Family holidays to Costa Rica

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Family holidays to Costa Rica

Good planning is the key to a successful holiday here and it’s the ideal destination to combine some lazy time on lovely Pacific beaches with wild adventuring through some of the planet’s rarest and loveliest environments.

Why go on holiday in Costa Rica

  • Direct flights

    Direct flights from the UK to San José take just over 11 hours.

  • Green energy

    Costa Rica uses hydro, wind and geo-thermal energy to produce electricity for a population of almost 5 million. In December 2016 it became the first country in the world to use no fossil fuels for electrical power over an entire year.

  • Unusual accommodation options

    There are unusual, innovative and sustainable places to stay all over Costa Rica and almost all welcome children. Look for rainforest lodges and tree houses, family farm stays, eco-ranches and independent beach hotels on the Nicoya Peninsula.

  • A year-round destination

    Costa Rica’s now an all-year-round destination. The driest season’s from November to May and December’s the busiest month with lowest rainfall and humidity.

  • Coastlines

    The country has two coastlines: Caribbean to the east and North Pacific to the west.

  • Conservation areas

    Costa Rica is roughly the same size as Switzerland with almost three times as many conservation areas and protected natural territory (Switzerland 9%, Costa Rica 27%).

Where to go

Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

This accessible cloud forest reserve is Costa Rica’s leading eco-tourist experience and covers an area of 10,500ha in the north west of the country. Made up of 90% virgin forest the reserve’s home to 500 bird and mammal species, over 100 reptile species and 2500 different species of plants.

  • Local eco-lodges in Monteverde town and Santa Elena are great for families and just over three kilometres from the reserve.
  • The reserve’s explored on a 13km network of marked walking trails along with skywalks, zip-lines, suspension bridges, towers and ropes through the tree canopy.
  • Themed tours of the reserve with local volunteer guides are the best way to explore the complex and wildlife-rich forest.
  • In the Monteverde and Santa Elena area don’t miss: the Bat Jungle; Butterfly Garden; Frog Pond; Orchid Garden; Monteverde Friend’s School; Serpentarium; San Luis Ecolodge and Research Station.
  • Visit January to March or July to September. December’s dry and warm but it’s also the busiest and most expensive month of the year.
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Tortuguero National Park

Tortuguero translates as Turtle Catcher and the nesting population of Green Sea Turtles, Leatherback and Hawksbill Turtles on Playa Tortuguero is one of the main reasons to visit this stunning conservation area.

  • July to October is Green Sea and Hawksbill nesting season. Leatherbacks nest between February and April. But turtles can be seen on the beach all year round and accompanied evening visits are magical experiences with kids.
  • Tortuguero covers an area of 19,000ha mostly made up of waterways, creeks and lagoons. It’s almost always explored by boat as part of an organised private or group tour.
  • Tortuguero village has a choice of three and four-star family hotels, guesthouses and lodges. Puerto Limon is the nearest city for a wider range of accommodation and tours of Tortuguero can be arranged from both here and Tortuguero village.
  • Tortuguero’s wild population includes: Spider, Howler and Capuchin monkeys; Spectacled Caiman; River Otters; Green Macaw; Toucans; Amazon Kingfishers and over 50 species of freshwater fish.
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Nicoya Peninsula, South West

Contrary to its name, Costa Rica’s Caribbean east coast isn’t the best choice for beach holidays. The white sands, seaside towns and barefoot atmosphere on the Pacific side are much. And the surf-ready, crowd-free and beachy Nicoya Peninsula is the best area of all, to catch your breath after the awe-inspiring natural drama almost everywhere else.

  • Choose Sámara for Sámara Playa, laid-back beach hotels, cute guesthouses, friendly town, good local restaurants and complete escapism.
  • Playas Ostional and Camaronal are two of the world’s top beaches for turtle nesting and they’re both on the Nicoya Peninsula.
  • Santa Teresa and Montezuma on the southern tip of the peninsula are livelier alternatives to Sámara for older kids and teenagers.
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San José

Costa Rica’s capital is where most UK families arrive. It probably won’t be your mind’s eye vision of the country’s idyllic paradise reputation, but it’s a fun place to spend a day or two exploring before you head off on your real holiday.

