I knew that Peaks N’ Swells Family Surf Camp in Costa Rica was going to be different from the very first afternoon we arrived. The children’s activities director took one look at my boys, ages 6 and 8, and ditched her planned arts & crafts activity in favor of an impromptu coconut tree climbing competition. She then followed us down to the beach so that she could get a sense of my comfort level around the boys in the ocean. This same kind of attention and personalization occurred at every turn during our stay at Peaks N’ Swells. From the incredible surf instruction, to the fresh family-style meals, it was exactly the kind of experience we had hoped for.
We decided on Costa Rica for the same reasons many people decide on Costa Rica—abundant wildlife, beautiful beaches, and a sense of authenticity that other destinations can’t seem to match. We decided on surf camp because we loved the idea of learning something new with our kids. I’m a big believer that you can’t really feel a part of a place until you’re truly in it. I grew up in the mountains, and they are lovely to look at, but until you’ve poured your sweat into a trail, felt the air change at a certain altitude, and stood on top of the summit, you can’t really appreciate the majesty of that mountain. Surfing allowed us that same opportunity in Costa Rica.
Every day was an adventure. Following a huge Costa Rican breakfast of scrambled eggs, gallo pinto, fresh fruit salad, and Costa Rican coffee, our surf instructors took us to different breaks around the Nicoya Peninsula. Thanks to truly exceptional instruction, everyone in the family was up and riding waves the very first day! The kids were naturals, of course, and enjoyed watching me practice something ten times that they mastered on the first try. By the end of the week though, my husband and I were surfing chest high green waves…an absolutely magical experience, and one that hooked us on the sport for life.
Daily yoga on the patio was the perfect complement to our surf excursions. While my husband and I stretched our sore muscles, the kids would wander the property picking mangos, looking for iguanas, and watching howler monkeys swing through the trees. Or someone from camp would appear for a pick up game of soccer on the beach, an excursion to the turtle sanctuary, or a trip into town for a gelato or fruit smoothie. Some days, my youngest son would join us for yoga and Dagmar, our instructor, would work in all kinds of challenging poses that he would proudly pop into with ease.
Most evenings we opted to stay at camp for dinner. There are some wonderful restaurants in Montezuma, but none that can compare to Nora’s fish tacos and Arroz con Leche. Each villa also has a kitchen, but we were so glad to have Nora cooking for us at the end of a long day. My youngest, who probably has less than 10 foods he likes, actually tried friend plantains and empanadas—both big hits. Long massages and relaxing time with my family are wonderful luxuries, but the best vacations for me are the ones where I don’t have to cook or clean.
We did make an effort to explore the area a bit, although the temptation to stay at camp in the hands of our very capable hosts was compelling. One afternoon we hiked to the Montezuma Waterfall, and swung from a rope swing into the crystal cool water. On our day off from surfing, we took the kids by boat out to Tortuga Island, where we snorkeled and collected shells along with white sand beaches. On the way home, our captain spent 20 minutes following a group of playful spotted dolphins as they jumped through the water—one of the most memorable moments of the trip for the boys.
The trip was truly everything we had hoped—it was educational and authentic, but most of all it was fun. We booked our return trip shortly after arriving home to Vermont and enjoyed year two every bit as much. Costa Rica has become a part of our life, working its way into my children’s poems and art projects at school. More importantly, it reaffirmed our belief that our children’s education is as much about their view of the world as it is about reading, writing and arithmetic. Costa Rica was our first family adventure, but it surely won’t be the last.
This post also appeared on Mother of All Trips, one of my favorite resources for family travel ideas and inspiration.