As soon as Arthur and I began planning our wedding, it was a given that we would have a destination wedding. After looking at tons of countries and possible locations, we settled on an all inclusive resort in Mexico. I really think Mexico is the best in the business when it comes to all inclusive packages.
I got a lot of pressure, mostly from my family to have a “normal wedding.” There were a lot of people who could not make it to Mexico, and I was told over and over to consider them. At the end of the day, I couldn’t have a New York wedding. Weddings in New York cost upwards of $25,000. Shocked? I’m serious! It is not at all unusual for couples in New York to go into debt to pay 45-100 thousand dollars for their big day. I do not know a single friend who paid anything less than $30,000.
I couldn’t see myself spending that much money for a wedding that we didn’t want. A destination wedding even with airfare and hotel wound up costing a fraction of that price. Not to mention, we got so much for what we spent. For starters, a week long trip to fucking Mexico. If you’re concerned about cost I highly recommend visiting with a travel agent who specializes in destination weddings. Often, they can find great deals. These almost always include your room free and upgraded. In addition, many resorts will throw in a deal like every fifth room booked is free.
I know a woman who had a wedding in St. Lucia. Every detail from her rehearsal dinner (which took place on a catamaran during sunset) to a steel drum band to DJ and everything else cost only $12,000 for 45 people.
Remember – destination weddings tend to be small because there will be many people who cannot travel, or travel on the dates of your big bash. Zika Virus was a concern for many of the young friends we invited. So, you will wind up paying much less than a typical wedding of 150 people or more.
I was OK with a smaller gathering. Originally, I wanted to elope in Vegas and not even have a wedding. I despise how “goo-goo” women go over their big day. However, 60 people (our total number) is actually a HUGE turn out for a destination wedding!
Making Friends Before the Big Day
By the time our actual wedding reception rolled around, everyone knew each other. Seriously – all of the guests who were strangers at the beginning of the week acted like they had been friends or family forever. I’ve always loved bringing people together. Few things make me as content as being with a big group of my loved ones.
Being surrounded by people who love me and have my best interests in mind is so joyous. To have all of those people get along and act so warmly and loving toward each other was the best wedding gift I could have ever received. How many opportunities in life will you have to spend a week with so many of the people you know and love? This is hands down one of the best parts of having a destination wedding.
Tip: The night before the wedding I made my guests play “Getting to Know You Bingo” in the hotel lobby. Guests had to find a new person to initial each box that corresponded to their new friend. An example would be, “find someone who has never been to Mexico before” or “find someone who would love to have a shot with you” and “find someone who met the groom in college.” It was way more successful than I ever expected. Each Bingo box gave the guests a way to start a conversation with someone new. I can thank teaching for this hit!
Young, old, it didn’t matter. Everyone got along so well. It was a great way for everyone who is important in my life to get to the know the other people who were important to me as well!
Week Long Party
At the end of our wedding, I gave a speech to our guests. As I looked around at the dozens of people who were in attendance, I began to cry. I knew in that moment that there would be few moments in my life going forward that would ever compare to the joy that I felt during that entire week in Mexico.
So much planning goes into a wedding – nearly a year or two full of effort. I couldn’t stomach the idea of all of that zipping by in a matter of four hours. Instead, we were able to enjoy the company of those we loved most for an entire week. What made it so special is that everyone was so relaxed.
In a typical wedding, you barely get to spend time with your guests depending on the number. People travel far and wide and drop serious money to be acknowledged for maybe a total of ten minutes if they are lucky. Having a week with my guests meant I was able to enjoy quality time with each of them in a way that wasn’t rushed.
We enjoyed meals together, pool time, and WAY too many evenings shutting down the nightclub. I was out until at least 1:30 in the morning the night before our wedding!
You’re only young once. Few people have the foresight to know that life will change in the near future. I’m glad that in this respect – I was. Growing up changes things. I knew after my wedding that everyone would continue on with their busy paths in life, and seeing friends would be a special occurrence. I made sure to spend every moment of that week partying like a rock star with my friends. The first thing in the morning there would be a mimosa in my hand!
Since we would all start drinking so early, this would ultimately lead to more and more fun as the day went on. I’ll never forget performing choreographed dances in the club with my friends or several of us hanging onto the same raft in the pool and telling other guests that it was our dinner table.
Vacation for All
People were not only coming to Mexico for our wedding day, it was a vacation for them as well. Our guests spent anywhere from a long weekend to two weeks at the resort. Everyone was able to enjoy all of the activities that the resort had to offer. Some even took day trips and excursions and that way were able to see more of the country. To see the tension melt from the shoulders of my guests who work so hard day to day was a treat in and of itself.
Double the Honeymoon
Being in Mexico allowed us to feel like we were on a honeymoon for the entire week. Our resort really treated us so special. The day after our wedding we were given a private romantic dinner right on the beach complete with bottles of wine and an exclusive menu. We also received a couples massage! The chance to relax on the beach and let loose in the sun as we celebrated our love was a great way to start a marriage together immediately following our wedding!
The best part? We had a real honeymoon to look forward to a few months later.
It Was Just So “Us”
When I look back on our pictures, we couldn’t have done it any other way. These photos of us in the lush Mexican nature surrounded by bright warm colors is just who we are as people. The joy in these shots and the joy I have looking back on them makes me feel like I made the right choice. We eat, breathe, and dream about travel constantly. Planning our wedding was also like planning a vacation. It was doubly exciting to plan the wedding for this reason. It was not only a special day for us, but a week long getaway with friends.
I’ve always been an odd duck. I don’t like to do what everyone else does. By having a destination wedding we had some unique opportunities during the party..like jumping in the pool in our outfits!
Are you considering a destination wedding? Reach out to me if you have questions or need advice! Leave a comment below!
There is no place more controversial in Costa Rica than Jaco.
Jaco is the closest beach town for tourists coming from the San Jose international airport. It’s about an hour and a half to two hour drive. That close proximity, to many, has been its downfall. For years Jaco was a dirt cheap destination for travelers looking for debauchery. Those looking to buy drugs, or a good time with a hooker could certainly find both in Jaco.
These types of travelers never left, and on their heels came investors and retirees from the United States. The result of both types of folks flocking to Jaco? High rise condos, English signs everywhere, shitty American food, and crime. In addition, the high price of the area catered towards those with an American salary have in many ways pushed the local people out, and suppressed the culture. It has made way for a new wave, hybrid, Costa Rica meets trashy American ethos.
