Costa Ricans proudly refer to their country as the Switzerland of Central America
Costa Ricans proudly refer to their country as the Switzerland of Central America - and in a lot of ways this nickname is well deserved.
Costa Rica is the oldest democracy in all of Latin America and is also one of the few countries in the world to exist without an army - having constitutionally abolished theirs in 1949. Its tranquil history and relatively high level of economic development truly make Costa Rica an anomaly among its Central American neighbors. On top of all of this, Costa Rica is one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world and a prime destination for global ecotourism. Here are our recommendations for Costa Rican destinations and activities that children (as well as their parents) are sure to love:
Zip-Line through the Costa Rican Rainforest
Zip-lining is something that everyone simply must try when visiting Costa Rica - it’s basically a rite of passage. The nice thing about this is that there are so many options. Want to ride one of the ten longest zip-lines in the world? You’ve got it. Want to take it up a notch and zip-line like superman? You can do that too. Want to zip-line, but don’t feel like hiking or climbing to the top of the first platform? Take a sky tram up to the top. Another great aspect of zip-lining in Costa Rica is that, with so many great tours all across the country, you won’t have to go out of your way to find an awesome course. Zip-lining is an awesome activity for the whole family to participate in together and you shouldn’t miss it for the world.
Ride on Horseback to Montezuma’s Famous Waterfall
Montezuma is a relatively sleepy beach town on the Nicoya Peninsula which juts off into the Pacific Ocean on Costa Rica’s west coast. It’s also world famous for its waterfalls. There are a few close to town which are popular for swimming and diving, but the most impressive of all is quite a ways north along the beach - it’s one of the few waterfalls worldwide that drop directly into the ocean. It would take several hours to walk to the waterfall, so why not make your trip even more enjoyable and do it on horseback? There are a number of tour companies and independent guides based out of Montezuma who will help you arrange a trip. This is a truly memorable experience and if you’re on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, there’s no excuse not to share this memory with your family.
Exciting Nighttime Bug Hunt in the Costa Rican Jungle
If your kids are anything like some of the ones that we know, they’re probably fascinated with bugs and all sorts of creepy-crawly creatures. If this is an interest held by your kids, you owe it to them to take a nighttime tour of the jungle. Depending on what part of the country you find yourself in, there’s a whole host of wildlife to be seen. You’re sure to find the bugs anywhere, but if you’re lucky you might even run into something more impressive like an ocelot or a puma - big jungle cats that sleep during the day and go out hunting at night! But don’t worry - they’re more scared of you than you are of them. If this sort of adrenaline-pumping nighttime bug hunt sounds like an experience that your kids would love, there’s hardly a better place on this earth than in Costa Rica!
Less-Exciting Daytime Butterfly Garden Experience
Maybe your kids like bugs, but are afraid of the dark. Maybe your kids like certain bugs but a tarantula would be a bit too much for them. And maybe you just don’t feel like trudging around the jungle looking for bugs at 11 o’clock at night! If any of these statements apply to you, then perhaps you would be better-served by a daytime visit to one of Costa Rica’s many famous butterfly gardens. The jungles and mountains of Costa Rica are home to an amazing variety of beautiful butterfly species and dotting the countryside are a vast number of butterfly gardens - huge open environments protected by nets that enclose tons of butterflies and sometimes other animal species as well. Most of these gardens are run by conservationists working to protect Costa Rica’s butterfly species, so you can feel extra good about yourself for going and supporting them in their work.
Volunteering and Homestay with Proyecto Asis
If you want your family to truly engage with the people and the culture of Costa Rica during your visit to the country, then this is the activity for you. Proyecto Asis is “an organization dedicated to wildlife protection, environmental conservation, and fostering positive cultural exchanges through education and service”, which operates an animal rescue center as well as a Spanish school located in the heart of Costa Rica. They accept volunteers for times ranging from a few hours to a few months, but we specifically recommend participation in their family program. This includes a homestay with a Costa Rican family as well as daily Spanish lessons and approximately 20 hours a week of volunteer work in the animal rescue center. This is a true, immersive Costa Rican experience in a warm and welcoming environment for your family and we sincerely think it would be a wonderful experience for all of you. For more information, check out the Proyecto Asis website here.
