Travel Destinations

Destination, Costa Rica

Bahamas/Caribbean
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By
Tom
Schlichter

COSTA RICA. If you have the slightest need for outdoor adventure pulsing through your body, it should be on your bucket list of places to visit.

This Central American nation covering only 0.03% of the world's surface boasts 6% of its total biodiversity. Bordered by both the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea, only four hours apart by car or 45 minutes by plane, it is an environmental paradise which still sports virgin forests and clean waters while offering enough infrastructure to support a tourist draw of more than a million per year.From jungle forests to whitewater rivers, tremendous waterfalls and a largely undeveloped coastline with innumerable nooks and crannies for snorkelers, surfers, boaters and anglers to investigate, the eco-tourism call rings loud and clear here.

OPPORTUNITY ABOUNDS

Like all places recently discovered in today's world, things here are changing. The population is increasing, tourism is booming, businesses are growing. Yet much of Costa Rica remains remote, untouched and unspoiled. Fully 25% of the country has been set aside as protective parkland and reserves to safeguard the beautiful and lush environs from deforestation, logging and development.

Within these boundaries lie many diverse habits including rainforests, swamplands, mountains, cloud forests, active volcanoes, hot springs, caves and even entire harbors and islands. From one end of the country to the other, the opportunity to observe a diverse array of wildlife and marine species while enjoying outdoor activities like boating, fishing, hiking, sight-seeing, snorkeling, diving, surfing and eco-touring ranks among the finest in the world.But with so many possibilities the thought of exploring Costa Rica can also be overwhelming. I mean, where do you start?

It helps, says Glen Mumford of Blue Water Sport fishing Charters, if you work with a travel pro that deals frequently with Costa Rica to customize your trip. Each one has contacts with a proven record of providing what visitors need and want, which really helps narrow down the selection process.

Capt. Gene Kelly of Tropical Fishing Adventures, agrees. Working with a booking service can help put you in the right place at the right time of year for the sh you want to catch, sights you want to see or adventures you want to experience. Costa Rica may be a small country, but it can seem huge if you don't have any connections.Both Mumford and Kelly specialize in setting up trips for anglers, but either can also turn you on to the best deals, most gorgeous beaches and top tours, sights or activities for any outdoors endeavors in this tropical tourist hot spot.

UNPACKING COSTA RICA

Indeed, one way to break down the opportunities here is to look at the country in terms of regions. With fishing, for example, the Pacific Coast specializes in o shore action with marlin, swordfish, sailfish and other big game pelagics. Further, the northern section sees its best catches in the spring, summer and fall while the southern section is best from November through March. By comparison, the Atlantic/Caribbean side is where you want to go for tarpon, snook and other inshore species. Both coasts offer tremendous fishing, but there are nuances to the game that first-time visitors sometimes underestimate.

Both the east and west coasts are accessible by boat and by air from Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO) which is the only entry point in the country from which local flights can easily connect. Liberia International Airport (LIR) airport is another option for landing if you are headed to the west coast and don't need an additional flight.

In general, the most popular Costa Rica ports reside on the Pacific side, so let's take a quick virtual tour of that stretch for this introduction.

GUANACASTE

Approaching from the north, the providence of Guanacaste, which encompasses the entire north Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, is the first port of entry and lies less than an hour from Liberia International Airport. One of the least populated sectors of Costa Rica, this region is also the most visited.Here you'll find beautiful beaches for sunbathing, great surfing and sailing, several large all-inclusive resorts on the Papagayo Gulf, numerous first-rate restaurants plus tons of marine life especially in the Isla Catalina area, Playas del Coco and Playa Ocotal. Interestingly, fishing is not a big draw here even though it is quite good as peak season for o shore action runs May through October.Marina Papagayo is where you'll want to head if arriving by boat. With a clear approach and 38 feet of water at the docks, this well-appointed marina accommodates even superyachts up to 280 feet. Many larger vessels, in fact, choose this location as a staging stop for trips to the Galapagos Islands, Isla del Coco and the South Pacific.

The marina is actually part of Peninsula Papagayo, a 2,300-acre development with a Four Seasons Resort, an Arnold Palmer signature golf course, its own private beach club at Prieta Beach and a Hyatt Andaz right next door.

JACO

Continuing south to the central portion of the coast, Los Suenos is the next logical port to visit. Another easy approach with plenty of deep water, this is a prime tourist location with first-rate accommodations, gift shops featuring all the t-shirts and knick-knacks you can carry home, plus fine dining, golf and plenty of condos.

