More Family Travel Ideas in Costa Rica
By Lauryn Axelrod,
GoNOMAD SENIOR EDITOR
Headed to Costa Rica with the kids? Here are a few more exciting family travel ideas, we just returned from a trip in February, 2002.
If you aren’t renting a car, Costa Rica Expeditions has a van that will pick you up at the airport or your San Jose hotel and bring you directly to Monteverde for approximately $120. It’s a 4-5 hour drive bumpy drive up into the mountains, so bring snacks and games for the kids! costaricaexpeditions.com
Another transportation service that will pick you up and take you anywhere in the country is available through Monteverde Transport.They offer daily shuttles to and from Arenal, San Jose and other destinations, as well as private transfers in air-conditioned vans. Shuttles are about $35 per person and a private transfer mini bus is $130 for the whole day, anywhere! Great drivers, too, who will be happy to stop along the way to point out iguanas and other sights! monteverdeinfo.com
Where to Stay
Run by Costa Rica Expeditions, the lodge is a great family-friendly choice. With spacious rooms, a MAP rate, a lovely garden and trails (one that leads directly to the Ecological Farm, see below), and a gigantic hot tub for soaking sore muscles, you can’t go wrong. $90 night. MAP $40 per person.
Where to Eat
*Jungle Groove Café
By far the funkiest and most family-friendly dining is at the Jungle Groove Café. An unusual beach-bar atmosphere (complete with Christmas lights and an outdoor patio with fire pit), a tasty and diverse menu with kid selections, good prices, live local music (check out the bamboo piano!) and a collection of board games, will make both youngsters and parents happy. Across the street from the artisans co-op in Monteverde. Moderate.
*Pizzeria de Johnny
For pizza and pasta, the most popular place in town is the venerable Pizzeria de Johnny. Not far from the entrance to the Monteverde Preserve, the food is great, the prices are low and it’s a great place to keep the kids satisfied. Moderate. Kid-friendly Activities and Attractions Hiking the Monteverde Reserve is great for a day or two, but there are numerous other kid-friendly activities in the area.
*Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve
Run by the local high school, the Santa Elena Reserve is a private educational cloud forest park featuring 900 acres of old and new growth forest bordering the Monteverde Reserve. There are some easy hikes, interpretive trails, a snack bar, and terrific lookouts from which you can get a clear view of Arenal volcano and lake. More importantly, your $8 entrance fee supports environmental education for local children. Open daily. Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve
*Ecological Farm (Finca Ecologica)
If you do nothing else in Monteverde, take the kids to the Ecological Farm Night Safari. Armed only with flashlights, you will follow an experienced, English-speaking guide to hunt for nocturnal species like sloths, tarantulas, glow worms, leaf cutter ants, bats, and more. Sightings guaranteed! Great fun for the adults, too! Nightly at 5:30pm. $15 per person.
*Children’s Eternal Rainforest
Near the entrance to the Monteverde Preserve is a section of rainforest purchased and maintained by children from around the world. A nice trail (Bajo del Tigre) and your entrance contribution give your kids a sense of helping out.
*SkyTrek and Sky Walk
By far the most thrilling activity in the area, the SkyTrek is an intense aerial adventure where you and the kids get to swing through the trees like monkeys, suspended 400 feet off the ground! 11 zipline cables, one of which is 7 times the length of a football field, take you safely whizzing through the canopy. Parents will love it, too! For the more timid (or younger) family members, the SkyWalk is a series of suspension bridges that bring you close-up to plants and animals. SkyTrek $ 35 per person SkyWalk $15 per person. skywalk.co.cr
The best way to experience the diversity of the Monteverde area is on horseback. Sabine’s Smiling Horses in Santa Elena offers 3-hour, 4-hour, and all day trips through the surrounding campesino, to waterfalls, and even all the way to Arenal. Her horses are well cared-for and well trained and the guides know all the back roads and secret lookouts. $10/hour per person. horseback-riding-tour.com/horseback-tours.htm
For some more sedate (and rainy day) educational activities take the kids to the Jardin de Mariposa (butterfly garden), the Serpentarium, and the Ranario (Frog Pond), all located in and around Santa Elena.
A completely different, yet equally terrific family travel destination is Manuel Antonio National Park, with miles of beautiful beaches and rainforest to explore, and lots of monkeys to watch!
