Costa Rica

December 5, 2013

Family Reunions – Five Ways to Make it Work

Together in Peru

Together in Peru

The holidays have always been a time for families to come together, and more than ever families are meeting up in a new location, to share new experiences as well as each others’ company.  Whether it’s holiday time, a hard earned graduation, a milestone anniversary or birthday or just an excuse to get away, a family reunion can be a legacy trip of a lifetime. So how do you ensure your time and financial investment don’t go to waste?

1) Plan ahead! If your family is flexible and has an excellent sense of humor, a regrettable last minute decision to ‘wing-it’ may give you material to laugh about for years to come.  But if you prefer to not spend your vacation troubleshooting and negotiating every day, you’ll take your time and start planning for next year. The perfect villa, the right hotels, the ideal guide – those things don’t wait for late planners.

2) Support, Support, Support . Leave yourself unfettered to nonstop planning. Whether your familiy is 6 people or 26, knowing someone else is managing tasty on-time meals, arranging safe and reliable transportation, and showing you the best things to do – this is the gift of freedom to enjoy every minute with your family without a care in the world.

3) Use local expertise on the ground. Don’t try to guess how long it takes to get somewhere or what activity will be best when, or how to find the special secrets of your destination. Make use of a local guide experienced in family, and committed to showing you the way while managing every detail in advance. An unexpected plus: a terrific guide makes everything more fun!

4) Make every day count. Instead of unscheduled days wandering aimlessly while bored kids glue themselves to their video games, try experiencing new things together.  One terrific group outing to start each day gives you a framework, and something to talk about forever. Your afternoons can be more restorative or more active, depending on each person’s desire – hang by the pool, playing board games – or head out shopping or hiking. Then everyone unites again over a wonderful dinner, to reflect on the day. Plenty of together time, plenty of flexibility!

5) Consider a thread of special meaning to weave throughout your vacation. For some it’s a community project, or starting a family journal together. It might mean creating a treasure hunt (we can do this!), or a quest to check off your list of flora and fauna. With the help of your reunion planners and guide these things can be simple for you to include, and inspiring for your family to do together.

During this 2013 holiday season start dreaming of what can blossom for you and your loved ones in 2014. Maybe it is hiking at Machu Picchu, zip lining in Costa Rica, or snorkeling in the Galapagos.Imagine the flora, fauna and music of Brazil, the souks and mountains in Morocco, or breathtaking wildlife in Tanzania… Whatever your dream, enjoy it with your family!



November 4, 2013

Chris Gamel Pro Photo Tip – Rule of Thirds

Capuchin monkey in Costa Rica, by Chris Gamel

Quick Tip for better photographs: Use the rule of thirds.

When creating a picture, many photographers place the subject right in the middle of the frame.  It’s easy, but it is rarely the best option.  Instead, consider using the rule of thirds.

The rule of thirds is a simple, yet powerful way of placing a subject in the frame.  To apply the rule of thirds, imagine a tic-tac-toe grid over your image.  This gives you 4 intersection points; places where two lines intersect each other.  Photographers call these intersections “points of power.”  The key to the rule of thirds is to place the most important part of your image on one of the points of power.

This image of a capuchin monkey (taken in Costa Rica) is a perfect example of the rule of thirds in action.  The monkey is the most important part of the image, so I placed her directly on top of the top, left point of power.  Why does it work?  I have no idea, but artists have been using the rule of thirds for hundreds, if not thousands of years.

So, how can you use the rule of thirds to improve your next photograph?

Join Chris on a special family photography adventure in Costa Rica or Peru and put the rule to use!

For more photography tips and wildlife images, visit Chris Gamel’s website.