The marina choice is simple here, go with Los Suenos Marina, located in neighboring Herradura Bay. is was the first big, fully outfitted marina in Costa Rica with floating dock systems, great service and all the amenities you might expect. You'll find great restaurants in town, a huge beach just 15-minutes away, plus surfing, horseback riding, zip lining and various eco tours.This is is one of the more ˜Americanized' ports, so if you want a place with a somewhat familiar feel, you'll enjoy it here, says Kelly.  There are gated communities, palm tree-lined streets, and although the town is only a few square blocks, it bustles. For fishing, this is where things really start to get interesting in the winter months with reliably great off shore action.

QUEPOS

Less than 50 miles to the south lies the town of Quepos, which Kelly calls his favorite. The big difference between Jaco and Quepos, he explains, is that the latter is smaller, more intimate and surrounded by forest while Jaco is far more developed. In addition to super offshore fishing, you can take a catamaran or enjoy a Segway, SUP or jet ski tour. You can also rent your own boat or step aboard a sunset cruise.

Like Jaco, there is a full fishing fleet here but the boats tend to run a little smaller and operations are more laid back. Still, the current fleet has no problems dealing with the generally calm waters in this area.

While visiting Quepos, be sure to explore Manuel Antonio National Park which encompasses rugged rainforest, white-sand beaches and coral reefs. Renown for its vast diversity of tropical plants and wildlife, it features three-toed sloths and endangered white-faced capuchin monkeys amongst its amazing array of 109 mammalian and 184 species of birds. It also sports two beautiful crescent-shaped white sand beaches. Don't expect to hike alone in this park however; it's so busy that the main trail recently had to be expanded from a two-person access to full road-width.With over 200 slips, Central America's only 200-ton travel lift and a full-service yacht yard, Marina Pez Vela (marinapezvela. com) makes a great home base for boaters.

GOLFITO

The southernmost stretch of Pacific Coast is known as the Golfito region. Hands down, this is nirvana for anglers. Expect to catch marlin, sailfish, tuna and dorado in offshore waters while targeting rooster fish, snappers, bluefin, trevally, jack crevalle, amberjack, pompano and more on the inshore scene.If you decide to captain yourself to this stretch of fishing paradise, Banana Bay Marina (bananabaymarinagol to.com) is the place to tie up. Located at the edge of a tropical rainforest in the city of Golfito, it's separated from the open Pacific by Golfo Dulce, accommodating boats up to 120 feet, and staff can provide ship agency, port clearance, customs and immigration services on site.

The South Pacific coast of Costa Rica is one of the few places in the world where fisherman can catch three species of marlin in just one day, says Jorge Martin, a manager at the marina. Plus, this region is one of the most biologically intense places on earth. The area contains 50% of the ora and fauna of Costa Rica. In addition to fishing, popular activities include world class surfing, horseback riding, kayaking, diving, hiking to mangroves and bird watching.For dining, the marina restaurant provides tastes of European, American and Costa Rican cuisine. You might also try Casa Roland which specializes in international cuisine or Mar y Luna which is famous for its fresh seafood. Casa Roland also offers lodging. For gifts, souvenirs and boat fishing gear, take a trip to the city port.

The newly opened Golfito Marina Village & Resort (golfito marinavillage.com) are also worthy of investigation. The latter offers the rare opportunity to own and inhabit your very own private island with full views of Golfito Bay and the ocean. A cool four million gets you the keys a 3,500-sq. ft., custom-designed luxury home one of the several island jewels being offered for sale. Dock owners receive membership to Golfito Marina Village's exclusive Yacht Club, and all the features and amenities of a world-class marina.

WHEN TO GO

Costa Rica's tropical climate makes it a terrific year-round destination. Most travelers prefer to visit during the dry season (December-April). However, there are lighter crowds and lower travel prices during the "green" season (May-November).

WHERE TO DOCK

  • Marina Papagayo, Guanacaste
  • Los Suenos Resort and Marina, Playa Herradura
  • Marina Pez Vela, Quepos
  • Banana Bay Marina, Golfito
  • Golfito Marina Village & Resort, Golfito

AIRPORTS

  • Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO)
  • Liberia International Airport (LIR)

DOCUMENTS AND CASH EXCHANGE

Visitors traveling to Costa Rica need a passport that is valid for the length of their stay. Expect to pay a small airport departure tax as well. U.S. dollars are widely accepted in Costa Rica. Carrying small bills to pay for souvenirs and for tipping will work to your advantage.

