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Saturday, April 2, 2016

Eco Adventure in Costa Rica - Spring Break Family Style!

Day 1 - Arrival SJO Airport to Arenal Volcano, La Fortuna
Day 2 - Hanging Bridges, Volcano Hike, and Waterfall Swim!
Day 3 - Zip-Lining the Jungle Forest Canopy!
Day 4 - Arrival Manual Antonio via Nature Air flight
Day 5 - White-water Rafting the Savegre River!
Day 6 - Horseback Riding and Waterfall Swim!
Day 7 - Arrival SJO via Nature Air flight to Vara Blanca
Day 8 - Waterfalls, Wildlife, and Hiking!
Day 9 - Depart SJO

Wow!  Costa Rica in one word.  We were blown away by the beauty of the landscape.  It never ends.  From the base of the volcano to the tips of the jungle canopy, through the rainforest, onto the black sand beach, the waterfalls, the wildlife, Oh. My. An absolute FEAST for our eyes.  This was the trip of ADVENTURE!

What follows is our family trip report - maybe you will plan your trip to Costa Rica after reading it!  It was certainly a trip of many first-time adventure activities for us, which THANKFULLY, we survived.  Intact!

Day 1 - Arrival SJO Airport and Road Trip to Arenal Volcano
Accommodations: Arenal Kioro Suites and Spa

We cleared customs/immigration in no time at all.  Out the door with our carry-on luggage (I swear, I will never check luggage again) and met our driver (pre-booked with Desafio).  Cold waters, comfy van, wi-fi and we were off for our 3 hour drive to Arenal, La Fortuna.  I was kind of "meh" about a 3 hour drive, but it didn't once seem to drag.  About an hour out, we stopped for lunch.  We ran into several other people from our flight and were definitely at a tourist spot, but the food was okay and we admired the great view across the street.  And, I got my first local brew :)

After lunch, we hopped back into the van and were on our way again.  Until, our driver slowed down and said "hold on".  He pointed out the window and said there's a sloth as he pulled to a stop.  How did he spot it?!  We got out to take a closer look.  This sloth was right at eye level and had a baby on her belly.  She barely moved at our presence.  Welcome to Costa Rica!

After a drive through valleys, mountains, and jungle, we pulled into the town of La Fortuna - what a cool vibe!  Spotted the volcano and made our way around it towards our accommodations at Arenal Kioro Suites and Spa.  Cloud-covered volcano, but awesome views all around.  All the rooms face the volcano.  We got a family suite and it was the perfect size as both kids got their own bed.  There's a jacuzzi in all the rooms!  The kids immediately set off to trek around the property and had a dip in the hot springs.  We called it a night as it had been a full travel day and tomorrow's adventures awaited!

Day 2 - Hanging Bridges, Volcano Hike, and Waterfall Swim

We had booked the Desafio Combo Tour to see the Hanging Bridges, La Fortuna Waterfall, and Arenal Volcano.  We don't normally do tours, but since we were short on time and didn't have a rental car, this would be the best way for us to see the sights.  Desafio assured us that we would be a small group (there was only one other family and a solo traveler in our group).  It might cost more than other tours, but it was well worth it!  This is a solid trustworthy company and the guides will take good care of you.

Hanging Bridges:  These bridges in the clouds swayed and rocked under our weight but held together. Thank goodness for no fear of heights. Through the jungle, bridge after bridge, we saw snakes and monkeys of wild plus so much more. This was a definite highlight of our entire trip!

Waterfall Swim:  Our second stop after the hanging bridges. Around 500 steps down to the base of the waterfall for swimming. Guess who was last to make it back up the steps? Yes, even Molly left me behind. I made it though. Eventually.  I quickly recovered with a delicious lunch at the organic farm!  As we were driving, I thought it odd that we were not stopping at any of the passing restaurants, but when we finally pulled into the restaurant, I was thrilled with the setting.  And the FOOD!  It was the best we had so far - the girls inhaled their chicken!  All licked their plates clean :)

And, here's the other thing about Desafio - they had called the restaurant ahead and knew a large group was also coming.  They made sure to get us there first.  They constantly did this all day - maneuvering us around the crowds.

Arenal Volcano Hike:  Our final hurrah of a full day of adventure. Jungle trek over hardened lava to get as close as allowed to the dormant volcano. When we got to the base, the sun came out and the clouds lifted to where we could just make out the majestic peak.
They were delighted with the defense mechanism of this plant that closed when touched. 

Good to know your evacuation route.
Hiking The Hardened Lava

Lava Rock!

Our day started at 8:15 and ended about 4:30.  Everything was perfectly paced and the girls were able to easily keep up.  A fantastic first full day in Costa Rica!

Back to the hotel to relax for the next day's adventure!

Day 3 - Zip-Lining the Jungle Forest Canopy

ALIVE!!! I said I would NEVER do this. I'm getting too old for this nonsense. But, I'm happy to report we survived! Molly went tandem with a guide and the rest of us were solo. Zip-lining high above and thru the jungle canopy. No pictures as it was too risky to have my phone. Enjoyed the spectacular views at dizzying heights. And, oh yes, braking successfully at the end of each line. And, thanking the stars above that the cables held strong.

