family vacation in costa rica

Oct 16, 2018

Family Vacation in Costa Rica

This is a year of big milestones, I’ve turned 60, our eldest turns 18 and it could be the last time we would travel the 5 of us together, so we decided to have a Family Vacation in Costa Rica as a way to create some wonderful memories.

A sliver of a country sandwiched between Panama and Nicaragua, the Atlantic and Pacific lapping its shores, Costa Rica is unique for the region. In 1948 it abolished its military and began pouring money into conservation. By the Seventies and Eighties, Costa Ricans – Ticos – were declaring vast swathes of the country, from lush rain forests to tropical dry coastlands, protected nature reserves, and teaching school children about biosphere and sustainability. With 0.03 per cent of the Earth’s land mass, but five per cent of its biodiversity, Costa Rica was “green” before the term existed, and it has been a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts – surfers, hikers, white-water rafters and zip-liners – for years. A perfect place for a Family Vacation in Costa Rica.

We started our trip by visiting Drake Bay. We arrived in the morning by a small plane, and then transfer to our hotel by motor boat, the ideal way to start seeing all the marvellous fauna this place has to offer. During our 4 nights stay there we visited a National Park, snorkelled, fished, swam, rode on horseback,  and saw lots of crocodiles, monkeys, rare birds and even a tapir.

Next on our trip was Tortuguero. We again flew there, and spent 3 nights, two of which we went to see the turtles nest on the beach. We also visited the swamps and volunteered to teach English to the local kids. Every day we were woken by the howler monkeys that lived in the garden in our hotel.

After, we went to Monteverde, known for its wide biodiversity. It  has been acclaimed as one of the most outstanding wildlife sanctuaries in the world. This diverse life system consists of over 2,500 plant species, over 100 species of mammals,  more than 400 bird species, 120 reptilian and amphibian species, and thousands of insects; truly a whole world by itself.  There we hiked in the Cloud Forest Reserve, what a magical place! Besides the spectacle of the clouds on the mountain tops, seeing the elusive Quetzal was one of the highlights of our trip. We  booked a zip-line excursion. The wonder of Costa Rica’s conservation ethos is that while it takes every effort to preserve its forests, it also goes to great lengths to make sure you see them – even from a wire suspended above a canyon. Zip-lining is a major industry, and we joined a dozen other families on a  zip-line station where we started riding an open-air gondola from the ground to the highest point of the mountain where we were dropped off at an observation area to admire fantastic views of the surrounding forests, the Arenal Volcano on one horizon, the gulf of Nicoya at the other. From this point, we started riding down a unique zipline circuit that stretches across canyons, going from one mountain to another, and in between treetops. It truly is an exhilarating adventure of zip lining down the mountains. There we also took part in a spectacular guided tour with a combination of suspension bridges and trails with heights that exceed the treetops. We could then discover the exuberant tropical forests of Costa Rica from all perspectives, enjoying magnificent views.

Next but not last, we drove to the Arenal Volcano, a vast tropical forest famous for its still-active high cinder cone volcano. The wonderful ladies of approachingBrazil manage to book us at the only hotel in the National Park, this meant that we could see this magnificent volcano from our rooms at all times! My children were all huge Dora the Explorer fans when little, and glimpsing the volcano, shrouded in cloud, had them recalling their younger TV years. When a howler monkey yelped my son said “Shut up Boots.” Besides enjoying the view, we hiked the 11-kilometer (7-mile) network of well-marked and maintained trails in the National Park. We saw so many jaw-dropping things here – howler monkeys with babies, both Chestnut-mandibled and Keel-billed toucans, oropendulas, spider monkeys, Great curassows, and big roaming troops of coatis. We topped it off with a visit to the Thermal Baths and to the Snake Sanctuarium. Unforgettable!!!

A trip to a tropical country wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the beach, so we set off on a drive to   the Nicoya Peninsula, in the Guanacaste Province. This is the most visited part of the country and yet, this being Costa Rica, that doesn’t mean shopping malls, six-lane highways and multi-story resort hotels. We got to our beach tree house in the late afternoon, the sun setting over the glassy Pacific. We  woke everyday  by the screaming of howler monkeys in fernlike guachipelín trees. An iguana the size of a small crocodile sunned itself by our pool, while we sipped delicious rich cups of fresh Costa Rican coffee. A ribbon of white sand facing turquoise ocean, Sámara beach is, without doubt one of the world’s great beaches. Aside from the coconut sellers, the only business around are stylish beach bars. The following day we had a surf lesson. Surfing reveals your age and condition. Ten years ago I could at least get up on a surf board; this time even in such gentle left breaks, and I could barely get to my knees. My children on the other hand, were near naturals, and within an hour both were up. Not to be subjected to further shame, my wife and I sneaked off to one of the bars for an early piña colada. The days folded into each other, a wonderful gauzy routine set in. We would walk on the beach early in the morning, swim and body surf in warm water, lunch on ceviche, tuna steaks and mojitos, then cool down at home in the heat of the afternoon, adults taking siestas in hammocks, the children in the pool. Then we would return to the beach to swim until sunset before a long, lazy dinner.

After four nights in Sámara, it was time to start the journey back home. On our way to San José, the girls from approachingBrazil had organised the perfect ending to our trip: 2 nights at the secluded Paquera beach, the unforgettable views!!! Besides a couple of relaxing afternoons, we also went snorkelling in Tortuga Island and kayaked in the glowing waters of the area. This is a phenomenon called „bioluminescence“ (emission of light by a living organism). The water around your sea kayak  lights up as you create waves: every paddle stroke is like a firework underwater! The very best ending to an unforgettable Family Vacation in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica is wild and exotic, but at the same time safe, accessible and perfect for children of all ages (ours were 12, 16 and 17 at the time).

Big thanks to approachingBrazil for a memorable Family Vacation in Costa Rica.

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