Costa Rica is known for its natural beauty, unique wildlife and otherworldly landscapes, making it a popular destination for travellers from all walks of life. Our focus today is why Costa Rica is also the perfect holiday destination for families! We speak to Debbie, Tucan Travel tailor-made specialist and mum of two, who recently returned from her family adventure to Costa Rica.
Why did you pick Costa Rica for your family adventure?
What appealed to us was Costa Rica’s adventurous sense of spirit, stunning diverse landscape, from beaches, mountains and lush rainforest. It really is a nature’s adventure playground that had something for us all. The incredible abundance of wildlife and to see them in their natural environment. With Costa Rica being one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, we wanted this trip to provide an enriching and learning experience rather than our usual summer holidays. Also, Costa Rica is known to be one of the happiest countries in the world and a very family-friendly destination!
Did you find it easy to source accommodation that had family rooms?
We work with an amazing locally owned operator in Costa Rica who helped us source family-friendly hotels with large rooms and provided recommendations to choose from, saving us time from researching. We were very happy with the hotels selected for us, a crowd favourite was our hotel in Manuel Antonio, which had disused aeroplanes that had been converted, perched high on a platform deck offering sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean. My kids loved it and immediately made a beeline for it. Every hotel we stayed at offered a wide choice of tasty breakfast options to suit our picky kid’s taste buds. We appreciated and enjoyed the unique hotels picked for us, making use of the pools, relaxing on hammocks, short nature trails on the premises was great for free days when our kids needed a chill day. The family rooms were generous with plenty of space and storage. On our final night which was in Manuel Antonio, we prepared a ‘Farewell to Costa Rica party’ for ourselves on our balcony so we could enjoy our last sunset. This was our favourite hotel on the trip. Waking up to find a huge Macaw near our balcony the following morning was unforgettable! When travelling outside the low season, I recommend booking early as hotels book up very quickly leaving very limited options.
Was there anything that you wish you knew before travelling to Costa Rica with two young children?
Thankfully, we were well prepared beforehand. We bought kid-friendly sunscreen, insect repellent and ointments at home. We were glad we did as we found them to be very expensive there.
Costa Rica is a tropical lush country, so it will be hot and humid. Pack quick-drying, breathable clothes, a lightweight waterproof jacket, and hats, especially for open-top boat activities, the sun is strong and intense! A good pair of walking shoes for trekking through the jungles and forests is important as it can be slippery and slide-y.
What would you say was the highlight of the trip/was there a stand out moment?
There were so many! Hearing a group of howler monkeys for the first time was out of this world, setting eyes on La Fortuna waterfall and the surrounding intensity of the rhythmic sounds of the cicadas in the Arenal forest.
Ziplining through the magical Monteverde Cloud Forest. Seeing humpback whales with their calves in the warm Pacific Sea on a catamaran boat trip.
Hiking through Manuel Antonio National Park with a guide (highly recommended to go with a guide), finding Sloths and other incredible wildlife and then being rewarded with the most gorgeous beach at the end. The Arenal Volcano, what a spectacular sight when the clouds disappeared and it came in perfect full symmetrical view!
Is Costa Rica an expensive destination for families? Did you find there were discounts available for the children?
It’s not one of the cheapest destinations to travel to as a family in comparison to Asia or other parts of Latin America, but also not the most expensive. Costa Rica can be travelled on a budget. A big saver for us was eating at local eateries and avoiding Western and Tex-Mex style restaurants. Head out to the local supermarket for a grocery run of the food essentials for a quick meal to prepare and snacks to have on hand to curb those hunger pangs, opt for local produce – fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts, crisps, bread and cheese etc. A favourite snack of the kids were the plantain crisps, they were an absolute bargain! Also, visiting a supermarket allows you to get a sense of the culture being amongst the locals who are doing their normal grocery shopping, makes you feel part of the same community as you go about doing the same. For added saving, this is where we picked up gifts and souvenirs of local coffee, chocolates and sweets. I have to say, it’s a welcome respite from the humidity if you find one with air-con.
When visiting National Parks and Wildlife Reserves there is an entrance fee to be paid with adult and child entry rates, infants usually free. This goes the same for activities.
What kind of transport did you use and did you find it easy for travelling with children?
I must admit this element of the trip played on my mind the most – long journeys with 2 young children on shared transportation. Thankfully, it turned out to be great, and better than I had expected. We travelled in 8-10 seater minivans mostly and 1 tourist bus and because we travelled in the low season they were not at capacity. Vehicles were immaculately clean and comfortable, even for my husband with his long legs. There was also air-con and wifi, excellent for Youtube Kids if needed Sufficient rest stops were made on shared transfers, and on the entire trip there was only one time one of the kids was bursting! Our driver was more than accommodating for a quick stop. One stop led us to a gorgeous little cafe restaurant that served great quality coffee. This place also had the most stunning lush green mountainous views.
We made sure we had packed what we needed for a comfortable journey for our children; their favourite toys, books, downloaded games and shows, snacks/refreshments. Extra clothes in their day pack for any accidents – wipes are a godsend for everything! As long as you’re prepared, you’ll be good as gold for those longer journeys. The kids actually welcomed a bit of R&R time on their own, enjoying the scenic drive with their books and games.
Overall we had an even mix of shared and private transportation, in one of our private transfers our driver provided complimentary local snacks, sweets and drinks which was a nice touch, encouraging my kids to try something new. He made stops of interest too, we were impressed when he spotted a White Hawk!
Are the activities suitable for children of all ages?
Costa Rica is a top family-friendly country with plentiful of activities on offer for kids of all ages. Hiking through the rainforest and national parks, hanging bridges, riverboat trips, whale watching, chocolate tours, butterfly gardens plus lots more. Older kids can enjoy more adventurous activities like white water rafting, sea kayaking, zip-lining or surfing lessons. There is something for everyone to suit any age!
Do you think Costa Rica is a great destination for an educational holiday?
Absolutely! It is one of the most biodiverse countries on earth, with over 25% of its landmass that’s protected and conserved into Wildlife Reserves, Refuges, and National Parks which is just amazing. Getting up close and seeing the wildlife in their natural habitat and learning about the wide variety of plants and fauna was an enriching experience for us all. It was so lovely watching my kids faces when they saw a whale, crocodile, sloths and capuchin monkeys for the first time, the pure delight! And the amazement finding iguanas in the gardens so close to our room, running to me excitedly when they saw toucans up in the trees and trying to find them again. All these moments were just priceless!
Finally, what advice do you have for families looking at a holiday in Costa Rica?
We travelled over the school summer holidays which is Costa Rica’s rainy season, however, don’t let that put you off, it’s quieter so avoiding crowds, special prices with hotels and activities during this time as its low season. It only rained for short periods which didn’t hinder us from doing the activities we had planned. The locals will tell you its the most beautiful time of year to travel with its lush green verdant landscape, and it’s true!
Embrace the green season and you will have an amazing time experiencing the Pura Vida!