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New York, NY
USA

We are parents, too. We think traveling well and traveling with children shouldn’t be mutually exclusive. We have limited vacation time, and we’re not spending our few days of freedom in lousy hotels eating bad food. We know the world is full of wonderful resorts, cool urban escapes and far-flung lodges that can make our time with our kids count. We want it all, and we don’t think it should be so hard to find. So we’re going to share it with you.

 

A Mother and Son Adventure at AltaGracia, Costa Rica

Travel Journal

Travel Journal

Dispatches from around the world

A Mother and Son Adventure at AltaGracia, Costa Rica

Henley Vazquez

 

New York mom of two Michelle took her son on an unforgettable trip to the mountains of Costa Rica. Hacienda AltaGracia, in Costa Rica's coffee country, is an upscale country retreat with endless outdoor activities that keep even the most high-energy kiddos (and parents) occupied. Zip lining through the jungle? Hiking under waterfalls? Check, check. Read about this mama's adventurous trip to CR. 


THE TRIP

A Costa Rican adventure with my son who is in the 6th grade. I had seen that a friend had visited the property and wanted to check it out for myself. 

THE HOTEL

The property is immaculate. The bungalows are spaced out nicely, so that they feel private, but nothing is a super far walk to the center of the resort (pool, restaurant, cantina, etc.). The plantings are really stunning and the views impressive. We stayed in a double room with two queen beds. It is really, really nice and super spacious. A family of 4 would be really comfortable there. There is a nice sitting area with small corner sofa and coffee table, as well as a club chair. The beds are fluffy and it was really hard to get my son out of them in the morning. We had a deck with two lounge chairs, as well as a small cafe table with two chairs. Off our deck was a nice grass area with stunning views of the mountains. It felt really luxurious and I have to say one of the nicer rooms I’ve been in, in a long time. My son was thrilled!

The pool is on the small side, but really beautiful with a large shallow area that was great for little kids. There is a covered veranda with dining tables just next to the pool for lunch and a big TV that had soccer playing and sometimes kids’ shows. It all worked really well.

We loved the cantina! We would go every afternoon and every evening to play pool or backgammon. In the evenings, there is a bartender, so you can have a drink and order a snack (guac, meatballs, etc. ). Everything was delicious. We played games every day which was such a nice way to connect. Other families were there doing the same thing. 

THE FOOD 

The hotel restaurant is more of a “fine dining experience,” but as a New Yorker, I was really looking for more local cuisine with simple ingredients. The formality of the dining room didn’t seem to fit to me, but I understand that some guests might want that. A small note is that the music is terrible.

Our favorite dinner was our last night, when we asked the chef for the super local pork, rice, beans, avocado and salsa. That was perfect. The kids’ menu has the standard fare: pasta, pizza, quesadilla, tacos, etc. They are also accommodating of special requests, so that’s good. Room service is fast and breakfast is the best meal of the day. There are blended juice drinks (passion fruit, watermelon) on the menu that are so delicious and a nice treat for kids. As for adult beverages, there are lots of fun cocktails, but I drank wine and the local beer for the most part. 

THE SERVICE

The service was super-friendly, they knew our names, and the recommended guides are incredible, especially Eric. My son really loved chatting with him on our horse rides. The dining service felt a little stiff and formal, but I think that is what they are going for. I was in the pool trying to get a waiter’s attention to order a drink and they never thought to look over to people in the pool to see if they needed anything. They were focused only on the tables. They are super quick to bring the check and leave it open for a bit, I bet, so I’d spend more! But again that is a training thing. I, obviously, survived and didn’t go thirsty.

THE (AMAZING) ACTIVITIES

I signed up for everything! Our first afternoon, we did a sunset trail ride, which was so lovely and peaceful. The horse stables are absolutely beautiful and immaculate. I’ve never seen anything like it. Our guide was very friendly and great with my son. We also had one of the “cowboys” ride with us (read: men in the white hats). They don’t speak much English, but are clearly expert riders. They could see that my son was comfortable on a horse, so they said it was okay for him to trot on the trail. We rode horses almost every day. After the trip, I met my friends to discuss my impressions and the horse riding was the biggest, most pleasant surprise, for me. We rode in the arena (adjacent to the stables to use for lessons) so we could gallop and get a bit better. The stables and horses were so amazing, guides were very helpful. We even got to saddle the horses and give them baths at the end of the ride. Super cool!

We went to Los Cusingos our first morning at 6 AM for bird watching. I knew it was a bit of a risk and my son was definitely super bored, but, I got a funny photo and we laughed about it all week. I really wanted to do everything we could. While some people loved the bird watching, I would say I’m glad we went and I’m really glad it was close to the hotel and ended early...

Zip lining was great! It was pretty challenging, so my son needed the guide to ride with him on a few of the faster legs. There were about six different “legs” and there was a wooden bridge to cross then a repel straight down. The company the hotel works with is fantastic, but they don’t take kids under 10. There was a family with little kids staying there and they found their own zip line company so their kids could go. I know the hotel is working on adding more options for families. 

My son really loved the Ultralight flight. We both did it, but he flew his the entire time (with another pilot of course). All that model airplane flying with my dad paid off.  It was a really cool experience for him to pilot it. This activity is best for ages 10+. 

We also signed up for the farm tour, but on the horse ride there Jack was complaining about feeling ill. We arrived and I got to see their sugar cane crushing and boiling operation and the chicken coop and then we had to leave. Other guests really enjoyed it,  though they did say the horseback ride around the entire property could have been a bit shorter. 

Our favorite excursion was our trip to Perez Zeledon to hike up to these beautiful waterfalls and then rappel down them. Even though the hotel advised that the conditions weren’t ideal, it was still so GREAT! Really beautiful, definitely a challenging hike with 5 repels down then a delicious local meal waiting for us. We were dirty and sweaty and it was fantastic, but not good for anyone under 10.

All these activities were amazing, but mostly because my son was old enough to do them.  I could have brought my younger daughter along but she would have needed to stay on property and just swim in the pool. That being said, there were lots of families with toddlers and they just seemed to enjoy being on property. The pool is lovely and the rooms are spacious, so if you just want to go to a pretty hotel, then AltaGracia can also work for you.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t river raft because the water wasn’t running fast enough. It is also quite a distance from the hotel. We also didn’t make it to the beach which is an about and hour and half away. I figured our next trip to Costa Rica would be to the beach or I would do maybe 3 nights here and then send the rest of the week on the coast. We were happy staying at AltaGracia and really had an adventure every day, plus pool time, game time and always watched a movie in bed before we fell asleep.


Overall, I thought the hotel was super luxurious and unique for the price. We had the most amazing trip together, one we will never forget.