2 weeks of Pura Vida in Costa Rica with kids

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As I drink a cup of Costa Rican coffee on a cold morning in San Francisco, I remember the elation of running and laughing with my kids and nieces under a warm tropical rain, through luscious green rain forest, towards an almost empty Caribbean beach. Once we got to the beach, we jumped into the ocean and played for hours with the waves. I could still feel the wetness on my skin as my kids, returning back to our little hotel right next to Cahuita National Park.


My sister and her family, and my two kids and I were staying for 5 days at Kelly Creek Inn, an amazing little find in the town of Cahuita, at the foot of Cahuita National Park. Cahuita Park is an 11km rainforest park in the Caribbean La Amistad Conservation Area of Costa Rica in the southern Caribbean coast of the Limon province. The province of Limon is English/Spanish bilingual thanks to the large Jamaican descendant population in the area.


We had gone to Costa Rica, from San Francisco, on our way to visit my family in Ecuador. My sister is currently living in Costa Rica, and we had the fortune of being able to stop by to see her and her kids.
We arrived to Cahuita and Kelly creek after a 4 hour drive from San Jose. Costa Rica is an expensive country if you compare it to other Latin American countries, so the first week of our stay there, except for a one night stay at gorgeous but more expensive Manuel Antonio, we did just did day trips from my sister’s house in San Jose. Though the kids were originally disappointed with the “lack of a pool”, we were soon at home and at ease and enjoying the basics of good living: time with family at an affordable prize, gorgeous nature around us, a beach to go swimming to at walking distance from our rooms, a park a step away to go running or hiking, delicious and affordable food in town, and a place relaxed enough that we were able to bring out the board games in the restaurant after breakfast or at.
I enjoyed waking up before anyone for a morning run or walk in the forest and then some delicious Costa Rican coffee. Our awesome host, Spanish expat Domingo, would make some delicious breakfast, while our kids played with his 9-year-old. My kids are in a mandarin immersion program in San Francisco (for the benefit to the mind of language exposure), yet his kid is at an immersion program too, as he goes to school at a reservation nearby where he learns the indigenous language: Bribri.


Most mornings we bought picnic food and spend the day hiking and swimming in the beaches along the gorgeous rainforest reserve. Cahuita Park is full of animals like: birds, monkeys, and raccoons (who were always trying to snatch things from us). We wold also go on lovely road trips like driving through the town of Puerto Viejo, to get a delicious Caribbean lunch in Maxim’s restaurant in Manzanillo or to just enjoy a swim at the calm waters of the beach in Manzanillo. In the afternoon, when we came back, Domingo would show us crocodile Roberto in the creek by the hotel and we would have fun looking at monkeys acting crazy in the trees above us. One night, our little town had a Caribbean music festival and the kids and us enjoyed a piece of the Caribbean culture.
On our last night stay, Domingo made us delicious Paella for which he had being preparing the broth for a couple of days in advance. On our last morning, as I say by myself having some coffee, I really felt an urge to drop city life and set up my life in a small hotel somewhere with my family (many places in Ecuador give me that craving too), where we can live simply and do language immersion for my kids in say Bribri instead of Mandarin.


Other places we enjoyed on our Costa Rica stay (and this beautiful country has many more to offer):
– Manuel Antonio national park. A small but gorgeous National park in the Pacific coast with beautiful beaches and hiking trails. We stayed at environmentally-friendly (the hotel was built in an area full of trees, yet they tried to preserve most of them), kid friendly (has two pools one with a slide for the kids and one for the adults) hotel called Sicomono

– Though the city of San Jose doesn’t offer the old colonial architecture as some cities in Ecuador, we enjoyed taking the kids to a stroll in downtown San Jose, going for coffee and delicious food at the Mercado Central market , visiting the beautiful old National Theater, and going for an afternoon to the discovery museum.
– Enjoying the weather, swimming in the pool, and strolling by the cafes and restaurants near my sister’s house in Escazu.
– ZooAve. A lovely rescue animal zoo that has a canopy line that the kids really enjoyed.


Ecuador part-time. Ecuador a medio tiempo.



