Costa Rica is an increasingly popular adventure family travel destination. With good reason! The list of thrilling things to see and do is long and Costa Rica has done a phenomenal job of protecting and preserving its vast natural resources for the world to enjoy. From National Parks and Biological Reserves, to beaches on both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, to six active volcanoes, the biggest challenge in enjoying Costa Rica with kids is deciding what to do.
We just spent a week in Central America and learned first-hand why families love to vacation in Costa Rica:
Costa Rica is the ultimate action-packed destination. Since the tourist boom started in the late 1980s, resourceful Costa Ricans and expats alike have been investing in giving tourists access to extraordinary and unique experiences. Four of the most popular activities are:
Canopy Tours: Canopy tours (zip-lining) are very popular and available throughout the country. Zip-lining with kids is fun in a parking lot — it’s that much more enjoyable in a tropical rainforest teeming with wildlife or, in the case of the Costa Rica Sky Adventure in Arenal, under the shadow of a great volcano.
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Hanging Bridge Tours: As the name implies, Hanging Bridges are walkways strung between trees so visitors can appreciate the forest from above where wildlife has a whole different perspective. This is a particularly amazing way to see birds.
White Water Rafting: Costa Rica offers some of the world’s best white water rafting adventures for all ages and experience levels. From half-day trips to multi-day journeys, there are a vast variety of experiences within this small country.
Surfing: Costa Rica is a world-class surfing destination. Lessons are available for kids including specialty family surf camps like Peaks N’ Swells.
Extraordinary Natural Wonders and Wildlife
Rain Forests, Cloud Forests, Dry Forests, Mangroves, and Coral Reefs — the varied topography on land and in the water within a relatively small geographic area is nothing short of astounding. Each of these ecosystems support unique animal and plant life including all-family favorite mammals like sloths and monkeys.
Wildlife viewing can be done by foot, horseback, boat, raft, car … you name it. All of this variety makes it optimal for families.
Quality Family Time
Costa Rica is filled with vacationing families with kids of all ages. I observed and spoke to many families sharing our activities and accommodations and concluded that the benefits of a family vacation in Costa Rica are not unlike those of a family ski trip. Although there can be independent time, many of the fun activities are done as a family unit. Sharing thrilling, exciting, and perhaps even terrifying moments like waterfall rappelling, force everyone to come together in a meaningful way. Smart phone addiction comes to an end here, as least during activity time.
It’s a cliché, but this is how some of the best family memories happen. I love a great family beach vacation where everyone does their own thing as much as the next mom, but each day is a blur. It’s amazing to take a trip where each day presents a radically different experience.
The more I see of the world, the more I appreciate how lucky we are as a family to lead the life we do. One of the gifts of traveling with kids is exposing children to different living conditions around the world.
Although Costa Rica enjoys better living standards than most of Central America, it is still a developing country and many Costa Ricans live a very simple life compared to the United States and Europe. That said, it has no army, a 98% literacy rate, and political stability. We felt safe at all times in Costa Rica and found the locals to be extremely hospitable.
Likewise, Costa Rica is remarkably clean. The government has engaged in a number of environmental awareness initiatives over the past several years and it has worked. The roads and highways are cleaner than most of what I pass every day in the San Francisco Bay Area!
Although we were careful as nothing ruins a vacation faster than tummy troubles, much of the tap water is treated and drinkable. It’s so much easier to travel with kids and not be paranoid about every morsel.
We traveled over our spring break and found flights to be expensive. I’m not sure how this fluctuates over the different seasons. The good news, however, is that there are an increasing number of direct flights into both San Jose and Liberia, the two main airports.
Our route from San Francisco was US Airways via Phoenix on the way out and United via Houston on the way back. The flight and connection times were good.
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