Hola Jane and Fraser,
I have so much to say that this will, without a doubt, be a very long email! I'm going to go through our itinerary and write out our thoughts. If I say anything that you think is a good comment to post on your fb page, feel free to cut and paste a comment or two. When I first discovered your company by googling "costa rica adventure vacation", I found your website to be interesting and intriguing, and it was simple to click the button on all the activities that I thought we would enjoy. We had been researching trips to Costa Rica using other companies as well, but your prompt reply and fabulous itinerary caused us to look more deeply into your company. The fact that you live in Costa Rica with your two young children, yet are not Costa Rican was interesting to me, and gave me confidence that we would enjoy Costa Rica too. Then, after our first phone conversation you assuaged all my fears and worries, and inspired me to go out on a limb and trust someone I had never met. Something about the conversation and your warm personality and the way you spoke of your children and your guides made me feel that I had a new friend, that I would really like you if I had the chance to meet you in person. So we did something we have never done, and we booked an overseas vacation with a company with which we had no previous connection and no references. That was crazy! But we are so glad we did!
The booking process was simple and the booklets you sent for each of us at Christmas were fun to have. The travel info and packing lists were very helpful, though I admit we did not pursue our vaccines on schedule so we scrambled 10 days before leaving to get our typhoid and hep A vaccines. (That was our fault for not reading the details closely.) The vouchers were helpful also as it was nice to have our pickup times and things to bring as a quick reference. Our pickup at the airport was smooth and Natalie was very nice along the way.
Day 1--arriving at Villa Florencia. Thank you for meeting us there and for getting us settled and ready for our next day. It was so nice to meet you in person and to feel personally cared for by both of you. It was a very quaint little villa, the rooms were nice and clean and the accomodations were good. It was a peaceful place to relax and recover from our journey, and we enjoyed the pool and hot tub that night. We enjoyed the meals in the restaurant, though for the first 2 meals we were the only people there,!. Cristian was very nice and I had a conversation with him in my limited Spanish on the second morning in which we talked about many things. I enjoyed learning more about Turrialba and the baseball factory from him. The food was very good and we ate well there. And those birds! What fun to watch them in the mornings as we sat by the pool and drank our coffee.
Day 2--canyoning. I'm so glad you arranged our trip the way that you did with the local Turrialba guides and adventures first. Daniel was wonderful! We loved having him. He is so friendly, personable, kind and helpful. He is a tremendous asset to Costa Rica Rios, I'm sure! He pointed out so many things along the way, telling us about the town, the country, the people, the animals, the plants, the roads etc.. And he seemed genuinely happy to be doing what he was doing. He made us feel like honored guests and not random tourists. He was great with each of my children and was encouraging in so many ways. Jorge was also very kind, encouraging and helpful. He seemed interested in making our adventure safe and fun and teaching us some things along the way. When we stopped to think that we were in a foreign country with people we just met and we were about to do something fairly dangerous, it seemed crazy, but Daniel and Jorge seemed very trustworthy and we truly trusted them with our lives at that point. Eduarado and Jorge Jr. didn't say much but went about their jobs efficiently and carefully and were helpful and kind. The canyoning was a thrill for sure and I was excited to see the kids embrace the challenge and conquer their fears. Allie was especially scared before the first waterfall, but once she did it, she loved it and was happy to keep going. The lunch at the restaurant was a highlight--the food was delicious, the extra time chatting with Daniel was a treat and watching Costa Rica win their World Cup game was priceless. It was so fun to watch the game and cheer on the team while overlooking the beautiful valley from the restaurant. Truly an experience to remember.
Day 3--Serpentarium/Rafting. We were happy to see Daniel again. The serpentarium was a great experience. I personally am terrified of snakes so I was not looking forward to that visit, but Luke loves snakes so he had said that he was most looking forward to that visit, so I couldn't bail out! Minor, the snake expert, was very knowledgable and clearly passionate about snakes. His instruction was very interesting, though the kids thought he was very hard to understand due to his heavy accent. I found it fascinating to listen to someone who clearly loved his subject. Luke loved holding the snakes and I admired his courage from afar as I hid behind everyone else. Shannon held the snakes too, but Luke had them in his hands for most of the rest of the tour. Then we were off to the river! The road to get there was probably the scariest part of the rafting trip! :) We were thankful for safe drivers while we were in Costa Rica! Arriving at the river we immediatly met Julio, Marcelo and Dixon, who were all very friendly and kind. We quickly put on the life jackets and sunscreen and hopped into the raft. Daniel and Julio were both great at giving us the rafting commands and instructions, and we felt like we were in good hands. Rafting was really fun! Daniel and Julio made it interesting too by pointing out the waterfalls and the animals and the indiginous homes and all the interesting things along the way. We stopped for lunch and while Julio and Marcelo started the lunch preparations Daniel took us up a creek to a swimming hole and we played there for a while jumping off the rocks and sliding down the waterfall he returned to help with lunch. When it was ready he waved to us and we returned to the wonderful lunch buffet on the upside down raft! Such a delicious and creative lunch--and a treat for me as I'm usually the one preparing the food for my family.
