5738.JPG

Just as quickly as we had arrived it was time to get back on the trusty boat once more and head out of Tortoguero.  The sound of the rainforest stayed with me long after my feet were back on solid ground though. The trickle of the rain, the rush of the boat along the river, the rustle of the wind through the trees and the constant hum of the life rummaging around the forest floor echoed through my ears. The calmness of Tortoguero amongst the madness of the environment it was situated in was something very special and after only 3 days there I can honestly say that I now truly understand the meaning of Pura Vida.

Go and grab another cuppa on me, Em x

Why not become friends with me on Twitter and Instagram

LIKED THIS POST? read my other post on I want to be a travel blogger…