This has been the case for years now, and every year it gets worse.
Jaco’s Unconventional Appeal
I first visited Jaco four years ago looking for great nightlife and experiences at cheap prices. My husband (then boyfriend) had visited with friends, and considering it was the only town I had heard of in the country, I went. I stayed for one week with my girlfriends, and I fell in love. As someone who lives in New York City and had very little travel experience at the time, Jaco felt like the most exotic and exciting place one could visit.
Truth be told, I’m an urbanite. I love the chaos, grittiness, and edgy feeling of big cities. I’m also a writer, and a creative in this way, and so naturally, I enjoy places that are a touch unsettling and dangerous. It’s where I draw my best ideas from, and it excites me. Who the hell finds the inspiration to be creative in a place like the fucking Maldives? No true, self respecting, author – that’s for sure.
“Who the hell finds the inspiration to be creative in a place like the fucking Maldives? No true, self respecting, author – that’s for sure. “
The truth? I loved seeing the prostitutes walk around at night and try to pick up men. It was thrilling ducking into sketchy little makeshift bars with my friends in the dead of night while the rain poured down around us. I liked walking around the graffiti covered streets, trying to find a place that looked good for a drink. I laughed while piling into a small taxi, buzzed at the end of the night with four of my friends and no one giving a shit if we wore seat belts and smacked our heads against the car windows as a result. All of this thrilled me.
So, with the image I’ve painted, why in God’s name would I choose Jaco for a family vacation?
Simply put, because Jaco is so much more than its hookers and giant Walmart.
All That Jaco Offers
Jaco has the opportunity for adventure:
It’s beaches are more than perfect for lounging and relaxing.
Plus, it’s a great place to learn to surf, or to practice surfing if it’s a skill that you already have
It’s absolutely beautiful, and the sunsets are world class.
It’s a great central location to take day trips from:
It is family friendly. I never met a single local or employee who didn’t dote over our son. We were never made to feel embarrassed or ashamed of his sometimes less than perfect behavior.
No one seemed to think it was weird to bring him to late night dinners or live music venues.
If you walk around in the day or night, you will see tons of other families around grabbing gelato, having meals together, and playing at the beach.
What I’ve learned is, whatever you go looking for, you will find. If you are looking for the sinister and more dark aspects of travel – such as sex tourism – you will find it. If you are looking for places that feel like America, but are actually in Costa Rica, sure you can find it. There are hamburger joints with English menus aplenty.
However, if you want to interact with locals and learn about Costa Rican culture, there is plenty of opportunity for that as well.
I love that Jaco has a bite to it, but is also really friendly and approachable. When one thinks of art in Europe, we think classical paintings. We met some really wonderful people from Jaco who are always up for having a conversation, and are never without a smile. However, nearly every one of them has some form of well done, badass looking tattoo and often more than one. It became a rarity to meet a Jaco local who did not have tattoos. Every tattoo I inquired about told a story of childhood memories, hopes, dreams, or was a tribute to a loved one.
When one thinks of art in Jaco, the mediums are largely street art and body art. One of the best examples of this is when engaging with the locals. Jaco could easily be viewed with the same romantic intrigue as Williamsburg in Brooklyn, Birmingham in the UK, or Berlin, Germany. It’s only Achilles heel was perhaps its accessibility to the wrong kind of tourists who took an interest in its low costs. By the way, Jaco is no longer inexpensive. My husband and I both having gone years ago (on separate occasions) were surprised that a roundabout 23% tax was imposed! So, prices in Jaco are now comparable to that of New York.
I have few qualms with Jaco. I have few qualms with any destination that I visit, truth be told. However, I think it will be a while before we return. There are so many other places we would like to visit for starters. Second, the now sky high prices of things like dining experiences and excursions will prevent us from returning as our family grows. I hope someday, however, to return to Costa Rica and perhaps see a new part of the country. I would hate to think I will never return. After all, it holds a special place in my heart, click here to see why.
Would I recommend it? I think it depends on what you’re looking for. It has a great mix of beaches, accessibility to other parts of the country, local excursions, and great food. It’s a beach town with the “grit” of a city in many respects.
Is it safe? That depends on your version of safe. Jaco is relatively safe if you practice precautions. I wouldn’t walk around at night, especially alone. I would take a registered cab instead. Have a plan before you go out at night and don’t wander aimlessly, unless you are on the main strip. In the populated areas of Jaco there are always many people and families around. For a more in depth look at Jaco and Costa Rica, check out all of my other posts on the country!
Costa Rica was the first international destination that I visited as an adult. A memory that stands out vividly was having a really great time at the Green Room. When I re-visited a few weeks ago with my husband and baby in tow, I was not disappointed. The aesthetics and overall vibe of the Green Room are incredible. The decor reminds me of the ruin pubs of Budapest, but set in the jungle. Guests begin by walking through an outdoor area where trees are abundant, as are several dining tables.
The furniture is funky and varies a lot. There is no doubt that the Green room has an artistic and natural style. It almost feels as though you are in a hidden park, or backyard. By the maitre’d booth, there is an area for children to draw and create their own artistic pieces.
We sat indoors because the outdoor area was full. The vibe is still strong inside and exudes creativity. We enjoyed watching the mini-light show display on a fence illuminate sporadically.
Wherever there is an opportunity for avant-garde, the Green Room takes it. My favorite was the hall of mirrors I passed when visiting the restroom. I’m going to throw this at you, and hope it makes sense. The Green Room feels like camping in the jungle, an artisan market, a hippie camp, and art convention all in one. There.
The menu reflects the eco vibe of the restaurant. There were so many mouth watering and truly unique dishes to choose from. I had to go with the sweet potato and coconut crusted Mahi Mahi – although it wasn’t an easy choice! I was worried that the flavors would fall short – I’m happy to say they definitely did not. The fish was very light and fresh. It definitely took on so much of the flavor of the crust. Speaking of, the crust is soft and savory. The entire dish is incredibly tender and has a hearty, fruity, taste.
