One of the first decisions to make when traveling with a family is where to go. In Northern California, families typically head to the Tahoe/Truckee area for winter snow play. While this is always fun, our family decided to head somewhere warm this year so we choose Costa Rica in Central America.
Bordered by Nicaragua to the North and Panama to the East, Costa Rica is known for sandy beaches, biodiversity, rain forests, cloud forests, jungle, and volcanoes. When you add in the friendliness of the people and the emphasis on tourism, you realize that it is the perfect family destination.
At just a tad bit smaller than West Virginia, you would think it would be easy to cover a lot of areas in a few days; however, many of the roads are dirt and gravel so travel is often rugged and slow. The up side is that you have lots of time to take in the enchanting scenery!
Here are some of our favorite spots for enjoying the diversity of Costa Rica.
Pacific Coast Beaches
The Pacific Coast offer miles of sandy beaches, with varying colors of sand including white, black, and brown. There are literally hundreds of beaches, some are scattered with seashells while others are rocky and more difficult to access. The water temperature tends to be in the 80s (Fahrenheit) and the consistent waves mean that many of the beaches are prime surfing spots. You can find a variety of accommodations from small inns to large resorts. We like the Playa Junquillal area – while the beach is tranquil, it is close to Tamarindo so we were able to eat out and shop a bit. We saw monkeys and iguanas along the Pacific Coast. A good web site for exploring Costa Rican beaches is http://www.anywherecostarica.com/destinations/habitat/beach.
Accessible only by boat or small plane, the Tortuguero area of the Caribbean Coast is one of the best places to see wildlife. Some lodges, such as Mawamba Lodge, include food, lodging, and boat tours in the price. Boat tours through the canals are fun for families as kids love being the first to spot monkeys swinging from the trees or crocodiles basking half submerged along the shore. The beaches are nesting grounds for sea turtles, including endangered green turtles, which lay their eggs from April to November. Although we did not see the turtles, we saw lots of freshly hatched eggs during our morning beach hikes. A good site for learning more about Tortuguero is http://costa-rica-guide.com/nature/national-parks/tortuguero/.
Costa Rica has many volcanoes. We visited two of the active volcanoes: Poas, near the capital city of San Jose, and Arenal, located about 90 km northwest of San Jose. While visiting Poas, you can see the crater steaming with fumaroles and visit the Botos Lagoon which has filled an inactive crater. Arenal, is bordered by the town of La Fortuna on one side and by Lake Arenal on the other side. There are a lot of family fun activities here including hanging bridges, horseback rides, zip lines, canopy tours, spelunking, whitewater rafting, hot springs, and more.
Monteverde Cloud Forest
A cloud forest is a highland forest covered in fog or clouds at the canopy level. About 2% of the earth is cloud forest and there are two cloud forests in Costa Rica. Monteverde Cloud Forest is located in the town of Santa Elena at the top of a long winding dirt road off the main Pan American Highway. Monteverde sits atop the Continental Divide. On a clear day you can see both the Caribbean and the Pacific coasts from the viewpoint along the trail. This is a great place to see wildlife, especially the Resplendent Quetzal, a rare bird known for colorful feathers and a long tail. We also saw sloths, kinkajous, butterflies, hummingbirds, and coatis. We braved a night hike on our last night and saw a 6’ long viper snake, huge tarantulas, bats, and a slow-moving sloth. After our night hike, we ate dinner at The Tree House, a multi-level restaurant that is popular with families since it is literally built around a huge ficus tree.
After years of hiking on local Northern California trails, we thought we had discovered all of the shades of green that nature has to offer, but on our trip to Costa Rica, we discovered a whole new palette of greens from banana leaves to poison dart frogs. It was such a wonderful family vacation, we are already planning a return trip!
Read details about our itinerary here…