Recommendations for a Costa Rica vacation

I want to take my two daughters to Costa Rica in late August for week probably with one other family member but possibly more. My daughters will be 11 and 7 then and I will be doing almost all the care so I need to keep the trip workable with kids. Cost isn’t an object however.

I was thinking of doing split time at the Four Seasons Resort at Peninsula Papagayo on the Paciifc coast as well as a few days at Tabacon Grand Spa Thermal Resort at the base of the active Arenal volcano. I have been to the latter and loved it but I an open to other ideas.

I would appreciate any other recommendations for hotels or resorts in the same class if you have better ones or something really unique. Costa Rica is a small country so suggestions for memorable day trips for other activities are also appreciated.

I stayed at the Arenal Observatory Lodge. Nothing fancy, other than being at the base of Arenal. But if the weather is right, you can have a fantastic view. I stopped at Baldi Hot Springs, but it was a little too commercial for my tastes.

I went on a tour that took us repelling down waterfalls…pretty awesome. And a tour of some hanging bridges, with amazing…simply amazing…nature.

I also went to two other areas…the Manuel Antonio area, where we did a tour of Manuel Antonio National Park, and finally went to an amazingly beautiful, kind of fancy resort called Xandari.

This was for a friend’s wedding…they put together a web site with information about most of this. I can PM you the link if you’d like to take a look at it, and see if there’s anything useful for you.

Thanks Digital is the new Analog! I would appreciate that and you can send it to me at your leisure. I am still in the early stages of planning this. The idea is have some type of a trip of a lifetime. The family members that are paying for it are still convinced Costa Rica is an island probably overseas somewhere. It was my idea to go to the jewel of Central America because I have been there before but I need to convince them I can come up with a good itinerary for people of many different ages from the very old to the pretty young.

I would suggest a canopy tour through the rainforest in Monteverde, unless the kids are afraid of heights. I’m going there on my honeymoon in February. Monteverde is a must-see. Just make sure you go during the dry season.

Four Seasons Resort at Peninsula Papagayo on the Paciifc coast as well as a few days at Tabacon Grand Spa Thermal Resort at the base of the active Arenal volcano.
Arenal Observatory Lodge.

  • this is what they call ‘ziplining’.

I did all of these on a 10-day trip, and it was phenomenal. No real reason to see the capital either. I suggest 3 days apiece in Papagayo & Tabacon, 1 day of ziplining, 1 day hiking and viewing the lava @ Arenal, and maybe explore the countryside with the remaining days.

Manuel Antonio is a small national park that would be great for kids. Beautiful area with some nice hotels and great beaches.

We went to Monteverde in August, which is part of the rainy season. We missed our night tour due to rain, which was a bummer, but the zip-lining and hiking were fine. About the zip-lining - our experience was that the kids were partnered with one of the staff members. They were irritated about that, but once they got over it, they had fun. So, OP, maybe give the kids a heads up about that before you go.

I second Manual Antonio. The park is very pretty and filled with monkeys.

I went to Costa Rica on my honeymoon years ago. Fabulous place! I heartily second your choice of Tabacon. The hot springs are great during the day and even lovelier at night.

We started in the capital then worked our way to several parks including Manual Antonio and Monteverde. If you go to Monteverde try a night tour to see stuff you won’t see during the day. Also bring a good pair of binoculars so you can get a close up look at the hummingbirds everywhere.

Your kids will love the place if they love nature.

The Tabacon hotsprings are amazing, good choice. The roads are pretty terrible, so I’d skip the cloud forest and do some hiking around Arenal instead. Go for a walk through the boulders at the base of the volcano, do the nearby Hanging Bridges hike, and swim in the waterfall at La Fortuna.

I’d suggest using a tour guide for hikes through the rainforest areas. I had one for a hike near Arenal, and he was worth every penny and much more. Without him, I would have seen trees and bushes. With him, I saw monkeys, poison dart frogs, some sort of poisonous snake, and numerous other critters and interesting plants.

The thing that most impressed me was his finding of the poison dart frogs. We were walking along, and he heard something, and put up his hand to stop us. Then he leaned a little into the brush just off of the trail, still listening. And a little below us, about two feet off of the trail were two of the frogs. No way in hell I ever find them.

I believe that the Arenal volcano ceased erupting within the last year or two. There’s still much to do in the area, but without the chance to see an active volcano it wouldn’t be as high on my list as it was when I went a few years ago.

And I second the tour guide comment. I wouldn’t have seen half the things I did on hikes without a guide.

One more plug for surf camp - Safari Surf School in Nosara. Stay at the Harmony Hotel, it’s directly across the street from the school (and its more basic-level hotel and very decent restaurant/bar). You could also rent a house (local listings are posted at the website “Surfing Nosara”).

In addition to surf instruction for all levels, Nosara also has the Yoga Institute, and a couple places to get a massage, and a nice French bakery and a lady that sells gelato and vegan food. The longest Zipline in Costa Rica is nearby. You can book nature tours, or fishing excursions, or watch the turtles hatch at nearby Ostinal beach. But it’s still very much a small town.

