This trip has been on my bucket list since before kids. I heard people talk about monkeys, waterfalls and adventures and I was 100% in. So when this opportunity came when we had recently decided to homeschool the kids, we thought “why not now, why not us” and we booked it in 10 minutes. I have found that the best trips and experiences are those that you jump into, go in because of a gut feeling and figure it out on the way.
So for those reading this and thinking you have to plan trips months in advance…. unless it is Disney and you are trying to get a seat at the princess table with Cinderella… you can literally book a trip in a couple weeks and have a great time. We booked Costa Rica and left 30 days later. It can be done! We had the absolute best trip and I am going to give you all the details so you too can do it!
First, we booked with JetBlue because it was cheaper and it actually ended up being an amazing experience. The plane had TV’s so the kids were excited and happy for the entire ride. When planning our trip, we figured out a couple things that we wanted to do and we made sure those things happens on our trip. We knew we wanted to be at the beach, see monkeys and sloths, see the jungle, see waterfalls and zip line. If you can narrow down the things you know you REALLY want to do and see, you can make it all work.
We flew into San Jose (SJO) airport and took the shuttle over to the Toyota Rent a Car. You want to rent something with four wheeled drive. This is one area I would spare no expense and just do it. The Costa Rican roads were totally unpredictable. One minute they were paved and the next you were driving up a road that looked like no one else in the world had passed over it.
We drove straight to Puntarenas-Paquera Ferry. You can get in line for the ferry when you get there and then drive right on. We booked a night in the most amazing boutique hotel Hotel Vista las Islas. The pool had the most amazing views and this hotel was exactly what I had been imagining when I thought of coming to Costa Rica. Looking back, I would have booked a couple nights there and really soaked in that great hotel.
We drove to Santa Teresa and stayed in the Blue Surf Sanctuary. This was a super cute town that had the beach, surfer and laid back feels.
The kids actually enrolled in a surf camp and had the best instructor, Toro. This was super convenient for us. The hotel had a pool, an outdoor community kitchen area, the most beautiful little bungalows and Toro came directly to the hotel to pick up the kids and walk them down to the beach which was less than a three minute walk, to do their surf lessons.
The kids had an amazing time! Highly, highly, highly recommend both the hotel and the surf camp. The surf camp was in the morning, so in the afternoon we had all the free time to explore and go on adventures.
Things we did in Santa Teresa:
- Visited Montezuma Waterfalls. We drove to the top, hiked to the top two waterfalls then made our way down to the bottom where the biggest one is. When you use the man-made steps to hike up and down, there is someone who will give you a wrist band and you pay about $2. There you have the opportunity to jump off into the falls and swim. Then we went to Butterfly Brewing Co. & Imago Brew Pub (which is right outside of the Montezuma falls) and had the best sandwiches, beer, fresh pina colada and the kids had passion fruit soda which is made there at the brewery.
- We went to lunch at a little restaurant in Manzanillo called Atardecer Dorado. It was off the beaten path, no one spoke english, but it was a restaurant that was a stones throw away from the ocean, the best view, the best guacamole, margaritas and by far the cheapest meal we had in Costa Rica. Grab lunch then go to the little store right next to the restaurant and grab a Trits dessert (trust me, you will thank me later) and walk down to the beach and relax and have dessert.
- Have dinner or lunch at any of the awesome restaurants on the beach. There are many to choose from and the sunsets on the beach are epic.
We drove our longest drive of the trip to Hacienda Guachipelin Volcano Ranch Hotel & Hot Springs in Liberia. This hotel offered free breakfast and free access to all of their waterfalls and hot springs on site. This was super worth it to stay here. The hotel also had a pool, animals, great staff and was very comfortable.
We made sure to visit each waterfall on site and do the hot springs as soon was we got there. We highly recommend participating in the mud bath at the hot springs. It was messy but great!
