Family Friendly Costa Rica

January 18th, 2018

A boy playing at Punta Uva Beach, Costa Rica.  

Planning the right vacation for the family isn’t easy.  As parents, one of the hardest decisions to make when planning a family vacation is choosing a destination everyone will enjoy. Would you prefer a city with centuries of history and an endless selection of museums or a beach destination with quiet waves where the family can relax and forget about the stresses of school and work back home? Costa Rica offers the perfect blend of history, natural beauty, and tropical adventure for families with children of all ages.

A journey to Costa Rica immerses the family in famous bio-diversity and an ecologically conscious culture surrounded by landscape steaming with volcanoes, pristine beaches, boasting agricultural heritage, and fascinating wildlife. Instead of spending each day on the beach or hidden away in the comforts of a mountain lodge, you can combine interactive education and physical fun in a country hosting four percent of the world’s flora and fauna. 

Cerro Chato Volcano, Costa Rica.

Discovering the Jungle Canopy

The jungle canopy in Costa Rica is not just a destination but an experience for visitors of all ages. The three most common ways to explore the canopies of Costa Rica consist of:

Popular destinations for zip-lining include Arenal, offering magnificent views of Arenal Volcano, and Jaco, which provides glimpses of waterfalls and stunning wildlife.  

  • Zip-lining – Costa Rica is known for its fast-paced and exhilarating zip-line tours connecting elevated platforms above the forest floor. The speedy and engaging exploration of the treetops is a safe and exciting adventure during which you glide across a cable for a birds-eye-view of the encompassing nature. During the excursion, you can often see monkeys, birds, sloths, and a variety of different plant species. Young children can ride tandem with their parents while teenagers enjoy the thrill of soaring through the sky solo. 

  • Aerial trams – Not all visitors to Costa Rica desire the speed from gliding down the cables of a zip-line tour, but crave the views over the jungle canopy at a relaxed pace. Aerial trams offer unforgettable, unobstructed views of the treetops in open-air gondolas ascending through the rainforest. Passengers of all ages and sizes can gaze into the complex and active ecosystems. The most popular aerial trams in Costa Rica are located in Arenal, Monteverde, Jacó, and Limón.

  • Hanging bridges – The incredible experience of walking on a suspension bridge between the trees instead of on the trails beneath captures the imagination of children and adults alike. Unlike zip-lining or aerial trams, walking along the hanging bridges lets the family move at their preferred pace guided by a specialist knowledgeable in the animal and plant species both on the forest floor and high in the canopy. The trails blend suspension bridges and birds-eye-views to reveal the excellent observation platforms for birding, as well as allowing children to find frogs, snakes, lizards, ocelots, and caucels. Some of the most popular hanging bridges in Costa Rica are located in Arenal and Monteverde.
Surf and Paddleboard

Popular destinations to learn to surf are the Papagayo Gulf, Santa Teresa, Samara, Manuel Antonio, Tamarindo, and Puerto Viejo de Limon.

The two coastlines of Costa Rica are known for their consistent swells, fabulous waves, and easy breaks for oceanic conditions ideal for surfing and paddle boarding. Learn to surf as a family with lessons focusing on practical skills including safety, etiquette in the water when entering and exiting a surf zone, standing up, and catching a wave. Stand up paddle boarding is common in the North and Central Pacific regions, as well as along the shores of the Southern Caribbean. Most surf schools around the country also offer classes for the sport. Instructors demonstrate safety, proper posture and stance, and the best paddling techniques to keep you stable. All instructors are certified lifeguards helping students remain safe in a fun and stress-free environment.

Sea Turtles
Sea turtle at Tortuguero National Park.

Discover the splendors of turtle nesting at Tortuguero National Park, Ostional Wildlife Refuge, Santa Rosa National Park, and Las Baulas National Marine Park.

Home to endangered and threatened species of all types, Costa Rica lovingly welcomes and protects the majestic nesting grounds of four different types of sea turtles found on the Pacific and Caribbean shores. Some of the species hatch eggs year-round in certain locations across the country while others participate in arribada, a nesting phenomenon where Olive Ridley turtles return in the thousands to lay eggs. The different turtles lay their eggs on a variety of beaches each month of the year, leading to hatchlings emerging from their hidden nests almost daily. The majority of turtle nesting sites in Costa Rica require visitors to access the beach through authorized points with a licensed guide to protect adult turtles and hatchlings. You could enjoy a guided excursion to one of the many beaches known for protecting turtles and hatchlings or spend time as a family on a turtle conservation project to help sustain the environment, patrol the coastline, and release baby turtles into the ocean. 

Nature Walk/Night Tour

Silhouettes of palm trees with a starry sky backdrop, Costa Rica.

