Back in November 2019 our youngest, Shep (11), was having a really tough time finding anything to put on his Christmas list. Pretty unusual, right? He finally said he just wanted to go on a road trip. Loved that idea! John and I talked it over and he was all for it. I had so many options and ideas, but kept running into a timing issue with his school schedule. The only time I could really pull him out of school was at the very beginning of March, which didn’t lend itself to a really strong road trip. Heading out West for a week in March was going to be difficult, so we decided to make it a bigger adventure. I had enough miles to get Shep and me to somewhere great and so I decided on Costa Rica. Man was he surprised on Christmas morning!!! He and I planned our mother son adventure itinerary together and came up with our activities. Follow along below and take notes for your next adventure.
As a mother son adventure duo we were looking for a hotel in La Fortuna that gave us easy access to our outdoor adventure activities AND had a pool and a restaurant on site. We did not have a rental car during this trip and needed to keep things simple. If you decide to rent a car in Costa Rica, know ahead of time that insurance is required and is expensive. After being on the roads we now understand why-and we were there during dry season. I honestly cannot imagine doing the driving during rainy season!
Volcano Lodge, Thermal Experience & Hotel: La Fortuna, Costa Rica
Volcano Lodge was exactly the right fit for us as mom and son. The accommodations were basic, but extremely clean; breakfast was included on site; and not only was there a pool, but they also had natural thermal pools.
The staff was excellent from the moment we checked in at the outdoor lobby. They offered great help in organizing our outdoor activities and made us feel cared for while we were guests. The grounds and thermal pools here are really gorgeous and you will enjoy the flora and fauna as you relax and view the Arenal Volcano from many locations inside the hotel grounds. Our room had its own thermal jacuzzi with volcano view and we had fun with it.
Know that this particular hotel is near the town of La Fortuna, but is not within walking distance of the main town where restaurants, storefronts and adventure companies can be accessed. However, it was a quiet location tucked away from the busyness. All of our activities picked us up directly from our hotel, so we were in no way inconvenienced. Shep and I enjoyed Canyoneering (rappelling down waterfalls), kayaking on Lake Arenal, and hiking around the volcano. There are SO MANY activities to choose from including horseback riding, treks of various distances, stand up paddle boarding on the lake, zip lining, ATV tours and more. La Fortuna is the adventure capital of Costa Rica and you will find tourists of all kinds here from budget backpackers to high end luxury travelers.
El Establo Mountain Hotel, Santa Elena in the Monteverde Region
We chose this hotel based on reviews from several friends we follow on Instagram and we really wish we had stayed longer. The hotel is absolutely fabulous with restaurants on site, a host of trails to walk, unbelievable views and lovely rooms. This is THE spot with the best location and luxury accommodations at an affordable price. We spent only one night here as we were specifically seeking out a cloud forest zip lining adventure because what would a mother son adventure be without zip lining?!?! We had an awesome day at Selvatura Park where we zip lined and walked the hanging bridges trail. There is a lot more to do there, but we had to keep moving. In all honestly, if there had been an opportunity for us to stay longer, we would have. Most tourists choose either La Fortuna or Monteverde as a base for adventures and it probably would have been best for us to do only one with a week’s vacation. There is so much to see and do in this area of the country, but taking Shep out of school for longer than a week was not going to work this time. But, we do not regret experiencing a totally different ecosystem. Although La Fortuna and Monteverde appear close to one another on the map, there is not a good and direct way to link the two. We opted to piece a trip together that included a shared van ride along with a long ferry across Arenal Lake. This worked well for us because we didn’t have much luggage. You could also pay for a private transfer. If you have a rental car, plan about a whole day of difficult driving. When we bring the rest of the family back to Costa Rica we will spend more time exploring Monteverde for sure.
Vista Guapa Surf Camp: Jaco, Costa Rica
Shep’s top priority in Costa Rica was learning to surf, but this would be both our first time learning so I did a lot of research about a good/safe place beginners. It wouldn’t be a proper mother son adventure without some big aspirations! Not too deep into my research, I came across Vista Guapa Surf Camp in Jaco, which is on the Pacific side of the Costa Rica.
The camp is comprised of 3 bungalow duplexes nestled into the side of a mountain with sweeping views of the Pacific coastline, a yoga platform/house, a pool area with workout platform, and a main house at the base of the mountain with lobby and areas where breakfast is served. Each bungalow is lined with windows and has high wood paneled ceilings. The interior has a breezy understated beach feel kept clean and tidy. The hammock and chair on the front porch give some extra chill space and the perfect opportunity to watch the sunset.
Each morning a delicious breakfast of eggs, beans & rice, fresh fruit juices, sausage, fresh fruit, and oatmeal is served on the outdoor porches of the main house. Yoga on the outdoor roofed platform is typically offered once per day depending on the tide schedule. Everything revolves around the tides here-the best surf times are the priority. High tide times are posted in the main house and the schedules are hashed out the evening before during dinner or on the ride home. For the most part all meals, surf lessons, and yoga sessions are enjoyed as a group. Don’t be afraid to take an excursion outside the group, but part of the charm of this particular accommodation is to do things as a camp. Shep and I loved it! Kandace and crew were exceptionally attentive and sensitive to the needs of the group. We liked not having to come up with plans on our own, but really liked that we had a vote within the group. We felt at ease, safe, and cared for in every situation.
Shep had his sights set on learning how to surf so we took lessons 3 days in a row. The lessons began as the tides came in and lasted about 2 hours as the waves grew and then died down again. Jaco Beach is an awesome place for beginners to learn. The water is warm, the waves are consistent and not overwhelming, and the beach isn’t huge so it’s not overcrowded. We each had an instructor to ourselves and we started out on the beach with body positioning and some basic surf vocabulary. Before too long we were in the water and being shown how to control our boards safely and given surf wisdom while watching and battling the waves as we paddled out. The first day was about safety and having success getting up on the board. Both Shep and I were able to get up on the first day and it was hugely encouraging. On the second day my body was fighting it, but Shep was rocking it. To be honest I am a little afraid of the water, but Shep is not. His fearlessness overcame the obstacles while I let me fear keep me tense. My instructor had to keep reminding me not to hold my breath and breathe steadily which really helped. On the third day Shep was exhausted and didn’t progress much, but he was still so happy and having fun. I was able to drop in to some waves and really get the full experience on the third day and it was exhilarating. My body paid for it for the next week, but it was totally worth it!
This is the first Mother Son adventure trip I have ever done, and also the first one-on-one trip with a child. It was never specifically a part of our plans as parents to ever try this, but the opportunity came along and we went for it. I can’t say enough wonderful things about it. I birthed 3 children within 5 years, so my time with any of them one-on-one has been extremely limited. Shep’s love language is quality time and boy did he get it. 7 full days of quality time on a mother son dream adventure in a fabulous location. Do it. If you’ve been floating this idea out there, do it. No we don’t have it all planned how we will make it happen for the other two, but I know their wheels are turning and that makes me excited. Shep and I were able to focus on the things he was interested in without having to compromise with the rest of the family. We do that on our family vacations and it’s worthwhile for us all to know how to operate within the family unit, but this was special.
As a side note, Shep and I had crazy timing with this mother son adventure. When we returned back home the beginning of the COVID19 craze began. Our flight arrived back to South Carolina on March 8, 2020. Shep went back to school for 5 days, but by the end of the 3rd day in school it became apparent that everything was changing and changing very quickly. We were given notice on Saturday that no one in SC would be going back to school for a minimum of 3 weeks. I always hold these trips in a pretty loose grip, but I sure am glad we had a great adventure together in Costa Rica. We can’t wait to go back someday!