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10 amazing experiences for families in Costa Rica

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If your family has been in search of a sanctuary for travel during COVID, look no further than Costa Rica. Social distancing is easy when you’re staying in an upscale ecolodge in the cloud forest. Even curious wildlife keeps a six-foot distance.

Experiencing Costa Rica is a hands-on activity. Grab hold of a zip line, trek on horseback through tropical forests and snap family selfies with an active volcano — but put down your binoculars because the wildlife will definitely be within eyesight. When you plan your family’s Costa Rica holiday, don’t leave out any of these amazing experiences.

1. Become a Sabanero

Unknown to many, Costa Rica has a rich cowboy culture. Head to Guanacaste and La Fortuna in the north to be fully immersed in this culture and surrounded by cowboys and cowgirls, otherwise known as Sabaneros, Take the family to a cattle ranch for the day and experience life as a Sabanero, learning old farming techniques and how to make sugar, as well as cooking a traditional meal.

All over Costa Rica you will find cattle ranches and nature lodges offering horseback treks through tropical forests, beaches, waterfalls and hidden lakes. This is a chance to get close to hidden critters and reptiles.

2. Learn to surf

The Pacific coast is filled with spectacular surfing areas. The majority of them are found in Guanacaste, in the northwest part of Costa Rica. Dominical Beach, near Manuel Antonio National Park, and Nicoya Peninsula, to the north, are home to large surfing communities and known to have some of the world’s best surf schools taught by locals. Whether you have no previous experience or consider yourself a skilled surfer, there’s a school for all levels and all ages.

There are also excellent surfing spots in the central and southern areas, as well as the Caribbean coast. One of the most frequently visited beaches by surfers is Puerto Viejo, due to its huge tubes and world-class waves like Salsa Brava. Only experienced surfers should attempt this spot.

3. Explore the Tortuguero canals

Located in the North Caribbean, the Tortuguero canals are one of the most iconic tourist landmarks in Costa Rica. Far removed from the city and composed of an extensive network of winding rivers and streams, access is possible only on small boats. Explore the canals as a family for a half or whole day. The boats allow you to sneak into the deeper parts of the rainforest and close up to amazing wildlife. Tours are run by locals. They know where to look and can spot wildlife with ease, so they will make sure you leave having seen something amazing.

Take an afternoon to visit the small communities around the protected area, such as Barra del Tortuguero and San Francisco. You’ll find quaint family-run souvenir stores and bars. Life here is heavily influenced by the Caribbean culture, very different from the rest of Costa Rica. This is where you can taste amazing Caribbean flavours, like spicy jerk chicken and coconut-infused fish dishes.

4. Visit an active volcano

Costa Rica is home to 200 volcanoes — six of which are classified as active.

Poás is one of the country’s most accessible active volcanoes, followed by the Irazú volcano. Within one of the dormant craters in Poás lies Laguna Botos, which can be seen as the clouds part, especially earlier in the day. The best time of year to visit Poás is during the green season, which runs from May through November. During that time, clear views of Poás’ active crater are easy to come by. Nearby, visitors can explore La Paz waterfall and local coffee plantations.

The Irazú Volcano, just a short drive from Costa Rica’s capital city of San José, is located within Irazú National Park. It’s the country’s highest volcano, standing at 3,432 meters tall, and also one of Costa Rica’s most popular due to its breathtaking panoramic views.

Arenal is the country’s most famous active volcano. Situated in a beautiful eponymous natural park, visitors can hike around the area and have amazing views of the volcano, or head just outside the park for canopy and zip lining activities. Another attraction in that area is Lake Arenal, Costa Rica’s largest lake, with a surface that covers nearly 33 square miles (85 square km) and a depth that reaches some 200 feet (60 meters). 

5. Catch an aerial view of Costa Rica

The best way to see Costa Rica’s diverse landscape and biodiversity is from above. Zip lining, canopy walks and hanging bridge tours are the most popular up-in-the-air activities.

Fly through the clouds on a zip line in Monteverde Cloud Forest or in the area surrounding Arenal National Park. Arenal National Park is a popular place to visit in Costa Rica due to its spectacular views of the active Arenal Volcano.