MUST SEE OR DO

  • Manuel Antonio National Park, Quepos Impressive landscapes, white-sand beaches, amazing plant and animal diversity. Costa Rica's most popular National Park.
  • Arenal Volcano National Park, San Carlos Arenal Volcano National Park features hot springs, two active volcanoes and cooled lava fields, plus diverse wildlife including jaguars, tree frogs and over 700 species of birds.

FISHING

Costa Rica offers some of the most amazing fishing in the world with both inshore and offshore species available at just about every Pacific Coast port.

TRAVEL SERVICES

Even if you visit on your own boat, it can still be helpful to have an agency set up tours for white water rafting, zip-lining, waterfall visits, transportation and more:

  • Blue Water Sportfishing Charters
  • Tropical Fishing Adventures
  • Costa Rica Expeditions
  • Southern Explorations

GETTING AROUND

Buses run from San Jose to most major tourist areas. Once at your marina, resort or hotel, hiring a car-and-driver service is recommended. If renting a car, know that Costa Rica roads have improved, but still leave something to be desired-acquiring a rental car with GPS is recommended. Spanish is the official language here, but many Costa Ricans speak English as well.

Related Articles
Chartering Canal Du Midi
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Canal Du Midi bike trebes

The scenic Canal du Midi in southern France is a must for boaters! Cruising this 300-year-old waterway, you will savor the slow easy French pace, passing medieval villages, country farms and vineyards in the heart of the Languedoc wine region. Le Boat, the largest charter boat operation in Europe, offers surprisingly affordable, entry- level charters to this canal (and hundreds of other waterways). This historic passage is easy to navigate, scenic, fun and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Boating at a mellow 5 kilometers an hour aboard your vessel of 30-45 feet, the big excitement is passing through the lock system every few kilometers and arriving in ancient villages as your daily destination on your personal private cruise ship.

Don’t expect a luxury yacht holiday, however, because you are the crew and captain, you will be driving the boat or donning gloves to handle the dock lines in each “écluse” (lock). But it’s entertaining and affords a sense of freedom by chartering your own boat and navigating these centuries-old canals. Le Boat provides itineraries of how far you should voyage each day, but it’s truly up to you.

Our weeklong voyage started in Castelnaudary, a small, pretty village. Le Boat’s base in Castelnaudary is in the Grand Basin with a lovely view of the cathedral and village across the waterway, just a short walk over an old stone bridge to town. We could also see the majestic Pyrenees Mountains to our southwest along the French-Spanish border.

Greg on the Canal

Our first night, after our swift check in and orientation aboard our 40’ Horizon, we strolled to town, enjoyed local Languedoc wine and dinner at the Maison du Cassoulet sampling the specialty dish of slow-cooked white beans, tender pork and duck. Traditional “cassoulet” was a staple historically, especially in meager winters. Wow is it yummy and filling!

While returning over the old stone bridge back to our boat within the fleet, twinkling lights of the village reflected in the canal. We were excited to embark the next morning after a quiet comfy night’s sleep in the berth of our Horizon — Le Boat’s most modern vessel, equipped with a head, shower and full galley kitchen.

Before bed, I read about the fascinating history of the Canal du Midi. It was initially commissioned in 1516 by King Francis who hired Leonardo DaVinci to survey and create the route. Canal construction didn’t commence until 1667 and was completed in 1694, connecting 240 kilometers from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean with aqueducts, bridges and 91 locks to overcome the 620 feet height change in water level.

Designed as a trade route to shorten the otherwise long passage around the Iberian Peninsula, it’s also called the “Canal des Deux Mers” or canal of two seas. This vital trade route for two centuries is now a meandering waterway for pleasure boaters as well as bicyclists riding the tow paths paralleling the canal.

On the first morning, our first lock was the most dramatic, departing Castelnaudary via a series of four locks that descend 9.5 meters in consecutive rushes of water. Captain Greg (my husband) and I established our duties: he’d drive into the narrow stone chamber (thankful for bow thrusters) while I secured lines to the lock shore, ready to adjust as the water floods out.

Canal Du Midi Boat Locks

We traveled in tandem with two other boats, a Swiss family and a German couple. All were experienced boaters, so we developed an efficient rhythm of entering the locks sequentially, tying up, descending and exiting in order.

We cruised 15 locks by noon, then tied to a canal bank for the daily lunchtime lock closure of 12-1:00 p.m. We’d provisioned in Castelnaudary for the perfect picnic of flaky croissants, local ham and cheese, and a glass of Languedoc rosé on our boat’s top sun deck.

