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Non-resort travel in Costa Rica with two children (4 and 6 yo)

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My husband and I have booked our trip for May 2014 and have two kids (almost 4 and 6 1/2 yo). We are going as sort of a reconnaissance trip. We hope to travel for an extended period of time or live there by late 2015 if plans go accordingly. We've never been so we want to get a feel for the country to see if it's somewhere we'd like to stay longer. We're looking at Costa Rica because it sounds relaxing and safe, and there is good surfing for the husband and kids.

We will be there 15 days and are renting a car. I was thinking:

* Start in Cahuita or Puerto Viejo to experience the Caribbean coast. We get in 11:30am, sounds like it shouldn't be a problem to head straight there from San Jose Airport?
* Would like one hiking trip, thinking maybe Arenal Hanging Bridges because it sounds easier to get to than Monteverde. Also the kids might enjoy the hot springs.
* On to Samara or Nosara. My husband is curious about the Blue Rivers. Is it worth a side visit on the way?
* Maybe drive down to Santa Teresa or Mal Pais? I heard Mal Pais can have loud evening parties and is more for a younger crowd? Not sure if we should skip this area completely.
* Ferry back somewhere closer to airport because our flight is 12:30pm. Any suggestions for this last night? Stay in Jaco, or another town, or just stay close to airport in San Jose?
* A friend mentioned Dominical but I was afraid this would be too far down south for our stay.

We're looking for towns that are laid back and relaxing. Not too interested in adventure activities for now. The kids are NOT into seeing animals :( We live by the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park and they are not excited by the animals but enjoy running around on the paths. In past travels, we've enjoyed staying longer in small villages with less bustle vs sightseeing/activity/tourist spots, which we still enjoy as side trips. We don't want to be anywhere too remote but we also don't want anywhere too touristy. Any suggestions would be appreciated regarding our choices of towns.

Not interested in expensive or fancy resorts. We don't mind basic accommodations and unless a place is absolutely amazing, would prefer to save money on accommodations. Any suggestions on reasonably priced but not super budget accommodations would also be appreciated. I did budget backpacking 10 years ago in SE Asia and am hoping to bump it up a notch.

Thanks for all the valuable information I've already gotten from the Forum and thanks in advance for any input.

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