Moon Travel Guides https://moon.com Trip Ideas, Itineraries, Maps & Area Experts Tue, 22 Aug 2017 21:18:51 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.1 https://deathstar-650a.kxcdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/cropped-moon_logo_M-32x32.jpg Moon Travel Guides https://moon.com 32 32 125073523 Explore Interior Alaska in One Week https://moon.com/2017/08/explore-interior-alaska-in-one-week/ https://moon.com/2017/08/explore-interior-alaska-in-one-week/#respond Tue, 22 Aug 2017 16:55:44 +0000 https://moon.com/?p=57915 People come to Interior Alaska for the gold-mining history, dog mushing, the northern lights—and Denali National Park. This one-week itinerary includes everything you need to explore this remote part of the state.

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People come to Interior Alaska for the gold-mining history, dog mushing, the northern lights—and Denali National Park. This one-week itinerary includes everything you need to explore this remote part of the state.

dogs pulling a sled in the Iditarod

The Iditarod is one of Alaska’s most famous winter events. Photo © Lisa Maloney.

Day 1

Welcome to Fairbanks! As you get settled, take the time to visit Gold Daughters and learn how to pan for gold from a pair of talented women who grew up giving demonstrations to tourists. Don’t miss the Pipeline Viewing Station just across the highway, where you can get up close to the 800-mile pipeline that transfers crude oil from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez.

Next, if you love Christmas, make the 20-minute drive southeast to the year-round Santa Claus House in North Pole, Alaska. End the day at Pioneer Park, filled with historical buildings, mining equipment, an all-you-can-eat salmon bake, and a hilarious dinner theater show about the history of Fairbanks. Let the front desk at your hotel know you’d like to be woken up if the northern lights come out.

Day 2

Choose your big adventure for the day: If you want a day of relaxation, head out to Chena Hot Springs for hot springs and an ice museum. If you want a more extreme adventure, you can book a day trip to a more remote area: Fly out to the traditional, isolated village of Anaktuvuk Pass for a day tour to learn more about Alaska Native culture, or get up very early to fly halfway up the Haul Road (aka the Dalton Highway) and then drive back with Northern Alaska Tour Company. You can also hitch a ride on the mail plane to a rural village with Warbelow’s Air. You won’t get to spend any real time in the village(s)—the plane just drops off the mail then takes off again. But getting to flit out to a remote village in a small plane is still a fun, exciting experience for many people.

Day 3

Book a morning tour at the Running Reindeer Ranch, where you get to take a short nature walk with a herd of reindeer running wild around you; it’s perfectly safe but surprisingly exhilarating, and you’ll learn a lot about the domesticated cousin to Alaska’s wild caribou. Next, stop by the stunning Museum of the North at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Then head downtown to visit The Crepery for one of Fairbanks’s best lunches, and a stop by the Alaska House Art Gallery for a glimpse at the region’s best Alaska Native art.

That evening, make the 2.5-hour drive south to Denali National Park and Preserve, get settled in your hotel or campground.

caribou running across green grass in Denali National Park

A caribou dashes across the tundra in front of Denali. Photo © Daniel Leifheit/National Park Service.

Day 4

Take either a narrated tour bus or a shuttle bus ride into Denali National Park and Preserve. The difference is more than just narration; shuttle buses will stop for photo ops and to let people hop on and off, while the narrated tour buses only stop for photo ops. There are many shuttle and tour bus trips into the park every day, each of them of varying length; you get to choose if you want to spend five hours on a “short” trip or twelve hours on a bus ride that goes all the way to the end of the road.

Wildlife sightings are never guaranteed—after all, the animals are wild and wander as they please—but most visitors are still eager for a chance to see bears, caribou, moose, and wolves in the wild. If you take one of the shorter rides, you’ll have time for a short day hike before you check out the restaurants near the park entrance. If you have a car, get dinner at the 49th State Brewing Company in nearby Healy; it has the bus that was used for filming Into the Wild set up so you can take selfies or photos to your heart’s content. It also offers shuttle service to the carless for a nominal fee.

Day 5

Check out the park’s three visitor centers, if you haven’t already, and visit their working kennel of sled dogs, or book a day tour of your choice. Options include everything from white-water rafting to horseback rides, dog cart rides, ATV rides, and ziplining. Then make the 2.5-hour drive south to Talkeetna.

red airplane on Ruth Glacier

Many flightseeing expeditions around Denali also include a glacier landing. Photo © Richard McMillin/iStock.

Day 6

Once you’ve arrived in Talkeetna, it’s time to book that flightseeing trip around Denali, using one of the small airlines that also ferry climbers back and forth to Denali base camp. If you don’t like small planes you have lots of other day tour options, including a jet boat ride on the mighty rivers nearby, fishing, or ziplining. End your day with live music at the Fairview Inn or a great dinner at Mountain High Pizza Pie, Twister Creek Restaurant, or the Wildflower Cafe; they’re all excellent.

Day 7

Hop on the Hurricane Turn Train, a delightful narrated trip on one of the nation’s last flag stop trains. When you get back, make it a point to wander the shops along Main Street (they’re all locally owned) before you make the drive back to Fairbanks or south to explore Southcentral.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Alaska.

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Finding Authenticity in Fiction Writing via Travel https://moon.com/2017/08/finding-authenticity-in-fiction-via-travel/ https://moon.com/2017/08/finding-authenticity-in-fiction-via-travel/#comments Mon, 21 Aug 2017 23:28:10 +0000 https://moon.com?p=59698&preview=true&preview_id=59698 Intrigue and suspense are what get a mystery writer’s brain humming. Authenticity can be more elusive. Author Vinnie Hansen shares her experience on traveling to Cuba and some of the ways in which the setting inspired her novel.

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The protagonist of my mystery series, Carol Sabala, usually dashes to her murder mystery adventures in Santa Cruz, California—a town often known for its surf culture, oceanfront Boardwalk, and attempts to push back against the mainstream and “Keep Santa Cruz Weird.” Locals who read my books are treated to mentions of familiar sights and stops, while those who have never stepped foot in this part of California can get a feel of the place I call home. Life in Santa Cruz is a cornerstone of much of my writing, but so has been my experiences traveling.

After spending a month in Cuba in 2010, I knew I had to use this colorful country as a backdrop. I sent Carol to the island in my seventh book, Black Beans & Venom. Fellow crime writer Allen Eskens said: “Set in the vibrant and gritty back streets of Cuba, this cat-and-mouse hunt for a missing woman is full of intrigue, suspense and authenticity.”

Intrigue and suspense are what get a mystery writer’s brain humming. Authenticity can be more elusive. My trip to Cuba was worlds apart from previous experiences I’ve had visiting Latin American countries. Cuba is electric and memorable, and if you have the chance to visit, you’ll find that you don’t have to explore back streets to encounter the gritty.

a young Cuban boy rides a makeshift bike

The people of Cuba are resourceful. Photo © Vinnie Hansen.

If you want a Starbucks on the corner and memory-foam mattresses, Cuba is not for you. The long-standing embargo has created many shortages, compensated for by great resourcefulness.

