|Capital City||San José|
|Carbon Footprint||6.16 CO2|
|Currency||Costa Rican Colón|
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.
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. Playa Tamarindo in the province of Guanacaste is a surfer’s dream; with younger kids, Playa Uvita south of Dominicalis 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 gardens at Monteverde.
Whizz through the jungle on the zip-wire in Arenal Volcano National Park (for the less brave, there are 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 hour-long 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, 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.
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 it's around 30°C; the mountains are naturally coolest.
The driest time is Dec-April, the wettest (most humid) May-Nov, although heavy rainfall can occur any time of year, especially on the Caribbean coast.
You can now fly direct from London Gatwick to San José (just under 11 hours) or to Liberia in western Costa Rica (about 12 hours), with British Airways and Thomson Airways respectively.
Costa Rica is six 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.By Rhonda Carrier
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