Saturday, December 8, 2018

Costa Rica Days 5 & 6: Snorkeling at Cano Island and a Lazy Day

Back to Central America we go! On the 5th day of our trip (See Days 1 & 2: Travel; Day 3: Nauyaca Falls; Day 4: Osa Canopy Tour/Catarata Uvita, for the recaps so far), we woke up early with the Howler monkeys and left the house by 6:30 to be in Uvita by 7 for our all-day snorkel adventure!

6:30 sounds early on a holiday, but the sun rises at like 4:30 and sets by 5 so we were pushing it staying awake until 8 (not even kidding; I could barely recognize myself as I was snuggled with James under our covers at 7:45, laptop closed, book half-heartedly open). And when you're asleep by 8:15, being somewhere by 7 a.m. is really no problem at all! I made tea, the kids and James had toast with peanut butter, we packed snacks and reef-safe sunscreen, a change of clothes, hats, sunglasses, and whatever else seemed necessary and off we went to Uvita!

That is Uvita Beach, also known as the Whale's Tail. It's a protected National Marine Park and we were all delighted to get a picture in front of another national park sign on our trip. (Then the kids were so disappointed that we couldn't add a push pin to our national park map at home; it literally took 5 minutes to wrap their heads the idea that it was a national park of a different nation. The solution, obviously, is to add a world map to our wall art collection.)

We checked in with Bahia Adventures, the company with which I'd booked our tour. It was by far our priciest excursion (and our worst weather; this happens on literally every vacation, from pouring rain during our waterfall adventure in Jamaica to also pouring rain during our all-day offsite excursion to Xcaret in Mexico; it's a Lag Liv family tradition), but we really wanted to SEE the Pacific and I knew I was never getting in the ocean without a reason and the rest of the trip was so much less expensive than I'd originally budgeted for (all in, 8 days for 5 people doing ALL THE THINGS in Costa Rica, cost exactly 50% of Disney; not that I regret a penny we spent at Disney, I'm just saying, literally anything else you do costs far fewer pennies) that we decided to go for it. I'm so glad we did, but you could absolutely enjoy the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica without the add-on.

After sitting down to listen to our guides (3 of them for our group of about 18), getting fitted for our fins, taking advantage of our last bit of bathroom access, and enjoying a light breakfast spread (fresh fruit everywhere!), we drove behind our guides in our car to park closer to the beach. I had everyone in our suits and rashguards (including swim tights for me because fair skin/skin cancer), and then packed our fold-up microfiber towels (SO grateful for those), sunscreen, extra snacks (always), sunglasses, and left an extra set of clothes in the car to change into when we were done. (Space was at a premium on the boat, but our one bag was perfect.) The tour group provided water (you could use one of their plastic cups or fill a water bottle; we were glad each day of the trip that we'd each brought a nice insulated water bottle from home), snacks (more fruit!!), and lunch later on one of the islands.

We walked out on the beach with our group to the boat, after passing the ranger station and watching the guide pay our fees, and passing a few signs warning us not to feed the crocodiles. It's unfortunate that Claire can now read things like that. After assuring her the crocodiles were not around often and were quite absent this morning, we flip flopped across the beach to board the boat. The sea wasn't too choppy, though the skies were grey, and it was a solid 90 minute ride out to Cano Island.

The kids were amazing. It was a long, bouncy ride, adults were puking off both sides of the boats, and each of our kids was just chilling in their little chair for the hour and a half, watching the ocean and keeping a lookout for whales and dolphins. All our group-mates were very impressed (I doubt they were originally very excited about spending an all-day snorkel excursion with three kids!), especially as our boat motor died and our trip got longer as we bobbed up and down in the sea waiting on another boat.

But eventually we made it to Cano Island and hopped in the Pacific to snorkel! We saw a reef shark, some stingrays, lots of fish, including angel fish, parrot fish, and so many other colorful varieties. The guides were great about keeping us generally together and pointing out exciting things to see. Unfortunately the sun wasn't out, so the water- though CRYSTAL clear (I was shocked to hear the coral we were seeing was actually 30 feet below us!)- was not quite as bright a scene as you often get. It was still a great experience and the kids loved seeing all sea life.

Bringing sexy back

Cora got cold and bailed early, but our captain was happy to hang out with her on the boat and Cora was thrilled to have an adult's undivided attention. After two snorkel drop-offs from the boat in different areas around the island we docked on the sand and got to explore the protected island that allows for very limited boat traffic.

It was beautiful and also covered in hermit crabs. This delighted Landon.

The girls played in the waves on the smooth sand for an hour (we were waiting on the new boat) and giggled and laughed every single time a wave crashed at their feet, while Landon built an island for his hermit crabs in the middle of a fresh water stream that flowed out to the sea from the middle of the island. Once our new boat pulled up, we piled in to head to Isla Violín, about an hour away, and even more restricted and remote than Cano. One boat is allowed per day and our tour company had the day's ticket.

Isla Violín was incredibly beautiful and incredibly remote.

We felt like we were the only people in the world while the kids played in the soft sand.

