About Vitra Singh
Vitra Singh was born in Trinidad and now lives in New York. She has been to 16+ countries and has dozens more on her list. She has a passion for travelling, photography, media, eating, and talking to anyone and everyone she can.
Latest Posts by Vitra Singh
One of the first things my best friend, Kameko, and I did after
checking into our hotel was ask the bellhop for a lunch recommendation for authentic Puerto Rican food. He (Andy) suggested Metropol which was about a 7 minute walk from the InterContinental.
My dish was exactly what I needed–hearty and delicious. With the
waiter’s suggestion, I went with the rice and beans with chicken
cooked in a stew served with plantains. Kameko’s dish, Pechuga de
Pollo Deshuesada (boneless chicken breast), was actually too salty.
I think the rice was a tad too sweet. It could also be that I was
drinking their signature coconut mojito along with the meal, so maybe it was just too much sweetness all around. I was also disappointed in the halibut as it did not seem to have been seasoned and was unfortunately tasteless.
Kameko had their seafood curry noodle dish. The noodles could have
been much hotter–they seemed just slightly above room temperature. Her seafood was also not tasty and lacked seasoning.
For desert, I had the crepes with mango ice cream which was good.
Kameko had fruit balls with some dipping.
Overall, I would say the food experience at KoCo was disappointing and did not live up to the flavors you associate with diverse Caribbean food. The decor was lovely, and the service good, but I would not recommend this restaurant.
For lunch one day we checked out Lupi’s Mexican Bar and Grill, about a 4 minute walk from the InterContinental. Rather than each order I
main dish, we decided to get several appetizers to have a nice mix and sample of the food. This place was cool because it had a nice patio outside where we sat on a high-top table and people-watched.
We tried the cheese fries, chicken wings, fried grouper, and guacamole with chips. Nothing totally spectacular or unique about these choices, but staff was friendly and helpful. It also seems to be the type of place that gets packed in the evenings during happy hour (they had a 60 oz drink on the menu for around $35 dollars.) Here is the progression of our meal as dishes were brought out to us:
Kintaro Steak & Sushi: Sort of an odd combination to have a
sushi/steak place but around 11pm one evening I had a craving for
sushi and it was recommended by the bartender in our hotel. The place is not fancy by any means, but it was surprisingly packed. I would say it was a bit overpriced, for example miso soup was $3.25 and “normal” rolls like Spicy Tuna and Spicy Salmon cost around
$8…(specialty rolls were about $18 at least.)
However, it was probably the cheapest Japanese restaurant in the area. Our hotel also had a Japanese restaurant, with the cheapest rolls starting at $18. But Kintaro was open late, busy, and a 5-minute walk from our hotel.
Prior to heading to Puerto Rico, some friends also suggested the
following restaurants in Old San Juan. I spoke to the guard at our
hotel for a bit and when restaurants came up, he confirmed that the
three places below were good to try:
Toro Salao: First impression of this place was that the food was going to be great and out of the box. (This impression was formed only because the outside looked classy and interesting, and there was a nice shaded area outdoors that had a homey & comfortable feel to it.)
We decided to share the Arroz con Pollo y Grandules (rice with chicken and peas.) We thought everything was going to be mixed up in a more stewy mixture, but the dish seemed dry, there was no flavorful kick to it, and I asked the water for some hot sauce (which was actually quite good.)
Raices: I have to say that this was by far my best food experience in
Puerto Rico. I can’t even speak on what the inside decor consisted of
because we sat outside since it was such a beautiful day and wanted to eat and people-watch at the same time.
After being in Puerto Rico for a few days, I still had not tried
mofongo, a signature fried plantain dish. I ordered mine with mahi
mahi and shrimp done in creole style. Kameko got the same but with
steak. The presentation of the dish was unique…they came in mortar bowl with the savory fried plantains at the bottom with the choice of our meat or seafood on top. My creole shrimp and mahi mahi was a ten out of ten…seasoned perfectly, succulent, fresh, and buttery.
After the pleasure of stuffing our tummies with yummy food, I decided to try their cheese flan at the recommendation of our waiter, Domingo. Again, the presentation of the flan was outstanding, they used condensed milk and coloring to create the lovely design shown here:
Tantra: This Indo-Latino restaurant had a nice secretive feel to it.