See family, have fun and save some money Every summer, back to my country with my kids, 11-year-old daughter Isabela and 8-year-old son Sebastian, we go. Initially it is just us, for a month or two, and then my husband joins us. From beautiful San Francisco, where we reside, we go.   For many reasons we go:





  • To immerse the kids in both the language and the culture of Ecuador. See articles: Mama’s don’t cut your umbilical culture or Familia Trilingue, that explain our trilingual live in San Francisco.
  • It is also important for me to maintain alive the connections with my friends and family.
  • To create a bond between my kids and their Ecuadorian family and cousins. (A long term bond with her cousins that thanks to Skype my kids keep and cherish: it is funny to see them dance to the same tune with their cousins miles away)
  • To save money and not have to kill ourselves with two full time jobs. Because living in Ecuador is at least one third cheaper than in San Francisco. Summer camps for the kids, if we do any, are also a third of the price


I would say that for the past 11 years, we’ve lived at least one forth, sometimes even one third, of our lives in Ecuador. The startup I worked for, when I had my first child, went out of business and I stayed as the main caregiver for my kids working just part-time or as a consultant. We’ve managed to stay living in the city with a salary and a half thanks to:

  • Living in the same apartment we bought 20 years ago when we both worked full-time
  • Sending the kids to public schools
  • Living modestly so we can travel as much as possible
  • Spending everything in the credit card so we could travel getting the tickets with miles we used to reserve a year ahead. Unfortunately, this won’t work as well any more as American Airlines has doubled the amount of miles needed for summer travel.
  • Subletting our apartment for the month my husband is in Ecuador as well.
  • Frankly, thanks to the fact that I have a place to arrive to in Ecuador.


As my kids get bigger, expenses are greater and we need to save much more than we do now for college, so I will need to and want to work full time. Also, as they get older, we will have less flexibility go, or they may not want to as much. For now, I’m very happy with the time dedicated to the kids and the exposure to diverse cultures we’ve given them.

Ecuador not only has a gorgeous countryside, but for a small country, it has one of the greatest per square foot vegetation, climate, culture and environmental diversity in the world. Therefore, it is an awesome place to travel around and visit diverse ecosystems and cultures. See video from Ecuador’s Ministry of tourism   For more information about traveling in Ecuador see Viva Travel Guides


The Intended trip from Quito to the Amazon Basin and Cuenca


This summer 2014, some friends and their kids will be going to Ecuador with us (see future post about our part time living in Ecuador).  Aside from visiting Quito (Keep an eye for the future post Hola Quito), it’s museums, old town, parks, surrounding areas and doing trips to our usual destinations: cloud forests, parks, the beach (see some of our trips at InCultureParent.com), we’ll do some longer trips (in which everything will be “perfect”) such as the following:


THEN SOUTH TO CUENCA -Stopping at some awesome spots in between

Total Number of days: 11 days

Summary of our trip

We’ll visit the edge of the Amazon basin –there are two different entries via car, Papallacta and Baños. We’ll go in via Papallacta. We’ll stay in Papallacta hot springs for 2 nights, and hike in the Cayambe-Coca reserve. Then, we’ll go to Misahualli, and return via Puyo and Baños. We will then drive south to the city of Cuenca, via the Incan ruins of Ingapirca, visit Cajas National Park, and then drive back to Quito stopping in the town of Riobamba. We’ll visit other areas of interest as we go.


  • Papallacta hot springs (1 1/2 hours from Quito) – 2 days and 2 nights


    • Hike the surrounding mountains
    • Enjoy the spring pools and sleep there. Leave midmorning the next day


  • Misahualli (about 2 or 3 hours from Papallacta: maybe less since the roads are now all paved) – 2 ½ days and 2 nights
    • Stay at Casa del Suizo hotel
    • Enjoy the pool and the views from this hotel located at the junction of two rivers that flow into the Amazon
    • La Casa del Suizo offers canoe visits to a few places including AmaZoonico (a rescue place for amazon animals), Anaconda island, and others


  • Baños (3 hours from Misahualli) – 1 day and 2 nights
    • Visiting Puyo and areas of interest on the way out
    • Stopping at the magnificent: El Pailón del Diablo waterfall
    • Visit this colorful town, hike in the surrounding areas, and stay at one of the many hotels available in the town. Just to mention one of the nicest but fanciest ones:
    • Hotel and Spa Luna Runtun, above the town of Baños (with fantastic views of Baños), located in the slopes of the Tungurahua active volcano.


  • Cuenca (5 hours from Baños) – 3 nights and 2 ½ days
    •  Stay at Hotel Santa Lucia (a boutique hotel in the middle of the colonial town)
    • Visit the colonial neighborhood of Cuenca, UNESCO’s Patrimony of Humanity
    • Visit the Cajas National Park


  • Riobamba (4 hours from Cuenca) ) – 2 nights and 1 ½ days
    • Stay in the outskirts, at La Andaluza Inn, or in town at xxx Hotel
    • Walk around the old downtown
    • Drive to the Chimborazo refuge, and hike nearby
    • Train ride to La Nariz del Diablo (x hours back and forward): a scenic ride in an old train line that zigzags down the Andes. See old and beautiful re-enabled train routes at: Ferrocarriles del Ecuador 


  • Return to Quito (3 hours from Riobamba)
      • Hike in the Cotopaxi National Forest
      • Lunch At Café de la Vaca in Machachi. This is not only one of may favorite little local chains (I   think there are 3 around Ecuador) of Ecuadorian food from the mountains (coastal food is very different), but their locations have a huge grassy area for kids that includes a mini zip line

