Costa Rica makes an ideal family holiday destination for children of all ages. Small, friendly, great value and full of fascinating creatures to discover in the rainforest means even your little ones can enjoy the adventure here.
Costa Rica is a great year-round destination, but the main benefit of travelling during ‘our’ summer holidays is that it is the quietest time for holidays to Costa Rica, meaning that you and your family can relax and enjoy this little gem of a country without battling the crowds.
The weather here is split into two distinctive seasons, the dry season (running from mid-November to April) and the ‘wet’ green season (from May to mid-November). The thing that I love about visiting Costa Rica in July and August is that the name ‘wet season’ puts most people off, however it is still a fabulous time to go!
It does not rain continuously all day, every day, the rain when it does come is in short sharp bursts and typically falls in the afternoon and evening. As the name ‘green season’ suggests it brings the whole country to life as rivers swell and forests regain their vibrant colour.
Costa Rica is brilliant for active travellers including children and teenagers, so makes an ideal destination for a family escape during the school Summer Holidays. There is so much to do here that the children will never be bored; from torchlight wildlife spotting in the rainforest to zip-lining through the canopies, rafting along a river to watching turtles nesting on a beach, Costa Rica will engage and delight even the most jaded members of the family.
As you arrive in to San Jose in the middle of the Central Highlands, you can certainly begin your holiday more or less as you step off the plane, as there are some stunning central cloud forest locations only a short drive away, meaning you can make the most of your time straight away.
Just a short hour and a half drive from the international airport lies El Silencio Lodge and Spa, a stunning eco luxury hotel located in the tropical cloud forest of the central volcanic valley close to Los Bajos del Toro, a small rural town.
Even the drive here ensures you know you are coming somewhere special and remote, taking you along steep but dramatically scenic roads through deep green forest with views of valleys and roaring vertical waterfalls below.
The lodge lies in a 500 acre private reserve, criss-crossed with gently flowing creeks and hidden waterfalls that we can hiked to during our stay, looking out for birds and interesting flora and fauna.
The main building houses the beautiful restaurant, bar, lounge and a large outdoor deck area that overlooks the river. The hotel has sixteen very private and simply stunning cottage suites interspersed in a tiered layout, some down by the river, others overlooking a canopy of forest.
Children of any age are welcome here and the lodge experiences the wonderful temperate climate of the highlands making it perfect for guests of all ages. The two-bed villas are ideal for families with older children who would want their own room, and they provide plenty of space for the whole family.
Luxuriate in your private Jacuzzi tub out on your private terrace or watch the birds from the rocking chair with a cup of freshly ground Costa Rican coffee. Each suite sits on above-ground pillars to respect the forest's natural topography and features bamboo ceiling tiles, energy- efficient lighting and a gas fireplace as well as your own viewing deck with its rocking chairs, outdoor whirlpool tub and spectacular views.
Here in the cloud forest one can zip-line over the canopy and rappel down the face of roaring waterfalls, take a horse ride along bucolic landscapes or visit the colourful town of Sarchí, home to Costa Rica’s traditional oxcart, which has been recognised by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage. Local craftsmen carry on a legacy, transferring the beautiful patterns to authentic utilitarian art pieces.
If you would like to arrange a family holiday especially for active children, I highly recommend the Caribbean coasts. One of my favourite places to stay here is Tortuga Lodge and Gardens in the Caribbean town of Tortuguero.
The best reason to visit Tortuga Lodge is due to its proximity to legendary turtle nesting sites and its flourishing canal system. The lodge is in the style of a plantation home and is rustic with a Caribbean influence which gives it a very different feel to accommodation found elsewhere in the country.
Large windows are enclosed with mosquito nets rather than glass, and can be concealed behind sheer curtains. At the heart of the property there is a relaxing dipping pool and riverside gazebo, slung with hammocks to relax in. The riverfront restaurant serves Caribbean and Costa Rican dishes in a relaxed setting.
Tortuguero is a national park that includes 11 different habitats – home to species as diverse as spider, howler and white-faced monkeys, sloths, river otters, caiman, lizards and over 320 species of birds, including six species of kingfisher, parrots, toucans, trogons, manakins and fruitcrows.
Children can venture off with a guide to explore some of the several miles of private trails through the jungle and encounter the troops of monkeys, blue morpho butterflies and poison dart frogs before going fishing. Other activities for the whole family include hiking through the Tortuguero National Park, sports fishing, kayaking, and a wonderful rainforest boat tour where you explore the creeks with your naturalist guide in search of wildlife.
No visit to Tortuguero is complete without trying to spy a turtle, and the Atlantic green sea turtle can be found nesting here from July to September. This is one of the most notable areas for the nesting of turtles in the Caribbean Sea and the majority of the Caribbean’s green turtle population is hatched on just a few beaches along this stretch of coast!
Escorted by local guides, after dark we had the opportunity to see a major nesting beach up close and witnessed these magnificent creatures lumbering up the beach to dig a hole, and then lay between 80-100 eggs before slowly returning to the water. Around 50 to 70 days later the eggs hatch and the hatchlings can be seen making a perilous journey to the ocean.
