Costa Rica family vacations guide
2 minute summary
What we rate & what we don't
RESPONSIBLE TRAVEL’S BEST & WORST
Join a turtle conservation project to have a very different type of time away together. Stay in a homestay in a small community on the Nicoya Peninsula and learn how to monitor, tag and protect turtles on the Pacific coast, as well as collect and study data. Turtle nesting season is July-Dec, so this is when most of the work takes place. And a lot of it at night too. Kids will love this.
Way down south, it often gets left off itineraries because it usually involves a domestic flight, but this really is worth the journey. On the Pacific coast, as well as being home to snorkel paradises like Caño Island, turtle nesting beaches and rainforest, it also hosts Costa Rica’s largest national park, Corcovado. Stay at an ecolodge with a perfect mix of Pacific and rainforest as your garden.
Costa Ricans are called Ticos and the country boasts a multiethnic mix. As well as those of European heritage, there are many indigenous communities, including Bribri, Kekioldi and Cabecar. The Caribbean coast is home to people of Jamaican heritage, with Creole, reggae and Caribbean food all adding to the spice of life. So Costa Rica isn’t all flora and fauna; you’ll be offered the hand of friendship a lot too.
The southern Caribbean coast is not as well known as much of the country, and very much off the tourist trail in parts. With a lot of Costa Rica’s tourism aimed at affluent North American travelers, welcome to the bohemian, surfy side of things, with Creole culture, reggae playing and hammocks swinging. Playa Negra with its rainforest backdrop is gorgeous, as is Cahuita National Park.
Tortuguero National Park
Only accessible by boat, this Caribbean wetland is an aquatic wonderland. The clue is in the name as to why this national park is such a big hit. Tortuguero means ‘Land of the Turtles’ and various species nesting on the park’s beautiful beaches. The world famous Sea Turtle Conservancy was born here too and after exemplary work protecting them from extinction went on to become a huge player globally.
Monteverde Cloud Forest
The difference between rainforest and cloud forest is a couple of thousand metres, which you will feel as you ascend to this steamy, species rich ecosystem. Spend a couple of days here to enjoy guided walks through and above it. The reserve’s monkeys and hummingbirds are best seen from its Skywalk bridges up the canopy. Little monkeys also get to join real monkeys, zip lining from tree to tree.
Costa Rica is not a cheap place to visit, and rest assured that when you invest in a vacation of a lifetime with your little ones, you are going to get your money’s worth in terms of comfort. Family hotels tend to have pools, the Pacific on your doorstep, a hot spring heated by the nearby volcano or a cloud forest as your front garden. Eco and exquisite: these are Costa Rica’s middle names.
Small group vacations
Traveling in a small group with a handful of families is a great way to see Costa Rica, as well as having expert local guides who know exactly how to engage young people, be they ten or teenage. There is nothing like making new friends in a rainforest, watching sea turtles together or zip lining across a tropical canyon. Plus – no family domestics over plans and itineraries. You just get up and go.
Why does a country boasting top wildlife watching destination feel a need to have a zoo? Keeping wildlife captive for tourists’ entertainment is not something condone at Responsible Travel and, although some claim to be sanctuaries for injured or orphaned animals, the cages are crap and the ethos outdated.
Nearing perfection, Costa Rica has caught the overdevelopment virus – albeit a minor dose. But this former fishing village is now a surf hangout where the hype is as big as the waves. If the surfers in your family want to catch some breaks there are plenty more to catch in much quieter, more eco aware spots. And certainly ones that are infused with Tico culture, rather than a spring break one.
Whether you are volunteering or just turtle watching on a day trip, holding them for selfies or using flash photography at night on the beach while they are doing what they do so beautifully, can kill them. So, think selfish rather than selfie. This applies to all wildlife, of course, where touching means endangering them as we transfer all our bugs and stuff that may be alien to them.
Pizzas, chicken and chips are omnipresent as the big demand for tourism over the years has come from North America ans until recently, menu choices have been limited. Look out for local options on your travels such as gallo pinto, the national staple of black beans and rice, plantain snacks, coconut and fish soup aka rondon. And horchata, a rice, cinnamon, and milk drink is just about everywhere.
Food, shopping & people
DISCOVER COSTA RICA LIKE A LOCAL
Eating & drinking
Mashed, refried, fried.
Salted or sweet.
its unexpectedly sharp,
fleshy fruit form is as
addictive as its more famous output.
Agua de Sapo is Costa Rica’s answer to lemonade. Meaning ‘toad’s water’, amphibian allergy sufferers need not panic; it’s toad free. Sugar free families should stay clear however.
People & language
“Pura vida” is the most common greeting, but also mean “good”. So if asked “¿cómo está?” you can reply “¡Pura vida, gracias!"
A very useful one for football fans is mejenga, meaning an informal football game. Let’s go play = ¡Vamos a mejenguear!”
Gifts & shopping
Tuanísis a common slang word in Costa Rica, English equivalents being cool, awesome or sick. Depending on your age, what’s on trend or your country of origin.
How much does it cost?
rafting trip: £55-60