Fall is in the air again so it’s time for us to start brainstorming vacations destinations for the seasons to come. The rainy days in Belgium are so much more bearable when we have a tropical break to look forward to. Don’t get us wrong: we do like the fall foliage and also the festive period in December is something we look forward to. But after that, we’re ready to skip the winter and move on to spring. Since we had so much fun in Panama a few years back, we might be going for another central-American destination next winter. Especially Costa Rica is high on our bucket list because it’s a very family-friendly destination that oozes adventure. For this article, we’ve teamed up with Luxury Retreats to show you what our dream vacation in Costa Rica with kids would look like. Time to whip out that beach vacation packing list.
Where to stay in Costa Rica
By now you must know that I’m a hotel-geek. Some countries, however, require a special kind of accommodation. And I’m convinced that the best way to experience la pura vida is by staying in an intimate setting close to nature. Just have a look at these Costa Rica rental homes and you’ll know what I mean. Luxury Retreats has handpicked the very best luxury villas to make your dream vacation come true. But the service doesn’t stop there. A concierge is available 24/7 to assist with trip details. And with prices starting from €260 (or $310) per night for a family of 4, there’s a little paradise for everyone. What a way to start a vacation!
Many highlights are spread throughout the country. So ideally, we would stay for 3 weeks and stay at 2 or even 3 different locations.
Adventures in Costa Rica with kids
The list of family adventure options is endless so you’ll sure find something for kids of all ages. Here’s an overview of the activities that appeal to us the most.
- Zip-lining near Limon & San Jose. This can be done at the Atlantic Forest Zipline Adventure and is suited for kids aged 5 and over. With younger kids, we would enjoy the same rainforest canopy via aerial tram.
- Kayaking near Tortuguero. I can see us paddling through the Caño Palma (Palm Canal) while we explore one of the richest biological ecosystem in Costa Rica, led by a local guide. The alternative with younger kids would be to take the motorized boat excursion.
- Taking a dip in one of the hot springs around the Arenal. It’s a resting volcano but the magma is still lively enough to come in contact with ground water, keeping the thermal pools nice and warm. Just the way we like it. 🙂 The Hidalgo family’s hot springs are a hidden gem compared to other, more crowded, hot spring alternatives. A natural river gorge gives out to five free-flowing pools.
- Keeping our balance on one of the hanging bridges near the Arenal volcano.
- Family rafting. Beyond any doubt, this is the ultimate adventure in Costa Rica with kids. Several specialized adventure organizations offer rafting adventures for children aged 4 and over on easy rivers and small rapids. With kids from the age of 8 or older, we could even try out rafting on the Naranjo River. The Pacuare River is off-limits for kids younger than 12.
- Cooling off in the Valley of the waterfalls near Hacienda Barú National Wildlife Refuge. This area above Dominical is known as the Valley of the Waterfalls and home to three of the most exceptional freshwater experiences in the country, among which the stunning Nauyaca waterfalls. We could go horseback riding to the waterfalls or hiking about 4 km (2,5 mi) from the trail’s entrance. Another mesmerizing waterfall is the Río Celeste in the Tenorio Volcano National Park, located only 1,5 km (or 1 mi) from the park’s entrance.
Wildlife encounters in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is wildlife heaven! I remember how excited the kids were during our short rainforest trip in Panama last year. They’d be thrilled to meet Costa Rica’s local residents!
- We would admire the quetzals, many other bird species, amphipians, reptiles and howler monkeys in Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve in Montevideo (and wisely skip the insects in order to avoid nightmares). This unique ecosystem protects 8 different climate zones and extends from the Carribean to the Pacific slope.
- Afterwards we’d head to the nearby Butterfly Garden and make a stop at the Hummingbird Gallery.
- Another source of wildlife is the intact tropical rainforest Tortuguero National Park, home to sloths, monkeys, river otters, caimans, iguanas or poison dart frogs.
- Tortuguero is also known as a nesting ground for sea turtles (green turtles and leatherbacks). The turtles lay their eggs in nests under the sand and they hatch in the evenings. I’ve had the luck of watching baby turtles digging their way out of the sandy nest and heading to the sea in Fort Lauderdale a few years ago. It’s such a magical experience! Alegra was just a toddler then and already sound asleep by the time the baby turtles left the nest and I was pregnant with Jade. So, I would really love for the girls to be able to witness this wonderful moment first hand.
- And finally, if we were to visit Costa Rica with kids, a snorkling trip can’t be missed. We’d be exploring the underwater life from the Pacific Papagayo Peninsula, the Catalina Islands or the Osa Peninsula. They would love to meet seahorses, octopus, eagle rays, moray eels, eagle rays and white tip reef sharks. Okay, maybe not the sharks. 🙂
Tasting Costa Rica
To us, the culinary aspect is an integral part of exploring a destination. And a natural paradise like Costa Rica is home to some specific delicacies.
- Fruits and sugarcane near Arenal: In Finca Burio near Arenal, Don Juan would take us on a tour through his plantations. I’d love to taste the tropical fruits on offer and process sugar cane at the sugar mill (trapiche).
- Coffee: Even though we’re not coffee drinkers, we would very much appreciate learning about the coffee making process. It would also be pretty interesting for the girls to see where coffee actually comes from. The coffee cherries are harvested from October to January, processing the seeds (or coffee beans) continues through April.
- Chocolate in La Fortuna near Arenal: What a treat it would be for Belgian chocolate-snobs like us to learn all about chocolate and actually assist in the production process during a Rainforest Chocolate Tour. We would have our own chocolate adventure in Costa Rica.
When to visit Costa Rica with kids
Because the hold point of escaping to a tropical paradise is to escape the rain, we would off course aim for the dry season. As it turns out, February and March happen to be the driest months with temperatures around 30-35° C (86-94° F) at the Pacific beaches and pleasant 24-29° C (75-85° F) in the central valley. The Caribbean coast can be rainier an is usually a bit cooler. Most showers occur in the afternoon or evening. Monteverde also knows a misty season, ending in February.
Dry season is also excellent for wildlife spotting. Nesting season starts in March, the quetzal is visible, humpback whales are present on both coasts and baby sea turtles will show on the Pacific side as well.
A final hint of luxury
You know that we have a soft spot for the finer things in life. So, to make our vacation in Costa Rica with kids complete, we would opt for an epic hot air balloon adventure over the Arenal volcano. The baskets are not too high and, by February, Jade would be just tall enough to join us. Perfect timing!
So there you have it, our dream vacation in Costa Rica with kids. We can’t wait to read your thoughts! What family adventure do you dream of? If you have ever been to Costa Rica, then we would love to see your recommendations in the comment section.
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