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  • Writer's pictureTina Hill

Living La Pura Vida!

Updated: Jan 31, 2023

After many years of traditional summer vacations in Martha's Vineyard and Chatham, I wanted to do something completely different and family bonding. I felt compelled to add adventure into our summer plans. The ocean from afar was calling my name, and I could not turn away.

Originally, I considered California but was unable to meet my budget. After talking to friends, I put Costa Rica on my to 'look into' list. It actually ended up being more cost effective to travel to Costa Rica. We are a family of there are airfares and two hotel rooms/home rentals to consider in budget planning. I gave myself a full year to plan, save, and prepare. I knew from the beginning that this was going to be a trip of a lifetime and wanted to make as few mistakes as possible.


Planning my trip locations in Costa Rica

Where to Start? Well...travelling is one of my favorite things to plan for. Who doesn't get excited about vacation, right? Initially, I looked into different Costa Rica locations that we would be interested in visiting - Guanacaste, Tamarindo, La Fortuna, and Manuel Antonio - and then I narrowed it down to what was doable. The points of interest for my family included: waterfalls, rainforest, hiking, and ocean. My oldest son doesn't love the beach, ocean, and is more into hiking. He is an author and is very content with sitting on the balcony, overlooking the ocean, and writing. My oldest daughter has just returned from a semester abroad and is all about seeing the world. She loves travel, the beach, different food, and also enjoys hiking. My younger daughter is obsessed with waterfalls, loves the ocean, and is very much into hiking and nature. My youngest son likes the beach okay, but is more into adventure.

My budget goal for hotel, transport, and excursions was to be under $5,000 for a family of six:

I began my planning by contacting four different Costa Rica tour companies including AAA and had them give me custom made itineraries with included excursions and hotels. I needed to know from the beginning the $$$ amount I was dealing with. The tour companies ranged from $4,800 - $9,500 for a family of six (not including airfare). This is comparable or cheaper than Walt Disney World in Orlando...seriously. Having the different itineraries in front of me gave me the opportunity to compare pricing and excursions. In the end, I was able to construct my own custom itinerary to fit my family's needs and decided on Desafio Adventures based in Costa Rica. #DesafioAdventures #CostaRica

I chose Desafio because they are based in Costa Rica, had super high ratings and great reviews on Trip Advisor, offered competitive pricing, and I was able to speak directly with them on the phone. When I contacted Desafio via email or phone, Greg Reeser/Destination Manager, got back to me immediately. The customer service was impeccable. He was direct, honest, and wanted to ensure a great family vacation. Desafio offers many different tours and also provides quality and safe transportation.

In addition to our excursions, they provided a private, air-conditioned van that transported us to/from San Jose Airport, and took us to our various locations. I weighed out renting a car vs. transport and felt more comfortable going with transport. The roads in CR can be...bumpy, crazy, dangerous. Yeah, I went with the transport. This way, we could take in the scenery and enjoy the ride. Our driver pointed out landmarks and made stops along the way for breaks, souvenirs, and a famous crocodile bridge. He was personable, friendly, and a great guide.


Our Family Itinerary:

Day 1: Arrive into San Jose and go to La Paz Peace Lodge for lunch and visit La Paz Waterfall. This was a GREAT way to start our vacation. An hour after landing, we were sitting in a beautiful location, eating a gourmet meal, and surrounded by nature. The Peace Lodge is a destination itself that offers a nature park, animal sanctuary, five star accommodations, and an amazing waterfall. The atmosphere and food were outstanding.

Big Trout Bar is outdoors and overlooks a pool with waterfalls.

The menu selection is amazing! My husband ordered trout from their trout pond. I had tuna with avocado, and my son ordered ceviche with coconut milk. We discovered that ceviche is served at most restaurants and is a delicious Costa Rican speciality. #BigTroutBar #CostaRica #Ceviche #LaPazWaterfall

Our family loved La Paz! The waterfall is something special, and our girls were able to drink legally in Costa Rica...nice bonus for them. #Legal

The La Paz Waterfall is a sight to see. Our driver pulled right along side the road where we had a perfect and close up view. #LaPazWaterfall #Waterfall #Wondersoftheworld #CostaRica

On our way to the Lomas Del Volcan Hotel in La Fortuna, we discovered the Coati Mundi, an adorable and friendly small animal. Our driver pulled over when we saw a bunch of them alongside the road. They came right up to us and let us feed them mango.

After arriving at our hotel and relaxing, we had a nice meal at the Lomas Del Volcan Restaurant. Overall, everyone was happy with their dinner on our first night.

Lomas Del Volcan Restaurant

Lomas Del Volcan

I decided on the Lomas because the bungalows gave us more of the 'authentic' experience I was looking for. I really did not want a big, overpopulated hotel. I wanted the family to be surrounded by nature.

