A Costa Rica Family Tour: Arenal to Tortuguero

Costa Rica is widely known as a safe and popular destination for families. Its jungles, beaches, cloud forests and volcanoes are full of experiences that are accessible yet remote enough to satisfy adventurous travelers.

Keith and Blythe Nilsson have lived and backpacked extensively throughout Asia and are no strangers to adventure travel. However, a few years ago, with two kids ages 6 and 9, less vacation time and a child with Type 1 diabetes, being in a remote location required more consideration. The Nilssons also prefer independent travel and don’t speak Spanish.

The solution? A custom multisport tour in Costa Rica with Austin Adventures that included a private guide. For Keith and Blythe, this provided the peace of mind they needed knowing that in case of an emergency they could quickly get to the nearest hospital or airport if needed.

Highlights from Austin Adventures Custom Costa Rica Family Tour

Two key factors influenced the Nilsson’s decision to travel with Austin Adventures: their easy-to-download itineraries and their immediate willingness to create a custom trip for their family. Blythe was able to imagine what the Costa Rica experience would be like from the online itineraries and then worked with the travel planners at Austin Adventures to create her family’s Costa Rica adventure.

Austin Adventures Costa Rica Itinerary

The Nilsson’s customized the Costa Rica family group itinerary shown above

Their tour closely resembled Austin Adventures Costa Rica: Arenal to Tortuguero. In a country the size of Costa Rica, a bit smaller than West Virginia, travellers can pack in a variety of sights and experiences in a week with thoughtful planning and smart transportation logistics. Austin Adventures custom 8 day/7 night itinerary provided private transportation by van, boat and small plane.

Costa Rica Private Guide

The Nilsson’s private guide, Julio, clowning around with the kids

Knowledgeable, Kid-friendly Guides

Good guides can make or break a family vacation, especially when a large portion of the trip is based on guided activities. The Nilssons mentioned several times how impressed they were with their private guide Julio, a local nature professor focusing on preservation, and the individual guides they had for activities which included ziplining, kayaking, rafting and hiking. Their kids still ask if they’ll see Julio when they go on vacation.

Caiman at Tortuguero Wildlife Park

Baby caiman hitching a ride with mama captured by a budding 6-year-old photographer

In Search of Wildlife at Tortugeuro National Park

The trip began with a visit to one of Costa Rica’s best known parks, Tortuguero National Park, a 30-minute flight from the capital of San Jose. Tortuguero is famous for it’s nesting sea turtles but its location, on the Caribbean side of the country, has canals, rivers and lakes full of caiman, monkeys, birds and fish. The Nilssons explored the wildlife-filled canals by kayak and private boat tour and two nighttime beach hikes to see nesting green sea turtles.

Costa Rica River Rafting

Exciting rapids lure families to try rafting in Costa Rica

Family-friendly Rafting in Sarapiqui

Next stop on the adventure itinerary is Sarapiqui, a region that borders Nicaragua, known for birds – over 400 species live here – and adventure, especially rafting. For families with young children, the class 2-3 rapids on the Sarapiqui River are exciting but not too exciting. The Nilssons felt especially comfortable with their guide who competes worldwide in river rafting races.

Arenal National Park Activities

Arenal is the area around the “sleeping” Arenal Volcano. It’s a hub of activity in the air, water and land and this itinerary combined all the elements for two active, action-packed days.

Costa Rica Canopy Ziplining

Ziplining high above the jungle floor, past waterfalls and over canyons

If you want to experience the epicenter of ziplining, come to Costa Rica. The Nilsson family considered this a highlight of their vacation. Their canopy and horseback ride adventure began with a horseback ride to the observation deck followed by a natural history canopy walk to the first cable.

Costa Rica Tandem Ziplining

With a little help from the guides, younger children can zoom across the ziplines

The Nilssons loved their guides, who rode tandem with the kids when needed. The zipline company that Austin Adventures partners with positions their cables so that guests not only experience soaring over the canopy and canyons but see waterfalls and the Arenal Volcano along the way. Lunch was followed by an afternoon of rappelling down waterfalls and canyons and a hike. The day finished on a relaxing note with a visit to the natural hot springs in La Fortuna which are volcanically heated.

Arenal Volcano Hike

Hiking around a “sleeping” Arenal Volcano

The Nilssons favorite hotel of the trip was the Arenal Observatory Lodge.  The lodge is surrounded by the outdoors with  hiking paths and bridges to explore the park. They spent their last full day of the vacation hiking around the Arenal Volcano with their guide, exploring old lava flows en route to lunch and an eco-center near the town of La Fortuna. The last trail they hiked on their Costa Rica family vacation is home is over 150 species of birds, caiman, sloths, butterflies and a frog farm whose most famous resident is the tiny red poison dart tree frog.

Austin Adventures Custom Trip Information

Many Austin Adventures clients choose to create a custom trip based on the Costa Rica: Arenal to Tortuguero family itinerary or other existing trips simply because they prefer to travel only with their own family. However, families can also create a completely different itinerary based on their interests and budget. For example, one family wanted a more nature/science oriented trip in Costa Rica with simpler accommodations so their trip with overnights in the Biological Reserves is significantly lower in cost than a family group tour. With Austin Adventures, custom does not always mean more expensive.

Pricing for a family of four on the Costa Rica: Arenal to Tortuguero family group tour:

Sharing one room with 2 queen sized beds in each room: Adults (12* and older): $2,898/person. Children: $2,398/person

Total: $11,092

 There are no adjoining rooms on the trip but some of the hotels in Costa Rica offer suites for an additional charge.

*Children ages 12 and up are considered adults on the Costa Rica program.

 Editor’s Note: Austin Adventures compensated us to write and publish this post. Photos provided by the Nilsson family.

Relevant Links:

Costa Rica with Kids on Ciao Bambino

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