If we can back up a moment, you cannot possibly go wrong order the guacamole with plantain chips. As I mentioned earlier – one of my fondest memories from my first trip to Costa Rica was The Green Room. For years I could remember drinking hibiscus flavored beer, and have never found it anywhere since. You can bet your ass I got a bunch of them upon my return! For some reason I remember the hibiscus taste coming in a bit stronger last time – but it was still as refreshing as I remembered. There are a ton of craft beers available to try, and if you’re extra nice, you can try before you buy.
No bohemian fantasy of a restaurant is complete without live music! On the particular night that we went, there was a woman performing with THE most soulful and booming voice – it was really unexpected. Every song she covered has an island-esque vibe and undoubtedly added to the ambiance. I really feel that one cannot talk about eating in Jaco, Costa Rica without having gone here. It encapsulates so much of the ethos.
The most talked about and well known eatery in Jaco right now is undoubtedly Graffiti. Established in 2010, Graffiti has stayed true to the roots of the area while also creating a very appealing chic, modern, and eclectic mecca for foodies who visit from the world over. The trendy ideal might throw some off as that component doesn’t necessarily fit with one’s image of Jaco.
There’s no doubt about it – Jaco is a gritty city. It’s infamous for (but not exclusive to) its hookers, graffiti art, giant Walmart, and ever increasing drug scene. Graffiti marries the two concepts perfectly. Appropriately, Graffiti has branded itself as “ghetto gourmet.” If the woke mafia could pick their draws up from off the floor, I’d like to applaud this initiative.
Graffiti showcases art – namely street style art from local creatives in the area. The pieces on display are urban and include unique pieces such as skateboards used as canvases for art. However, the indoor portion of the restaurant with its glass paned walls could easily be confused as a small beachy museum. Graffiti is the perfect restaurant for those with an elevated taste and appreciation for locally sourced and ingenious cuisine, but hate the out of touch snobbery of fine dining.
It goes without saying that every option on the cocktail list seems like a good one. Cold Brew Colada, Blackberry G & T, Passion Thyme Gin Fizz…the choices are endless and difficult to make. Going with the Wildberry Basil Lemonade is the move in my opinion. It’s refreshing and light and perfect on a hot evening.
The crowned jewel of Graffiti is its coffee and cacao rubbed beef tenderloin. It is tender, juicy, and packed with flavor. It’s surprising that the coffee and cacao flavors actually do stand out on the palette – for that alone I was impressed. The portion is more than generous and the crispy onions that come atop the entree…simply to die for. Don’t miss out on the deconstructed fish tacos either, you are in Costa Rica afterall! If you’re eating in Jaco, Costa Rica – this is a must visit.
El Hicaco Seafood
El Hicaco Seafood is the pearl of Jaco. Set directly on the beach it is the perfect spot for a dreamy sunset dinner. Watching the waves roll onto the beach and the palm trees sway is pure bliss. Make no mistake – this is no little taco hut. The wooden wire cages around the lights, palm leaf fans, and bamboo details create a minimalistic yet sophisticated beachy ambiance. The clean white aesthetic inside help El Hicaco stand out as an elevated seafood experience.
The surf and turf is a popular option at El Hicaco. If you order a dish without any seafood component – you’re nuts. The restaurant does seafood perfectly, in spite of that, my entree was way too big to finish. I ordered the lobster tails sauteed in butter and God knows what else. They’re meaty, flavorful, and easy to get out of the shell. The tails paired with a daquiri as the sound of the waves roll in – paradise.
Whenever I find a Mexican establishment anywhere in the world – I feel at home. I’m not even a fraction Mexican, but I truly feel this way. It might be that Mexican culture is so warm and inviting. I’ve never met a Mexican person who was not genuine – especially in the service and tourism industry. The people are incredibly hard working and go massive lengths to satisfy clients and customers. Senor Harry’s is a great example of such ethos.
I wish I lived at Senor Harry’s. The staff is really accommodating, kind, and welcoming. Our maitre’d let us have our pick of table and went out of his way to consider our sleeping child. We had a great laugh trying to navigate our bulky stroller through the tables and another waiter joined in on the hysterics. “No problem, I love funny moments like this. That’s pura vida, right?” the maitre’d happily announced. From that moment on I fell in love with Senor Harrys.
If you don’t like Mexican or Tex Mex food – you’re just not human. Senor Harrys serves up the soul nourishing, heart warming, stomach pleasing dishes that make you do a little dance in your seat. The drinks are strong enough to give you the courage to take your little dance onto the live music stage. The restaurant is HUGE and does offer live music on the weekends. Each night of the week there is some kind of fun offering at Senor Harry’s. This includes one dollar margarita night on Mondays and free bachata lessons on Sundays and Wednesdays.
Senor Harry’s offers all of the fan favorites – quesadillas, burritos, tacos and much more. The tableside guacamole if a must, and with any luck your guac preparer will be as friendly as ours. The frozen watermelon – equal parts delicious and strong – is divine. Look to their drink menu for other fun cocktails. The drinks are concocted with iconic natural sites of Costa Rica in mind.
Hotel Club Del Mar – Las Sandalias
This one is going to take a lot of people by surprise. Hotel Club Del Mar offers really really good food. Its clientele is mostly limited to the guests staying at the resort. That is how I came to know its food in the first place. There are certain details that stand out to me from my last trip to Jaco. The food at Hotel Club Del Mar is one of them, it was just exceptional and comforting. I ate here several times and the food was always on point.
I came back to re-assess and wasn’t disappointed. Most of the staff was surprised that we weren’t staying at the resort and still chose to eat here. Step up your marketing game and get people in – because it’s an excellent eatery!
The banana daiquiri is the best I had in the city, and I have order them from everywhere I visited in this post. The comida tipica is exceptional and fairly priced. I ordered the fish option although you can also choose other types of protein. It was fresh and flavorful. The rice and beans which accompanied were filling and well seasoned. On a hot day, be sure to order a bowl of gazpacho. It’s tangy, creamy, and could rival the gazpacho in Seville. I’m drooling just thinking about it.
Morales Steak House
The Morales House just feels like Jaco. The city for the most part has a rough and tumble, street, type of vibe to it. If Jaco were a person it would probably never cry, keep its distance, but also kick your ass if it needed to – no questions asked.
Morales House is a no frills outdoor joint. It is equipped with no less than 9,000 televisions all showing UFC matches simultaneously. The atmosphere is busy, lively, and comfortable. It is rustic, no frills, and there is always a crowd. It’s a fantastic place to grab a cold beer, watch a fight, and dive into their meat-centric menu. You can’t go wrong with a classic steak, potato, and veggie option here. Meat is their specialty.