October 5, 2012

What’s Happening for the Holidays (v. 2012)

Paddle into the Underworld in Belize

Traveling over the holidays is a popular trend. Some families do it as a personal celebration; some do it to get away from the rush at home. But ALL families love seeing how other countries celebrate in their own way. Here are a few ideas:

Did you know that if you go to Baja over Christmas you may be invited to our guide’s home to help decorate the Christmas tree, Mexican style. Then afterward, how about hunting for scorpions with a black light? Pretty cool, yes? Or travel on our December 26 trip, and have the opportunity to celebrate New Year’s Eve with a bash at the famous Hotel California – we have a few tickets we’ll include with your adventure!

On December 24th the largest and best Christmas pagent in all of Ecuador takes place in Cuenca. If you join our Galapagos Islands and Inca Ruins December 22 you’ll have the chance to partake of the Pase del Niño festival, an all day event filled with music, floats, and costumes. Or try the Galapagos MultiSport Adventure December 25, and enjoy a miraculous New Year’s Eve stargazing from your campsite on the beach.

Belize will be celebrating an event we just might not ever see again. December 21 represents the end of the Maya calendar, and the end of the 13th B’ak’tun, the Maya’s linear long count cycle of 394 years. Though recently Maya calendars have been found that continue on in time, no one disputes this is expected to be a great time of change and transformation, and the festivities will be plentiful throught out the month. Arrive just in time for ‘the end’ on our adventure December 21, or come later (December 27) and celebrate New Year’s Eve on the beach. Either way, it’s a Mayan adventure from beginning to end.

Peru, Costa Rica, Panama – all of the South and Central American countires have deep traditons surrounding Christmas and the New Year, and each country tells the story in their own way. There can be special markets, festivals, fireworks. No matter your own traditions and holidays, why not learn how others do it?

Really you should be planning for December 2013 – so if you haven’t figured it out yet for THIS year it’s time to make a plan!



September 10, 2012

Update on Costa Rica’s Earthquake

After the earthquake with a magnitude of 7.6 degrees on the Richter scale occurred on September 5th at 8:42 am, near Playa Samara and Sardinal, on the northern Pacific coast of Costa Rica, according to data from the National Emergency Commission (CNE), the Costa Rican tourism industry led by the Costa Rican Tourism Board (ICT), reports:

Both Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport and San Jose International Airport are reporting normal operations as well as normal flight arrivals and departures. All the country’s national parks are open and operating normally. The chambers of tourism of the country and the regional offices of the ICT are reporting normal tourism operations. Tourism has been completely unaffected.

A flyover with geologists and personnel from the CNE yesterday verified that the quake did not have major impact on road infrastructure, except for minor damage to homes and some roads.

The CNE explained that the red alert in place is to facilitate the coordination of all agencies and following protocol. It is important to note that due to the country’s strict seismic code, it was possible to minimize the impact of this earthquake.

The country continues to conduct surveillance and monitoring efforts in different parts of the country. Similarly, the ICT continues to coordinate with the regional chambers of tourism, the National Chamber of Tourism, the Costa Rican Association of Tour Operators and the Costa Rican Chamber of Hotels, as well as the National Emergency Commission, and all reports confirm that the tourism industry is operating normally throughout the country.

So come on to Costa Rica! (that wasn’t part of the official report..)



May 23, 2012

Top Five Spots for Teens and Older

The 'kids' bonding in Tanzania

Want to know what’s hot for you and your teenagers and graduates? Here are some great ideas for you to consider while trying to keep everyone happy.

1) Panama. Now, we don’t CALL this a teen trip, but really older kids are perfect for this adventure. With excitement like zip lines and white water rafting it has adrenaline pumping action. And with the engineering marvel of the canal, and the cultural attraction of the Embera tribe there is plenty of sophistication for your kids, and you too! Our guides will engage your family, and you’ll go home with memories you never dreamt of.