When the “Eclusier” (lock operator) returned to open the lock for us, we cruised the canal again with the occasional excitement of encountering oncoming boats in the narrow canal. Some boat captains were better at steering than others.

Our first day, we clocked 19 locks, 26 kilometers from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. We chose to stay overnight in Villesèque, a lovely anchorage with a few other boats tied to the shores. There was no marina, but we could walk to the tiny village over a charming stone bridge to see the church and the Sully elm tree planted in the square, among the last elms still alive in France.

We toasted to our first boat day with wine and cheese on our top deck, and invited over our boat neighbors, a delightful South African couple who proved Le Boat’s international appeal. He’d never boated before, but Le Boat states that you need no prior boating experience.

On Day 2 we cruised under sunny early October skies, loving the canopy of iconic Plane trees that drape some of the river. Unfortunately, much of the 40,000 Plane trees along the 240- kilometer stretch are diseased. Over 25% have the blight and are systematically being cut and burned, a huge undertaking. In parts of the river, trees are being removed, and replanting different species is underway, but it will take time to reestablish the majestic trees.

Carcassonne de la Citi

We arrived midday at the marina of Carcassonne and docked our boat well-positioned for exploring the city, with views of the waterfront park and tour boats coming and going across the Aude River.

Carcassonne exceeded my expectations, and I know now why it’s the second most visited tourist attraction in France (#1 is the Eiffel Tower). La Cité is a massive, fortified castle with 52 spiraling turrets and imposing double walls of rampart circling 3 kilometers perched above a medieval village.

We immediately rode our bikes, provided by our Le Boat charter, up to the fairytale citadel. You can also ride le Petite Train for 7 Euro. Crossing the castle drawbridge, we stepped in to La Cité and the 13th century. Be sure to pay to enter and appreciate the scale of the ramparts and the view of Carcassonne’s lower city and the Pyrenees to the west. Then stroll the maze of medieval cobblestone streets filled with shops and cafés. Lunch at Comte Roger was a chic culinary treat. A real luxury would be to stay at the five-star Hôtel de la Cité for an elegant evening in the illuminated castle.

Back in Carcassonne’s village, we found the grand pedestrian plazas marked by statues and fountains, boutiques, bakeries and casual bistros. It’s a fun city to explore on foot, with provisions aplenty for boaters.

A SIP OR TWO AT LOCAL VINEYARDS

Greg and Heather at Chateau du Pennautier

The next morning, after fresh pain au chocolat, we hopped on our bikes to cycle to wineries. Greg guided us with his iPhone’s Komoot app, which maps out recommended hiking and biking routes. Château Auzais (est. 1872) was a wonderful tour and tasting. Our guide described the Occitanie wine’s bouquet as the convergence of Atlantic winds melding with the Mediterranean, as we sipped our favorite wine aptly named “La Cité des Ventes.”

Château de Pennautier was another fantastic estate. The gorgeous 1620 castle was home to the financier of the Canal du Midi construction — the same architect who designed Versailles. The château’s authentic furniture is gorgeous. Reserve an interior castle tour or just stroll the beautiful gardens. From here, we visited the sister winery and restaurant for a lovely lunch and wine tasting of Pennautier’s whites, rosés and reds.

We planned to boat the next day to Trèbes from Carcassonne but biked instead. The tow paths along the canal are ideal, in fact you can cycle faster than you can boat. We waved to fellow charter boats as we breezed by vineyards, farms, locks and bridges. Our return into Carcassonne provided stunning views of two UNESCO World Heritage Sites at once — La Cité Castle and Canal du Midi.

Heather biking in the winery

Our return trip from Carcassonne to Castelnaudary only took a day through 24 locks and 30 kilometers with our now well-orchestrated rhythm of navigating locks. Our timing was good for the opening of most locks, and we traveled solo, as mid-October is end of the season the lock keeper told me. Summer is very busy on the canal, with boats in a queue for their turn in locks, and busier marinas.

As for the voyage, I recommend you plan one-way (for an upcharge) for the adventure of all new places along your voyage. The round trip had us retracing our passage, viewing previous scenery. We prefer the excitement of not knowing what’s around the next river bend and discovering new villages.

Also ascending the locks, going upriver, is more difficult. Captain Greg would let me off on a dock before the lock, I’d walk ahead and retrieve his tossed lines to secure the boat, we’d adjust during the rush of cascading water, then I’d board our boat when it came to the top of the full lock.

We felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment, having completed our week with success (i.e. no one fell in, no damage to boat). Our final day was leisurely aboard the boat, walking Castelnaudary’s village to a delightful bakery, to the cathedral and up the hill to the windmill, a wonderful 17th century Moulin with splendid views of Black Mountain and the French countryside. We biked along the canal, then relaxed on our boat’s sun deck viewing the Spanish peaks where we planned to ski in winter.

Our check out was quick but thorough. Le Boat’s fleet varies in age, so I was happy we’d opted for the newer spacious Horizon model. Funny, other couples posed for selfies by our boat preferring our more sophisticated-looking vessel for their posts. Some of the older boats are a bit banged up from lock passages, a testament to the “no license or experience required” policy of Le Boat.

We’re already browsing Le Boat’s itineraries: Italy, Germany, Scotland, Ireland, England, the Netherlands or Canada for our next charter adventure.

PHOTOS BY GREG BURKE

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Croatia's Coastline & Wine
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Croatia's Castles | April Winship

“WOW!” WAS ALL I COULD COME UP WITH when my neighbor asked, “So, how was Croatia?” I simply ran out of adjectives to express the beauty and allure of this country. With its unique combination of history, culture, cuisine, friendly locals, rugged mountains, long coastline and crystalline blue waters, not to mention hosting a world-class boating scene, it’s easy to see how Croatia is becoming a popular destination with something to excite everyone.

If you are looking for history, then exploring one of the many Croatian UNESCO World Heritage Sites will quench your passion for the past. Transport yourself back to the 4th century AD with a stroll through the remnants of a Roman emperor’s palace. Wander through one of the best-preserved Roman coliseums in the world, and you can almost hear gladiators’ swords clashing against wooden shields.

Croatia’s story is woven together with charming medieval hill towns where regal bell towers seem to pierce the heavens. Climb the ancient tower’s stone steps spiraling to the top and be rewarded with breathtaking vistas. Look straight down past the windows with a line of colorful laundry fluttering in the breeze and on to the delightfully twisty cobblestone streets just wide enough for a donkey cart to pass. Now, centuries later these lanes are lined with enticing artisan shops, gelato stands, and tucked into every bend, a little sidewalk café begging to be discovered.

Ruins of castles and fortresses dot not only the coastline but many of the islands. Standing guard, their thick limestone walls once provided safe haven to the residents within, and now only serve as a testament of a more turbulent time. Walk along the massive stone fortifications and peer down into the moat, and one can almost feel the thunder of horse hooves as knights ride across the drawbridge.

Surround yourself in the art of the ages by stepping inside Croatia’s sacred churches and splendid cathedrals, the architecture spanning the Gothic, Romanesque and Baroque periods.

Seaside Towns in Croatia | April Winship

Although it is possible to stay in a Hilton-style hotel or rent a Mediterranean villa by the sea, you have other options. We chose to immerse ourselves in the medieval world by staying in the heart of the old town centers in family-run studio apartments. Sleeping under a roof that dated back 600 years enriched our Croatia experience while also supporting a local family business. These cozy apartments are refurbished to modern standards and are as comfortable as any four-star hotel.

If you’re a nature lover, Croatia boasts eight national parks. One can hike a lake rim and descent onto a series of wooden boardwalks meandering among turquoise waterfalls giving a unique on-the-water view of Mother Nature’s power or try backpacking through an island forest. However, you do not have to go to a national park to be enveloped in nature, as Croatia is a wonderland anywhere you turn.

If you’re into adrenaline sports, Croatia can provide all you need from bungee jumping to zip lining. For those leaning toward adventure with less heart stopping action, cycling, paddleboarding, sea kayaking or snorkeling are popular choices. My favorite jaunt was an all-day off-road dune buggy ride with a final stop at a local winery for a tour and tasting.

Croatia has a long history in winemaking, and wine tourism is becoming increasingly popular. Croatia cuisine reflects the flavors of central Europe, Italy and the Mediterranean. The coast of the Adriatic Sea is famous for its fish and seafood dishes while the inland menu features hearty meat platters. Sharing a border with Italy, it’s not unusual to be enticed with handmade pasta or even pizza.

Wrapped around all these sensory experiences is the Croatian people. Perhaps it’s due to the mild Mediterranean climate that the locals exude, a version of a “malo po malo” or “little by little” attitude that entices us fast-paced city dwellers to slow down and take in life. Pausing for a wine spritzer or cappuccino at a sidewalk café could last hours, and it’s not only quite all right...it’s expected. As a local told us; “There’s no such thing as coffee to-go in Croatia.”

