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Costa Rica family trip, trying to plan for years, but keep going back to Mexico! Need help.

Costa Rica family trip, trying to plan for years, but keep going back to Mexico! Need help.

Sep 4th, 2013, 11:44 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Feb 2005
Posts: 41
Costa Rica family trip, trying to plan for years, but keep going back to Mexico! Need help.

I'm in the early planning stages of our next family vacation. We are a family of 4 (kids ages 11 and 13) and enjoy the beach, snorkeling, local culture, wildlife and light adventure. I have always felt that Costa Rica would be a perfect fit for us, but the travel time from airport to destinations has been a deterrent. We are spoiled by the ease of travel in Mexico, and keep going back to Playa Del Carmen or Isla Mujures. While we love it there, I think we are ready for a change and something new!
We will be flying into San Jose and can go either April or June for 8-10 days. I am trying to convince my family that we won't constantly be in the car. Any suggestions for places to go that requires the least time on the road? Should we stick to one destination or can we fit in 2? Any help will be appreciated.
Things most important on this trip are: seeing lots of wildlife (sloths and monkeys are my daughter's favorites), spending some time relaxing on a great beach (the kids love to bogie board and swim in ocean), doing activities that are unique to Costa Rica and experiencing the local culture.
TrishaA is offline  
Sep 4th, 2013, 06:02 PM
Join Date: May 2007
Posts: 23,784
We just did a trip to Tulemar Bungalows in Manuel Antonio. Several people on the board have stayed there and recommended it to us. I think it would really fit the bill for what you're looking for. It's a beautiful property with a wide variety of accommodations since the villas are individually owned. They have their own beach with free boogie boarding and kayaking. Lots of wildlife on the property; we saw monkeys, sloths, and an aracari. Plenty of restaurants you can walk to nearby. It's a great spot. April would give you better weather regarding rainfall. If you don't want to drive, you can hire a private driver through your hotel. There are also in country flights on Sansa and Nature Air if you would rather fly. There's also a beautiful national park full of fairly tame wildlife. The beach inside the park is very pretty. It would be under three hours for the drive from SJO to MA.
volcanogirl is offline  
Sep 5th, 2013, 03:38 AM
Join Date: Dec 2012
Posts: 1,702
while car time isn't your priority remember you will be seeing a new country, if not fun it should be interesting.
Katzgar is offline  
Sep 5th, 2013, 04:07 AM
Join Date: Jan 2013
Posts: 183
Hi Trisha!

While I agree everything Volcanogirl said about Manuel Antonio (an amazing place for all the family), I'm just curious why you never tried to go anywhere else in Mexico? As it is a big country, you can find very different environments, wildlife, and activities... I mean, Huatulco, Puerto Vallarta, Los Cabos, Guaymas are wonderful and so different to Riviera Maya and to each other! But well I agree that travelling to Costa Rica is also awesome. So I would also recommend you Manuel Antonio National Park!

PuraAventura is offline  
Sep 5th, 2013, 07:05 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Feb 2005
Posts: 41
I guess I'm thinking in the right direction, because I do have Tulemar on my short list. Just was wondering if Manuel Antonio would be the best place for one week. Are we missing out if we just stay there? It seems from these boards that people go to 2-3 differenr regions in one vacation....I think that is what is scaring us a bit. I find myself thinking we have to see everything in this first trip, but since we take one family trip a year....we can save another region for next time. We want our time in Costa Rica to be relaxing too!

