Our family has started a tradition of volunteering on Thanksgiving and this year we spent the morning cleaning up a beach in Encinitas called Moonlight ~ our favorite. We had so much fun and our girls loved the comments they were getting from the people on the beach. One surfer came up to our youngest daughter and said, "Are you picking up trash today?" When she said yes... He said, "You're awesome!" Both girls had a big smile on their face all day... Well done, girls! Happy Thanks'giving'!
We just returned from our trip to Costa Rica and it is a fabulous place to take kids. We landed in Liberia, which is the smaller airport in the north versus the major airport in San Jose. We found it was less expensive than flying into San Jose and closer to the areas we wanted to visit. We decided to split our trip between the Arenal volcano/jungle area and the beach communities of Samara and Tamarindo.
Out first stop was Leaves & Lizards, a wonderful cabin retreat near La Fortuna/Monterrey area. The owners are an American couple who moved to Costa Rica. We took our new Flip with us this time, so enjoy some short videos along with pictures of Costa Rica... Pura Vida!
We took the red eye in and had a 4 hour drive on our first day -- I would not recommend doing this unless you can sleep on a plane, which my husband and I cannot. We did not have a great map and got lost a few times. But, we eventually found our way and discovered that we are spoiled with the roads in the US because many roads in CR are not paved. The main roads are actually pretty good, but the back roads can be a challenge. Make sure you rent a 4 WD. Also, we opted to buy the full insurance from the car rental agency. Unless you bring a copy of your auto insurance plan or your credit card companies coverage, they will not let you rent a car without their insurance. I would recommend it anyway because you never know what is ahead of you and why worry...
We absolutely loved Leaves & Lizards... our daughters thought they were in heaven... We had a great view of the Arenal volcano from our cabin.
They have 11 horses, 2 dogs, 1 pig, 1 parrot, 1 cow and 10+ chickens. The girls loved washing Ms. Piggy and feeding her our leftovers at night...
We ate breakfast there every morning (all baked from scratch) with their parrot, Lorita (who loves pancakes) and headed out on our adventures... Debbie and Steve are the owners and are wonderful people, along with their entire staff. I just can't say enough wonderful things about this place.
We decided that our first adventure would be the canopy tour/zip line. Our 8 year daughter was a little hesitant, especially when the guide told us to pee before we left because they do not like to wash the harnesses. OK... we will find el bano pronto ;-) Our 10 year old was very independent all day... we would turn around to see where she was and she was already gone...
The canopy tour company was called El Mundo Adventuras -- right outside of La Fortuna... Awesome place... The guide who worked with our 8 year old daughter was Muerte (j/k)... I think he tricks some gringos with that one though! He was kind of disappointed when I asked him his name and he said, "Muerte" and I said, "Your name is death?" We did call him Muerte all day (after we realized we weren't going to die ;-)
The next day we went with a wonderful guide, Enrique to visit the Rio Frio on the border of Nicaragua. We took a boat trip through the rainforest and saw some amazing creatures. We saw the Jesus Christ lizard (who walks on water), howler monkeys, white faced monkeys, caiman, many rare birds, bats and so much more. It was an amazing journey. We even sat through a rather intense rainstorm while eating lunch... rainforest style.
Here is the Jesus Christ lizard in action:
We stopped at The Springs resort on the way back to Leaves & Lizards to eat and soak in the natural hot springs... very posh place, but your typical resort. You do not really get the feel of Costa Rica and the people if you stay in the high end resorts... But, it was a good lunch and the hot springs cannot be missed... at least for an afternoon.
We took the girls to visit a working Tico farm with a local Tico family. The husband and wife (Eric and Nayu), along with their 2 young daughters run a working dairy farm. It was fascinating. We milked cows, made our own cheese from the milk, fished in the small lake on their property, made homemade tortillas, went horseback riding and relaxed in hammocks throughout the day. Their daughter even caught a baby armadillo, which was quite a sight to see. Their life is truly extraordinary. The pace is slow and they are happy. If you have seen the new study that just came out that names Costa Rica as the happiest country in the world... when you visit, you really see why. They just have an ease and contentment about themselves. At first glance, you see that they are poor, but they do not value material possessions like many other countries such as our beloved, America. They live off the land and have a sense of community that is to be admired. It was quite an education for all four of us.
Milking the cows:
After our amazing 4 days in the rainforest, we headed out to Playa Samara. If you are familiar with Costa Rica at all, you always hear about Tamarindo. But, the locals all know the secret -- Tamarindo is built up and very "Americanized" while Samara is a hidden treasure. It was very quiet and beautiful. We stayed at the Hideaway Hotel -- another hotel owned by an American couple who have relocated to CR. It was lovely and very inexpensive. Here is one of the howler monkeys right outside our door that would talk to us every day...
We ate where the locales ate in town and the food was very good. The people were very kind and we enjoyed our solitude on the beaches.
The first full day we were there, we decided to rent a boat with local guides and go in search of dolphins... we were not disappointed... it was a very small boat with lots of big waves... But, we found the dolphins and they put on quite a show... much better than any we have ever seen at Sea World!
We stopped at a local "zoo" in Playa Samara. It was really more of an animal sanctuary that a wonderful lady runs (on donations only)... The lady who runs it brings animals in with the intention of setting them back into the wild eventually... if possible. Some were brought up by humans and cannot be returned to the wild, but she can release most of them... awesome place and an amazing lady!
Here is Pancho -- one of our favorites at the "zoo." He will go back into the wild someday, too.
Now, we did want to check out Tamarindo and see what all the buzz was about... We decided to meet back up with a great Canadian family, the Prices that we met at Leaves & Lizards. They were staying at the JW Marriott... This is a really nice resort and we wanted to be pampered for a couple of days... it was really fun... The Marriott is about 8 km outside of Tamarindo and you need to drive to town.
We do see why surfers love Tamarindo -- it is a great surfers town... Very busy town center and lots of Americans... We did find a really cool coffee shop right outside of town called Cafe Cafe... Blink and you will miss it... But, we loved it... and really enjoyed seeing Tamarindo... But, we were glad we were staying at the Marriott outside of town.
My parents have a house at Beaver Lake in NW Arkansas. It is a beautiful part of the country. We had a great time... and my roommate from college met us there from Dallas with her family. Once you get used to the humidity and the bugs during the summer, you will love the lake...
Here is one of our fun boat trips:
My brother having a catch with his two doggies in the lake:
We are planning our first trip to Central America this summer -- specifically, Costa Rica! We are planning a 10 day trip and spending half the time on the beach and the other half near the Arenal volcano... We found a great airfare flying from LAX direct to Liberia ($260 round trip per person -- crazy!). We also found an amazing hotel called Leaves & Lizards for the "jungle" part of our trip. Any suggestions for a beach hotel? We have many friends who have been there and have their recommendations, but we wanted to see what others thought...