Amazing Costa Rica: Beaches, volcanoes, rain forests, adventure

by Central America

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.

The Dalton family at Hanging Bridges in Costa Rica.

The Dalton family in Costa Rica, ready for their zip line adventure. Left to right: Connor, Stephanie, Ava, Jim and Mara.

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.


Colorful humming birds in Costa Rica

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 Tamarindo beaches are spectacular.

Tamarindo beach at sunset. (photo by Jim Dalton)

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!!

Tiny and colorful Costa Rica tree frog

Tiny tree frog (photo by Jim Dalton)

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.

Touring in Mistral Arenal Hanging Bridges in Costa Rica.

(photo by Jim Dalton)

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.

Arenal hot springs in Costa Rica.

Enjoying the hot springs at Arenal. (photo by Jim Dalton)

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!

Food in Costa Rica is simply delicious!

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!

Costa Rica jungle view hotel.


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Heads up! This information on Costa Rica was accurate when we published it on HI Travel Tales, but, as we know, traveling is all about changes (and inflation, sadly). It is your sole responsibility to confirm prices, transportation schedules, hours of operation, safety and health considerations, and any other important details before your adventure.
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Michael Hodgson

Co-Conspirator at HI Travel Tales
Winner of a 2018 Silver Medal from the North American Travel Journalists Association for travel writing excellence, Michael has authored more than 16 books and penned many hundreds of feature articles over the years. His bylines have appeared in Backpacker, Men's Journal, Men's Health, Outside, The San Jose Mercury News, Portland Oregonian and more. His travels have taken him to all seven continents. He is a member in good standing of the North American Travel Journalists Association and the Professional Travel Bloggers Association.
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