Top Five Costa Rica Travel Essentials

Costa Rica was AMAZING! I cannot wait to go back. But, I have to admit, not being a bug person, I was very concerned about mosquitos before going on this adventure. Part of the fun of being in nature is experiencing nature. But bug bites are the gift that keep on giving. And with all the concern about the Zika virus, I wanted to be prepared.

Also, we scheduled our trip during the rainy season because August was our only travel window. I actually didn’t realize how much rain we would have until I started looking at the weather app on my phone a few weeks before the trip. I was shocked to see 90 degrees with thundershowers EVERY DAY as the forecast. What had I done? Next, I saw pictures of my friend on Facebook with her family, drenched and covered in rain ponchos, during their adventures in Arenal. I got worried…very worried. As if planning for the mosquitos wasn’t enough?

The reality was not as traumatic as I expected. In Guanacaste, it did rain every day…but not all day. We found that we needed to just be prepared to work through the rain (and stop for lunch…yum!). In the Arenal region, the rain was much heavier and much more frequent. Tour guides are used to getting wet, and they usually will not stop your activity, even if it is raining BUCKETS.

As far as the bugs, I was pleasantly surprised. I have to say that I think our clothing choices helped a lot…and I would definitely bring the same items again. We did come home with some bug bites, but I did not feel like we got “eaten alive” or that a concern about mosquitos hindered any of our fun.

So, here are my Top 5 Funtrip recommendations, heavily fortified by my wise friend, for a successful Costa Rica trip.

Cue drum roll….

Long Sleeves So when it’s 90 degrees and 90% humidity, wearing long sleeves is the last thought on your mind. But we found that wearing long-sleeve rash guards not only protected us from the sun but also from the bugs. We wore them at the beach in Guanacaste but also zip lining and hiking around Arenal. It really helped to reduce the amount of bug spray we had to use. And while I did have two other long-sleeve rash guards, I loved wearing this shirt while zip lining. It really kept me cool!

https://odlo.com/uk/en-gb/ceramicool-pro-baselayer-shirt-longsleeve-women.html

By the way, I also brought a couple of long sleeve linen shirts and my daughter had a lightweight long-sleeve camping shirt she liked. We enjoyed the ability to cover up our arms when seated outside, especially at night.

Zip-Off Hiking Pants Similar to the anti-bug sentiment above, the zip-off pants are great for avoiding bugs and reducing the need for bug spray on your skin. We wore them zip lining and then zipped off the bottom half when we went to town for lunch! Magic! We bought ours at REI, no surprise.

https://www.rei.com/product/118482/rei-co-op-sahara-convertible-pants-girls

Water Shoes When my friend recommended we buy water shoes, I immediately thought of the shoes we wore for coral or rocks at the beach. But, no, these are slip-on athletic water shoes. They help you to avoid soaking socks and wet, smelly Nikes when you get caught in a downpour (as you will…especially in the rainforest). My youngest daughter wore her water athletic shoes in lieu of Tevas or flip flops because she liked having her feet covered all the time. After I found a slew of ants in my own Tevas one day, I understood her concern! LOL As we had to order the water athletic shoes last minute, our selection was scarce for next-day delivery. My daughters and husband loved their shoes. I did not love mine as much. So, plan ahead for the best selection!

This is the pair both my daughters wore…Dream Pairs has multiple styles, but this seems to be the sturdiest:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B06XF61QJZ/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o03_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

This is the pair my husband wore:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0721D8K57/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o04_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

Bug Spray This is no surprise. I did some research and OFF definitely got the highest ratings for the Deet products. I really wanted to try Skin So Soft by Avon for a non-Deet option. I had ordered the sunscreen/bug repellant combo, ideal for the beach (I think I actually got the most bites from the beach). But, it didn’t arrive in time. Again, plan ahead!

OFF

https://www.avon.com/product/skin-so-soft-bug-guard-plus-ir3535-gentle-breeze-spf-30-lotion-7894

Rain Jacket/Poncho As we have mentioned before, we are REI fans and our REI rain jackets make many trips with us. They tie around a waist or roll up to easily fit in a backpack. You cannot go wrong. The poncho recommendation is thanks again to my friend. It’s an item that I didn’t use…we mostly used our rain jackets. But, she pointed out that, if you are hiking, a poncho helps to keep your backpack/daypack dry because it fits OVER the pack. How brilliant! So, it’s worth the $10 investment…toss the poncho in the daypack and your daypack may thank you later!

