Tulemar Vacation Rentals, Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

Off to a Great Adventure: Arriving in Manuel Antonio at Sunset

“Every sunset is an opportunity to reset”. – Richie Norton

Exhausted and achy after 13 hours of travel, we finally arrived at our hotel in Manuel Antonio. It had been an extremely long day, especially for the kids, but we were all in high spirits to finally arrive at our much-awaited destination. I had been wanting to go to Manuel Antonio ever since I first visited Costa Rica in 2011 on a volunteer trip. A group of fellow volunteers had went for a weekend but as a mother of young children, I could not afford to be gone any longer than a week. I had to go home despite a deep unfilled wish of seeing it.

Fast forward 6 years, in the midst of planning our 9 day family adventure in Costa Rica that long seeded desire to visit Manual Antonio National Park arose from hibernation and a little voice kept telling me I had to finally go see it even if it would require a significant amount of time spent in the car driving. As I mentioned in my past post, we flew into Liberia Airport in the north of the country and to reach Manuel Antonio required a long five hour drive down a one-way highway snaking in and out of little beach towns. Yet I had my heart set on seeing Manuel Antonio so the plan was made to get the long drive out of the way immediately on the front end of our trip. I can thank my husband for his wise thinking.

Our route

The entire drive down to Manuel Antonio I secretly wondered if I would truly be satisfied by visiting. I had just spent a week in the remote, undeveloped Osa Peninsula in January and literally had the place to myself. Its raw, untouched beauty and lack of mass tourism made it a paradise on earth and supported my mission to travel responsibly by engaging in sustainable, ethical travel. Manuel Antonio would be quite different as it is known as the first ecotourism destination in Costa Rica so the area has suffered over the years with mass tourism, overdevelopment, and unsustainable practices that have negatively impacted the culture, environment and wildlife of this magical place. A complicated feeling of guilt mixed with pleasure swirled around inside my head.

When we arrived in Quepos, the bustling town located right outside of the park, it was clear that it was nothing at all like Puerto Jimenez in the Osa Peninsula. Street after street was packed with souvenir shops, restaurants and an overwhelmingly amount of tourists. My stomach dropped in initial disappointment yet I should not have been surprised based on all I had read.

We drove the 4 1/2 miles (7 km) through town, constantly avoiding cars and people, climbing up the lush green rain forested hills of Manuel Antonio. Resort after resort dotted the tiny road with gates and security guards and pristine landscaping. I confess it was beautiful yet a stark difference between the tiny town of Drake Bay in the Osa whose sweeping views of rainforest and jungle are unobstructed.

We pulled into the gates of our resort and were relieved to finally be there. After much research and careful consideration, we decided to stay at one of the best resorts in town, Tulemar Vacation Rentals. It would be a far cry from my cheap, local lodging in the Osa and would not exactly follow my mission of staying and supporting local travel. Yet it would have some clear advantages over some of the other choices in the area. First, we would have our own private villa with one large bedroom, a large balcony and a kitchen. Second, we would be in walking distance to all the restaurants so we did not need to rent a car. And lastly and perhaps the most essential is that the resort has its own private beach and park reserve. Unfortunately the beautiful beaches of Manuel Antonio are very small, overcrowded with hardly a place to relax. Having our own beach away from all the crowds to relax and unwind sounded amazing. I just had to fight with that little voice inside my head reminding me I was staying at a gated compound instead of at a locally-owned ecolodge. (Side note: After thinking about this issue extensively, I contacted Tulemar via email with a list of questions about their sustainability practices. I got some excellent information which I will share in my next post on Tulemar). 

We checked in, and loaded our luggage into one of Tulemar’s vans to bring us to our Villa. I naively thought we could walk but the complex is huge and the roads throughout it are extremely steep. So steep that my calves ached walking to and from the beach (you can of course take the van but I preferred to walk). It is also quite large with lots of different accommodations and even a few privately owned homes. I hadn’t expected it to be so big! There are even a few different pools within the complex depending on your need (a family, adults only, and the sunset pool).