Celebrating Thanksgiving with kids in a tent

793Though I’m from Ecuador, where I didn’t grow up celebrating Thanksgiving, I’ve embrace the celebration fully since I came to the US. I love it as a time to leisurely spend with friends and family, cooking together during. Since I had the kids, I have often hosted it at my house and had friends and family over for dinner (and have always ended up inviting more people that I originally planned: to the amazement of my American husband). Every thanksgiving I had improved little by little my turkey cooking skills. I love to cook and now I have the turkey preparation nailed down, which is a distance from my initial either never ready on time or not very tasting turkeys.

This year, since the kids started school, my family has had an extremely hectic schedule. Don’t you guys feel like you have crazy schedules and activities as well?

We have been juggling my husband’s intense work schedule, my part time work, transporting the kids to and from soccer practices and games, dance classes, WuShu classes, mandarin conversation classes, and more. Not to mention that activity with questionable value for the kids, but certain torture for the parents and their relationship with kids called homework. What do you guys feel about homework? Also, my mother in law is coming for Christmas, so we’ll be cooking a turkey then.

During these thre790e months of hectic schedule, there was a pause when we felt really zen and it was when we went camping for a long weekend with another family to Bothe-Napa State Park. While doing one of my drives to a location of sorts with my kids, I was thinking how nice it would be to not have to cook and just be gone for the Thanksgiving holiday. I thought it would be so nice to stay in one of the yurts of Bothe Napa, since a tent would be too cold this time of the year. I mentioned the idea to my 10 year old Isabela and my 7 year old Sebastian, and they said they would like to go, but if another family would come too as otherwise it would not feel like Thanksgiving.

I have a friend, whose kids my kids love, and who has been crazily moving houses again on her quest to get into the best possible public school in the east bay. As I was catching up with her on the phone, I mentioned my desire to go away for Thanksgiving. She immediately said her family would love to go somewhere outside of the city as well. The next day, she e-mailed an online add from Sunset magazine about a place near Santa Barbara called El Capitan and where there are tents with 2 double beds that house 4. They tents are supposed to have heat and you don’t have to pack for winter camping in the outdoors.We like to do real tent camping, but since its winter!. We love to do road trips in which we go off for long drives (we’ve done several awesome ones, that I’ll be mentioning in the future) listening to stories on tape and stopping where we’ve felt like. So, we immediately made reservations and off we are going to Santa Barbara. I would love to know of other places that are not outrageously expensive where one could scape during the winter months. Do you know of any?

Diving into a pool at 11.000 feet with my kids in Ecuador


Taking a dip into the hot springs in the town of Papallacta, Ecuador, nested in the Andes at an altitude of 3300 mts, is one of the things I look forward to doing the most with my family every year when I visit Ecuador.782

Papallact755a has beautifully crafted natural hot springs, surrounded by some of the largest peaks of the incredibly gorgeous Andes Mountains. It also has nearby parks where you can hike for hours on end before you dive into pools. Restaurants that serve locally caught trout for lunch or dinner. Does that seem like paradise to you? To me it does and so to my kids.

When I go from San Francisco to Ecuador with my 10 year old daughter and my 7 year old son, on my yearly visit to my family, I make it a point to go to Papallacta at least a couple of times during my stay.  It is such a pleasant trip that my mom, sisters, nieces and nephews, cousins, etc… often join in, so it becomes not only a visit to an incredibly relaxing place, but an opportunity for us all to share a day and sometimes a couple of days of family time.

The drive from Quito to Papallacta takes only 1 hour and, once you pass the busy metropolitan area, you find yourself driving through 709an spectacular scenery. You drive up the mountains surrounded by farms and forests. When the days are clear, you can also see the permanently iced peaks of several high altitude volcanoes, including the Cotopaxi.

We usually arrive to the Termas Papallacta lodge. The Termas Papallacta lodge is a facility that includes a lodge, a cheaper set of pools for day use, and a spa that includes several large pools with different temperatures in the water and Jacuzzi style and a massage facility in the pool spa area.

During this past summer,   I drove there with my sister, my kids, and my niece. During the afternoon we went hiking in the trails of the Coca-Cayambe ecological reserve (a nature reserve next to Papallacta encompassing an area of 996,090 acres), then went to stay for the night at the Papallacta lodge and used the small pool facilities at the lodge at night before going to slept. Since the place is so close to Quito, my sister’s husband drove there at night after work to join us.

Needless to say we all slept like babies. The following day we went to the spa and my mom, sisters and more nephews and nieces came to spend the day with us and we all had either grilled trout or trout soup for lunch. We had one of those truly unforgettable moments life sometimes brings to us.