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Other places we visited in Costa Rica that we loved, but never had the chance to write about:

Chilamate Rainforest Eco Lodge – great place to stay, had tons of fun hikes in the rainforest and learned a lot about the area

Some other rainforest eco lodge I can’t remember right now….  to be posted later


The last two nights we have spent in Arenal, at the base of an active volcano.  Our hotel was perfectly situated to gaze up at the volcano and watch it erupt every hour or so.  The eruptions sound like a major thunderstorm and then a large plume of ash appears at the top of the Volcano.  Apparently we were fortunate that arenal was active, as sometimes it can remain dormant for days or weeks.

At night time we went to the other side of the mountain and camped out at the bridge waiting for a lava flow to come out.  The first night we dined at the Linda Norte – the service and food sucked, but the view was epic.  The second night we camped out at the bridge, and brought a dvd for the kids to watch while we waited for the volcano to erupt.  Halfway through “Alice in Wonderland” the volcano spewed lava and we watched the orange glow tumble down the mountain…  then Harlowe asked “is it done “lava-ing” yet?”…. wondering if she could turn back to the movie again…. aaaahhhh kids these days are so hard to impress!…

We spent our days enjoying the hot springs in our hotel – one group ventured across the street to the hot springs water park, Baldi, and enjoyed the water slides and multiple hot springs pools.

Today, we got up early and did the ecoglide canopy tour where we ziplined across the forest canopy at the base of the volcano – the climax was the killer Tarzan swing.  We have great video footage that we’ll post later.  Now we are off to Sarapiqui for our last two days before heading home.

To break up the trip between Mal Pais and Arenal  – we decided to stay at the Los Angeles Cloud Forest — Villa Blanca — for one night.  It was absolutely brilliant.  Upon arrival through until departure the following day we were well cared for and the service was impeccable.  It is expensive – but well worth the money.  The perfectly appointed bungalows and deliciously temperate climate was a welcome change from our “surf house” in Mal Pais.  The kids and Mike and Eric went on a night tour where they came back elated at all the life that was to be found – sleeping birds, frogs, crickets…  I was able to get Soleil down for nap at 7pm – she went without nap and was completely loopy all afternoon.  Harlowe and I had booked a session at the Wellness center — as part of the hotel you can book a private session for a hot-tub and Sauna — compliments of the hotel.  We expected a small gazebo with a hot tub we could chill in for twenty minutes.  Instead we were greeted by an attendant and had the entire spa to ourselves for a full hour!  Beth would have been beside herself with the yoga room – completely open air, hard wood floors, and all the yoga equipment available.  We had our own private changing rooms, bathrooms, showers, sauna and whirlpool all to ourselves.  It was divine and Harlowe and I got to talk about her upcoming Senior year in high school and college aspirations — she has turned into such a lovely girl and I can’t think of a more enjoyable hour to spend then in a private spa alone with my beautiful 17 year old niece.

That evening, dinner was divine – and it wasn’t just because Soleil was sleeping peacefully.  We had two bottles of wine and an exquisite meal and got to talk like adults with Eric and Sally while the kids ran around and collected moths — checking off all they found in the handy-dandy brochure the hotel provided.

The next morning we were greeted by a magnificent breakfast and then a tour of the cloud forest by our guide, Michaell.  We fed hummingbirds – there were 20 of them buzzing your head while you hold the feeder and they perch on your fingers — you’ll never have the opportunity to get that close and personal with a humming bird.  Then we milked cows and then took a lovely hike through the cloud forest looking for bugs and frogs and birds.  Well worth every penny.

After exploring the rest of the hotel grounds, we had another delicious meal for lunch and then hopped in the car for our 2-3 hour drive to Arenal.  We all were a little sad to leave the tranquil hillside….

(hopefully, my sister-in-law, beth, is not reading this)  While in Mal Pais, we spent endless hours collecting hundreds of shells from the beach.  It just so happened that in front of our house we were renting was the most perfect and magnificent beach for shell collecting.  We found hundreds of varieties, all shapes and sizes with exquisite colors – and most shells were perfectly intact.  We would find them, sort them, investigate them, compare them and then pick the most pristine kinds.  I am personally a huge fan of cowry shells, and we found hundreds — all perfectly in tact — some big ones and some tiny baby ones.

Some say (beth wang) that shell collecting is absolutely verboten and that it ruins the environment and should not be done under any circumstances.  I actually think that, of all the horrible things we do to this planet, shell collecting is one of the least impactful – provided it is done in moderation.  I agree that collecting and hoarding bags and bags full is obnoxious and unfortunate for others who may want to enjoy the oceans wonders as well.  But collecting a few unique specimens that are particularly magnificent is arguably of very minor consequence and only serves to provide yet one more connection children can make with nature.  I searched the web and could not find any significant argument against it showing any kind of damaging effects. The best I could find was this article on shell searching for beginners.

Ryan took home the prize on this trip, scoring two cowries with raised red bumps all over them – we called them “the great horned beasts” – and despite hunting until the last possible night – it still eludes me.

We decided to go visit the east side of the Peninsula for a day – see the beaches of Montezuma and Cabuya.  The beach and town of Montezuma was sort of a bust — the town was cute enough, but upon further exploration was completely catered to tourists with expensive shops and lots of expats.  The beach was pretty but pounding hard on shore – so not at all swimmable.