Cuba beckoned my husband and me—a non-stop flight to Cancun and then an hour hop to Havana. Fairly simple travel to be in one of only two places in the world without Coca-Cola. Our trip, unencumbered by a sanctioned tour, was illegal.

We purchased our flight tickets via a Canadian travel agency. Americans can enter Cuba with a special visa instead of the normal passport stamp. Reentry to the United States is the sticking point. It is against the law to lie to a Customs Official about one’s travel. Fortunately, when we returned—my husband camouflaged with his new Cancun cap—no one asked where we’d been. My private detective heroine adopts this same ploy.

a fruit cart loaded with bananas in Havana

Bananas are a staple in Cuba. Photo © KWphotog/iStock.

The two of us stayed in casas particulares, private homes that rent out rooms and provide a breakfast of bread, coffee, eggs, juice, and the fruit grown in Cuba—guavas, pineapple, mangoes, watermelon, and small, firm bananas. While the menu doesn’t vary much, the quality does! We were served everything from rotten bananas and instant coffee with powdered milk to sweet fruit and strong Cuban coffee.

Propaganda billboards line the main highways. One announces that Cubans eat Cuban pork. Fish with cristianos and moros—white rice (imported from Vietnam) and black beans provided our standard fare. Steak is practically none existent, and with chicken, expect only dark meat. White meat is reserved for higher-ups. You have two choices for beer—light or dark. Rum, however, is abundant!

Tourists don’t use the same money as Cubans. The two economies segregate visitors from the locals. For example, Cubans can ride on the air-conditioned busses available to tourists—if they can afford them. But they’ll most likely be traveling on hot, crowded buses, or trying to hitch a ride from someone who owns a car. People with cars are, by law, required to pick up hitchhikers.

Vinnie Hansen pioses with a bronze statue of Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway memorabilia abounds. Photo © Vinnie Hansen.

Although Americans have been restricted in their travel, people from all over the world flock to Cuba. Like me, some are drawn to the Hemingway memorabilia—“his room,” in Hotel Ambos Mundos in Havana; the Floridita bar, a Hemingway haunt, also in Havana; and the perfectly preserved Finca Vigía, Hemingway’s home in San Francisco de Paula.

We visited Cuba in December to catch the International Jazz Festival, procuring tickets for ten dollars on each night of the performances. While we loved listening to the world-famous pianist Chucho Valdez, we encountered some of our favorite rhythms on the streets.

a man in a hat and sunglasses playing a guitar

Some of the best music can be found outside of festivals. Photo © Vinnie Hansen.

The clave beats we associate with Cuban music are derived from the drumming of Santería celebrations. The Santería influence abounds in Cuban life. In 1992 Cuba revised its Constitution removing references to the country as Marxist-Leninist, opening the door for a resurgence of religious worship. Santería has grown in popularity since that time. One can see initiates dressed in white strolling the cobblestoned streets of Havana or Trinidad.

In Trinidad, we visited a Santería church where altar objects reflected the complicated mix of Catholicism with beliefs imported from Africa with the slaves.

In Black Beans & Venom, the missing woman, seeking a cure for her cancer, visits a babalao, or babalawo—a Santería high priest. For this scene, I relied on a friend’s first-hand experience, right down to the sacrificed goat and pigeon on the altar.

According to Eskens, Black Beans & Venom delivers “readers completely and believably to another world,” so if you can’t make a trip to Cuba, or to California, you can explore both places in my Carol Sabala series!


Moon & Mysteries: California Book Giveaway

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Snakes and Bugs in Costa Rica https://moon.com/2017/08/snakes-bugs-costa-rica/ https://moon.com/2017/08/snakes-bugs-costa-rica/#comments Mon, 21 Aug 2017 19:52:47 +0000 http://moon.com/?p=11076 Snakes and bugs in Costa Rica are not nearly as dangerous as the sizzling sun can be. Here's how to stay safe from all three.

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A green parrot snake climbing on a magenta plant.

The green parrot snake, native to Costa Rica. While their venom is too weak to harm a human, their bite can cause a bacterial infection. Photo © Barb Ignatius, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Snakes and bugs in Costa Rica are not nearly as serious a hazard as cars and their drivers. But when you’re visiting or making a new home in a foreign country, it’s a good idea to know about natural hazards such as scorpions, snakes, and the sizzling sun.

Bugs in Costa Rica

Many people are drawn to Costa Rica for its amazing abundance of animal life. Most species are harmless if left unmolested, but there are a few exceptions to every rule. In and around the Central Valley, the higher altitude means fewer bugs. You hardly ever see houseflies, spiders are of reasonable size and lead discreet lives, and even the ants don’t seem as aggressive as in other areas.

Wear long sleeves and long pants, use insect repellent containing DEET, and sleep under a mosquito net.In lowland and more humid areas, you’ll find more quantity and variety in the insect department. Some, like the enormous Hercules beetle or the bright blue morpho butterfly, are stunning but harmless. It’s the more prosaic insects like mosquitoes that do greater harm, occasionally transmitting dengue fever and, more rarely, malaria—mostly in wet lowland areas with poor sanitation. Malaria is rare enough in Costa Rica that few doctors suggest taking chloroquine pills along on your trip. But cases have been reported, and the best prevention against both malaria and dengue fever is to guard against mosquito bites. Wear long sleeves and long pants, use insect repellent containing DEET, and sleep under a mosquito net. Some suggest that spraying your clothes with the insecticide permethrin will guard against dengue fever.

Africanized bees have arrived in parts of Costa Rica and are as aggressive here as they are elsewhere. Experts advise running in a zigzag pattern if they come after you, getting under a sheet, or submerging yourself in water if there’s any available.

Some areas have scorpions. I heard of a woman who, when she washed her family’s clothes, made sure to put them away inside out. That way, when they dressed, they’d have to turn everything right side out and thus would be automatically checking for bugs that might have hidden in the armpit of a shirt or in the leg of a pair of jeans. Despite her precautions, one day her husband found a scorpion crawling out of his sleeve. Then he noticed the seams on his shirt—it was still inside out. In scorpion areas, make sure you shake out your clothing and shoes before getting dressed in the morning. This will help with snakes too, which love nothing better than to curl up in a warm, odoriferous boot.

Snakes in Costa Rica

Costa Rica has more than 100 kinds of snakes, including venomous ones such as the much-feared fer-de-lance, which accounts for 80 percent of all snakebites in the country, and the yellow-bellied, black-backed sea snake, which paddles along in the Pacific Ocean with its oar-like tail. Despite the variety of snakes here, death from snakebite is rare. Most bites occur when snakes are stepped on—watch where you’re going!—or if you harass or try to handle a snake. Leave snakes alone and they’ll return the favor. Be especially careful in long grass, and remember that many snakes are arboreal—the tree branch you grab onto for balance just may be alive. Snakes also like to hang out in bromeliads, so be careful when looking inside these tightly wound whorls of stiff leaves and brilliant flowers.