We started taking the family to Mexico when the kids were very young and have been to most of the coastal areas. Our favorites our Playa, Isla Mujeres, Tulum, Sayulita, Zihauntenago and Puerto Vallarta. We usually stay in one destination per trip and take several day trips during the week. We mostly enjoy mexico for the beaches, culture and of course the food!
I realize Costa Rica is going to be a "different" kind of vacation and we are excited. Any suggestions on what to do in Manual Antonio for the week....activites, day trips, etc. If we did want to break up the trip, would there be another place to stay within a few hours of Manuel Antonio.
Thanks for all the help
TrishaA is offline  
Sep 5th, 2013, 07:21 AM
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 1,948
One possibly painless way to break up the trip would be to spend either the beginning or the end in the Central Valley area in the general vicinity (under 1 hour) from the airport. Plenty of stuff to do there--two volcanoes where you can look into the craters (Poas and Irazu), coffee plantation tours (apparently very touristy, but kids don't mind that), La Paz waterfall gardens. More than enough to spend 2-3 nights and a much different feel from Manuel Antonio (less hot and humid too!).
RAC is offline  
Sep 5th, 2013, 07:31 AM
Join Date: May 2007
Posts: 23,784
There are lots of neat things to do in the MA area. It's very tourist friendly. English is readily spoken. We did a guided tour of the national park with Manuel Antonio Expeditions - saw tons of monkeys both times we've done it. Also did their Damas mangrove tour. And we did a spice tour at Villa Vanilla. We spent the rest of the time at Tulemar's beach boogie boarding and just relaxing. You can walk to Barba Roja, Cafe Agua Azul, Kapi Kapi and other good restaurants very easily. On our first night we got in late, so we just had a pizza from Victoria's delivered and we really enjoyed eating it out on our balcony. I'd really recommend getting a room with a balcony. The octagonal shaped bungalows do not have them and are a little more dated. Not sure of your budget, but Upper Mot Mot is really popular. We've stayed in Lower Mot Mot, a bungalow, and Casa Panorama. There are also lots of adventure activities you can do. We drove to the Rio Tarcoles and did a really cool croc tour on the river. The kids would love that, and the drive wasn't bad at all since the road is in good shape.

Most people pair Manuel Antonio with the La Fortuna/Arenal area. Very popular because of nice hiking at the waterfall, Hanging Bridges, and volcano. We've also rafted with Rios Tropicales, ziplined at Sky Trek, and done waterfall rappelling with the La Roca tour. Tubing at the Springs Resort is fun. We also really like the Cano Negro tour, the Penas Blancas river float, Tabacon and Eco Termales natural hot springs, and the Proyecto Asis animal rescue center. It's really up to you if you want to do a split or spend all your time in one area; personally I would split it up because it's neat to see more than one area of the country. Since you want your trip to be relaxing, you may be fine staying in MA the entire time. Some people like to do side trips to Dominical or Uvita as well.
volcanogirl is offline  
Sep 5th, 2013, 09:36 AM
Join Date: May 2007
Posts: 23,784
RAC and I were typing at the same time. If you decided to do the Central Valley, you might like staying at the Peace Lodge. It's a really fun place; kids love it. It's not the most authentic place, but it has over the top rooms, great views, waterfall showers, Jacuzzis on the balcony, and five beautiful waterfalls you can hike. There's also a hummingbird garden where you can feed the birds at certain times of day. Poas is neat to see too. We did the Doka Coffee Estate tour and really liked it, but kids might get bored depending on what your kids like.
volcanogirl is offline  
Sep 5th, 2013, 10:04 AM
Join Date: Sep 2013
Posts: 10
Hi Trisha!

If you are coming to Costa Rica for 8 or 10 nights, that’s plenty of time to visit 2 different destinations so you can get a better feel of what Costa Rica has to offer, I personally wouldn't stay just in 1 place. If you choose a second destination you just need to add 1 more transfer (3 total). For your first time in Costa Rica it would be great if you could visit the Arenal Volcano area first (there are cultural tours here as well) and finish your trip relaxing in Manuel Antonio.
This is an itinerary I’d like to suggest:

DAY 1:
• Transfer from SJO Airport to La Fortuna (Arenal Volcano area). 3 hours approximately.
• Overnight in La Fortuna.

DAY 2:
• Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge boat tour.
• Overnight in La Fortuna.

DAY 3:
• Cultural tour at La Casona Río Fortuna (the house belonged to a former Costa Rican President), you can choose 1 of the following activities here:
o Cultour which includes: tour in the property and gardens; preparation of coffee (Costa Rican style) and tortillas; visit to local plantations (pineapple, plantain, papaya, etc.); visit to a farmer’s rural house, visit to a little town, folk dancing performed by students at local school and more.
o Sugar Mill tour: several activities included.
o Cooking lessons.
o Handmade crafts with local artisans
o Rural BBB Dinner
o And more.
• Overnight in La Fortuna

DAY 4:
• Zip-lining at Sky Adventures.
• Overnight in La Fortuna.

DAY 5:
• Adventure transfer from La Fortuna to Manuel Antonio, it includes white-water rafting tour on your way to Manuel Antonio. The river is ideal for beginners. If you don’t want to do the rafting then you can just opt for the shuttle transfer which is around 4.5 to 5 hours.
• Overnight in Manuel Antonio.

