Costa Rica does itself proud as a destination for family-friendly vacations. (If you’re reading this special section, you’ve likely arrived at that conclusion.) Lodgings that specifically cater to families don’t exactly abound, but several get the “kid-friendly” imprimatur.
The big resorts, especially those that are part of a hotel chain, all come to mind, but thinking beyond the usual suspects may give you some ideas too. The suggestions below just scratch the surface.
First, the resorts: There is a reason families consider them when contemplating trips to Costa Rica. Their myriad activities are designed for guests of all ages, and many include some variation on the “kids club” theme.
The Barceló chain (www.barcelo.com) does up its family offerings big with its Barcy Club for children ages 3 to 12 at its two all-inclusive Pacific beach resorts: Barceló Langosta Beach in the Tamarindo area, on the northern Pacific coast (2653-0363), and Barceló Playa Tambor, near the southern tip of the NicoyaPeninsula (2683-0303). Activities include movies, miniature golf, exercise, painting, piñatas and a class in recycling. Kids at the Tambor location can participate in a macaw release program. All activities are included in the all-inclusive price.
Costa Rica’s various Marriott locations – Costa Rica Marriott (San Antonio de Belén, Central Valley, 2298-0000), Los Sueños Marriott (Playa Herradura, central Pacific coast, 2630-9000), JW Marriott Guanacaste (Hacienda Pinilla, near Tamarindo, 2681-9000, www.marriott.com) – participate in the chain’s “Escape!” family packages, with kids’ meals and in-room family movies with free pizza. In addition, the Los Sueños site on the central Pacific coast has its own Tortuga Kids’ Club with organized activities for kids 12 and under. Some are free; others incur additional cost.
Though not part of an international chain, Sí Como No (2777-0777, www.sicomono.com) in Manuel Antonio, on the central Pacific coast, pleases kids and their parents with a movie theater, free for hotel guests, and smoothies served at the pool bar.
Housekeeping holidays allow for many of the comforts of home, especially if you can find lodgings whose units are separated from each other. The spacious units at Villas Playa Sámara (2656-1111, www.villasplayasamara.com) on the northwestern NicoyaPeninsula are popular with return visitors for their privacy, which can be lacking in a standard hotel. Fully equipped kitchens, dining areas and foldout beds mimic a back-home atmosphere.
The two- to five-bedroom villas at Tango Mar Resort (2683-0001, www.tangomar.com) in Playa Tambor serve a similar purpose, and although the site bills itself as a resort, the party-hearty crowd generally does not stay here, making it a quieter alternative for families.
Look for the little things too. The northern Pacific coast’s Flamingo Beach Resort (2654-4444, www.resortflamingobeach.com), which promotes itself as a great destination for family reunions, covers its children’s pool with a thatch roof – no sunburns to worry about.
This country equals nature in the minds of most potential visitors, and the number of nature-themed things to do is endless. Occasionally, these nature activities have associated lodging, putting a variety of things to do right outside the front door.
North of San José, the Peace Lodge (2482-2720, www.waterfallgardens.com) in Vara Blanca sits in the La Paz Waterfall Gardens complex and offers butterfly, frog, hummingbird and snake exhibits on the grounds. A stay at the nearby Tirimbina Lodge (2761-1579, www.tirimbina.org), associated with the Tirimbina Rain Forest Center in northern Costa Rica’s Sarapiquí region, puts the center’s child-pleasing bat, frog and chocolate tours just outside the doorstep.
Some 30 lodgings around the country bill themselves as “apartotels” (think apartment + hotel). Most are fully equipped studio apartments, quarters a bit close for a family, but the Central Pacific’s Apartotel Girasol (2643-1591, www.girasol.com) in Jacó offers spacious units that sleep up to four people. Kids under 12 stay free.
“Kids stay free” promotions haven’t entirely caught on in Costa Rica, but the occasional lodging here does offer such deals. Children under 12 stay free in their parents’ room at Hotel Sugar Beach (2654-4242, www.sugar-beach.com) in Playa Pan de Azúcar, on the northern Pacific coast, as another example.
Television has become a pretty standard offering in all but the farthest-flung Costa Rican lodgings, but before thinking, “Good, an electronic babysitter!” remember that much of the cable and satellite programming will be in Spanish. Popular back-home children’s channels such as Nickelodeon and the Cartoon Network are present, but in Latin American versions that present their English-language programming dubbed in Spanish.