Written by Lorie Caouette
Since we’re confined in our homes, let’s dream of travelling. I especially wanted to revisit my trip to Costa Rica, which I went on just before the frontiers closed. I wanted to share with you my favourite parts of my itinerary through the country of Pura Vida.
Here are all our favourite family activities, our itinerary, and our dwellings for the duration of the trip, all of these, which I hope will inspire you to also take a trip to Costa Rica with your offspring once the situation allows it!
OUR FAMILY TRIP PLANIFICATION
It had been a few years since I added Costa Rica to my trip bucket list. I truly pictured it as the perfect destination to live a great “adventure” with the whole family: a fascinating fauna and flora, beaches, volcanoes, hot springs… the dream!
The project was to leave with our 3 kids, and Grandpa and Grandma (my parents), to see the best of Costa Rica and to live experiences for all tastes. A true challenge, just like I like’em!
After hours, nights, and weeks (yeah, weeks!) of web search, I can officially tell you it’s not that easy to choose an itinerary! It’s a big country with so much to do and so many different regions. I flipped it all over and over again! Did I plan a doable program? Would our travels be hard? Would the hikes be appropriate for my parents and my children?
Despite my anxiety, I couldn’t do otherwise than to make a choice! So 13 days, 12 nights, and 3 different dwellings were to come.
FIRST STOP: LA FORTUNA
I always love that moment where I take my first step out of the plane and where I first breathe in the tropical air. I think the temperature reached new highs. It really is something!
We took our location cars, and we set off on a somewhat smooth road through the countryside and a tropical forest. Our objective was to reach La Fortuna for dinner. A key venue, according to my readings.
As night fell, our Airbnb was waiting for us: a rustic and warm place with a pool (Hallelujah!). The kids didn’t ask twice before jumping in. After this long day of travelling, it was it; vacation time!
THE ARENAL VOLCANO
It’s only when we woke up the next morning that we had the pleasure of this great scenery: a view of the Arenal Volcano! We even gave it a nickname: “At Renald’s Volcano”. Haha!
We were lucky to have an almost completely cleared view of it multiple times throughout our stay. It has a reputation always to hide its head in the clouds.
The kids were really impressed to see a “real” volcano, shaped like a cone and all. Was it clouds at the top? We talked about this for many days, and we finally concluded that even if Renald was asleep, there was still smoke coming out of it!
We took advantage of the good weather and went hiking. We went to the Observatory Lodge’s trails that seemed quite easy and doable for everyone.
We strolled along these trails that allowed us to take good peaks at the Arenal volcano while also coming across pretty waterfalls.
The lesson of the day: it’s quite hot in Costa Rica! You have to carry a lot of water with you. And you walk a lot slower than usual under this heat, which led us to miscalculate our walking time. We left our sunscreen and lunch in the car. FAIL!
I don’t know what it’s like with your kids, but mine lose their patience and motivation all at once when they get hungry. Mommy’s sorry!
TABACÓN’S NATURAL RIVER
On our way back, we stopped by the natural river of Tabacon, an unmissable jewel of La Fortuna’s region.
We parked the car along the road near the famous Tabacon Thermal Resort & Spa, and we hastily walked down the bridge to soak our toes in to see if a hot spring really is hot.
It seriously is! There were multiple small pools delimited by stones, and it was just enough to lay back, relax, and enjoy nature even though it wasn’t all that deep.
One of Grandma’s favourite!
ZIPLINE WITH VIEW ON THE ARENAL, WHAT A THRILL!
I genuinely hate this kind of thrills, so I swore I would NEVER try the zipline, and yet…
On the spur of the moment, we booked 6 tickets online to the Sky Adventure Arenal Park to fly over the canopy with a view on the volcano! (Grandma chose to spend the day by the pool.)
While on the lift taking us to the top of the course, I would lie if I said I hadn’t had butterflies in my stomach or wasn’t on the verge of crying. I was trying to keep it together so the kids wouldn’t be scared, but I wasn’t feeling too well!
With my mantra, “you only live once”, reassured by the quality installations and the competent guides, I made a woman out of me! I leaped into the unknown, attached to this cable fixed 200 meters above the ground under my daughter’s attentive and wet gaze, she who never “whined” either. I had to lead the way!
