Tag Archives: resort

Sparkling Surprise in the Okanagan

Relaxation Room with a View

Last week my lovely wife surprised me with a Okanagan birthday adventure. We spent the day hiking in Kelowna and then retired to the luxurious Sparkling Hill Resort in Vernon.

I knew it was going to be a good day when a rainbow lit up the mountainside as we drove through Abbotsford. I was a bit slow snapping a picture, but it was perfectly formed on both sides.

Birthday Rainbow

In Kelowna, we hiked along the Myra Canyon trail, formerly part of the Kettle Valley Railway. Half of the trail was still covered in snow, but it was still an easy hike with some epic scenery. The trail has some huge trestle bridges, most of them rebuilt after the devastating forest fire in 2003.

Myra Canyon

Myra Canyon Trestles

After our hike, we checked in at the luxurious Sparkling Hill Resort. I never knew this place existed before, but it’s damn fancy. Designed by the Swarovski family, the resort is packed with crystals everywhere, including the washroom signs.

What!?

Lobby

The spa was the highlight, with so many little touches elevating it above the usual. The outdoor pool had fabulous views of the mountains and Okanagan Lake. The indoor pool played classical music underwater. There was a walking path with knee deep water that alternated between hot and cold to help improve circulation (it felt like torture). The steam/sauna area had a number of unique rooms, including the experience showers that simulated thunderstorms and tropical downpours, a rose scented steam room, a sauna with a bucket of rocks that were repeatedly heated and then dunked into cold water, and the igloo with ice to rub on your body. There were also some quiet areas to relax and enjoy the view.

Tea Time

Pool with a View

It was a decadent birthday experience and a step beyond anywhere we’ve stayed before.

El Salvador Resort Vacation

Beach Chairs at Sunset
El Salvador is a slice of paradise. The weather is perfect, the water is warm, the food is good, and the locals are friendly. The tourism industry is still developing but it gives the country an authentic flavour.

Every winter my Dad escapes the cold clutches of Winnipeg and organizes a group trip somewhere warm. This year it was El Salvador and Emily and I decided to join them. All-inclusive resorts are not our preferred way to travel, but we thought it would be good to spend some time with my parents and El Salvador seemed more adventurous than the normal Mexico, Cuba, Dominican destinations.

The Surprise
Turtle Family
My mother didn’t know we were coming. I didn’t know my sisters were coming. My dad had a web of secrets he managed to keep until we all arrived in Toronto the night before our flight to El Salvador. I was shocked when I bumped into Kelsey and Matt in the hotel lobby a few hours before my parents arrived. We schemed and joked about how to surprise Mom.

We managed to sneak into her hotel room and hide in the bed and behind the window curtains. When Mom came in, she dropped her bags and left before we could get out of our hiding places. I was still under the bed covers when I heard Matt whisper, “I think she left”. I was about to chase her down in the hallway when I heard the door opening again. This time Mom entered, heard us giggling, and called out: “Hello? Is there someone in my room?”.

Mom might hate surprises, but we enjoyed the look on her face when she realized that we were having a big family vacation.

The Resort
Poolside Lounging
We stayed at the Royal Decameron Salinitas, one of the few all-inclusive resorts in El Salvador. It sprawls along the Pacific Ocean with several pools and restaurants. It takes about 20 minutes to walk from one end to the other. The rooms were all beautiful with ocean views.

In the morning, I would get up early and go running. The security guards at the front gate had no problem letting me in and out, and I never worried about my safety. Even at 7 am, it was hot and humid and I was soaked in sweat by the end of my runs.

The spa at the resort was surprisingly good and well-priced. We had massages and also tried the Temazcal, a free 30 minute spiritual ritual inside a Mayan sweat lodge.

One interesting thing about this resort is that the majority of the guests were from other Central American countries (especially on the weekend). There were a sizable group of Canadians, but we were definitely outnumbered by families from Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, and even El Salvador. As a result, most of the entertainment was in Spanish and a lot of the staff only spoke Spanish. The tours were geared at Canadians with English/French speaking guides, but on the resort there was no forgetting you were in a Latin American country. I liked that.

The Food
El Salvador BreakfastThe food on the resort was good, but it was difficult keeping to a vegan diet. Luckily I’m willing to be flexible when I’m on vacation, so I ate vegetarian instead. I just couldn’t resist the fresh papusas, stuffed with a refried beans and cheese. Every meal had fresh fruit and vegetables, salsa, corn tortillas, and some kind of bean dish (although you had to watch out for random bits of meat). The one thing I couldn’t find was fresh mango or coconut.

Beach Day and Boogieboarding
Waves Collage
The beach in front of the resort is protected by a large breakwater, so there aren’t any large waves. The resort has another property 30 minutes away (accessible by a bus shuttle) with a long sandy beach. We spent one day there catching waves in the ocean, boogieboarding, playing ping-pong, and relaxing. If I wasn’t worried about burning in the sun, I could have spent all day in the ocean.

Volcano Hike
Cerro Verde Panorama
The best excursion we did was a day long hike of the Santa Ana volcano in Cerro Verde National Park. The hike started in a forested jungle and ended along the crater of Santa Ana with a view down to the pool at the bottom. The 8 km hike with 420 meters of elevation gain took us 4 1/2 hours including a 30 minute break at the top for lunch (map and elevation profile). For Emily and I it was a nice, light hike. For my parents it pushed their physical limits a bit, although they never struggled.

