I usually plan my trips with a visual in mind, and Costa Rica was no exception. On a casual social media swipe last February, I saw someone horseback riding in the mountains there — and then, even though I’ve never really ridden a horse, I could barely think of anything else: the overwhelming greenery, the crisp mountain mist, the soft clip-clop of horse hooves trotting damp earth. I had to do it. 

And so I turned to Elsewhere, Lonely Planet’s travel planning platform, to make my dreams come true. I was connected to Guillermo, a Costa Rica-based guide, who helped me think through the details. He concluded our conversation with, “I live to travel and to surf.” And so I decided I also needed to learn how to surf on this trip. 

Guille took that initial conversation and the text thread that followed and turned it into the most unforgettable trip with my husband, two kids, and in-laws, where we explored the surf of Tamarindo and the mountains of Arenal for a week in August during Costa Rica’s wet season. 

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In Tamarindo, we stayed at the Hotel Capitan Suizo

Rooms that look directly on to the beach at the Hotel Capitan Suzio

A charming beachfront boutique hotel with unassuming integrity, warm staff, and distinct amenities that honor the native trees and wildlife. Hotel Capitan Suizo opened directly onto the beach via five modest wooden stairs. The fluidity between our stay and the sand created the perfect amount of freedom for our multi-generational entourage.

We started every day in the Pacific Ocean in Tamarindo

Ticking 'learning to surf' off my bucket list

I promised myself the year I turned 40 to stop waiting to do all the things I ever wanted to do, and surfing was on that list. Needless to say, to try and stand on the ocean was one of the most humbling experiences of my adult life. 

After three mornings of (graceful) falling under the watchful eye of Maurice and Tommy, our incredible teachers from Costa Rica Sup & Surf: I stood, and I surfed. There was great peace being in the ocean as the sun was rising, starting each day with the humility of doing something new and outside my comfort zone. 

Tamarindo is known for its sunsets

We enjoyed incredible seafood — ceviche, red snapper, and the Pangas Mariscada — at the Pangas Beach Club. We sat under twinkling lights on the beach as the sky turned pink, orange, and purple. 

Tamarindo's purple, orange and pink sunsets

In both Tamarindo and Arenal, we loved the local flavors of Costa Rica

We often paired our breakfast with a side of gallo pinto, Costa Rica’s traditional breakfast. In Arenal, we were lucky to experience the traditional casado — a typical lunch of rice, beans, salad, yucca, and chicken - with a shot of guaro at the Arenal Vida Campesina, a working farm and agricultural center. And pipa fria — coconut water — all day, every day. 

Fresh coconut water and traditional casado for lunch

In Arenal, we got away from the crowds by escaping to the mountains. On horseback 

One of those experiences — after so much dreaming, anticipation, and planning — that was actually better than I could have ever imagined it would be. Booking the first tour of the day—8am!—at the Mistico Hanging Bridges gave our family a pocket of quiet contemplation together overlooking the volcano. 

Creating memories that will last a lifetime

Can’t recommend enough:

The control freak in me loves the micromanagement of trip planning, so I’d never worked with a company like Elsewhere to plan a trip like this. But I found it quite freeing — almost relaxing if you will — to hand the details over to a trusted someone else (everything from figuring out transportation between points to making sure we were supporting local and environmentally responsible businesses throughout our trip). Ultimately, I got the trip I wanted and only had to focus on the parts that would leave us with lasting memories. 

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