This restaurant isn’t in Jaco – it is found in Manuel Antonio which isn’t impossibly far away. I wanted to squeeze in a small review because I’d been yearning to go and finally got the chance.
El Avion is incredibly popular with tourists because of two reasosn.
First – the impossibly amazing view:
Second – It is inside of an airplane!
Beyond the drinks which will get you butt-wasted – the food is nothing to write home about. It’s not bad, but it’s basic. I wouldn’t visit here hoping to have comida tipica. Generally the rule is the better the view – the more sub-par the food. No exception at El Avion. As I said, the food isn’t bad – but no wow factor. Come, have a burger and strong drink and enjoy what might be the best view in Manuel Antonio.
I would fly to Costa Rica just for this fucking gelato. Period. The play on the name is genius, because Jaco does have more of a rebellious spirit than a beauty to it – and I love it. You will definitely be surprised how closely this gelato comes to that of Italy and Spain – I was impressed. If you are an aesthetics person you will love the cozy and artsy cafe vibe. The flavors are endless and unique. Some of the more interesting ones include Madagascar vanilla, lavendar, matcha, dragonfruit, iced espresso, lime ginger, and Nutella. There are around 20 different flavors to choose from daily along with coffee and affogato. Don’t be surprised if there is a line around the block.
If you visit Costa Rica – without a doubt you will pass some type of “soda.” I was going to make a corny joke, but I decided against it. (Da-hurr, soda?! Not the kind you drink, everyone…) A soda in Costa Rica is an eatery that serves traditional Costa Rican fare. Typically the food is buffet style (although not always.) It typically comes at a reasonable price. The atmosphere tends to be rustic and no fuss – and anytime you walk into that situation – you know the food will be good. If the soda you walk into seems to have an entire family working behind the counter – even better. I fell in love with Costa Rican breakfast at a remote soda.
Costa Rican Breakfast
When you hear the contents of a “Costa Rican breakfast” it largely sounds like none of it should go together, but somehow, it does. Typically, such breakfasts are referred to as Gallo Pinto. While there is some variation, it is safe to say that Gallo Pinto almost always looks different compared to the classic American breakfast to which many of us are accustomed. As I’ve had it, Gallo Pinto consists of mixed rice and black beans. In addition there are eggs any style, a tortilla, sweet plantains, and of course, sour cream.
I might have lost some of you at the last two, but TRUST ME, it somehow freaking works. This combination is sweet and savory at its best. It WILL leave a pool of saliva in your jaw. I have not been able to stop talking about breakfast in Costa Rica for well over two weeks at this point. Bare in mind – this whole opportunity on your dish is utterly a waste if you don’t dress your eggs in Lizano.
Many think the biodiversity of the country if Costa Rica’s national treasure. Fuck that. Lizano is clearly the superior option. The salsa is unique to Costa Rica. It comes in what looks like a hot sauce bottle. The standard flavor is NOT spicy, just very flavorful. I’d describe it as Latin salsa mixed with British malt or vinegar sauce.
I have an obsessive interest in street food. I mean, I don’t like to be standing when I eat it, but I love street food. In many of my blog posts I’ve waxed poetic about street foods from around the world. I need to add yet another to my list, and I’m drooling on the keyboard as I do so…salchipapas. There are so many takes on the quick dish, but let me give you an overview. Imagine a plate of french fries, slived pan fried sausage (a level better than hot dogs), and an array of condiments including, but not limited to mayonnaise, ketchup, and mustard.
There are several places that will add coleslaw into the mix as well. Salchipapas are meant to be shared, of course. It was great to kick back at the beach with my husband, and to nosh on a basket of salchipapas at night while getting lost in political discussion fueled by beer and frozen drinks. This is literally the perfect accompaniment to an evening of drinking and discourse.
What I Learned Is – Parent Tips
We were able to take our nine month old son to all of these restaurants. After reading this post, you can see how they all differ. From the high end to the rowdy, he was welcomed everywhere. In my experience, Costa Rican people adore children and do not think it’s weird to bring your child out to dinner late at night.
Henry was exceptional for most of the meals we shared as a family. However, on the rare occasion that he did cry and scream, it was only other American tourists who raised an eyebrow – never locals. If anything, those in service positions only asked how they could help and wanted to love on Henry as much as possible.
Costa Rica is a great place to experiment with dining styles for little ones. The overall culture is relaxed and tolerant. Most eateries offer outdoor seating. If you absolute beast (little one) starts acting up, all you have to do is push your stroller a few steps away to be out of everyone’s hair. No need to worry about doing the parent-walk-of-shame out of a crowded indoor restaurant.
In Jaco, understand that options for highchairs and basic at best. For the most part they are non functional and may not even have lap belts. Bring your own stroller – almost as cool as bring your own booze…almost.
Come prepared with a personal fan, water/Pedialyte, and toys. As stated – many eateries are outdoors where it may be very hot – even at night. Keep the kids hydrated, cool, and entertained.
Ahh, public school Spanish classes. They have done just enough so that most people can ask for the restrooms and order cerveza, but beyond that – does anyone wind up being fluent purely because of learning Spanish in school? (Genuine question)
I won’t lie, my school district must have done a decent job. When a person speaks at a slow speed to me in Spanish, I can understand everything being said. In addition, I can ask for directions, understand them, ask questions, and have small, cordial, conversations with Spanish speakers. However, that is where the extent of my ability to use Spanish stopped for a very long time.
While staying in Jaco, Costa Rica, I JUMPED at the chance to take classes at Academia Tica to improve my Spanish. Some people yearn for the ability to fly, become invisible, or nail an array of Whitney Houston songs at karaoke. If I could have any “superpower” it would definitely be the ability to learn new languages with ease.
About Academia Tica
Academia Tica is a Spanish language school that has locations in both busy San Jose and sunny Jaco. Students learning Spanish at Academica Tica have the option to board at the school to fully immerse with the language at all times. We did not do this, and instead we stayed in the neighborhood at a nearby hotel. There is the option to take private classes, or actually pick up a course of study. Most people who take this option board at the school. In the latter case, group classes are available several times a day as well as private classes.
