Costa Rica & the Galapagos Island: Dynamic Duo

Costa Rica and the Galapagos Islands deliver nature with a capital “N.”

We all know that family travel is a booming segment of the leisure marketplace, and Latin America has some of the hottest spots of all. Without doubt, parents and their children are finding new interest in custom-designed vacations among the reefs and rainforests of Belize, or are taking off to visit Inca ruins and cruise along Amazonian waters in Peru. However, for the moment—and indeed the past decade—Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands and close-by Costa Rica top the hit parade of family-friendly destinations.

galapagos islands: for kids of all ages Well, of course a destination where Antarctic fur seals live right on the equator; where birds swim but no longer fly; where sea lions play like kittens between water and land; and where onlookers are entertained by the ritual mating dances of the blue-footed booby, is going to offer travelers of all ages an out-of-this-world family adventure. Yet, while many cruise companies have special meals for kids and coloring books for their youngest passengers, harder to find are dedicated family cruise departures in the Galapagos Islands.

But paying particular attention to the family travel market is EcoVentura, which utilizes its three identical expedition vessels—20-passenger, superior first-class motor yachts—the Eric, Flamingo or Letty on a full calendar of 7-night cruises that are even tailored to kids of different ages. Good guides and crews in tune with family needs are primary reasons these motor yachts deliver a top family experience, says Rosita Perez, company spokesperson for Ladatco Tours in Miami, and tour operators from Adventure Specialists to Southern Explorations use the EcoVentura yachts for their dedicated family travel departures.

The Family Departures are designed for children ages 7 to 12. In addition to offering carefully guided wildlife viewing, snorkeling, kayaking and hiking, the yachts carry masks, fins, wetsuits and life vests in child sizes, and for the younger ones, there are separate briefings about what to expect to see and do each day, as well as special explanations about the natural world of the Galapagos. While on board, kids can visit the bridge and learn about navigational charts and tie nautical knots with the captain. Other kids-only features are kid-friendly menus, games, books and DVDs; and special parties that include games with prizes, drawing contests, ice cream socials and a King Neptune costume party.

“While we can customize family travel on any of the departures of our yachts, designated Family and Teen Departures are naturally clustered at holiday times, from Easter and spring breaks to summer vacations and even Thanksgiving,” says Doris Welsh, manager of EcoVentura’s U.S. office in Miami. “However, while we have special family Christmas and Easter departures, we do not offer the discounts for the children 11 years and under that are available at other times of year.”

New to the family market offerings for 2010 are going to be Family Graduation Departures, ideal for ages 17-24. “We thought that high school or college graduation should be more than parties and cards stuffed with cash,” Welsh explains, “so we tested the concept that such a significant event should entail much more, and invited 10 teens and 10 parents to join a June graduation cruise aboard the Letty. And it was a hit. So now we have a whole new program, featuring trips that obviously will be more physically active than an all-adult or other family departures with younger children, and our guides will optimize the longest trails and all kayaking and snorkeling opportunities.” Dates for 2010 are May 30, and June 6 and 13.

Family departures for 2010 are priced from $3,225 pp dbl, with a 15 percent discount for teens age 12-17; children 7-11 receive a 25 percent discount, as well as a 50 percent discount on both the air to the islands and the national park fee.

costa rica: tailor-made for family travel In Costa Rica, the accent is on natural wonders, new culture and activities—lots of them—for kids and adults alike, and few companies have been as committed to the family travel product as long (20 years) as Wildland Adventures’ family travel pros, owners Kurt and Anne Kutay. When the couple first met, Kurt had worked for the Costa Rica National Park Service and started Wildland after a long backpack trip through South America. Anne had spent her summers working at Yellow Stone National Park and had guided vehicle caravan tours through Mexico. When son Tarek became a teen, they revamped their family travel program, keeping the great trips for young kids, but adding a whole new line of active, multi-sport trips that appeal to more adventurous young adults.