Tag Archives: travelling in Costa Rica with kids

5 things Costa Rica taught me about parenting

We’re back from Costa Rica and I hope the pura vida philosophy will stay with us at least until the leaves come out and Calgary begins to resemble a habitable city instead of a brown and barren wasteland. The shock of re-entry is hard, but we bring with us precious memories of time spent exploring the jungle and jumping waves at the beach.

Another beautiful Costa Rica sunset.

Another beautiful Costa Rica sunset.

This was the first off-resort holiday we’ve done to a developing country with kids in tow, and I’m still surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I suppose I thought there would be more fighting, tantrums, ethnic food aversion, resistance to planned activities or utterances of “I’m bored.” Instead I can honestly say it was the best family vacation so far. It also taught me some things about the kids and our relationship; nuggets I’ll try and hold onto as the sounds of the jungle fade.

1. “Sometimes it’s better to be in the moment than to take a picture.”

Avery said this to me one night at Playa Grande after we’d watched the setting sun bleed the sky ridiculous shades of orange, pink and purple. She’d struck up a conversation with an American photographer (who also surfed, natch) currently living in Barcelona, who comes to Costa Rica every year. As we all took endless pictures of the glorious sunset, Avery asked him why he didn’t have his camera. His response obviously resonated with her, and it’s so true. Sometimes you just need to be present with kids and family, instead of recording life on an iPhone.

2. Your kids are more capable than you think

After Avery caught her seventh gecko all I could think was, “Where on earth did she learn to do that?” Goodness knows I have never caught a lizard (nor been inclined to even try). Ditto for fishing. Blake gave her a quick lesson in casting, they found bait the bass liked (bread), and then it was off to the races. Out to the pond Avery tromped every morning, reeling in fish all by herself.

And then there was Bennett, who constantly asks for my help with his shoes in Calgary. Suddenly in Costa Rica, when there were peacocks and chickens to chase around the yard, he became adept at putting on his own shoes in under 20 seconds. And when it came to the waves at the beach, he soon proved he could stand his ground and “body surf” with the rest of us rather than being carried off to sea.

3. “The fine details of nature are everywhere, you just have to notice them,” said Avery.

Or, have a child with you to point them out. I might not have noticed the fire flies that first night if Bennett hadn’t pointed into the night and said, “What’s that?” I squinted into the inky darkness. “What’s what?” I asked. “What’s that glowing, Mommy?” And then I saw the fire flies, the same way I saw a trail created by leaf cutter ants that Avery pointed out, and a tiny red blue jean frog she spotted hopping through the leaf litter. Children are like fairies that way. It’s as though they still believe in magic and notice the wonders that old eyes takes for granted.

Avery even noticed things about the butterflies I would have overlooked.

Avery even noticed things about the butterflies I would have overlooked.

4. The kids will be alright

Not an hour after we’d arrived at Villa Encantada, Bennett promptly stepped backwards off a ledge at the pool and completely scraped up both arms. A few days later he rammed into Avery on the waterslide and she bonked her head on the concrete. In both instances I immediately envisioned broken bones and concussions, when in reality they were the small scrapes and goose eggs of childhood.

One evening we ventured out for an adult dinner and left the oldest child, our friends’ son (age 13) in charge as a babysitter. I fretted a bit on the drive to the restaurant — What if there was a fire? What if an escaped lunatic descended on the villa while we were gone? What if they all got abducted like that British girl vacationing in Portugal? We returned to a quiet house where the only mishap had been Avery scraping her heel on the staircase. Note to this mommy: breathe, stop worrying and enjoy your night out. If they can fly solo in Costa Rica, the kids should be alright everywhere else.

5. Enjoy your littles. They’re going to be big soon.

How many more years will Avery beg us to go tide pool exploring with her, or come running to us to show us every caught frog and gecko? And how much longer will Bennett seek my reassurance about night sounds, or crawl into bed with me to cuddle as dawn breaks? They will always be precious, but there’s something so sweet and endearing about them right now. At age nine and seven. And I vow to soak it all up.

Love. These. Two.

Love. These. Two.

