8 Outdoor Activities The Whole Family Will Love At Unicoi State Park & Lodge


The 1,050-acre Unicoi State Park & Lodge is in Helen, Georgia, a Bavarian-influenced town best known for the stunning Anna Ruby Falls and its year-round celebrations of German culture. Unicoi is an adventure lodge, meaning it has a lot of outdoor offerings to choose from in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. 

You don’t have to be an avid outdoorsman to stay there, and in fact, my husband and I had a great time at the lodge itself, dining on the property and enjoying the scenery. However, this family-friendly address in northeastern Georgia is one outdoors-lovers won’t want to miss any time of the year.

Pro Tip: October is the busiest month for the park, as this is when visitors flock for leaf peeping. 

Note: I was hosted by Unicoi State Park & Lodge. As always, opinions and reviews are 100 percent mine. 

A hiking path at Unicoi State Park
Melody Pittman

1. Hiking

Hiking is a big draw anywhere in the North Georgia Mountains, and Unicoi State Park & Lodge has several designated trails, all within the Chattahoochee National Forest. You will want to follow the signs and be sure to stay on the path. 

I found Frog Pond Nature Trail to be a good, quick hike (only one-third of a mile) that provided a lot of scenery and a nice workout in a short time. Keep your eyes open for possum, squirrels, and chipmunks. Bottoms Loop Trail was another trail that we enjoyed, with fallen trees that added more beauty to our pictures and the groundscape. This trail makes a 2-mile loop and is rated a moderate hike.

Perhaps you would enjoy a guided nature hike. How fun does that sound? For this activity, a park naturalist will take you on one of the trails and introduce you to plants and animals found on the Unicoi property. Any age will enjoy and appreciate this one to two-hour nature excursion. Tours start around $10.

Pro Tip: This is prime bear country, so keep an eye out and do not wander or travel alone. With that being said, the scenery is fantastic and the terrain exhilarating, so don’t let me scare you with the bear info. 

Anna Ruby Falls at Unicoi State Park
Anna Ruby Falls (Photo Credit: Melody Pittman)

2. See The Waterfall 

The mother of all waterfalls in the Helen region is right here at Unicoi State Park & Lodge: Anna Ruby Falls. The falls (named after the daughter of a Civil War general) is operated by the U.S. Forest Service, so therefore a separate admission fee of $5 per person (age 16 and up) is required at the gate.

After parking your car, you will follow a well-marked path for .4 miles to reach the pinnacle of the waterfall. While the hike is short, it is pretty strenuous in places with steep inclines. People of all ages, and what appeared to be all ability levels, were hiking it, but everyone kept their eye on the prize and went at their own pace to reach the waterfall platform. There were a few benches along the way for resting, which I had to use at one point.

Once you arrive at Anna Ruby Falls, there are two viewing platforms for the best views and photo-ops. The lower one is great for groups and selfies, and the top one allows you to feel the mist of the thrashing water. You are that close to this gorgeous display of cascading twin falls.

Pro Tip: Don’t miss the gift shop, which has an excellent selection of t-shirts, postcards, stickers, and souvenirs. 

The author practicing archery at Unicoi State Park
The author practicing archery (Photo Credit: Melody Pittman)

3. Archery

I did something brand new at Unicoi State Park & Lodge. My husband and I had an archery lesson, along with two other couples. I had no idea what to expect, but our guide was informative, easy to understand, and had us all shooting targets in only a few minutes. Safety is vital in this sport, so be sure to listen to the instructor about loading your arrows and firing the bow.

We all shot three rounds of arrows. When she called “cold range,” we all knew it was safe to collect the arrows we had fired. We started out shooting at pretty close targets, but they were still not all that easy to hit for us newbies. After about 45 minutes of that, we made our way over to the 3-D range, which replaces targets with fake animals. The bear, armadillo, coyote, and a few others provided a place for us to attempt to shoot our arrows. There is a tower you can shoot from, too. I didn’t hit one of the animals (my husband did), but we had a blast. The lesson and activity lasted about 90 minutes.

Target shooting at the air gun range is another fun offering in this part of the park. A covered range is where you’ll try your luck at paper targets. All three areas of the Air Gun and Archery Range are considered ADA accessible.

Zip-line platform at Unicoi State Park
Zip-line platform (Photo Credit: Melody Pittman)

4. Zip-Lining

As with many of the Georgia state parks, the zip-lining course is popular and enjoyable. Along with a canopy ranger, guests have the chance to take part in 19 aerial zips ranging from 75 to 2,000 feet long. You’ll zip 100 feet above the ground and have epic views of Unicoi Lake and the area’s wildlife. 

There are two levels you can choose for your ziplining adventure. Level 1 has a series of 11 zip lines and seven suspension bridges, while level 2 has 19 zips and 12 bridges. One of the zips is a half-mile across Unicoi Lake. That sounds awesome! I heard from guests at Unicoi Lodge who did Level 2 and loved every minute of it. As for me, I kept my feet firmly planted on the ground, though I have zip-lined before.

Smith Creek at Unicoi State Park
Smith Creek (Photo Credit: Melody Pittman)

5. Kayaking And Boating

Unicoi Lake on Smith Creek (a tributary of the Chattahoochee River) is a 53-acre attraction that is one of the prettiest sights you’ll ever see, especially in the fall when the colorful leaves are reflecting on the water. So stunning that nearly everyone who drives by pulls over for a photo or to just admire the sheer beauty. Smith Creek is an excellent place for getting out in a canoe, on a paddle board, or in a kayak, which can all be rented from the visitor center.

There is a fee to rent a canoe or kayak. Dogs are welcome but must have a lifejacket, which Unicoi does not provide.

Boating is also a popular activity on Unicoi Lake. In the warm months, you can rent boats on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Trout fishing is another desired outdoor offering. 

