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Getting up close with the local wildlife

Winning Family Traveller’s Costa Rica competition meant our first family holiday abroad. Excitement levels were through the roof for our four- and seven-year-old daughters, Caitlin and Isla. The new direct London-San Jose flights with BA were excellent and being able to avoid lengthy airport transfers made the journey very straightforward.

We arrived in San Jose in the evening and were met at the airport for a transfer to our first hotel. Our driver immediately showed the friendly ‘pura vida’ spirit that Costa Ricans or ‘Ticos’ are renowned for as he gave us a helpful guide to areas of San Jose as we crossed the city. Winning the trip with Evaneos meant we had been given access to a local agent, Veronika, who was extremely helpful in helping us plan our itinerary.

As a local with a young family herself, she was able to recommend excellent family-friendly accommodation and activities. We were collected by a tour bus early on our first full day to take us to the Doka coffee plantation. Here, we enjoyed a lovely breakfast before an interesting tour where we learned about the production processes.

Although some of the talk was probably pitched over the age of our daughters, who were the youngest on the tour by some way, they both enjoyed the ‘hands on’ activities and made themselves very useful brushing the coffee beans drying in the sun outside. Next up was a visit to the Poas volcano. Unfortunately, it had decided to become active again recently, so this part of the day trip was sensibly postponed.

Isla measures up to a huge tree in the cloud forest

Having viewed some exciting footage on the news that evening we were quite grateful to be kept some distance from it. Instead, we travelled to La Paz Waterfall Gardens, a beautiful private nature reserve with exotic orchids. It is perfect for taking young children along its walking trails.

Around every corner there were new surprises, such as hummingbirds, reptiles, monkeys, toucans and our favourite, the sloths, plus a finale of stunning waterfalls hidden within the rainforest. After breakfast the next day we collected a hire car. Though driving abroad in a developing country might not suit every visitor, we felt it gave us the flexibility for travelling that is sometimes preferable with a young family.

We enjoyed some wonderful rural scenery as we drove to the La Fortuna area of the country. This is a small town at the foot of one of Costa Rica’s most active volcanoes, Arenal, a perfect cone-shaped stratovolcano. We were staying in our own lodge within the grounds of a beautiful hotel called the Arenal Manoa.

We planned to visit the famous waterfall at La Fortuna, but after our long drive we thoroughly enjoyed relaxing in the sun and playing in the pool and hot springs at the hotel. Probably our favourite activity of the holiday happened the next day, when we went rafting down the calm waters of the Penas Blancas river. Paddling through the rainforest was hot work but the presence of an experienced and entertaining guide, Jorge, made it a wonderful adventure.

Rafting on the Penas Blancas river

We stayed in the lodge at the foot of Arenal, one of Costa Rica’s most active volcanos

Again, our daughters were very young within the group, but they adored learning about the wildlife in the rainforest and seeing the array of crocodiles, birds, monkeys, iguanas, and sloths. This was another of Veronika’s recommendations and it was terrific fun and very well run. We wanted to make sure we saw a lot of Costa Rica in our 11 days, so set off to the Monteverde region next to see the cloud forest.

We were thankful for our 4×4 hire car, as some of the unpaved road surfaces were quite bumpy, but it certainly added to the adventure travelling with young children. The cloud forest here is mainly secondary rainforest that is largely the result of conservation efforts to reforest the country, and we visited the nearby reserve for a family walk to end the afternoon. Next day, we were ready for our tour of the cloud forest canopy.

The changing microclimates in the area brought a tropical downpour, so we were thankful for our waterproofs. The 3km hike through the forest took us along muddy paths and seven suspension bridges over valleys, some of which had 80m drops to valleys below and, despite the rain, they were amazing to see. Paying for a guide is well worth it on tours like these, as without their expert knowledge visitors would most likely fail to spot some of the wildlife or enjoy the guides’ array of interesting facts and stories.

The rain put us off the ‘Tarzan swings’ between platforms later on, which many older tour groups seemed keen to do. Monteverde was probably not quite as exciting a destination to visit with a young family but for those with an interest in conservation it would be a ‘must’ and there are many different adventure trips available which run from the town.

Exploring the forest’s canopy

We ended our holiday on the Pacific coast in the province of Guanacaste. We travelled to Tamarindo Beach, which was a busy and popular resort with an array of hotels and activities for families. We had a lovely time playing on the beach in the sunny weather. My eldest daughter, Isla, particularly enjoyed learning how to bodyboard in the warm waters.

There were several swimming pools to play in and we enjoyed the local souvenir shops and restaurants. It was a perfect relaxing end to what had been a satisfyingly busy holiday. We would thoroughly recommend Costa Rica to families, particularly those with an adventurous streak looking for outdoor activities on rivers or in the forest.


The lowdown: Costa Rica

Evaneos is a platform that allows travellers the freedom to create tailormade tours with hand-picked agencies around the world. Keith Turnbull’s family trip with Evaneos cost £3,000 for his family of four, excluding flights.

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