Academia Tica also hosts the Spanish traveling classroom. Students can take an intensive Spanish language course while traveling with fellow classmates to eight different destinations around the country. This is an incredible way to not only learn the language, but see the nature and culture that the country offers. Most meals are included in the tuition and the course is four weeks long
The school offers surf lessons as the beach is so nearby. Activities and outings such as cooking classes, chocolate tours, dance lessons, and “field trips” all with the aim to practice Spanish and engage with the culture. The Jaco campus even has a swimming pool so that students can cool off.
My Experience at Academia Tica
My husband and I each took two private classes. The method of language learning is complete and consistent immersion. Even as a brand new student we do not speak or hear English, only Spanish. How then, do students learn the language?
The teachers at Academic Tica are so talented and use the immersion method with ease. As my husband took his class, I sat in the entrance room playing with our son, Henry. Teachers would shuffle in and out of the room and introduce themselves. They began asking questions and engaging me in conversation. If I didn’t understand a word or phrase, they would begin acting things out, pointing to objects in the room, or giving examples. This was also true in our classes.
Even though it was my idea to attend these classes, and the class was private, I was fairly nervous for my first one. I began bouncing my leg quickly and clearing my throat for no physiological reason as I so often do when I’m nervous. Our class took place on an outside patio where I had a view of the beautiful greenery in the backyard and the cool breeze of the fan whirring overhead.
My teacher was a more beautiful version of Frida Kahlo, and so very kind right from the get go. She opened with asking me (in Spanish of course) what I wanted to get out of the class. I told her that I struggle greatly with conjugating verbs into past and future tense. I also struggle with my “ser” versus “estar” use. (Both verbs mean “to be” – yet have different uses depending on the context.)
By drawing so many diagrams, giving off many examples, and acting – she was entirely easy to understand. Something I really appreciated is that she was not patronizing. She did not correct every little mistake I made, or pretend not to understand me if I mixed up a word or phrase. For instance, I said something like, Donde esta una luego para almuerzo? In English, this is “where is a good place for lunch?” However, luego actually means later, and lugo means place. She simply responded with, “Ahh! Una lugo para almuerzo…” and began rattling off restaurants.
I cannot tell you how many native speakers and teachers of various languages act like EVERYTHING I have said is incoherent when I only mix up or forget one word. However, Spanish speakers are much more patient when learning a new language than most cultures. Try mispronouncing a word in French at a cafe in Paris, or Russian anywhere with a native speaker – forget it! My teacher always only spoke to me with respect and as though I was already excelling as a native Spanish speaker. This gave me SO much confidence. I loved every minute of class, especially when the lightbulb would go off in areas that were previously difficult for me. (Hacer, anyone?!)
Our teacher was never without a smile. She was genuinely passionate about her teaching and seemed to want me to learn the language as much as I wanted that for myself. One night I was even given homework, but it made the experience all the more authentic! Andrea was generous with her laughter and kindness. At one point we both laughed very hard at a particular narrative. She said in Spanish, “when I ask you what you want out of this class you tell me: to better communicate with students, to improve yourself, etc.
When I ask your husband he says, because my wife told me to and she was very clear about that.” She gave me her number at the end of our final lesson in case I had any questions that she could answer. My husband and I both agreed that if we were to attend the school and her classes for even only two weeks, there is no doubt we would be entirely fluent.
The atmosphere of the school is familial, and even the students seem to know each other well. The teachers are enthusiastic and passionate and all dotted so lovingly over Henry. I find it awesome that even at his young age he was engaged with the language and culture of the country during our time at Academic Tica.
Taking classes at Academia Tica made my trip to Costa Rica feel much more like slow travel. I’ve traveled to 25 countries and countless cities. Each and every time, my trips were about site seeing and packing as much in as possible. This is the only time that we really spent our lives each day as though we were living on Costa Rica. I’ll always have fond memories of attending class and interacting with other students and teachers.
Afterward, we’d walk down the rugged streets of Jaco going food shopping and picking out the perfect place for lunch. We loved using the new Spanish we learned and the confidence our teacher gave us to speak to cashiers and store clerks. I enjoyed looking at all of the products in stores and being able to read and understand the labels!
My husband and I practiced our Spanish with each other and tried to speak only in Spanish nearly everywhere we went for the week. I was really floored that my husband with no knowledge of the language was able to ask questions, understand directions, have some conversations, and order from menus all in Spanish after only two classes. Any endeavor without practice is futile. Our teacher made us so excited to practice at home, and I am currently teaching Henry everything that I know.
NYC Schools Can Learn a Thing or Two
Equipped with only a rolling white board, colored markers, and an innate talent I learned weeks worth of Spanish in only two lessons. Meanwhile, in New York City, big wigs often believe that the most drastic measures are the answer – even when this is often false. We need more technology, even though I have heaps of failed pieces of technology in my room just gathering dust. We need more scripts for teachers, allowing no room for creativity or autonomy – streamline everything! Pay the corporations more! Spend tons of money for the newest initiative, program, or idea that even sounds remotely good without piloting it first! As a teacher on the ground, these latter measures have not fixed a damn thing. It’s smoke in mirrors.
Some technology and programs are effective. Students who are non-verbal or have dysgraphia can do wonders with assistive technology. Students with behavioral and emotional struggles thrive working with teachers who take on training in programs like restorative justice. The vast majority of over-reliance on these things however is complete bullshit. In my opinion, and from this experience – it would be far better to insure that our teachers maintain a pure love for their craft and by using methods that are tried, true, and stand the test of time.
I have long been a fan of the day long layover. By opting for a 12 hour layover or day trips, I’ve been able to see some of my most desired locations at a fraction of the price. However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that this is also the quickest way to exhaust oneself. Taking a 12 hour layover in Lisbon two years ago before reaching Romania left me staying up for 48 hours! I’ve never not been exhausted by one of these long haul mini-trips.
I thought for a while that I would never be able to do these types of trips with a child. I personally could pull through prolonged sleepless hours and crash on the plane, but a 9 month old? Let’s all laugh together, BAHAHAHAH. Even if you’re not a parent, surely you realize what hell this would be.
So, I did it anyway. We decided to explore San Jose, Costa Rica in one day! After a week on the Costa coastline, we spent 12 hours in San Jose before jumping on a red eye flight. San Jose has a reputation of being dangerous, gritty, and crime ridden. And if you know me, you know that is exactly why I went to see it. I love cities that have an edge to them. Most people do not visit Central America for its cities. The region is more known for its bounty of beaches. However, in the past few years since moving to Brooklyn, I’ve taken on the persona of urbanite. Therefore, we traveled to the city.