Our REI jackets are old, but here’s something that looks similar:

https://www.rei.com/product/893230/rei-co-op-rhyolite-rain-jacket-womens

And the poncho:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B009KSSKMI/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o02_s01?ie=UTF8&psc=1

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Flashback Friday tribute…My First Trip to Mammoth

In honor of Flashback Friday (aka #fbf…love acronyms), I’m transferring this post over from my blogger site.  I posted this in February 2012.  It was my only post and then I totally flaked out.  I’m back in the saddle now with reaffirmed commitment!

Having traveled to Mammoth a few times now, here is what I will add to the post below.

Getting There:  So I think we have found a way to beat altitude sensitivity.  Last year we drove to Lone Pine, CA (just along 395), spent the night at a bargain motel and then continued to Mammoth (two hours) from there the next morning.  We chilled the rest of the day in Mammoth (went shopping, checked in, etc.), and it seemed to give us a good chance to acclimate.  No puking!  (always a good thing)

Accommodations:  We love the Westin Monache (www.westinmammoth.com) for all the reasons below.  However, it is pricey and picky about honoring Starwood points.  We used vrbo.com for our last trip and had a great condo.  We actually stayed and skied out of Eagle…walked to the slopes from our condo.  We really appreciated not having to fight the crowds at Canyon.  However, if you have beginner skiers, make sure you can navigate back and forth from the Eagle slopes.  We did take a rough detour on a Black Diamond that the kids still like to talk about!

Restaurants and Entertainment:  Grumpys is still fun.  (www.grumpysmammoth.com)  If you like fine dining, Nevados is delish!  (www.nevadosrestaurant.com)  Last year we went to Mammoth Rock N Bowl (www.mammothrocknbowl.com) and the kids had a blast!  Of course, Shat’s Bakery has bread and pastries that everyone will love.  We stopped for sandwiches and soup on the way into town.  There is one in Bishop and one right in Mammoth (3305 Hwy 203 / Main St).

Enjoy the throwback!

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MAKING THE TRIP

It’s about a 6 hour drive but it’s totally possible to make it there/back in less than 6 hours if you plan the trip accordingly.  Once you get past Adelanto (coming from Orange County, CA), you have to plan your stops because there is a long distance between towns.  I recommend not stopping in Bishop because it can get crowded/touristy and really delay you.

JUST BE CAREFUL

For some reason, Mammoth is unique from other resorts because the town is at 8,000 feet.  In fact, there is a resort at Main Lodge that is at ~9,000 feet.  So, there seem to be A LOT of stories of altitude sickness.  I have friends that go to Salt Lake/Park City frequently who never have a problem with altitude sickness, but SLC is only 4,000 feet and Park City is 7,000 feet.  In Mammoth, their daughter woke up in the middle of night throwing up (she is the one who has the motion sickness issues as well).   I usually feel uneasy the first few hours I am there and Sophia woke up the first morning feeling “car sick.”  I personally never had any issues in Lake Tahoe, but Truckee is only at 6,000 feet.

THE MOUNTAIN

There are 3 lodges at Mammoth:  Eagle, Canyon, and Main.  I have heard that Mammoth plans to expand Eagle Lodge, because now it is very small.  Most of the facilities are based out of Canyon or Main.

There are parking lots at all 3 lodges, but we prefer taking the Gondola from the Village because it drops us directly at Canyon, literally in the middle of the Ski School Area.  So, by renting at Mountain Center (see below), we can have our tickets and ski school passes in hand when we get off the Gondola and we can take the girls directly to drop off…which is huge when you need to be ready to go on the mountain at 9am.

There is a ski rental location called Mountain Center right next to the Gondola.  All ski packages with rentals allow rental pick up at Mountain Center (rentals can be made through the main 800# for Mammoth).  We walked into the Mountain Center with our Ugg Boots on, got our rentals on, left our walking shoes there for the day and hopped right on the Gondola.  A beautiful thing…no walking around in ski boots!  At the end of the day, we stored our rentals there at no cost and grabbed our shoes and walked out.  At the end of the day, walking around in shoes rather than ski boots was priceless!