We pre-booked our Canopy Tour with Ecoglide Arenal Park.  They were very reassuring that we would survive unharmed.  There are a large number of very competent guides.  Go ahead, book this!  You too will survive.  And have a BLAST!

Oh, wait.  I have bragging rights - I DID THE TARZAN SWING!  And live to tell about it.  I still have no idea what was holding up the Tarzan Swing rope.  It seemed to hang from the clouds.  Plus, I was a little too distracted with holding on for dear life.

This day was all about zip-lining the jungle canopy (what an experience!) and exploring the town (our lunch was LITERALLY on fire) before ending at the hot springs! Another day of amazing family fun. 

Tomorrow we will move on, but tonight we sleep by the base of our volcano. May it too sleep. Good night Arenal Volcano.
Bravery or foolishness?  Two clowns.  Messing with a volcano.

Day 4 - Arrive Manual Antonio via Nature Air
Accommodations: Tulemar Bungalows

We got a taxi to take us to the local airport Quepos.  Our driver pull into a bar.  We figured he had to use the restroom.  Then, he started to unload our luggage.  What the heck?  No way.  He got a huge kick out of my questioning him.  Giggles ensued and we headed on in to check-in to our flight.
This is the whole airport terminal.  It's a bar!

Hanging on the Runway!

Moved to Manuel Antonio via flying sardine can πŸ›©WE MADE IT! Whew! Got a cab to our accommodations at Tulemar Bungalows and what a TREAT!  We stayed in a one-villa bungalow and just loved the whole property.  

Cliff side in our jungle treehouse bungalow with beach! We've been warned to lock our doors as the monkeys are quite clever. Remember the cute sloth? Well, we have seen a couple serious Chewbacca sized ones! Surfed the waves, dinner, and then to bed. Tomorrow would be an early day for our biggest adventure yet! Goodnight from Costa Rica 😘

Day 5 - White-water Rafting the Savegre River

Whew, we all remain in one piece! Today, I conquered MY fear! This was an adrenaline pumping adventure - white-water rafting the Savegre River Class 2 and 3 rapids. My heart swells that we got to do this with the girls. Caitlin paddled along the whole time. Molly was tucked deeper in the raft. Rob and I behind them. An awesomely amazing guide that made us feel safe the whole time. The views!!! About half-way, we exited by the side of the river for a trek thru the jungle that opened up to a waterfall. Pura Vida from Costa Rica 😘

It sure was hot!  Time to cool off with a swim at the waterfall.  Molly managed to slip on a rock and cut her knee.  Yep, traveling with kids.  She was fine.  We rinsed her cut with the water from the waterfall and tried not to think of parasites.  Bwahahahaha.  Really, it's fine - as you can see in the pics, she was putting her hands in the water and then into her mouth, so....

We pre-booked our rafting tour with Amigos Del Rio.  Everything went off perfectly without a hitch.  They provided a breakfast, fresh fruit and water midday, and an especially delicious lunch.  I highly recommend them especially for their extremely competent and full-of-enthusiasm guides!

After a busy day, we returned back to our bungalow and headed straight for the beach.

Day 6 - Horseback Riding and Waterfall Swim

WE HAVE MONKEYS!!!! They tore our balcony apart. THIS is why we came to Costa Rica! πŸ˜πŸ’πŸ˜πŸ’.

Caitlin and I went for an early morning walk down to the beach and ran into a crowd of monkeys. They followed us back to our bungalow to join us on the balcony. A little nervous, we retreated inside and refused them entry. They proceeded to tear up our balcony. It was absolutely hysterical! THIS is why we came to Costa Rica πŸ˜πŸ’πŸ˜‚πŸ’πŸ’

Both are watching other monkeys :)

After we recovered from our giggles galore, we readied ourselves for our next adventure with Brisas Del Nara - Horseback Riding in the Costa Rican jungle. Molly got a horse just her size. All were gentle, no worries. 4th country that the girls have ridden horses - Amazing. It was quite hot, so a nice cool down at a waterfall before returning to the ranch.  By the way, delicious breakfast AND lunch at the ranch, oh yeah!

The guides are very attentive the entire time.  We had Jimmy and a young student named Juan Pablo, who were both fantastic - I didn't even have to keep track of Caitlin and Molly as we became separated in the caravan of horses.  It was nice to be able to just relax and take in my own ride knowing that our whole family was being carefully watched.  

I selected this family-owned ranch after reading reviews and visiting their website.  Alonso was very responsive and assured us that we would have a good time with the 1/2 day tour (and he was right on point!).  It was dry season when we traveled and he explained that the larger waterfall would not be worth the longer ride.  We had a fantastic very easy ride (I had zero worries about the horses with the girls/myself), which included a smaller waterfall.  The view was gorgeous and it was fun climbing down into the waterfall.  The climb up was even more fun - use the rope, you can do it!

The climate is much different here at the beach than in the mountains.  We retreated back to the bungalow to nap during the hotter part of the day.  Then, we headed down to the beach to watch the sunset and surf the waves.  As many as you see, a sunset over the water always manages to delight each and every time!

