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The tiny South American republic of Costa Rica – one of the most bio-diverse areas on the planet, with everything from volcanoes and beaches to rainforests and mangrove swamps – is a stunning natural playground offering family holidays with lots of scope for both fast-paced adrenaline thrills such as white-water rafting and more sedate pastimes like paddling through swamps or paddling on the beach.
You could just sit and relax, but that would mean missing jaguars in the forest, crocodiles and turtles on the beaches, cowboys, volcano-climbing, and amazing scenery everywhere, whether lush mountain trails through the jungle or open plains. This is a place where tapirs, butterflies, toucans and exotic plants abound.
Located between Panama and Nicaragua, Costa Rica is an oasis of calm in an increasingly agitated world. This is the country that got rid of its army, after all, and Costa Ricans, or Ticos, are incredibly friendly. Children are genuinely appreciated, so travelling with them around here should be a delight.
|Capital City||San José|
|Flying Time||15 hours|
|Carbon Footprint||6.16 tonnes CO2|
|Local Currency||Costa Rican Colón|
Take a hike to see some of the strangest and/or cutest animals on the planet, including macaws, toucans, tapirs and iguanas. Head for one of the several National Parks in Costa Rica (covering almost 30% of the total land mass). In Corcovado National Park you can stay at a camp on the beach, snorkel, surf and horse-ride. Manuel Antonia National Park offers the heady combination of gorgeous beaches fringed by a jungle teeming with wildlife. Or enjoy a boat-trip along the narrow waterways of Tortuguero National Park, spotting brightly coloured birds in the trees and even the odd crocodile basking on the shore.
Hit the beaches for unforgettable family holidays. Player Tamarindo in the province of Guanacaste is a surfer’s dream; with younger kids, Playa Uvita south of Dominical is a better swimmers’ beach, with the added benefit that you might spot dolphins and whales from its sands.
Discover the Nicoya Peninsula, one of a handful of worldwide ‘Blue Zones’ where people live longer and more healthily due to their environment. Forbes magazine recently voted its Malpais beach among the top 10 in the world, and local beaches as a whole score highly in Tripadvisor polls. Malpais and Santa Teresa are great places to learn to surf, whether at a surf camp or through individual lessons.
Keep the kids up late to watch turtles laying their eggs at the Refugio Nacional de Fauna Silvestre Ostional at night. Animal-lovers might also visit the hands-on butterfly farm at Monteverde.
Whizz through the jungle on the zip-wire at Arenal (for the less brave, there are some sky gondolas).
With ages 9/10 and up, experience the thrills of white-water rafting, but make sure to ask around about a tour operator’s safety standards. The best spot is the Pacuare River, on the way to which you’ll travel through banana plantations and past volcanoes.
Take the 1hr boat-trip to the Isla del Cano, which might reward you with sightings of whales depending on the time of year.
Food in Costa Rica is simple and hearty if – dare we say it? – sometimes bland (beans and rice are virtually ubiquitous). Most of the seafood is imported and hence expensive. Don’t expect kids’ meals in restaurants as part and parcel of family holidays, though most places will serve one adult portion to split between a couple of kids.
You will find plenty of fruit, plus coconut milk to sip with a straw straight from the nut. For water, stick to the bottled stuff.By Rachelle Keyes
Temperatures, which depend largely on elevation, are fairly constant in Costa Rica year-round, making it a good bet for family holidays at any time. The average daytime temperature in San José (1,172m) is mid 20°Cs and on the coast around 30°C, with the mountains naturally coolest.
The driest time is Dec-Apr, the wettest (most humid) May-Nov, although heavy rainfall can occur any time of year, especially on the Caribbean coast.
Flights from the UK (London or Manchester) to Costa Rica’s San José or Liberia airports go via New York, Miami, Houston or another US cities, with one or two stops, and take about 15–18hrs. Some require an overnight stop-over.
Costa Rica is 6 hours behind GMT, so factor in jet-lag.
Expect to pay from £900pp to get to Costa Rica. Once you're there, however, accommodation can be very cheap compared to Western standards, so family holidays here don't need to cost a fortune.
From plush jungle eco-lodges to kid-friendly beachside jungle tents, Costa Rica has plenty of accommodation suited to family holidays pretty much anywhere that tourists go. Most mid-range and top-end hotels offer discounts for under-12s sharing a parent’s room; top-end hotels usually have kids’ activities too.
Also on the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica Vacation offers hand-picked beach-houses sleeping 4–10, and staff can arrange car-hire, a personal driver, a personal cook, daily housekeeping, massages, a babysitter, local tours on horseback, a zip-wire canopy tour, and deep-sea fishing as well as recommend mountain-biking routes. They will also tailor surfing, yoga, horseback riding and spa packages, and personal tours of the local area and the rest of the Nicoya Peninsula, taking you to places off the main tourist drag.
See also our Trips tab for organised activity holidays, and our feature Green Places to Stay: Americas.
Adventure/activity holidays are a good way to get to grips with Costa Rica with kids. Most of them are suitable for kids aged 8 and over.
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