At only about 20,000 square miles, Costa Rica is a country that is packed with a vast variety of climates and landscapes, and the country remains a big ecotourism destination, as well as a goal for those seeking nothing but resort pampering or those seeking off-the-charts adventure. Beaches? Check. Volcanoes? Check. Biodiversity? Absolutely.
Our friends at Journeys International offer a number of trips and adventures to Costa Rica spanning the variety of tastes. We had the opportunity to talk to Jim Dalton, who enjoyed a 2016 Journeys trip to Costa Rica with his family: Stephanie, his wife; daughter Mara, 25; daughter Ava, 18; and son Connor, 16. The Dalton family of Ann Arbor, Mich., has a tradition: When a child graduates from high school, he or she gets to choose a destination for a trip, and they like to seek places that are different than where they have been. Ava selected Costa Rica. As a family they’ve been to more than 15 or so states, and a number of international destinations.
Jim, the dean of the College of Pharmacy at University of Michigan, has been traveling the world since high school and his work has also taken him to many places, particularly around Europe, in the last decade. The family loves trying new foods when traveling, and they generally like active travel, choosing hiking, vineyard tours, glacier tours, searching for Grizzly bears (yeah, really), dog-sledding or wildlife tours. “We really enjoy the family time together when we are moving about and learning something new together,” he said. “We hope to travel as a family for many years to come.” Then he added, “We don’t know where Connor will take us in 2019!”
Here, Jim Dalton and family share some insights and tips about their Costa Rica trip and travel in general.
Choosing the travel destination and travel preparation
HITT: Why did you choose this destination? What inspired you to visit Costa Rica?
Our daughter chose Costa Rica for our family vacation this year. She graduated from high school and, per family tradition, was allowed to choose our destination. She wanted a destination unknown to all of us where we could be active and explore a new culture.
HITT: What were your biggest concerns about packing and preparation for your trip to Costa Rica?
Dalton: Our largest concerns at the time were news reports regarding the Zika virus. It turned out to be a non-issue. We packed plenty of insect repellent and never had a problem.
Costa Rica travel tips and advice
HITT: What advice would you give to others who travel to Costa Rica?
Dalton: Invest in an experienced local guide like we did. Our guide, Carlos, was fantastic. He pointed out animals, sites of interest, knew off-the-beaten-path places to hike, and took us to tasty local restaurants, not to mention helped us remember our Spanish!!
HITT: What optional sites or places do you absolutely recommend travelers experience or see when visiting Costa Rica?
Dalton: We loved the Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges tour! Our local guide (driver) was an experienced bird enthusiast and pointed out dozens that we would have missed otherwise. The experience of having a band of coatimundi walk by while hiking in the rain forest was a once in a lifetime experience.
HITT: If you could change one thing about your experience or something you did, what would it be?
Dalton: We would have flown home from Guancaste instead of San Jose and avoided the long drive back from Tamarindo to San Jose.
HITT: What day or experience in Costa Rica has become the story you tell most often — whether good, or perhaps less than ideal, but now perhaps humorous or educational?
Dalton: The zip lines, hanging bridges, and night hike through the rain forest in Arenal were incredible and so they are the stories that I tell the most! My eldest daughter was the only one to express an extreme fear of heights but the Sky Trek zip lines in Arenal tested everyone’s limits. Being over 600 feet above the rain forest floor and hanging on a zip line for about half a mile gives you plenty of time to think about how precious life is, the durability of your harness, and whether or not the assistants hooked you up to the line correctly. Tears, laughter, exhilarating rides, and a fantastic GoPro video will be memories that last a life time. We went zip lining again the next day near Tamarindo with a much smaller, family owned outfit and were flying through the air upside down, like Superman, without a care in the world.
HITT: What was your favorite Costa Rican food while traveling there?
Dalton: Our guide who drove us from Arenal to Tamarindo dined with us in Arenal and at one of his favorite local restaurants on the way. We had a great time meeting the local people, enjoying Caribbean beans and rice (gallo pinto), and local coffee. Costa Rican coffee was fantastic and was something we packed into our suitcases to take home!
Travel insights and favorite travel quote
HITT: Aside from the basics (passport, etc.…), what three items do you consider musts on any trip?
Dalton: A sense of humor, a modicum of patience, and a hunger for local desserts!
HITT: Do you have a favorite travel quote or saying, applicable to this trip or in general?
Dalton: Pura Vida!
Map of Central America
In the map below, pins mark the exact location of all the sites mentioned in our articles on Central America. Zoom in or out on the map using the controls. Switch easily from map to satellite view. Click on each pin to pull up a tooltip with the name and any additional information.
Biomuseo - Panama
Country Inn & Suites Panama Canal
Bocas Inn - Panama
Isla Bastimentos National Marine Park - Panama
Bocart Restaurant - Panama
Miraflores Visitors Center - Panama Canal
Fort San Lorenzo Castle - Panama
Hotel Melia Panama Canal
Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges - Costa Rica
Sky Trek zip lines in Arenal - Costa Rica
Arenal Manoa Hotel - Costa Rica
Arenal Manoa Hotel is a beautiful place to rest, relax and enjoy the marvelous view of Arenal Volcano. Surrounded by gardens, pastures and animals, our rooms have been designed so that each one offers you a panoramic view of the volcano. Our visitors can take advantage of our spacious gardens for walking and meditation as well as the opportunities to see the daily operations of a typical Costa Rican farm.
Ecotermales Fortuna Hot Springs - Costa Rica
The Eco Termales Hot Springs is a sanctuary of pleasure, nature and beauty that has been the life work of the Hidalgo family. The smallest of the Arenal hot springs, Eco Termales is geared toward privacy and relaxation—it does not accept more than 100 visitors at one time.
Journeys International is the longest standing family-owned global adventure travel company in the US. We offer full-service exotic, guided cross-cultural explorations, nature safaris, treks and eco-tours in remote corners of Asia, Africa, the Americas and the Pacific. Founded by current directors Will and Joan Weber in 1978, Journeys boasts an extraordinary record of client and staff satisfaction and several industry awards.
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