Costa Rica

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!



February 27, 2011

Exclusive Costa Rica – Just for You and your Teens

Taking the leap into the river!

Thomson Family Adventures has been sending families to Costa Rica for a loong time. Our Costa Rican colleagues are truly a part of our family; they envelop you on arrival and care for you ’til you’re gone. They share abundant knowledge of everything from wildlife to forest to everyday life in their country. I’m pretty sure our past guests agree, these guides sneak into your heart and stay there forever.

I’d always heard about Costa Rica, but it wasn’t until I went myself that I really understood how fantastic this country and its people are. Volcanoes, rain forest, cloud forest, ocean, beaches, wild rivers. Monkeys, sloths, iguanas and lizards, butterflies the size of your fist. Leaf cutter ants! We could have spent hours watching those hardy soldiers carry their bits of leaves across the forest floor. And of course the warm and generous people who introduce you to this fascinating world.

After years of walking a path now so familiar to tourists we wanted to offer something more adventurous, more unique for our more mature travelers. Welcome to this new opportunity!

We’ve redirected our Teen Adventure to encompass some of the most pristine corners of the country. Away from the crowds but in the midst of the adventure action, we fly, then drive, then boat to Corcovado National Park. This remote peninsula offers untouched forest teeming with wildlife, and a beautiful reef for snorkeling.

In the center of the country we’ll ride the currents of the Class III / IV Pacuare River and thrill our hearts on a zip line you won’t soon forget.

On the Atlantic Coast we’ll pamper ourselves a bit with a stay in a luscious hotel on a beach unknown to tourist mobs. Here we’ll discover a region ideal for snorkeling the coral reef, and hiking in rain forest.

No built up tourist scene, just natural beauty waiting to be discovered by curious minds and active bodies! Come join like minded families with children from age 12 to the 20′s for our unique and exclusive adventure created just for you.



December 8, 2010

Secretly Stuck in a Vacation Rut? We Can Tow You Out.

family visiting waterfalls in Costa Rica

At the Waterfalls, Costa Rica

Hello Parents and Grandparents!I know you’ve been talking about taking your child / grandson on an adventure next year but something has stopped you from setting your plans. This year flights are limited and fares are up; let’s get going before you don’t have the choice anymore!

Being stuck is terrible; it stresses your brain and makes you feel unsettled. We can help!

If someone is concerned about safety, security, or comfort we’d love to to help you understand how a family adventure works. After all we’ve been running these trips designed exclusively for families longer than anyone else. We’re small and personal, but loaded with expertise. We’ll always take the time to be sure you understand the steps we take to ensure a safe and comfortable family adventure.

If the destination doesn’t feel quite right, we’d love to talk with you about other ideas. With all of our years specializing in family travel we’d love to help you choose just the right thing.

The perfect family adventure is an investment that you want to be sure will pay off for years to come. So don’t shop for price, rather look for the value for your money. This is a wonderful trip for both you and your child or grandchild. We know you want it to be perfect.

If you just can’t make a solid plan until after the first of the year we understand that too, but it doesn’t cost a cent to begin the research. Call us at 800-262-6255; we’re waiting for you!



April 27, 2010

Life in Motion – Without Turning Green

Turkish gulet

Several of our Thomson Family Adventures involve time on boats, or in vans on mountain roads… Ah yes, just this first sentence makes me feel queasy. And indeed we spend a lot of time chatting with families about how to combat the effects of motion.

I’ve been plagued by motion sickness my whole life. When I was a little girl the 15 minute drive to ballet lessons left me so green I couldn’t participate in the class I’d looked forward to all week. Products like Dramamine provided some relief, but mostly because I’d be passed out cold as a side effect. Over the years I learned some coping techniques – sleeping, meditation, avoidance – all of which did nothing to help me join in on the things I wanted to do. Does this sound like familiar?