Day 3--the jungle lodge. What a fantastic place! We thoroughly enjoyed that place! The cabins were clean and the view was amazing. And the fact that all of the food, and all of our stuff, and pillows and bedding were brought to us was pretty cool. I can imagine all the planning that goes into thost details! And I was thankful that I wasn't the one worrying about the details! I was able to simply enjoy the experience with my family. Sitting in the dining area overlooking the river, sipping the lime cocktail and enjoying the evening was such a treat. Daniel, Julio, Marcelo and Dixon prepared a fabulous dinner for us and we loved it! They were awesome guides and chefs. And then Daniel sat with us and talked more about his life and family and we enjoyed getting to know him better. He is a gem! I hope you pay him well! :) It poured down rain for hours that night, but it didn't seem to matter. We carried on with dinner and games and laying in the hammocks while the rain poured down.
Day 4--rafting to the end. Our second day of rafting was fantastic too. We stopped to swim in the waterfall and that was awesome. Lunch was again a treat and the 3 guides were happy chefs. The rapids were fun and I was thankful that Daniel and Julio found a safe way for Luke to be able to stay on the raft with us. I knew they were concerned for his safety and were not being careless or reckless in any way, but they saw that the right side of the river had a route that would be safer and we took that instead. (Though I would've been fine riding horses out of there if we needed to do so, I'm glad we were all able to stay together on the river.) The rafting experience was a great one. We had a lot of fun together with Daniel, and Tim enjoyed paddling the shredder with Julio. (A funny story...after one of our stops Julio asked "Are you ready Tim?" but because of his accent I thought he said "Are you ready Team?" so I answered "yep, we're ready!") The drive to Arenal was nice--the driver, Eddie, was very nice and took good care of us.
Day 4--The Springs. Wow! What an amazing resort! The architecture was spectacular and the views were awesome. We enjoyed the hot springs and the cold pools, and the slide was a lot fun. It was a beautiful place with gorgeous landscaping and pools. The breakfast was great--lots of choices and plenty to eat! I found it a drastic difference to go from the personal care shown to our family by Daniel, Julio and Marcelo to the impersonal service at The Springs. Not that the staff there did anything wrong at all--it just felt like we were one of many tourists and that no one personally cared about us as a family. It felt a bit cold and impersonal after having been in our small family group traveling down the river. It made me truly appreciate the warm welcome and care we received from you and your staff in Turrialba and along the river. Sometimes its nice to be anonymous, but I'm glad that our first few days in Costa Rica didn't feel that way. The Springs rooms were beautiful and everything felt so luxurious, especially after the river lodge!
Day 5--Ziplining and Rainforest Tour. I again appreciated the personal care and private family tours we had already had as we were loaded into a van full of others to go to the Sky Tour with a large group. Its not that we didn't like the larger group, but that we fully appreciated our private family canyoning and rafting trip once we experienced being a part of a larger group where the guides don't even know our names. Not a big deal, just a feeling, and I'm a person who feels deeply. :) The ziplining was awesome! What a thrill! I thought I would be terrified and my heart would be racing, but once we got going I truly wasn't scared and just loved the experience. What a rush! The kids all loved it and all did very well. The 2 ziplines that were too long for little Luke to go alone, he very easily zipped in tandem with a guide and did great. It was a crazy feeling to think we just watched our youngest child jump off the platform 600 feet above the rainforest with a guide we just met. It was truly a fun experience and I'm glad we did it! The rainforest tour was very interesting and our guide, Miguel, was passionate about the flora and fauna of the rainforest. He was very animated when describing the ants and the trees and the insects and everything. We learned a lot and it was truly interesting, but our interest quickly evaporated when it started to pour down rain! The last 1/3 of the hike was in a downpour and we just wanted to get back to the starting place! But even in the rain our guide pointed out toads and snakes and leaves. He made it as interesting as possible for us despite the conditions. The bouncy sky bridges were scarier than the ziplines!
Day 6--paddleboarding. This was a great adventure! We had a perfect weather day for paddleboarding. Sunny and clear and perfect temperatures. The guides, Jaime and Andres, were great--kind, encouragning and fun instructors, challenging us to try yoga poses and headstands on the boards. I love paddleboarding, and to stand on the board peacefully paddling by a volcano was pretty cool. That was the clearest view we had of the volcano the whole trip and it was spectacular. That was a fantastic morning! And then to arrive back at the resort in time to watch soccer while at the swim up bar was awesome. We had lunch that day at the resort restaurant called Treetops Grill that had very limited hours so it was the only time we could eat there which was a shame because it was delicious and a fabulous view. Its not open for dinner because of the dark, and its not open for breakfast either, but we had a great lunch there. The 2nd and 3rd nights we were at The Springs we actually ordered room service for dinner which we never do, but we were so tired and it was pouring down rain so we didn't want to walk all the way from our building to the main building! But we enjoyed our room service meals and watched a movie together. That afternoon we went on the animal tour down at Club Rio--that was pretty cool. The toucans and sloths were neat, but the monkeys and cats were the stars of the tour. We happened to be there during feeding time for the cats so we got to see them eat chicken legs and that was really cool. The guide was great and very knowledgable. We didn't do any of the other activities at Club Rio, partly because we didn't have much extra time and partly because we didn't want the added expense when we already had so many great activities on our schedule.
