Costa Rica: Monteverde, Lake Arenal, Tamarindo
Fly in/out: Liberia Costa Rica (LIR)
Recommended ages: 8 and up
Ball Park Price: $3,000/person for up to five travelers (airfare not included)
Currency: Colones but US dollar widely accepted.
Time Zone: EST
A highly recommended tour operator, Desafio Costa Rica helped plan this trip and arranged transportation as a “One Stop Shop for Adventure Travel.” The resort locations were selected and booked by the family.
DAY ONE: Fly from Chicago O’Hare to Liberia Airport (LIR) in Costa Rica. Take private transport from Liberia to Monteverde with a travel time approximately 3 hours on some very rough roads. Check in at Hotel Belmar, a wonderful boutique hotel and enjoy dinner at the restaurant.
DAY TWO: In the morning, take a Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve Guided Walk and visit the free Hummingbird Garden. Hike takes about 4 hours and is great for all family members young and old. Arranged through Desafio and includes a very knowledgeable and bilingual guide. In the afternoon, enjoy the “Selvatura Combo” – canopy zip lines and self-guided hanging bridges. AMAZING zip lines, some almost ½ km in length.
DAY THREE: Depart for La Fortuna with a “Jeep-Boat-Jeep” and this is exactly what it sounds like. Bumpy roads for about 1 hour in a bus, then dropped off with luggage on a beach. Take a one hour boat ride across Lake Arenal in a small ferry boat. Then, drag luggage up the hill on the other side to a paved highway – about 20 min ride into La Fortuna. Surreal experience but we got where we needed to go! In the late afternoon, take the Arenal Volcano Rainforest Natural History Walk – arranged by Desafio. Takes about 2 hours, has very pretty views of the volcano and a nice hike through the forest. Check in at Nayara Hotel Spa and Gardens, a spectacular boutique hotel.
DAY FOUR: Take an all day Rio Balsa Class 2-3 White Water Rafting trip. Takes all day including transport to the river, rafting, stop ½ way down the river for fresh fruit and swimming, more rafting, and lunch at a historic farmhouse.
DAY FIVE: Take a trip to hot springs, Eco Termales. Fun for relaxation in hot pools. In the afternoon, go horseback riding to La Fortuna waterfall arranged through the Nayara Hotel.
DAY SIX: Travel four hours from La Fortuna to Tamarindo by Desafio. First two hours on rough, windy roads. Second two hours on paved highways. Check into Hotel Cala Luna and relax on beach and by pool
DAY SEVEN: Take a ½ day snorkel trip on private boat arranged through hotel. Great snorkeling trip with lots of marine life within 30-45 minutes just outside of Tamarindo.
DAY EIGHT: In the morning, for the scuba divers in the family, take ½ day scuba diving tour booked through the hotel while the others relaxed and read at the hotel pool. In the afternoon, take a ½ day surfing lesson on Tamarindo beach through the Iguana Surf Shop. You can just rent surf or boogie boards at their shop or you can get surf lessons.
DAY NINE: Take transport back to Liberia Airport and head home.
- We thoroughly enjoyed this trip and definitely caught the “adventure bug” in Costa Rica. With three different stops, we felt we got to see some of the most remarkable places in Costa Rica and experience everything we could in 9 days.
- The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is located in Punta Arenas, Costa Rica and is a protected reserve established in 1972. It offers an enriching experience for kids to learn about cloud forests, flora, bird species and wildlife. The area is beautifully preserved to enjoy with a family for great hikes and walks over hanging bridges. Hiking with a naturalist guide gave us a chance to appreciate this area and the efforts to preserve it.
- Another popular family tourist spot for adventures is the area surrounding and including the Arenal Volcano National Park in La Fortuna, Costa Rica. Like the Monteverde area, there are a tremendous amount of active excursions to choose from. Unique to this area is the opportunity to experience white water rafting. A major benefit is you can choose from different rapid classes depending on the age and skill level of the kids. The Arenal Volcano was not active when we were there but the area offers an enriching experience for kids to learn about volcanoes, hot springs and waterfalls in a biodiverse environment.
- Our last stop was the town of Tamarindo, located on the Nicoya Peninsula in the Province of Guanacaste. This area boasts Pacific ocean views, water activities and beautiful weather with breezes off the Pacific Coast. Although there are many resorts along this coast now, Tamarindo isn’t necessarily considered a beach town because not too many of the beaches are swimmable. However, it offers beautiful boating, snorkeling, surfing and scuba diving options for the watersport families. We took advantage of all of these as a way to soak up the sun on the last portion of our spring break.
- The Selvatura Combo with hanging bridges and canopy zipline tour above the Monteverde cloud forest should not be missed in the Monteverde cloud forest area. This fabulous tour includes a guided walk along the suspended hanging bridges and then an exhilarating canopy zipline tour comprised of 12 cables and platforms within the tree-top canopy of the Monteverde cloud forest. The bilingual guides took care of the young and old.
- For a lot of fun, try the Rio Balsa Class 2-3 White Water Rafting trip. This is a fun way to get wet and enjoy the rays with the whole family. Don’t forget the sunblock! It’s recommended 10 and up and our fourth grader loved it.
Places to stay
- Hotel Belmar is a wonderful boutique hotel with beautiful rooms, lovely staff, and a terrific restaurant. You really feel like you are staying in the cloud forest at Hotel Belmar! Take comfort in knowing that this hotel has an unprecedented commitment to the environment and local community for over 30 years.
- Nayara Hotel Spa and Gardens, a spectacular boutique hotel – perhaps the best hotel luxury boutique hotel ever. Deservedly awarded as one of the best luxury hotel in the world. The rooms were spacious, the furnishings were beautiful, and the surroundings and pool were wonderful.
- The Cala Luna in Tamarindo offered 2-3 bedroom villas. Definitely reserve one of the small bungalows with its own pool. Nice restaurant but beach was not great.
- Costa Rica’s restaurant business hasn’t entirely caught up with the rest of the tourism industry. We chose our hotels based on dining choices available. They all had complimentary breakfast buffets and 5 star fine dining particularly at Nayara Hotel and Garden’s restaurant, the Altamira.
- For a good overview of Costa Rican cuisine, read Frommers which pretty much echoes the theme that the best dining is often at your resort.
- Educate your kids on the concept of 4-wheeling. Be prepared for bumpy, curvy, and unpaved roads in some areas with neck pillows, back pillows, and dramamine for the car sick prone family members.
- Review all your options for adventurous activities with your kids in advance. Desafio has many posted online plus some unique trips are offered through the resorts. We strategized on what we wanted to do where so all kids had an opportunity to try something on their list.
- We were very happy with having a driver for our major transport days in Costa Rica. Besides the curvy bumpy roads, you can tell it’s very easy to get lost in the middle of nowhere. It was a reasonably priced option to also let the driver in the family to enjoy the views as well.
- Include in your budget a 10% tip in cash for all the fabulous guides in Costa Rica.
Before You Go
US citizens do not need a visa to enter Costa Rica but everyone requires a valid passport-don’t forget kids expire every 5 years!
You definitely will need a great hiking/water shoe like a pair of Keens for the whole family.