Regarding lunch, you can eat at all 3 lodges, but on busy days, the eating areas are packed.  We make sandwiches and bring bottles of water.  Tom wears a backpack when he skis so we don’t need a locker for our food (it’s $5 every time you lock it).  The kids eat lunch in ski school.

We usually ski in the morning together and meet our kids at lunch and talk to the ski instructor to find out where they are skiing in the afternoon.  Then we go and watch them and sometimes pull them early from ski school to ski with us (at about 2pm or so).  Ski School ends at 3pm, but skiing with your kids from 3pm – 4pm is a bit hairy when the slopes are busy.

ACCOMODATIONS AND RESTAURANTS

We love staying at the Westin.  It’s a condo hotel that actually takes pets!  The kitchenette has everything you need.  We pack food in the car so that we have fixings for breakfast, lunch and snacks (although, there are grocery stores in Mammoth Lakes, of course).  The restaurant at the Westin is also delicious and the hotel has a kids club from 4:30 – 8:30.  It also has a pool and a Jacuzzi.   It’s right in the Village.  What we like about it is that it is right across the street from the Gondola to Canyon.  So, I suppose staying anywhere around the Village would give you the same benefit of being close to the Gondola.

We like the Village because it’s a cute pedestrian area, but really, the best restaurants and entertainment are on Old Mammoth Road, which is a drive from the Village.  For example, Grumpy’s is very casual and a lot of fun for kids with arcade-style/video games.

When you choose a place to stay, it’s also good to look at the van/shuttle route.  It definitely drops off at the Gondola, so you could stay anywhere on the route and rent at Mountain Center and take the Gondola.

We have friends that stay at Juniper Springs at Eagle which is apparently a very short walk/shuttle to the slopes.  However, for Ski School, they have to either drive over to Canyon or Main or they have to ski over.  That would work for us now, but it wouldn’t have worked for our first trip.

Oh How I Love Thee…Let Me Count The Ways…

Maui is my favorite place on Earth.  Hands down.  I grew up going to Kaanapali as a kid…we spent every Christmas there.  My parents both came from cold weather states.  Neither was interested in being in the snow for Christmas.  So, we went to Hawaii…every year…for at least 12 years in a row.

The first time my parents took my husband and me together was in 2000, and he and I ended up buying a time share at the Westin Kaanapali Ocean Resort Villas.  I felt like such a sucker after we did so!  Only tourists buy timeshares!  Over the years there have been times I have regretted the purchase.  These moments usually coincide with when the maintenance bills arrive.  However, every time we go there, we feel like we are home.  It has become our family place and our favorite vacation.

We have really grown to love our beach.  Some years storms leave less sand, but we always find a spot and start digging for sand crabs and making all sorts of creations.  The girls have really taken to snorkeling.  You don’t even have to put your head in the water to see the fish…just standing in the water is a treat.  But a short distance from shore, the coral is beautiful and the fish are plentiful.  People come from other resorts to snorkel where we stay (although Black Rock is also top notch).  You can go to the Kahekili Beach Park (65 Kai Ala Drive) right next to the Westin Villas and access the exact same beach. (Don’t tell people!)  There is a big parking lot there, bathrooms, picnic tables and a barbecue.  I do not recommend going there on weekends or holidays…it gets crowded!

If you go to Maui, the Humpback Whales are really the stars of the show.  If you are lucky enough to be there during their mating season (when they hang out in the channel between Maui, Lanai and Molokai), you can sit on the beach in Kaanapali and just watch them from shore.  No whale watching boat required.  According to mauiwhalewatching.com, whale season is technically November – May, but the best sighting is January – March. Unfortunately for us, it has been many years since we have been there during the height of whale season.  If you can swing it, you will not be disappointed.

