Hotel Review: Intercontinental San Juan

This would be our last night in the Caribbean after the most amazing birding adventure ever, the next day we would be off to mainland USA to see family.  I wanted something special, preferably free on hotel points – and I got exactly what I wanted.  Intercontinental San Juan was a spectacular finale to our epic trip and even came with some surprise birding but you’ll have to read the whole review first.

It was raining as we finally arrived at the hotel after a long and busy day so I wasn’t thrilled with the self-parking being across the street.

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The lobby is beautiful and elegant and the check in staff were very friendly and helpful.DSCN4516 DSCN4517

The room was large and very clean with nice amenities in the bathroom.  The wifi worked brilliantly as well.DSCN4518 DSCN4519

Maybe the carpet is old-fashioned but the beds were very comfortable.DSCN4520

And the view was awesome of the pool and the sea just beyond.DSCN4521 DSCN4522 DSCN4523 DSCN4524

Speaking of the pool, I knew where we were heading to relax and rejuvenate!  The small pool in front is a jacuzzi and some of the jets were very good back massagers!DSCN4525 DSCN4526

There are several restaurants, this one overlooks the beach.DSCN4528 DSCN4529 DSCN4530 DSCN4531 DSCN4532 DSCN4538

After sunset, we could see the city lights down the road.DSCN4539 DSCN4540

As I was walking back to the hotel, I could hear the distinctive and iconic Coqui frogs.  I searched in vain, never got to see one, even enlisted a few hotel staff but they couldn’t find one either.  This is what they look and sound like.

The next morning, I went back to the beach area and heard a familiar sounding squawk.  I looked up in the palm trees and lo and behold – a family of Quaker Parrots in a huge nest!DSCN4550 DSCN4551 DSCN4553 DSCN4552 DSCN4561

The perfect way to say goodbye to our Caribbean adventure!

These rooms usually go for $160-200 or 50,000 IHG Rewards but I used my annual Chase certificate so for a $49 annual fee, I got an amazing deal and we loved the hotel and would go back anytime we were in Puerto Rico.

Hotel Review: San Miguel Plaza, Puerto Rico

This may hold the record for the shortest (legit) hotel stay ever!  Due to Liat’s late arrival, then the formalities of entering the USA at SJU, getting the rental car, then trying to navigate to the prepaid hotel.  Of course I got lost a few times and had to stop for directions a few times so it was around 2am when we finally checked in to the San Miguel Plaza Hotel in Bayamon, Puerto Rico.  Why did I choose this out of the way place?  Mostly because we needed to get to Rio Abajo early to see the Puerto Rican Parrots and I wanted to avoid driving in traffic.

There’s secure parking under the building.  I always like a red rental car as they are easier to spot in parking lots.

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The room was fine, typical budget room, fine for a night but not for a whole holiday.DSCN4402

View from the room.DSCN4405

Breakfast is included.DSCN4406

Here is the location, which is why I chose this place (out of all the hotels that I could use my Expedia goodwill voucher on).  The yellow blob on the right is San Juan – old city and beach area.  The hotel is indicated in the middle.  The pink circle on the left is where we needed to go to see the parrots at Rio Abajo.  This put us well out of incoming city traffic the next morning.

San Miguel Plaza

We were up very early, I think I got 2 hours of sleep that night but I wasn’t expecting Liat to be THAT late!  Thank God it was the last time we had to fly them!  The hotel was fine for the location but on a future visit, I think we would choose to be near the beach just to the north of Rio Abajo.

Hotel Review – Tamarind Tree, Dominica

We only had one day and since I had a mission – see the 2 endemic parrots of Dominica, I went looking for a hotel as close as possible to the Syndicate Reserve, where they can be seen.  The Tamarind Tree fit the bill for location and it turned out to be a really nice place with amazing views!

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Unfortunately with a late flight we didn’t have time to use the inviting pooldscn4306 dscn4307

The room was large, clean and very comfortable.dscn4293 dscn4294 dscn4295 dscn4296

The rooms open onto a large verandah with tables and chairs to relax and enjoy the view.

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I loved the artwork in the room!dscn4297

We had dinner in the restaurant which was good.  The wifi works here so I was able to get caught up.

