As parents, it’s easy to be nostalgic for our bygone days of travel. That golden halcyon era when taking a vacation meant throwing a few essentials into a backpack, booking a last minute flight, and pointing our toes wherever our inner compass dictated.
Along the way we earned our globetrotting bragging rights. Like the time we hiked through Panama with just a backpack and thirty dollars in our pockets. Or, the time your friend ran off and biked through Italy. Or when we decided to tag along with a paramour on a biz trip Morocco because well, for no other reason than just because we could.
As a longtime travel writer, my twenties were full of such experiences. As I performed the inevitable transition from single flyer to busy family travel explorer, so did my choice of travel. Spontaneity got sidelined in favor of en-suite cribs, kid-friendly cuisine and the children’s clubs found at all-inclusive properties. With crying kids in tow and the threat of tantrums always on the horizon, I didn’t want to leave anything (especially my sanity) to chance.
For many of us, going off the beaten path for family travelers to immerse oneself in the local customs and experience the true essence and flavor of a destination is daunting to say the least. Well, at least it was for me. Until that is, I discovered The Cayuga Collection of eco-resorts in Costa Rica.
Managing some of the top hotel, eco resorts and lodges in Costa Rica, including a beauty in Nicaragua, the company has made its core mission to offer up families and couples a sustainable travel experience much closer to nature—allowing parents to experience their adventurous days of their past while still enjoying a comfortable and luxurious holiday with the kids.
Not only does Cayuga craft a custom itinerary for your family’s specific needs and preferences, a trip to their properties insures that one sees the best and most pristine parts of Costa Rica without having to risk falling off the grid.
Finca Rosa Blanca
Our first stop was the capital of San Jose with a one-night stay at the stunning Finca Rosa Blanca, a family-owned property on a large coffee plantation that has built its reputation on its gorgeous art-inspired architecture, hospitable service and proximity to the best of San Jose all from the comfort of a private, lush tropical setting.
With suites ample enough for large families, we arrived late only to wake to a brave new verdant world. We lazed around making rich coffee in our room while our 8-year-old son set off to explore the terrace full of large orange trees, fragrant flowers and winding paths that seemed to lead everywhere and nowhere. Here, we enjoyed a sumptuous al fresco breakfast with traditional breakfast dishes and spent the morning lounging around the secluded pool with a calming waterfall completely nestled in nature and unbothered by anyone save a lizard or too. Never once did we hear a siren blare or the noise of the city despite only being 20 minutes away from the main airport.
Lapa Rios Eco Lodge
As we packed up our things from the night before, we headed to the domestic flight to take off for our next destination: the renowned Lapa Rios Eco Lodge. Boasting the title as one of the 25 National Geographic Boutique Eco-Lodges and its own page in the Places to See Before You Die, we naturally had high expectations which thankfully were exceeded.
The resort is reachable by a short half-hour flight followed by a 45-minute bumpy ride on a dirt road which is part of its unchartered charm and located on a pristine rainforest reserve next to Corcovado Park. Designed to highlight the untouched backdrop for those looking to reconnect with nature, the hotel has a strict focus on sustainability and has won every conceivable hospitality award.
Especially appealing to families with older children (no kids under 6 are allowed at the property) one doesn’t need to venture off the grounds to always feel directly plugged into the ecosystem. Arriving here, one feels as if arriving at a private home of a very reclusive and exotic friend. The long corridor opens up into a large restaurant/social area complete with what seems to be an staircase leading to a viewing tower that overlooks the expanse of the calm sparkling waters of the Osa Peninsula to Panama.
From there, one is led to their bungalow. The hotel is comprised of 14 villas with open air nets which allow for direct viewing of the wildlife outside. In fact, we saw more monkeys, sloths and birds just laying about the room than anywhere else during our time in Costa Rica. We suggest accommodations closer to the hotel as some bungalows require a considerable hike for smaller kids. Sure, we may have been worried about the no Wi-fi and the lack of air conditioning, but as other guests reported, we never missed our connection to the world back home because we were so deeply connected to natural world around us. Just lying in the hammock and watching the Macaws fly overhead, a pair of Toucans land on a branch right above, a troop of Spider Monkeys drop in to raid fruit from a nearby tree where a long Iguana is feasting on flowers, one feels happily removed from any potential of interruption and being completely off the grid.