We actually only went here for their martinis after hearing reviews
that they offered a wide variety of unusual martinis. The waitress,
Lisa, was really great about answering questions and giving
recommendations based on what we felt like drinking. I typically have a chocolate martini, but she recommended I try the Midnight Beauty Martini because it wasn’t as sweet as the chocolate martini, and included grey goose, kalhua, amaretto, a splash of cola (and perhaps a few other things I can’t remember.) Their website has a full list of food & drinks and is worth checking out.
After searching for what seemed liked months for a nice beach getaway, I came across a 3 night, 4 day package to San Juan, Puerto Rico. One of the main selling points was the hotels location on the beach in Isla Verde. I like knowing that at any time, I have access to the beach to sit back on a lounge chair and admire the gorgeous blue and green waters.
Another great thing about staying on Isla Verde is that it is only a
five minute drive from San Juan Luis Munoz Marin International Airport. After hours of traveling on an airplane, it is nice to know the hotel and relaxation are only a few minutes away.
The first thing I did was book a hike in El Yunque National
Rainforest. The hotel charge per person was $64 dollars. For this
fee, guests are driven to the rainforest (the driver is also the tour
guide), taken to an Exhibit hall (called El Portal) which has
information on the rainforest, maps, videos, etc.
There are parts of the trail that are slightly steep and it is
definitely a workout—but well worth it once reaching La Mina
Waterfall. And if you are drenched in sweat by the time you get
there, it is the perfect solution for cooling off!
On the way out of the park, there is also the Yokahu Observation
Tower, which offers a lovely view of the coast of Puerto Rico through
its series of windows as you ascend to the top. There are 98 spiral
The cost of El Yunque is actually FREE! (The El Portal exhibit hall
is only about $2 USD.) If you are able to rent a car or pitch in on a
taxi-ride with friends, it will likely come out to be much less than
$64 dollars. The drive from San Juan is about 50 minutes to 1 hour
One of my favorite parts of travelling is the people you end up
sitting next to on a bus and talking to. On the way to the
rainforest, a couple from Minnesota mentioned they were doing a
bioluminescent bay kayaking tour later in the evening. Water that
naturally illuminates!??!—how cool! We decided to join along and we
booked the tour through our hotel at $91 per person.
We were picked up in the evening and took the 2 hour drive to Fajardo. I had never before been on a kayak so I felt sorry for my best friend who would share a kayak with me because I was pretty sure if anyone was going to be clumsy and uncoordinated enough to tip the kayak over, it would be me. I asked her to sit on front, and as you can see from the picture below—while it looks like she’s smiling, I’m sure she’s secretly terrified to have me in her kayak:
The kayak folks gave all the participants a run down of the plan:
first, we kayak out to the buoy in the middle of the water, and then
line up next to each other…while in my mind, I’m thinking, “Line up,
huh? I don’t even know if I can paddle, much less make it to the middle.”
But there were 3 guides going along with a group of about 16 kayaks. One would lead the way, the other would stay in the middle and another at the back of the pack. When we started off, it was still light out:
After paddling for about 30 minutes, we entered the lagoon which was one of the most beautiful sights and experiences I have had. There is something so classically beautiful about sitting on a kayak in the middle of a lagoon with the stars and crescent moon shining above you, a lighthouse emitting a flash of light once in a while, and having something magical at your fingertips with the bioluminescent water.
This experience gave me that “once in a lifetime feeling”—it gave me a chance to learn something new (kayaking), while facing a fear (paddling out in open waters since I cannot swim), and imprinting a permanent postcard into my memories.
Traditional Thai Dancing—I happened upon this just walking down the street.
Tourists getting in the act!
“Safe Ice For Delicate Foreign Disgestions”—You’ve got to love the marketing!
EVERYONE participating in the action!
Another view of the crowds:
ME—Ringing in the New Year like a native :-)
Love the flowered lei’s. I think someone was just randomly giving them out on the streets…fresh flowers and all.
