Costa Rica, It Is
After close to 20 years of traveling out west for a snow trip, we decided to switch it up to a closer, tropical vacation. Costa Rica, it is. Our trip last year to Sundance was amazing. So amazing that our initial concern was how we could plan a trip that was just as fun, with perfect accommodations and amazing views. But we almost got trapped on the mountain after overnight snow dumped almost 6 feet, and we struggled to drive off the mountain.
For this year, we polled our kids to get ideas for FamJam 2023. FamJam is the name of our travel group. Fam because it is my twin sister, her two adult kids, and any significant others, and myself, my daughters, and their significant others. Jam because it is short for jamboree, a large celebration or party typically lavish and boisterous. It epitomizes our group trips perfectly.
Booking the Trip
After deciding we wanted a location that we could get to with one non-stop short flight, Costa Rica was a unanimous choice. Costa Rica is often referred to as the happiest country on earth with its lush rainforests, white sand beaches (Jaco has black sand) and pura vida life. We worked with several companies to put this trip together. The first was All Business Class, a full-service luxury travel agency. My sister had worked with them to book her trip to Italy. The house was booked through Rental Escapes, which specializes in luxury villa rentals. They also provide a concierge team to book excursions and catering services and coordinate your entire trip.
Costa Rica is a beautiful place to visit. The house we booked is in Punta Leona. It is located on the Central Pacific coast in the Puntarenas province, just north of Jaco. It is among Costa Rica’s protected nature reserves. The house was in the gated community of Punta Leona. It was about a 15-minute ascending drive up the mountain, overlooking the Pacific coast. It took about 2.5 hours from the Juan Santamaría International Airport, mainly due to heavy traffic.
If you want a more private location, Punta Leona is a great place to stay.
Planning For A Family Trip
Planning a vacation with adult kids is complicated. If you have a large number of people staying together, you’ll want to start looking for accommodations at least six months out. Our FamJam trip is the week between Christmas and New Year’s. While more costly than many other weeks, many of us have off work that week. We also prefer one large house so we can have our meals together and play games. We need a minimum of five bedrooms and a house that has a game/media room, a fully-stocked kitchen, a large dining room, a patio with an outdoor grill, and sometimes a pool.
The holiday week is in high demand. If you are traveling during peak times, booking your excursions in advance is recommended. We booked three excursions. The excursions were booked through Costa Rica Dream Makers.
Nauyaca Waterfall Tour– This was a full day starting at 6:30 am. The trip included five different waterfalls in three locations, each waterfall bigger than the last. The first waterfall was in Dominical. They had a diving ledge ten ft. high as an introduction. Some in our group were very adventurous, jumping from 40 ft. up after rappelling up the waterfall. I watched from the water as the entire group of people observed and cheered him on. The day included a stop for an authentic Costa Rican meal.
ATV Tour– My sister and I decided to hang back at the house and enjoy a day by the pool while the remainder of our group set off for a three-hour jungle and river ATV adventure. By their muddy appearance on returning, I’d say they had an amazing time.
I have never been ziplining as the opportunity has never presented itself. So when it was recommended as an excursion, I agreed. The thing is, I have a small fear of heights that went undiscovered because I grew up in South Florida. My first ski trip at 29 yrs made me aware. So why I agreed that ziplining would be a good idea, I don’t know.
Ziplining– Once you commit, you’re in; there’s no turning back until the second platform when you will need to climb down a ladder. That sounds terrifying. I didn’t reach the end at the first drop, meaning I had to repel myself backward to the platform. Landing on the platform is a little nerve-wracking. Yes, you are tethered in from three places, but if you slip off the platform, you’re dangling. Tethered but dangling. So you can understand my trepidation when I finally pulled myself up to the platform. The ziplining guide looked at me and said, “Pura Vida.” It did not feel so Pura Vida to me at that moment. Would I recommend it? The adult kids loved it; my sister and I were amongst the one-and-done group.
Ziplining starts with being outfitted with a harness, gloves, and helmet. Next, you are given maybe a five-minute crash course on safety and how to zipline. Then, you head out on a 15-minute tractor ride to the top of the mountain. The descension through the canopy to the bottom includes 12 platforms with a total distance of a little over 2 miles.
Guided night walk – Three in our group decided to brave the darkness for a guided night walk at a reserve called Punta Mala. Armed with flashlights, they got to see all sorts of wildlife.
