Kudos for Kevin

KevinKevin’s been working with me for over two years and while we’ve had our share of ups and downs and growing pains within the business, he’s always been there for me and my company. So I wanted to give him some kudos and acknowledge what makes him so great to work with.

  • He rescues butterflies
  • He participates and is open to new experiences, stepping out of his comfort zone…taking yoga, water aerobics and even birdwatching at 5:30 in the morning
  • He does all the hard physical work- like climbing rocks to get pictures of ancient turtle traps while I stay safely on the ground.
  • When we travel, he fully immerses himself into the hotel experience- even trying out one hotel’s Hawaiian style bathrobe.
  • He’s open to trying new foods (you may be surprised at how many people I’ve met who refuse to do that). He even tried tofu AND spirulina…and liked both
  • Our clients love him
  • We travel well together. In other words, I don’t want to kill him by the end of the trip
  • He tries to make me fall. Alright that one is an inside joke but trust me, it’s not a bad thing. It’s actually quite funny.
  • He’s like a sponge. Soaking up new information and learning quickly
  • He’s got an amazing memory
  • He has a great eye for photography
  • He reminds me of our niche when I start to consider working with other types of clients and businesses
  • He chooses to do the most difficult projects first
  • I trust him completely

One of my most favorite discussions with him (which had to do with the inside joke of my clumsiness):

  • You need to be wearing your 4×4 sandals (him to me)
  • I’m glad my pain is your entertainment (me to him)

You had to be there to really appreciate the humor in that conversation.

I couldn’t manage this company without him and I’m grateful for his steadfast and loyal commitment.


A Visit to Santa Juana Lodge and Community

Recently when I wrote about visiting the Sábalo community, I posed the question of just how many other communities are there in Costa Rica that are dying out and not being seen or heard.  And as the universe often does, an opportunity to learn more about these small communities presented itself to me.

A few weeks ago I met Jim Damalas, owner of Hotel Si Como No in Manuel Antonio, at his new community project in Santa Juana.  Santa Juana Lodge is opening this month but in the past, the adventure agro-tourism tour in this rural village was already known as one of the top rated tours of the Central Coast.  Located in the Fila Chonta Mountain range of Costa Rica’s Central Pacific Region, Santa Juana is a rural community with a population of just under 50 people.  It was only in the last few years that they actually got electricity installed. (take a moment and sit with that last sentence). They now have 5 children in their school and they are reforesting the area, reintroducing the endangered scarlet macaws while also protecting the valuable watershed which supplies Quepos and other nearby coastal cities with the precious resource of water.  Jim and his exceptional team have been working with the local people to teach them how to be guides, tour operators and hospitality staff, bringing more tourism into the area and revitalizing the community.

Costa Rica river

The adventure starts on the road to Santa Juana.  Located about one hour northwest of Manuel Antonio, you’ll drive through African palm plantations, cross over beautiful rivers and enter picturesque valleys, surrounded by lush green hillsides.  You can also travel from San Jose, through San Marcos de Tarrazu (one of Costa Rica’s best regions for coffee!).  Either way, it’s a beautiful drive that eventually lands you 500 meters up in the tropical mountains.  I say tropical as it was still a pleasant 80 degrees.  Knowing we were going to the mountains, I had worn capri pants that day (the extent of my “cold weather” clothes) thinking it would be cooler but was so happy to learn that was not the case.  Not only was it a mild temperature, it was also so fresh.  And even when it was cloudy in the afternoon and a light rain fell, the thermometer still read 80 degrees.

hammock at Santa Juana Lodge

Each of the casitas are large (I think they are larger than my house!) and exquisitely designed.  From the outside, they may appear simple (which is on purpose, in order to blend in with the environment) but once you step inside, you will feel a sense of tranquil comfort.  With gorgeous views of the Manuel Antonio coastline and the Fila Chonta ridgeline, it’s no wonder that Jim just happened to stop here one day on a drive and decide this was a perfect place for a rural tourism project.

