My siblings and I are considering a family vacation to Costa Rica during spring break next April. There may be 8 to 12 children, ranging in age from 6 to 18, and we’d probably go for 7 to 8 nights.
There seems to be so much to do in Costa Rica. Do you have any suggestions that won’t break the bank for this animal- and nature-loving group?
Costa Rica is a popular destination for families, packed as it is with outdoor adventures that work for a variety of ages. Sadly, I haven’t made it there with my own kids yet. So, to get an answer for you, I turned to Natalie Ewing of Costa Rica Expeditions, who has plenty of advice for large family groups. In fact, she offers this first and foremost:
“The best advice I can give this family without talking to them is to go to fewer places and spend more time in each place. Travel within Costa Rica is expensive—unless you take public transportation, which most Americans find too challenging. Furthermore, packing up and moving is a hassle. Twelve kids and, say, 6 to 8 adults: That’s 18 to 20 chances to leave something important in the last place you stayed. Also, the longer you stay in one place, the more you can get to know the locals.”
Natalie also recommends Tortuguero National Park. “This is the best place I know of for a family with nature-loving kids of a variety of ages. The main reason is that you boat rather than hike through the forest. This means that everyone can go in the same boat at the same pace. We also have kayaks and canoes, so you can team up an older kid or a parent with a younger kid.”
Here are the activities Natalie recommends most for large family groups:
Costa Rica is a narrow country just 10 degrees north of the equator, with a spine of mountains down the middle. This makes for world-class rivers for all ages and levels of difficulty, with dramatic tropical scenery and warm water. Rafting in general is a wonderful activity for kids. You learn teamwork, and how to overcome obstacles and challenges, yet there is very little danger. Costa Rica’s ideal conditions make it even better.
Looking for monkeys in the rainforest
Monkeys are hard enough to find in the forest that everyone will be excited when you see your first ones. There are four species of monkeys in Costa Rica: howler, spider, squirrel, and white-faced capuchin. Visitors who want to see monkeys and are willing to keep looking almost always see at least one species, though few visitors see all four. No matter how many species you see, learn about them all. What are the differences in their personalities, their families, their diets?
Advances in surfboard design have made learning to surf much easier and safer than it used to be. Costa Rica has ideal waves for learning and good instructors all along the Pacific Coast. My favorite surf spots for kids are Nosara and Playa Grande. Another reason that Costa Rica is a great place to learn to surf is, as with rafting, warm water. There is something about friendly water that makes learning swift water sports a lot more pleasant.
Watching turtles nesting on the beaches of Tortuguero National Park
Visitors can actually stand a few feet from a 300-pound Green Sea Turtle while she lays 80 to 100 eggs, covers up her nest, perhaps digs a false nest to throw off predators, and, finally, after more than an hour, returns to the sea. No one ever forgets the experience. The season is June through October. During the peak months of July and August you have about an 85% chance of observing such nesting.
Helping local kids learn English
For children on vacation, nothing is as potentially valuable for them as consciously contributing to the places they visit. We have a program at Tortuga Lodge called the Word Adventure, in which guests help local kids learn English.
Almost without fail, parents who are planning a family vacation want to include a zip line in their itinerary. There are a few things to keep in mind:
Full disclosure: Natalie’s company owns a lodge in Tortuguero National Park, which they built after coming to the conclusion that this was an ideal destination in Costa Rica. But there are other options, if that’s where you choose to make your vacation base.
Have a travel question for Wendy? Send it to her here.