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Riding the buses » Costa Rica, Family travel, Planning your trip, Travel itinerary, Travel tips » A blended family of 12 goes to Dominical, Costa Rica

A blended family of 12 goes to Dominical, Costa Rica

Costa Rican propertyTaking a family of 12 on an independent, two-week vacation to Costa Rica involves hours of planning. Here’s how one of our ‘Riding the Buses’ contributors set about organizing such a vacation. 

Q: Who all will be on this trip?

A: Our two sons and their partners, our four grandchildren and the two daughters of one of our son’s partner, form our blended family.  We 12 will travel at the same time to Costa Rica. Four will leave from Alberta and the rest of us from Ontario. The children range in age from three to 12 years.

Q: Why Costa Rica?

A: The main motivation for this trip is to expose two of our grandchildren who have never been outside Canada to a tropical place where they can see monkeys, turtles, snakes, and birds. Southern Costa Rica, where we are going , is one of the most bio-diverse environments on earth.

Costa Rican wildlife

We chose Dominical, which is about an hour south of Quepos (and Manuel Antonio). There the jungle reaches the sea and there are miles and miles of beach. We have been to Costa Rica before, further north, and as much as we enjoyed that trip, we decided we wanted to be more off the beaten path. We read that Dominical is what the Tamarindo area was like 10-15 years ago, a surfer place without a lot of tourists.

Q: Where will you be staying?

A: We knew we didn’t want to stay in a hotel. We wanted a rental property that had a decent kitchen, large dining area and enough bedrooms to accommodate 12. In my experience, part of the fun of a foreign vacation is shopping for food and figuring out what to cook that’s different from home. All the adults are happy to share the cooking and it’s easy to pick up pizza when no one is in the mood. We also plan to arrange for a cook to come to our villa on several occasions to prepare  Costa Rican meals.

We’ve learned from past experiences that property managers are most willing to purchase items such as milk, beer and bottled water and have them in the refrigerator waiting for us.

Costa Rican mealQ: How did you find this place?

A: First I went to the library and took out books on Costa Rica. Then I looked at rental properties on websites such as Trip Advisor. I wanted us all to stay in the same building so the first challenge was to find a house that would hold 12 people, would be available during the two weeks that we could be there, and that we could afford. We were initially very discouraged because we couldn’t find a place large enough in a location that suited us. I was about to give up the search when I found a comment in an review of a villa for 10 persons stating that the owners had allowed them to put two additional kids on air mattresses. When I contacted them, they agreed to do the same for us.

You learn a lot about a place just by reading the comments section and it struck me immediately that this villa would suit our group. An American couple owns it. There is a small swimming pool. The villa is up high enough so that you have a view of the coast. There is wildlife on the property and in the protected area nearby and you can walk to both the beach and the town. I sent an enquiry and I liked the response.

Costa Rican beachQ: How do you get to Dominical?

A: We land at the San Jose airport and it’s about a three to four hour drive from there to Dominical. It is important that we all arrive in San Jose around the same time in order to travel together. We decided to organize a bus to pick us up in San Jose and deliver us right to the doorstep of the villa. Then we’ll rent two cars in Dominical.  The villa owners helped us book the bus and the cars.

There are certain decisions you make simply because it is not worth putting yourself through unnecessary anxiety. We had considered renting cars at the airport but learned that finding your way out of San Jose can be very confusing.  Also, we recognized that getting luggage for 12 persons into two cars would be next to impossible.  Therefore – the bus.  I just thought, “Here we are, 12 people, six of whom are kids.  Do we need to worry about getting lost in San Jose and stuck on the highway after dark?

Instead, we will concentrate on getting ourselves through customs, gathering everyone together, and meeting our driver. My practical, older son also suggests that we stop and pick up groceries along the way.

Surfing in Costa RicaQ: How did you manage booking 12 flights?

A: The four coming from Alberta knew they had to stop over in Houston and with two young kids in tow, my son’s attitude is “this will be great. We’ll spend the night at an airport hotel that has a swimming pool and a hot tub. The kids will hardly be in the hotel before they’ll drag me to the pool. And we’ll have room service and the kids will be asleep before they’ve finished eating.” They have done that before and they like it. For them, it is a fun part of the trip.

Initially, I thought those of us travelling from Ontario would do the trip in one day but that also proved to be challenging.  To my surprise, the four Ontario kids thought staying in a Washington airport hotel was the best thing that could happen. Again they’re not as used to the hotel experience so are very excited. We will overnight on the way down and back.

We used ‘Kayak’ to find what seemed to be the most affordable flights. Although we could only book six tickets at one time on Kayak, we were able to change the number to eight passengers once inside the site and redirected to the airline website.

It takes a lot of time to fill out the passenger information and you need the correct spelling of everyone’s name as it appears in his or her passport and his or her date of birth. Also, it is important  to consider where you would like people to sit before you go online.

Two parents in our group are divorced which means that we must obtain written permission from the children’s other parents in order to take the children out of the country.

Surf schoolQ: Are you concerned about the children taking time out of school?

A: For the older children, they will only miss one week of school because of the March break. We are planning little projects that will make Costa Rica more real. For example, the kids will have a camera and be encouraged to put together a photo album that will tell the story of their trip. We are going to have maps and mark all the places we travel to. Maybe they can interview a couple of people who speak some English and include that information in their album.

We are all going to start learning Spanish words after Christmas and there will be a contest to see who can learn the first 25 words and a few phrases. They will each be given money in the local currency so they can figure out what things cost and how far their $10 will get them. They are quite excited about that.

Right now, their priority is figuring out what electronics they should bring on the airplane.

Q: How about the adults?

A: We the grandparents have made it clear that we are available to babysit and hope that the young parents will have a couple of dinners away from the villa, without children.

Beach at nightWe too are planning to get away for a couple of nights on our own to Wilson Botanical Garden in Las Cruces near the Panama border. We are serious gardeners and the drive there is said to be spectacular.

Four other people plan to join us for a week: A friend we have known for many years, her daughter and husband, and their 7-year old son. They have rented a villa nearby. They usually stay in all-inclusive resorts and this trip promises to be more adventuresome. For one week there will be 16 of us!

This interview has been condensed and edited

 Photos are from previous family trips.

© Riding the buses 2013

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