If you have time and the desire, schedule a mountain fly-fishing lesson to learn the parts of the fly-fishing rod, how to cast your line, and tips for catching the big one (like reading the water, for instance). Be sure to schedule your lessons 24 hours in advance.

6. Relaxing On The Beach

Yes, Unicoi State Park & Lodge has a beach area. You are probably as surprised as we were. There is a roped-off area for swimming (though the water is not more than 4 feet deep) and a sandy beach area for building sandcastles or just relaxing and enjoying the view. Standup paddle boarders and kayakers use this part of the lake, too. You can rent your outdoor gear at the boathouse during the season.

Path to Anna Ruby Falls at Unicoi State Park
Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com

7. Mountain Biking

Unicoi State Park & Lodge has a 7.5-mile mountain bike loop that is perfect for experienced riders. The mountainous terrain has specially designed paths through forests, fields, woodlands, and plenty of scenic overlooks. The trail makes a figure-8 shape so that you can ride it all or only half. You will need your own equipment for this activity. Watch for the white blaze markings that mark the trail.

8. Tomahawk Throwing

Join one of the activities attendants in this trendy, fun offering to spruce up your tomahawk-throwing skills. You’ll spend an hour on the outdoor range and learn the proper technique for throwing the tomahawk at wooden targets. Equipment is provided, and closed-toed shoes are required for this activity.

Pro Tip: If you want to capture some of your outdoor adventures with a GoPro, you can rent one from Unicoi Adventures on the third floor of the Unicoi Lodge. GoPro cameras are easy to use, and you can capture your unique experiences in beautiful 1080P high definition. Memory cards are sold separately.

Heading to Georgia? We have plenty more to show you:



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U.S. travel ban lifts Nov. 8; airlines brace for ‘onslaught’ of travelers


The United States will accept people who have been vaccinated with the shots that have been authorized within its borders — vaccines by Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech and Johnson & Johnson — as well as vaccines approved for emergency use by the World Health Organization, such as those developed by AstraZeneca with Oxford University, as well as by China’s Sinovac. It will also allow people who have received combinations of such shots. However, Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine won’t be included, as it has yet to be approved by the WHO, which suspended its review of the vaccine in September over concerns about production practices but resumed the process in October.



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Threat of new virus variant brings back travel restrictions from 8 African countries


The United States just recently started allowing international visitors into the countries, but a new COVID-19 variant already has travel restrictions back in place.

Omnicron, believed to have originated in South Africa, has prompted President Joe Biden to place travel restrictions for eight countries in southern Africa.

Dr. John Zaso, a pediatrician at NYU Langone Health, says it is a highly evolved mutation that could be much more contagious.

It’s not clear how the current vaccines work against the new strain, but Zaso says their effectiveness could go down.

“If you think of the spike protest as a key–what happens is you have many teeth on a key,” Zaso says. “Sometimes one tooth can be a little off or flat and it can still work. When you a 30-mutation spike protein, it’s a whole new key.”

Robert and Melissa Silverstein were planning a trip to Aruba, but changed their minds because of the new variant.

“It’s scary,” Robert Silverstein says. “But it’s just something we need to find out more about.”

News of the new variant also sent stocks tumbling after the holiday as scientists look to learn more about it.

Zaso says it’s not yet known if there is any increase in how sick the Omnicron makes someone, but he says it’s “probably” very contagious compared to other strains.

Travel restrictions begin on Monday. They do not apply to United States citizens or permanent residents, but traveling to that part of the world is not advised.



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US travel restrictions coming for 8 African countries due to omicron


The U.S. is going to restrict travel from South Africa and several other countries due to a troubling new COVID-19 variant. 

The White House announced the new rules, which come just weeks after the country reopened to international tourists with new entry rules, on Friday.

The new rules, which take effect Monday, apply to travelers from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi. U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents are excluded.

The policy was implemented out of an “abundance of caution” in light of the new variant and in consultation with Anthony Fauci, the president’s Chief Medical Officer, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

►What is omicron: What to know about the new COVID-19 variant in South Africa

►COVID updates: New COVID variant dubbed ‘omicron’ by WHO, classified as ‘variant of concern’

The World Health Organization on Friday declared the variant, omicron, a variant of concern. The first case was reported to WHO from South Africa on Wednesday.

Several European countries and the United Kingdom have already taken measures to restrict travel to and from Africa since the new variant came to light.

What US airlines serve Africa?

United and Delta are the only U.S. airlines offering service between the U.S. and Africa.

United Airlines began offering flights between the United States and Africa, flights that only began earlier this year.

The Chicago-based airline offers nonstop flights between Newark and Johannesburg and Washington, D.C., to Accra three times a week. It is also due to resume seasonal service to Cape Town in December.

“We’re monitoring the situation but don’t have any changes to announce at this time,” United spokeswoman Nicole Carriere said via email.

Delta offers service between Atlanta and Johannesburg and said it, too, is monitoring the situation.



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8 Fantastic Things To Do In Beautiful Zurich


Zurich, the largest city in Switzerland, is a cosmopolitan metropolis packed with great culture, a significant art scene, superior food, and handsome architecture. The city is super easy to get around by either strolling the hilly streets or taking the efficient trams. Three to four days is ideal to fully explore Zurich.

Besides being surrounded by the luscious green hills of the Swiss Plateau, Zurich is blessed with two, sparkling waterways, Lake Zurich and the Limmat River, giving the city an added natural beauty. 

Pro Tip: Swiss German, a specific German dialect, is the official language of Zurich, but English is spoken in almost all the shops, restaurants, and hotels. 

Lake Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland, daytime
Richard Nahem

Activities On Lake Zurich

Take advantage of vast, clear Lake Zurich, measuring 34 square miles, by partaking in some of the fun activities. 