For those who want more wildlife be sure to visit the Osa Peninsula, on Costa Rica’s southern Pacific coast, it is considered one of the most virgin regions of the country and an area of the most intense biodiversity in the country, centred around Corcovado and Piedras Blancas National Parks.
Nature is at its best here - exuberant, pristine, remote and fringed by spectacular coastline extending from the Barú River to the Panamanian border, and from the Talamanca mountain range to the Pacific coast. I found the variety of habitats that we explored here truly astounding; lagoons, mangroves, rivers, rain forests, lowland cloud forests and sandy coastline are all packed into the Peninsula. We had a chance to see some of the rich and diverse flora and fauna of these fragile environments too, which are refuge to many species in danger of extinction such as the tapir, panther, jaguar and scarlet macaw.
Another fabulous highlight of this area is whale and dolphin spotting. Bottlenose and spotted dolphins are present year round in the Pacific Ocean as well as the Golfo Dulce. This unique location also has two humpback whale migrations from July to October and again from December to April where they come to calve in the warm waters of the Gulf during these months, with sightings peaking in January and August.
The gorgeous Lapa Rios is the most luxurious and comfortable lodge in this area, with beach views and set in its own private 1000-acre rainforest reserve. They are fabulous for hosting families with young children (from 6 years upwards), or equally just as wonderful for couples or groups of adults who are keen to explore. Here one can easily spend five nights as there is so much to see and do!
This ‘resort’ style jungle lodge is the perfect retreat after a busy day spotting wildlife the jungle. Equally, days are completely flexible here so you can stay at the lodge and relax with a drink by the pool if you wish, or take a private beach dinner.
However I do recommend taking a privately guided walk into the jungle whilst you are here; I personally find complete rainforest immersion blissfully far from the distractions of modern-day life. Children will love this activity too, and the guides are keen to get children involved and have them learn about the rich ecosystem in a fun, inspiring way, to experience conservation in action.
It is worth noting if you have never visited dense rainforest before that wildlife spotting in the jungle is a completely different experience indeed from the more abundant game viewing you may have experienced in Africa. Much denser vegetation means that wildlife is extremely well camouflaged and easy to miss.
Your local guides have incredible knowledge of this unique environment and will often have spotted a monkey or sloth high up in the canopy many minutes before you can even locate it by sight with their help and train your binoculars on it.
However, the patience required to find the unique species of the rainforests is well rewarded when you see a big cat or large mammal such as a tapir. And don’t ignore the miniscule – the small flora and fauna and the incredible medicinal properties of the many plants of the jungle is equally as fascinating as the larger animals and vivid birds.
Other activities on offer here include scuba diving and snorkelling, surfing lessons and deep sea fishing trips, kayaking along the river, horse riding on the beach, whale and dolphin watching (depending on the time of year), taking a yoga class on the deck overlooking the ocean hiking to see the waterfalls on the reserve, and many other adventurous options.
After days exploring the jungle we headed north for the three and a half hour drive to Arenas Del Mar Beachfront and Rainforest Resort adjacent to the Manuel Antonio National Park. I was delighted to find that the hotel has direct beach access to two tree-shaded sandy beaches.
Arenas del Mar’s 38 guestrooms were designed to provide stunning views of the National Park, the Pacific Ocean and the surrounding rainforest. All rooms include a king size bed and a spacious bathroom. Additionally our room had a private deck where we could sit and enjoy the breath-taking views and take in the sounds and sights of the rainforest.
The hotel has two gourmet restaurants; El Mirador Restaurant & Bar and Playitas Snack Bar. They are famous for their use of seasonal ingredients and local food featuring Costa Rican Cuisine with an international flavour. Las Brisas Spa offers a relaxing and natural selection of massage, facials, wraps and scrubs, as well as manicure and pedicure.
The resort’s location next to Manual Antonio means that one can be as active or inactive as one wishes, for those who wish to unwind, it is perfectly possible to spend the time relaxing on the beach or in the hotel spa.
We wanted to see explore the rain forest so opted to head out with the resident naturalist (this can be done either in the morning or after dark) on one of the rainforest trails. We were able to see sloths and several species of monkey and a multitude of frogs, so there is plenty to see! One can also do a canopy zipline tour, kayak through mangroves, learn to surf on the nearby beach of Espadilla Beach and enjoy hikes to nearby waterfalls.
If you want to venture further afield then Uvita is just one hour south. Known for its famous whale-tail shape beach, from July to December and from December to March humpback whales – and occasionally pilot whales - can be seen where they travel to the warm waters off the coast to mate, breed and raise their young. This is a truly spectacular sight!
Costa Rica is a breeze to reach from the US as there are direct flights from many major airport hubs. Flight times can be little as 3 hours depending on where you are flying from. There are also direct flights on several days of the week with British Airways from the UK.
If you would like more information about holidays to Costa Rica, please do feel free to get in touch!
Images kindly provided courtesy of:
El Silencio Lodge and Spa, Tortuga Lodge, Lapa Rios, Arenas Del Mar Beachfront and Rainforest Resort.