The sensation… pure happiness!
The smooth slide, the beauty of our surroundings, the adrenaline peek, wow! The landscape seemed unreal. The end of the ride came out a little harsh, but I felt great. I did it! I was so proud of overcoming my fears. I couldn’t wait for the next rides.
My daughter arrived right after me, all smiles. Mission accomplished! The kids and I agreed it was a great moment of the trip!
RELAXATION AT BALDI HOTSPRING
After all the thrills, we indulged in a half-day of resourcing at Baldi Hotspring.
There are many hotel complexes in the region offering small aquatic parks, but Baldi’s was warmly (very appropriate, I must say) recommended to me.
The spot is simply fantastic with its luxuriant vegetation. There are large artificial pools that take the hot water from the volcano’s underground hot springs. Different temperatures are available, from refreshing to very hot. The water is fresh, chlorineless.
And we enjoyed it in the comfort of a “resort” atmosphere: beach chairs, an animated zone with music, relaxation zones, a natural sauna, bars, a restaurant, and a few water slides.
The kids had fun, and the adults relaxed. It was worth the price!
ON OUR WAY TO RIO CELESTE
We left La Fortuna and embarked on a drive towards our next dwelling, with a stop at the Tenorio Volcano National Park for a hike at the famous Rio Celeste.
The hike seemed quite easy at first, but we were surprised at how hard it actually was! Many ups and downs and rocky paths. This time though, I had learned from previous mistakes and was well prepared: our lunch, snacks, and tons of water were ready.
The first stop down a 200 flight of stairs allowed us to admire the site’s beautiful waterfall.
Then we could see the 4 summits of the Tenorio volcano and, of course, we could gaze upon the sparkling blue river, truly ravishing under the sunlight, sometimes bubbling and smelling like sulphide.
At the end of the trail, our reward was to see where everything began! The translucent river crossing a small stream is where the true magic resides. The minerals in the water and the waters’ different pH reacting with each other suddenly brings out the rivers bright blue colour. A spectacle, nothing but “celestial”.
The trail took us about 3 hours, at our own pace, to complete a total of about 8 km. We were quite proud of Grandma on this one!
Swimming is prohibited on this trail, but a 2-minute car drive from the parking lot will take you to a free spot near a small bridge where you can swim freely.
VOLCANIC ACTIVITY AT RINCON DE LA VIEJA
As night came, we cooked and shared a delicious meal with the other tourists on a large table outside of the inn. A wonderful moment!
The good point of this spot was that it’s located at the very entrance of the Rincon de la Vieja National Park. Also, Eric’s warm welcome and his helpful tips really made our visit worth the while. Being far away from everything, they even offered a lunchbox service that came in handy!
We chose the 3 km trail, “Las Pailas”, quite easy and allowing a view on the asleep, and yet intensely and visibly producing activity in the region, Miravales volcano. Even with younger children than my own, the trail is very accessible and marked out. I recommend it.
From our very first moments walking down the path, we finally came face to face with Costa Rica’s wilderness! The trees were packed with white-headed munias. We also came across a spider monkey and a few coatis. Memorable!
We continued down the path to discover a flourishing flora. We observed fuming, bubbling lagoons, fumaroles through the trees, and boiling mud pools from the tropics to the desert. Iguanas and lizards were also made it to the party. A fascinating walk for the whole family!
We ended our journey with a quick dip at the Rio Negro’s hot springs which are surrounded by nature and reachable within a few minutes car drive.
ON THE ROAD TO COSTA RICA
At this point in the trip, I had planned to reach the sea to spend our last days relaxing on the beach.
I went for Bahia Ballena’s region located to the south near Uvita because I have had heard a lot of great comments on its luxuriant coast and its famous beach shaped like a whale’s tail. It has a surfer vibe and is far from the big tourist centers. Exactly what I was looking for!
The challenge was to endure the 6-hour drive to get there. I decided to disguise this inconvenience into a road trip. We stopped at the Tarcoles to see crocodiles, ate lunch at the restaurant, and enjoyed a few hours at the beach early afternoon.
From Liberia to Uvita, the road is pleasant and smooth. We also were lucky enough to witness a red ara couple in flight. What a chance, really! They were too fast for us to take pictures, but I can tell you the spectacle was unimaginably gracious.