While many of the couples traveling here were in their sunset years, the property is a major draw for families. Part of the appeal besides the Caruso Robinson vibe, was that one has to do virtually no planning before arrival. Every activity from night hikes to waterfall rappelling to the beautiful waterfall hike can be booked upon arrival. They even offer families the chance to visit a local school to really merge with local life and participate in the philanthropic program launched by the hotel. With families, one never knows how tired or cranky the brood will be, so the flexibility here allows for instant itinerary changes. And when one grows tired of hiking and adventure, there is always the pool. Quiet and often deserted, one has the warm waters all to themselves. We were even served a private lunch here at our request, proving that service here is unparalleled and every desire can come to life.
At Lapas Rios, we were really able to bond. Who would cold have thought that trekking through a rainforest in the rain while wearing heavy Wellingtons and negotiating rough terrain in the mud could be so much fun? With no television, WIFI and countless hours of hiking logged with the help of our knowledgeable guide Enrique, we pushed each other and ourselves past our mental barriers and achieved a stillness that felt knew after our busy lives back home.
Arenas Del Mar at Manuel Del Antonio
With this being the most active leg of our trip, we were sad to go but ready to experience another slice of Costa Rica heaven at the Arenas del Mar Beach & Nature Resort in Manuel Antonio. While still private and secluded, the town is livelier and the rooms are air-conditioned.
While bonding and adventure was our first goal, next on our agenda was the chance to just live, relax and luxuriate with a mellow Costa Rican beach lifestyle. And for that purpose, we could think of no other spot other that would fit the bill as well as Arenas Del Mar.
A quick flight over and we landed in Manuel Del Antonio, a popular town with proximity to Manuel Antonio park. The town itself is denser that we were used to, especially compared to our previous surrounding, but we were glad when the driver took us off the beaten path a bit to the close but still removed 5-star Arenas Del Mar property.
Like all Cayuga properties, sustainability is the focal point here and we were happy to see that the thread of conservation and eco responsibility ran strong through this property having been awarded a Five Sustainability Leaf Award and a Five Star Award. One of the main selling points to this property (and there are many as evidence by the numerous other awards including Travel & Leisure, Traveler magazine and The Knot) is the proximity to the Manuel Antonio National Park as well as the direct ocean views and beach access.
One of the reasons this hotel is the most popular in the Manuel Antonio area is that while others are situated high to offer a panoramic view, they require special shuttles to get to the beach. Here, one doesn’t have to choose choose since Arenas Del Mark is privileged to offer direct access to two beaches and stunning views of ocean and rainforest.
As with the majority of the 38 suites at this boutique luxury resort, indoor/outdoor living is one of the main draws. A large outdoor patio complete with a hot tub and 2 sitting areas was overlooking a pristine stretch of beach so allowed us to see and smell the waves crashing which relaxed us instantly on arrival and throughout our stay. The hotel is small but spread out over dense rainforest background so one always feels connected to the natural environment around it. Especially appealing to us was the convenience of the hotel’s golf carts which transported us to and from the main area when we didn’t want to walk.
The suites were large and ample with a separate living area with a fold away bed, a layout ideal for large families and a large master suite with King bed. And the décor was modern tropical chic at its finest. But what really stood out here was the food. Locals come from all over to experience the restaurants here and for good reason. We loved the beachside lunch spot Playitas Restaurant and Bar that allowed us to eat right on the beach with tables set up right near the surf so we could drink and dine on ceviche, tacos, and tuna poke while feeling the sand graze toes. We also dined at the main restaurant El Mirador which overlooks the beaches of Manuel Antonio National Park offering a lively outdoor scene by the pool with fresh drinks and just-caught seafood that rivaled any during our stay.
Another benefit was the full-service wellness center where families can retreat after a long day of adventure. The relaxation lounge offers floor to ceiling Ocean Views with chilled flavored water. The therapists work carefully with each guest to create a spa menu that really hits the spot.
While Lapas Rios is wonderful for families traveling with older kids, Arenas Del Mar is an ideal choice for families with smaller tykes since there is an equally diverse array of activities right on premises. Night walking tours, hawk tours, Tortilla making classes and surf lessons right on premises allow one to feel as if the best of Costa Rica is on offer here — all without having to leave the property.
About Elina Furman
Elina Furman is a seasoned travel journalist living with her family in the great New York area. She covers luxury family travel and her work has appeared in Inspirato magazine, Fodors, Orbitz and Westchester Magazine. Visit her site and follow her on Instagram.
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