  • Visit Barrio Amón for local restaurants, interesting galleries and shops.
  • Take a few hours to browse the Museo de Oro and Museo Nacional de Costa Rica or spend an afternoon people watching and listening to music in La Sabana park.
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Costa Rica’s most northerly city’s an interesting day out if you’re heading Rincón de la Vieja National Park or down to the beautiful beaches on the Nicoya Peninsula. It’s the traditional heartland of the Guanacastle ranching industry and there are intriguing glimpses of El Sabanero culture which little cowhands will like.

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What to do

  • Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
    A 10,500ha tropical cloud forest explored on over 13km of marked trails, skywalks and rope bridges. Several excellent guided tours available including a Night Walk. All profits go to the reserves conservation and education initiatives.
  • Tortuguero National Park, Limon
    The vast, watery expanse of Tortuguero is one of the most wonderful experiences in Costa Rica. The park’s on the country’s Caribbean east coast and best visited by boat with local guides.
  • Manuel Antonio National Park, Quepa
    One of the most accessible areas of lowland rainforest and the most visited national park in Costa Rica this is a lush and fascinating monkey and sloth-packed paradise for kids.
  • Whitewater River Rafting, Puerto Viejo
    Touring national parks, sailing round wildlife reserves and climbing volcanos are all amazing experiences, but for sheer adrenalin you need a raft, a guide and Costa Rica’s wild rivers.
  • Arenal Observatory Lodge, Arenal
    Observation’s an understatement when a lodge sits almost within touching distance of Costa Rica’s legendary Arenal peak. Everything from waterfall trails to mountain treks, wildlife tours and wilderness treks are available at this fantastic lodge in the heart of the country’s volcanic region.
  • Ziplining, Arenal River Canyon
    Rainforest canopies were almost designed for ziplining, this 11 cable, 12 platform, 80m high and up to 350m long adventure has the added advantage of the dramatic Arenal River Canyon in the mix.
  • Caño Negro National Wildlife Refuge, Alajuela
    One of the world’s most important wetlands, Caño Negro’s in the far north of Costa Rica on the Nicuraguan border. The wildlife’s incredibly diverse here so it’s another mesmerising adventure for kids.
  • Tree Houses Hotel, San Carlos
    Just half an hour from the Bosque Eterno de Los Niños (Children’s Eternal Rainforest), this one of a kind treehouse hotel in the heart of the jungle is magical and activity packed for kids.
  • Mangrove Swamp Kayaking, Nicoya Peninsula
    The eerie and wonderfully strange mangrove swamps on Nicoya Peninsula are perfect for calm water kayaking tours. No experience necessary.
  • Monkey Sanctuary Tour, Manuel Antonio National Park
    One of many excellent guided tours in Manuel Antonio, this is the top choice for almost guaranteed heart melting moments with baby monkeys.

Educational value for kids

  • Kids can spend a day with an English speaking ‘buddy’ at the Monteverde Friends School joining in classes, playtime and daily school activities.
  • Children’s surf lessons are great fun and confidence building with the friendly team at Sámara Beach – snorkelling, diving and sailing too.
  • Spend an evening with conservationists on Turtuguero Beach during turtle hatching season.
  • Costa Rica’s wild wildlife is everywhere but the country also has several excellent sanctuaries and refuges like the delightful Las Pumas Rescue Centre near Cañas.
  • Agro-tourism’s the sister of eco-tourism in Costa Rica and staying on a family farm is great fun with kids. La Carolina Lodge close to Caño Negro in the north combines loads of adventure and activities with learning.
  • The Venado Caves, just north of Arenal National Park, are deep, dark and thrilling to venture into with a local bi-lingual guide, good torches and a little bit of nerve.
  • Manuel Antonio National Park is one of the top school visits in Costa Rica so the educational tours and activities are brilliantly engaging for kids.

Getting around with kids in Costa Rica

Costa Rica isn’t a huge country but don’t let that tempt you into hiring a car and heading for the open road. For a start, most of the roads aren’t that open and many of them are barely surfaced, especially outside the cities. Vast conservation areas, wetlands, mountainous provinces and lowland or highland rainforest in abundance, makes driving a slow and frustrating process. And there are more regions inaccessible by car, than not.

Plan in advance, know what you want to see and identify the best centres for exploring various national parks, reserves and coasts. There are several good UK operators who specialise in Costa Rica for families and many English speaking local companies who can tailor holidays and offer sensible advice depending on the age of your kids and the type of experiences you’re looking for.

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