Costa Rica is without a doubt a family-friendly nation, offering involving and adventurous family experiences, with the accent on natural wonders, new cultures and activities for visitors of all ages—parents with kids, grandparents with kids and increasingly popular, the multigenerational trip. The difference between a restful and stressful vacation, of course, resides largely in the planning.
There are many U.S. tour operators that make family travel to Costa Rica their specialty. What they recommend, depending on the ages and interests of the participants, are activities such as aerial tram rides, river rafting trips, peering into bubbling volcanoes, starting a life-list of exotic birds, counting those ever-present monkeys, visiting a school, learning to surf, watching sea turtles nesting, and picnicking by a waterfall or on a beach.
For adults traveling with very young children, there are resorts—mostly seaside—with kids’ clubs that offer all kinds of supervised activities, including Los Sueños Marriott Ocean & Golf Resort (marriott.com), and Club del Mar Condominiums & Resort (clubdelmarcostarica.com) on Playa de Jaco.
At Manuel Antonio National Park, Hotel Si Como No (sicomono.com), with its large suites, two pools, water slide, and nightly movies, makes every family vacation planning list. Away from the sea, but a perfect pick for vacations with youngsters is Peace Lodge (waterfallgardens.com), with large rooms, four-poster beds, stone fireplaces, private balconies with jacuzzis, and in-room waterfall walls of bromeliads, ferns and orchids. The lodge is part of (and guests have full access to) the La Paz Waterfall Gardens, which in addition to featuring trails leading to the spectacular falls, has several kid-friendly attractions, including a hummingbird garden, a huge butterfly garden (the largest in Costa Rica), a serpentarium, and a section of wild cats and local monkey species in large enclosures.
Wildland Adventures (wildland.com) offers a 9-day family adventure, Undiscovered Caribbean Costa Rica Adventure, ideal for children 10 years and older. The itinerary takes families off-the-beaten-path, discovering the isolated lowland rainforests and white-sand Caribbean beaches that are the indigenous territory of the Bribri and Cabecar Indians and Afro-Caribbean residents. This itinerary is for families who enjoy hiking, easy kayaking and paddling dugout canoes, snorkeling, horseback riding, ziplining, night turtle walks (in season), and learning how to dance salsa and calypso.
Holbrook Travel (holbrooktravel.com) is offering a single departure (June 21-28) of its Audubon Family Birding and Nature Tour, based at the very comfortable Selva Verde Lodge (selvaverde.com), a pioneering ecotourism venture two hours from San Jose. Highlights include exploring the 500-acre private rainforest reserve of Selva Verde Lodge as part of the Costa Rican Bird Route; visiting a historical cacao plantation and sampling different kinds of chocolate; an aerial tram ride through the rainforest canopy; riding the Rio Sarapiqui while looking for birdlife, monkeys, sloths and anteaters along its shoreline; and joining a cooking class. The Audubon Society’s Tom Hissong is the tour leader, assisted by birding guide Richard Garrigues.
Thomson Family Adventures (familyadventures.com) tailors its 9-day Costa Rica Teen Adventure to those over 12 years old. Staying in top eco-lodges, families get close to wildlife on a Corcovado National Park hike; go whitewater rafting, canyoning and coffee estate touring in the Turrialba region; go ziplining and quetzal spotting in Cerro de la Muerte; and go museum-hopping and chocolate tasting in San Jose. Along the way, touring teens have a chance to meet the local Ticos.
Wildland Adventures has been part of the family adventure scene for more than 20 years. Key things the company takes into consideration when planning a family adventure are:
• Explore and meet local people
• Engage all family members
• A good guide is key to a trip’s success
• Build adventure anticipation with pre-departure packets of colorful and engaging information
• Let the kids shine—perhaps stepping outside their comfort zones to learn a new skill
Family travel is most often a customized affair, but joining a scheduled family tour departure means a larger circle of friends for everyone.