Santa Juana, Costa Rica

When you visit, the experience is to understand Costa Rica, the real Costa Rica.  You will enjoy delicious, homestyle Tico food, learn about the traditions and culture of the community and experience a little of what the now developed Costa Rica was like many, many years ago.  It’s the perfect place for a yoga retreat, wedding ceremonies and receptions or just some time away from the daily grind of life.  And it’s all sustainable.  Jim is the founder of Greentique hotels so you can rest assured that staying at Santa Juana Lodge will have little impact on the environment but a huge (and positive) impact on the community.

It’s exciting for me to be able to work with projects like this and see the good that comes from it.  As I’ve mentioned in the past, I didn’t move to Costa Rica to party or lead a mindless life.  I moved to Costa Rica to make a difference, in my life and the lives of others. And I’m grateful for the opportunity to do just that with the Santa Juana Lodge and community.

I’ll leave you with this: One of the things that Jim said that day has stuck with me…“these are cathedrals of nature…and we must protect them”.  I couldn’t agree more.

Enjoy the slideshow…









Venturing to the lesser known areas of Costa Rica

sunset at Rio Magnolia, Costa Rica

One of the things that I did often in college was take off for a few days to really focus on my studies (especially when I was living at the sorority house…god help me, it’s not easy to admit I was part of a sorority!).  I normally didn’t go very far, just to a local Marriott usually for one or two nights.  I’d hole up in the room, have all my books laid out in front of me and order room service.  It was my way of decompressing AND focusing on what I needed to get done.

And recently, I needed that again.  I needed to focus and take some time, just for myself.  Plus, I have wanderlust running through my blood (seriously, I think it’s in my DNA) and I often feel so trapped in Quepos.  Not having a car, I often have an underlying sense of disconnection and feeling stuck. In California, I’d take off on road trips and day trips, all over the place.  That was my outlet.  And while I live in the jungle and have a view of the ocean, it’s just not the same.  As much as I love living in Quepos, I need to experience more than just my little town.

Since I’ve been to almost all the well known places, I decided to venture out to one of the lesser known areas of Costa Rica.  I went to the little tiny town (well, not even really a town – more like a village) of La Alfombra.  I know, you’re asking me: Where?  It’s actually only about 90 minutes from my house, halfway to San Isidro, and is considered one of the lower lying cloud forests at about 800 meters.  Not high enough for the quetzal (that I wrote about here) but far enough up the mountain to have a few different plant and animal species than what I’m used to in the rainforest of Manuel Antonio.

As we entered the property (on a very dirt road), I knew I was in not only a cloud forest but also a primary forest.  Such immense beauty, like the tall redwoods in California.  Rio Magnolia Nature Lodge is a stunning property that was at one time a farm.  The owners, from Canada, purchased the property and have since begun to reforest it as well as planting many types of fruit trees (including cacao!) and coffee.

Rio Magnolia, Costa Rica

It’s a B&B style home that the owners designed themselves, with luxurious accommodations, thoughtful details and views of the cascading green mountains that eventually lead out to the Pacific Ocean.  And the owners, Maureen and John, are just beautiful people (along with their four sweet dogs).  While I was there to work on personal projects, they also always invited me to join them for vegetarian meals and it was so much fun to talk with them and share our experiences of living in Costa Rica.

It’s also a sustainable hotel and for ease (because I can’t explain it better), this next part is from their website: “…electrical power is produced by a renewable energy source, the river Magnolia, which runs through our property. A 12 kW hydro-electric system provides all of the electricity to the Lodge and is distributed to the various buildings by buried cable, thus protecting the wildlife from harm.”

Don’t you just love that?  They also hire from the local community, started a recycling program in the town, compost their food waste, and so much more.  Another thing that I loved (and that I’m again extracting from their website) is how humble they are and open to new ideas and new ways of doing things:

“Most of the Costa Ricans in the area are farmers with modest income. They are extremely good at re-purposing food and beverage packaging and have taught us many things about reducing our garbage.”

