Pura Vida translates to “Pure Life” and is Costa Rica’s unofficial national motto. Now that I have been to Costa Rica and have seen this beautiful country, I understand what Pura Vida is all about.
Our 10 day trip consisted of two locations not counting our overnights near the airport. A lot of people suggest visiting three different areas for a 10 day trip, but since we were traveling with small kids we knew that three locations would be too much to squeeze in. Instead, we decided to take our time and really explore the two places we decided to visit, La Fortuna and Manuel Antonio.
Where we Stayed
First Stop: La Fortuna – The Springs Resort and Spa
Our first stop was the beautiful, family friendly, Springs Resort and Spa in La Fortuna. As soon as we arrived we knew we were in for a treat. While we checked in, we were offered welcome cocktails and an orientation about the resort. It’s actually quite a large complex, but oddly enough feels very intimate. Even though the resort was near capacity, it never felt crowded. The resort sits on 165 acres with paths that wind through the rainforest leading to one of the 19 hot springs hidden throughout the grounds.
Our room wasn’t quite ready when we arrived, but that was ok. It took us no time to change into our swimsuits and dive right in to the pools and hot-springs. The unobstructed view of Arenal Volcano from the main pool is something to behold. Gazing upon the volcano and its surroundings almost seems too beautiful to be real.
Once our room was ready, we were shown down the the hill to building 1, which we were told has the most beautiful views. They weren’t kidding, the view was spectacular. We made sure to take advantage of our patio more than a few times, either lounging the day away in our hammock or enjoying a tasty breakfast. Our room was 720 square feet and had ample room for all four of us. They set up the kid’s beds against the window so they too could wake up to a view of the volcano.
What made this resort so attractive to us as a family was that we never really had to ever leave the property. There are numerous restaurants, all serving different cuisines, from tradition Costa Rican to Sushi. Something they offer which I feel was unique and convenient, (especially traveling with kids) is that you can order from any of the other restaurant’s menus while dining at another. My husband and I were able to have a nice sushi meal, while the kids were able to order burgers and pastas from another restaurant. This made dinners so much easier and less stressful. Even though the prices were a bit on the higher side, the food was delicious. We never had a bad meal during our stay.
We didn’t have to go far for activities either. Club Rio is down at the base of the property, and offers everything from horseback riding, to river tubing or kayaking. There is also an animal sanctuary where they keep inured or sick animals that can no longer survive on their own. In between our excursions, we took advantage of the hiking trails and natural hot-springs down near the river. We loved our hikes, especially when we ran into wildlife along the way. We saw monkeys and sloths up in the trees, and vibrant lizards and iguanas on the ground. A very exotic experience for all of us
We did go off property one time to take the Mistico Hanging Bridges excursion. We all had a wonderful time hiking through the rainforest with a guide who pointed out wildlife which we otherwise totally would have missed.
This was the first leg of our spring break trip to Costa Rica. I chose this resort because it is so kid friendly and convenient. In addition to having so many activities right there on property there is also a Mini Golf course and a game room, both which my kids took advantage. I felt the convenience, of this place was well worth the price tag. We knew there would be a lot of traveling during the rest of our trip, so this respite was well needed.
Second Stop: Manuel Antonio – Tulemar Villas
When I was looking for a place to stay in Manuel Antonio, I looked to Tripadvisor to see which places received the best reviews. Tulemar was the place that kept popping up over and over with glowing reviews. Now, that I have been there and experienced it, I can see why it is one of the top rated resorts in Manuel Antonio.
There is Tulemar Resort and Tulemar Bungalows and Villas. The latter is individually owned villas within the resort, that also has access to the same resort amenities. I learned that when you are trying to book a hidden gem like this you need to book way in advance. I did not. We booked our vacation about two months in advance and the resort was sold out of the size bungalow we needed. I called Bungalows and Villas and luckily they had one left. So seriously, book ahead! I am so happy we were able to find a place at this special resort.
Tulemar isn’t your typical resort. It’s a series of bungalows and villas spread throughout the jungle trailing down to the beach. It’s very intimate and very private. The best part is the abundance of wildlife that live on and around the property. Every day we would see tons of monkeys, sloths, parrots, macaws, iguanas and countless other critters. If sloths are what you want to see, then there is no place better than Tulemar, which also houses the Sloth Institute. The institute studies the sloths and offers a wealth of knowledge about them. They will help you find and point out where many of the sloths are hiding within the property.
Our villa came with a full kitchen, which is always helpful when you are traveling with small kids. Sometimes the easiest breakfasts come in the form of cereal, fruit, or a quick slice of toast.
We ate many meals either at the resort’s open-air restaurant or down at the beach. Tulemar is one of the only resorts with their own private beach access and beach services. It’s a beautiful secluded cove where there are free kayaks and stand-up paddle boards for guests to use. There is also the beach cafe where you can order drinks and food.
Another great thing about Tulemar is its location and it’s close proximity to restaurants, shops, and markets. We spent each evening walking through town to find a new delicious restaurant for dinner.
Tulemar was the perfect place to unpack and settle for a while. We would highly recommend it to anyone visiting Manuel Antonio.
Rental Car or Driver: How we Got Around
I went back and forth for weeks trying to decide if we would rent a car or hire a driver. The price difference really wasn’t that big, so it came down to preference. I usually lean toward renting a car because I like having the freedom of having it, but this time we decided to hire a driver. It ended up being a good choice for us, because the drives between each destination are about 3-5 hours and my husband nor I were in the mood to drive. It was nice sitting back, relaxing, and just enjoying the ride. All our drivers were extremely nice and accommodating. There was never an issue about stopping along the way, whether it was to see sights or grab a bite to eat.
Our Airport Hotel: Villa San Ignacio – San Jose
We book-ended our trip with overnights near the airport since we had an early morning departure and a late arrival. We chose Villa San Ignacio, which is located about 20 minutes from the airport. There were a lot of other options closer to the airport, but I wanted to stay in something a little more Costa Rican than a hotel chain that I can find in the States. I wanted my kids to experience something more unique, full of character, and loaded with Costa Rican hospitality, and Villa San Ignacio fit that bill perfectly.
Villa San Ignacio actually does feel a bit more like a villa than a hotel. It’s a large property with beautiful grounds, a restaurant, and a pool. It’s not a 5 star hotel, but the rooms and grounds are clean, comfortable and eclectically decorated. It was a perfect spot to unwind and relax before our days of travel.
Well, there it is. Our wonderful 10 days in Costa Rica. We feel like we only got a taste of what all this amazing country has to offer, but now that we have sampled it, we definitely want to experience more.
I’m a Bay Area mom with midwestern roots. Born and raised in Indiana, I have always had an affinity for travel, adventure and the arts. Before my days of playdates and homework, I worked as a television host, reporter, producer, and actress in Los Angeles.
I did my college study abroad for my Spanish degree in Costa Rica, so it was a nice mix of tourist with real life. We stayed primarily in San Jose but visited Manuel Antonio, Pueblo Antigua, and Tortuguero, among other things. I became pretty well acquainted with their public transportation system and the taxi rides were always an experience. I also discovered my love for mangoes there! It’s such a beautiful country and I hope to go back one day!
Thanks so much for reading it. We just loved it down there. You are right, it is a nice combo of tourism with real life. That was one of the benefits for hiring a driver instead of driving ourselves. He took us to him hometown to show us around and we stopped at restaurants off the beaten path. Such a beautiful country.