If you are bitten, move as little as possible. If the bite is to a limb, apply a tight bandage (not a tourniquet) above the bite, and release it for a minute or two every 15 minutes. Apply ice if available, and keep the bitten limb elevated while getting to a hospital or clinic. Don’t try that old remedy of cutting an X over the bite and sucking out the venom. Some snake venom contains anticoagulants, which will make any cut bleed like crazy.

Sun Safety

What people come to Costa Rica for can also be their downfall. The sun can be like a molten hammer, especially around midday. Sunscreen, a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and a long-sleeved light-colored shirt may make you look like your typical gringo in the tropics, but that’s a small price to pay for guarding against sunburn, skin cancer, and heatstroke. Don’t forget to drink a lot of liquids, and I’m not talking beer, which goes right through you. Take it slow at first, especially in areas of high humidity. After you’ve been here for a while, you’ll adjust to your chosen area’s weather.

In the most sizzling areas, early mornings and late afternoons are the best times to be out and about. There’s a reason hot countries invented the siesta, that midday break that gets you out of the sun and into a hammock. Do as the locals do and spend the early afternoon swaying on the front porch, a cool drink within reach.


Excerpted from the Fifth Edition of Moon Living Abroad Costa Rica.

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How to Build a House in Costa Rica https://moon.com/2017/08/how-to-build-a-house-in-costa-rica/ https://moon.com/2017/08/how-to-build-a-house-in-costa-rica/#comments Mon, 21 Aug 2017 18:28:33 +0000 http://moon.com/?p=8535 What you need to know about how to build a house in Costa Rica, from considerations when buying a lot to materials and labor costs and obtaining permits.

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View of a two story wooden house with a porch running around the second floor.

House in Costa Rica. Photo © Zanzabar Photography, licensed Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivatives.

There are lot a benefits when you choose to build a house in Costa Rica: you won’t have to adjust to Tico housing styles, which may include low ceilings, no lawns, and odd ideas about finish work. In your own place, you can put the outlets where you want them, install North American-style hot water heaters and window screens, and lay down floors of tropical hardwoods. You can orient the house toward the best view (many Tico houses look inward rather than outward). You can put in a lush lawn or landscape to your heart’s content with native trees and flowering shrubs. “You don’t really have to plant things here,” one gardener told me. “You just stick something in the ground, or you wait (not long) for your yard to be invaded.”

Those who got the house they wanted tended to be on-site as much as possible, overseeing every little detail.In short, you can build the house of your dreams for considerably less than you’d have to pay up north. But it won’t be dirt cheap, and it will take a lot of sweat and patience. You will need to be scrupulous about paying your workers the minimum wage, which is far lower than it would be in the United States, plus their health benefits (see the Employment chapter of Moon Living Abroad Costa Rica for more details). And most people who’ve been through the experience say that you really need to speak Spanish, know something about construction, and be confident you can effectively oversee workers. Those who got the house they wanted tended to be on-site as much as possible, overseeing every little detail.

And be sure your contract with whoever’s doing your building is detailed and explicit. Mark Drolette, who moved from Sacramento, California, to near San Ramón, Costa Rica, counts as among the best things that happened to him in Costa Rica “deciding to purchase my half acre.” The worst was finding out his house contract “didn’t cover the cost of small items like, oh, doors and windows and toilets and sinks.”

Buying a Lot for Your House in Costa Rica

Before you buy land that you intend to build on, you need to do a little research. First, make sure the lot has basic services such as water, electricity, telephone, and drainage. If it lacks any of these, get estimates for how much it will cost to install those services. Next, make sure there are no restrictions on the lot that might cause you to be denied a construction permit. Begin by checking with the Public Registry (Registro Nacional), stop in at the Permit Reception Office (Oficina Receptora de Permisos de Construcción) in San José, and consult the municipality (municipalidad) where the property is located.

Filing for Building Permits in Costa Rica

According to Roger Petersen, author of The Legal Guide to Costa Rica, requests for construction permits are filed with the Permit Reception Office (Oficina Receptora de Permisos de Construcción) in San José, which is a centralized office that houses representatives from MOPT (Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes—roads), INVU (Instituto Nacional de Vivienda y Urbanismo—housing), ICE (Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad—telephone), AYA (Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados—water), SNE (Servicio Nacional de Electricidad—electricity), CFIA (Colegio Federado de Ingenieros y de Arquitectos), and the Ministry of Health (Ministerio de Salud).

By law, the local municipality is responsible for ensuring that all construction complies with building regulations, so you’ll also need a building permit from your municipality. There may be occasional visits to your construction site by the municipal building inspector, who must certify that the construction is proceeding according to code.

Applications for construction permits must be filed by an architect or civil engineer who is a member of the Federation of Engineers and Architects (Colegio Federado de Ingenieros y de Arquitectos).

Building Costs in Costa Rica

In general, materials costs in Costa Rica are roughly equivalent to those in North America, while labor costs will be significantly less. Total building costs vary a great deal depending on materials used and salaries paid, with estimates ranging from US$25 per square foot for simple construction to up to US$70 per square foot for a luxurious house.

Building in remote areas is often more expensive, since you have to factor in delivery costs of materials.


Excerpted from the Fifth Edition of Moon Living Abroad Costa Rica.

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Japanese Family Roles: Gender and Work https://moon.com/2017/08/japanese-family-roles-gender-and-work/ https://moon.com/2017/08/japanese-family-roles-gender-and-work/#respond Sun, 20 Aug 2017 22:52:21 +0000 http://publishing.wpengine.com/?p=1939 Author Ruthy Kanagy discusses the traditional Japanese family roles of men and women in modern Japan, as well as the careers that some Japanese women choose to pursue.

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A pair of wooden dolls dressed as emperor and empress of the Heian period.

Hina dolls displayed for Girl’s Day (March 3). Photo © conifer, licensed Creative Commons Atribution.

There seems to be a general perception by many Americans that Japanese women have lower status than men, that they don’t have equal rights. As evidence, we point to the fact that a majority of Japanese women quit their jobs upon marriage and stay home to raise children, while men are out in the world. If women had equal rights, our thinking goes, they would want full-time careers, no? Each of us brings our own cultural values and perceptions when we encounter another culture. The word “housewife” in English has a connotation of low status, as in “just a housewife.” By contrast, the Japanese term shufu is composed of two characters that mean “master” and “woman.” In other words, shufu is the female master of the home.

Japanese wives keep track of finances, make economic decisions, and give their husbands an allowance. They budget carefully and keep meticulous records of where the money goes and make decisions about the children’s education. They shop frugally and buy fresh produce daily and take pride in cooking nutritious meals. Many women take classes in flower arranging, kimono wearing, tea ceremony, and cooking in order to prepare for their career in household management. In large urban areas the husband often has a long commute, gets home late, and rarely sees the children except on Sundays. Some women say it’s easier when their husband’s not home—he’s just one more child to take care of. Husbands who retire are sometimes called (tongue in cheek) sodai gomi, or oversized trash. After working 60 or more hours a week for 40 years, the husband rattles around the house and gets in the way.