While I was there, I sat outside on my terrace, listening to the birds sing in the nearby trees.  I watched the sunrise and the sunset.  I walked around the property, going down to the little river that runs alongside it and just meditated there as the sunshine filtered through the towering trees.  I saw so many birds, caterpillars and butterflies and took moments of time to just simply watch the fog roll in and out, over the dense green forest surrounding me.

cloud forest

The only downside (for me) is that it was cold.  And if you’ve been reading my blog for awhile now, you know that I’m seriously allergic to the cold.  So my eyes were watering and my nose was running most of the weekend.  But I made the best of it and enjoyed the brief moments when the sun did shine and warmed up the earth (and my body).  Knowing that I would be back in the warmth of Manuel Antonio in just a few short days makes the cold (and the ensuing illness) much more tolerable  for me. **I should note here that it was really only 70 degrees at its coolest during the day which yes, I know, is not technically cold…but it is for me!**

Chrissy Gruninger

It was exactly the break that I needed.  I got much deserved rest and was able to not only work on my projects but meet new friends as well.  I so hope that if you’re planning a trip to Costa Rica, you will visit Rio Magnolia and feel the warmth and love that is found there, from the owners, staff, delicious food and tranquil surroundings.

Enjoy the slideshow…


Pura vida…Chrissy

A mini (working) vacation

quetzal in Tapanti National Park, Costa Rica

Last month, I took 4 days to visit with clients and check out a new area (for me) in Costa Rica.  The first two nights were spent in Tamarindo, the second two were in Cerro de la Muerte.

Playa Langosta Costa RicaArriving in Tamarindo, I knew immediately this was not where I wanted to be.  It’s just not home.  Yes, I lived there for my first year of living in Costa Rica but no, this was not home.  And in a future post, I’ll write about the differences between Tamarindo and Manuel Antonio but for now, let’s focus on the good.

The afternoon that I arrived, I went out on my client’s catamaran and got to see my friends who work on the boat. Super fun day, warm tropical water and a much needed nap in the sunshine on the way home followed by a little salsa dancing!

I was staying at Sueno del Mar where several of my friends work so it was fun to catch up with them.  Plus, it was so nice to stay at this sweet beachfront bed and breakfast.  Before, while living in Langosta, I had enjoyed many delicious breakfasts there but staying there was even better.  I enjoyed a tranquil sunset from their beach chairs and loved the outdoor shower in my room.  And Lily, the hotel’s chef, made me a special breakfast on my first morning – their stuffed tortilla.  Mmmmm, so good!

breakfast at Sueno del Mar

I reconnected with the howlers (who are pretty much nonexistent in my area of Manuel Antonio)…and they kindly woke me up each morning at 4:30.  I even got a photo of the white squirrel…finally!

On the second night, I met with Kevin, my team member, for dinner.  It was great to catch up with him over a good meal at my favorite pizza place in town, Esquina.  And it was so nice to see the owners of the pizzeria and their growing family (they’re mentioned in my first travel book…which is now available on iBooks!).

I went to Lola’s for lunch on the second day and caught up with one of my awesome wellness clients, Bob Witty from Real Surf Trips.  While I don’t miss living in Tamarindo and the Guanacaste province, I will admit that seeing the good friends I made there was a nice bonus to the working trip.

Sunset in Cerro de la Muerte

From there, I traveled to the tall mountains southeast of San Jose.  Cerro de la Muerte (translated: Mountain of Death) is the highest mountain in Costa Rica that is accessible by car (Chirripo is the highest mountain) and is a part of the Inter-American Highway.  Our lodge was at 2,650 meters (8,694 feet) and at one point on the road, we reached almost 11,000 feet.  There are actually endemic pine trees and oak trees there…which of course requires a certain type of climate…

climate in Cerro de la Muerte

I was traveling with new friends and they warned me that it would be cold – like in the 40’s kind of cold.  Having forgotten what cold feels like, I wasn’t totally prepared…plus, I don’t own long pants!  But the beauty of the area was well worth the shivering teeth, the 5 blankets I slept with and the horrendous allergies that ensued.  Without a doubt, I have got to be allergic to the cold.  For the short time that the sun came out during my stay there, the allergies went away…But quickly returned as soon as the clouds came back and the cold returned.

quetzal in Tapanti National Park, Costa Rica

The highlight of this part of the trip, besides making new friends, was definitely seeing the elusive resplendent quetzal.  WOW.  What an incredible bird.  It’s height can measure, from head to tail, almost 3 feet!  And it’s colors are like no other bird…it’s truly remarkable.  And totally worth the cold.  When I posted a picture of it to Instagram, one of my followers wrote:

“Guatemala’s national bird, a symbol of hope, freedom, and my people’s strong heart.”