Swimming

During the summer months, the city sections off parts of the lake for swimming along with bathhouses where you can get a locker and a towel for a small fee. If you are brave enough to bear the cold, take a swim in the winter months, where you can also warm up afterward in a sauna on the Enge area of the lake. 

Boat Rentals 

Close to the centrally located Zurich Opera House is Lago, a platform where you can rent a motorboat or paddleboat. You also have the option of hiring a skipper to navigate a private yacht rental. 

Pro Tip: You don’t need to have a boating license to rent a motorboat. 

Lake Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland, night time.
Lake Zurich at night (Photo Credit: Richard Nahem)

Stand Up Paddle Boarding/SUP

If you are the more adventurous type, rent a paddle board from SUPSWISS, and glide away on the lake. 

Cruises

There’s a wide variety of cruises and cruise boats that cross Lake Zurich and the Limmat River. Tours last anywhere from 50 minutes to a full day. There are also specialty voyages such as a cheese fondue cruise, literary cruise, brunch cruise, and murder mystery cruise. Zurichsee is the main company that organizes cruises on Lake Zurich. 

Cycling

Cycling on the perimeter of Lake Zurich is another terrific way to see the highlights of Zurich as well as the luxurious mansions and villas lining the lake, and the Glarus Alps, and at the end of your journey, you can relax in the thermal baths. There’s a two-stage route covering 32 miles in total. 

Old Town Zurich.
Richard Nahem

The Old Town

One of the unmissable highlights of Zurich is the Old Town. Put on your most comfortable and sturdiest rubber soled shoes or sneakers and explore the quaint, cobblestone streets, buildings, and homes with colored facades and towers dating back as far as the 13th century, ancient water basins and fountains, old-world cafes and restaurants, and small boutiques and individual shops. There are four sections of the Old Town: Lindenhaus, Rathaus, Hochschulen, and City which cover both sides of the Limmat River.

One of the oldest parts of Zurich is the Lindenhof, which is lined with linden trees and is traced back to Roman times of the 1st century B.C. Rathaus is the original city hall of Zurich from the 1300s, and the current structure was constructed in the 1700s, incorporating Baroque and Renaissance architecture. 

Take a break during your walk and indulge in a sumptuous pastry at Schobert tea salon, café, and confection shop that’s been a local favorite since 1842. Specialties include its famous, sinfully rich hot chocolate topped with fresh whipped cream.

Lindt Chocolate Museum.
Lindt Chocolate Museum (Photo Credit: Richard Nahem)

Chocolate, Chocolate, And Even More Chocolate 

Just the mere mention of Switzerland immediately conjures up the word chocolate. Swiss chocolate is famed the world over and on almost every corner of Zurich there’s a chocolate shop waiting for you to try. 

Lindt Museum And Chocolate Factory 

Even a die-hard chocoholic will be impressed with a visit to the Lindt Museum and chocolate factory. The Lindt Museum opened in 2020 and is the largest museum of its type in the world. The centerpiece of the vast, 65,000 square foot complex, is an astounding, 30-foot-high chocolate fountain in the white marble lobby of the museum, where 1500 liters of liquid chocolate flows off a giant gold whisk on to a truffle. A winding marble staircase takes you through the various levels of the museum where there are interactive displays. You will learn about the origins and the thousands year old history of the cacao bean, first developed in the South America and the Amazon, how chocolate made its way to Europe, how the chocolate industry in Switzerland was developed in the early 1800s, and how milk chocolate was invented in Switzerland in 1879. You also get to see the latest technology in how chocolate is produced, and the best part of your visit is the unlimited chocolate tasting during the tour. There’s a café and restaurant with chocolate treats and hot chocolate and an enormous store selling every variation of Lindt chocolate you can imagine.

Pro Tip: The Lindt Museum is about a 20-minute bus ride from the center of Zurich. Take the #165 bus from Bürkliplatz stop to the Lindt & Sprüngli stop. Buses run approximately every 30 minutes. 

Sprungli, chocolate, dessert restaurant in Zurich.
Sprungli (Photo Credit: Richard Nahem)

Sprungli

Sprungli is one of the top chocolate and confectionery brands in Zurich, and the flagship store on the Paradeplatz also includes a café and restaurant. Peruse the dozens of showcases featuring chocolate pralines, truffles, and milk, white, and dark chocolate bars with varying cacao percentages. A non-chocolate, signature specialty at Sprungli is Luxemburgerli, a bite size macaron in over a dozen flavors. 

Max Chocolatier 

Located on a small street in the Old Town, Max Chocolatier produces super high quality, handmade chocolates in small batches. 

Zurich, Switzerland, Art museum Kunsthaus.
Kunsthaus Zürich (Photo Credit: Zabotnova Inna / Shutterstock.com)

Museums

Kunsthaus Zürich

The largest and most significant art museum in Switzerland, Kunsthaus Zürich houses centuries of artworks from the Middle Ages all the way to contemporary, 21st-century works. In 2021, the Kunsthaus Zürich expanded with a new wing dedicated to works from the 1960s and it also contains the Emil Bührle Collection, which is one of the most prized and important art collections in Switzerland. Together, the two structures now constitute the largest art museum in Switzerland. 

Le Corbusier House 

The Pavillon Le Corbusier is the last building designed by groundbreaking architect Le Corbusier. In 1960, Heidi Weber, a Swiss interior designer, art patron, and gallery owner, enlisted Le Corbusier to build a museum in Zurich, and she used her own money to finance the construction. Opened in 1967, over the next 50 years Weber ran the museum and funded its upkeep and exhibitions. The stunning steel and glass building with bright colored panels sits on a grassy knoll surrounded by tall trees. 

Pro Tip: Stroll through the streets near the Le Corbusier House and discover beautiful Art Nouveau mansions and homes from the late 20th century. 

Restaurants And Cafes

There’s an eclectic range of cuisine in Zurich’s restaurants and cafes including traditional Swiss, French, Thai, Japanese, and German.