• Manuel Antonio National Park Hike.
• Overnight in Manuel Antonio.

• Horseback riding tour.
• Overnight in Manuel Antonio.

• Day at the beach
• Parasailing tour, jet skis, banana boat, surf lessons, etc.
• Overnight in Manuel Antonio.

• Catamaran Sailing tour with snorkeling included.
• Overnight in Manuel Antonio.

DAY 10
• Transfer from Manuel Antonio to San José (3.5 hours approximately).
• Overnight in San José.

DAY 11
• Transfer to SJO International Airport.

The activities are just suggestions that I think you might enjoy with your family, you can always skip tours in a given day so you can just relax or you can opt for different activities if there’s a particular one on the itinerary that you don’t like.


• La Fortuna (with Hot Springs on property): Los Lagos, Arenal Springs, Baldi.
• La Fortuna (with no Hot Springs): Magic Mountain, Volcano Lodge & Gardens, Hotel Mountain Paradise, Arenal Observatory Lodge. *** If staying at a hotel with no Hot Springs you can add a one-day pass to one of the hotels that has Hot Springs ***
• Manuel Antonio: Hotel Verde Mar, Hotel Villa Bosque, Hotel Playa Espadilla, Byblos Resort, Hotel San Bada.
• San José: Adventure Inn, Wyndham San José Herradura, Costa Rica Tennis Club.

• La Fortuna: Stand-up paddling, Coffee or Chocolate Tour, Hanging Bridges, La Fortuna Waterfall, Canyoning, Mountain Biking, Arenal Volcano National Park, Wildlife Rescue Center (Proyecto Asís).
• Manuel Antonio: Mangrove Boat Tour, Kayaking, ATV’s, Vacation Buggy Jungle Tour, Segway Tours, Carara National Park.

An alternative option if you don’t want to include La Fortuna as a main destination would be staying the first 3 or 4 nights in San José (since you’re already gonna be there when you arrive) and do 1 day tours from San José, you could do some of the following:
• Doka Coffee Estate, Poás Volcano & La Paz Waterfall Gardens (highly recommended).
• Irazú Volcano.
• Arenal Volcano + Hot Springs.
• Zip-lining.
• White Water Rafting.
• Rainforest Adventures.
• San José City Tour (cultural).

I hope you find all this information useful.

Kind regards,

CostaRicaDW is offline  
Sep 5th, 2013, 10:11 AM
Join Date: May 2007
Posts: 23,784
Trisha, I meant to ask you - do you guys eat and drink whatever you want freely when you go to Mexico - water, ice, etc.? I have gotten sick several times in Mexico, but it's been years since we've gone there. One of the things we love about CR is that we've had many trips and have never gotten sick and can pretty much eat and drink anything that we want to. Just curious how it's been for your family and if you avoid eating and drinking certain things?
volcanogirl is offline  
Sep 8th, 2013, 07:53 PM
Join Date: Sep 2013
Posts: 4
te sugiero que vueles a liberia, te hospedes cerca del aeropuerto y de alli visitar montañas, volcanes, rios, lagos, aguas termales, y hasta puedes visitar nicaragua que esta muy cerca, hay muchos hoteles de buen precio, o bien puedes rentar una casa o apartamento,
roldanguanacaste is offline  
Jan 31st, 2014, 12:32 PM
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 542
sfmaster is offline  
Feb 1st, 2014, 04:47 AM
Join Date: Dec 2007
Posts: 1,340
Another suggestion is to take a 2 night boat trip with Modesto and Fran Watson to Tortuguero. That way, the trip is part of the journey. In June, you might even get to see the turtles. A completely different eco-system, and a fabulous introduction to Costa Rica. They only pick up in San Jose though.
Cattail is offline  
Feb 1st, 2014, 07:29 PM
Join Date: Feb 2010
Posts: 45
I won't weigh in on where to go, but I want to tell you how much your kids will be entranced by Costa Rica. My kids insist on going back to Arenal every time we go (they were 7 and 10 our first trip - they'll be 15 and 18 this trip) and they loved every minute of the Monteverde Cloud Forest and the Pacific Coast and Caribbean side as well. The colors of EVERYthing (I tell people the flies are even exotic in CR!) the incredible wildlife and friendly Ticos will charm them. I love Mexico myself, but CR is magic for family travel. Volcanogirl and other regular Fodorite CR posters are a wealth of good information. Enjoy and tell us about your trip!
Venturasurfwidow is offline  

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