Ziplining
Zipline RockstarWe went ziplining at the nearby Apaneca Canopy tours. I was impressed with how well run it was. They had 14 lines, starting with small ones (around 20 meters) to get used to the harnesses, and ending with long runs (280 meters) that went over a valley with a coffee plantation. The staff was good at keeping everyone moving and ensuring we were safe and having fun.

Cultural Tour
Amongst the Beans Ahuachapán Tour
We took a bus trip and cultural tour down the Ruta de las Flores to check out some of the towns. We stopped at a market, a coffee mill, furniture factory, chocolate store, and a geothermal power plant. It was good to see some of the smaller villages, but I would have liked more unstructured time in town and less guided elements. The geothermal plant was interesting, but I didn’t need a 2 hour tour.

Photo Highlights
Full photo set on Flickr
Ready to Jet Canadian Eye Mask Hotel Room First Run Water Aerobics Sunset Kiss Coffee Beans Bean Roaster Village People Floppy Hard Hat Transit Bus Ready To Zip Apaneca Ziplining Zipline Disembark Coffee Cherries Porters in Paradise Izalco Horsey Walking Stick Mom Mom and Dad Hike Me and Izalco At the Santa Ana Peak Santa Ana Jump Forced March Agave Parents Tight Squeeze Ping Pong Showdown Shuffleboard Ladies Iguana Sweaty Runner Temazcal Playing in the Pool Beach Sunset El Salvador 2014 Sunset Tree Sad to Leave, Happy to Return

A Week of Perfect Weather and Food

Karmina Palace Bay

A week at an all-inclusive resort isn’t my first choice of holiday destinations (I prefer backpacking and being more adventurous), but when my father asked me to join him on a free trip to Mexico, I had a hard time turning him down. I don’t visit my parents in Winnipeg often enough, so I figured it would be good bonding time. Besides, 1 week of perfect weather, Mexican food, and bottom-less piña coladas is a great way to relax.

We spent 1 week at the Barcello Karmina Palace, an amazing resort along the Pacific Ocean in Manzanillo, Mexico. There was plenty to do on and off the resort, although the majority of the time was spent lying in the sun and eating way too much food. The snorkeling at the resort was excellent – I had some surreal experiences where schools of silver fish and blue angel fish were circling all around me. Next time I go somewhere tropical, I’m going to have to bring an underwater case for my camera.

There was no reason to ever leave the resort, but we ventured off a few times to explore the city around and do a few excursions. The public transit in Manzanillo is amazing. We never had to wait more then 2 minutes for a bus, and the fare is only 60 cents. We spent a lot of time exploring, walking down streets, and shopping in stores and markets. Anything made in Mexico was ridiculously cheap. Anything imported (like electronics) was often more expensive then it would be in Canada. I found Kinects for 3000 pesos (about 75% more then they cost in Canada).

The highlight of our city exploring adventures was eating tacos off the back of a truck. My father was a bit apprehensive about eating street food, but we didn’t have any problems. I was able to order 3 tacos and a huge glass of horchata for $2. It tasted awesome and I didn’t get sick.
Taco Truck Eating Street Tacos

We also went on two organized excursions: zip-lining and ATV touring.
Ready for Takeoff
I really enjoyed the zip-lining. Even though we had 5 different sections (the longest lasting over 30 seconds), it still seemed like it was over too fast. When we were done, I was ready to hike back up the mountain for a second run.

Ready for an ATV adventure
I was worried the ATV ride was going to turn into a bunch of annoying tourists terrorizing the locals on really loud machines, but it was actually a tour through plantations and up a mountain where we had a good view of the region. Riding the ATV up the mountain, avoiding rocks, and crossing streams was challenging and fun. Along the route, our guide would stop and point out different plants and animals. We found a wall with spiders nests, which looked like big hairy clumps. When you disturbed them, thousands of daddy-long-leg spiders ran in every direction. I tried to take a video:

Mexican food is the only food I could eat every day without tiring of the taste. I could eat refried beans, salsa, and guacamole for every meal of every day, and while I was in Mexico I did. I avoided the tourist food – pasta and french fries, and ate Mexican food for every meal. I loved eating fresh pineapple, squeezing limes on everything, and even eating the stinky papaya. The only souvenirs I brought home were dried chili peppers, cinnamon, and vanilla.
My Favourite Mexican Food

In the end, it was a good trip and a good chance to spend more time with my father.

More Photos
Manzanillo Canal Manzanillo Rail Bridge Tortilla Factory Ants vs Grasshopper Butterfly Karmina Palace Mexican Beast Wading In In the Surf Footprints American Invasion Rock Lobster Taco Truck Eating Street Tacos Side-walk Vegetation Roasted Habaneros Una Michelada, Por Favor Pool By Night Karmina at Night Night Pool Resort Entertainment Kyoto Deer Kiss Oh Deer Deer Feeding Ready to Zipline Swinging Bridge Zipline to Infinity Zipline Guides Zipline Break Peekaboo ParrotMexican Pizza Miramar Market Pineapple Truck Beware of Crocodiles Crocodile Bird Watching Bird Lone Runner Stork Miramar Beach at Dawn Footprint Crab Hole Paradise Guanabanas and Bananas Truck Bed Noni Fruit Ready for an ATV adventure Atv Ride Manzanillo Bay Mexican Bottle Gourd Helicopter Pad ATV Ride Cow Crossing Dirty Face