Restaurant Zum Kropf 

A 15th-century house with rich wood paneling, and hand-painted ceilings and murals, is the backdrop for Restaurant Zum Kropf, which serves traditional Swiss dishes such as leberknödelsuppe (liver dumpling soup), bratwurst sausages, boiled beef, wiener schnitzel, apple strudel, and an extensive beer menu. 

Razzia 

A grand cinema from 1920 has been converted into an uber-cool, contemporary restaurant. Razzia serves a stylish menu of Asian fusion cuisine with Thai touches. Diners can peer into the open kitchen and enjoy a cocktail or glass of wine in the connecting chic bar and lounge. 

Odeon Café 

Odeon is a legendary, Art Nouveau style coffee house from 1911 and is known for its roster of intellectual elite clientele of artists, writers, musicians, and poets including Somerset Maugham, Erich Maria Remarque, Toscanini, and Albert Einstein. 

Zurich, Switzerland, houses at daytime.
Richard Nahem

Hotels 

Ameron Bellerive Au Lac

The ideal location of Ameron Bellerive au Lac Hotel, facing Lake Zurich, is close to the opera house and downtown, and within walking distance to the Old Town. The rooms and public areas are a pleasant combination of Art Deco and contemporary design. Room amenities include a king size bed, free bottled water, heated bathroom floors, safe, Nespresso machine, and air conditioning. 

La Reserve Eden Du Lac

In the super luxury, five-star hotel category, La Reserve Eden Du Lac

is at the very top. World renowned architect and designer Philippe Starck has converted a 100-year-old hotel directly on Lake Zurich into a stylish recreation of an exclusive yacht club. La Reserve Eden Du Lachas only 40 rooms, mostly with views of the lake, and amenities include a separate dressing room, Nespresso machine, a safe, and luxury toiletries. The Eden suite, measuring a spacious 850 square feet, has a king size bed, a living room, and four balconies that face the lake. The La Muna restaurant on the sixth floor with wood floors, beams, and walls has the feel of an intimate chalet and has 360 degree views of Lake Zurich and the city. In warmer weather, the restaurant extends outside with a tree-lined terrace. 

Pro Tip: The current exchange rate of the Swiss franc to the U.S. dollar is $1.10, making Zurich on the expensive side, so be prudent when planning your trip.

Check out these other destinations in Switzerland for a different experience:



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8 Fabulous Experiences Along The Caribbean Coast Of Costa Rica


It was because of the Jaguar Rescue Centre in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast that I ended up living near Playa Cocles for three months in a blue jungle house. My eldest daughter was returning to volunteer at the Jaguar Rescue Centre and I decided it was the perfect place to start my retirement.

This is where I fell for Costa Rica, a place where the jungle meets the ocean, sloths cross the road, and the call of howler monkeys become the norm as an incredible early morning alarm. I bought a second-hand bike and discovered secluded beaches, incredible wildlife, friendly locals, and even a boa constrictor on my front lawn. 

Here are 8 fabulous experiences to enjoy on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast. 

People exploring a wild nature area by row boat in Tortuguero National Park,Costa Rica.
Marco Lissoni / Shutterstock.com

1. Discover Incredible Biodiversity At Tortuguero National Park

My visit to Tortuguero National Park ranks right up there as a favorite experience on Costa Rica’s coast. With its maze of canals and mangrove trees, Tortuguero is one of the most biodiverse rainforests in Costa Rica. As you travel through the winding canals lined with mangrove trees to get to the national park, herons, anhingas, keel-billed toucans, and howler monkeys greet you. Be swept away by the sheer natural biodiversity of this corner of the earth. Join a guided tour of green sea turtles laying their eggs, take a birdwatching tour or dip your kayak paddle in the canals while silently exploring.

Sea turtle eggs in Tortuguero national park, Costa Rica.
Turtle eggs at Tortuguero National Park (Photo Credit: Jarno Gonzalez Zarraonandia / Shuttertock.com)

Read more details about visiting Tortuguero National Park in this article: 4 Beautiful National Parks in Costa Rica Not To Miss

View of colorful Outback Jack's Australian Beach Bar & Grill  in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca village, Costa Rica.
Matyas Rehak / Shutterstock.com

2. Embrace The Pura Vida Lifestyle In Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Costa Rica

Puerto Viejo de Talamanca (simply referred to as Puerto Viejo) is known as a party town. And lively it is. There are plenty of hostels and bars booming with reggae and calypso music. But that is not all of Puerto Viejo.

Main street at Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Limón Province, Costa Rica.
Main Street (Photo Credit: Mabelin Santos / Shutterstock.com)

Puerto Viejo encapsulates the laid back “Pura Vida” vibe of Costa Rica. It’s the perfect place to breathe a little deeper and slow down.Puerto Viejo’s residents are a mix of Afro-Caribbean, indigenous Bribri, Ticos and expats that came but couldn’t bear to leave. Visit Puerto Viejo’s Saturday market. Pick up a cold coconut water (pipa fria) and talk to the local artisans and farmers. Even with my beginner level Spanish, the locals were patient and friendly. Take time to visit the cafes, watch the fishermen mending their nets by hand and marvel at what actually gets transported on a bicycle. 

3. Relax On The Caribbean Coast Beaches Of Costa Rica

Just imagine for a minute, swaying palm trees. White sand. Turquoise blue waters. Rolling waves. Spanish chit chat. Local fried plantain and coconut rice served on a banana leaf. Calypso music playing in the distance. This is the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, which you can enjoy to the fullest at these four beaches south of Puerto Viejo.

Surfing  boards. Playa Cocles, Costa Rica.
JurateBuiviene / Shutterstock.com

Playa Cocles

The first beach, just 2 miles south of Puerto Viejo, is Playa Cocles. You can’t miss it. An array of colorful surfboards waiting to be rented, the crashing surf, beach volleyball, and surfers dashing into the Caribbean Sea to ride the waves. At just over 1 mile long, Playa Cocles has plenty of room for the surfers and those just wanting to chill. 