Long Layover Hack
A long day in a bustling city sounds painful when involving an infant, right? Not if you rent a hotel room for the day.
We paid exactly $48 dollars for a room at the Hotel Cultura Plaza. It was a walking distance to everything that we wanted to see. We paid this even though we would be leaving hours before check out and not actually staying over. Let me say, it was worth every penny. The room was pristine, modern, and was just enough space for the three of us and our belongings.
Having the room for the day allowed us to have a “home base”. We were able to go in and out of our luggage as we pleased. Its central proximity to sites allowed us to return to the room when we were too hot, needed to change a diaper, or wanted to change clothes. It was a Godsend to be able to shower and change into comfy clothes right before we left for the airport. The best part? At around 6:30 we were spent – we didn’t have the energy for any more sites. It was amazing for the three of us to lay in bed, watch movies, cuddle up, and sleep before a long five hour flight!
To recap, day trips with kids are possible, but book that cheap-ass room before you go.
The Jade Museum
I know what you’re thinking. Because it was exactly what I was thinking when I found out that the Jade Museum was a top attraction in San Jose. Jade? As in the stone? An entire museum…dedicated to…a particular type of stone? Like…a rock, kind of? Stick with me, I promise the Jade Museum is dope!
The Jade Museum boasts five floors of jade discovered in the Americas. It has the world’s largest collection. The historical significance of jade in early Costa Rican people is significant and trippy. The Jade Museum is one place that I could certainly have spent the entire day exploring. I say that without a shred of exaggeration. The words, “this is so cool” left my lips no less than a hundred times during my exploration.
I have an utter fascination with weirdly specific parts of history. I’m especially interested in the spiritual beliefs and traditions of ancient societies. In particular, I’m captivated by anything involving Shamanism. If you know anyone in need of someone to do investigative reporting in this area – I’m your broad!
I love the idea of connecting with nature, spirituality, and the occasional hallucinogenic as a form of healing both physically and emotionally. Shamanism seems so mystical and so pure. My mind blows wide open when I consider its role in a history that spans hundreds of years. In pre-Colombian Costa Rica – Shamans relied heavily on jade and believed in its potential for healing.
It was long believed that spirits could shapeshift and take on the form of various creatures, turn invisible, and manifest through instruments of the shamans such as stones and jade pendants. Spirits were thought to dictate nearly everything in life from illness to protection of nature, animals, and people. Spirits could be both good and evil simultaneously. This is why so many of the jade objects depict having two heads.
When a person in the tribe fell sick, Shamans used jade stones (considered magical) to communicate with the spirit of the ill person. In earlier days, people believed that Shamans could shape shift into animals particularly at night made possible through the stone.
Although much isn’t known, Shamanism was practiced by a small amount of females in Costa Rica. Mainly elderly women could be educated in the ways of Shamanism to hold priestess positions. Certain jade objects depict women in authority over ceremonial proceedings.
There were two rooms entitled “day” and “night.” In the day room you are able to see how Costa Ricans built their homes and used jade in their day to day living such as for jewelry and curing illness.
It is no surprise that my wild ass like the night room much better. It was full of stories of war, burials, sacrifice, and more Shamanic and spiritual uses of jade.
Teatro Nacional de…Costa Rica?
I’ve long been writing a novel set in Costa Rica. I’ve been working out a scene that takes place in the Teatro Nacional Costa Rica. Luckily, there are so many pictures on the internet to use as inspiration. However, it’s been a dream of mine since beginning the novel to see it in person. That was four years ago, on my first trip to Costa Rica where I decided to write my book. I finally was able to soak in every detail during my visit to the city. Seeing this theater was paramount to my experience of San Jose, Costa Rica in one day!
We arrived just in time for the last English speaking tour of the theater for the day. Talk about serendipity. Might have been a nod from the universe telling me to “soldier on” with my pursuit of writing. That’s what I would like to think anyway.
When one thinks of Latin America, the image of a classical European style theater house does not usually come to mind. However, the Teatro Nacional is one such place. It doesn’t seem as though it blends in at all with the overall aesthetics of the modern and somewhat gritty capital city. Afterall, it certainly has an old world look and is most certainly not modern. It definitely does not fit in with the graffiti clad streets of San Jose. It’s not inconceivable that the theater may be a transplant from another country entirely. However, San Jose is the original and only home of the theater. Although, Italy can lay claim to its many statues.
The affluent families of San Jose in the 1800s could afford to send their children to Europe to study. Their children would return with stories of grand performances that they witnessed in the most stunning of venues. The families soon sought their own venue for performances. Thus the theater was erected with inspiration from Europe.
As soon as we entered the theater, my imagination went wild. I saw visions of ladies in giant ball gowns and men in tuxedos laughing haughtily and checking out the other guests who arrived in their finest around them. The marble statues imported from Italy and gold trim in the lobby create an elegant aesthetic that helps embolden such visions.
A DNA test that I took claims that I share a bloodline with Marie Antoinette. Seeing as my heart skips a beat in any place that resembles Versailles, I concur. The regal, airy, high class charm of the theater does indeed remind one of the sun king’s palace.
After entrance, the tour moves into a vestibule. An unassuming, naturally pretty young woman introduced herself as our tour guide and discussed each statue around us. I’ll leave the detailed history to the photo captions. Instead, I’ll just say that things did not go as expected in all of the best ways. A man, who definitely had airs of importance looked assumingly at our guide. He began insulting her and saying he didn’t think she knew anything about the theater at all.
The tour looked around awkwardly at each other. I love an awkward moment just as much as anyone. Perhaps more awkward is my mistaking this man for Lin Manuel Miranda, the Hamilton creator and genius. Things made more sense when we learned that our tour guide and her associate were ACTORS. As such, they would take turns leading while the other dressed in period clothing. Both would assume the role of various important political people who were pivotal to the development of the theater.
We were able to tour the reception room where important guests and patrons would gather. The smoking rooms on each side allow the chance to fawn over impressive art. Most interesting was golden champagne fountains in each corner of the room. The best, however, was when Lin Manuel Miranda pretty much called us all garbage people/trash for wearing flip flops and jeans to the gala. I was really impressed with his ability to see me for who I am.