We reached our villa just as the sun was beginning to make its initial descent. We walked out on the large balcony and were rewarded with an astounding view of the jungle and sea below. It made our long day of travel completely worth the effort.

Tulemar Vacation Rentals

The view from our balcony

Tulemar Vacation Rentals, Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

The balcony is huge with a couch, dining table and best of all a hammock with an unbelievably gorgeous view.

Tulemar Vacation Rentals, Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

The view

Tulemar Vacation Rentals, Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

My favorite place of all – the hammock

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And So It Begins…Our First Epic Family Trip to Costa Rica

“May your adventures bring you closer together even as they take you far away from home.” – Trenton Lee Stewart

Planning our first big family adventure was no easy feat. Despite my Type-A personality, usually when I travel solo I just sign up for a trip and go. I rarely do any pre-trip planning except for the bare minimums. Traveling without everything planned in advance feels much more adventurous and liberating for me. It is the one or two weeks of my life that is not confined to a strictly organized schedule, and as the trip unravels there are often many unexpected delights that make it even more pleasurable.

This style of on the fly planning however was obviously not going to work for an eight-day family trip driving all over Costa Rica. Instead, it required a fair amount of pre-trip planning and organization. My husband and I had to nail down all hotels, transportation and daily excursions beforehand especially since we were traveling during high season. Luckily, I have three friends who had already done the trip with their families so I basically was able to hijack their itinerary with a few tweaks here and there. As always, I bought a travel guide and we researched online perusing TripAdvisor and other resourceful sights to make this trip as easy and fun as possible.

A surprise for later…family shot at Arenal Volcano.

We knew that we didn’t want to just go to an all-inclusive resort and stay on the beach for a week. Instead, we wanted adventure and we wanted to see as much of the country as we could squeeze in. During my past visit to the Osa Peninsula, I learned that driving in Costa Rica is no easy undertaking. There are relatively few roads signs, addresses are unusual, and most roads are unpaved requiring a 4WD SUV with GPS so you don’t get too lost (even with GPS you often find yourself going the wrong way!).

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Universal Studios Orlando

#UniversalMoments at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

“I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book.” ― J.K. Rowling

Suddenly you are soaring with the wind against your face, at breakneck speed, diving up and down in the wizarding world of Harry Potter. For a few moments in time, you feel like you are Harry Potter, Hermione or Ron racing on top a broomstick inside of their magical world at Hogwarts. You race through Hogwarts castle, nearly escaping evil wizards and creatures on every side, then you are out on the Quidditch field having the game of your life. For those short breathless minutes on “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey“, you feel like you are part of Harry Potter’s exhilarating, enchanting world.

I honestly never dreamed I’d be into a theme park yet our day spent at Orlando’s Universal Studios revived the imaginative child within me, and I enjoyed myself equally as much as my two kids. I’ve always been an avid reader and ever since my children were little, Harry Potter and his magical world has been a big part of our lives. My husband first read all seven brilliant books by J.K. Rowling to our son Max when he was just learning to read. Then, both kids read the entire series of books in one month flat inspiring me to pick up and read them too. After reading the first few pages of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone I was hooked and lavishly read the remaining books as fast as I could. 

Rowling’s phenomenal creation of the magical world of Harry Potter blows me away. I confess to once trying to write fiction but giving up after a year of roadblocks and frustration. Being a good writer is extremely hard yet Rowling has the gift. She is truly a genius! Not only has she created a wonderful collection of books, Harry Potter’s world has also made it to the big screen as well as theme parks for those who want a taste at the wizarding world.

Universal Studios Orlando

Sophia getting ready to enter Harry Potter’s Wizarding World

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter spans two theme parks – Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida – at the Universal Orlando Resort in Orlando, Florida. It opened in 2010 and has been greeting eager Potter enthusiasts ever since. Besides Harry Potter, Universal Studios also is home to several other themes including Marvel Studio Hero Island, Toon Lagoon, Jurassic Park, The Lost Continent, Seuss Landing, and the newly opened Skull Island. But for our family, we spent the majority of our time checking out Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, truly our favorites. 

