Costa Rica was one of the places we have talked about going to, but kept postponing for a very long time. When we finally made it a few years ago, only one of our children was free to go with us. She was ten, the older ones were out of school, busy with college and jobs. Taking our ten-year-old proved to be the best thing for that rip. She’s a nature lover and Costa Rica is a nature lover’s paradise.
When we walked into the small, local restaurant at ten o’clock at night, the lingering teens turned their heads in our directions. Besides their group, no one seemed to be in the tiny establishment. The restaurant had only two tables, one taken by the above-mentioned teens. We sat down at the other one and hoped for the best.
We were in a local neighborhood of San Jose, Costa Rica. The tiny hotel we got our room in was close to the airport. We picked it because our plane landed late at night. In another lifetime, without kids, we would have skipped dinner, opting for a few snacks. But, I could not let my child go to bed without a proper meal. So there we were, at an almost deserted restaurant, in the middle of a local neighborhood.
A middle-aged waitress came out and tried telling us in Spanish that they were closed. Then she noticed our daughter and smiled.
“Never mind, I can serve you anyway”, she added. I guessed that she was not only the waitress, but the owner as well.
She brought out a few tiny hand-written menus, and offered to bring us fresh fruit juices. We ordered three different flavors, pineapple, coconut, and strawberries.
As we watched, she put the fresh fruit in a blender, and whipped up some of the best, freshest smoothies we’ve ever tasted.
It was tricky to order since she did not speak a word of English and our Spanish was rudimentary. She had no children’s menu, no easy, fast food, only local fare. Still, she tried to find out what our daughter liked and work around her taste buds.
We ended up ordering three different meals, hoping that one of them would please her, and we’d eat the other ones. We expected our picky eater to be… well, picky, her usual self. To my surprise, she sampled everything and liked it all. She ended up eating the most unusual local dish, with nothing familiar in it. You never know with kids.
Traveling without a Plan
After that first night, we had no hotel reservations, only a vague idea of what we wanted to see and do. It was one of our regular “go with the flow, see what you can find” type of trip. No one I know does this with kids. I probably don’t know the right people. Our friends might think that we torture our kids when we take them on trips with no reservations and no plans. But, our kids are used to this and love it (or so they say). They have done it since the day they were born. Kids are much more flexible and resilient than we give them credit for.
On the first morning of our trip we got in our rental car and set off. We stopped at a local grocery store, bought plenty of water and snacks for the road, then started driving. Leaving the area proved harder than we anticipated. We drove around in circles for a while, feeling lost. I noticed the raised eyebrows and questioning looks of some locals watching us. When we passed them the fourth time, we stopped by them. Without even waiting for us to ask, they came over and offered advice on how to make it out of the neighborhood. We finally made it to the highway towards Poas Volcano.
Kids Make You Slow Down and Smell the Roses
Things were slower since we stopped more often with our daughter. After a “short” stop at the volcano, it was past lunch time. The snacks were not enough to hold her over longer. When we saw something that resembled a restaurant on the side of the road, we stopped.
As we were exploring the premises, we realized that the restaurant was also a small hotel. Yes, they did have one room left available for the night. By then our daughter already made friends with one of the dogs, and she begged us to stay for the night. Of course, we stayed. We were in no rush, we had no set destination.
After our (very) late lunch, we got acquainted with all the other animals on the premises. The hotel seemed to be also a farm, with goats, sheep, cows, and more dogs.
Kids find everything, in this case, including a trail into the jungle right in our back yard. I followed my daughter into the dense forest. We live in the desert, so being in a tropical jungle was an especially great treat for both of us. She got excited about anything, a tree, a bush, a bug, even a broken bridge that we traversed.
We Spend a Day at La Paz Waterfall and Butterfly Garden
The happened to be close to the Waterfalls and Butterfly Gardens, so we decided to visit it the next day. We spent a full day there, from opening till closing time and we had a great time, in spite of the surrounding tourists.
While the waterfalls are undoubtedly the major attraction in the park, the animal sanctuary/zoo is also worth the visit.
The animals and birds that live there were rescued when they got hurt, or confiscated from people who tried keeping them as pets. Wild animals don’t make good pets. You can read their story as you enter the sanctuary, and always hope that they can be returned to the wild some day.
The butterfly garden is another great stop in the park. Thousands of butterflies, of all different species, some of which I’ve never seen before, fluttered around us, sometimes settling on a flower close by.
The major draw to the park are the waterfalls. Years ago visitors used to be able to see nine waterfalls. Although an earthquake buried a few, the remaining five are still spectacular and worth the hikes through the jungle.
At the end of the trail a shuttle bus is available to take you back to the visitor center. By the time we got there, we had spent a full day in the park, and enjoyed every minute of it.