Playa Chiquita, a wild beach close to Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica.
Simon Dannhauer / Shutterstock.com

Playa Chiquita

Just a little further south, about 4 miles from Puerto Viejo, is the even lovelier beach of Playa Chiquita. It’s the perfect beach away from any crowds to relax, swim and soak up the relaxed lifestyle of Costa Rica. 

Playa Punta Uva at Puerto Viejo in Costa Rica.
Pavel Tvrdy / Shutterstock.com

Punta Uva

This small fishing village has a spectacular beach. About 5 miles south of Puerto Viejo, it is not particularly well-marked, so look for the Restaurante Selvin and turn towards the beach. The powdery sand, stunning color of the water and palm tree forest make it the perfect Costa Rican beach. If you are up for kayaking, paddle boarding, or snorkelling, rentals are available. 

Wild Caribbean beach of Manzanillo at Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica.
Simon Dannhauer / Shutterstock.com

Playa Manzanillo

Playa Manzanillo is located inside the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge. This private-public area protects the flora and fauna found in the biodiverse mangrove swamp. Various turtle species lay their eggs here and manatees and caimans are abundant.There is plenty of opportunity to see wildlife and hiking trails that are best explored with a guide.

I love the white sand and swaying palm and almond trees at Playa Manzanillo. With few tourists, it has a very local and laid back vibe epitomized by the local cafe named The Cool and Calm Cafe. Snorkel on the reef or get your camera and photograph Flowerpot Rock, a jagged rock off the shore topped with a few trees.

Pro Tips: 

  • For all the beaches on the Caribbean coast near Puerto Viejo, it is really important when taking part in water activities to be aware of the strong undertow.
  • Never leave your belongings unattended on the beach, even while swimming. 
  • Biking to all the beaches is my preferred way to get there. Rent a bike in Puerto Viejo and then spend the day beach hopping. Beaches are also accessible by car and public bus. 
Jaguar at wildlife rehabilitation center in Costa Rica.
Adriana Margarita Larios Arellano / Shutterstock.com

4. See Sloths And Monkeys Up Close At The Jaguar Rescue Centre

One of the most popular attractions on the  Caribbean coast near Puerto Viejo is the Jaguar Rescue Centre. The remarkable rescue and rehabilitation centre is four miles south of Puerto Viejo in Playa Chiquita. The Jaguar Rescue Centre acts as a temporary or permanent home to orphaned and injured local wildlife. 

Daily public and private tours are offered to see the animals that currently live there. The stories of how the animals arrived at the Jaguar Rescue Centre are impactful and memorable. So are the faces of the two and three-toed sloths, the anteater, and the howler and spider monkeys. A variety of snakes and birds from the rainforest also make up the inhabitants of the centre. There are many inspiring stories of animals being successfully released back into their natural habitat. Find out more about the Jaguar Rescue Centre.

Trekking on a mud road in the Cahuita National Park in Costa Rica.
Guadalupe Polito / Shutterstock.com

5. Hike Or Snorkel At Cahuita National Park

Just 10 miles north of Puerto Viejo is Cahuita National Park. With its two stunning white sand beaches, Playa Blanca and Puerto Vargas, and a 5-mile hiking trail, Cahuita National Park is definitely worth visiting. Plan to relax under the palm trees or hire a certified guide at the entrance and walk through the rainforest spotting capuchin and howler monkeys, perhaps a sloth or two and maybe even a Jesus Christ lizard. Snorkelling with a certified guide is also a popular activity in Cahuita National Park. Read more details about Cahuita National Park in this article: 4 Beautiful National Parks in Costa Rica Not To Miss

Organic production called "Caribean Coffee and Chocolate" near Puerto Viejo in Costa Rica.
 Smaks K / Shutterstock.com

6. See The “Bean To Bar” Process At Caribeans Chocolate And Coffee

You might notice Caribbeans Coffee Shop at the side of the road, just south of Puerto Viejo, and stop for a coffee, as I did. Inside, its handmade, organic chocolate is available for sampling and purchasing. Caribeans is the perfect example of bean to bar chocolate making and the taste is exquisite. The chocolate is flavored with herbs and spices such as lime leaves, chile peppers and peppermint, to name a few of my favorites. Caribeans Chocolate And Coffee is a fabulous place to have a coffee, chocolate drink, smoothie and a bite to eat. And of course, a piece of chocolate or two. 

Female guide at Caribeans Coffee Shop and Chocolate explains the chocolate-making process.
Female tour guide showing the chocolate making process (Photo Credit: expatpostcards / Shutterstock.com)

The experience is even more meaningful if you take the tour through their cacao farm. Along with fabulous views out to the Caribbean Sea, the tour is interactive and educational. It truly gives an understanding of where chocolate comes from and the process and pride that this small producer puts into its product.

Pro Tip: Caribeans Chocolate And Coffee tours are at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily except Sundays. No need to book in advance. The tours last about 2 hours and involve walking on a gravel road and well-maintained trails through the rainforest. Find out more about Caribeans here. 

7. Visit The Bribri Indigenous Territory 

Taking a guided tour to the Bribri Indigenous Territory is an authentic cultural and historical experience. Hike through the rainforest, learn about medicinal plants and walk through a cacao farm. Meet a family that has been farming and making organic chocolate from cacao trees using a process that has been handed down from one generation to another. Book your tour here or here. 

8. Watch Critically Endangered At The Ara Manzanillo Reintroduction Station

The Great Green Macaw, whose habitat range is in Central and South America, is found in Costa Rica but only on the  Caribbean coast. Greatly reduced in numbers due to hunting, deforestation, and the international wild bird pet trade, this gorgeous species is critically endangered. Take the 4 p.m. tour, the only way to visit the Great Green Macaw Reintroduction Station, and be prepared to be wowed. A magnificent vista awaits you overlooking the jungle with glimpses of the sea but the most spectacular sight is the Great Green Macaws. 

