Family Fun & Games in Costa Rica

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Over the holidays, I lead Backroads family trips in Costa Rica. Since schools are on break during this time, it makes for a great chance to take a family vacation. And a trip together is the perfect occasion to strengthen family bonds, make memories that last a lifetime and even create new traditions.

I couldn’t have imagined a more fun and thoughtful group to travel with over the New Year holiday last year. On our final evening together, we had an unexpected experience that turned out to not only be a highlight of the trip, but became a valuable insight into how strangers can so quickly become lifelong friends.

One of the guests, Carlo, gathered everyone together to play a game during our sunset farewell reception. He rifled thorugh a stack of index cards he’d brought, selected one, and placed it on someone’s forehead without them seeing what was written on the card. He explained to the group that we had to give the person clues as to what was written on the card without actually saying the word or phrase.

Backroads Guest Carlo playing card game in Costa Rica

After the first contestant successfully guessed the card, Carlo would fish out a new card and place it on someone else’s forehead. We went ’round and ’round until the stack of about 50 cards was finished and it was time to head to dinner.

I had noticed throughout the week that Carlo had been writing down things on notecards, but figured it was for his own knowledge. In fact, I was really impressed whenever I noticed him jotting things down as we discovered new plants or learned new Spanish words, thinking he would study these flash cards once he was home so he could commit these new facts to long-term memory.

In reality, he was writing these down so that as a group we could relive the week together, whether it was hiking through the cloud forest learning about plants we had never even heard about before, reveling about the copious amount of gummy worms we consumed, or poking fun (in a lovingly way of course!) at leader Laura’s favorite music artist. Tip from Carlo: “The fun is in sneakily writing all the quirky things your new friends do all week and then dishing them out to the foreheads you think might bring the best laughs.” When Carlo was placing cards on foreheads, he strategically thought of who should have which card so that maximum laughter was achieved.

Nature watching in Costa Rica with Backroads

The great thing is that you can play this game on any family trip–there are always things to learn and fun memories to relive no matter where you are in the world.

To help you create your own “Carlo’s Cards” game, here are some examples of cards from our adventure:

Body SurfingTwo-toed sloth: There are two varieties of sloths in Costa Rica, two-toed and three-toed. We learned the difference from our guides in Manuel Antonio National Park. Besides their number of toes, other ways to differentiate sloths is that two-toed sloths are larger, have white-ringed faces, and shaggy coats, while the three-toed sloths have a tail and black eye patches.

On the first evening of the week together, we went around in a circle sharing what we were most looking forward to during our time in Costa Rica. Answers varied from looking forward to a week of relaxation–or “fiesta!” in the case of guest Steve–to particular wildlife sightings. Thank goodness we saw several sloths throughout the week because Carlo’s two sons both responded to this question with “sloths.” I thus referred to them throughout the week as “the sloth brothers.”

Pura VidaBody surfing: Catching a wave without a board. Carlo wrote this card with me in mind as I had the honor of teaching many of the guests how to body surf. Growing up in California, I never really thought of this as an activity that people would have never heard of. We spent three hours non-stop catching waves!

Pura Vida: Literally means “pure life,” but can be interpreted as several different meanings including “all good,” “goodbye” and ” so it goes.” Costa Ricans (aka “Ticos”) not only say this phrase in a huge variety of situations, but Ticos also truly live this phrase through their actions. As soon as you arrive to Costa Rica, you sense a feeling of peace, happiness and pura vida.

Casado: This is the most typical Costa Rican dish. It consists of a pile of rice, beans, a protein (usually beef, chicken or fish), fried plantains and salad. Casado also means “married” in Spanish, as the different components are essentially married together on a plate.

Picnic Spread with beans and rice

250: Throughout the week, we oftentimes heard the question, “How many species of [insert animal/plant/insect here] are in Costa Rica?” We heard this question asked about dozens of species including orchids, monkeys and frogs. After about the third time of hearing this question, Carlo started automatically responding with 250, as the answer was oftentimes impressively high. The number 250 quickly stuck and the whole group continued to always respond with “250” to the question about the number of species, as well as many other questions that might not even solicit a number as a response.

Backroads trips are an incredible way for families and friends to develop shared memories that strengthen bonds and friendships. As leaders, we strive to always help transform a guest’s vacation into a memorable, fun and inspiring experience. We leaders gain the same gifts from our guests–they never cease to surprise and delight us leaders, creating lifetime memories for us as well. I hope this blog post continues the happiness that this game brought our group.


A big thank you to guest Steve who took these photos. The man behind the camera:

Backroads' Guest Steve in Costa Rica

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Ali Murphy

Ali Murphy

Trip Leader at Backroads
Between growing up hosting exchange students from around the world to biking as a her primary mode of transportation, life as a Backroads Trip Leader has been an awesome fit. When not leading trips, you can find Ali adventuring around San Francisco by bike or roller blades. She studied Chinese in college (你好!) and tie-dyes in her spare time. Ali's newest love is her nephew, Leon.
Ali Murphy

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