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They do have some parrots items for sale.  I was tempted by this huge wooden plaque but it would have been a hassle to carry around.  Now that I am home, I wish I would have bought it!  I was hopeful to find something smaller the next day in the market.  I was not to know there wouldn’t be enough time to shop!dscn4302

This is what I did buy.  It’s actually laminated in plastic and came in a set of 4 so people could use them as placemats but I prefer them as decorative art!dscn4303

A few birds in the garden.dscn4310 dscn4312

Tamarind Tree is on the opposite side of the island from the airport and it takes longer to get there than you might imagine as the roads are all twisty-turny mountain roads.   Don’t let Google fool you, it was closer to 2 hours but we were driving at night so that may have slowed us down.  The ride we got from the airport used the blue route.  The pink route leads to the Syndicate Reserve.  The grey route is where we returned to the airport.  Dr Birdy dropped us at the junction of Portsmouth and the island road and we got a bus.

Dominica map

Tamarind Tree is a great small hotel that would suit birders, but the location may put some people off unless they rented a car as there is nothing nearby.  The views and grounds are gorgeous and it is a great place to relax and enjoy the quiet island lifestyle.  You can book on their website or use a portal like Rocketmiles or Pointshound to score some more airline miles.

Hotel Review: Beachcomber’s St Vincent

The Beachcomber’s Hotel in St Vincent ticks all the boxes for the traveling birder in the Caibbean who also wants a bit of R&R on the side.  It’s conveniently located near the airport and you can get minibuses just outside the property into town.

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We arrived at night, walked across the street to the bus stop and got a minibus which let us out at the gate.dscn4148

Night time view of Beachcomber’s.dscn4149

Daylight reveals an attractive garden full of flowers.dscn4249

Our room was on the end with a small table & chairs for our use on the patio.dscn4248 dscn4150

A comfortable king bed with attractive artwork in our comfortable room.dscn4151 dscn4152 dscn4153

This is the entrance to the restaurant with the pool area just beyond.dscn4250

The pool area overlooks the beach.dscn4253 dscn4269 dscn4267a dscn4270 dscn4251 dscn4252

Always time for a bit of birdwatching while sunbathing!  dscn4256

Random lizarddscn4259 dscn4260

Our stay was over a Saturday so we got to enjoy their weekly BBQ.  They had some traditional Caribbean music………….dscn4265

…………..a salad bar (sorry for blurry pic)……………dscn4264

……..and a choice of meats from the menu.  I had the ribs and my husband had the fish.dscn4261 dscn4262 dscn4263

We had a great albeit short stay here and found that the Beachcomber’s was a nice all-rounder at a very reasonable price.  They average 4 stars on Trip Advisor although I gave them 5 as we were very happy with our stay.  You can book direct on their website or use online booking portals such as Rocketmiles, Pointshound or similar to maximise your benefits.

Lodge Review: A Peace Of Paradise, St Lucia

A Peace of Paradise is a charming little B&B located on the eastern side of St Lucia in a tropical rainforest setting and very close to the prime birding spots.  If you aren’t planning to rent a car (you probably won’t need one), then it is best to have them pick you up on arrival at the airport as it is a bit tricky to find the first time.  It’s just past the Fox Grove Inn and up the hill a bit.

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The lodge is a beautiful house situated on a hill overlooking the rainforest with a beautiful verandah to relax and enjoy the view.dscn4022 dscn4014 dscn4013 dscn4012 dscn4011

The rooms are clean and cozy with windows on to the verandah.dscn4010 dscn4009 dscn4008

The one thing you need to be aware of is that the power points are different than the USA type which is more common in the Caribbean Islands.  If you don’t have one like that pictured below, ask the staff to loan you one so you can charge your camera and devices.dscn4021 dscn4016

We were only there one night and checked out early but they still left some bread, jam & juice in the fridge for our breakfast.  Birding trips start very early.dscn4015

A Peace of Paradise is a great place to stay if you aren’t into beaches and want a more relaxed Caribbean style experience.  The prices are very reasonable and they can organize your birding trips for you, also some nice hikes in the rainforest.  It’s one of the closest properties to Des Cartiers Trail where you can see St Lucia Parrots!  It is somewhat isolated from shops and restaurants (except for the neighboring hotel) so you may want to stick up on snacks and drinks before you check in.

