When our youngest was 3, I woke up one day and decided it was time to start traveling more and exploring the world with our kids. Later that day, the kids had freshly taken passport photos and passport appointments scheduled. We broke in their passports with an easy ski trip to Whistler, Canada and then decided to be a little more bold and try Costa Rica.
Costa Rica was an easy choice for us. The flight time wasn’t that much longer than the trips to the East Coast and Hawaii that the kids were already used to taking. There was plenty of beach and pool opportunity and LOTS of animals to see. We chose to stay at the Four Seasons Peninsula Papagayo which is an amazingly kid friendly resort with 2 beaches, multiple pools, a Kid’s Club, and many excursion opportunities to get off the property and see the surrounding areas. The resort is opening back up in December 4, 2017 after a major renovation. It was beautiful when we were there before the renovation – I can’t imagine how amazing it will be now!
The Four Seasons is on a peninsula so there is a beach on either side of the resort. The two beaches are quite different. The first, Blanca Beach on Culebra Bay, we called “Fun Beach” because there were sand toys, soccer goals, snorkel equipment, stand-up paddle boards, and beach games all set up for use. There was a lot of coral on the beach which made it more difficult to walk on, but made for lots of fun collecting treasures.
The second beach, Virador Beach on the Gulf of Papagayo, was smoother and better for chasing waves and body surfing.
There were also plenty of hermit crabs to find.
There are 3 pools at the resort plus a fourth for use at the Kids’ Club.
A couple of times, this ice cream cart would roll up and serve free ice cream. Best. Service. Ever.
One night the kids went to a “dive in” movie at the Kids’ Club. First they ate dinner and then got to enjoy a movie while floating around the pool while being served popcorn & lemonade. The lovely counselors got in the pool to shift rafts to make sure the kids could see! Meanwhile, adults got a few hours to enjoy dinner alone!
We took a guided golf cart tour on the Trail of Giants. We went through the tropical dry forest which is certified by the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary. We learned about the birds, monkeys, iguanas and giant trees we encountered while enjoying the lush forests and inspiring views of the Pacific Ocean!
This was another secluded beach at the Four Seasons which we saw on our tour. It was not walkable from the resort, but they would provide transportation here if desired. We had plans to pack up a lunch and spend an afternoon here, but it never happened. Looks like we would have had it all to ourselves though!
Zip Lining at Witch’s Rock
This was our first zip lining experience ever and the one that made us fall in love with this adrenaline inducing activity! Our youngest was 4 at the time and we had called ahead to make sure he could go. The only issue was his weight and because some of the lines were quite far he had to go with an instructor so he wouldn’t get stuck in the middle of the line. I had planned exit strategies for the two of us in case he decided he wasn’t up for the adventure. Although he looks a bit frightened in the picture above, he was actually the bravest of us all. He and the instructor went first on every line and when given the option to go by himself on a couple of the shorter lines he took it!
This course had 24 platforms, 11 cables ranging from 100 to 450 meters in length, and 3 suspension bridges. They also have 5 exit routes in case someone doesn’t want to complete the course. And so began our love of zip lining….
Rincon de la Vieja
We learned that Costa Rica is approximately the size of the state of West Virginia. Within the country, there are 300 volcanos; most are dormant, but 5 are active. We got to visit one of the active volcanos, Rincon de la Vieja, where we went on a 2 mile hike through a tropical dry forest and saw bubbling mud, steaming sulphur & fumaroles.
We crossed the Colorado River. Well, not the same one as in the states. This one is a tributary of the San Juan River which flows towards the Caribbean.
We saw Howler Monkeys (the largest monkey in Costa Rica) and a ton of Spider Monkeys.
We saw Leaf Cutter ants and their anthills which were all over. The picture above shows the massive size of the anthills. That entire red mound that rises up behind the boys is the ant hill. And, yes, there were ants crawling all over. Our 7-year-old isn’t pictured because she had climbed up on a rock to avoid them.
A bubbling spring. There were signs that said it was as hot as 190 degrees F. Kids were not a fan of the sulphur smells!
Afterwards, we had lunch in a cute little town and explored the area.
Palo Verde National Park
We took a river boat ride through Palo Verde National Park to see wildlife and alligators.
These two monkeys were putting on quite a show and there were several river boats stopped to watch them.
This iguana was enormous – about the size of a medium-sized dog! To see a full-size iguana like this is a bit unusual as they don’t typically survive long enough.
There were also bats everywhere! Our guide liked to steer our boat into little alcoves and then disrupt a bunch of sleeping bats who would then all fly around in and through our boat. I’m pretty sure one of the bats skimmed my arm.
After searching the whole time for alligators, we finally came across these two babies! They were pretty tiny (our guide guessed about 4 weeks old). As we pulled up we saw a large splash which was likely the mother seeking cover under the water. These little guys were harmless, but I couldn’t help thinking about the mother lurking underneath our little boat!
After the cruise we went to a local restaurant for lunch and agreed it was the best meal we had our entire time in Costa Rica. The kids loved that they had Fanta in glass bottles – quite a treat!
Our kids love mango and we saw mango trees everywhere! Our bus driver climbed on top of the bus and started throwing mangos down to the kids. We brought a bunch back to the hotel and they cut them up for the kids to eat at dinner.
The kids loved Costa Rica and to this day still ask to go back. We only stayed for a week and agreed we needed more time. I also would have liked to see more of the country beyond Peninsula Papagayo, but given this was our first big international trip and we weren’t sure how the kids would fair, I think we made the right choice by limiting our stay. However, in 2018 we are heading back to Costa Rica and will have a chance to see more of the country: San Jose, Tortuguero National Park on the Caribbean Coast and Manuel Antonio National Park on the Pacific Coast. So excited!