CRUISING CROATIA’S DRAMATIC SHORELINE

This small country is touted as the number one sailing destination in Europe, and with good reason. Rivaling the West Coast of the United States in length, Croatia’s shores are lined with protected ports and marinas that support a wide range of options for visiting the more than 1,200 islands. So, it’s no wonder that each year many visitors opt to explore Croatia by water.

Croatia's Coastline | April Winship

If your taste leans toward a traditional cruise line, you will find an ample supply of lavish cruise ships capable of hosting more than 3,000 guests making overnight stops at the most popular ports of call.

For those seeking a more intimate experience, it’s increasingly popular to book a cabin on a 20 to 40 passenger luxury yacht. Croatia specializes in these small ship cruise lines, because they can explore tiny islands with hidden coves and access regions of the coast larger ships can’t navigate. Becoming your mobile boutique hotel, these opulent yachts boast the finest service, cuisine, spacious teak sundecks and even jacuzzis to enjoy your final nightcap.

Looking to be captured by the romance of exploring the Adriatic under sail? Then your hot ticket may be booking a cabin on one of the smaller eight to 16 passenger schooners known as gulets. Handcrafted of mahogany, pine and teak, these motor-sailing gulets offer a marvelous blend of modern-day comforts with charms of tradition. Potentially a little more laidback, swimming, sunbathing and just plain relaxing become a favorite pastime of the guests.

If you’re a bit more on the adventurous side, contact one of the many charter boat companies servicing Croatia to reserve your own sailboat or powerboat. Both are available as bareboat or skippered charters. Many choose a local captain to handle the boat and play guide, allowing you to kickback and gain a sense of the culture, all the while discovering his favorite anchorages, villages and local restaurants you would have missed along the way. You just might end the cruise with a new best friend.

If you’re land trekking and want a quick taste of boating life in the Adriatic, wander down to the harbor and book a day cruise from a variety of island tours or dinner cruises offered on small excursion boats.

After a full day of exploring, we often found ourselves joining the locals sitting on the rocky shoreline and hoisting our drinks to yet another magnificent Adriatic sunset.

A WINE LOVER’S SECRET PILGRIMAGE

Grk Wine tasting | April Winship

Ever tasted Grk wine? If not, don’t feel bad. Most people, including wine connoisseurs, have never heard of, much less tasted, Grk “Gerk” wine. This Holy Grail of wines is one of the more elusive vinos in the world that ironically enjoys an almost cult-like following in Croatia.

Among wine specialists, there is no consensus whether this peculiar three letter name comes from the wine’s taste (to locals, Grk translates to bitter) or the origins of the first grapes brought to this area by the Greeks, which is also Grk in Croatian.

Around the 3rd century BC, ancient Greeks settled just off the coast of what is now mainland Croatia to a small island called Korčula bringing their precious vines. The southern slopes provided what Grk likes the most: excellent sandy soil and temperature stability under the influence of the surrounding sea. Vines enjoy sunny days, and locals swear that the grapes also benefit from the added reflection of the sun both off the water and the rocky hillsides behind.

These factors seem to be the sweet spot for cultivating this rare variety; however, the precious microclimate only exists in less than 100 acres of coastal land, which is the entirety of all the Grk planted in the world. Cultivation on other islands or in other parts of the country and the world have failed for the most part, making this one of the rarest grapes and categorized as “almost endangered” by the State Institute for Nature Protection.

To make matters worse, Grk is among the 1% of grape varieties in the world that cannot self-pollinate. Because Grk has only female flowers, it is always planted with the male grape vine nearby to enable pollination. This additional complication also hampers the desire to upscale commercial production.

Limited in production, it’s rare to see Grk wine served or sold outside Korčula. So, the best chance to savor this wine is to visit the handful of family wineries producing Grk. During summer when Korčula welcomes a massive influx of tourists, almost the entire production of Grk wine can be consumed within a season.

MEET ME AT THE WINERY

April Wine Tasting

Time to start my Grk quest. I took the two-hour ferry ride to the island of Korčula, and a short bus ride left me within walking distance of three family wineries. Confession: I had planned to visit all three wineries, but after I got settled into my wine sampling accompanied by a delectable charcuterie board, I began easing into island time and whiling away the afternoon at just one winery.

A tour of the production was accomplished practically from my seat overlooking the vineyards. I did walk over to view the wine cellar, which had enough room to house only eight wine barrels. These are tiny boutique wineries, and the labor of love that goes into making this wine is evident. I asked the owner if they bottled their wine to sell or import off the island. Looking at me quizzically, he replied that it was for sale only for individuals that came to visit the winery, and they sold out each year.

