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Costa Rica is an absolute paradise for outdoor adventure lovers. This includes families, because many adventure sports and outdoor activities in Costa Rica aren’t too “extreme,” making them suitable for slightly older kids, tweens and teens. While Costa Rica has always been a pretty good value on points, that’s true now more than ever for families who have a Southwest Companion Pass because you can use your pass to fly internationally on Southwest to both San Jose (SJO) and Liberia (LIR) in Costa Rica.
Whether you get there on Southwest, or one of many other airlines that serves the country, here are our picks for the best Costa Rican adventures with your family.
Costa Rica’s interior is covered in mountains dense with high-altitude cloud forests. They shelter a staggering amount of biodiversity (Costa Rica as a whole makes up a tiny 0.03% of the world’s surface, yet houses 6% of its biodiversity). A fun way to experience the cloud forests is to go ziplining through them. You can look down at the forest floor below without disturbing anything that lives there, and get a different view of the treetops. There are many places around the country to try ziplining, but the Arenal area is one of the best.
Ziplining doesn’t typically require great physical fitness as you are harnessed in and then just sort of fly. Depending on the operator, kids usually need to weigh at least 50 to 80 pounds to zipline by themselves.
2. Sea Kayaking
Older kids who are confident swimmers (and have good upper-body strength) can enjoy sea kayaking with dolphins, turtles and whales (or at least, try to spot them from the kayak). A particularly good place to try this is Marino Ballena Marine Park, off the coast of Uvita. The marine park is a mating ground for humpback whales between December and April, and funny enough, the point at which Uvita and Hermosa beaches meet forms the shape of a huge whale tail as seen from the air. There’s a reef beneath the surface of the sea as well as mangrove forests that lead down to the beach. Tandem kayaks are available, so kids and parents can partner up.
3. White-Water Rafting
Costa Rica often makes into onto lists of the top 10 places in the world to go white-water rafting, and it’s easy to see why. Warm waters fringed with jungle, abundant waterfalls, canyons, midsize rapids … it doesn’t get much better than this. The Rio Pacuare is one of the best: the class III and IV rapids provide a challenge without being too overwhelming. However, there is naturally some risk with white-water rafting, so many tour operators enforce a minimum age of 12 to 14 and use your discretion. Alternatively, the Corobicí River is a more appropriate destination for younger kids, as the river is more gentle.
While Costa Rica is famous for some big surf breaks, with a lot of coastline, there are many great options for beginners. Kids who can swim confidently will enjoy learning to surf at a laid-back beach town. The beaches at Samara, Tamarindo and Manuel Antonio (all on the Pacific coast) are good places to start.
5. Jungle Walks and Hiking
With almost a quarter of the country covered in national parks, Costa Rica has walking and hiking trails to suit all ages and fitness levels. From gentle paved trails to rugged tracks through the jungle, both parents and energetic kids can let off steam and experience the country. Hiring a guide is a good idea, as they’ll point out hard-to-spot wildlife and teach you a lot about what you see. For an easy short walk, check out the well-kept trails in the ever-popular Manuel Antonio National Park, then go for a refreshing swim in the Pacific Ocean afterward. For a greater challenge with older kids, check out Carara National Park, west of capital San Jose. Like almost everywhere in the country, there is an abundance of bird and animal life. A hike there should take a few hours, but it’s a fairly flat trail.
Toddlers can often enjoy sitting in a hiking carrier, but remember that Costa Rica’s climate is hot and humid (although less so at higher altitudes), so parents may get uncomfortable carrying them for too long. Also take precautions for bugs and mosquitoes, as they are prevalent throughout much of the country.
6. Horseback Riding
Horseback riding tours are available throughout Costa Rica, from beaches to mountainous areas that are hard to reach by road. They’re best suited to older kids, or at least those who have some experience with horses. TPG‘s Mommy Points enjoyed a two-hour horseback ride with her 8-year-old while staying at the Andaz Costa Rica last summer. While full-day excursions were available, the hotel helped find an option just 30 minutes from the resort.
Horseback treks can go where it’s hard to get on your own two feet, such as up steep trails or across streams. When choosing a horse trek, seek out operators who live and breathe horses, take good care of their animals and who have suitable horses for different ages and levels of experience. Horse treks can range from a couple of hours to several days.
Costa Rica is an adventure-lovers playground, and one that is genuinely interesting and appealing to both kids and their parents, making it the ideal destination for active family travelers. Of course, with the five-star resorts in the country, even those just looking to relax by the pool can be quite happy in Costa Rica. With Southwest’s Companion Pass, parents can fly the entire family to Costa Rica and have money left over for even more adventure activities on the ground.
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Featured image by Getty Images
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