You can drive there but its better to puddlejump on Nature Air or Sansa and rent a 4x4 or a couple ATVs in town.

PM sent with my friend’s web site…

And yeah…like someone else said up there. Zip Lining through nature. Pretty awesome.

Anybody know if there’s anything interesting to see on Isla Nublar?

This may not be your cup of tea at all (frankly it normally isn’t mine) but you could consider a tour company. We went on a tour of Costa Rica with a group of 10 ranging from mid 70’s to 7. I don’t think I touched my wallet other than buying some beers at a bar the entire time I was there. Everything was planned out, we spent a few days at several different spots, and the highlight was the end where we spent a couple of nights at a wonderful place in the jungle and then went and watched the sea turtles laying their eggs (not something you can do on your own… and August is the season). Another good part was that we had professors with us who specialized in the local area, so when we went into the jungle we had a guy who knew the local flora and fauna inside out… on the beach with the turtles, a marine biologist, etc.

The group we used was Tauck Bridges who specializes in family tours. It isn’t cheap… about $2.5k per person (you said money is no object), but like I said you see a lot you may not otherwise and literally everything is taken care of. Quick Google search shows they are still doing this trip, just slightly differently then when we went.

I’m personally more of a plant myself somewhere and relax, but for seeing a good cross sample of a country in only 8 days this worked out well, and there was enough variety that my kids could swim in the river yet my elderly parents could still get around everything well.

Actually, you can do it on your own, because we did. We did go with a group just up the beach at Tortuguero, but I went with my parents, who are allergic to tours, so they just worked out everything on the day, and organised all the travelling themselves.

Unfortunately, I was rather unwell that day to say the least, so I didn’t exactly enjoy it; I was assured everyone else had a nice evening while I was back at the hotel feeling like death warmed up though. I do remember seeing some great wildlife on the boat on the way in to the park.

I’m sure you can, but my understanding is it can be hit or miss. There are supposedly a limited number of permits and I assume you found a guide who had them. This was guaranteed for us in the group though. You can’t just go to the beach and walk around and see the turtles.

The boat ride to the resort at Tortuguero was a blast… like something out of a James Bond movie… we had two small but very fast boats screaming up the river through the jungle. We did take some slower rides through the area as well.

Again, I’m not a big fan of tours in general and have never taken any others. My parents planned this one and it did work well for the diverse ages. The kids made friends with other kids on the trip, and we didn’t have to worry about anything. Just thought based on the OP’s info I should throw it out there.

If you want a really unique experience, try one of the research stations of the Organization for Tropical Studies

We stayed there with our kids and had an amazing time. Meals are included and are buffet-style in an open-air cafeteria where you mingle with scientists and research students. We hired guides for morning and night trips.

The facilities are not luxurious – no A/C, TV, or pool, but depending on your desire to really experience the rain forest are more than adequate.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, we also stayed at the Marriott near Manuel Antonio on the west coast and that was luxury luxury luxury.

Good luck!

I agree there’s not really anything to see in the capital, although the Mercado Central has a pretty good array of fruits, etc…as do the street vendors around it.

Do you really think Tabacon is worth that much time? I haven’t been to it, I’ve mainly spent time on the beaches and in Monteverde.

We finally did this trip. It is highly recommended for anyone that can do it. I didn’t realize that one of the highlights of my trip was going to be Nature Air out of San Jose. They give excellent service but these aren’t your typical airline flights. A turboprop plane drops into several jungle airstrips an hour to pick people up and drop them off. I have paid good money for arial tours of scenic areas that were not nearly as fun or as beautiful as a routine flight from Nature Air.

I got off at the Nosara airstrip at some place that can barely be described as an airport at all. It is just a barely paved stretched of pavement that is fenced in with a lone attendant. My ride never showed so it was just me and the attendant sitting out in the sun on a Sunday morning for a while we figured out what to do. He called one of of his friends who gave me a ride in the back of a Toyota Camry that had seen better days 15 years ago when it first became a beater but it worked.

From there, it was on to the Harmony hotelright on the Pacific ocean. It is a very small hotel with an eco theme and not cheap by any stretch but probably affordable to most people if you only do it once. The Pacific Ocean and surfing are incredible there - basically the same as Hawaii and the water is warmer.

From there, it was on to the Arenal region. The roads are incredibly horrible and dangerous. They are mostly dirt roads with no passing lanes and everything from large trucks to motorcycles competing for space. We had to do two river crossings in a rental car which worked but things get intense sometimes.

The Arenal region is outstanding in its beauty. We took horseback rides to waterfalls and played with the monkeys that will not leave you alone if you have anything to offer them at all. The Tico people are incredibly nice even though I do not speak much Spanish. They generally speak some English and try hard to accommodate visitors.

In short, this isn’t the type of trip I would ever recommend to the Carnival Cruise crowd but it is world class if you are fit and have some sense of adventure without taking it too far. Costa Rica is set up for American tourism and it isn’t dangerous in terms of crime at all.