We finally crossed infinite palm trees plantations (for palm oil production) before we reached our destination for sunset.
SOUTH WEST COSTA RICA AND BAHIA BALLENA
Our arrival was an unforgettable moment… I had rented an Airbnb villa on the Dominicalito mountain. The path to the house was a bumpy road. Everything had been going smoothly until that moment, but by then, we were done! I even had started doubting my planing. What kind of idea did I have!
We get in, and BAM! We are shocked! What a view! The clean, modern villa with a view on the Pacific Ocean, the orange sky, the pool, the terrace surrounded by nature.
The kids jumped into de pool before we could even drop the bags while the adults opened a tasty Imperial, the local beer!
After all the visiting and hiking, we were finally up for some relaxation. We were feeling zen, and it was vacation time. We could’ve lingered in this house for an eternity.
The region met all of my expectations. We lived to the rhythm of the insects’ and the frogs’ humming, which went on day and night. The villa’s garden was filled with colourful birds and butterflies. We even saw blue morphos!
Every evening, we could hear howling monkeys yelling at each other from one side of the forest to the other. Such small creatures with such powerful screams are quite… surprising!
And then, one morning, as I was brushing my teeth in front of the mirror, a toucanet landed on a branch right by my window. My Costa Rica dream was fulfilled.
**Fun story! Being so close to nature also means little surprises such as… a scorpion in the kitchen sink. You want nature, and there you have it!
For the last 5 days, our hangout spot was the beautiful and huge Uvita beach with its fine golden sand.
First beach day, we were there at 11:00 with our lunch, hoping to spend the day. We took a long walk to see the famous whale’s tail during low tide. It was so beautiful we asked ourselves why nobody was around. We understood pretty fast when we came back sunburned and with our soles aching from the hot midday sand! (Bad, bad mother, I know.)
The thing is, Costa Rica in February isn’t just hot. IT’S HHHOT! It was wavering between 35 and 40 degrees during our stay. And this beach wasn’t laid out for tourists, so no covered shelters or wooden trails. We looked for shadow underneath the palm trees, but that is what made the beach so beautifully wild.
Don’t go thinking we’re complaining! We just had to adapt. We realized that people came by around 3:00 p.m., and that’s what we also did the following days.
Nearby we rented surfboards and boogie boards at the Flutterbuy House, a very cool and hippy youth hostel! Our surfing experience was a favourite for my 3 adventurers. Hours and hours of fun in the water!
I wanted to highlight the good moments with this article, but I still believe it’s important to mention my take on Manuel Antonio Park, a very famous attraction. It was one of the reasons I wanted to end the trip in the south, to get closer to Quepos. We were a little disappointed by our visit. Even though we arrived as they opened, it was already packed. The temperature was heavy, the kids were tired of walking, and we didn’t see any animals except for a few vervet monkeys.
We wouldn’t take a guide since it would’ve been very expensive for 5 people to look through a spotting scope to see animals. So we took a break by the pretty beach and headed back. Our previous visits had fulfilled our needs, and this one was too much, maybe.
If you still happen to be near the Quepos region, I recommend visiting the El Avion restaurant. The ocean view is breathtaking, and the plane merged with the building is honestly cool. Our outing wasn’t a total flop, after all!
On our last day, my sweetheart and I left for one last hike at the Nauyaca Waterfalls near Dominicalito. Thank you, Grandpa and Grandma, for this short break! The trail was quite a physical challenge, but we liked that! We could’ve gone with teens, but our kids had had enough of walking. We did well, leaving them to enjoy the pool!
The waterfall at the end of the road was one of the most beautiful I had ever seen! Upon our arrival, early in the morning, we enjoyed a well-earned swim while being practically alone in the fresh pool’s water.
Costa Rica has thousands of wonders to offer and is totally worth the while if you love nature’s and the heat’s contact. People there are warm and welcoming. I wish you to live the Pura Vida one day, as we did!
To conclude, here are our best eating spots:
This post was translated from French to English by:
My name is Sophie, a passionate language learner, and a full-time dog mom. Long walks, soothing cups of tea, Japanese learning and the search for beauty are my everyday life. Slowly but surely is how I do things, contemplating the peaceful ways of time and the enchanting notion of living the moment.