Day 7 - Arrive SJO via Nature Air
Accommodations: The Peace Lodge, Vara Blanca

MONKEYS ARE BACK!!! Good morning from Costa Rica. Today we are leaving here and the monkeys came to say farewell (and good riddance) to us. Pura Vida!

Biggest Monkey of Them All!
So, we returned to the local airport about to take our sardine can 18 minute flight. πŸ›©πŸ˜³  We made it.  Whew!  I was glad I took some Dramamine preflight as this one was a little more bumpy.  Our driver was there to greet us and take us to our last accommodations of this trip.  I really splurged on this one!  For our last two nights, I wanted to get us closer to the airport, but still have a special experience.  I selected The Peace Lodge, which includes La Paz Waterfall and Gardens on its property (as well as a wildlife refuge).  The accommodations are over-the-top luxury, but the access to the stunning property really make a stay here oh so special.

We were in too early for check-in, so we meandered around the property having lunch at Big Trout Bar. It was a bit busy being the Saturday of Easter weekend, but we delighted knowing that in a few hours we would have the whole place to ourselves when the day visitors left.  Then, it was time to see the accommodations.

OH. MY. GAWD. Jackpot!!!! My eyes were overcome!!! Apparently, this is the #1 Honeymoon spot in Costa Rica. And we brought our kids πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚. Hands down the most gorgeous place I have ever stayed. I spent so much time sitting on the balcony surrounded by hummingbirds. There was a WATERFALL in our bathroom. The bathroom was the size of my living room. I nearly chose to sleep in the bathroom that night.

Day 8 - Waterfalls, Wildlife, and Hiking

Rainforest! Waterfalls! Fishing! Relaxation! Just when I thought we were done, lo and behold - we had the whole jungle to ourselves as we trekked to 5 waterfalls (Templo, Magia Blanca, Encantada, Escondida, and La Paz). We felt like we had stumbled into Jurassic Park. This is all on the property of our lodging. Including the Trout Lake where all were successful catching lunch! Fresh catch was cleaned and sent right to grill. Waited by the pool before devouring amazing fried and grilled trout. Pura Vida from Costa Rica!

Templo waterfall in the background. My two little monkeys at the base. Takes my breathe away. I  Costa Rica.

We decided to hike the waterfalls before breakfast and we had the entire place to ourselves. We could let the girls wander ahead or fall behind. Exploring. My heart soared here in the Costa Rican rainforest watching the girls discover the treats. 

After breakfast, we took our time in the wildlife refuge and then headed to the pool before lunch.  Wait.  WE SHOULD CATCH OUR OWN LUNCH.  What a fantastic no-lose situation (I mean, the lake - it's fully stocked).  The trout lake.  The awesome guy there helped us with the rods/bait and then cleaned our fresh catch for the restaurant.  My girls were thrilled.  Molly kept exclaiming that it was her first catch ever.

Back to the pool to wait for fresh catch to be grilled/fried! It was absolutely DELICIOUS. We got 1 grilled, and 2 fried. We probably didn't need 3 whole fish, but what the heck - it was well enjoyed! The fried had amazingly crispy skin and the grilled had the yummiest meat. I'm drooling remembering it.

Whaaat?! There's more?!?! But, it's dark out. Nighttime Frog Hike!!! 🐸🐸🐸Each given a flashlight. Enter the jungle. Check out the frogs we encountered! Goodnight Costa Rica. Tomorrow, we go home. CR will always have a place in our hearts. Pura Vida! ❤❤❤
This little fella smiled for me 
I had heard raving reviews about this nighttime adventure to see the frogs.  I thought to myself how can anybody rave about seeing a couple frogs in the dark.  But, it turns out, this was a fantastic activity.  We were given flashlights at the ranarium and then each took their time searching for the frogs.  It was great fun finding each type (including poisonous! ones) and seeing their brilliant colors under the light of our flashlights.  The guide is full of neat information.  An easy short activity, I highly recommend it if you are staying at this resort.  

Goodnight Costa Rica.  Tomorrow we return home.

Day 9 - Depart SJO

Nothing to report. Smooth drive to the airport. Smooth exit from Costa Rica. Oh wait, except for boarding the plane. We flew Southwest Airlines and had a pretty good boarding position having purchased the Early Bird add-on. But, Costa Rica has this weird process where they check you after you are ready to board, but before you actually step on the plane. An agent went through mine and the girls' carry-on bags and decided to go slower than slow and touch each and every item, unzip and zip every compartment, flip through my book. Meanwhile, the 3 other agents were zipping people by past us barely checking their items. By the time we boarded, I was just hoping we would all get to sit together, but it all worked out just fine. Smooth flight home.

We are back home safe and sound from Costa Rica. But, we are affected in a profound way. Chic Sloth Family sticking together through the recovery!

Costa Rica captured our hearts immediately. We will definitely return. This was a perfect first time family itinerary to see and do so much in a short amount of time. We absolutely loved it! Have you been to Costa Rica? Are you ready to plan a visit?