Hike El Miro – One of the guides told us about this 1.4-mile hike. The site is said to be an abandoned residential complex or hotel that was never finished. You’ll see remnants of this with structures and archways. You’ll find it off the main road and easy to miss. We paid $10 for parking, but the hike was free. Some sections are muddy or rocky, so wear good walking/hiking shoes. It’s a fairly easy hike up to see the ruins.
The guy at the bottom said to us, “Very monkey, very toucan.” We got to see the monkeys, but the toucans did not appear. There are sections with graffiti-painted walls depicting Costa Rica’s flowers, trees and plants, mammals, and birds. Go all the way to the top for a magnificent panoramic of the Jaco coastline.
We like to combine eating out with cooking at the house. On the day of the falls, we had a private chef cook for us, which was amazing. The company is called Steven Lisa’s. They have a physical restaurant and provide catering services.
Due to heavy traffic, we didn’t get home until 15 minutes past the mealtime. The table was beautifully set when we arrived. Our dinner consisted of ceviche and cold tomato gazpacho served with artisan bread (appetizer), Surf and turf, and corvina papillot for the pescatarians, both served with roasted potatoes and vegetables and a fruit Charlotte for dessert.
Breakfast & Lunch
My sister and I cooked breakfast every morning (Tracey & Janice’s Breakfast Joint). Typically, it consists of my sister’s signature scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, potato hash, bagels or bread, and fresh fruit.
Much of the time, we had lunch at the house. We made rice, beans, repurposed leftovers, guacamole, shrimp, and steak tacos. What was so wonderful was that everyone helped. We joked around that we felt like we were on Food Network’s Chopped with specific food in our basket.
My youngest daughter made a tapenade from leftover lobster, onions, garlic, and amazing red wine. When someone mentioned that using the lobster tail to pull out the flavor would take over half an hour, she replied, “Trust the process.” An impressive-tasting dip. I think she even surprised herself.
Restaurante Vista Mar – This was the first dinner we ate out. The service was spectacular, and the owner, Roger Handy, was personable, providing us with several different shots throughout our meal. He recommended their Mariscada for two, including lobster, shrimp, fish filet, octopus, calamara, and clams. It definitely served more than two persons, and everyone went home with leftovers (the base for my daughter’s seafood tapenade).
Green Room Cafe Bar Jaco – on a drive to see Jaco after a hike we heard about nearby, we stopped at the Green Room Cafe for lunch. The atmosphere is somewhat boho-chic, with local artists displaying their work. We shared a bunch of appetizers to get a taste of their specialties.
Marisqueria La Ostra – Several of us shared their whole red snapper, which was absolutely succulent. You literally picked up the presliced pieces of snapper directly off each side of the fish. You’ll also want to try their patacones, known as tostón. They were enormous and served with several dipping sauces.
On New Year’s Eve, we love cooking. The menu included strip steak and shrimp. The guys grilled the steak and shrimp outside. We made arborio rice, grilled zucchini, and asparagus, and a house salad.
Fun & Games
Did I mention we can be a little boisterous? Some nights, we played flip cups or charades. Drinking games definitely took place, an advantage of having adult kids. Our last night’s game was a take on Jeopardy. We played this at Thanksgiving, and it was so much fun that we decided to recreate a Costa Rican version.
Every person had to write out three questions. The categories were Costa Rica, car rides, Excursions, House, and house guests/plus ones. Some of the questions required that you pay very close attention to small details. For example, one of the questions required you to remember the order we went in ziplining. Another question was the name of the owner at Vista Mar. There were 25 questions and a few tie-breakers (we didn’t need those).
The questions followed Jeopardy in terms of dollar amounts ($200 through $1000). The guys thought they would be an unbeatable team, but the women pulled out a significant lead. The best part of this game was it was a way to remember everything we did on the trip.
Upon arriving, we learned that everyone uses the term Pura Vida. Its literal translation is simple life or pure life. Say hello, goodbye, everything’s great, everything’s cool, or even things that are not cool but happened, Pura Vida.
Returning to the United States
We flew American Airlines back to Miami. Passengers were encouraged to download Custom Border Control’s Mobile Passport Control (MPC). Like many people traveling abroad, I have Global Entry and Clear. My sister encouraged us all to try MPC after her experience returning from Italy. I obliged but thought my Global Entry would yield the same shortened custom line. As we approached customs, it was very evident she was right. There was no one in line for MPC clearance, and there were long lines for every other passenger, including global entry.
We got through customs in less than five minutes.