Lodge Review: Asa Wright Nature Centre, Trinidad

To be specific, I am reviewing the public areas accessible on a day visit but just want readers to be aware they have accommodation as well.  Asa Wright Nature Centre is a gorgeous eco-lodge situated in a beautiful rainforest habitat and is one of the highlights of birding in the Caribbean.  There are two ways of visiting AWNC, as an overnight guest or as a day visitor.  While I would have much preferred to stay overnight and wake with the birds, I wasn’t in a financial position to overlook the benefits of using Club Carlson points for a free stay at the Radisson.  Any other time, we would have stayed at AWNC, booking instructions are here.

The next best thing is making a day visit.  They allow  day visitors during the hours of 9am – 5pm. Guided walks with their professional naturalist guides are conducted daily at 10:30am and 1:30pm. The walk lasts about 1.5 hours.  I’ll post about that separately as there are way too many photos.  For now, lets see the public areas of the lodge.

It takes about an hour to drive from the airport or as we did from the Aripo Livestock Station.

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Driving onto the property, we passed several hiking trails and some beautiful scenery.  Cabins are scattered around the property.dscn3857 dscn3860 dscn3862 dscn3863

There is a car park for day visitors and then you check into the reception, pay the fee, then proceed to the fabulous Asa Wright verandah.dscn3864 dscn3865 dscn3866 dscn3868 dscn3870 dscn3871

And here it is, where all the hummingbird action is found!  Just sit back, relax and enjoy the spectacle!dscn3872 dscn3873 dscn3946

There is a set lunch menu each day which you can pay for separately if you wish or order sandwiches if you can’t tear yourself away from the verandah.dscn3948 dscn3949

The gift shop has some nice handicrafts & other bird themed gifts. dscn3950 dscn3951

I bought this hummingbird necklace.dscn3953

Example of postcard available – Tufted Coquette, meet them in person on the verandah!dscn3954

It was tough to tear ourselves away, it is such a beautiful, relaxing place but we did have a flight to catch so no choice but to say farewell earlier than we would have liked.dscn3955

Hotel Review: Radisson Hotel Trinidad

The Radisson Hotel Trinidad is one of the few hotels you can book with points (44,000 Club Carlson) that has lots of birding options within day trip range.  It’s centrally located in the main city, Port of Spain.  Driving from the airport, this lighthouse is a landmark and signal to start watching for the hotel on the right.  Once you see it, flip a U at the nearest opportunity, come back around and into the hotel’s free parking with security guard.

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We arrived just after dark.  It’s not a good idea to wander around Port of Spain at night.dscn3563

There is a large lobby with the usual services.dscn3565

Room was pleasant, good-sized and the wifi worked well.  dscn3567 dscn3569 dscn3568 dscn3566 dscn3799

In the morning, we could see the view of the Hyatt, the port and the swimming pool down below.

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The night we arrived, we decided to treat ourselves to the revolving restaurant on the top floor-the only one of its kind in the Caribbean.  dscn3570

There are lower priced items on the menu like pastas so this doesn’t have to be too expensive.  It was cool to see the city views change as the restaurant slowly revolved.dscn3571 dscn3572 dscn3573

I’d say this hotel is a good use of Club Carlson points if you have them.  Trinidad can be pricey (as is most of the Caribbean) and the hotel is pretty nice.  Staff were friendly and eager to help and answer questions.  People on Trip Advisor tend to give it 3-5 stars, I gave it 4.

Hotel Review: Hotel Cosmos 116, Bogota

To finish off our travels in Colombia, we had a 2 night stay booked at Hotel Cosmos 116 in Bogota.  Since I had won some Orbucks in a photo contest the year before, I was able to use them to book both nights free using less than $100 Orbucks!

I was a bit intimidated by Bogota’s reputation for being dangerous so I did LOTS of homework before making my booking.  I looked on Trip Advisor and gave preference to a nice area with lots of restaurants within walking distance.

