Today’s guest is Jamie Pearson, a freelance writer and mother of Avery (10) and Max (7) who blogs about family travel at Travel Savvy Mom. Since our Passports with Purpose prize is 5 free nights in Costa Rica and Jamie vacationed there last year, I invited her to share tips and photos from her trip.
Costa Rica has a lot going for it as a family vacation destination. This tiny Central American country between Nicaragua and Panama is different enough to feel exotic, but safe enough that you won’t worry about bringing your kids there. Since it’s due south of Florida, you won’t have to worry too much about jetlag either.
My husband and I took our kids to Costa Rica for a whirlwind week last March. It was a great trip, but we didn’t relax much. If you go, try to take at least 10 days (two weeks would be ideal). Since we didn’t have a lot time, we hired a private driver guide through Global Family Adventures.
Even though Costa Rica is teeming with animals, they are remarkably good at hiding. Without our guide (who was a passionate conservationist and an expert birder with a high-tech spotting scope), we could have walked around in the rainforest all day without seeing a thing. With him, we saw sloths, coatis, monkeys, toucans, caimans, lizards, turtles, and poison dart frogs. We even saw a venomous hognosed pit viper just inches from the trail we were walking on, though that’s another story.
If you go to Costa Rica, you’ll want to include at least one volcano, one jungle, and one beach in your itinerary. Here are the ones we chose:
Poás Volcano National Park
Arenal may be Costa Rica’s most famous volcano, but Poás is its most accessible. Just an hour north of San Jose on good roads, Poás is especially good for families because you can walk right up to the crater on a paved path and look in. Try to arrive as early as possible. The later you go, the greater the likelihood that the fog will roll in.
The volcano has erupted 40 times since the early 1800s, but authorities monitor its activity and close the park if anything seems out of the ordinary. The basin, which is a mile in diameter and 1,000 feet deep, is thought to be the largest active volcano in the world.
Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí
We based ourselves in the northern lowland countryside near the town of Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí for almost half of our trip. From here we took a day trip to La Fortuna where we hiked to a waterfall and swam below it, soaked in Baldi Hot Springs, and stayed up late hoping to see the lava flowing down Arenal (we got skunked, the volcano is only fog-free about 10% of the time).
We also went horseback riding on a cattle ranch and walked over the Sarapiqui River on suspension bridges in the Tirimbina Rainforest Center. We saw a lot of animals here, and probably could have seen a lot more if we could have scraped ourselves out of bed a little earlier in the morning. It was a deal we weren’t prepared to make.
Cahuita National Park
We drove south past miles of banana plantations to end our trip with a few days on the beach on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. After digging our toes in the sand and swimming in the sea a little, we set off to explore Cahuita National Park. We saw howler monkeys, emerald basilisk lizards (nicknamed Jesus Christ lizards because they run across the surface of the water to escape predators), and a three-toed tree sloth.
This part of the country was the most rustic (some towns only got electricity ten years ago), and also the warmest and the wettest. We probably would have been eaten alive by the mosquitoes at dusk if we hadn’t bathed in DEET, but we considered it a small price to pay for paradise.
We would have really liked to see the wild and beautiful Osa Peninsula, the Monteverde cloud forests, and the turtles that nest at Tortuguero, but there simply wasn’t time on this trip. There’s always next time, I guess.
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Costa Rica family vacation (hotels recommended by Travel Savvy Mom)
Costa Rica family vacation (hotels recommended by Ciao Bambino)