Costa Rica is a gem for a family adventure holiday. It’s also one of the greats when it comes to introducing kids to long-haul holidays for the first time, especially as a number of UK airlines nowfly direct to both the capital San José, and Liberia on the west coast, in less than 11 hours, year-round.
Contrary to popular belief, Costa Rica is just as incredible in July and August as it is from December to March. It’s a tropical country, so temperatures sit at a constant 25C to 30C all year. There is a higher chance of rain in summer, but it’s also the greenest season, one of the best times to see nesting turtles, and possibly even witness the hatchling-dash miracle – work that into a first-time long-haul holiday with kids, and they’ll sold for life.
On top of the benefits of the lush landscape, rivers running at their whitewater rafting finest, and significantly fewer tourists everywhere, July and August are also the least expensive months to visit. Hotels cut rates substantially, and cheaper domestic flights mean you can see more regions – resorts in quite remote areas, like the Osa Peninsula, often include domestic flights during summer. Plus, if you want to drive, there’s less traffic, too, and Costa Rica is fabulous for family road trips.
And anyway, shouldn’t your first foray into the big wide world of long-haul travel with kids be a momentous summer experience, and not just a fast winter-sun break?
You could probably invent an entirely new category of family activity holiday just for Costa Rica. There’s virtually nothing kids can’t get up to here, from ziplining round active volcanos to walking over rainforest canopies, surfing the Pacific and Caribbean, kayaking through mangrove swamps or swimming in geothermal pools.
Young equestrians can ride all over the country, and even try out as junior ranch hands in Guanacaste.
Yes, there’s historic cowboy culture here, too, right down to a unique take on rodeos – catch one to see some truly legendary horsemanship in action.
What’s really thrilling about Costa Rica, is how much of the adventure comes naturally, and how accessible it is, even in more remote areas. Understandably, with over 25% of the environment protected, 26 national parks, and 5% of the world’s biodiversity to be safeguarded, guided expeditions are very much the norm. But the breadth of family tours and the experiences is still outstanding.
Truthfully, even if you were able to go it alone all over the place, you’d miss about 90% of the wonders eagle-eyed locals spot without even thinking. And don’t forget, this is also one of the happiest countries on earth (11th-happiest, according to a 2017 UN survey). So, as well as being supernaturally well-informed, Costa Rican guides are about the most charismatic travelling companions you could wish for.
Costa Rica is home to over 500,000 species of wildlife. It’s one a handful of countries where both two- and three-fingered sloths are indigenous. It has four species of monkeys, and olive ridley, leatherback, green, and hawksbill sea turtles all nest here. The stunning quetzal bird and scarlet macaw are both native, and blue morphos, the world’s largest butterflies, just flutter about in plain sight.
Kids shouldn’t be surprised if enormous green iguanas put in an appearance on restaurant terraces – the combo of sun and lunching tourists is apparently irresistible to these harmless giants. Eyeballing capuchin monkeys on cloud forest canopy tours isn’t even slightly unusual and, while you might have to look a little harder, sightings of adorable red-eyed tree frogs aren’t rare, either.
Dolphins are permanent residents on both coasts, and humpback whales overwinter on the Pacific. And, if you head south to Golfo Dulce on the Osa Peninsula in August, it’s the only place in the world where both northern and southern humpbacks can be seen swimming together in one of only three tropical fjords on the planet.
So if you’re wondering how to distract kids on a long-haul flight to Costa Rica, you can go as wild as you like with the wildlife promises.
Of course, summer means beaches, and with both South Pacific and Caribbean coasts adding up to over 800 miles of coastline in total, they’re easy to come by in Costa Rica.
Direct UK flights to Liberia bring you right into the heart of Guanacaste, one of the beachiest regions, known for great South Pacific surf schools and lively holiday resorts like Tamarindo and Playa Flamingo.
You’ll find also beautiful beaches in national parks on both coasts – beaches for swimming and snorkelling, lazy days in the sun, and quite a few as famous for wildlife as shimmering white sands, and endless horizons.
Obviously, the seaside has stiff competition from a million and one other attractions in Costa Rica. But you’re never too far from a coast, so time by the ocean easily fits into most holiday plans.
It probably won’t come as much of surprise to find that one of the world’s most biodiverse countries also has an extraordinary range of places to stay.
Eco-lodges, inland and on the coast, surround you with wildlife, rainforests, cloud forests, and national parks from the moment you wake up, until you fall asleep – often to the eerie cries of howler monkeys. These places might be green, but many are more like boutique hotels than basic accommodation, so you can look forward to communing with nature in comfort.
Costa Rica’s treehouse hotels are another no-impact delight for kids, even just for a night. And you can still be totally responsible and opt for luxury beachfront resorts here too – green ratings are taken as seriously as star ratings almost everywhere, and shown as leaf icons alongside property descriptions. And, just in case you were wondering, most places welcome guests year-round, but reduce their room rates substantially from April to November. Another plus point in favour of a first-time long-haul holiday in Costa Rica this summer.