For families looking to spend quality vacation time together, Costa Rica offers a plethora of options, from sea to rain forest canopy. Whether it’s experiencing culture in the Central Valley, stomping through pristine forests or relaxing along the coasts, there’s fun for the whole family in myriad locations throughout the country.
In north-central Costa Rica’s Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve (2645-5122, entry $17, $9 for kids under 12), families can hire a guide for a hike through the exquisitely preserved woodlands, where you can learn how to call various birds, see unique cloud-forest flora and, if lucky, stumble across a tarantula’s nest.
The Continental Divide runs through the middle of the park, marked by a three-foot-tall, narrow pole atop the cloud forest. On one side of the marker, water flows east toward the Caribbean Sea, while on the other, it streams west to the Pacific Ocean.
Along the road between Monteverde and the town of Santa Elena, travelers can find a variety of wildlife exhibits. If you didn’t get your fill of insects in the cloud forest, visit Mundo de los Insectos (2645-6859, $10, free for kids under 6), where groups can see a collection of grasshoppers, spiders, butterflies and a number of other creepy-crawlies.
Or stop by the Snake Farm (2645-6002, $8, free for kids under 7), Bat Jungle (2645-6566, $10, free for kids under 6) or Frog Pond (2645-6320, $10, free for kids under 6) to watch a host of different creatures crawl, leap and fly. Most of the museums are relatively small and each can be enjoyed in less than an hour.
For mountain fun of a different sort, take the kids to one of the most active volcanoes in the world at ArenalVolcanoNational Park, about three hours from Monteverde.
Here, adventure-tourism operator Costa Rica Sky Adventures (www.skytrek.com, 2479-9944) boasts one of the longest ziplines in the world at close to a mile in length ($55, ages 8 and up only). Flying over the green canopy, zippers can reach speeds of 55 miles per hour while taking in the sights and sounds of the forest below. If dangling in a harness hundreds of feet above the ground seems a bit too adventurous, Sky Adventures also offers Sky Tram ($65), a gondola that runs on cables over the same canopy, suitable for all ages. Sky Adventures also offers similar attractions in Monteverde (2645-5238).
After a long day of adventuring, you’ll need to relax. The Arenal area offers several options for hot-springs soaking, including the pools, slides and wet bars of Baldi Hot Springs (www.baldihotsprings.cr, 2479-2190, $26), the smaller Eco-Termales Fortuna (2479-8484, $29) and the lavish Tabacón Grand Spa Thermal Resort (www.tabacon.com, 2479-2000, $60).
No Costa Rican family vacation would be complete without beach time, and the country offers an endless array of sandy expanses to choose from on both coasts.
The Tamarindo area, on the northern Pacific coast, is particularly family-friendly, with waves both kind and large suitable for surf lessons for all ages and levels (see related story on Page S6).
There’s a lot more to do in Tamarindo besides enjoy the area’s many beaches. You can also take tennis lessons from Belgian tennis star Oliver Vanhoute on two professional-size courts at 15 Love bed-and-breakfast, or opt for a surf-and-tennis-turf package (www.15lovebedandbreakfast.com, 2653-0898). And kids will love skateboarding at Oneida Skatepark in downtown Tamarindo, where local Ticos and young Gringos alike show off their tricks and swap stunt ideas.
These are just a few of the family-friendly destinations the country has to offer. For more information about Costa Rican vacation options, pick up a copy of The Tico Times’ new “Exploring Costa Rica” guide (www.ticotimes.net/guide.htm).