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The Big One; a 4x4 family adventure in Costa Rica

Costa rica rafting claire johnson family

So keen was Claire Johnson to share her experiences from her Pura family adventure in Costa Rica that we handed her the keys to The Pothole to do just that. We think she has done a wonderful job making these special moments so vivid, so personal. We almost feel we were there with them at the beach house, watching that magical scene unfold.

We hope you enjoy reading her story. If it inspires your own family adventure, we'd be only too glad to talk.

Our Costa Rica Family Adventure

By Claire Johnson & family

We decided that this year was going to be the year that we took the “big one”. Our eldest son would be 16 and would have done his GCSEs. Our 14-year-old would be about to start studying for his. Our 12-year daughter was happily settled into secondary school and our 9-year-old was old enough to remember what we were hoping would be our family trip of a lifetime.

A list was drawn up of potential locations and Costa Rica won, pretty much hands down – amazing wildlife, daring adventure activities and a country whose people are so peaceful (they disbanded its army in 1948).

We’d been recommended Pura Aventura by some friends of my sister – she’d said that they had listened to what they had wanted to see and experience and had built an adventure that had been spectacular.

Getting off the tourist trail

"Having a 4x4 allowed us to choose our own routes and departure times - we stopped to take photos and pick up picnic lunches en route."

Our trip had been completely tailored to our own requirements – they created an itinerary for us that was going to take us a bit more off the beaten track than other tours to the country. We did have a mild pang when friends who had been to the country in the past said “You’re not going to Arenal or Tortuguero – but they’re the main places to go!” But we are so glad that we had faith, as we feel we saw Costa Rica in its beautiful, understated, magnificent natural glory.

So, the plan for our trip was: San Jose for a night before we drove to Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean coast, with a hike in Cahuita National Park. Then on to Turrialba for a day of canyoning and zip-wires, followed by a day of white water rafting. Next head into the cloud forest of San Gerardo de Dota, then down to the south-west and the Osa Peninsula for 5 days at our own beach house on the blissful sounding Playa Preciosa. We'd head back to San Jose and a return to the UK.

A very quietly voiced concern between us adults before we left was – what if we’ve built up the excitement and anticipation too much? What if the trip just didn’t live up to the pretty high expectations that we had? Then there was practical side – would the roads be so tricky to negotiate that our memory of the trip would be of discomfort in a 4x4?

Everything had been planned so well and thoughtfully by Pura – we had just the right number of planned tours and activities, with enough time to do our own thing. This enabled us to visit Irazu, Costa Rica’s tallest volcano, and chill at some simply stunning beaches.

A massive advantage for us of having the 4x4 and driving ourselves was that we could dictate our own routes and departure times. So stopping when we saw a view that had to be photographed or picking up a “supermercado” picnic lunch en route became part of the adventure.

Mi casa es su casa

"The whales were right in front of us – an enormous tail flicked up and a full rainbow spread from one side of the bay to the other, then a double rainbow underneath. Such a perfect moment."

The hotels and lodges that we stayed in were all absolutely perfect – they each had very different characters, but all had a lovely understated charm, with excellent service and beautiful food. Between the six of us, we all had different favourites.

One of us loved Shawamba Lodge in Puerto Viejo best. It was our first lodge in Costa Rica and nothing can prepare you for the first night when you’re woken up at 4am by a howler monkey! Magical! My husband loved the laid-back plantation mansion, Casa Turire at Turrialba. We did our big adventure activities here – canyoning (abseiling down a very high waterfall), ziplines and then a day of white water rafting. The guides that we had for both of these were absolutely outstanding – kind, fun and very patient! Rafting was our absolute favourite activity - so exhilarating.

Family rafting river Turrialba Costa Rica

Trogon Lodge was a favourite for its beautiful location in the Cloud Forest and its careful, quiet and relaxed service. It was a complete change in climate - we went from sunscreen, t-shirts and shorts in Turrialba to jumpers, warm layers, comforting fires and finding beautifully welcome hot water bottles popped into our beds for the night in San Gerardo! And the delicious food there – trout from their own lakes and an outstanding buffet for breakfast, especially after our early morning quest for the very beautiful Resplendent Quetzal.

But my favourite was the wonderful beach house – stylish, with an entirely open plan design in the living areas and netted windows in the bedrooms. You felt as if you living in the jungle, especially when the monkeys would swing from tree to tree right beside you, while the scarlet macaws screeched. A very special memory for us was after a huge electrical storm had raged, while we sat open but sheltered in the living room, we decided to walk down to the beach. The whales were right in front of us in the bay – an enormous tail flicked up – and a full rainbow spread from one side of the bay to the other, then a double rainbow underneath. Such a perfect moment.

whale in Drake Bay, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

Discovering new horizons

"We wanted to open our children’s eyes to the big world out there – that travel is to be embraced and that there are amazing things to experience."

We came home with so many wonderful experiences and memories that will never be forgotten. Without a doubt the best holiday we have ever had – so well planned, with the best guides and hotels and lodges we could ask for. It suited us so perfectly. When you can see one of the most beautiful, carefully looked after countries in the world, protected through love by its people, who have an overwhelming sense of inner calm, joy and pride in their beautiful country, with the people you love most in the world, it’s a very powerful thing. We wanted to open our children’s eyes to the big world out there – that travel is to be embraced and that there are amazing things to experience.

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The Pothole is Pura Aventura's popular monthly email. We share what we love, what interests us and what we find challenging. And we don't Photoshop out the bits everyone else does. We like to think our considered opinions provide food for thought, and will sometimes put a smile on your face. They've even been known to make people cry. You can click here to subscribe and, naturally, unsubscribe at any time.

The Pothole is Pura Aventura's popular monthly email. We share what we love, what interests us and what we find challenging. And we don't Photoshop out the bits everyone else does. We like to think our considered opinions provide food for thought, and will sometimes put a smile on your face. They've even been known to make people cry. You can click here to subscribe and, naturally, unsubscribe at any time.

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