The views of the stage from the balcony seating took my breath away. We were able to see the box where the president of Costa Rica sits for performances. The seat is only for him. It is front and center in a special spacious box.
In the earlier days, important patrons would sit in these balcony seats. It was surprising that their view of the stage did not offer a favorable view of the stage. In a similar situation to the Globe, these seats intended purpose was to show off the patrons. They did not care about the performance so much as being the performance.
After looking at so many photographs of the Teatro Nacional for several years, it was surreal to see it in real life. I was able to run through so many scenes that I created against the backdrop of the actual theater.
Over-Ordering from a Menu – The Pride of Americans
I easily gained 10 pounds just from our meal during dinner. Nuestra Tierra boasts a ginormous menu full of various Costa Rican dishes. It’s heavy with tourists, but the menu seemed promising.
After a long day of exploring, alcohol is well deserved and to be honest – needed. I ordered a glass of the red house sangria. I have no idea about the ingredients- but half a glass was more than enough. Being a new mom has a lot of challenges, I’m not sure I’d count newly being a lightweight this as one. I think it’s more of a money saver.
We ordered a HUGE platter of food which included rice and beans, several types of meat, fried yucca, and plantains. I felt so guilty because we didn’t even make a dent in the damn platter. The only thing more American would have been finding a Krispy Kreme after dinner. I’ll be honest, the platter did not impress me. We both thought it would be much better. For the most part it was bland, and a lot of the meat was difficult to get through due to texture. There is also a real chance that the restaurant mixed up fried yucca with fried rocks.
The stand out dish, believe it or not was a side dish. SO, side chicks. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t be number one. It was a banana that was fried and covered in cheese and it was EVERYTHING. The banana was naturally sweet and cooked in oil. The cheese covering it added even more grease and a fried, stringy, goodness. The two when mixed together formed a savory and sweet connection that shouldn’t have worked, but totally did. This is the ULTIMATE booze accompaniment or stoner snack. I can’t wait to try to re-create it at home.
Out of all of the toys offered to Henry, he only wanted to play with a piece of oily, battered, cheese. I took it from him several times, each of which he screamed. Other diners looked at us as though we were in fact beating him with the cheese. Exhausted from sightseeing and relaxed from booze – I let him have it. He spent the better half of half an hour breaking it up into pieces and smacking it against every surface imaginable. At one point he smashed it into my hair and face. Even at 9 months old you apparently have to pick your battles.
After he grew bored of that, he desperately needed a diaper change. There was no changing station and so I changed him (tipsy mind you) on the floor of the restroom. Yes, I used his changing pad obviously – keyboard warriors. The light was an eco light and would shut off every 45 seconds unless I stood up and jumped. The sight of my son giggling and trying to flip over, as I try to change his diaper in the dark while jumping up from a kneeling position every 45 seconds was a sight to be seen.
The Most Brilliant Moment
The universe and stars aligned to bring together the most miraculous experience of my time in the city. Arthur, Henry, and I scaled a hill not knowing what we would find up top. It was easy to see there were a lot of people at the top of the hill. It was not easy to see why.
Upon reaching the top we saw no less than HUNDREDS of locals were gathered around. I heard a familiar cadanced, spit fire, style of music coming from the middle of the crowd. Every so often the crowd would shout “OHHHHH!” in absolute approval. There was a rap battle happening, and it was fucking magnificent. I love hip hop and rap. I’m always astounded how the uniquely Black American style of music has made its way around the world as a popular style of music.
I have no understanding whatsoever of what was happening within the lyrics. However, in a sea of strangers who looked nothing like me – I felt blissfully at home. The rhythm and feelings generated by this style of music transcend language and culture. It was easy to feel the passion and energy from the performers and crowd. I was ecstatic to witness such a pure local event. We seemed to be the only visitors. It’s exciting to be able to become lost in a scene. I enjoyed every moment.
While nature is in vogue, I love cities. This is especially true for ones with a bite to them. I’m all about scouring through concrete jungles to find gems and getting lost late into the evening. While my wild nights aren’t typically so wild with baby in tow, I was able to explore an environment that I love.
I’m a planner. It is safe to say that every excursion, meal, and experience will be organized by me when I travel with others. Our family trip to Jaco, Costa Rica was no exception. I wanted our vacation to be memorable and so I spent the better half of two months meticulously researching and organizing ideas.
One thing that people who travel with me should know is: do not fuck with my vision. I’m all for input from others. But, if I have my heart set on seeing a particular site, or if you put me in charge of planning because you’re too lazy to do it…don’t even THINK about reorganizing my carefully laid itinerary.
I nearly lost it when the boss of our driver began, “if you’re staying for a week, I have so many great activities to recommend. Might I suggest our monkey boat tour? Your little one would love it.” My husband nodded enthusiastically at the suggestion.
Don’t you dare I thought to myself as I gripped the seat of the car. A monkey boat tour sounded like the most touristy activity that we could possibly encounter on our trip, and I wasn’t about to spend my day doing that when I had so many “off the beaten path” type activities planned.
So, needless to say if you peep the title, I did in fact spend my day on a monkey boat tour in Costa Rica. Because when you have a family IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT YOU WANT. But, you know what? I loved it, and that monkey boat tour in Costa Rica was the best memory I have from our week long trip.
To start, it was a billion degrees outside and I felt incredibly sexy with only one of my legs and a puddle of sweat accumulating in my shorts which no doubt looked like I had a bathroom accident. Yes, the experience started with all of the components needed for a mediocre day. We wandered through the gift shop selling the usual tourist trap merchandise and I tried to see how many times I could possibly roll my eyes.
However, I’m a people person – and meeting our tour guide and seeing him interact with our son was the catalyst for our best day in Costa Rica.
Andrei (let’s pretend I’m spelling that right) is a natural with people and children especially. He was everything I imagine when I hear the word Tico. Our guide walked through the dirt barefoot, and was enviously tan. Andrei had deep brown kind eyes with a touch of benign mischief shining through, and curly brown hair. He’s a younger and more handsome version of John Leguizamo. I later learned he spends all of his days giving monkey tours, fishing, and surfing. Now that is pura vida. His image definitely matches his lifestyle.
He took an interest in Henry almost immediately and made him laugh and smile. He told us that he has two children himself who were very young and were both expert fishermen. Many days they go down to the river themselves and haul in a catch of sealife. In fact, he jokes with his ex-wife that she shouldn’t need to cook when the boys are over because they can catch their dinner themselves.
