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Float down jungle canals watching howler monkeys swing through the trees above, search for tarantula in the darkening cloud forest and watch sea turtles laying eggs in the sands of the Pacific. Designed by families, for families, this self-drive Costa Rica family holiday is made to balance fun activities, spectacular landscapes and wildlife with time to relax.
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On arrival in San José you are met and taken to your comfortable hotel in the centre of the city. This is likely to be a short overnight since you leave early tomorrow but the hotel is well positioned and is a comfortable place to recover from your journey. Please note, international flights are quoted separately.
You are collected early this morning for the drive north east to the Caribbean. As you approach you’ll notice the scenery becoming more green and lush. There's an opportunity to visit a local school and wander around the village to get a feel for local life on the Caribbean side before the boat ride in to the wetlands of Tortuguero. Arrive in time to settle into your room and enjoy lunch at the lodge. You may also like to take a dip in the lovely pool to cool off after the journey.
Your lodge has an excellent staff of naturalist guides on hand. After breakfast you set off in your boat for a journey through the narrow river channels of the flooded forest. En route your guide will help you spot monkeys, sloth, river turtle, toucans, caiman and iguana. You may even be lucky enough to see the local family of river otters cavorting downstream.
Today is yours to relax and have the day together. You can choose to spend it around your lodge's lovely pool on the banks of the waterways. Another option is to visit the turtle research and conservation centre, where they give free talks about the different types of turtles, the history and current dangers and problems. There's always the opportunity to arrange another guided boat trip to see more wildlife from the water, or hop in kayaks and paddle for something a little different.
Travel out of Tortuguero by boat before picking up your 4x4 and driving up to your lodge in the lush forests of Sarapiqui. Although navigating by map isn’t hard, we include GPS in your rental as it makes life much easier. It's only around an hour to your comfortable lodge, set in its own private 1,200-acre reserve on the banks of the river near the Braulio Carillo National Park. Perhaps take a dip in the pool this afternoon and relax after your journey.
Today is dedicated to some active exploration of this natural playground. After breakfast, you have a safari float down the Sarapiqui River, along very gentle class I-II rapids. You'll have the chance to seek out the likes of toucans, sloths, monkeys and iguanas as you meander down the river. Later explore the wildlife rich trails, or perhaps sign up for a canopy tour. With nine cables connecting 17 platforms at between 20 and 30 metres up in the trees, this is a fantastic and fun way to see the rainforest.
Drive across and up into the Monteverde Cloudforest reserve to your comfortable lodge. En route you might like to visit the botanical gardens - a beautiful area to wander, filled with colourful plants and flowers from across the country. After settling in, head out for your first excursion this evening, a walk through Curi Cancha reserve where you go in search of spiders, snakes, frogs and insects in the still of the night.
Explore the delights of Monteverde from walks in the reserve to zip lines to the butterfly park and frog pond. Monteverde is one of the best-known destinations in Costa Rica and as such, you will find an almost limitless range of activities to entertain the family.
For the energetic, this is a great spot for both canopy and horseback trails through the cloudforest. Or see the cloudforest from a different perspective as you whizz through the air on a thrilling zipline adventure. Another great option is a visit to the frog pond - the array of frog species in Costa Rica is phenomenal. For a more cultural experience you could learn about food production in this fertile environment, notably coffee, chocolate and sugar.
Drive down to the sleepy beach town of Sámara on the Nicoya Peninsula. For the next four nights you stay in a lovely small hotel set in this wonderfully undeveloped stretch of the coast. You can hear the waves crashing on the beach below. The villas are grouped around the very welcoming pool, and each has its own private terrace and kitchen, allowing you the option of preparing your own lunches and dinners if you like.
There is great wildlife in the trees all around you when you stay in Costa Rica and howler monkeys are the alarm clock of choice. Go out in search of wildlife, perhaps to the estuary of the Nosara and Montana rivers.
There are almost endless activities you can enjoy in these parts. As well as swimming and snorkelling, the surfing is particularly good. For something a little different, you might like to try Stand Up Paddleboarding or SUP for short. Although it always looks serene and simple, we think it is harder than it looks!
From Sámara it's around an hour north to Ostional, one of the most crucial nesting areas for the Olive Ridley turtle. 30 minutes to the south, the Camaronal Wildlife Refuge may also be a good option. After breakfast you could board a boat to take you offshore for the chance to snorkel with the turtles. Tonight you might like to meet up with a guide who can take you out in the dark to show you more turtles as they emerge onto the shore to lay.
It's around a 4.5-hour drive back to the capital, but you have all day to do it, so can probably afford a final stroll on the beach or dip in the sea. Equally, there are various options to stop off and break the journey en route. For example, it's a short detour up to the Palo Verde National Park, a little-visited wetlands which is full of birdlife. Make your way back to the Central Valley later, where you again stay in the hills above the city.
Depending on your flight time, you may be able to enjoy a relaxed morning by the swimming pool and lunch at the hotel before the short transfer out to the airport this afternoon. Hopefully this sample itinerary has whetted your appetite for a family adventure in Costa Rica. If that's the case, then do please let us know so that we can send you more details or prepare something personalised.
Costa Rica is an adventure playground which packs in all sorts of fun activities within its small frame. On this trip there are opportunities for your family to enjoy activities as diverse as walking through national parks to zip lining through the treetops of the cloud forest to surfing Pacific breaks. As a tailor-made trip, the level of exertion on this trip is determined by you and is also dependent on your interests and the age of your children.
What we provide for you is local information based on our first hand experiences to help you create the perfect trip for your family. Sometimes it makes sense to include activities at the planning stage, other times you are better off waiting until you get to Costa Rica.
On the Pacific coast, there is no need to structure your time - there is beach, there is surf, there is snorkelling off the beach or from a boat with sea turtles, there is horse riding along the sand and there are nights spent watching sea turtles laying their eggs on the beach.
It is part of our job to get to know you and your family, what you like or don’t like doing and any particular interests or requests that you have. We then advise you what we think is the best way to approach your trip, working with you to tailor it to you. It’s possible that what you have seen here is ideal for you, but equally we can tinker with it to get it just right if not.
Departs any day to suit you, from December through August. For more detailed guidance, visit our when to visit Costa Rica section.
The price is per person based on four people sharing two rooms and includes:
First-class accommodation with breakfast and some lunches and dinners
Large 4x4 vehicle with GPS delivered to your hotel
Guided wildlife excursions in Tortuguero
Night walk, sky walk and safari float excursions
Transfers to and from San José airport with welcome briefing
Costa Rica Holiday Guide with personal recommendations
Costa Rica driving guide
Pura’s expertise, local contacts, support and advice throughout
International flights are quoted separately for this holiday. Best routings are into and out of San José (SJO).
Over the course of this trip you stay in a series of very comfortable lodges and small hotels. In Costa Rica particularly, we choose our accommodation very carefully indeed and that is particularly true of this trip which takes you to some of the better-known highlights of the country. It would be easy to travel these roads and stay in faceless places but that is anathema to us.
For more details, please get in touch to request a detailed PDF itinerary.
Costa Rica is a country of farmers, a friendly place which, combined with its huge biodiversity and variety of ecosystems, makes it a very natural magnet for tourism. But it’s easy to leave without any real sense of place or the way people live here. That is why we are so passionate about helping you stay in the right places and travel with as much good information as possible to help you to stop and meet people, see something of daily life. You’ll also have an insight into the meeting of economic reality and conservation, a tricky balance which Costa Ricans seem to manage so much better than most parts of the world.
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