Latin America Belize + Costa Rica = Family-Friendly

Poolside at the Hilton Papagayo Costa Rica Resort & Spa.

In this boom-time market for family travel, Central America offers top hotels to call home when exploring the great outdoors.

“Re-conquering” ancient Inca cities in Peru, cruising among the Amazon wildlands, and heading offshore to explore the Galapagos Islands sit firmly on the wish list of family-friendly destinations. However, in closer-by Belize and Costa Rica, travel agents will not only be able to offer clients involving and adventurous family experiences among the reefs, ruins and rainforests, but the broadest selection of lodgings, activities and services to be enjoyed by the very young, as well as the young at heart.

some say it’s better in belize

On Belize’s southern coast near Dangriga, Jaguar Reef Lodge is situated on a 7-mile sand beach and provides an ideal location from which to easily access many of Belize’s natural wonders, including wildlife-filled rainforests, Mayan ruins, cave systems, rivers, waterfalls and the barrier reef. The resort accommodates its guests in either deluxe thatch-roof cabanas or spacious 2-bedroom/2-bathroom suites overlooking beach and sea. The main lodge building provides tour arranging facilities, a gift shop and a spacious bar and restaurant with beach views, while amenities include the Butterflies Spa, two pools, a tiki bar, a hot tub, a spacious bar and restaurant, and complimentary use of bicycles, kayaks, snorkel gear and Hobie cats.

Families have a great roster of guided adventure tours to choose from: soar above the jungle on the largest zipline in Belize; hike to a Mayan site and swim beneath jungle waterfalls; cruise the Sittee River to spot crocodiles, turtles and manatees; snorkel along the world’s second longest barrier reef; and hike in the Cockscomb Jaguar Preserve. Those tours are included in the family package listed below, but other options range from exploring the underwater world on Glovers Reef to river cave expeditions. Of course, mom and dad, plus the kids, can also lie in a hammock, build sand castles or swim in the sea.

Jaguar Reef Lodge offers a value-packed Walk On the Wild Side Family Adventure, a 7-night vacation including accommodations in 2-bedroom beachfront suites, all meals, three full-day adventure tours, free use of bikes, kayaks, sail boat and snorkel gear, all taxes and gratuities and roundtrip air (Belize City-Dangriga) or ground transfers between the international airport (PGIA) in Belize City and the lodge. The package is priced for a variety of family sizes: two adults or one adult with one, two or three children. A sampling: until Dec. 18, for two adults and two children, the cost is $4,572; starting Jan. 3, the family cost is $5,175; over Christmas-New Year, the cost is $5,875.

The Lodge at Chaa Creek—anointed “World’s Best” eco-lodge awards from Travel + Leisure and National Geographic Adventure—occupies a private 365-acre nature reserve in the foothills of the Maya Mountains, a 2-hour drive from Belize City. In addition to its beautifully appointed cottage accommodations, huge pool, and full-service spa, its particular appeal to families is its bevy of activities that stimulate interest in the environment, culture, natural history and archaeology of Belize. Right on the property guests can go mountain biking, birding, horseback riding along miles of forest trails, canoeing on the Macal River, and visit the lodge’s Natural History Centre, Butterfly Farm, and Rainforest Medicinal Trail, with all kinds of tours available to Belize’s richest Maya archaeological sites and national parks.

Mixing jungle and the sea, Chaa Creek offers a perfect, best-of-Belize, 7-night Family Vacation package. Four nights are spent at the lodge, with three days of activities and touring (ranging from a “Nature Rules Treasure Hunt” and a “Creatures of the Night Hike” to canoeing to a local village and a horseback ride to a Mayan site). Three nights are then spent at Roberts Grove Beach Resort in Placencia, including a guided snorkeling trip and a Monkey River Tour. Until Dec. 15, the cost is $2,540 pp dbl, with a kids’ price of $610 (6-11 years) and $1,150 (12-15). Included are accommodations, all meals, guided activities and tours, transfer to the beach resort, transfer by car to the lodge and airfare from the resort to Belize City.

others can’t get enough of costa rica

Two hotel members of the Greentique Hotels group, Si Como No Resort Spa & Wildlife Refuge in Manuel Antonio and Villa Blanca Cloud Forest Hotel & Nature Reserve, are offering a 6-night holiday chock-full of family-friendly values and priced at $700 pp dbl (Sept. 1-Nov. 14) and $790 pp dbl (Nov. 25-April 30, 2013), with no room charge for children under 12. At Villa Blanca, specials include 2-night deluxe casita accommodations, breakfast daily, a guided nature tour of the Villa Blanca Cloud Forest, free access to the Research Station, and a visit to the dairy farm to milk the cows. At Si Como No, included are four nights in superior room accommodations, daily breakfast, guided night tour of the Wildlife Refuge Amphibian Gardens & Crocodile Lagoons, half-day guided tour of Manuel Antonio National Park, and free access to the butterfly gardens. Both hotels include VIP movie passes to their private THX theater, showing two presentations daily.

While the package does not include transfers, Villa Blanca is an easy hour drive west of San Jose Airport, under two hours by road to Si Como No, and a roughly 4-hour drive back to San Jose; while the hotels will assist with transfers at additional charge, a family will find a car rental the best and most enjoyable way to link this destination triangle together. Additionally, there are daily flights between San Jose and Quepos, air field for Manuel Antonio.