The guide will explain the ways that the Great Green Macaw is being protected and reintroduced to the wild. You’ll see plenty of these stunning birds as they fly in for feeding time. Their riot of colorful feathers, green, turquoise, and red, and grace in flight is spellbinding.

Pro Tips: 

  • Definitely book a tour. Right here
  • Getting to the Great Green Macaw Reintroduction Center: The Reintroduction Center is at the top of a hill. If coming by bicycle, park your bike and walk uphill just over half a mile. By car, look for the sign reading ARA about 7.4 miles south of Puerto Viejo. Another way to get there is by taxi. The road is steep but doable and there is parking at the top.
Colorful Bread and Chocolate sign in Puerto Rico.
Bread and Chocolate (Photo Credit: expatpostcards / Shuttertock.com)

Where To Eat In Puerto Viejo

Bread and Chocolate: Stop by Bread and Chocolate for a delicious breakfast or lunch in its relaxed atmosphere. Don’t miss the bean to bar chocolate experiences. 

Cafe Rico is tucked into a tropical garden and has a library onsite. It totally embodies the Pura Vida lifestyle with great coffee and food. 

Como en mi Casa: Dive into a healthy meal while sitting on the little balcony. 

Caribeans: As mentioned above, this eatery is at Playa Cocles and has a great breakfast and lunch menu. Don’t forget to pair your meal with chocolate drinks, smoothies, and coffee. And the piece de resistance? The chocolate, of course. 

El Refugio Grill in Punta Uva: A small and intimate restaurant, open for lunch and dinner, with excellent food. It’s a fabulous jungle experience.

Consider these other experiences awaiting you in Costa Rica:



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Donations since SB 8 help Planned Parenthood boost Texas services, travel funds for abortions


Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas announced Friday that thanks to increased donations as a “direct response” to the state’s new abortion law the organization will be expanding their services especially for long term birth control like IUDs and providing funds for patients to travel out of state to recieve abortions.

Elizabeth Cardwell, lead clinician for Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas said that since Senate Bill 8 was enacted they have received a higher volume of calls asking for long term birth control options. The new law bans abortions after approximately 6 weeks of gestation.

“A much greater need for really reliable birth control, especially an uptick in the request for long acting reversible contraception. Like implants or intrauterine devices or IUDs, we’re seeing that that again, Senate Bill 8 because there’s such a tiny window for patients to access safe and legal abortion inside the state of Texas,” she said.

Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas is expanding access to healthcare appointments for uninsured patients at 24 of their health centers in Austin, Dallas, Denton, El Paso, Fort Worth, Lubbock, Paris, Plano, Tyler, Waco and surrounding communities. This expansion of services is in part because of donors, Cardwell said.

“With the generous donors that we’ve had, we’ve been able to expand. So all their services are covered so that’s, that’s really been key because our donors have realized how desperate patients are to seek affordable care,” she said.

Cardwell says the increase in donations is a public response to SB 8.

“It definitely is a direct response to Senate Bill 8. So while Senate Bill 8 is onerous, and it’s really is detrimental especially to you know, those that have the least amount of access to health care and that might be needing access to safe and legal abortion, their window of time to access that and their ability to access is so limited, that donors have really stepped up,” she said.

The new initiative provides resources for those seeking abortion in Texas under SB 8, specifically, Planned Parenthood will offer financial assistance to reduce cost of abortions, support for travel expenses such as gas cards, flights, lodging and other travel expenses. The organization will also be handing out take home kits that contain emergency contraception, early detection pregnancy testing, and condoms.

“We have travel assistance funds that will help cover everything that they really would need so we can give guest cards for gas that they’re going to be driving. We can give them bus tickets or plane tickets. We can give them money for lodging and you know, for meals. And again, just to give them also the support of helping to reach out to centers,” Cardwell said.

“We’ve built a really strong network with other providers around the country, but they’ve really had to step up especially smaller states, trying to handle the volume of abortion patients that are traveling from Texas to have an abortion,” she added.

Beyond the service improvements funded by the influx of contributions, the organization expansion includes birth control including IUDS and implants, STD testing and treatment, breast and cervical cancer screenings, pregnancy testing and options education, HPV vaccines, UTI treatment, and in some locations gender affirming hormone therapy. This initiative provides services for uninsured patients who meet income guidelines.

According to the organization, in 2020, 64% of patients of Planned Parenthood were uninsured. Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas had 93,602 patient visits in 2020.



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Lawrence Vs. Manhattan, Kansas: 8 Key Differences


Traveling west from Kansas City, the bustling urban area that straddles the states of Missouri and Kansas quickly morphs into rolling prairie accented with picturesque barns, herds of cows, and (depending on when you visit) colorful wildflowers. Headed in this direction, you’ll find yourself first in Lawrence and then in Manhattan. 

Home to the University of Kansas and Kansas State University, respectively, both are great college towns that aren’t too small or too big, and they’re full of friendly Midwesterners. Here’s how Lawrence and Manhattan compare. 

Pro Tip: If you’re visiting Lawrence and Manhattan on an I-70 road trip from Kansas City to Hays, be sure to add these tasty stops to your itinerary.

1. Getting There

Traveling west on I-70, Lawrence is about 45 minutes from downtown Kansas City. Note that a good portion of this drive is on the Kansas Turnpike, a toll road, so if you want to take the scenic route, you can pick up KS 32 in Bonner Springs. It only takes about 10 minutes longer, and it is often more scenic.