I could only aspire to have my hair stand up like this:
Policeman—Serving & Protecting. Haha
Me and my heavy artillery watergun:
Such fun and excitement, yet so calming as the city is full of wats (temples) and open spaces:
And amidst all the madness, sights like a lone soul meditating is just something to make you sigh and appreciate it all:
My Thai co-workers were buzzing with excitement. Songkran is sort of like Carnival in Trinidad. It is a chance for everyone to stop worrying about whatever politics, economics, and social issues are taking up front pages of the papers everyday. It is all about people having fun, meeting strangers, and playfully soaking everyone in sight with water, painting their faces, arms, etc—all in a laid back and easy going atmosphere.
I went to Barbados with my Mom in 2010. I was excited at the prospect of sitting on the beach for a few days, de-stressing, and putting my new job, and my business website into perspective. In order to do so, I took a notebook with me to write down my checklist of tasks.
I happened to come across the notebook the other day, opened it to the first page, and read the following entry, on June 5, 2010 at 5:25pm (yes, I’m usually very precise about time!):
“Sitting on the beach in Barbados—looking out at this serene and peaceful view—experiencing bliss under a coconut tree.
Makes me ask: Why don’t I do something with my life that will allow me to be in these surroundings ALL the time? I’m an island girl, I love the breezes—>I want this to be a part of my life—>not just work, but work that I love.
As I take a deep breath and sigh out loud, because the air is clean and this experience is swaying me into a state of hypnosis, as I watch the ripple of the waves and feel the fresh air caress my skin.”
When I read back at happiness like I’ve experienced above, I can’t believe that someone wouldn’t do everything in their power to retain such a sense of happiness everyday. But I guess that’s why they are vacations? We can appreciate peace and beauty, only to be bombarded by “real life” when we get back to our various jobs/duties. I don’t want to just be someone who looks back at words like these and think of those good days—I want to be someone who lives it everyday. So I’m working toward figuring out how to get there…slowly, but surely.
For now, I’ll leave you with some pictures from my trip there last year.
After the lovely city of Arenal in Costa Rica, my next stop was Manuel Antonio. The drive was really long—normally it would take about 5 hours, however, we encountered fog & rain along the way, making the total trip around 6-7 hours. Kudos to the driver, Ronald, because as soon as he dropped us off, he had to turn around again to go back to Arenal, where he lives.
After spending time in the rainforest & mountains the previous day, I was definitely ready for the BEACH! I stayed at Hotel Casita Eclipse on the main street leading from Quepo to the beach. Along that road, there’s a bus that runs every half hour or so that picks people up from their various hotels and drops them off at the beach (and vice versa)—and it’s very cheap.
The hotel staff told us it was about a 10 minute walk from our hotel to the beach, so we decided to walk it in case there were things to see along the way. Keep in mind that this 2-way road is the size of a 1 way road and there were no pavements after about the first 3 minutes of walking. I like pavements!!
Also, when we got to the beach, around 4pm, someone told us the beach closes at 5pm…but I think they meant that the guys renting out chairs and selling drinks on the beach stop offering them at 5pm.
The beach reminded me of a mini-version of Ft. Lauderdale beach as there was a small strip of restaurants & shops along the beach. Except, at Manuel Antonio, there were monkeys running around rooftops—something you don’t see in the USA very much. Here are some pictures:
On the drive there, we saw some crocs hanging out:
View from my Balcony:
This Iguana was just hanging out in the restaurant garden right next to where I was having lunch:
I heard “Pura Vida” more times in Manuel Antonio than the rest of the trip combined. If I lived in a beach town, I would be happy about life all the time, too!
An interesting restaurant: El Avion. This happened to be right across the street from my hotel. It’s a replica of a plane that crashed in Nicaragua…it has political strings attached to it, but it’s a very cool concept that the bar area is the actual plane and behind & upstairs are huge seating areas for breakfast/lunch/dinner. The food was good…not bad, but not excellent….nice vibes though.
After arriving and having some time at the beach, I still had all of Friday to spend doing something. I didn’t want to go to Manuel Antonio park because after being in Tortuguero and having the Canal tour & seeing lots of animals, I just wanted to do something different. From the brochures at the front desk, there was a catamaran excursion in the morning. I decided to do that because it would be nice to be out in the ocean and enjoy some of the cool breeze, right?
