Costa Rica for Families

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Costa Rica for Families
A politically and economically stable country that's a short flight from most U.S. cities, Costa Rica is a family-friendly destination that's loaded with memorable activities.
By Julie Schwietert Collazo, AFAR Local Expert
Photo courtesy of the Costa Rican Tourism Board
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    Volunteer Vacation
    If you want your vacation to have rewards that resonate long after you're back home, consider a volunteer vacation. A number of international nonprofit organizations host family voluntourism trips in Costa Rica. Among them is Earthwatch, whose seven-to-nine-day, scientist-led tours combine volunteering for marine and mammal conservation projects with excursions to the country's top sights. Hands up Holidays has a similar focus and sponsors multi-day trips that match families with reforestation and animal protection efforts.
    Photo courtesy of the Costa Rican Tourism Board
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    Linguistic and Cultural Immersion
    Whether you want your kids to learn Spanish or just prefer the experience of living like the locals, an immersion program might be the best bet for your family vacation in Costa Rica. The country has offered linguistic and cultural immersion options to travelers for several decades. Many of these programs are based in the capital, San Jose, and packages include language lessons; excursions to culturally, historically, and environmentally significant sights including Arenal and Manuel Antonio; and home stays with Costa Rican families. The Forester Institute and CPI are two particularly reputable immersion programs with a family focus.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    All-Inclusive Resorts
    What parent doesn't fantasize about a worry-free getaway in a place where every traveler can find something to enjoy? If that's the kind of vacation you're looking for, Costa Rica has plenty of all-inclusive resorts that fit the bill, many of them located in the Guanacaste province. Among them are Hotel Riu and the Westin Playa Conchal; the latter offers a Family Club with a concierge specializing in parent- and kid-friendly recommendations, as well as a mini-bar designed exclusively for children. Barceló Langosta Beach in Tamarindo includes evening shows in its package deals, and the DoubleTree in Puntarenas throws in cocktail classes, water polo games, and unlimited use of non-motorized watercraft.
    Photo by K. Jorgensen/age fotostock
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    Excursions for Adventurous Families
    If your family is active and adventurous, the hardest part of your vacation will be narrowing down what you want to do. Hiking, cycling, whitewater rafting, surfing, spelunking, and canyoneering are just a small sampling of the family-friendly outdoor activities Costa Rica offers. You can explore independently, but dozens of tour operators offer vacation packages and à la carte excursions led by guides who will take you everywhere from the popular Arenal Volcano to less-visited, off-the-track spots like the wild Osa Peninsula. Activities can be adjusted based on the age and skill levels of each family member; just let your tour outfitter know your needs when you book your trip.
    Photo by Franck Guiziou/age fotostock
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    Animal Adventures
    Costa Rica's wildlife statistics are impressive: nearly 190 amphibian species, 260 different reptiles, 230 mammal species, and about 900 types of birds. Experts have said there are too many insect varieties to count; wasps alone represent 275 distinct species, though most visitors would much prefer to see some of the country's gorgeous butterflies. Bring your binoculars and field guide, and turn your vacation into one long game of “I Spy.” Take the kids to see nesting turtles and newborns as they make their way to the sea, or go whale- and dolphin-watching in Marino Ballena National Park. If you want to volunteer, visit the Costa Rica Wildlife Sanctuary where you can assist in the care of injured animals or help build new facilities.
    Photo courtesy of the Costa Rican Tourism Board
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    Cook Tico Cuisine
    Culinary-themed vacations are becoming increasingly popular in Costa Rica, and a number of operators, hotel chefs, and cultural immersion institutes offer half-day cooking classes and multi-day culinary adventures, many of which are great for families. Costa Rica Cooking with Chef Scott Alan offers English-language classes on such signature dishes as gallo pinto. Kids will be especially excited about cooking classes that involve chocolate. Members of the ACOMUITA Indigenous Women’s Project teach guests how chocolate is produced from cacao pods. After processing the beans, you'll whip up cookies, candies, and other sweet treats.
    Photo by Rosenfeld/age fotostock
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    Family-Friendly Surf Camps
    Many people come to Costa Rica to surf, and a number of surf camps cater to families. The Costa Rica Surf Institute in Tamarindo hosts a family surf camp that includes an option to add Spanish lessons during your visit. Peaks 'n Swells Surf Camp on the Nicoya Peninsula gets rave reviews from repeat visitors for its courses for kids aged five and up that tailor lessons specifically to the skills and attention spans of little ones. Child care is available if parents want some down time, and professional photos of you and your little surfers are included in most packages.
    Photo by Stuart Pearce/age fotostock