Manhattan is another 90 minutes west of Lawrence. While most of the journey is a straight shot on I-70, Manhattan isn’t right off the Interstate like Lawrence. Visiting this college town is a bit more of a commitment because you’ll have to travel about nine miles north of I-70 on KS 177 (also named the Bill Snyder Highway after K-State’s legendary football coach) to reach Manhattan. If you’re visiting Manhattan from Kansas City, the Kansas Turnpike mentioned above stretches from Bonner Springs to Topeka, but you can avoid it by taking U.S. 40 and U.S. 24 between those two cities before picking up I-70 in Topeka.

2. What’s In A Name?

With a name like New York City’s most densely populated borough, you may be wondering if there’s a link between the Kansas college town of Manhattan and the Big Apple. There is! The settlers who established the town in 1850 were sponsored by the New England Emigrant Aid Company and named it after the larger, better-known city back east.

Lawrence also has a link to the Northeast. The son of Revolutionary War soldier Samuel Lawrence helped fund the New England Emigrant Aid Company. So another group of pioneers traveling westward in the 1850s to what is now Kansas named this college town after him.

Fun Fact: In a nod to its much more famous namesake, Manhattan’s nickname is The Little Apple. Meanwhile, folks affectionately call Lawrence “LFK” (and yes, the “F” stands for what you think it does).

3. Population 

With about 100,000 residents, Lawrence is the sixth-largest city in Kansas. Manhattan’s population is around 55,000, putting it three spots below Lawrence on the biggest cities in Kansas list. As college towns, both Lawrence and Manhattan see a spike in August as students arrive at their respective universities. And in mid-May when the strains of Pomp and Circumstance fill the air and cars are loaded to the brim, both towns suddenly feel much quieter and less crowded as students head home for the summer months.

Jay and Baby Jay, the KU Mascots.
Jay and Baby Jay, the KU Mascots (Photo Credit: eXplore Lawrence)

4. Jayhawks Vs. Wildcats

Like in many regions from coast to coast, University of Kansas and Kansas State University are rival schools. And, in full disclosure, I’m the daughter of a K-State graduate, the mother of a K-State graduate, and an alumna who will forever have fond memories of the years I spent in “Manhappiness.” However, I did live in Lawrence for several years after graduate school (even though you’ll never catch me in KU gear).

Sage with the Willie the Wildcat statue in the K-State Union, Manhattan, Kansas.
Sage with the Willie the Wildcat statue in the K-State Union (Photo Credit: Sage Scott)

Enrollment at KU is about 28,000 students, which doesn’t include its medical school and research hospital in Kansas City. The school mascot is a Jayhawk, a fictional bird based on Kansans who would cross the state line into Missouri, steal enslaved people, and bring them back to Kansas, the Free State. 

When you visit Lawrence, Kansas, you’re sure to see a lot of royal blue and crimson shirts, especially packed into Allen Fieldhouse “waving the wheat” during basketball season. KU students and alums are tremendously proud of the team’s national titles and strong program. If you’re visiting outside of basketball season, or the team has an away game, you can still tour the DeBruce Center, which includes a glimpse of Dr. James Naismith’s original rules for the sport.

In Manhattan, K-State students number about 22,000, and when you visit, expect to see a sea of royal purple. As the Sunflower State’s land-grant college, it’s well-known for its agriculture, horticulture, and veterinary programs. The school’s mascot is Willie the Wildcat, who can be seen doing push-ups when K-State scores during football season.

Both schools tout famous alumni. KU alums you might recognize include actors Don Johnson and Paul Rudd, politician Bob Dole, and fashion designer Kate Spade. Well-known K-State alums include actor Eric Stonestreet, environmental activist Erin Brockovich, presidential press secretary Marlin Fitzwater, and Earl Woods, father of golf legend Tiger Woods.

Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics in Lawrence, Kansas.
Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics (Photo Credit: eXplore Lawrence)

Pro Tip: You can visit the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics and so much more when you spend the weekend in Lawrence, Kansas. And here are the best things to do in Manhattan, Kansas.

5. Mass Street Vs. Aggieville

The best college towns often include an area near campus with quiet bookstores, local coffee shops, cozy cafes, and lively bars — and both Lawrence and Manhattan deliver.

Although it is a few blocks away from campus, Massachusetts Street (known locally as Mass Street) serves this role in Lawrence. The epicenter of Mass Street activity begins just north of the park around 11th St. and stretches to 6th St., where the road prepares to cross the Kansas River. 

Kick off your time in Lawrence with breakfast or brunch at The Roost, and re-caffeinate as needed at Alchemy Coffee & Bake House. If you’re craving pizza, be sure to stop by Limestone, where everything is made from scratch. Dig into a filling sandwich at Quinton’s, or put delicious craft beer ahead of food at Free State Brewing Co. Whatever you choose, be sure to top things off with a scoop of ice cream (or two) from Sylas & Maddy’s.

In Manhattan, a six-block area adjacent to K-State known as Aggieville is the heart of off-campus activity. Anchored by Varsity Theater (which has housed non-cinema businesses since the 1980s and is currently a two-story Rally House filled with Wildcat merchandise and more), the main drag through Aggieville is Moro St.

Donut from Varsity Donuts in Manhattan, Kansas.
Varsity Donuts (Photo Credit: Sage Scott)

Enjoy coffee and breakfast at Public Hall, browse the unique items for sale at ACME gift, pair a pour with some sunshine at Johnny Kaw’s Yard Bar, enjoy an away game with the crowd at Tanner’s, or dig into barbecue pulled pork mac ‘n cheese at Kite’s Bar & Grill. Whether you start your day with fresh donuts or wrap up a night of partying in the ’Ville with a stop at the food truck out back, no trip to Manhattan is complete without visiting Varsity Donuts.

Pro Tip: Although it’s not in Aggieville, the Call Hall Dairy Bar serves the best ice cream in Manhattan. Made with farm-fresh ingredients at the ag school, K-State students whip up and serve more than 20,000 gallons of ice cream each year. Be sure to try K-State’s signature flavor, Purple Pride, with fresh blueberries providing the perfect purple color.

