Family vacations can be classified into two distinct categories. The first is the relaxing, rejuvenating kind spent expending little energy lying poolside, or on a beach chair in the sand, with or without pulp fiction to keep you company, and ubiquitous tiny paper umbrellas and maraschino cherries floating the tops of exotic mocktails and cocktails. Early morning tee times are easy to reserve and kids programs allow for time at the adult only pool. Life seems supremely civilized. The other is the adventure vacation. These keep the heart racing and the blood pumping and generally rely on memory making through thrill seeking. Children once content with building sandcastles on the beach may soon request that the vacation include at least one stomach lurching activity and/or speed blazing on skis or boards, in or out of the water.
With five kids in tow, the best vacations are the ones in which we have insisted on a combination of the two. Costa Rica was our first adventure journey. Our youngest was finally tall enough and weighed enough to zip line through the rain forest canopy, find pleasure rather than terror white water rafting the Pacuare River, and hike for miles exploring waterfalls tucked beneath suspension bridges and steep terrain. To thoroughly enjoy the vast geography and topography of Costa Rica, a guide remains the best way to explore this tiny, military free, Central American country. ERIC GOMEZ planned and executed every detail of our 12-day journey, covering guided tours of the cloud and rain forests, the smoking Arenal volcano, zip lining, suspension bridges, hot springs swimming, community service at an orphanage, an eco-farm hands on learning experience, monkey feedings, and the stunning Pacific beaches of Papagayo.
While the natural beauty of Costa Rica is breathtaking, the people are some of the kindest and most responsible on our planet, and the reason to consider a second trip to their humble country. With limited resources, citizens decided to adopt a constitution that would let the people decide how tax revenues of the hard-working people of the country would be allocated. The country could afford to provide healthcare, education and cultural enrichment, or fund a corrupt military that today would almost exclusively be dedicated to fighting a never-ending drug war near its border with Nicaragua, but not both. After a 44-day civil war, the military was formally disbanded in 1948.
The highlights of our journey were activities suggested to us by Eric, ones that we wouldn't have the ability to plan on our own. The first was a day at an orphanage in which each of us would be assigned a classroom to help teach English and simple age-appropriate activities. We ended up enjoying every minute of the six hours we spent with them. From singing “Old McDonald Had a Farm”, answering questions about the life of the American teenager, watching our children play soccer and participate in races at recess, to eating the lunch of rice and beans provided by the school, this experience taught my family the value of an open mind and the importance of the kindness of strangers. The second activity was a guided day in the life of a Costa Rican farmer and a cooking class with his wife that ended with a gathering of farm hands to eat the meal our family helped prepare—hand pressed tortillas and rice and beans made in the outdoor covered kitchen fueled by the manure of cows on the farm. We learned that the tobacco plant could be used for as a natural pest controller, how to press sugar cane, and the process of harvesting cocoa and coffee beans.
After saying our goodbyes to Eric and settling into the Four Seasons in Papagayo, we all itched for a bit more adventure. A guided riverboat tour of Tortuguero’s beaches and black water canals produced sightings of scarlet macaws, green sea turtles, blue heron, jaguars, three-toed sloths, river otters, and the chance to hand feed fruit to the capuchin monkeys that boarded our vessel.
Shouts of “Pura Vida!” may be heard just about anywhere in Costa Rica. It expresses a toast to “pure life” and embodies the heart and soul of this relaxed and happy community-focused nation ready to share its rich culture with its adventure-seeking guests.
La Fortuna-El Castillo
La Fortuna, Costa Rica
San José, Costa Rica
(5 km outside of La Fortuna near the Arenal Volcano)
Playa Grande, Costa Rica
Santa Cruz, Bolson, Ortega downtown, 75 meters south of the local Catholic Church
Alajuela, Costa Rica