Over the years, our family has tried many activities and restaurants.  So many of our favorites are gone!  Glow Putt bit the dust.  The used bookstore Book Emporium closed.  Longhis is a bit past its prime (oops, don’t get mad).  But we keep trying new things.  We evaluate everything with a “thumbs up, middle or down.” Here are The Funtrips 5 Thumbs Up:

Maui Surfer Girls:   In Spring 2015 I had to really push my girls to take surfing. I figured that if they could try the sport in Hawaii with the lovely temperatures and the shaka attitude, maybe the love of the sport would translate to colder weather. (Although many don’t consider Southern California waters cold, we are pretty wimpy).   Full disclosure that this is the only surf school I have tried in Hawaii.  However, after my experience, it is the only surf school I will go to.  We loved it so much the first day that we booked a second day (and my husband joined the kids).  Each day we actually surfed a different spot because MSG texts you the morning of the lesson so that you can meet where waves are best.  We hiked down to a beach one of the days and that gave us the full surfer effect! (except we didn’t carry boards)  But the waves both days were perfect!  They start with lessons on land…balancing on the board, body position, etc.  Then, they give you rash guards and lead you to the water.  We did a semi-private lesson (two kids and husband, one instructor) because I wanted someone to be close to them in the water.  The girls and hubby paddled out with the instructor and she gave them a push when the set was right.  They all stood up on the first wave!  Amazing!  The instructors were fun, super encouraging and very safe.  They are equal opportunity for boys and girls and even have a few token male instructors.  Check them out!  www.mauisurfergirls.com

Beach prep before hitting the waves. Rash guards provided by MSG.
Beach prep before hitting the waves. Rash guards provided by MSG.

Dukes at the Honu Kai:  The appetizers here are good, and I enjoy the happy hour quite a bit.  The girls love all of the fruity (non-alcoholic) drinks and the Hula Pie.  But, the view is the reason to return, again and again.  It’s much less chaotic than the Barefoot Bar at the Hula Grill (which is run by the same restaurant company), and if you’re like us and stay at the Westin Villas, Dukes is only a short walk away!  Don’t be fooled…Dukes on the mainland does not compare!  www.dukesmaui.com

At Dukes...the light obscures the view...but trust me!
At Dukes…the light obscures the view…but trust me!
Hula Pie! No more words necessary.
Hula Pie! No more words necessary.

Ono Gelato:  Ok, seriously, I am shocked to meet people who have traveled to Maui and have not visited this place!  They use fresh island ingredients (even the milk from Maui cows) to make the most delicious gelato and sorbet you can imagine!  There is one store in Lahaina and there used to be one in Paia (did it close?), but my research shows there may be one in Kihei as well.  Sorry I don’t have a photo…you’ll just have to go and experience it yourself!  www.onogelatocompany.com

Maui Zipline:  This company doesn’t advertise as much as others do.  For that reason, I thought they may have closed!  We tried this several years ago when my eleven-year-old daughter was much younger.  I was looking for a Zipline experience that was catered toward families and that would take peanut-sized kiddos.  At the time I think their weight requirement was 50 pounds (it’s 45 pounds now).  My husband put his cell phone in my daughter’s pocket so that she would make the cut!  (In all seriousness, they were super safety conscious and told us that the real requirement was 45 pounds, and they just advertised 50 pounds for caution.)  Our family had a blast and there was plenty of thrill for me…I didn’t need the “adult” version.  I felt very safe and the instructors were fun and professional at the same time.  Great day had by all!  www.mauizipline.com

Maui Zipline
Maui Zipline

Honu Seafood and Pizza:  Our last trip in the Spring, we ate here three times. It is that fantastic.  And the view is killler!  The Ahi Bruschetta is literally addicting (hence our three visits).  The balsamic they use is sent straight from Italy and it’s like candy syrup.  And the Ahi is just about the best you will ever taste. After you have the appetizer, order anything else you want on the menu. It’ll be delicious, but you’ll be in such food heaven from the Ahi, you could eat the fork and be happy.  I do recommend the brussel sprouts as well…just no bechamel for this lactose intolerant girl.  My not-so-adverturous (culinarily speaking) kids think the pasta, burgers and pizzas are awesome.  Make reservations or come early…I’m not the only one who thinks this place is rad!  www.honumaui.com

View from the restaurant.
View from the restaurant.

Leave us your comments on your favorite Maui experiences.  We would love to try them out (or bond in our love for them).  Aloha!