Would Japanese women rather switch their job for long hours of work at a company for 30 or more years? The answer is as varied as the individual.Japanese wives keep track of finances, make economic decisions, and give their husbands an allowance. They budget carefully and keep meticulous records of where the money goes and make decisions about the children’s education. They shop frugally and buy fresh produce daily and take pride in cooking nutritious meals. Many women take classes in flower arranging, kimono wearing, tea ceremony, and cooking in order to prepare for their career in household management. In large urban areas the husband has a long commute, gets home late, and rarely sees the children except on Sundays. Some women say it’s easier when their husband’s not home—he’s just one more child to take care of. Husbands who retire are sometimes referred to (tongue in cheek) as sodai gomi, or oversized trash. After working 60 hours a week for 30 years, the husband rattles around the house and gets in the way.

Would Japanese homemakers rather switch their situation for long hours of work at a company for 30 or more years? The answer is as varied as the individual. It is true that companies often hire young women fresh out of school to be “flowers of the office,” serving tea and filing papers. At least they can go home at five, while women who choose the managerial track are pressured to work overtime with the majority of male employees. On the other hand, women who work as teachers, nurses, and in other service roles often continue their careers after marriage. And it’s not unknown for men who are self-employed or writers to stay home while their wives work outside the home. Women are politicians and business owners and entrepreneurs. In Japan I have yet to meet a woman who wanted to swap places with a man.


Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Living Abroad Japan.

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Moving to Japan with Children https://moon.com/2017/08/moving-to-japan-with-children/ https://moon.com/2017/08/moving-to-japan-with-children/#comments Sun, 20 Aug 2017 22:26:24 +0000 http://publishing.wpengine.com/?p=1945 Children face their own challenges when moving to a new country. If you're moving to Japan with children, these two personal accounts—one from a child's view, another from a single parent's—can help you prepare.

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Neat rows of desks with green plastic chairs in a bright and airy classroom.

Takanawadai Elementary School in Tokyo. Photo © scarletgreen, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

If you are taking your family with you to Japan on a student or work visa, each member will need to obtain a dependent visa at a Japanese consulate office outside Japan in order to enter the country. A spouse or child of someone residing in Japan with the visa status of professor, researcher, or cultural activities is eligible for dependent resident status. Normally the period of stay for dependents is three months, six months, one year, or three years. If your dependent plans to stay in Japan for more than 90 days, he or she must also apply for a resident card.

Making the Adjustment

Children face their own challenges when moving to a new country. Make sure to provide plenty of support—familiar books, toys, music, photographs of extended family and close friends, and some favorite foods. Allow them time to get adjusted to their new surroundings, and try not to push them to play with children they don’t know. If your children are old enough, help them write a postcard or email to a friend back home. Above all, as a parent, give them your time and emotional support, even though you may be busy with the many tasks of setting up house in a new culture. When your children are ready, plan ways to learn Japanese together, go shopping, or take outings. But I recommend starting slowly—riding a subway may be a big enough activity by itself. Don’t fill up the schedule too much. For helpful information on moving to Japan with children, visit www.tokyowithkids.com.

How does a young child experience a move to a new country? I can share my personal experience of moving from Japan, where I was born, to North America for the first time at age four. My missionary parents took a one-year break from Hokkaido and moved back to Indiana. I found myself in a strange place filled with new tastes, a new language, and relatives I’d only seen in pictures. I was too young to go to school, so I stayed home, where I remember sorting and playing with buttons from my grandmother’s sewing basket. After a year, we went back to our home in eastern Hokkaido.

I don’t think the transition was very difficult at that age, but moving to the United States again in the sixth grade was definitely harder. I attended a local Japanese elementary school and had never experienced school in English. I knew how to speak and read English, but my vocabulary was somewhat limited. I remember getting laughed at by classmates for not knowing slang or the latest popular American tunes or TV shows. A preteen or adolescent needs someone who understands what they’re going through (which is true when moving within the same country, as well).

Your child will face some challenges living in Japan or going to a Japanese school, but rest assured it will be an enriching experience, an opportunity of a lifetime. To ease the transition to a new school, enlist the help of the homeroom teacher and find a buddy who can help your child learn the ropes and ease the transition. Keep in close touch with the school and teachers, and also try to get to know some parents. For preschoolers, there are many good Japanese hoikuen (government-supported day cares) and yochien (kindergartens for ages 3-5).

Moving to Japan as a Single Parent

There are some challenges to being a single parent in an unfamiliar culture. Rhae Washington, a single mom who moved to Japan with her two-year-old, said:

I loved the education my son got in his hoikuen—they were so loving and yet taught him a lot about discipline. I loved the beach and swimming and the flowers and the temples…the aesthetic qualities of Kamakura [south of Tokyo] were extraordinary. Going to visit Daibutsu [Great Buddha] was one of our favorite things to do; we called him “our friend.” I enjoyed the food very much, and learning the language, and being exposed to cultural opportunities.

On the other hand, I was also very isolated—I had only a few friends, and they weren’t really friends I could count on for help or support. I made one Japanese friend by responding to an ad she’d posted seeking foreigner friends. She had a child my son’s age, and she would come over for dinner and drinks a few times a month. We had a good time together, and so did the kids; we still keep in touch. She is a very nontraditional Japanese woman, though, as she’s traveled extensively. Many Japanese women that I met were too shy to really engage with me, either because they were self-conscious about their English or because they found me strange—usually both, it seemed to me. I did interact socially with a couple of my students’ parents, but that was not in an intimate, friendly way, but more in a very polite, business kind of way. I was very self-conscious, going to their houses, and thus didn’t really enjoy myself.

In retrospect, I don’t think Japan is the best place for a single parent. There just really aren’t enough resources in the smaller towns. Perhaps in Tokyo one would be OK, especially with good Japanese. My advice would be to learn the language as much as possible—hiragana, katakana, and a lot of vocabulary. Try to build a support system (of foreigners, if necessary) before moving, through the websites designed for foreigners, such as www.japan-guide.com, or by contacting friends of friends—most people, Japanese and foreigners alike, will be happy to help. I would also warn anyone moving there that they will almost necessarily feel isolated, at least at the beginning. They will have to ask for help a lot—which is why it’s so important to have friends to count on. But the kids will benefit! And it’s one of the safest countries in the world, which is a wonderful feeling when you have kids, and also as a woman. It was the first time in my life I didn’t feel the need to watch my back. My son did pick up the language easily, especially in his Japanese school, and we still use it sometimes.

Despite some challenges and the need for patience during the initial adjustment period, I strongly believe that the benefits of growing up in two cultures far outweigh the challenges. Because our brain capacity increases through mapping multiple sets of vocabularies and grammars, learning two or more languages in early childhood has been shown to stimulate and develop brain cells. In an increasingly interdependent world, knowing more than one language and culture gives children—and adults—a broader worldview and empathy for people from other places. Home is no longer limited to one country as we extend the concept of “one nation, indivisible” to “one earth, indivisible.” There are practical advantages as well— being bilingual and bicultural will be an advantage when your child establishes a career. You as a parent can give your family that priceless opportunity when you move to Japan.


Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Living Abroad Japan.

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How to Move Your Pets to Japan https://moon.com/2017/08/how-to-move-pets-to-japan/ https://moon.com/2017/08/how-to-move-pets-to-japan/#respond Sun, 20 Aug 2017 16:23:25 +0000 http://publishing.wpengine.com/?p=1947 When moving to Japan, you may want to bring your favorite cat, dog, or other pet with you. Here's what you need to know before you decide to bring Fido or Fluffy along.

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A leashed shiba inu wears a costume including a red headband while sitting next to a carboard mini-shrine float.

Bringing a pet to Japan involves fulfilling many requirements, but the companionship may be worth it. Photo © showbizsuperstar, licensed Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivatives.

You may want to bring your pet to Japan. It can be done, but there are many requirements involved. Keep in mind that most apartments in Japan do not allow pets. A few do, but you will have to hunt for them, and an additional deposit may be required. In my case, I decided not to bring my dog to Japan and left her with several trustworthy friends at home; I didn’t want to subject her to the trauma of air travel, possible quarantine period, and adjustment to an unfamiliar place. Moreover, there was no grass or dirt near my Tokyo apartment, only concrete and asphalt—not much space to run around, and not much fun. If you do decide to bring your pet—you may have compelling reasons—be prepared to follow the requirements of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishers.

Dogs and cats must undergo quarantine inspection. If they meet import requirements upon arrival, the quarantine period ends within 12 hours. If they don’t meet the requirements, they’ll be subject to quarantine, which can last up to 180 days and during which you’re responsible for the feeding, caring, and other associated costs of your pet while it’s housed in a kennel at a detention facility of Animal Quarantine Service. Depending on the results of the inspection, your dog or cat may be prohibited from entering Japan.

Assistance dogs, such as guide dogs, service dogs, and hearing dogs, must meet the same requirements. If you plan to come to Japan with your assistance dog, prepare in advance: Contact the Animal Quarantine Service of the expected airport or seaport of entry no less than 40 days in advance, and undertake the necessary actions.

Import procedures vary depending on the export region of the dog or cat. Designated regions are Hawaii, Guam, Australia, New Zealand, Iceland, and the Fiji Islands, which are rabies-free, and generally require microchip implantation and government-issued certificates. Dogs and cats from nondesignated regions must meet further import requirements involving rabies vaccinations and a rabies antibody test. See requirements for both designated and non-designated regions at www.maff.go.jp/aqs/English.

Note that dogs can only be imported through New Chitose, Narita International, Haneda, Chubu Centrair International, Kansai International, Kitakyushu, Fukuoka, Kagoshima, or Naha Airports.
Once in the country, you are required to register your dog (91 days old or older) at the local municipal office and receive a dog license. In addition, the dog must have a rabies vaccination once a year April- June and receive a Completion of Rabies Vaccination Tag. The license and tag must be attached to the dog’s collar at all times.

Dogs must be leashed or caged when outdoors, except in designated dog parks. Some restaurants and hotels accept pets. For further information, contact your local municipal office.


Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon Living Abroad Japan.

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Living in Tokyo: Tokyo Districts and Neighborhoods https://moon.com/2017/08/living-in-tokyo-tokyo-districts-neighborhoods/ https://moon.com/2017/08/living-in-tokyo-tokyo-districts-neighborhoods/#respond Sat, 19 Aug 2017 19:42:18 +0000 http://publishing.wpengine.com/?p=1953 Not sure where to live in Tokyo? Ruthy Kanagy goes over Tokyo districts to help you find an area that fits your budget and your lifestyle.

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View of a quiet street with several pedestrians and a business in the foreground.

Itabashi-ku, Tokyo. Photo © Takayuki Miki, licensed Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivatives.

If you’ve already firmed up a job or study program in Tokyo it will simplify your housing search. Ask yourself the following key questions: How far am I willing to commute? (The average Tokyoite commutes an hour each way to work or school, and two hours is not unusual.) What’s my budget? What kind of neighborhood do I want to live in? How close do I need to be to the train station, parks, rivers, airport, and schools? Housing decisions often come down to a question of convenience versus affordability.

Japanese listings always specify how many minutes it takes to walk to the nearest train station and how many minutes it takes by train to central Tokyo. When calculating your commute, note how many times you will need to transfer to another line. A 90-minute commute on a single train is less tiring than three 25-minute rides with two transfers, especially if one involves a 15-minute hike underground—and you must repeat it all on the way home. Note if there are elevators, escalators, or only stairs in the closest station. Unfortunately, Tokyo transit has many barriers for people in wheelchairs and those who can’t walk the many steps. If you have the luxury of flextime and can avoid rush hour, that makes a longer commute much more tolerable.

Rental housing and real estate are listed in the weekly Metropolis, Japan Home Search, the Japan Times, Apamanshop, Fontana, and Enplus.

Tokyo Wards, Neighborhoods, and Suburbs

Chiyoda-ku and Minato-ku

Minato city is home to around 18,500 foreign residents (“registered foreigners,” if you will).Of the four wards, or cities, located within the JR Yamanote loop, Chiyoda- and Minato-ku are considered prime real estate because of their proximity to the political, economic, and financial districts, as well as embassies. Sony, Toshiba, Google, Apple, and Goldman Sachs are all located here. Minato city is home to around 18,500 foreign residents (“registered foreigners,” if you will). Roppongi, Azabu, and Hiro seem to be popular with Westerners with means. If your company is transferring you to Tokyo with all expenses paid, or if cost is not an issue, there is an attractive and convenient array of housing close to American-style supermarkets, private international schools, and fancy nightclubs where you can meet many other expatriates. However, the downside of living among concentrations of foreigners is the lack of urgency to learn Japanese, as well as fewer opportunities to interact with Japanese neighbors.

Thirty stories high, Park Cube Atagoyama Tower has 30-square-meter (320-square-foot) studios for ¥150,000/$1,500 a month with a two-month deposit and parking for ¥45,000 ($450) a month. It guarantees a spectacular sky view even from the bathroom! A slightly larger 43-square-meter (462- square-foot) 1LDK in Azabu rents for ¥158,000/$1,580, requiring a two-month deposit, one-month key money, and one-month renewal fee. It’s a nine-minute walk to the subway and a pet is negotiable. A brand-new 2LDK, two-story, 70-square-meter/752-square-foot apartment in Takanawa is available for ¥190,000/$1,900 a month with a two-month deposit, one-month key money, and one-month renewal fee. The apartment is in a wooden structure and is a nine-minute walk from the Takanawadai station.

A fancier 970-square-foot, two-bedroom furnished apartment in Roppongi Hills Residence rents for ¥1,220,000/$12,200 per month. Western-style apartments and houses in this area can cost as much as ¥3 million/$30,000 per month for 2,000 to 3,000 square feet of living space (parking included). When you pay that kind of rent, you’re paying for a fashionable address in central Tokyo where you can walk to an international school or a job in the financial district and shop for American food at the supermarket. The U.S. Embassy, Tokyo American Club, Nishimachi International School, Sacred Heart International School, the British School, and Meidiya (American-style) supermarket are all located in this district.