2) Costa Rica. This stands by as our most popular family adventure, and the benefit of having older, more tolerant kids is your ability to head to the remote region of Corcovado National Park. It’s far away, out there, and oh so worth it to get to. Surfing, hiking, snorkeling

3) Tanzania. A safari is a sedentary adventure by nature but our Active Safari takes every opportunity for you to stretch your legs and challenge your pre-conceptions. Bike at Gibbs Farm, enjoy walks and village visits at our exclusive private nature refuge, and hike partway up Mount Meru to overnight in a hut before hiking back down the next day. Interspersed with world class wildlife viewing, this adventure will stay with you forever. (And if this isn’t enough you could always think about a trek up Mount Kilimanjaro…….)

4) Peru. You don’t need to fight the crowds on the famed Inca Trail hike into Machu Picchu in order to appreciate all of the wonders Peru has to offer. In fact, we beseech you to NOT join that rat race. Come try some undiscovered trails, and enjoy world class hiking and gorgeous landscapes on trails where you may not see any other people, short of local farmers and their llamas. A Peru Trek can be the way to reassess your life while your older children begin to define their own lives. Prefer the comforts of a hotel? It’s easy to avoid the camping and still enjoy daily explorations. Let the energetic, able bodied kids do the hiking, and you can simply sit and contemplate the beautiful landscape. Want top of the line? Try our Smithsonian Peru Adventure, including Lake Titicaca.

5) Galapagos! Whether you opt for a stint on a luxury catamaran or a unique opportunity to sleep in the islands themselves, the snorkeling, biking, and kayaking in the Galapagos is fabulous. Never just a beach vacation, this is a sophisticated exploration to challenge your mind. Did you know there is wildlife here you just won’t find anywhere else in the world? Come visit these volcanic islands for the chance to think differently.

6) You know me, it’s hard to stop myself. Last summer I went with my kids (18, 22, 25) to Thailand and we had the best time ever. Culture, cities, villages, hiking, zip lines, rafting, elephants, Buddhism, food, massage, wow. A fabulously exotic place that is so warm and welcoming, you might never want to leave.



March 22, 2012

A Few Reasons to Discover a Family Art Adventure

Narda Boughton, Fabulous Artist

1) Your kids are open books, blank slates soaking up new ideas. Why not expose them to a new way of seeing the world around them? They might already love to draw and paint, or they might never have thought of it before; isn’t this an important thing to learn? And have fun in Costa Rica at the same time.

2) We’ve had adults go on an art adventure thinking they will never participate in the art, and they end up being the star creative forces. You never know what new thing you might discover about yourself when you step into something new. Try it.

3) Meet Narda Boughton, our favorite visual artist, who will take you along on these journeys of wonder and discovery. Here’s what we recently learned from her:

Where are you from? Originally from Bayside, WI.

How long have you worked in travel / and how long with TFA? I started working with Thomson Family Adventures in 2009.

What is your favorite part of the job? I love teaching art (and making art)- combining that with exploring fascinating places and meeting interesting people- well, it just doesn’t get any better than that. Thomson takes the “work” out of travel. Every detail is thought of and prearranged. All of your needs are taken care of- which allows you to enjoy everything to the fullest.

What is your favorite food, and favorite color? This changes all the time~ but today I’d have to say eggplant and yellow :)

Do you have children / pets? No kids, but always a lot of students. For pets I have 2 Australian parakeets and 2 cats with a Burmese Mountain Dog puppy on its way. Given the right set-up, I’d have a whole menagerie if I could. Love animals!!

Anything else you want us to know? One of the most satisfying things about my experience of teaching Art Tours with Thomson has been teaching people who didn’t plan on painting or drawing at all. Many times, parents will join us because their kids love art. More often than not, they’ll end up painting, too, only to find out how much they enjoy it. They walk away saying…”Wow!! I can do this!!”



February 12, 2012

Family Travel: Not Just for Kids

Traveling with the Graduates

With my third and last child up and off to college I find myself rethinking the definition of “Family Travel”. Of course we’re still a family even if we don’t have dinner together every night, if we don’t all live under the same roof, and even if my kids are more grown up than I ‘m ready for them to be. And we still love to travel together – none of us are too grown up to discover new places, thank goodness.

