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Family Vacation in Costa Rica: Our 2 weeks Travel Itinerary
Last year my family went on vacation in Costa Rica for 2 weeks. I’m a planner who likes to make sure our family travel plans will flow seamlessly, and this serves me well when going away. It is especially helpful being that we travel with our young child, who was a 3-year-old in Costa Rica (she actually had her 3rd birthday while we were there). We had a fantastic family vacation in Costa Rica, and I thought it was about time I shared about our route, where we stayed, and what we did.
San Jose – 2 nights
We got out of the airport in the evening and checked into Hotel El Rodeo in San Jose (a hotel with a group rate for a wedding we were in Costa Rica for), waiting). We stayed there that night and extended our stay for the following night, waiting to make sure everything was okay after a recent hurricane.
We had arranged to rent a car for our duration of the trip, so we could get around easily. (Note: Rent a GPS if you drive there. I’ll tell you why here.)
There wasn’t much worth seeing or doing for us in the city, it seemed, but there was a zoo that we visited close to where some family was staying. Zoo Costa Rica (La Marina Wildlife Rescue Center) is made up of rescued Costa Rican wildlife that have been injured, orphaned, and mistreated, and it was a nice way to spend time wandering around.
La Fortuna – 3 nights
From San Jose we rented a car and drove to La Fortuna de San Carlos. We took a longer, more rustic route as we had planned to go up to Volcán Poás on the way. Unfortunately, this well-known and active volcano was closed due to safety concerns from the recent weather, so we couldn’t go check out what I’m sure is a spectacular view. (Doing some research now, I found out that this park is closed currently, and has been for quite some time now, as “the lack of seismological indicators means the park could not be evacuated in time”.) However, you can still check out the live crater cam here.
Carrying on to La Fortuna, we bumped along a windy road and enjoyed seeing the rural countryside, waterfalls, and even some local wildlife. Check out these cute coaties! The sound they made is so funny.
And this incredibly powerful waterfall at the side of the road.
We also came across Catarata del Toro, which we were the only visitors of that we saw (it was Costa Rica’s Spring, still, at the end of November). It’s a waterfall that plummets down an old volcano crater.
The rental company we stayed with was Casa De Costa Rica, and I would highly recommend them if you’re looking to stay in one of the locations they operate. It was a very professional company, there was lots of space in the apartment we stayed in (Riverside Apartments) which also had a direct view of Volcan Arenal and many visits from local wildlife that amazed us), fantastic hospitality from all of the staff, and a wealth of information in their binder they provide on the area. (I’ll have to do some more digging and update this post with a link when I find one – trickier than I thought to track down.)
Sky Walk and Tram
While in La Fortuna we went on a jungle trek with a tour with Sky Adventures, which took us on an impressive tram ride up the mountain to hike on trails through the jungle, and over some crazy tree-top bridges. We made it the lengthy ways across the sections of the jungle that gave way beneath us, and learned some really neat things about the ecosystems and creatures that live in the jungle there, as well as some snazzy tricks to spot them better. You can click here to read my very visual post of the 45+ species of wildlife we spotted while in Costa Rica. The tour was well worth it, costing us only $57 USD (Z was free).
Termales Los Laureles
During our stay we checked out some pretty fantastic hot springs. There are a few different, more natural ones to check out, but with the wee one in tow we found ourselves spending all our hot springs time at Termales Los Laureles. This was the most incredible hot springs place I’ve ever seen. It was more like a water park with several man-made pools of warm and hot water, flowing “streams” of a series of water-fall like mini-pools, water slides, grassy areas, and covered areas with picnic tables. You could spend the whole day there, either bringing your own cooler and bbq or buying nibbles and drinks from the concession.
Admission price was very reasonable ($12 USD/person), and gave us access for the day. There were lockers with keys to keep your stuff safe, up in the roof of the covered picnic areas. This was certainly a highlight of our time in La Fortuna, especially for our then 3-year-old, and we ended up spending a fair amount of time on two different days here.
Tarcoles – 2 nights
We had planned to stay a night Monteverde to check out the cloud forest, but with the extra night in San Jose we felt strapped for time, so we skipped it this trip and headed on to the next destination.
We wanted to visit the Crocodile Bridge over Rio Tarcoles, and were not disappointed. It was quite the sight to see, all those crocodiles gathered under and around the bridge. Apparently you could buy meat to throw down for them (no wonder why the crocs hang out here), but we were content just watching.
Where to Stay in Tarcoles
We hadn’t booked a place to stay here yet (a mistake I avoid making now – check out my post on travel planning trips here), so after not finding any leads online the night before we drove around Tarcoles and area looking for a place to stay.