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the Grand Canyon Arizona

The Grand Canyon with Kids

“A Land to Inspire our Spirit:  Grand Canyon – one of Earth’s most powerful, inspiring landscapes- overwhelms our senses. Its story tells of geologic processes played out over unimaginable time spans as a unique combination of size, color, and dazzling erosion forms: 277 river miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and a mile deep. Our responsibility as good stewards is to pass on this gift, pristine and preserved, to future generations”.

Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon is arguably one of the most amazing geological masterpieces in the world and there are endless ways to explore her spectacular beauty. As an avid hiker, the way I wanted to see and experience the canyon meant on foot however my plans had to be altered when we decided to bring our two children along.

A visit to the Grand Canyon is wonderful at any age and thankfully the National Park System thought the development of the park out with this idea in mind. Whether you are an avid hiker, a senior citizen or a family, there are endless ways you can experience the Grand Canyon.

We planned our visit for two days in October when most children are in school and tourism is busy but not overwhelming. We flew to Tucson where my parents live and spent a few days there before heading out on our road trip north. Getting to the Grand Canyon involves a bit of driving and we split our trip by spending a day in Sedona before driving the rest of the way to the Grand Canyon.

We chose the small, touristy town of Tusayan as our base which is located about a ten minute drive from the South entrance of the Grand Canyon. There is not much there except for hotels and not so great restaurants yet it is convenient and our lodging was nice. If we do it again, which I hope we do, I would choose to stay at one of the many great places in the Grand Canyon. There are plenty of little cafes and restaurants and even a nice grocery store that serves wonderful, economically priced hot food. These hotels book up a lot faster than in Tusayan so it is probably best to reserve your hotel at least six months in advance and much earlier if you are going during summer high season.

We arrived at our hotel late on Monday night with only time for dinner and winding down before our big day exploring the Canyon. Our room at the Best Western in Tusayan was quite nice and even fit a cot for my ten-year-old son. I was surprised to see so many Europeans at our hotel. Given the time of year, the tourists at the Grand Canyon were mostly adults and not the van-loads of kids like you’d expect. It was quite an international crowd which I always enjoy.

We rose Tuesday morning to chilly temperatures around 39 degrees F, had breakfast and left for the Visitor Center at the Grand Canyon. Since it wasn’t high season, we had no problem parking in the main lot and left our car there all day as the Grand Canyon has an excellent shuttle service bringing you around to the main lookouts.

the Grand Canyon Arizona

There are tons of Elk at the Canyon. We saw them in the mornings and evenings.

We began our day with a short documentary film on the formation and history of the Grand Canyon, right at the Visitor Center. It was excellent and highly informative plus the kids loved it. We also grabbed a Junior Ranger Activity Book for the kids to fill out and complete during our time at the Grand Canyon. The Guide contains all sorts of learning activities which is an excellent way to keep young children engaged and interested in their visit.

the Grand Canyon Arizona

The Grand Canyon Junior Ranger Activity Book is a great way to educate and entertain children at the Grand Canyon.

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Moonlighting at Moonlight Basin

Author’s note: This is my last post on our recent family vacation to Big Sky, Montana. To see other posts on Montana, click here

Mid-week during our ski trip to Montana we opted to try out neighboring Moonlight Basin ski resort. Known as Big Sky’s little sister, Moonlight Basin is smaller, cheaper and humbler yet in my opinion equally if not more beautiful and pristine. We spent a wonderful day skiing there with our dear friends who joined us on the trip. Two families, with two kids each, the same exact age. It was a wonderful day like all the rest.

The day started out iffy. Weather was moving in and it was expected to rain. But we couldn’t complain as the last five days of our trip in Montana had been absolutely spectacular with perhaps the bluest sky I’d ever seen. If all else fails, perhaps we’d have to get a day pass and hang out in Moonlight Basin’s magical, misty pool, slope – side.



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