Shibuya-Ku, Setagaya-ku, and Southwest Suburbs

Shibuya station is a mad scramble of people with boutiques, cinemas, and cafés.Shibuya station is a major hub on the southwest side of the Yamanote loop and is a transfer point to subways and private train lines heading toward suburban districts to the west. Shibuya station is a mad scramble of people with boutiques, cinemas, cafés, and hundreds of people crowded around looking for their friends by the statue of a dog named Hachiko, a popular meeting spot. The sidewalks are so crowded that sometimes you can’t walk in the direction you want to go.

Harajuku is one stop north of Shibuya on the Yamanote line, and another great place for people watching. On Sundays, you can mingle with the crowds of young Japanese girls (and boys) dressed in Gothic or Little Bo Peep costumes, and watch impromptu band performances. Right across the bridge are Yoyogi Park and the Meiji Shrine grounds.

Heading southwest from Shibuya, the Toyoko line takes you to suburban and western Meguro, which was built with lots of space and greenery. This area is popular with well-to-do Japanese and Westerners. Tokyo Kyosai Hospital is in Meguro city. You could rent a studio in a 10-story, reinforced concrete building in Daikanyama with 30 square meters (330 square feet) for ¥158,000/$1,580 a month. It comes with concierge service, a café, and a fitness club and is just a two-minute walk from the train station. In the same building are 1LDK apartments with 55 square meters (600 square feet) of space, for ¥275,000/$2,750 a month. A 2LDK with 90 square meters (980 square feet) rents for ¥500,000/$5,000 a month. The studio, one-, and two-bedroom units all require a two-month deposit, one-month key money, and one-month renewal fee.

Five stops southwest of Daikanyama station on the Toyoko line is Jiyugaoka in Setagaya, a trendy area for foodies, shoppers, and artists. A compact 31.7-square-meter (341-square-foot) one-room apartment constructed in 2014 can be yours for ¥115,000/$1,150 a month with a two-year lease. A one-month deposit, one-month key money, and one month’s rent plus 8 percent tax for the agent is required to move in. Sangenjaya on the Denentoshi line and Shimokitazawa at the intersection of the Odakyu line and Inokashira line in Setagaya city are also attractive areas for fashionable living and exploring.

Shinjuku-, Nakano-, and Suginami-ku

Shinjuku city has the largest population of foreign residents in the metropolis.Nakano-ku and Suginami-ku, located west of Shinjuku on the Chuo line, are convenient areas to live in if you work or go to school in Shinjuku or anywhere in central Tokyo. JR lines, private train lines, and the Shinjuku, Oedo, Marunouichi subway lines cover the area. Shinjuku city has the largest population of foreign residents in the metropolis. Thirty-thousand Korean and other nationalities live here. Excellent Korean and Vietnamese restaurants and shops are clustered around Shin-Okubo station on the Yamanote line. Waseda University on the east side of Yamanote attracts many foreign students. The Metropolitan Tokyo government buildings, hotels, and high-rise office buildings dominate the west Shinjuku skyline. Shinjuku Gyoen Gardens in east Shinjuku provide a quiet retreat from the crowds and noise.

Shinjuku-ku offers attractive manshon (condominiums) for sale. For example, you could purchase a 2LDK condo on the 4th floor in Shinjuku with 55 square meters (590 square feet) of floor space for ¥39.8 million/$398,000 plus a ¥12,700/$127 monthly maintenance fee and a ¥7,300/$73 monthly repair fund. It’s a four-minute walk to the subway. As for rentals, small, 44-square-meter (470-square-foot) one-bedrooms are listed for ¥172,000/$1,720 and up. An 830-square-foot, three-bedroom furnished apartment in the Shinjuku area is available for ¥360,000/$3,600 per month. Proximity to the popular Chuo line and Yamanote loop requires a larger housing budget, but cheaper rentals can be found in older buildings. My brother lives in Suginami-ku on the Chuo line with quick access to Shinjuku. His tiny apartment in a 35-year-old two-story wood and stucco building is ¥100,000 ($1,000) per month for 355 square feet. The Tokyo Korean School is near Shinjuku’s transportation hub, where you can shop at numerous department stores and two Kinokuniya bookstores carrying English- and other foreign-language books and magazines.

Arakawa-, Kita-, Itabashi-, and Nerima-ku

The houses are three stories tall, with one room on each floor, and barely wider than the minivan parked on the ground floor.If you’re looking for more affordable housing, check out the eastern, northern, and northwestern areas of Tokyo. Cheap apartments are usually older and smaller, but if you’re close to a river with jogging and cycling paths, or neighborhood parks with cherry trees, you might not mind the limited space. In exchange, you have the convenience of walking to all the essential shops, and with no skyscrapers, you get a better view of the sky. Aoba International School in located in Nerima city.

I lived in Itabashi city in northern Tokyo for three years and I was puzzled when people said, “Itabashi-ku is rural Tokyo.” The 13-story manshon sprouting along truck-choked National Route 17 didn’t strike me as country living. After looking at apartments with an agent I found a two-room unit on a quiet side street a five-minute walk from the subway. Central Tokyo was less than 30 minutes away on the Mita line. Two six-mat (9-by-12-foot) rooms with a small kitchen, bath, and storage were ¥83,000/$830 a month. There were also move-in fees. You can rent a 2LDK from ¥115,000/$1,150 and up, including a compact three-story house with space for one car for ¥200,000/$2,000 a month. After paying a deposit equivalent to one month and a ¥400,000/$4,000 landlord’s fee you can enjoy 75 square meters (807 square feet) of living space.

If you want to buy a property in Itabashi, a 1LDK manshon in Shimura 3-chome starts at around ¥21 million/$210,000 with 35 square meters (377 square feet). Fifteen minutes on foot from Ikebukuro, a 51-square-meter (550-square-foot) 3LDK lists for ¥46.6 million/$460,500. It’s close to the Yamanote loop line with a 24-hour supermarket nearby. Single-family homes are increasingly scarce, as most of them have been torn down and replaced with up to four skinny houses on a postage-stamp-size plot. The houses are three stories tall, with one room on each floor, and barely wider than the minivan parked on the ground floor. If you stretch, you can touch your neighbor’s wall.

Student Housing Near Universities

If you’re planning to study at one of Tokyo’s many universities, you may be interested to know how Japanese university students can afford to rent a place. Waseda University manages several apartment buildings for students with one-room units (7-8 tatami mat size) starting at ¥62,000 ($620) a month plus ¥12,000/$120 monthly maintenance fee. Moving in requires a deposit of ¥100,000 ($1,000) and key money of ¥160,000 ($1,600)—rather high. There are still a few older, very small apartments and boardinghouses near universities with one room, a toilet, and no bath, for around ¥50,000 ($500) a month. The shared kitchen is down the hall. Where do you take a bath, you ask? At the sento, or public bath, down the street. To find it, look for someone carrying a basin and towel in the evening, and follow him or her (men and women bathe separately). You can bathe for ¥400 ($4) or so, and even do your laundry at the same time in the coin laundry adjacent to the bath.