Our guides set up lunch- arroz on pollo, deli meat, a white chewy local cheese we could never get a name for ("it's cheese... from a cow.") lots of vegetables (we found every meal to be so healthy and fresh, we loved it), fruit, and fresh juice. We ate, scrubbed our plates (we never saw a disposable anything on our whole trip; again, loved it), and then played a little more. The big kids found dozens of sand dollars (everything has to stay on the island, but each discovery was exciting just the same) and I walked around with my beach baby.

Eventually we piled back in the boat around 3:00 to take the hour-long boat ride home. And the skies opened up. It poured rain. It was pretty cold. It was a long, very wet ride. The kids were SUCH troopers with nary a word of boredom or complaint and Cora took the opportunity to grab a 60-minute nap.

We were so glad to come to shore, get in our cars, change out of our wet and cold and sandy clothes (there is no better thing, except maybe taking off ski boots), and then take the short drive home to rest and stay dry.

Except lol, these are our children, so obviously they jumped right back in the pool. James did a swim workout. I didn't even put on a suit, because no way was I getting wet again, but I did make a margarita and watch everyone play while reading. After James finished his workout (his big meet is next weekend and he takes his training seriously; I take my vacations seriously and did not do anything physical unless it was connected to seeing a beautiful fish or jumping off a waterfall; we make room for each other to do what we need to do), we headed out for dinner. We'd been eating lunch out and dinner at home, but it was fun to mix it up after a long excursion day. We headed to PorQueNo?, located about 5 minutes away, with a spectacular sunset view. And pork and fried plaintain pizza (and literally everything else we ordered). So good.

I don't remember anything about that night, so I'm pretty sure we all fell asleep within 10 minutes of coming home from dinner. It was probably 7:30.

(the Jurassic Park gates to our house)

Wednesday, day 6, was our lazy day. We slept in as late as the monkeys would allow, lounged about, let the kids watch a movie with all the doors open in the main room, I made tea and actually had time to drink it, Cora searched for monkeys on the property... it was lovely.

I'd planned our last full day to be empty just in case we got rained out of any other plans, and I'm so glad they all proceeded as planned and we were able to luxuriate a bit in our beautiful house at the end. We just explored and enjoyed, including finally opening the gate to the walk the gardens in the lower half of the property.

There were winding paths through some beautiful flowers and greenery. The kids thought it was quite an adventure.

There was more swimming while I lounged.

And then we headed to town for lunch at our favorite local place near the beach, Cafe Mono Congo.

After lunch we went to Dominicalito Beach, which was right across from the road to our house and the beach we looked at from our pool deck every day. It was lovely but a bit rocky for us, so we headed up the road just a little ways to Playa Hermosa (different from the Playa Hermosa we stopped at on the drive down from San Jose on Day 2) and it was perfect.

Smooth, empty, gorgeous.

The kids dug holes as if they had a reason for doing so and then splashed in the water forever.

We got home in time for our private chef to make dinner for us on our last night in the house. He was super friendly and full of stories, having moved down to Dominical after visiting for his wife's 50th birthday years earlier. And it was so great to just be home, with someone else in the kitchen doing the prep, cooking, and clean-up, sitting by the pool and watching the sun set over the Pacific Ocean in front of us.

We'd requested a local meal and we got patacones (fried mashed green plantains; Landon's new favorite thing) with homemade pico and bean dip, grilled mahi and chicken with a tomatillo salsa, grilled local squash I can't remember the name of, mashed sweet and regular potatoes, and a dessert of plantain bananas foster with ice cream. It was great. Honestly it was not our very best meal (we really loved all the local places we found!), but it was a wonderful way to close out our last night in the house and we got a great recommendation for where we ate our last meal in Dominical the next day (Tiki Bar!).

While it was only Wednesday, we pretended it was Thanksgiving and just enjoyed the evening, the breeze, and the spectacular view. And each other. I love traveling the week of Thanksgiving. Right now we alternate between a traditional extended family Thanksgiving on the years when my parents don't go up to see my sister and an international trip (because no one else is leaving the country that week and the kids and James have the whole week off school/coaching). It's perfect, especially if you're me and could totally do without the Thanksgiving meal (scandalous I know, but the actual food does nothing for me). I love the back and forth between traditional, busy extended family meal and exotic yet cozy small family trip. We're already planning where to go next.

But back to Day 6- it was so hard to believe we'd already blown through our days in the house, but they were amazing and unforgettable and everything I never even dared hope the trip would be. The last day was also great (we visited a wildlife sanctuary!) and on day 8 we explored a bit of Mexico City, but on day 6 we closed out with thankful hearts, beach views, and very happy memories of our beach babies splashing in the surf.


  1. Costa Rica looks amazing. And I totally agree, Disney takes all the dollars.

  2. I love your exotic Thanksgiving vacations, but I keep thinking that I can't bear to miss the traditional Thanksgiving feast! A well prepared, juicy roast turkey and sausage cornbread stuffing are some of my absolute favorite foods, and it's the time of year I most enjoy cooking. I like your idea of alternating years, though!

  3. Hi LL, can you share the reef-safe sunscreen you used? Thanks!

    1. Sure! We used this one and it was great!