Family Vacations to Costa Rica

Sunset, Monteverde, Costa Rica
Sunset over the valley in Monteverde, Costa Rica (Doug Plummer/Photodisc/Getty)

Home to lush rainforests full of monkeys, an angry volcano that spews a river of lava, 8,000-foot peaks, sublime Pacific coast beaches, hummingbirds that feed out of your hand, and blue morph butterflies that float by ever so gracefully, Costa Rica deserves its reputation as one of the world’s top destinations for families. Give yourself at least a week to visit; with it being about the size of West Virginia, you’re better off picking an area of the country to explore, as it takes a lot of time to get from one place to another (a four wheel drive vehicle is almost a necessity to get to areas like Monteverde). Costa Rica is an outdoor lover’s playground, particularly well-suited to active families up for trying out a different activity each day. One day you’ll be ziplining across the rainforest canopy or rafting down a tumultuous river and the next you’ll be sea kayaking to a deserted beach or trying to hook a huge marlin in the ocean. The mix of ocean, rainforest, and mountainous interior—all within close proximity—is hard to beat.

Northwest of San Jose is the cone-shaped volcano, Arenal, past the town of La Fortuna. Stay up late for the light show, when lava runs down from the crater. In the daytime, take hikes or bike rides over the old lava flow and then lounge in the nearby hot springs. Other activities near La Fortuna include zip-lining, rappelling down a waterfall, tubing along a river surrounded by wildlife, or horseback riding through the rainforest.

Give yourself at least four hours to drive around the entire 25-mile long Lake Arenal and then up obstacle-laden roads (in dire need of good pavement) toward Monteverde. Once you arrive at the Cloud Forest, it’s best to spend at least two nights there after the time and effort of the journey. Make reservations in advance for horseback riding trips through nearby farmland, a thrilling zip line ride above the canopy with the outfitter Selvatura, and a guided walk at the private Sendero Tranquilo with an expert naturalist. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot toucanets, owls, and the iridescent green resplendent quetzal with its two-foot long tail feather.

You’ll find a mix of beach and rainforest along both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts. At Manuel Antonio National Park, you can lounge on the sand, kayak to protected coves, and frolic in the thick jungle-like interior. On the way to Manuel Antonio, make a pit stop at Carara National Park near Los Suenos to find scarlet macaws making a ruckus high atop the white cedar trees. With their dizzying display of color, they deserve to be loud.

The largest contingent of macaws can be found in Corcovado National Park located on the Osa Peninsula, on the southern Pacific coast. This off-the-beaten-track part of the country is best reached via a short flight from San Jose. You’ll be rewarded for the extra effort with a rainforest and coastline far less congested than Manuel Antonio.

Then there’s the long stretch of beach on the northern Pacific coastline in the Guanacaste province, home to the upscale all-inclusive resorts such as The Four Seasons and Grand Papagayo as well as hotels that cater to every budget. Not nearly as humid as Manuel Antonio and Osa, the beaches of the northern Pacific coast are beloved by those visitors who simply want to lie on the sand with a thick book and surfers who try to catch that perfect wave. Tamarindo is known for having bigger resorts and nightlife while many other beaches nearby, such as Playa Hermosa, offer a much quieter beach vacation.

Surfers and cost-conscious travelers also head to the more remote Caribbean Coast, where boutique eco-lodges cater to your every whim. The most popular site in the region is Tortuguero National Park, often called the Venice of Costa Rica for its maze of waterways. From mid-spring to late summer, four different types of turtles return to the shores here to lay their eggs, including the giant leatherback, which can weigh over 1,000 pounds. Guided tours on canoes travel responsibly to explore the prime turtle nesting spots. South of Tortuguero, surfers head to the laid-back beach village of Puerto Viejo to try their luck with the break known as Salsa Bravo, or wild sauce. Wild or not, wherever you choose to go in Costa Rica, it’s hard not to be swept up in the pura vida, the good life.


Published: 24 Mar 2009 | Last Updated: 30 Mar 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

Best Hotels in Costa Rica

$83
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Volcano Lodge and Springs
$193
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Costa Rica Marriott Hotel San Jose
$196
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The Westin Golf Resort & Spa, Playa Conchal
$90
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Pumilio Mountain and Ocean Hotel

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