Costa Rica Adventure With Small Kids
Read about Costa Rica with teens, too.
Until now, family travel for us has been relaxing and relatively non-adventurous. But as our kids age out of the toddler stage (4 and 6 years), I wanted to shake things up this year. So we headed to Costa Rica.
We chose the northern part of Costa Rica for its jungles, biodiversity, and volcanos. We were pulling the kids from school for a week and even at their young ages I wanted to be sure they would get more out of the trip than just a week by the pool.
It’s not hard to sneak enrichment and education into a visit to Costa Rica; there is so much opportunity and most of it is pretty fun. Her are five types of experiences we focused on.
1. Hands-on Science:
We didn’t have to work hard in Costa Rica to find opportunities to learn first-hand about animals, birds and insects that the kids have read about in books. We saw capuchin monkeys, black-spined lizards, emus, puffer fish and a large variety of birds. We visited two real volcanoes, Rincon de la Vieja and Santa Monica, and swam in a thermal hot spring heated by one of them; talk about hands-on learning!
Tip: We prepared our kids by pouring over their subscription to National Geographic Kids for creatures we might see. The magazine also has oodles of information online.
2. Human Connections:
We made a point of visiting the small towns and villages and finding children their age live to show them another way of life. We hope that connecting with kids from other cultures will help them to be open-minded and more empathetic to differences among their friends back home.
Tip: We use Duolingo to teach the kids some Spanish basics before our trip. Being able to converse with kids in another language–even a little– was exciting and broadening.
3. Culture Through Food:
Our children were fairly game about trying the new foods we encountered, including plantain, passion fruit, guava, tropical fruit smoothies, yucca chips, and of course rice and beans. Their favourite was pipa fria – cold coconut water available at roadside stands The seller made a hole in the coconut, stuck a straw inside and had an instant cold drink! Impressive!
Tip: Our family rule was that you had to try something new every day. You didn’t have to like it, but you had to try and it and talk about it.
One of the biggest takeaways we wanted them to gain from a visit to Costa Rica was that the planet does not belong to us and we need to leave a soft footprint.
We talked a lot about caring for countries we visit so they can retain their natural resources for themselves, the local wildlife and other visitors. The kids learned that the ability to enjoy unspoiled natural beauty depends on both local people and visitors being respectful and responsible.
5. Pushing boundaries:
Part of being a good traveler is understanding that travel takes you out of your comfort zone, and learning to be okay with that. Our 6YO daughter summoned up the courage to zip line over a 900-foot canyon. We swam in a pool of fish to reach and climb under Llano de Cortez waterfall. And the kids learned to snorkel in the pool so we could join a sunset snorkel trip along the pacific coast. We hope that remembering how brave they were will pay dividends down the line.
Some Costa Rica Basics:
While we were making an effort at providing lots of enrichment and cultural experience, this was a vacation, after all.
Our resort: *Dreams Las Mareas offered low-key luxury with plenty of surrounding natural beauty, a family friendly vibe and thoughtful comforts to spoil the grown-ups. The trip from the airport was 90 minutes on a bumpy bumpy road, but worth it. The food was outstanding and 75% of the staff was local, giving it a real community vibe. Our room was stunning, with a swim-out pool and a large balcony.
Finding balance: Our kids tried a hotel kids club for the first time at Dreams. The “Explorers Club” was open from 9:00 a.m. to 9:45 p.m. and had kids from around the world. Activities included nature hikes, a natural waterslide, water polo in the kids pool and sandcastle competitions. We had a pager in case the kids needed us (or if the staff wanted to report that our son was being a “little rascal” and not listening). Our kids never wanted to leave, which we didn’t anticipate. The grandparents and aunties traveling with us wanted to actually see them, and we had our plans as a family. So they spent a few hours a day with us and a few hours at the club while we relaxed by the pool with a cocktail or enjoyed a quiet dinner in the adults-only restaurant.
When they got back to school they had a lot to tell their classmates.
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Heather Lawless is a Toronto-based food and travel writer. She’s the author of The Lawless Vegan and the upcoming cookbook, Chickpea Revolution. Follow Heather on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook @thelawlessvegan.
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