6. The Kaw And Johnny Kaw

When you visit Kansas, you may hear people talking about the “Kaw.” It took me quite some time after moving to Northeast Kansas to realize that’s a nickname for the Kansas River and not an additional river in the region.

While in Manhattan, you may hear a lot about Johnny Kaw. He’s a fictional character created by K-State horticultural professor Dr. George Filinger in 1955. While this burly, larger-than-life character was busy creating the Kansas prairie and forging trails for pioneers traveling westward to the Sunflower State, his pets — a jayhawk and a wildcat — fought like cats and dogs. Their brawls were so intense that they started the Dust Bowl in one of Dr. Filinger’s tall tales.

Downtown Lawrence, Kansas.
Downtown Lawrence, Kansas (Photo Credit: eXplore Lawrence)

7. Vibe

While both Lawrence and Manhattan possess the energy you’d expect from a Midwestern college town, Lawrence has long been considered “a blue dot in a red state.” Overall, Kansas has roughly two times more registered Republicans than Democrats, but Lawrence’s Douglas County is the only one in the state with more registered Democrats.

In the Swinging Sixties, in large part due to the student population at KU, Lawrence was the focal point for social change in Kansas. When you visit today, expect a more socially conscious, environmentally observant, and liberal-minded experience than elsewhere in the state.

Manhattan is just a short drive from Fort Riley, a 150-year-old military post that is home to the “Big Red One” 1st Infantry Division and one of the largest infantry training facilities in the United States. Although Manhattan’s Riley County is close to a 50/50 split between registered Republicans and Democrats, expect a slightly more conservative vibe than in Lawrence, especially away from the K-State campus.

Pro Tip: If you love Lawrence and Manhattan, don’t miss these small towns in Kansas.

Chimpanzee at Sunset Zoo in Manhattan, Kansas.
Chimpanzee at Sunset Zoo in Manhattan (Photo Credit: Sage Scott)

8. Things To Do And See

Round out your time in Lawrence by exploring a few of its most popular attractions. In addition to the Dole Institute of Politics and Booth Family Hall of Athletics, I suggest visiting the Spencer Museum of Art and Biodiversity Institute & Natural History Museum. Both are small but impressive museums on the University of Kansas campus. 

In Manhattan, the Flint Hills Discovery Center teaches visitors about the region’s flinty limestone, smooth shale, and last unplowed tallgrass prairie in North America. Or, you can experience the beauty of the Flint Hills firsthand by hiking the 2.6-mile Konza Prairie Nature Trail. Less strenuous outdoor activities include strolling through the Gardens at Kansas State University or visiting the Sunset Zoo.

Whether you “rock chalk” or bleed purple, you’re sure to enjoy both of these great Midwestern college towns!

For more on the great state of Kansas, check out:



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Greyhounds Open Regular Season Against Malone, #8 Ashland


INDIANAPOLIS – The University of Indianapolis women’s basketball team will open up regular season play this weekend on the road, when they will travel to Malone on Friday afternoon and Ashland on Saturday.
 
This will be the first non-conference teams the Hounds will face in the regular season since Feb. 2020 when the NCAA announced the cancellation of seasons due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Going 11-11 in 2020-21, the Hounds averaged 69.0 points per game.
 
VS MALONE
Picked to finish Eighth in the Great Midwest Athletic Conference preseason coaches’ poll, the Malone Pioneers are coming off of a 9-12 2020-21 season. Averaging 74 points in the past season, while holding their opponents to a close 71.1 PPG. The Pioneers show their depth in field goal range, shooting .434. Defensively, they have a rebounding margin of -1.4, posting 35.7 per game.
 
Graduate Student, Holly Groff leads the Malone with 15. 8 points per game, shooting on average 2.7 three’s a game. Hunter Madison is a heavy hitter on the board, posting an average of 5.8 rebounds per game. The Pioneers also return G-MAC standout Robin Campbell.
 
The last time the Hounds faced off against the Pioneers was in Nov. 2019, when the Hounds dominated 75-47. The current record between the two teams is 1-1.
 
VS ASHLAND
Having been ranked No. 8 in the preseason by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association, the Ashland Eagles will open their season on Friday against GLVC opponent Lindenwood before hosting the Hounds on Sunday.
 
In 2020-21 Ashland was named the runner-up in their conference tournament and also made a run for the NCAA Division II Midwest Regional title. They posted a record of 16-9, while averaging 72.3 points per game and allowing 65.1.
 
The Eagles are led by Annie Roshak who averaged 21.0 points per game, followed by Karlee Pireu who averaged 18.4 and 7.7 rebounds.
 
TIP OFF
The Greyhounds will tip off against Malone at 4 PM on Friday, and then No. 8 Ashland at 5 pm on Saturday.

 

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M5, A30 and A38: all of the latest travel news across Devon and Cornwall’s roads on Monday, November 8 – updates


It’s Monday morning and roads across Devon and Cornwall are gradually starting to fill up as commuters prepare to set off.

According to roads traffic and travel monitoring service, Inrix, roads across the two counties are seemingly quiet at the moment.

Along the A380 at Ideford there are reports of slow traffic in both directions, in the road works area.

Read more Devon stories here: Heroic nurse from Devon was killed in plane crash – then eaten

The A38 at Landrake is reportedly blocked due to a crash sparking heavy traffic in the area.

One lane along the A30 at Clyst Honiton is closed for emergency barrier repair work following a two-car collision last night.

Inrix reports: “One lane closed due to emergency barrier repairs on A30 Eastbound from B3184 (Exeter Airport, ClystHoniton) to B3174 (Daisy Mount Cross, West Hill). Traffic is coping well.”

We will be bringing you all of the latest traffic and travel news from across Devon and Cornwall in the blog below:





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