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Costa Rica is a safe, dream-like country where a family can travel together to experience nature and adventure for very little expense. In the capital city of San José, several well thought out museums are perfect for children and adults. While in the nearby countryside you will spot colorful flocks of toucans long before you hear their call across the jungle treetops, or see a sloth slowly making its way to its next meal, high in a green canopy. Whether you decide to browse museums, zip line through jungle alleys, white water raft, take a nature walk or visit a volcano, Costa Rica is perfect for a family holiday.

Also: Punta Cana vs. Puerto Rico

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Museum lovers

Museo Del JADE
Near the exceedingly modern and spacious Hotel Aurola Holiday Inn in San José, explore this spectacular museum, which features an extensive collection of exquisite Pre-Columbian jade. Allow yourselves several hours to fully plumb the museum’s vast offerings, which include detailed descriptions of Costa Rica’s rich trading history and culture told through hands-on activities, including interactive puzzles, trivia and “foot” maps. One of the most interesting visuals is a large unassuming rock, cleaved in two, which reveals a dazzling display of emerald greens, in fact the hidden jade inside. The museum is filled with surprises including an unexpected interactive element where family members can take turns experiencing how the mineral was used in an authentic shamanic healing ceremony. Before wrapping up, visit Hall #4, otherwise known as “The Night.” In this space learn how bats were revered in antiquity, in stories told through jade carvings. Add this museum toyour Costa Rica top ten things to do in San José list.

Christine M. Gordon

The House of Illusions activity at the Museo de los Niños is a fun mind-bender for both kids and adults. | Photo courtesy of Christine M. Gordon

Museo de los Niños (The Children’s Museum)
Children of all ages will be fascinated by a visit to this yellow castle-like museum, which was the notorious Central Penitentiary of San José until 1979. The former First Lady of Costa Rica, Gloria Bejarano de Calderón commissioned the renovation of the building into a children’s museum, ordering that several of the brick cells with barred doors be left intact (including prisoner’s drawings and graffiti on walls) as a piece of human rights history. About 300,000 people visit the museum each year; exhibits include a rocky ride on an earthquake simulator, a fun outdoor hands-on banana production line and a House of Illusions set where kids appear to scale buildings and walk on window ledges. Don’t miss the squeals of joy as kids clamber aboard a well-preserved train or photos with the family near a vintage airplane.

 

Thrill seekers

Aventuras de Sarapiquí
If you are itching to take your vacation up to the next level than run—don’t walk—to reserve spots with Aventuras de Sarapiquí, an adventure company that offers an assortment of thrills, including up to Class IV white water rafting and jungle canopy zip lines. The company, which butts up against the La Selva Biological Station reserve, runs rafts through the protected area that encompasses 1,536 acres of lowland tropicalrain forest in the country’s northeast region. The rapids may sound intense, but they are totally doable, so much so that our fearless group of 15, including one eight year old and two pre-teens, felt totally safe every stroke of the way. Sarapiquí provides top-notch river guides, who not only love their jobs, and the nature around them (we counted five cormorants sunning themselves on one river “median strip”), but put safety first, including sending a kayaker ahead to steer us along the best routes.

The zip-line canopy tour, meanwhile, rated a very close second. If you are a first timer who has never zip-lined, step into the fear—it will demystify, as you zip through the air across mighty rivers and through jungle alleys before touching down briefly on a platform only to frog hop to the next. Children too light to go it alone are accompanied by experienced and protective guides. Spy howler monkeys (you may hear their unique cry before you see them), beautifully adorned yellow-headed caracaras (of the falcon family) and hot red heliconia, which my guide quipped, “grow like weeds.” Oh, but to weed such a garden each day.

Signs posted near Poás volcano warn that 20 minutes breathing the noxious fumes is long enough.

Signs posted near Poás volcano warn that 20 minutes breathing the noxious fumes is long enough. | Photo courtesy of Christine M. Gordon

Outdoor enthusiasts and animal lovers

Poás Volcano National Park
Costa Rica is a land of 14 volcanoes, six of which have been active within the last century. Just 90 minutes form downtown San José you can visit Poás, the world’s largest active volcano, which boasts a crater at least 1,050 feet deep and spanning nearly one mile across. Inside the volcanic crater lays a magnificent azur colored, rain-fed lake, incessantly billowing sulfuric steam and fumes (signs warn visitors to leave the viewing platform within 20 minutes). Poás is a lesson in the geothermal formation of Costa Rica, a country formed when the Cocos plate wedged itself beneath the Caribbean plate. The popular day trip also offers great cloud forest hiking with hummingbirds, tanagers, toucanets and the endangered quetzal, a cloud forest bird that has shimmering green tail feathers up to three feet long. Pack a warm shirt and pants; it gets chilly in the mountains.

A strawberry and milk tour with Freddo Aventura Rural
Take the two-hour guided tour of Freddo Aventura Rural, a Costa Rican theme park that includes a strawberry and dairy farm easily reached after a visit to the Poas or Barva volcanoes. Activities at the farm are geared to every age group and include a gentle tractor pulled cart ride through a multitude of green pastures (who knew so many “greens” existed), a lazy walk through a cloud forest filled with an abundance of vibrant bird life and tropical flowers, such as, heliconia, birds of paradise, Begonia and sweet smelling Amazonian lilies. As you wander along the trail you will be joined by the sounds of quetzal birds calling to each other across mango trees bearing ripened fruit and take in the views of white orchids clinging to trees over lush foliage and streams. A short walk leads to a dairy shed, where children can try their hand at milking docile Jersey cows. Later, enjoy a cheese making demonstration and harvest strawberries, ready to eat on the spot.

Light breaks over Manual Antonio Beach

Light breaks over Manual Antonio Beach | Photo courtesy of Daniel Maher

Manuel Antonio National Park and Hotel San Bada
Hotel San Bada is a perfect choice for visitors looking to dive deeper into appreciating the unique nature found in Costa Rica. Only two and a half hours travel from San José, the hotel is tucked up against the beautiful Manual Antonio National Park and a short walk away from one of it most famous beaches. In the morning, enjoy a fresh and delicious breakfast buffet of fruits, fruit drinks and cooked-to-order omelets before setting out in search of endangered squirrel monkeys, white-faced capuchin monkeys, howler monkeys and three- and two-toed sloths that live in the park. You may hear the howler monkey’s unique call, a deep coughbefore you see him. It’s worthit to hire a guide, their familiarity wth the park and where to find the toucans and sloths is helpful as you make your way through jungle foliage. Several individual trails make for perfect hiking for every member of the family. 

A visit to Costa Rica is a perfect way for a family to unwind and plug into the joys of trying new experiences. You will be amazed at what Costa Rica offers by way of adventure, nature and building lasting bonds and a connection to what is really important, family.

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Christine M. Gordon

Christine M. Gordon

Christine covers travel, food, indigenous languages and cultures and wildlife conservation.

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