Whitewater (or Not-So-Whitewater) Rafting
Costa Rica, though quite small in terms of land area, contains an impressive quantity and variety of rivers. Many of these are traversable by raft - and this activity is becoming more and more popular among the many tourists visiting Costa Rica in order to enjoy the country’s natural beauty. Is your family adventurous and looking to navigate serious rapids? There are plenty of opportunities for that. Are your children younger, or do you feel less than up to the idea of navigating a raging river? That’s fine too - there are many options which feature calmer waters and instead of pumping your adrenaline, will give you the opportunity to glide slowly across the river’s surface, taking in the peaceful sounds of the jungle and observing the nature that surrounds you instead. You’re probably picking up on a theme by now - whatever way your family wants to enjoy nature, Costa Rica offers activities that are right for you.
Visit the Volcano and Float in the Hot Springs of Volcán Arenal
Located a few hours north of San José by car are Arenal Volcano and its accompanying town, La Fortuna. Though slightly less active in recent years, the volcano is still one of the most active in Costa Rica and features by far the best and most impressive tourist infrastructure. There are a few things that you and your family must do while spending time in the Arenal region. The first, of course, is to check out the volcano itself. You don’t necessarily have to do much hiking or exploring in the park, but you should spend some time observing the volcano, especially at night when lava flows become visible, glowing a bright, molten red on the mountainside. You also ought to take a swim in some of the area’s many hot springs. There are all sorts of options as far as this experience goes - you can go to one of the several resorts that have sprung up around the springs or if you’re feeling more adventurous you can hike into the jungle and find your own! If you’re interested in this second option, the staff at your hotel or restaurant will most likely be able to point you in the right direction.
Spend a Day Exploring San José
Many tourists to Costa Rica arrive and depart from San José but don’t spend much time in the capital beyond these brief experiences. This is a real shame as San José is a surprisingly cosmopolitan city with plenty of activities for the whole family! First of all, your kids will most likely fall in love with Costa Rica’s Children’s Museum. Housed in a former prison that looks more like a castle than anything else, this is the first children’s museum in Central America and many say the most impressive in all of Latin America. It’s also worth swinging by La Sabana, San José’s version of Central Park, where your kids can explore the many art installations or play a game of soccer with their Costa Rican peers. Beyond this, there is the country’s gold museum, history museum, contemporary art museum and the list goes on - what you choose depends on your family’s own unique interests. No matter what piques your curiosity though, one thing’s for sure - there’s definitely something worthwhile for you in San José!
Take a Surfing Lesson on Costa Rica’s Atlantic Coast
As you’ve most likely heard before, Costa Rica is a world-renowned surfing destination. Many of the world’s best surfers head to the country’s Pacific coast to take advantage of the huge waves that seem to constantly be striking that region’s shores. Though this is surely awesome for professional surfers, it’s probably not so great when the surfers are you and your kids. However, there’s a chance that your family still wants in on the Costa Rican surfing action. So what do you do? The answer, actually, is quite simple - head to the country’s east coast. Many of the tiny coastal towns dotting Costa Rica’s Caribbean shore also featuring great, albeit more peaceful, conditions for surfers. If your family already knows how to surf, then rent some boards and get to it! If not, however, don’t worry - there are professional surf instructors all over the place, ready to work with beginners of literally any skill level. If your children are too young to surf, don’t fret. The beaches of Costa Rica’s east coast are beautiful and your family can enjoy swimming in the water just as well as surfing in it.
Boat Rides and Sea Turtles in Tortuguero
While you’re on the Caribbean coast, you ought to make one last stop with your family to Tortuguero and the surrounding region. Tortuguero can be roughly translated to mean land of turtles and is a place that lives up to its name - the beaches in the region are prime nesting sites for four species of sea turtles and during the appropriate times of the year your family will be able to observe and even assist the baby turtles in their march from birth to the open sea! Year round, it’s also worth it to visit the region for its impressive canals, which have earned Tortuguero the additional nickname of Costa Rica’s Amazon. Many homes and even entire towns are reachable only by boat and many local guides would be happy to take your family on a tour of the region and give you a true insider’s perspective on the area. While you’re floating through the rivers and canals, make sure to keep an eye out for crocodiles and their smaller relatives, caimans.