Volcano adventures in Costa Rica

Everywhere you go near Lake Arenal in Costa Rica, the perfect cone of the Arenal Volcano is not far from sight. We first spotted it on the southwest shore of Lake Arenal, then again two days later while driving to Tabacon Hot Springs. Its beauty and the stories surrounding it (an eruption in 1968 destroyed two villages, and its spewing lava lit up the night sky for years before it fell silent in 2010) certainly lured us in, so we visited Arenal Volcano National Park to get up close and hike in a lava field.

On the fertile lava field that leads up to the Arenal Volcano.

On the fertile lava field that leads up to the Arenal Volcano.

The basic park has three hikes and we chose the 1.6 km trek to the lava field. It was neat to watch plumes of smoke and ash streaming down the flanks of the volcano, but we all agreed the highlight was spotting two bright yellow eyelash pit vipers asleep in trees on the return hike to the car.

Even though the volcano hasn't erupted in five years, it still emits smoke and ash daily.

Even though the volcano hasn’t erupted in five years, it still emits smoke and ash daily.

The following day Desafio Adventure Company saddled us up with Lobo’s Tours for a brisk horseback ride to popular local attraction La Fortuna Waterfall. Unlike trail rides in Canada where you plod along slowly, almost falling asleep as your horse follows the tail of the horse in front of you, this was a horseback derby where each mount vied for the lead. The result was constant trotting and reining of horses so they didn’t gallop into the forest on either side of the wide trail as they sought leadership. It also made taking pictures of Arenal Volcano problematic.

The only time it wasn't a race was when the horses stood still at the beginning of the trail ride.

The only time it wasn’t a race was when the horses stood still at the beginning of the trail ride. Blake’s horse is Marlborough; Avery rides Millionario.

By the time we reached the waterfall Arenal was out of sight, shrouded in clouds. A winding (and in parts crumbling) jungle staircase of 475 steps brought us down to the main attraction, La Fortuna Waterfall, which was in full force dropping 75 meters into a large pool at the base of the dormant Chato Volcano. It was fun but impossible trying to swim out to the waterfall as the water surge kept pushing us back.

La Fortuna Waterfall  falls 75 metres and is gorgeous.

La Fortuna Waterfall falls 75 metres and is a top attraction.

After a crazy trot back to the ranch (and a final glimpse of the volcano), we were faced with one more white-knuckle adventure: driving back to Nuevo Arenal in the dark.


Pura Vida in Costa Rica

After years of talking about taking a family holiday to Costa Rica we are finally here! And it is beautiful. We’re based near the small town of Nuevo Arenal, on the shore of Lake Arenal about one hour from the Arenal Volcano and adventure centre La Fortuna.

Family hike at Villa Encantada near Nuevo Arenal.

Family hike at Villa Encantada near Nuevo Arenal, Costa Rica. Posing in front of a 400-year-old tree.

No resort for us — we’ve rented gorgeous Villa Encantada that sits on 40 forested acres and comes with hiking trails, a waterfall, a pond for fishing and kayaking, and a pool and water slide. If we run out of things to do there’s a bird feeder that attracts ridiculously colourful birds (identifying them in the Birds of Costa Rica book is hopeless, as there are so many different kinds), plus a slew of nearby adventure activities. We’ll be here another three days, then it’s off to a beach house at Playa Grande for the final week.

Avery enjoyed a soak in the waterfall at Villa Encantada. Photo by Lisa Kadane.

Avery enjoyed a soak in the waterfall at Villa Encantada.

Kayaking around the pond at Villa Encantada. Photo by Lisa Kadane.

Kayaking around the pond at Villa Encantada.

Everyone who comes to Costa Rica raves about it and now I get it. Fresh air, fresh fruit, unspoiled cloud forests and picture-perfect volcanoes. It really lives up to its unofficial national slogan: “Pura Vida!” (Pure Life). I’m excited to share some of our adventures over the next couple weeks, and write about experiencing the country with kids for an upcoming issue of WestJet Magazine. Until then, Pura Vida!

A turquoise bird and a green bird dig in to the papaya rinds. Photo by Lisa Kadane.

Tropical birds dig in to the papaya rinds.

Hiking Indiana Jones style at Villa Encantada. Photo by Lisa Kadane.

Hiking Indiana Jones-style at Villa Encantada.