Costa Rica – Most kids do not need much to keep them happy. I know the twins could spend all week in the swimming pool and they would call it a good vacation. But this is Costa Rica. This is Adventure Land. People come here to get their thrill on, and kids can too. Here are the best big adventures for little people:
Canopy Tours, including Hanging Bridges and Zip Lines. Here’s a chance for kids to see the forest from above and, if they’re up for it, soar through the trees like a bird. Not all zip lines can accommodate small children, but many do (Selvatura, Monteverde Theme Park, Arenal Paraíso Canopy Tour). Kids can zip across the cables while attached to a guide, so they don’t have to worry about slowing themselves down or getting stuck in the middle. The twins’ first zip-lining experience was in Belize, but we went twice in Costa Rica because they were such big fans.
Some people, no matter what age, will not want to fly at high speeds and high altitudes while suspended by a tenuous wire — go figure. In that case, hanging bridges are a better option for exploring the canopy at their own pace. Again, some facilities are better suited for small children: at Selvatura, the bridges were totally safe, with no chance of falling (read about our experience here); but at Mistico, there was a gap below the safety barrier — which was big enough to make some parents worry that their distracted son might slip through there.
River Rafting Kids can ride the real rapids as young as six or seven years old. But even smaller children can get out on the river and get a (smaller) charge when the raft cruises over Class I and II rapids. It really is a gentle ride. We have done it twice–once at age three and once at age five–and Twin S actually dozed off both times. Inquire at Aventuras del Sarapiquí (near La Virgen) or Rincón Corobicí (near Cañas).
Surfing Most surf schools will give lessons to kids as young as age five. You’ll be amazed at how quickly they can get up on their board! Some places such as Safari Surf in Nosara even have specialized kids’ camps. Or, do what we did and get them started on a boogie board. Good times!
Waterfalls My family took a poll and came to the conclusion that nobody enjoys a waterfall swim more than I do. But that means that I am always dragging my family off to find the falls–and Costa Rica has a lot of them. The trick, for children, is to find a waterfall that is safe to swim and does not require too strenuous of a hike. When the twins were two, we did the well-maintained waterfall trail behind the Arenal Observatory Lodge (read about it here). On this most recent trip, we did the nameless waterfall trail that’s located in Cerro Plano, near Monteverde, which was a great, kid-sized challenge. Near Bagaces, Llanos de Cortés is another easily accessible and spectacularly beautiful waterfall with a picture-perfect swimming hole.
Wildlife Cruises The best wildlife sightings usually occur at the side of the road or on the jungly grounds of your eco-lodge. Sometimes it pays to go looking for wildlife, but sometimes it doesn’t. The great thing about going in a boat is that it’s a little adventure in itself, even if you don’t see anything. But you will see something… birds, iguanas, monkeys, sloths and maybe even 22 caimans. Read about our experiences on the Río Sarapiquí and at Caño Negro Wildlife Reserve. The Tortuguero Canals are also an incredible place for this.
Volcanoes Would your child get excited about peering into the crater of a volcano? Who wouldn’t, right? You can do it at Poas Volcano (and this place is wheelchair accessible, which means it is stroller accessible!) Other places to see volcanic activity include the Pailas Sector at Rincón de la Vieja (read about our experiences here) or Las Hornillas near Miravalles Volcano.
Hot Springs The perfect follow-up to a volcano hike–or any adventure, really–is a trip to the hot springs. There’s some geothermal activity that everybody can get excited about. You’ll find soaking springs near Miravalles and Rincón de la Vieja, but the most elaborate thermal pools are around La Fortuna (such as this place where we went a few years ago). That’s right–no matter how many exciting new adventures your kids experience, their favorite activity might still be just a glorified swimming pool.