But when we call it Family Travel – it might seem too young for what you are really after. How about: Graduate Adventures.

Your children graduate from high school, or from college. Maybe even from graduate school. And you are graduating from a full house of responsibilities to spare time for thinking about what comes next. Just like dinnertime used to be the time to catch up on the day, now your Graduate Adventure can be the place to reconnect with your busy kids. A time to continue to grow together.

When your kids graduate from high school, college or graduate school you don’t stop wanting to travel together – you just want more sophisticated opportunities. Welcome to our Graduate Adventures. Full of history, mystery, and discovery. Great activities to challenge yourself AND your ‘kids’ (won’t we call them that forever??)

It makes sense that we began with 6 year olds 15 years ago, and now have families with 20-someting year old kids traveling with us. So give us a call and see what opportunities there might be for your graduated family. Turkey, Thailand, Tanzania, Peru, Costa Rica – we have older groups going almost everywhere!



January 3, 2012

Five Fabulous Family Multi-Sport Adventures

Surf's Up!

When we talk about Multi Sport Adventures we mean something active with plenty of variety. This helps kids – and parents and grandparents too – to try new activities, learn new skills – and maybe discover a new passion to pursue. What have our kids loved best for lots of action to compliment the cultural and wildlife opportunities? In alphabetical order….

1) Baja. A true adventurer’s paradise, Baja is ideal for hiking, horseback riding, surfing, snorkeling, kayaking. Get out there with our expert instructors for some exciting action, then replace those calories with some awesome Mexican food.

2) Belize. Mayan ruins for climbing, river caves for tubing (sometimes scary for the younger set!), barrier reef for snorkeling and diving. Paradise!

3) Costa Rica. Not boring! Rainforest, beaches, volcanoes and monkeys. Rafting, zip lines, kayaking, canyoning, SUP (know what that is??), surfing. You can try just about everything here, and meet some of the nicest people ever.

4) Galapagos. Between the highlands of mainland Ecuador and the volcanic Galapagos Islands your family can try horseback riding, hiking, kayaking, biking, snorkeling – and real camping for a couple of nights too! Seeing that Southern hemisphere sky from your beach front campsite is about as awe-inspiring as it gets.

5) Panama. The canal, of course, and the great story that goes with it. But also a fascinating native culture to learn about. Then rafting, zip lines, awesome snorkeling and pristine beaches, birds and wildlife galore, biking … and the thrill of going someplace not many have been before. Come discover Panama!!



May 5, 2011

Top 10 – Why Costa Rica?

In the Forest

Some people say Costa rica is just not exotic enough. After all, it’s been on the tourist scene for awhile now and with its all inclusive beach resorts on the north Pacific coast it became accessible to lots of people at a reasonable price. Problem is, those resorts are self contained beach vacations and could be anywhere. We promise, those people who think it is ordinary are wrong – Costa Rica is so much more than that.

1) Luscious Forest. Have you discovered the wonders of a walk through rain or cloud forest, maybe even in a warm rain? Troops of Leaf Cutter Ants marching along the forest floor. Sloths hidden in the trees (but your guide will spot them!). Birds, often brightly colored or full of song. Vines and trees and plants and bugs, all living symbiotically. Epiphytes! Orchids and butterflies the size of your first. Worlds you may never have known existed.

2) Action: Zip lines, rafting and kayaking. Canyoning and tubing. Stand up paddle boarding and surfing. Some of the world’s best activities, all rolled into one destination. With forest, coastline, and mountains so many options are available to you.

3) Monkeys: Capuchin. Howler. Spider. Squirrel. SO MANY monkeys! All out in their natural habitat, and sometimes trying to snatch your lunch, or hurling nuts onto the roof of your jungle cabin to wake you in the morning…

4) The people. So warm, so welcoming, so generous. From our local guides to drivers, the innkeepers to the surfing instructors, to the children and teachers on the schools. I’m pretty sure you’ve never met nicer people.