We board a small boat which is very low to the water. I had prior assumed that we would be on a giant commercial boat peddling down the river with throngs of tourists like the Creole Queen. I was wrong. One other family from California – two parents and their two children climbed on, and sat in the front of the boat. A young man in the back of the boat operated the engine and Andrei called out directions.
Prior to reaching the famed monkeys we were able to see a lot of the wildlife that calls the waterways home including giant termite colonies, crocodiles, and birds.
The day was steamy and muggy, but being under the canopy of the boat as calmly sailing down the river kept us cool. Only when we would stop did it get semi-hot. Henry being so small was much more intolerant of the heat than anyone else on board. This is where it comes in handy to always be prepared. We fixed him right up with a bottle of Pedialyte and a personal fan.
After sailing down the water and admiring the wildlife and greenery we pulled into a crook in the water and shut the engine off. We were surrounded by trees whose brown paper bag branches twisted and turned like skeleton bones. The branches were covered with masses of deep, dark, overgrown, green leaves. It was largely silent save for the sound of chirping beatles. That was until we were startled by what sounded like softball sized hail falling on the canopied roof of the small boat.
“They’re here” Andrei declared cooly with a smile. (I’m convinced he could deliver any message in that cool and collected manner.) It just works for him. Like my students when I say, “whoever helps me clean gets a prize” they descended cautiously and smoothly toward the boat. Adorable white and black furry monkeys came into focus and began peering into the boat and climbing down over the edges. I couldn’t believe that I had been knocking this activity as too touristy. This was a close encounter! I was in the home of the monkeys.
I walked toward the front of the boat and sat down eyeing the trees around me. Everything seemed to move fast. Wap! A spoonful of mushy bananas was smashed into my hand by the boat driver and the next thing I knew a monkey had literally jumped and landed on my head. I was surprised at the lightweight of the animal. The monkey wasn’t at all aggressive and I was in total bliss with the experience. But, also, I had a full body sunburn.
More monkeys fled to me – two to three at this point and the piles of bananas kept accumulating on my hand. Their tiny little claws felt like razors and sandpaper on my raw red skin. I was so happy, but at the same time said to myself something along the lines of, “Fuck fuck fuck” due to the scratching pain!
My husband was in awe and his eyes darted every way because he never knew which way a monkey might approach him. Henry…not so much. At first he was more entertained by and interested in the people’s reactions on the boat. Once he saw the monkey on my head he drew back and began screaming. I felt awful that he was afraid, but, if I can be the worst mom ever for a moment – I also couldn’t stop laughing. He was never in harm’s way and seeing his tiny hands try to swat the monkey’s away from me was adorably futile. It’s awesome to see the world through his eyes and at all times entertaining!
It was only at the second stop for monkeys did Henry really fall in love with the monkeys. He bounced in excitement when they came around us and onto the boat. Thankfully we got some really great family photographs that do not involve him sobbing. Although he won’t remember the experience, I’m glad that he left the experience more enthralled with the animals than he was traumatized.
Having monkeys crawl all over you isn’t unlike having your small child or pet climb all over you looking for treats. They are entirely adorable and more than once I got the urge to cradle one in my arms like a baby. My best advice? Don’t. Although that goes without saying. The monkeys are curious, small, and behave very much like my son. They pulled gently on my clothes, looked at me inquisitively, and ate food right out of my hand even though maybe I’d rather be eating that food because I work all day and I didn’t get to eat my lunch yet again and I’m seeing stars from lack of nourishment but SURE you go ahead.
We had many opportunities to interact with the monkeys, take great photographs, and learn about them and their habitat. Being in such a small group provided intimacy and relaxation. I much prefer this as opposed to fighting with dozens of others over getting to see the monkeys first and get the best spot for photographs. I knew in these moments that our monkey boat tour in Costa Rica would be my favorite memory. It was more interactive than I would have imagined. (Already want to visit? Click here)
Andrei grew up exploring the backwaters as his playground as a child. So much of what he knows about the wildlife and their behavior is simply from life experience. I can’t tell you how authentic and exciting that was for me. I’m so passionate about learning about people, and I got to experience his local story through this excursion.
It was so refreshing to not be shown around by some guy in a starched uniform and a clipboard. Andrei really gave us a local’s perspective regarding the monkeys. As a local, he really respects the environment where the monkeys and all of the creatures live. It was his own home in many ways.
In one moment in particular, he began clapping loudly and we weren’t sure why. He looked at the water amused and said, “look there”. The bugs on the water would jump high every time he clapped. “They hear that sound and think a fish is coming”. My husband loved this and began clapping himself, we all did. “How’d you figure that out?” I asked. He shrugged and looked out toward the brown water littered with dancing insects. “Just started clapping one day when I was a kid and saw it happen.”
Moments like these are so genuine and so pure. I treasure every chance I get to catch a genuine glimpse into the story of another person. Andrei seemed genuinely happy. He was proud to recall his childhood memories and to share the new memories he creates with his own children in nature.
He ripped palm leaves down from the trees and created giant grasshoppers for Henry and the other two children. The attention to detail was impeccable and inexplicable. If I had a map and 100 years I would never be able to re-create his artistry. “How’d you learn to do that?” I asked. Again he shrugged and looked at me as he wrapped the palm leaves every which way. “Watching people on the water do it as a kid.”
Wandering through the backwaters of the jungle, searching for monkeys and interacting with them certainly feels like I got an authentic Costa Rican experience. I’ve learned that often things that are full of tourists are popular for good reasons – they are almost always worth experiencing. After all, would I suggest someone stay away from 42nd street? Would I suggest others to snub their nose at a chance to see a Broadway performance? Absolutely not. I think there is a clear difference between tourist-ed and cheesy or exploitative. In the case of my monkey tour I had a tremendous opportunity. I had the chance to look at the natural life of Costa Rica. What’s more to see the life of the local people from the area. I nearly snubbed my nose because they happen to offer a gift shop on the premises.
Sometimes the best laid plans do not work out – and for good reason. My original plans were entirely inappropriate for a nine month old. We took the Monkey tour because I’d rather do something that nothing. I’m more than glad that I did. Traveling with children can really change the way that you travel, but sometimes that winds up being for the better.