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The hotel is very modern in design and decor.dscn3549

The best part is the lounge & spa on the top floor.  It took a while for the jacuzzi to heat up but it was so worth it for the relaxation.  There is also a small gym.dscn3550 dscn3551 dscn3552 dscn3553 dscn3554

The room is attractive and modern looking and the wifi worked great.  There is a small fridge and you can buy drinks and snacks at the supermarket across the street.dscn3498

This small restaurant is right next to the hotel and has authentic Colombian fast food, half of which I didn’t understand but a friendly diner helped us make our choices.  dscn3548

All things considered, we really enjoyed our stay here and would be happy to come back if we ever visit Bogota again.

Lodge Review: Kolibri Hostel, Pereira

For an independent birder who was basically “winging it” in Colombia, we had specific needs when we arrived in Pereira.  Our target bird was the Fuertes Parrot in a remote area near Santa Rosa de Cabal but we would need hired transport, preferably at backpacker prices.  So that is why I chose a backpacker lodge for this part of the trip.  The Kolibri Hostel was well recommended on Trip Advisor and it turned out to be a very cool hostel with friendly staff who speak English well and were very helpful.

The decor in the public areas is very cool, lots of unique artwork which I love!

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Friendly staff who understand the needs of budget travelers and booked our car & driver at a good price.  dscn3418

Upstairs there is a common use kitchen and a few bathrooms & toilets which are shared.  We had a double room with use of shared facilities.  dscn3417 dscn3411 dscn3410

I want these hummingbird decorations!dscn3409

Basic room which was fine for the night.dscn3408

Nice verandah with view over the city.  dscn3412 dscn3413 dscn3414 dscn3415 dscn3416

A few birds seen from the verandah below the hostel.

Blue-grey Tanager

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Blue-and-white Swallow img_6629

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More hummingbird decorations!dscn3425

Clean, modern bathroom.dscn3424

Seriously, for less than $20 you can’t beat it!  The car they booked for us was around 150,000 COP iirc so around $50 USD-ish which was an excellent value and they have some cool handicrafts for sale at the front desk, especially beaded bird earrings so I went a bit nuts.  Credit cards are accepted.

Birding The Termales Del Ruiz Garden

High in the Nevados del Ruiz, the hotel at the Termales del Ruiz has a lovely little garden with lots of hummingbirds.  You have to pay 18,000 COP admission to the thermal pool to enter the gardens even if you aren’t planning to swim.  I wouldn’t have minded a swim but the high altitude was making my husband woozy so I just ran in for about 20 minutes to see the hummingbirds and any other birds that happened by.

It’s quite an attractive hotel and I would have liked to spend a night here if it weren’t for the 3500 metres altitude.

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Great view of Manizales!dscn3272 dscn3274 dscn3277 dscn3278 dscn3275 dscn3276

I should have prayed harder for those elusive photos!dscn3303 dscn3305 dscn3307 dscn3308 dscn3314 dscn3316 dscn3315 dscn3313 img_6168

Even a quick walk around the garden produced hundreds of hummingbirds that were buzzing around everywhere!  I couldn’t keep up with them and the guide didn’t speak English or know all the species even in Spanish.  He wasn’t a birding guide, just a hotel employee.

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Shining Sunbeam dscn3286

Black-thighed Puffleg dscn3295

Buff-winged Starfrontlet dscn3298 img_6161 img_6163 img_6166 img_6176 img_6177 img_6185 img_6190

Rainbow-bearded Thornbill img_6197 img_6198 img_6202 img_6203 img_6226 img_6230 img_6238 img_6239 img_6242 img_6250 img_6251 img_6254 img_6269 img_6271 img_6295 img_6313 img_6326 img_6335 img_6352 img_6364 img_6374

When I first entered, I had shown a picture of a Rufous-fronted Parakeet to the guide and asked him to be on the lookout for the “periquitos”.  We had heard them in the trees down the road from the hotel but didn’t get a good look.  So I was really excited to hear some parrot-y squawks while walking through the garden.   I asked the guide “periquitos” and he nodded and led me to a better vantage point.  I barely had time to watch a pair of Rufous-fronted Parakeets zoom overhead and disappear into the fog.  Unfortunately “Hail Mary” wasn’t on my side that day as all I got was this shot.img_6368

At least I did see them, albeit very briefly!  I wanted to get Ina back down to a lower altitude so we left right afterwards and headed back to Manizales.  When we got back, the drive got a call just as we were about to go to the bus station with the news that the Golden-plumed Parakeets were at Rio Blanco, so off we went!