Um, NO…because as soon as the sailboat started to move, I suddenly remembered I get seasick if the boat is moving too slowly…so it actually ended up being 3 hours of torture. The look below says, “I’m happy I haven’t throw up yet, but get me off this boat!!!”
I managed to hold on to that one spot for most of the boat ride, which kept me kind of steady…also had a few sips of some vodka which helped as well. One of the boat crew, Jason, was great and talked to me for a good 15-20 minutes, trying to get my mind off my sea-sickness by telling stories and explaining how he was the same way when he started to sail. So thumbs up for great hosts who try to help out…
After Tortuguero, my next stop was Arenal! I had heard so many good things about Arenal, especially its’ world renowned Tabacon Hot Springs. My mom has been to Costa Rica before and raved about the Hot Springs.
The drive to Arenal was AMAZING. I wish I had taken pictures but I was so captivated by the beauty of little homes, businesses, villages, and then once we got closer to Arenal, the wide pastures with the lovely picturesque homes dotted along the base of the beautiful Arenal volcano. It was truly a unique and peaceful view.
Unfortunately, we had some transportation trouble along the way as our bus broke down and we had to wait for an hour for another to pick us up. Driving through the main street of Arenal was totally different from Tortuguero because there were tons of restaurants, souvenir shops, and bars. By the time we got to the hotel, Montana de Fuego, it as after dark, cloudy, and rainy, so we could not see the volcano. (I guess if you go during the right season, you can actually see the red lava flowing down the volcano.)
Montana De Fuego was AWESOME. The “hotel room” was literally a little glass apartment. It had a living room with a tv, a mini-kitchen area, a bedroom with a KING (possibly California King) sized bed and TV, a huge bathroom, with a Jacuzzi. Not only that, but there were extra pillows in the closet, fluffy robes, and a little porch out back and front with a table to sit and have your morning coffee outside. This place was the extreme opposite of Pachira Lodge.
Here are some pictures:
The Restaurant at Montana de Fuego has a killer chicken tortilla soup, so you must try it if you ever make it there. Also you can see helicopters landing and parking right “across the street” from the restaurant, so that was pretty cool.
The only negative about the hotel was that after a full day of travelling and arriving at night, all I wanted was a nice long hot shower, and as it turned out—my hot water was not working! Even after the maintenance man came by twice the same night and fixed it…it was fixed for like 2 minutes and then would just go back to cold water. It wasn’t until the next day around Noon that 3 technicians worked on it, and finally, it worked.
The first full morning I was in Arena, it was very rainy so I walked around the hotel grounds a little, relaxed, and sat in the Jacuzzi for a while basking in the glories of vacation :-)
At 2pm, we had an excursion and hike on Arenal’s mountain. The walk itself was what I envisioned a nature like to be: climbing up rock, steep pathways, great views, and lots of interesting things to see along the way. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves:
View from the highest point of the hike:
The stick helps you climb up the mountain and balance on some of the stickier part of the trail:
You’ll notice the pics above are all rain free, but then, it’s the rainy season in Costa Rica, so it started to pour, but I was still happy. After the Arenal excursion was the Hot Springs. I’ll admit, I didn’t do my research beforehand like I normally do so I didn’t realize the springs are actually part of a hotel. Or maybe I should say, the hotel built itself on the Hot Springs—pretty cool.
Our tour guide warned us that the healing and soothing powers of the hot springs were really great, but not to stay in the water for more than about 10 minutes at a time as it could affect our blood pressures. So you’re suppose to dip in for 10 minutes and then dip out for a few minutes.
Also, because we ended up getting to the hot springs late (as it was turning dark), I didn’t get a chance to observe the backdrop of the springs or what it really looked it. (Plus, all the pictures come out steamy because of the intense heat radiating off the water):
And that was my crazy 24 hours in Arenal. Honestly, I wish I had more time to explore this city. There seemed to be so much to do and see, and just relax and enjoy. However, because all the cities I was visiting was so far apart, that meant shorter times in the cities and more travel time.