The first somewhat safe-seeming hotel we stopped at and checked into ended up being a serious dive, and after discovering a leaky toilet issue, bed “mattresses” that must have been ancient, a giant dead cockroach on the floor, and rodent or gecko feces all over the place, we checked out in a hurry. (Well, as quickly as possible being that the desk clerk was the only one there and only spoke Spanish. I was proud of myself for getting us through that on my limited skills.)
Luckily, being in Costa Rica for a wedding, some of our family had just left a place nearby that they recommended to us – Villa Lapas. This rain forest eco-resort was fantastic! Set on the edge of the Carara National Park, there is a wealth of biodiversity around and some trails that go into the jungle right off the propety. (Fun fact: lapas means macaws). We saw a bunch of neat creatures while there (some while enjoying the incredible breakfast buffets), took a short hike down one of the trails (it got really wet and muddy in the big storm), had an exciting self-guided night walk over the bridge to the unoccupied section of the resort, and enjoyed swimming in the pool.
Crocodile Riverboat Tour
One of the biggest highlights of the entire trip was our riverboat tour down Rio Tarcoles with Jose’s Crocodile River Tours. Each of us got to hold laminated sheets with all the different bird, reptile, and other species we might see so we could all refer to it for more info when he spotted something (and there were many somethings).
But here’s the craziness. Our guide would get out of the boat and feed the crocodiles. There was a large male who was in some sort of dead sleep (from mating, he said), whose tail he picked up and held up for the riverboat passengers to feel if they wanted. It was certainly a thrilling experience with lots of gasps to be heard and had.
Here’s a little snippet from the tour.
There’s a fish market and a beach. That’s about it, but we enjoyed spending some time here, hunting for lapas.
Everyone said we didn’t want to visit Jaco. We got there and didn’t understand, but there are definitely some very shady characters there. We didn’t spend much time beside a delicious taco place and a few shops.
Heading down along the coast to Quepos we stopped at Playa Hermosa. This is not a swimming beach for kids by any means. In fact, we’ve realized that it was not safe a safe choice when we were getting soaked, playing in the waves at one point. But the beach was beautiful!
Manuel Antonio / Quepos – 7 nights
The bulk of our family vacation in Costa Rica was spent in Manuel Antonio as we were attending a wedding there. We had the run of a fantastic hotel – Villas Mymosa – with the wedding group, and I’d highly recommend staying there. Pool, poolside bar and restaurant with delicious food and drinks, close enough distance for baby monitors to reach from some rooms to the bar area, close to beaches, close to many restaurants, and close to Manual Antonio National Park.
There were also plenty of monkey visitors.
Playa Espadilla is a beautiful beach we got to spend time on as this is where the wedding was held. Therefore, we were slightly preoccupied and didn’t get much of a chance to explore beyond the very northern part of the beach, but it was certainly picturesque with the sunset!
Playa Biesanz was a nice place to have a beach day as it was one of the few beaches where it was safe to swim (it’s important to know how dangerous the ocean can be when you’re here). It’s access point is within town, so it was easy to get to from where we were, and there were vendors there to buy drinks and food.
Playa Manuel Antonio is within the national park. It was a lovely surprise and I so wished we had our swimsuits with us and more time to spare when we reached it at the end of our guided trek down the Sloth Trail starting at the park’s entrance. It was definitely the nicest beach we saw during our 2 weeks in Costa Rica.
Villa Vanilla Spice Plantation Tour
This ended up being really cool, and we were very glad we didn’t miss visiting the Villa Vanilla Spice Plantation. We saw, heard, and learned a lot about a variety of spices and essential oil plants while we walked through the spice farm.
Part-way through the tour we stopped at a tree house cafe on the property to sample an impressive amount and array of delicious food and drinks made with ingredients from the farm. Vanilla ice cream, chili-spiced hot cocoa, chocolate cake, cinnamon tea, chocolates, and more that I’m sure I’m forgetting.
Some of the men from the wedding chartered a couple of boats for the day for a fishing trip. They organized it with the staff at Villas Mymosa, and all clearly had a spectacular time.
Manuel Antonio National Park
Hiring a guide and splitting his fee between 8-10 people made it very affordable (about $10/person). It was well worth the guided tour. We saw a billion times more than we would have spotted on our own, and we got to learn lots of fun little facts about the creatures and plants, too.
Check out this mama and baby sloth, one of several we spotted that day!
San Jose – 1 night
When our trip came to an end we made the drive back up to San Jose and stayed one final night back at El Rodeo before our flight home in the morning.
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