You can find such minimalist rooms in rental magazines such as Chintai or Isize (published in Japanese) at bookstores and train station kiosks. Another option is to stroll around different neighborhoods looking at vacancies posted on realtors’ office windows. Recently “share houses” have sprung up, where you rent a room in a house or building and share the kitchen, living spaces, and bathrooms with other renters. To search for this type of housing, try Iemoto Share House, Social Apartments, and The Japan Times.

Saitama- and Chiba-ken

If you want to buy a single-family home with room for a vegetable garden, you may want to choose one in Saitama-ken (north) or Chiba-ken (east).Another option for cheaper housing is to do what so many Tokyo commuters do—live in Saitama-ken (Saitama prefecture) north of Tokyo, Chiba-ken to the east, or Kanagawa-ken (near Yokohama) in the south. You will have to endure a longer commute to work or school in Tokyo, or get a job locally. In Funabashi city, just 40 minutes from Tokyo station on the Tozai subway line, a 1K apartment with 21 square meters (226 square feet) of floor space is a bargain at ¥33,000 ($330) per month with ¥3,000 ($30) monthly maintenance fee. It’s a six-minute walk from the station with no deposit and no key money required to move in. Add a yearly insurance fee of ¥18,000 ($180). A 2DK unit in a 20-year-old reinforced concrete manshon is available for ¥82,000/$820 a month. The security deposit (equal to two months’ rent) is refundable with no landlord’s fee. One benefit of living outside Tokyo is that you are closer to the sea and mountains—or at least you can get there faster than the 13 million people living in the Tokyo metro area.

If you want to buy a single-family home with room for a vegetable garden, you may want to choose one in Saitama-ken (north) or Chiba-ken (east). If your work or school is in central Tokyo, you’ll have to resign yourself to a one- to two-hour commute each way. This is a choice that many Japanese families have made. My friends have a house near Chiba city, not too far from Narita airport. The father rises at 4:30am, eats breakfast, and leaves the house at 5:15am After a brisk walk to the train station, he takes the 5:35 to Tokyo. An hour and 15 minutes later, he transfers to another train and then walks to his office, arriving at 7am. The process is repeated in the evening. It’s no wonder that many children with salaryman (white-collar) dads hardly see them except on Sundays. Dream of building your own house? Contact Asentia Home for expert assistance in English from start to finish.


Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Living Abroad Japan.

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Moving to Costa Rica: 10-Day Tour for Hopeful Expats https://moon.com/2017/08/moving-to-costa-rica-10-day-tour-for-hopeful-expats/ https://moon.com/2017/08/moving-to-costa-rica-10-day-tour-for-hopeful-expats/#comments Sat, 19 Aug 2017 09:00:37 +0000 http://moon.com/?p=8531 If you plan on moving to Costa Rica, a fact-finding trip is the best way to catch a glimpse of many different parts of the country. This 10-day whirlwind sampler of popular expat destinations casts a wide net, allowing you to see as much as possible.

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If you’re looking to move to Costa Rica, this whirlwind sampler of expat hot spots casts a wide net, allowing you to see as much as possible in less than two weeks.

Ten days will fly by in Costa Rica, especially if you’re trying to catch a glimpse of many different parts of the country. This itinerary won’t leave much downtime, but it will give you a taste of both coasts, the Central Valley (where most expats live), and the country’s most active volcano. This tour hits on many of the most popular tourist areas as well, so you can surf or snorkel in the Pacific and the Caribbean, visit much-loved Manuel Antonio National Park, and soak in the hot springs below Arenal Volcano.

Sunset on the beach in Costa Rica's Manuel Antonio National Park.

Costa Rica’s Manuel Antonio National Park. Photo © Green Reynolds/iStock.

This tour hits on many of the most popular tourist areas as well, so you can surf or snorkel in the Pacific and the Caribbean, visit much-loved Manuel Antonio National Park, and soak in the hot springs below Arenal Volcano.The three big tourist guns this tour leaves out are the mountain town of Monteverde, known for its cloud forest preserve and its Quaker community; the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica’s answer to the Amazon and home to Corcovado National Park; and Tortuguero National Park on the northern Caribbean coast, with its crocodiles, sea turtles, and even manatees. You could substitute Monteverde for Arenal on this 10-day itinerary, but to do justice to the Osa or Tortuguero, you’d want at least three days for each. Neither Tortuguero nor the Osa qualifies as an expat hot spot, though some hardy souls have braved these remote areas and now make their homes there.

In terms of transportation, if you feel confident about driving in unfamiliar territory, rent a car in San José and drive to all of the places mentioned. This approach has the added benefit of allowing you to see the hidden-away towns and striking landscapes between the more well-known destinations.

But if the thought of driving Costa Rica’s fabled roads makes you anxious, with a little planning you can piece together short flights, bus or minivan travel, and taxi rides. All of the places listed on this itinerary are popular enough that such services will be easy to arrange. (See the Travel and Transportation chapter in Moon Living Abroad Costa Rica for more detailed information on getting around the country.)

The historic National Theater in San Jose.

The historic National Theater in San Jose. Photo © aceshot/iStock.

Days 1-2: San José and Environs

Fly into Juan Santamaría airport just outside the capital city. Stay in town the first night, exploring some of the city’s better neighborhoods (like Los Yoses and San Pedro in the west, Rohrmoser and La Sabana to the north). Get a sense of city life by walking the downtown pedestrian mall (the Paseo Colón), have coffee at the café in the historic National Theater, and check out the nearby Gold Museum. For your second night, stay in a hotel outside of the city, to the west if the next day you’ll explore the western suburbs (Escazú, Santa Ana, Ciudad Colón) or to the north if you want to get a sense of cities like Heredia and Alajuela or towns such as Sarchí and Grecia. Give yourself a break and don’t try to see both the towns west of San José and the northern ones. Leave time for a leisurely lunch and gossiping with the taxi driver or waitress. Take time, too, to see what’s for sale in the omnipresent supermarkets and malls. The Central Valley is where the whole country comes to shop.

Even if you have rented a car, this part of the trip might be more enjoyable if you leave your car parked in the hotel lot and hire a driver. It takes some time to figure out how to get around San José and its environs; you don’t want to spend all your time getting lost or cursing the traffic. Ask at your hotel for a car and driver, or negotiate with a taxi driver to hire him or her for a few hours or the entire day. Ten dollars an hour is not an uncommon price for such services—cheaper than letting the meter run. (These services are likely to cost more outside the Central Valley, where there’s less competition among drivers and the roads are worse.)

Another option is to rent a car the day you want to leave the San José area, relying on taxis or hotel shuttles until then.

Day 3: Zona Norte

Drive, take a small plane, or ride a bus or minivan north to the town of La Fortuna. Nearby you’ll find Lake Arenal, famous among windsurfers, and active Arenal Volcano, with a variety of hot springs nearby. The trip from San José to La Fortuna winds through some lovely scenery, and the Arenal area itself is lushly gorgeous. There’s an ever-growing community of expats clustered around the lake, people who appreciate the cooler weather and the low-key vibe.