The Lomas Del Volcan is surrounded by the rainforest with an upfront view of the Arenal Volcano. It offers rustic style wood cabins with two queen beds. Each cabin has two terraces with unique views of both the Arenal Volcano and the rainforest. The rooms are spacious, CLEAN, and include air conditioning and a refrigerator. My husband and I were in one cabin and our four kids were in another. The only reason the Lomas is not a five star resort is because the mattresses are pretty firm. I was told this is a common theme throughout the country. If you've got a bad back, look elsewhere. If that isn't an issue, this place is a gem with a price tag that cannot be beat.

The restaurant on the premises offers a large menu of traditional Costa Rican cuisine and American food. Breakfast was included in our room rate, and the buffet offered a nice assortment of food including: gallo pinto, plantains, omelets to order, and freshly squeezed mango and melon juices. American staples included pancakes, toast, danish, bacon, and sausage. Anyone who complained about this buffet on Trip Advisor is crazy. The buffet was outstanding. I am an excellent cook and a very good judge of good food. #LomasDelVolcan #ArenalVolcano #Rainforest #ecofriendly #CostaRica #Vacation #Familyvaca

Day 2

Our second day started with an early wake up call and a Desafio transport to Adventure Sky Arenal Park. We went ziplining (seven total), walked on the hanging bridges, and did the Sky Tram guided tour. It downpored on us, but we still had a great time. The Ziplining was out of this world! #MustDo #Bucketlist #Ziplining #SkyAdventure #SkyAdventureArenal #Rainforest #FamilyVaca #Puravida #DesafioAdventure

Hanging in the Rainforest!

Day 3

This was our one unguided, free day in La Fortuna/Arenal, and we decided to the do the La Fortuna Waterfall hike (500 steps up and down...great workout) and follow it up with an afternoon of lounging at the Baldi Hot Springs, which we were told was great for young people, as it has 25 hot springs and water slides!!! Great choice and a relaxing afternoon. While in La Fortuna, we ate at the Rainforest Cafe downtown which was fabulous, Nene's Restaurant which was also excellent, and the Garrapatta Restaurant which offers an outstanding selection of steaks. My oldest son discovered churrasco steak, and he was a gonner. I've got to put this steak on my 'to cook' list...stat! #Hotsprings #BaldiHotSprings #LaFortunaWaterfall #CostaRica #Puravida #Waterfalls

Baldi Hot Springs is Amazing!!!!

Day 4

On our last full day at Arenal, we went white water rafting, and this was, without a doubt, a highlight of our trip. Again, this excursion was planned through Desafio Adventures, and they provided an action packed Class 2-3 rafting day that was fun and safe. Thank you #DesafioAdventures! #whitewaterrafting #familyvaca #bucketlist #rainforest #BalsaRiver #CostaRica #crazyfamily

Day 5 - We are off to Manuel Antonio

Our driver arrived bright and early for our five hour drive to Manuel Antonio. When we arrived at the Costa Verde, we found our paradise. This resort is beyond beautiful. We stayed in the Costa Verde II Studio Plus adult only section with ocean front views. I am so glad that my youngest son convinced me to book these rooms instead of the Casa Quinta three bedroom house. It is impossible to describe the unbelievable views from our rooms. Each bedroom was huge with two queen beds, a living room, kitchen, and balcony (that gives you a paranormal view) with wood furniture made on the premises. The property also has a refurbished vintage 1965 Boeing 727 airplane complete with two bedrooms and ocean views as well. The pool area has a mock helipad with lounge chairs and there are three restaurants in the resort. We ate at The Anaconda every morning. Our full breakfast was included in our room rate and was outstanding. The menu included omelets, french toast, and traditional Costa Rican dishes. I would recommend the Anaconda to everyone coming to visit Manuel Antonio..a great way to start the day, for sure! We also had dinner at El Avion on our first night, and it was delicious. The red snapper and sea bass were fresh and cooked perfectly. #Boeing727airplaine #CostaVerde #ManuelAntonio #AnacondaRestaurant #ElAvion #Paradise #familyvaca

Costa Verde II Studio Plus - Panoramic Ocean Views

Refurbished Boeing 727

At around 8 am, you can count on being greeted by the local monkey mafia! They'll be on your room balcony running around or will be sure to join you for breakfast. They are beautiful, and I couldn't get enough of them. Honestly, we all wished we could sneak a few home. #Capuchins #SquirrelMonkeys #ManuelAntonio #Monkeymafia

The owner of this resort has made it his business to promote eco friendly and sustainable living. My pictures cannot do the Costa Verde justice...I encourage you to go online and look at their pictures for yourself. The beds were hard...but I wouldn't change a thing. My sore back was worth it. Paradise! #Adventuretravel #Ecotourism #CostaRica #Hotel #AllanTempleton

Dinner at El Avion

Dinner at Emelio's Cafe in Manuel Antonio - Very good

My 18 year old daughter is lounging on the helipad that overlooks the ocean...very cool vibe here!

A lot of monkey business at breakfast!