Lucky for me and my traveling heart, I found a formula and a solution that works for me. Boats, cars, planes – now I am fearless, and use those little bags only for writing notes (not – you know). Maybe it can work for you too. There are three important components to this fix:

1) Stock up on Bonine, an over the counter, non drowsy anti-motion sickness medication. I’ve also found the generic drug store chain versions just as effective; look for the non drowsy label. It’s a small chewable tablet and you only need to take it once a day!

2) Take this little miracle tablet well before you step foot on a boat or car. One thing I know for sure is as soon as I begin to feel poorly there is no going back to feeling terrific. Nip it in the bud! If you’re heading out early in the morning, you might even begin taking it the night before.

3) Keep taking it once a day for as long as you are on that boat, or facing bumpy car rides. Don’t stop because you feel good! In fact you may be feeling good because of the drug. It is true you may also get your sea legs after a few days on a boat, but do you want to take the chance of ruining your good time??

Following these simple steps have allowed me to sail on small boats for days on end, and even enjoy long, bumpy, winding car rides to interesting places all while staying alert. Well, except for nap time which is mandatory on a vacation, right?

Bonine or its generic version is inexpensive, simple to use, and transformed my life. Your results (and side effects) could be different so try it out for yourselves before deciding if this is your solution too. Happy sailing!



April 2, 2010

School of Thought: 8 Things Costa Rica Taught Me

capuchin monkey, with feelings

Thomson Family Adventures partners with many educational institutions on the family travel programs they offer to their members. Thanks to Elissa Leibowitz Poma from the World Wildlife Fund Travel Program for sharing her blog post from her recent trip to Costa Rica:

8. Monteverde was founded by Quakers. Back in the 1950s, a group of U.S. Quakers avoided being drafted in the Korean War by fleeing into the lush cloud forests of Costa Rica. They chose Costa Rica because it was a pacifist nation, settling in to what is now Monteverde. They began by farming the land then smartly decided to set aside the land for conservation. It later became the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve.

7. “Pura vida” is not just a tourism slogan. It’s a way of expressing just how good you are – and how well your spirit and your community and your life are in general. Literally meaning “pure life,” Costa Ricans use the phrase as a way of saying “hello,” good morning or even answering the question “how are you?” I felt like I fit in when some asked me “Como esta?” and I answered “Pura vida.”

6. Nearly a mile across, the Poas Volcano crater is the most active crater in the world. We were lucky to see the action when the fog burned off during a short visit to the volcano near San Jose. We caught a small glimpse of the emerald green, burbling, sulfuric lake below the observation deck. Steam snaked its way up through the fumaroles in the ground.

5. The Jesus Christ lizard actually can walk on water. When the punk rocker-looking lizard – more commonly called a common basilisk – feels threatened, it can splay out large fringes on its hind legs, increasing the surface area of its feet, and run across the surface of a river for 65 feet or so.

4. Education is highly valued in Costa Rica. The nation has one of the highest literacy rates in the world – 96 percent – and school is mandatory through 11th or 12th grade. It was clear that the “Ticas” value not only their own people learning but also seeing travelers learn in their land as well.

3. Accupressure bands are excellent at preventing motion sickness. The roads up the mountains to Monteverde are bumpy, unpaved and narrow. Those very few of us (read: me and one eight year old) with sensitive dispositions were well off sitting in the front of the bus, munching on salty plaintain chips and keeping our eyes firmly fixed on the gorgeous views out the the front window.

2. The quetzal is easier heard than seen. We tuned in to the suave, melodious songs of the Technicolor trogon echoing through the trees during a trek through the Monteverde Cloud Forest, but we never laid eyes on him. They tend to hang out high in the canopy, swooping down to human eye level on occasion – mostly when chasing a female.

1. Even monkeys have feelings, too. After lunch one afternoon at a local hacienda, we ventured out back to walk among the hard-dirt trails that wove through a small grove. We happened upon a group of 15 or so howler monkeys, crawling through a scratchy mess of branches maybe 25 feet up. One howler monkey caught our attention in particular – a mother with an unusual white mass clinging to her breast. Turns out, it was a baby capuchin monkey, and the female howler appeared to have adopted him. Our native Costa Rican guides Jenny and Gustavo said it was the first time they ever saw that.