How to Experience Costa Rica Like a Local
Costa Rica with kids By Mimi Slawoff
Costa Rican countryside from Restaurant Boca del Cielo (Flickr: Armando Maynez)
If you really want to get to know a country and learn about its history, culture and offbeat spots, mingle with locals and ask them where they like to eat and spend free time with their families. Costa Ricans (also known as Ticos or Ticas) may direct you to secluded restaurants, like Bocadito Del Cielo in Cartago, Cervantes (the yummy cheese tortillas are a meal in themselves), and best family-friendly urban parks in the capital city of San Jose. Experience Costa Rica like a true Tico/Tica with these kid-friendly activities.
What better way to feel the mist in a cloud forest or hear howler monkeys in a rainforest than on a family hike? Locals like to hit the trails in the early morning, fortified with a backpack filled with fruit, snacks and drinking water as they trek through Costa Rica’s lush rainforests. Family-friendly Arenal Volcano National Park, home to two volcanoes (the active Arenal and the dormant Cerro Chato), has some of the best hiking trails in the country. After a steamy climb up and down a volcano, cool off at La Fortuna Waterfall.
Chill Out in Hot Springs
Chollín Hot Springs (Courtesy Chollín Hot Springs)
After a hard day of playing, nothing feels better than relaxing in Arenal’s natural hot springs. Several family-friendly resorts offer warm pools of varying temperatures naturally heated by the Arenal Volcano. For luxury, try the Tabacon Grand Spa Thermal Resort. The laid-back Arenal Paraiso Resort and Spa has 14 warm hillside pools vary in warm temperatures. Don’t spread the word, but locals know where to go for a free dip in thermal springs just outside of La Fortuna. Ask a taxi driver to bring you to Río Chollín.
Bustling San Jose
While Costa Rica’s natural outdoor treasures are the main attraction for both locals and visitors, the capital city of San Jose offers an opportunity to experience the daily urban Costa Rican life. Sample casados (rice, beans, salad, cheese, plantains, tortillas and meat), gallo pinto (rice with beans) and agua dulce (water with national sugar candy) at Central Market (best known as Mercado Central). Bring the kids to kid-friendly Parque La Sabana, a large park with a man-made lake, trees and walkways. It’s where locals meet up with friends and school bands practice. There’s also an art museum and sports stadium.
Children’s Eternal Rainforest Reserve
From the time Ticos and Ticas are tots, they learn about Costa Rica’s environmental conservation projects; and you can too on day and night tours. Composed of volcanic soil and primary forest, the reserve is home to diverse wildlife. You’ll also see fumaroles, a type of vent that forms near cracks in the earth, as a result of volcanic gasses. On Twilight Tours just before sunset, you’ll observe species preparing for nightfall and the activity of nocturnal species.
Visit the Countryside
Chayote Lodge (Courtesy Chayote Lodge)
Take a drive to the country and meet locals who tend coffee fields. Growing up, Rolando Campos helped pick coffee beans in his small rural village surrounded by coffee fields and a cloud forest. Today, he runs the family-friendly Chayote Lodge (about 25 miles northwest of the SJO Airport) where guests can pick coffee beans and share a traditional Costa Rican meal with local families.
Navigating Costa Rica’s Rivers
Your river guide may have a degree in marketing but his passion is rafting Costa Rica’s rivers. Your family is in good hands with expert Tico guides who show you how to navigate through class III and IV rapids on the Pacuare and Cucaracho River rivers.
Soar Over Trees
Zip lining and walking on hanging bridges may be top tourist attractions in Costa Rica but they never get old with Costa Rican families. Among the many zip lines offered is the Blue River Zip Line through the rainforest canopy of the Rincon de la Vieja Volcano National Park. For a closer look at a misty rainforest, stroll along hanging bridges in the Monteverde Cloud Forest.
Weekend Beach Outings
Playa Naranjo, Witches' Rock (Vieja) in Guanacaste, Costa Rica (Flickr: Jaan)
Costa Rica’s Pacific and Caribbean beaches aren’t tourist traps. A visit to a local playa is a favorite weekend activity for Costa Rican families. After picking up picnic supplies from a farmers market, chill out at a beach. Some of the most beautiful beaches are in the Guanacaste region, where expansive white sand beaches back up to tropical forests.
Mimi Slawoff of Planetfamilytravel contributed this to MiniTime. She is a Los Angeles-based journalist and a seasoned family travel expert who explores the world with her three children and writes about their journeys.