Day 6

Sunday was a golden opportunity for us to do a guided Manuel Antonio National Park guided tour, as the park is closed on Mondays. Our driver picked us up at our hotel and we proceeded on a half day tour of the national park that included seeing various kinds of wild life - capuchin and howler monkeys, sloths, toucans, and insects indigenous to the area. After the tour, we relaxed on the Manuel Antonio National Park beach. Swimming in this bay is safe and calm..unlike the Manuel Antonio Public Beach on the other side of the bay. Our guide did not instruct us ahead of time to prepare lunches and plan to stay here for the afternoon. This is worth noting because once you leave the park, even after you pay to enter, you cannot re-enter without repaying. Entrance to Manuel Antonio National Park is $16 and worth every penny. We spent 20 minutes on the beach and that is a regret. It would have been worth it to stay and taxi back later in the day (even without towels and water..because it is that beautiful).

When we were leaving the park, I was surprised to run into my very close girlfriend, Kathy, who I haven't seen in years! We had actually made plans to meet up in Sarasota weeks prior, but she had to cancel at the last minute due to work. Low and behold...there she was..walking right towards me in the rainforest. She was with her daughter and friends for a girls vaca, and we made plans to meet up for dinner on two nights. This was another highlight of my trip and a real gift!

Running into old friends in Costa Rica! It really is a small world!

Calm and safe water at the National Park

The left side is the Manuel Antonio National Park Beach which is calm and safe to swim in.

Day 7

With the private beach being closed, we headed into Quepos - right next to Manuel Antonio - for souvenir shopping (taxi $8 each way). We spent the morning there, and then headed to the public beach. My girls got to go parasailing while the boys decided to hang back at the hotel. The Beach waves are a surfer's dream...but a swimmer's nightmare. I witnessed someone almost drown right in front of me, and I believe it will leave me with a permanent scar. When the person got swept out, three volunteers quickly went after her with surfboards and a float until a jet skier was able to come by and get her. She was lucky to escape. The beach does not have lifeguards - even though it has a wide population of tourists and locals; it only has volunteers that help with the terrifying riptides. I am posting a huge BEWARE of riptides at this beach. Do not take this warning lightly. #Dangerousocean #CostaRicaripcurrent #riptide #ripcurrent #ManuelAntonioPublicBeach

What to do if you get caught in a rip current:

Call for help the moment you notice a current moving you away from the shore. Rip currents move at a fast pace, and, therefore, allow only a small window of opportunity in which calls for help can be heard. With in a minute, you may be too far out for someone to hear you.

If you can find your footing in the sand, try to walk out of the current. If you find that to be too difficult, try walking sideways, leaping toward the beach with each wave and allowing the water to "push" you ashore.

When no solid footing is to be found, your best option is to tread water. DO NOT TRY TO FIGHT THE CURRENT! Swimming against the current costs you valuable energy, and there is only a marginal chance of swimming out of a riptide. The human body is naturally buoyant, especially in salt water. Therefore, tip you head back as if doing the back stroke, keep your bearings, tread water, and stay attentive to any possible rescue effort. The most important thing to remember is to remain calm and avoid panicking.

At the "head" of the riptide system, just beyond the breakers, the force of the current decreases significantly. If you have not seen signs of any rescue effort at this point, slowly and calmly swim parallel to the beach, moving toward shore at a 45-degree angle after several yards. Beware, however, as attempting to go straight to shore can inadvertently get you stuck back in the riptide neck.

Day 8

On our last day in Manuel Antonio, my husband chartered a fishing boat for my youngest son, oldest daughter, and himself. They not only saw two whales breach the water 50 yards in front of them, but they also caught four tuna, a rooster fish, and a mahi mahi. It was a great day on the water that cost $500 for a 1/2 day. They returned with a tuna that the Anaconda prepared for our lunch. It was Amazing and a great way to end our stay in Manuel Antonio. After lunch, we relaxed poolsisde until our transport picked us up at 4pm to take us to the Hotel Barcelo in Alajuela (a 10 minute drive from the airport).

Hotel Barcelo was clean, affordable, included dinner and breakfast, and also a shuttle to the airport. The shuttle runs on the hour, however, which did not work for us, and we ended up paying for a taxi ($30). Not the end of the word. The room rate for two rooms/two queens in each room total was $288. Great deal.

This is a four star hotel with very comfortable beds, convenient location, and an included well above-average buffet. Our dinner buffet included stir fry with chicken, steak, and pork with various vegetables and rice as well as a salad and dessert station. There were three or four food stations..very impressive. The breakfast buffet included made to order omelets and three+ food stations included with American and Costa Rican cuisine. It was very good. #Delish #CostaRica #HotelBarcelo #SanJose #Alajuela

Day 9

We woke up, had a leisurely breakfast and made our way to the San Jose Airport. All in all, Costa Rica was an exciting, adventurous family vacation that my family will remember for the rest of our lives. #Livelifetothefullest #FamilyAdventure #Rainforest #FamilyVacation #Followme #TripAdvisor

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