5) Nonstop Flights from New York, Atlanta, Houston, Miami … so easy to get there

6) Pico de Gallo. Now, Costa Rica is not known for its gastronomy, but please give yourself the opportunity to discover the delicious joy of pico de gallo! Like Costa Rica – fresh, simple, but complex in its flavors, it might just become a regular at your table at home.

7) Pura Vida! Believe me, you want this phrase in your life. An expression of the entire culture of Costa Rica, it means literally ‘pure life‘. Once you experience its context in the country that lives it, you will find an infinite number of ways to use it. As a greeting, an exclamation, a state of mind. Pura Vida!

8) Coffee. Did you know the fresh beans, seeds really, are red? Even if you don’t drink it, you know how big this crop is in the world. Seeing how it is grown and harvested – fascinating.

9) Everything you always wanted to know about volcanoes. Costa Rica is part of the Pacific Ring Fire Circle and has a ton of volcanoes, about 100 or so, with 5 currently active. Come peer into the caldera of a dormant volcano or listen to the not so distant rumble of an active volcano. Learn about how volcanoes form the landscape of Costa Rica. Pretty, pretty amazing.

10) A lovely climate all year long. Warm in December and February when the Northeast is frigid. Warm in March and April when we’re not quite thawed out. Is it hotter and wetter in the summer? Sure, but who doesn’t like a warm rain in the rain forest? Or green sea turtles nesting on the beach? Winter is great to escape the cold, and summer is great to escape the crowds.

11) OK one more – all the things I didn’t get to mention. Hanging Bridges. Kayaking through canals. Surfing lessons at the beach. White water rafting. Canyoning. Hiking. Swimming. Snorkeling. Pen pals. And even more….



April 14, 2011

From the Mouths of Babes

Stephen at Manuel Antonio National Park

A proud mother from California sent us this great essay written by her 12 year old son Stephen about thier recent foray to Costa Rica. Want to see it from a kid’s point of view? Read on

Over winter break, my mother, my father, and my sister and I went to Costa Rica. It was one of the best vacations I have ever been on. I had an interesting time and learned a lot from our tour guide, Jorge . Jorge was always smiling and welcoming.

On the first day, we flew in to the San Jose airport and stayed at the Bougainvillea hotel, which had outstanding gardens that we explored in the morning. The first day was short and quick, but the second day was just around the corner. On Sunday, we woke up in Bougainvillea and had Gallo Pinto (rice and beans), and fresh tortillas for breakfast. I had never had fresh tortillas before, but they were amazing! After eating we drove east towards the Caribbean coast, over the continental divide. The driving felt like it took forever, and we were all still tired from the day of traveling before. We stopped at a small market and a banana plantation to see how they worked. The small market was pretty interesting because of how it was set up outdoors.

We later got aboard a boat with about 30 other people and journeyed out to Tortuguero. Skimming through the water, my sister and I took many photos of the trees and flowers passing by. After checking in to our second hotel, Anhinga Lodge, we took another boat to the Sea Turtle Conservation Center. There we learned about why sea turtles are important to Costa Rica with a group of other tourists. Then we went to the nearby beach, and bought coconut water from a man at a stand. He was very good at slicing the coconuts, and I was scared to get too close because of the gigantic machete he used. We explored Tortuguero town a little bit, but it was soon time to go back to our hotel and sleep. Shops, playgrounds, children, and dogs filled the streets of Tortuguero town. I really liked Tortuguero town because it reminded me of Burlingame Avenue, quite close to my home.