But was it good? As more of a full-bodied red wine lover, I didn’t know what to expect when he poured this pale golden wine. It was fabulous. It displayed an astounding depth and complexity I usually do not associate with white wine. The taste and texture were dry with hints of pine, citrus and saltiness leaving a subtle touch of tartness or bitterness at the finish.

I left the winery feeling my quest was accomplished. I smiled knowing that the bottle of Grk swaying in my backpack wasn’t going to make it back to the United States in my carry-on luggage, so I’d just have to enjoy it here. Now I have one more reason to return.

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Bahamas: Seven Islands You Can Only Visit by Boat
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So close to the United States, yet the Bahamas are worlds away with a tropical paradise vibe. This must-visit popularity comes not only from proximity but also a plentiful number of islands to visit, each with distinct personalities. You find everything from upscale resorts to laidback beach bars and pristine nature preserves.

While four islands have international airports, and more than 50 have smaller airports and airstrips, some reachable solely by boat. This means the only way to travel to these destinations is by ferry, water taxi or private boat. Here’s a sampling of seven boat-only Bahamas islands to visit.

GREEN TURTLE CAY, ABACOS

Green Turtle Cay
Photo by Green Turtle Cay Resort

Sea turtles abound on this namesake three-mile-long barrier island considered part of the Abaco “Out Islands.” Fly from the United States into airports on Treasure Cay or Marsh Harbour. From Treasure, it’s a 20-minute ferry ride to the cay. A couple of marinas, such as at the Green Turtle Club and Bluff House Beach Resort, make it easy to arrive by private boat. The best place to see endangered green sea turtles is Coco Bay Beach. This calm shallow bay to the north is the perfect place to swim and snorkel next to these gentle giants. Reach the bay either on shore by walking or golf cart, or by boat.

Green Turtle Cay is full of civilization too. To the south is the historic town of New Plymouth, founded in the 18th century by British Loyalists during the American Revolution. Walk past the quaint New England-style homes to sight-see at the Loyalists Memorial Sculpture Garden and Albert Lowe Museum, which is housed in a Victorian-era family home and traces the island’s history from its origins. Restaurants, shops, galleries, banks, churches, hardware and grocery stores are on the island.

Where to Dock: Green Turtle Club Resort & Marina or Bluff House Beach Resort & Marina

LITTLE HARBOUR CAY, BERRY ISLANDS

Smack in the middle of this 30-square mile chain of 100-plus islands and cays, it is relatives of Chester Darville who first settled here nearly a century ago. Today, Darville owns the cay’s sole business, Flo’s Conch Bar & Restaurant. He brought his father’s dream to life by taking the family back to their home when he opened Flo’s in 1993. Darville’s mother, Flo, served as head chef until her death, building a reputation for the best conch fritters. Today, conch fritters, conch salad, cracked conch and conch burgers are on the menu along with Danville’s special rum punch.

Beyond Flo’s, expect good snorkeling on the nearby reef beyond the small dock and anchorage and sport fishing near and offshore. Located 40 miles north of Nassau, the closest airport is 9 miles south in Little Whale Cay, with no ferry service. This makes Little Harbour remote to reach by boat. Perhaps that’s why some of Darville’s customers have included Brad Pitt, Penelope Cruz and Sylvester Stallone.

Where to Dock: Great Harbour Cay Marina or Chub Cay Resort & Marina

ROSE ISLAND, OFF NASSAU

Rose Island
Photo Courtesy of Sandy Toes 2018

Find a best-of-both-world experience on this 12-mile-long island located three miles east of Nassau. Away from the hustle and bustle of the Bahamas’ capital city, Rose is full of peace and quiet. Back to nature after past lives as a pineapple plantation and private residence until 2005, the now road-less, nearly resident-less island is ripe for a day trip. “While on Rose, guests can partake in snorkeling, exploring, and of course swimming with the world-famous pigs,” says Deb Saunders, sales and marketing at Sandy Toes, which operates full-day private excursions to Sandy Toes Beach on Rose.

“We make our own water and power to leave the smallest footprint, so Rose Island may retain its beauty for many years to come,” Saunders adds. Rose is popular with private boats to cruise over from Nassau. First Beach, on Rose’s west end, is closest at a little over 4 miles east of Nassau Harbor. MacTaggart’s Beach, to the east, is farther and delightfully secluded as a result.