The wildlife and nature of Costa Rica attract visitors from around the world interested in viewing the marvels of flora and fauna thriving in their natural habitat. However, the distinctive ecosystems of Costa Rica are not zoos and spotting the wildlife can be difficult to the untrained eye. Guided nature walks provide your family with insight on trails accessible to young children or more challenging terrain for active teenagers and adults. Guides not only have more knowledge about the flora and fauna of the specific ecosystem in which you’re wandering but also have eyes trained on the movement of their surroundings to better point out the active fauna and avifauna otherwise hidden in the trees and underbrush.

One of best ways to get children excited about wildlife in the forest is participating in a night tour. While the vibrant diurnal creatures of the rainforest, like sloths, white-capuchin monkeys, and toucans, are readily visible in the sunlight, more than 60 percent of life in the tropical rainforest is active between dawn and dusk. A guide leads the family on forest trails in search of reptiles such as the bushmaster, mammals like the anteater, and amphibians like the dink or the red-eyed tree frog. The kids can carefully comb through the trees and underbrush while listening to the melodies of the jungle after dark.

Waterslide Buena Vista

Buena Vista Lodge Rainforest Waterslide. Guanacaste, Costa Rica. Credit: Buena Vista Lodge.

The adventurous spirit of zip-lining and combing through the jungle trees at night wane in comparison to the exciting experience of gliding down a waterslide 1,350 feet long. While not for the faint of heart nor small children, the waterslide leads you to a tunnel, twists and turns, before shooting out into the waiting pool. You ride down the chute through the jungle on an inner tube with the water roaring around you. The experience is best coupled with other activities for a full day exploration. The most popular combinations combine the waterslide excursion with thermal hot springs, mud baths, or horseback riding.

Horseback riding

The most notable regions for horseback riding are Monteverde in the famous Cloud Forest, Manuel Antonio along the trails of the celebrated national park, Arenal in view of the fascinating volcano, and Rincón de la Vieja Volcano.

Horseback riding is an exceptional way to explore the beaches, mountains, and jungle scenery without the stress of hiking. A horseback riding tour is great for families with children of all ages. You can couple-up with the young children on an easy stroll through the rainforest or gallop on the shoreline speeding past your teenagers in view of lapping water. The activity lets you experience the grandeur of Costa Rica’s landscape as you follow your guide through rushing creeks and wide streams, or discover geothermal hot springs around the base of a volcano.

Rafting

Whitewater rafting in Costa Rica. Credit: David Berkowitz.

The term rafting connotes a splurge of whitewater and the heart-pounding thrill of paddling with the harsh current. The rivers of Costa Rica provide a blend of calm and relaxing ambiance meant for scenic excursions as well as rushing water perfect for thrill-seekers hoping for class III and IV rapids. A family with older children and teenagers can hit the exciting waters of the Pacuare or Naranjo rivers engaging in the adrenalin rush shaping the bordering untamed landscape. During rainy season the water levels rise, making the rapids less intense. When the waters lower in the dry season, the rivers rush over the rocks and trundle into the whitewater you expect when rafting rivers known for their class IV rapids.

The family with a taste for more relaxed excursions or traveling with younger children can cruise calmer waters like Peñas Blancas and the Corobici rivers on a floating safari. Instead of concentrating on the excitement of the water, the excursion focuses on the brilliance of the scenery and wildlife. Your guide and navigator provides information on the ecology of the region while pointing out wildlife. The slower pace allows the family to appreciate their natural surroundings. The rafting excursions have different age requirements with older children allowed to participate in the more demanding and adrenaline-inducing whitewater tour. However, children of all ages enjoy spotting wildlife while floating down a tranquil river.

Chocolate Tour

Cacao beans spread out for the drying process.

Chocolate’s rich history begins in the Amazon Rainforest and travels around the world, with links to Africa, South America, and of course, Costa Rica. What better way to teach children and adults about cultural heritage, global trade, colonialism, and ecology than by disguising the lesson beneath the promise of mouth-watering chocolate? While a chocolate tour may not be as active as a whitewater rafting excursion or a zip-line adventure, discovering the evolution of chocolate in Costa Rica enriches the mind and taste buds. The tour offers insight into the cultivation of the cacao tree, the production of chocolate, and how the ceremonial drink used in ancient cultures developed into a popular contemporary dessert. The kids can help grind the cacao beans used to make decadent treats before the family has a chance to sample the delicious, distinct flavors of high-quality organic Costa Rican chocolate once regarded as, and still considered, “a gift from the Gods.”

Interested in learning more about the perfect family vacation to Costa Rica? Read more here.