Such a beautiful sentiment.

As we left the wild avocado grove near the Tapanti National Park where the quetzals were spending their morning, our guide from the eco lodge, Paraiso Quetzal, thanked the birds for letting us be in their presence and to photograph them.  I smiled and nodded…I do the same thing any time I get a shot of wildlife, especially the ones who are a bit more difficult to photograph.

Sadly, I learned on this trip how there are still people who don’t appreciate (or respect) the loveliness of our world (*sigh*)…but alas that is another topic which I will someday post to my business blog at Social {media} Wellness.

For now…enjoy the slideshow…of our lovely world…


Pura vida…Chrissy

Turtle Traps at Playa Biesanz

Playa Biesanz Turtle Trap

So I need to start this blog off with kudos to Kevin because if it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t have gotten the photo of the traps.  And additional kudos since I dragged him down there when not only was he not feeling well but we also had to go at noon as that was when low tide was and the only time of the day when you can see these historic traps (which, of course, was the hottest point of the day).

Not only does it have to be at low tide but you also have to climb some volcanic rocks in order to see the “traps”.  And my rock climbing days are over ever since I slammed into a rock wall while rappelling down a waterfall.  Well, they’re over until I have health insurance again.  Then maybe I’ll consider trying out some new adventures.

So these turtle traps at Playa Biesanz are supposed to date back to the first century and the Boruca / Quepoa Indians.  To be honest, after seeing the photo, I don’t really understand how it works.  If anyone knows…please leave a comment!

And supposedly, Kevin tells me that there are also turtle traps in Tamarindo although I’ve walked that beach numerous times at low tide and never noticed any special rock formations.  Yes, there are rocks but none that seemed to be purposefully placed there!

Pura vida…Chrissy


A Visit to Makanda by the Sea

Makanda by the Sea Villa
Makanda by the Sea Villa

Surrounded by dense jungle with old growth bamboo and tall walking palms, our 950 sq ft villa at Makanda by the Sea in Manuel Antonio was a place of tranquil simplicity. We spent much of our time outside and there was ample seating options…the breakfast table, two comfortable lounge chairs or the hammock. Inside, we had a full kitchen, large living area, 4 poster bed with mosquito netting (it’s not really needed) and a modern bathroom with cut out block windows to the jungle.

We enjoyed lunches and dinner poolside with a stunning view of the ocean below.  During lunch we preferred the canopied area to shade us from the hot summer sun and at night we dined under the stars, the sound of crickets was louder than the music playing in the background. My favorite squirrel monkeys visited us during lunchtime and one of the servers showed us a half-asleep gladiator frog lounging poolside.

Returning late to our villa on our first night, the crickets had died down and we sat outside on the terrace lounge chairs, chatting quietly while enjoying the warm night air and listening to the waves crashing below us at Playa Biesanz.

Howler monkeys and birds (toucans, specifically) were our wake up call as the light shone through the curtain-less wall to wall terrace doors.  From the 4 poster bed, we could see the morning sunlight was just starting to kiss the jungle landscape and the ocean was a bright shade of blue.

We enjoyed a breakfast delivery each morning of gallo pinto (other options were also available) and freshly squeezed guanabana juice and mango juice.  And on our last night, after a very busy day, we decided to stay in and order room service for dinner.  Kevin enjoyed a steak topped with blue cheese along with mashed potatoes and veggies and I had a flatbread veggie pizza (that I’d love the recipe for!)

Each of the private bungalows at Makanda by the Sea have views of the ocean and are surrounded by lush jungle landscape. We never made it to Playa Makanda, a beach located below the 7,000 sq ft Casa Las Ventanas (a private vacation rental at Makanda) but we did hike down to Playa Biesanz, a white sand beach surrounded by tropical foliage and large volcanic rocks.  Kevin even got in a sunset surfing session at Playa Espadilla.