Several flights daily leave San Jose for Manuel Antonio on Sansa or Travelair. The flight takes under 30 minutes and tickets are $ 44 per person one way. The jungle airstrip in Manuel Antonio is a real throwback! Reservations and tickets may be made online. You can also hire a car in San Jose for the 4-hour drive or arrange a private transfer from Monteverde or Arenal through www.monteverdeinfo.com
Where to Stay
There are numerous lodging options in the area, ranging from inexpensive to pricey. The best bet for families is to choose one with a kitchenette for packing lunches, late night snacks, early breakfasts, and those nights when no one wants to go anywhere.
*Hotel Costa Verde
A family favorite, Costa Verde offers a variety of rooms (some with kitchenettes) at reasonable prices, a good restaurant, pools, trails, and, monkeys! Every night around dusk, hundreds of monkeys descend from the trees around the restaurant for dinner. While it’s not the most eco-sensitive practice (feeding the monkeys makes them dependent), it’s great fun for the kids. $70-150 per night. hotelcostaverde.com
A good value for families who want a bit of privacy, these spacious, and beautiful villas offer one and two bedroom options, kitchenettes, bedrooms, ocean and jungle view balconies with hammocks, a pool and restaurant. Intimate, but inexpensive. From $50-$180/night. villasnicolas.com
*Si Como No Resort
A sprawling, Disneyesque, eco-resort with landscaped grounds, two pools, three restaurants, a movie theatre (!), spa services, jacuzzis, and a wide range of room choices with fold-out sofas, kitchenettes or wet bars, this is a good choice for families. Kids will be enthralled with the waterslides and parents can enjoy the swim-up bar. From $160-$260/night. sicomono.com
Upscale and unbeatable accommodations with views and a private beach (one of the ery few in the area), the Tulemar Bungalows offer private, one bedroom octagonal bungalows perched on a jungled hill (monkeys and sloths, too!) with 180-degree views of the magnificent coast. The bungalows have AC, a kitchenette, a separate bedroom with two beds, a living room with two foldout sofas, and bathroom with huge sunken tubs. The restaurant beside the infinity pool is one of the best in the area, and the private beach has kayaks and boogie boards free for guests, along with beach chairs and a snack bar! In season, $250/night, off-season it’s a real bargain at half price! tulemar.com
Where to Eat
While most hotels have restaurants on site, there are also several other dining options in the area, again ranging from elegant and pricey to downright funky and cheap!
* El Gran Escape
A local and tourist favorite right on the harbor road in Quepos (the town at the bottom of the hill en route to Manuel Antonio), El Gran Escape serves huge portions of the freshest seafood and south-of-the-border dishes in the area. Fun open air atmosphere and kids’ menu choices, too! Moderate.
* El Avion
A bit of Central American history that the kids and adults will enjoy, El Avion is actually a C-130 transport plane from the Iran-Contra fiasco in Nicaragua now relocated to a Manuel Antonio hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean. You can’t beat it for atmosphere or price: an entire grilled Red Snapper is only $8 and there are burgers and sandwiches for the kids! Don’t miss! Inexpensive.
*Mar y Sombra
Right on the beach at the edge of Playa Espadilla, this is a good, inexpensive choice for a fun evening. The food is decent enough – seafood, chicken, etc. – and there is live music most nights. Kids can play in the sand and adults can dance. Inexpensive. Kid-friendly Attractions and Activities
*Manuel Antonio National Park
The highlight of the area, the park has several unspoiled beaches to swim in and miles of trails to explore. Look out for the endangered Mono Titi (Squirrel Monkeys), that swing from the trees. Sloths are big here, too. You can hire a guide at the entrance or pay the $10 entrance fee and go it alone. Beaches have showers, snack bars and bathrooms.
Just outside the entrance to the park is the main public beach, Playa Espadilla. Just as beautiful as the ones inside the park, but more crowded (because it’s free), it’s a half-moon sweep of off-white sand, blue-green waves and sunshine. There are numerous snack stands, restaurants, rentals and facilities across the road.
The Rainmaker Canopy Tour, located about 20 minutes from Quepos, is a half-day expedition, beginning with breakfast, followed by a guided trek across 8 suspension bridges through the rainforest canopy, and concluding with lunch and a swim in the cool crystal ponds. The whole operation is an effort to educate visitors and preserve the rainforest. $65 per person includes transport. Any hotel can arrange it.
On the rise between Quepos and Manuel Antonio, the Jardin Gaia is a rescue and rehabilitation center for injured exotic birds and other local wildlife. Great for teaching kids about endangered species of the area. Open daily with guided tours.
*Children’s Rainforest Art Exhibit
In the event of a rainy day, you can take the kids to El Mono Azul Hotel to see the exhibition of rainforest art created by local children. The donation fee supports protection of the rainforest and especially the Mono Titi monkeys.