Day 7--the drive to the beach. Long. That's all. Actually it was neat to travel through some of the towns along the way just to catch a glimpse of other parts of the country. But it was a long drive on some pretty narrow roads. Once we got to the coast the view was awesome and the drive improved! :)
Day 7--arriving at Tulemar. What an awesome place! The villa/bungalow was fabulous. The rock showers with the open air windows were probably the coolest showers we've ever used! Felt like a luxury! We truly didn't spend much time in the villa except to sleep. We spent the days out at the beach and pool and tours, and were usually so exhausted at night we went to sleep early. But I felt like the villa was a place we would have loved to hang out more if we had more time there. The kitchen was beautiful and well-appointed and it made me a little sad to not take advantage of it. The view was amazing and I just couldn't get enough of it. I love the ocean and I love to watch the sunset over the ocean so it was heavenly. The beach was very nice and we enjoyed boogie boarding and kayaking and swimming. The landscaping at Tulemar was beautiful and it felt like such a luxurious tropical paradise. We loved the pool at the restaurant and spent a lot of time there and at the bar watching soccer. That's where we were for the second Costa Rica game and it was fun to watch the game and celebrate with the staff and have the lunch with that awesome view. We ate most meals at the restaurant there--we liked it a lot. The food and drinks were great, the staff friendly and attentive and the view can't be beat. We did eat lunch at El Avion one day, which was great too, and one dinner at Victoria's, which was also great. We didn't have a bad meal the whole trip!
Day 8--jet ski-snorkel tour. That was awesome! Loved it! All the kids except Luke had a chance to drive a jet ski which they could not do in the US so it was a treat! Tim got the single jet ski and loved the speed and power of driving himself. The view of the beaches and coves and marina was really neat and we loved being out on the water. The snorkel part was neat and we saw lots of different fish and starfish and jellyfish. We stopped in one place to swim and another to snorkel and it was all fun. Again we had a perfectly beautiful day and it was a great memory for us. We went back to the resort for lunch and soccer watching! Then we had our guided tour of Manuel Antonio National Park in the afternoon. Our guide that day was very knowledgable and quick to spot even tiny animals that he quickly found for us to view through his telescope. That was amazing because most of the time we found it hard to see with the naked eye even once he pointed out where to look. Truly a well-developed skill! We saw tons of animals and even had monkeys eat out of our hands! There was a crocodile that day in the beach on the left, so no swimming there that day, but we did swim briefly at the beach on the right. I'm glad we were able to do that tour with a guide or we would've seen very little with our own eyes.
Day 9--surfing. Another awesome activity! We loved it and I'm so happy to be able to say that I have now learned to surf! (Of course I needed a push from the instructors in order to be able to get up, but I still did it!) Luke was amazing and surfed like a pro. The girls did very well too and really enjoyed it. The instructors were patient in repeating instructions but were also commanding in the sense that they were not going to let us just lay there on the boards and not surf. One of the instructors, Elliott, was especially helpful to me and one, Ericson, was especially good with Luke and I was grateful for that. I was worried about him being safe while at the same time trying not to get crushed by a wave myself. But Ericson stayed right with Luke most of the time and kept him surfing. Tim was initially a natural and surfed several waves on instinct, but then I believe he started to think too much and found himself unable to get up, so he gave up and sat on the beach. I talked to Elliott in my best Spanish and tried to tell him that Tim was frustrated because in the US he is a great athlete in many sports including skiing and snowboarding and he's frustrated because he isn't able to stand up on the surfboard. Elliott listened to me and must have understood what I was trying to convey and he went to Tim, got him a different board and took him back out and stayed with him until he was successful. It made the lesson finish on a much more positive note for Tim and I was grateful. So all in all our family surfing lesson was a great experience and we loved it.
Day 10--time to go home. Our trip was everything you said it would be and more. I'm so glad that we trusted you and your suggestions and booked the trip exactly as we did. We would absolutely love to come back to Costa Rica and will definitely contact you when the time comes. And for now, I'm recommending Costa Rica Rios to everyone I know! Our itinerary was exactly what we needed and we made such fun family memories that are priceless. Our oldest goes off to college in the fall and will be swimming for the University of Georgia, so her schedule is no longer under our authority. We don't know when we will have the chance to take another trip with all 7 of us, so we are grateful for the opportunity we had. Planning a fun family vacation that appeals to all 5 of our kids--ages 18, 16, 14, 12 and 8--could have been difficult, but you made it easy for us and all of us truly loved it.
Thank you for all that you did to make it happen!
Jamie R, Hummelston, PA.