Those looking for more of an adrenaline rush can take the so-called “one-minute challenge.” Located in Central Valley, the one-minute zip line stretches almost a mile with its highest point at 328 feet (100 meters). Zip liners here are able to achieve speeds up to 55 mph (90kph)!

6. Experience Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve

This breathtaking biological reserve is famous for its cloud forests. The clouds are produced by humidity, and the mist sits at an elevation of 1,600 meters above sea level. The moisture creates a blossoming ecosystem below, which is home to 2,500 species of plants and 1,500 animal species. It is one of the most diverse and rich tropical cloud forests and home to both the resplendent Quetzal and the rare bell bird.

Enjoy the unique experience either by land or air. On land, your family will have the choice of trekking or horseback riding to get close to the biodiversity living under the clouds. Visitors can also visit the butterfly and bird houses. By air, children and adults can whip through the clouds on zip lines set at different heights or discover what lives in the uppermost trees on a canopy tour.

The park’s entrance fee is $12 US dollars for students and children ages  6-12 and $25 US dollars for adults.

7. Take on the rapids

Costa Rica’s rivers offer rafting and tubing adventures throughout the year. Lovers of rapids will want to visit from mid-May to the end of March, which is considered optimal rafting season. Riding the rapids is one of the most thrilling and unforgettable experiences in Costa Rica. Beginners and experts alike have many choices, ranging from gentle Class I rapids to extreme Class VI.

Located on the Caribbean slope, Río Pacuare (Class III –IV) is rated as one of the top rafting rivers in the world. Rio Sarapiqui (Class II – III) is the country’s longest river and best explored on a two-day trip. It offers excellent rafting and a chance to enjoy the stunning scenery. The run is suitable for experienced and new whitewater rafters.

Rio Reventazón has two sections. While the Tucurrique section (Class III) is easy enough for first-timers, the Pascua section (Class IV-V) is very wild and requires previous rafting experience.

8. See turtles hatch

Green sea turtles, hawksbill sea turtles and leatherback sea turtles nest on the beaches of Tortuguero, located on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast. It’s possible to see individual turtles at any time of the year. Nesting season, however, only occurs during specific months. The green sea and hawksbill sea turtles’ nesting season runs from July to October, with the peak in August. The leatherback sea turtles nest from February to April. 

The nesting experience is truly a magical chance for families to watch nature in progress. At night, children sit quietly on their parents’ laps on the black sand, watching as the female turtles come up close and start creating their nest. All ecolodges in the area provide tours, which are run by locals to help generate income for the town. To prevent overcrowding and avoid disturbing the turtles, only a select number of tourists can go each night.

9. Travel guilt-free

As one of the leading countries for sustainability, Costa Rica prides itself on its eco-tourism initiatives. Many of the hotels and accommodations in the country are CST approved, which is a Certification of Sustainable Tourism awarded by the Costa Rican Tourism Board.

Staying in an ecolodge provides a chance to immerse yourself in nature whilst having all the comforts of home. There many ecolodges around the country offering a range of accommodations, from luxury treehouse suites to intimate settings. Most ecolodges are based in and around national parks.

Ecolodges are designed to have all the luxuries one may need without harming nature. Rooms are well-appointed with all the amenities you’d expect in 5-star accommodations, such as comfortable beds, wardrobes and outdoor showers. When you step outside your bedroom door, you’ll come across curious monkeys, birds, iguanas, butterflies and other exciting wildlife.

The price of a night’s stay in an ecolodge ranges depending on what you are looking for as a family. Tree house or luxury accommodations? You choose! 

10. Look out for sloths

Costa Rica is one of the few countries in the world that has both two-toed and three-toed sloths. They live in trees all over Costa Rica. You just have to look up and look closely. They tend to blend in with branches and hang out high on the tallest trees. Manuel Antonio National Park never disappoints when it comes to finding a cheeky sloth.

Fearless fun for families

An unforgettable family adventure taking you to all the highlights of Costa Rica.

Classic Costa Rica 13 days from £3,885pp including flights, transfers, accommodation and excursions.