Traveling thousands of miles from home, with young children, to remote beaches in a foreign country where they speak a different language can be intimidating. Making friends, meeting new people or just finding your way around can be a challenge.

Which is why when Mauricio Castillo, a native of Costa Rica who grew up in East Hampton (New York), decided to invite friends and their families along on a group vacation, the trip morphed into an instant party.

Friends and family of the Castillos in Costa Rica.

Five families, including 11 young children, traveled a few winters back to the beach community of Santa Teresa on the Nicoya Peninsula, one the Pacific Ocean in Costa Rica.

Since they were a large group of friends — a total of 21 people who grew up together, and whose kids are now growing up together — they were able to rent out an entire compound on the beach, with three separate houses in a gated community.

“Mauricio and I had gone there and stayed in one of the houses before,” said Nicole Castillo, Mauricio’s wife. “We thought it would be super cool if we had the whole compound, so we floated the idea if anyone wanted to go. It’s a little challenging to get there, but it’s worth it. Everyone hopped on board and collectively we planned the dates.”

Santa Teresa is about 144 kilometers (90 miles) west of the capital city of San Jose´, but this is not like traveling on the Northern Pkway over LIE (495). The Castillos had checked-in before the other families, and the nervous phone calls began shortly before the others arrived.

“I remember them calling us and telling us ‘We’ve been on this dirt road for so long, and gone through rivers,’” Nicole explained. “Mauricio said ‘Just keep going and you’ll get here. I know it is a stressful drive but I promise you it will all be worth it in the morning.’”

The gathering was “an instant party” and the children had “built-in buddies,” Nicole said, which made life easier on the parents. There was horseback riding and zip-lining, two activities Costa Rica is known for, and then there was the benefit of having a native of Costa Rica along for the ride.

“Going out to eat with everyone was a little challenging, but we didn’t always do every meal together,” Nicole said. “It’s pretty rustic. Mauricio ‘s favorite place to eat was literally a woman’s house. And because we were such a big group, he would call up the lady in the morning so she could start the rice and beans early.”

Mauricio and Nicole’s Top 5 for Visiting Costa Rica

  • Arenal Volcano – One of the most active volcanoes in Costa Rica that if you are lucky and get a clear view you can see lava percolating! There are also amazing hot springs throughout the surrounding town, La Fortuna, and an amazing waterfall. What’s a great way to visit? Take a horseback ride from town up to the waterfall and then hike down to the bottom.
  • Ziplining – This is a must in Costa Rica and what better way to see the rainforest than above the trees! Zipline in Mal Pais, where the guides are awesome!
  • Monteverde Cloud Forest – A great spot to take in some wildlife and amazing flora
  • Manuel Antonio – A national park with wildlife, flora, landscape and beautiful beaches. A great place to see monkeys, sloths, birds and much more.
  • Beaches – Costa Rica has some of the most beautiful beaches with great surfing, beachcombing and snorkeling. A favorite is Santa Teresa, but some other great ones are Nosara, Flamingo and Conchal.

Stay up to date with the latest stories by signing up to our newsletter, or following us on Facebook.