Where to Dock: Palm Cay Marina or Hurricane Hole Superyacht Marina

Compass Cay by Compass Cay Marina
Compass Cay Courtesy of Compass Cay Marina

COMPASS CAY, EXUMAS

Baby sharks and bigger ones too are the star attraction in the naturally protected harbor of the Compass Cay Marina. “Visitors come from all over the world to have a close interaction with these docile nurse sharks,” says Trevon Rolle, assistant manager. “Aside from these precious creatures, enjoy several hiking trails, a large maze of mangroves leading out from the marina that’s great for kayaking and paddle boarding, a beautiful sandy crescent beach on the eastern shore with gazebos, and a natural formation at the island’s northeast tip called Rachel’s Bubble Bath, which is a natural swimming pool.”

Fly from Fort Lauderdale or Miami to Staniel Cay and take a water taxi to Compass. Or cruise from the Exuma Banks and Exuma Sound through buoy-marked channels, where the draft is six-feet in low and nine-feet in high tide. Marina docks accommodate yachts up to 200 feet and are equipped with reverse osmosis water and 30-, 50- and 100-amp electricity. The marina store sells beverages and food items. The closest fuel is Staniel Cay five miles south.

Where to Dock: Compass Cay Marina

FOWL CAY, EXUMAS

Once used as a nature-made corral where nearby communities raised chickens (hence the namesake fowl), this 50-acre island has been a private luxury destination for two decades. Its vibe is Robinson Crusoe meets the Ritz. Six secluded yet spectacular one-, two- and three-bedroom rental villas start around $20,000 per week in season. That combines with resort amenities such as a restaurant, pool, tennis courts, housekeeping services and watersports equipment. Best of all, an 18-foot powerboat with unlimited gas is included in every villa hire.

Fowl Cay Resort
Fowl Cay Courtesy of Fowl Cay Resort Marina

Fowl is a perfect homeport to cast off on a trolling trip for snapper and grouper. Or snorkel at the nearby underwater Thunderball cave, so- called for the same-named James Bond spy flick filmed here. Or cruise to Staniel Cay Yacht Club for lunch. Staniel is the closest airstrip to Fowl, and the resort offers guests a seven- minute ferry ride. Or, BYOB (bring your own boat) and tie off at Fowl Cay’s north dock.

Where to Dock: Staniel Cay Yacht Club

STOCKING ISLAND, EXUMAS

Shaped like — you guessed it — a long narrow stocking, the one-mile distance from the Government Dock in Georgetown, Great Exuma, across a protected harbor, makes this an easy dinghy trip. You can explore several beaches on this three-mile-long island, from Starfish and Powder beaches to the northwest and northeast, respectively, to Sand Dollar beach at the southern tip. Right in the middle, and nearest to Georgetown, on a small beach sits the Chat ‘N’ Chill beach bar and grill.

“Try our fresh conch salad and experience a Bahamian tradition,” invites owner Kwanza Bowe. “Watch as conch is taken straight from the sea, cracked and broken out of its natural shell right before your eyes. The conch man then skins the conch, washes it, chops it up, and prepares it with locally grown onions, tomatoes, sweet peppers, goat peppers and Bahamian sea salt for your conch salad.” An easy walk from this eatery is gorgeous sand dunes. Beyond, on the island’s Atlantic side are stromatolites. These are fossilized bacteria dating over 1 million years old and found only on Stocking Island and in Australia. “We also recommend visiting the Jacques Cousteau Mystery Cave,” Bowe adds. “This is reached by a two-minute boat ride from the Chat ‘N’ Chill. The cave’s mouth teems with fish and is an excellent snorkeling spot.”

Where to Dock: St. Francis Resort & Marina

CONCEPTION ISLAND

Conception Island
Conception Island Courtesy of Bahamas National Trust

Take a visit to the wildlife side. Christopher Columbus first sited it in 1492, but no humans have lived on this 4.5-square-mile island for over a century. The Bahamas National Trust established a national park here in 1964. Pink sand beaches, lush mangrove ecosystems and spectacular sandstone cliffs make this one of the prettiest islands in the Bahamas. Imperiled long-tail tropicbirds, ospreys, sooty terns and oystercatchers nest on the island, while surrounding waters are nurseries for conch, crawfish, sharks and fish. Green turtles are a common sight in the creek off the southwest shore. Discover ruins of several early 20th century structures made of limestone, shells and mortar, but no amenities or facilities are ashore. So, bring food and water to explore on land. The best anchorage is in West Bay, and a couple of moorings, marked by large red buoys, are nearby. The closest island is Rum Cay, 20 miles south, which has a small airport.

Where to Dock: Conception Island National Park

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