Costa Rica is an ideal destination for families with school-age children. Even if you only have a week in Costa Rica, that’s enough time to cover several textbooks’ worth of information about the delicate ecosystems of rainforests and volcanoes.
You can choose more than one travel route through Costa Rica. There are lots of natural attractions and a huge variety of activities at each destination. Have your children help you choose, based on their current interests.
Costa Rica’s rainforests present an awesome opportunity to foster your children’s interest in the natural world. Visit the rainforest with your kids for an educational hike, and a chance to see the unusual species that call the rainforest home.
Costa Rica is a mecca for serious bird watchers. Looking for birds can turn into a rainforest scavenger hunt. As they hike through the rainforest, your kids can compete to see who can spot them most colorful, tropical birds.
Monkeys are always a hit with younger travelers, and you’ll see and hear plenty during your explorations. Howler monkeys, spider monkeys, and capuchins abound in Costa Rica’s national parks. There’s also a lot to see in the jungle after sunset. You can arrange for a night tour of the rainforest, so your kids can look for nocturnal animals with a flashlight.
Look for hikes in Costa Rica’s rainforest that will take you over suspension bridges—these bridges are one of the best ways to survey the jungle. To see even more of the jungle from above, find a tour that takes a zip-line through the forest canopy. This is a thrilling ride, and much more memorable than any roller coaster.
Most kids’ experience with a volcano consists of the paper-mache model they made in science class. Costa Rica has both active and inactive volcanoes. Arenal is one of the most prominent inactive volcanoes, set in the midst of the lush Monteverde region. Poás and Irazú are both active volcanoes that you can visit. They are carefully monitored, so you can safely hike to the top.
The Poás Volcano and Irazú Volcano are unique in that they have easily accessible craters. It’s advisable to arrive at the craters earlier in the day, before the surrounding humid jungle produces enough mist to obscure the crater. Volcanoes in Costa Rica are sometimes the sites an unusual environment called a cloud forest. Cloud forests are rare, and the national parks that surround the volcanoes were established in part to preserve these delicate environments. Because of the high humidity in these forests, you’ll see an unusual variety of plants. Moss grows thick in cloud forests, and you should keep an eye out for the delicate orchids that bloom along the path.
Cloud forests and coffee plants thrive in the same type of environment. While you’re near any of these volcanoes, you’ll also have the opportunity to visit a coffee plantation. Take a tour to learn more about coffee is grown, harvested and roasted.
After a long day of hiking around the volcanoes, take a break at one of Costa Rica’s hot springs. These heated pools are made by the same underground activity as the nearby volcanoes. As you soak in the minerals, try to decide what your favorite part of the day was. You’ll have quite a few memories to choose from.
Go snorkeling while you’re in Costa Rica, and put your kid’s swimming lessons to good use. Costa Rica’s most enthralling habitats lie just off the coast, beneath the surface of the clear, blue waves.
Take a whale-watching tour for a chance to see humpback and pilot whales. Whales come to the warm waters of Costa Rica to have their young, so your kids may even get to spot a baby whale. In the beach town of Uvita, you can visit the Marino Ballena National Park. There’s a good chance you’ll see dolphins here as well.
If you’ve ever thought about snorkel lessons, Costa Rica has a colorful and varied underwater environment. On a scuba trip, you can expect to see turtles, eels, barracudas, puffers, and manta rays.
If you have a child with equestrian aspirations, take them on a tour of Costa Rica that allows them to explore what it’s like to ride a horse in a new environment.
In some parts of Costa Rica, the terrain is too rugged for most vehicles. To see as much as possible during your visit, consider taking a tour by horse. Horseback riding in Costa Rican countryside, you can get unparalleled views of the Arenal Volcano in Monteverde, or trek through the Sarapiquí region to see its misty rainforest up close.
Language Learning Opportunities
Are your children learning Spanish in school? Immersion is the best way to give them a leg up on their studies. Older children (and grown-ups) can sign up for Spanish classes. Costa Ricans are friendly to people trying to practice the native language. Don’t be shy! Encourage your children to buy souvenirs and order meals using their Spanish vocabulary.
Molly Kendrick is a part-time traveler and freelance writer for Anywhere Travel. Anywhere