We decided to explore south to the beaches of Cabuya.  The roads are terrible and it takes forever to go just 10 km.  Half way to Cabuya we crossed a river and saw a few people laying in the river waters far down river… we decided to stop and check it out.  WHAT A GREAT SURPRISE!  The river was a deliciously refreshing temperature and very shallow in most parts only calf deep – and the flow was not too strong to walk in.  Soleil was in heaven — lots of little swimming holes that were perfect for her, and the flow of water was fun to lie in and feel the water flow all over your body.  There were a few deeper swimming pools and small waterfalls you could lie completely in and enjoy.  We ended up spending several hours walking up river, and then back down river to the desolate beach.  Then we got hungry…

We continued down the horrendously muddy road but only found a “bakery” that also served “sushi”.  Seemed a little wacky to have sushi in a hot tropical location in the middle of a jungle in Costa Rica – but a local told us it was the best place in the area – so we tried it.  It was magnificent… HUGE plates of absolutely deliciously prepared foods with immaculate presentations emerged from the kitchen.  My plate of fish in green sauce was melt-in-your-mouth divine and so big I couldn’t finish it.  We enjoyed the garden setting and strongly recommend it to any travelers.

We headed home through a short cut and made it back in half the time it took to get there.  Overall – no swimming beaches but the river and “bakery” far for made up for that.

(there has been no internet availability for 7 days, so I’ll post several posts at once, to catch up)

Staying right on the beach (not across the street) and having your own private pool – when you have small children – is KEY when going on vacation.  For 7 days, the children probably conducted 100 scientific experiments….

  • How much water is needed to push shells off the edge of the waterfall pool and into the pool below?
  • How many different variety of shells can be found on the beach?  How are the shells different/the same?
  • What does iguana skin feel like?  How does it differ from snake skin?
  • What is the best way to catch a crab without getting pinched?

These experiments are critical for children to conduct – to explore the natural world.  I sometimes lament living in a city where these experiments are reduced to how hard a ball can be bounced on cement…

Kailani ran with her cousins back and forth to and from the beach all day long – endlessly learning and exploring her environment and nature itself.  She caught bugs, collected shells and scampered in the ocean.  She loved her independence and having the opportunity to explore freely without a time limit.  Such a joy and a gift I hope I can keep giving her for many vacations to come.

We are about to go to sleep for our fourth night in this magical paradise of Mal Pais.  We spend our days in the pool, hunting for tiny shells on the beach (no room to bring home the big ones, so we have resorted to looking for the tiniest ones we can find – they travel better), surfing and boogie boarding or just lounging on chairs reading quietly while the waves crash against the rocks.

The house we are staying at is perfect.  All the windows open and allow for the breezes and views of the desolate beach and ocean in front of us.  There is no AC (which I don’t mind because bugs don’t like me, but everyone else is getting eaten alive).  The kitchen is a little rustic, but adequate for delicious fish market meals that Mike makes every night.  The fish market is run by a nice couple from Montreal who clearly loves fish.

We spent one day traveling north to look for swimmable beaches – traveling as far north as Manzanillo.  While we found completely empty sand-ISH beaches – there were still rocks in the water to be careful of.  Nonetheless we enjoyed the isolation – and ended with a beautiful lunch in the only restaurant in the area right across the street.

Soleil does not sleep well in the tropics, though.  She wakes up every night at 2am kicking her feet furiously and yelling out in pain that her feet are “OUCHY”.  She has about 50 bites all over her body, some of them are huge welts.  We cover her from head to toe in pajamas, and then spray her hands and feet with DEET, but it doesn’t seem to help.  Needless to say – sleep is not our friend.

So our Costa Rican adventure began with an epic journey:

  • 20 minute ride to the airport – thankfully our friend Jodi gave us a ride because there were no 5 person taxis.
  • 2 hours delay at SFO – Went through security at the wrong gate! So a double security tour! AARGH.
  • 3 hour flight to Denver – Soleil slept the whole way while Kai watched a movie then fell fast asleep and had to be carried to the next flight, where she stayed asleep the whole time
  • 2 hours layover in Denver
  • 5 hour flight to San Jose, Costa Rica – both kids slept straight through while the rest of us tossed and turned (kailani had a minor pee-pee accident on the plane – thank god for leather seats!)
  • 1 hour through customs – then no car rental shuttle, so Mike had to take a total ripoff $10 taxi for a 2 minute ride…. then the shuttle came 5 minutes after he left. classic.
  • 2 hour car ride to the ferry at Puntarenas – missed the 9am ferry by 2 minutes! so had to have breakfast in Puntarentas while we waited for the 11am.
  • 1 hour ferry ride to the Nicoya peninsula
  • 2 hour car ride to Mal Pais
  • 30 minute bumpy dirt road to our home away from home – a fat house on the coast of Mal Pais
  • 20 hours later – Upon arrival in our new house – both kids jumped into the pool naked – we are home!

I am so proud of my two kids – neither of them wailed the whole trip – they got schlepped around cars, boats and planes with no complaints – we actually all had a relatively happy journey – Mike and I fought a little, but that is to be expected.

Now we are enjoying 80 degree weather, searching for shells on the beach, the ocean feels like bathwater, and the pool cools you off just enough.  Why don’t we live somewhere tropical, again?