We did the La Leona Waterfall tour with Offi, make sure to download WhatsApp or text him directly at 506-8899-8149. You can message him before you come and set up a day and time for your tour. This was a highlight of our trip. The tour was amazing, Offi is incredible. Everyone helped with our little one who was six and made her feel comfortable and safe. The guides were every bit of amazing. Not to mention the waterfall and the water holes on the way are breathtaking.
After the waterfall tour, we had dinner/lunch at Soda Donda Yara. Again, no English but we did our best to understand each other and it was the best meal! Anytime you see a “SODA” that is a local Costa Rican restaurant, usually a small, mom and pop open air restaurants that serves only traditional Costa Rican food.
Day 9 – 12:
We took a drive to our next home for a couple days, at an amazing Airbnb in Tierras Morenas near Lake Arenal. This was magical! This Airbnb was everything we could have ever dreamed of. It was a renovated school bus that had the most amazing view and the most epic sunset.
We fell in love with this place. Not to mention that the owners are just as sweet and amazing. They were so welcoming, showed us around the incredible, efficient bus, even set us up to tour the farm that their family owns that was next door. And had the opportunity to see how and where the yogurt is made that they make. Check out everything from Tisú Farm!
Things we did around Lake Arenal:
- We went to the Finca La Amistad and did the “From Seedling to Chocolate Bar” Combined Tour. We were able to make our own chocolate and it was so good. Definitely a learning experience. We were actually here for Thanksgiving, so we practiced gratitude as family over some fresh chocolate. It was perfect!
- We went to the most incredible hike of multiple waterfalls at Viento Fresco Waterfall. This area was basically untouched and we were alone to enjoy each one and get incredible pictures. The hike was strenuous and we had a lot of positive “you can do it’s” in there but wow it was amazing. We then went to an amazing pizza place close by called Restaurante y Pizzería Donde Jossy. It quaint, very small town, no english speaking, but incredible service and food.
- We did a sloth walking tour at Ranas Bijaguas. We had the best tour guide and the best experience. We would have never been able to find the sloths without him. He had an amazing eye for all animals and it made the whole experience.
Day 12 +:
This is where the trip gets crazy. We drove to Volcano Lodge in La Fortuna right near the Arenal Volcano in hopes to do zip lining and see epic views of the volcano. The hotel we stayed in was awesome, the pool was incredible, the hot springs were awesome and the food was great. However, we checked the weather and saw that it was going to rain for the next three days of our trip. We asked some locals to confirm this information and then quickly made a 10-second decision to change our plans.
We jumped in the car and headed to Jaco, found a great Airbnb on the beach at Hotel Jaco and we were able to avoid the rain for the couple days. The Airbnb had a great pool, beautiful beach views, awesome food and drinks in the hotel lobby and super friendly staff.
Things we did in Jaco:
- We had an incredible meal at Restaurante Vista Hermosa. High recommend coming here for a sunset view and dinner on the beach.
- We went zip lining and ATV riding at Vista Los Sueños Adventure Park. This was a highlight of our trip. The staff was incredible, they took great care of our littles. Our daughter was only six years old and going upside down on the zip line. The staff made her feel super comfortable and encouraged both kids to be brave. The ATV part was absolutely worth it. They took us to a waterfall with a natural slide. That was so much fun for the whole family!
We ended the trip driving back to a hotel outside of the airport where we ordered uber eats, watched movies and got ready to head out.
Honestly, this whole trip was amazing. We would do this whole itinerary over again in a heart beat.
Our family tips to your family:
- The people are absolutely incredible. You do not need to know Spanish to understand their hospitality and generosity. They are extremely grateful people and we adored everyone we met.
- Eat anywhere off the beaten path. The food is usually cheaper and it is always so good.
- Download Google Maps for offline use.
- Be prepared to drive on roads that are not paved. Some of the roads were a bit challenging including loose rocks and river crossings. We think you would need a 4X4 vehicle.
- Stay in Airbnb’s or authentic lodging, get to know the culture, go out to different places, different foods, and meet new people.