On day three, it rained very hard a while, but the weather was nice for our 5:30 am boat ride. We rode into the national park with Jorge and Michael, our boat driver. We saw caiman, colorful birds and howler monkeys. We returned to our hotel for a lovely breakfast. We then kayaked for the rest of the morning. I love kayaking. I really liked this part of our trip because it was much different from kayaking in California. In California, the sun is always shining in your eyes and the water is much more open and wide. In Costa Rica, we kayaked in small, narrow water with the lovely shade from the trees above our heads protecting us from the sun. In the afternoon, we relaxed for a while and swam in the hotel’s turtle-shaped pool until we went on another boat ride into the park. This time we saw river otter, sloth, bats, eyelash viper, and caiman. My favorite animal we saw this time was the river otter, because I never thought I’d see one in Costa Rica. The eyelash viper really stood out because of its yellow color in the green plants.

At 7 am the next morning we flew back to San Jose on a small airplane. I ordinarily hate airplanes but this was different. This was the first time I had ever been on such a small aircraft, and I actually thought it was pretty cool. We then drove through San Jose to Irazu Volcano, elevation 11,000+ feet. Irazu Volcano was very nice because of its big craters. We ate lunch on the mountain, then drove to Costa Rica’s largest archeological site, which was a market center 1,000 years ago. The archeological site was amazing. We saw all sorts of remains from the past. Rocks were everywhere and leaf cutter ants stretched for what seemed to be miles in just one line. The ants were fantastic but they sort of spooked me out in a way. The line of ants was almost the exact length of our trail, and there were so many of them! At the end of the day we checked into Casa Turire outside of Turrialba.

The next day we went white water rafting on the Pacuare River with our guide Pablo. One word describes this event – epic. The water splashed us and tossed us around, but thankfully no one fell out. This was so fun and we all enjoyed it. We learned how to maneuver the raft quickly and quickly got used to the feeling. We stopped to have a snack and play in the water for a few minutes. During that break, we skipped stones in the water and had a great time. We ate lunch overlooking the farms of the Turrialba Valley after driving back from the river. In the evening we visited Rancho Naturalista to see all sorts of hummingbirds. We even saw a mouse who would come out every minute to get a bite to eat. Afterwards we came back to our hotel and slept like logs.

On Thursday, we visited the Central Market in Cartago to see local produce. I had never seen so many fruits and vegetables anywhere in my life! We later took a flight to Manuel Antonio on the Pacific Coast. From the airport we walked to Titi Zipline. In the jungle, we rode on lines 1,000 to 1,500 feet, and rappelled down from a platform. This might be the best family thing we’ve ever done together. The wind brushed against our faces during the zipline and our hearts all pounded on the very first line. It was really fun and exciting but scary too. Then we went to Hotel Parador high on a cliff above the ocean. We often saw spider monkeys peek out of the trees at Hotel Parador.

The next day we hiked through Manuel Antonio National Park to the most beautiful beach I have ever seen. It was wonderful. The water was warm and we had hermit crab races on the beach. Jorge spotted a sloth at Anaconda Restaurant, later we left to go to our hotel. I had a fever in the evening, but it broke by 10 pm. I hated being sick in Costa Rica. Feeling sick at home is bad enough, but it just felt horrible to have to lie in bed during our adventure.

We packed up in the morning and drove to Jaco for lunch by the beach. We took the Tarcoles River ride to see crocodiles and many magnificent birds. We even saw 2 scarlet macaws. I was worried that a crocodile would leap into the boat and bite my head off, but my fear was turned to excitement once I was taking pictures of all these brilliant creatures. We drove over the mountains and back to San Jose and Hotel Bougainvillea for dinner.

On Sunday morning, we drove to the airport at 5:30 am and flew to Dallas Fort Worth. We ran as fast as we could to our next flight but missed it. We found a new flight departing at 4:30 pm and arrived home by 8:30 to watch the end of the Oscars.

This has been one of my favorite vacations so far and you just read why. It was magical, outstanding, and almost perfect. It would have been perfect if I hadn’t gotten sick, but you know, stuff happens. For anyone who hasn’t been to Costa Rica, I hope you consider going and have as much fun as I had!