Makanda is an adults only hotel, located in the Manuel Antonio rainforest.  They’re known for “Romance in Nature” and while we were there for work, Kevin and I could both see that if traveling with someone else, that’s exactly the experience we would have had.

Enjoy the slideshow… (photos by both me and Kevin)


Pura vida…Chrissy

Note: While I am now paid and/or receive comped services at many of the places I visit, I will always offer my unbiased opinion to you, my readers. Fortunately, I almost always have experiences that exceed my expectations.

Reforestation Day with Titi Conservation Alliance

DSC04700Meet Jorge and Mireya.  These two lovely people are property owners in a nearby town called Naranjito.  And last week, Titi Conservation Alliance along with over 50 school children and many teachers and volunteers went to their property to plant trees in areas that had become bare.  By doing so, we are able to create a biological corridor for the local wildlife that uses trees to traverse the countryside.  Remember, it’s rare to see a monkey on the ground therefore it’s so important that trees act as connecting bridges in order for them to have a more expansive region to call Home.


By planting more trees, we’re helping to preserve a future for the Mono Titi (Squirrel Monkey) as it’s necessary for them to meet up with other groups, outside of their area, to breed.  Without trees, they are stuck in one specific area.


At the beginning of the day, Jorge saw me admiring his incredible view and started to talk with me about the history of the land.  At one time, it was all owned by his parents but when his dad passed, the brothers (there are 4 total) divided up the land into quarters.  There are a total of 20 hectares (almost 50 acres) of land in total.  And much of it was still in its natural state however some areas had no trees on it and that’s why we were there.  To help them reforest the area and return this land to its natural beauty, providing for the wildlife who live in the area.


When the kids and other volunteers began to plant the trees, Jorge took me on a walk alongside a stream on his property to look for morphos (the beautiful blue butterfly).


We saw one but as always, it never stopped, so we just enjoyed the moment as it fluttered by us.  He did find an owl butterfly however that let me get within a few inches of it to take its photo.  Such a beauty.  Inside, it has a very pale blue/gray color but it never let its wings down while it was resting.

Owl Butterfly in Costa Rica

As we walked along the stream, he mentioned to me that he often has to clean it out from the trash that people from other areas dump…plastic bags and plastic bottles, mostly.

At the end of the event, I found a shady spot to rest on a log but shortly after sitting, Jorge asked me if I’d like to go to his house to wash off my boots (they were covered in mud) and talk with him and Marja.  We walked over to his main house and immediately he showed me a green iguana that was hanging out on his awning.  Marja invited me to sit and brought me a few crackers and a refreshingly cold glass of Iced Tea.  They told me they often see the beautiful Lapas (scarlet macaws) which don’t exist where I live in Quepos/Manuel Antonio (even though it’s only a short distance away) and many monkeys traversing in the trees every day.  When it was time to leave, they told me in Spanish, that I am invited there anytime, using the well-known expression of “mi casa es su casa”.

Green Iguana in Costa Rica

What a delight to meet this couple who cares for the environment and understands how precious a gift it is.  I’m so fortunate to have met them and that Titi Conservation Alliance is working with them to reforest their land in order to protect it for generations to come.

Pura vida…Chrissy


Meet Harmony and Sam
Meet Harmony and Sam

Two of our Rich Coast Experience team members!  Okay, probably not the two you thought I was going to write about but aren’t they cute?  I’m still working on creative titles for my sales reps but for now, we’ve narrowed down the titles for these two cute guys and we need your help selecting!  Using the poll below, please vote by the 15th!!

The options in case you can’t read them in the poll are:

  • Chief Happiness Advocate (for Harmony, the California cat)
  • Chief Pura Vida Advocate (for Sam, the Costa Rica dog)
  • Chief Trouble Maker (Harmony)
  • Chief Problema-Tico (Sam)

Be sure to choose one option for each below and then click “vote” in order for it to be counted!

Pura vida…Chrissy

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