Lush grasses grow at the edge of Costa Rica's Lake Arenal.

Lake Arenal is popular with windsurfers and the surrounding region is lushly gorgeous. Photo © Mo_Dom/iStock.

Days 4-5: Northern Guanacaste Beaches

Drive or fly to Playas del Coco or Tamarindo. Playas del Coco will be of interest to visitors drawn to the convenience of the area (less than an hour from Liberia’s international airport and on good roads) or who’d like to take a look at all the condos going in there. Visit nearby Playa Ocotal, less hectic than Coco and one of the nicest little coves around, and head north to Playa Hermosa, another expat hot spot.

Tamarindo will appeal to young partiers set or to those who want to surf or see giant seas turtles laying their eggs. Once a little fishing village, these days Tamarindo is growing so fast you can hear its bones creak.

Day 6: The Nicoya Peninsula

Drive or fly to either the Nosara-Playa Sámara area (halfway down the Nicoya Peninsula) or the Montezuma-Mal País area (at the southern tip of the peninsula). Both areas are less developed than northern Guanacaste beaches like Tamarindo or Playas del Coco, though these southerly areas are also experiencing their own smaller booms. Nosara has the Nosara Yoga Institute and good beaches for swimming and surfing; Sámara is a more typical low-key resort popular with Ticos, with a beach good for learning to surf.

Montezuma is a pretty little alternative-flavored town popular with backpackers but also providing services for more luxury-minded travelers. Mal País (and nearby Santa Teresa) is a surfer’s haven, and its one-strip wonder of a town has seen a lot of growth lately.

Between Montezuma and Mal País is Cabo Blanco Reserve, worth a day’s visit—walk through the forest for a few hours and arrive at a pristine white-sand beach, where you may be the only one there. Both areas have growing international expat communities.

The broad sandy beach at Jaco, Costa Rica is studded with lounges.

Jacó Beach along Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast is changing from sleepy seaside to booming party town. Photo © Simon Dannhauer/iStock.

Day 7: Central Pacific Coast

Drive or fly to the popular beach (and slightly seedy) town of Jacó or to Quepos and nearby Manuel Antonio National Park, the most-visited park in all of Costa Rica. In both areas you are in high tourism mode, which may be a bit of a shock after laid-back Montezuma and Mal País. If you drive, you’ll need to take the car ferry from the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula (Paquera) to Puntarenas, then drive south on the coast road. Jacó comes first, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed there. Literally hundreds of condos are in the works, and the town is getting more and more rambunctious, with partying of all kinds on the rise. But it’s good to see the place, if only for comparison. Check out the condo prices here, compare them to houses for sale in out-of-the-way towns, and marvel at the huge difference.

Quepos, an hour south, is slightly less overwhelming. It’s the gateway to Manuel Antonio National Park. Although crowded in high season, the park is also beautiful. Tangled jungle spills down the hill to meet white-sand beaches, and the trees are full of monkeys and sloths.

Day 8: Dominical Area

If you stay one night in Jacó and another in the Quepos area, skip Dominical, which is another hour south of Quepos on the coast. The farther south you go, the less touristy it gets. Dominical has a long beach where the waves pound in—great for surfers, not so great for swimmers. Nearby Ojochal is a little French-Canadian-infused haven with stylish hotels and a few excellent restaurants.

Surfboards are lined up in front of a surfshop painted in rastafarian colors.

Take some time during your tour to relax in popular destinations like Puerto Viejo. Photo © Ryan Kozie, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Days 9-10: Southern Caribbean Coast

If you’re driving, you’ll take the road inland from Dominical, pass through San Isidro de El General, then head north toward San José (driving time would be 3-4 hours, depending on road conditions). From the San José area to the Caribbean coast is another 3-4-hour drive. If you fly, you’ll fly from Jacó or Quepos to San José, then from San José to Limón; each flight is under an hour.

This coast has a very different feel from the Pacific coast. It’s wetter and less developed, and real estate is cheaper. It also has more racial diversity than the rest of Costa Rica; most of the country’s blacks and indigenous people live in the Zona Caribe.

Check out Cahuita and its lovely beachside national park, then surf, party, and take long flat bike rides in Puerto Viejo. Down the road from Puerto Viejo is Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge, one of the less-visited jewels in the national park system. You can also visit indigenous reserves.


Excerpted from the Fifth Edition of Moon Living Abroad Costa Rica.

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8 Best Breckenridge Shops https://moon.com/2017/08/8-best-breckenridge-shops/ https://moon.com/2017/08/8-best-breckenridge-shops/#respond Fri, 18 Aug 2017 23:32:40 +0000 https://moon.com/?p=59503 Breckenridge has more than 200 boutique shops, galleries, and gift stores lining Main Street and its adjacent streets. Prices here are a bit inflated, but still offer a great selection. Store hours vary during the shoulder seasons.

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Breckenridge has more than 200 boutique shops, galleries, and gift stores lining Main Street and its adjacent streets. Prices here are a bit inflated, but still offer a great selection. Store hours vary during the shoulder seasons.

Here are our top picks for Breckenridge shops worth a visit:

storefront of Yoyo Loco in Breckenridge

YoYo Loco in Breckenridge. Photo © Scott McLeod (mcleod), licensed CC-BY.

YoYo Loco (302 S. Main St., 970/368-2841, noon-5pm Sun.-Mon. and Wed.-Thurs., 11am-6pm Fri.-Sat.) is the place to go for a huge assortment of yo-yos and specialty toys, while Joy of Sox (324 S. Main St., 970/453-4534, 9am-9:30pm daily) has the area’s best selection of cozy socks and fluffy slippers, as well as hats, toys, and sleepwear. Ruby Jane (232 S. Main St., 970/423-6947, 10am-8pm Mon.-Sat., 10am-6pm Sun.) is a fun mix of stylish women’s clothing from lace-trimmed tanks to loungewear and (of course) shoes.

If leather is more your style, check out Belvidere & Hern (308A S. Main St., 970/409-2086, 10am-6pm daily), which sells scarves, soaps, and jewelry along with leather handbags and stitched purses. The Breckenridge Candle Gallery (326 S. Main St., 970/453-2389, 10am-9pm daily) is a simple shop filled with beautiful, hand-carved candles and handmade soaps. The nearby Breckenridge Cheese & Chocolate (304 S. Main St., 970/453-7212, noon-8pm daily) is a great place to shop for specialty cheeses, meats, and small-batch chocolates.

East of Main Street, Mountain Outfitters (112 S. Ridge St., 970/453-2201, 10am-6pm Mon.-Thurs., 9am-6pm Fri.-Sat., 10am-5pm Sun.) is an indie retailer with all the right gear for your next summer or winter adventure. The Get Real Bazaaar (105 Jefferson Ave., 720/934-5397, noon-5pm Sun.-Mon. and Wed., 10am-6pm Thurs.-Sat.) is a co-op featuring the work of more than 20 local small businesses.


Excerpted from the Ninth Edition of Moon Colorado.

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