Family vacations may be classified into two distinct categories. The first is the relaxing, rejuvenating kind spent expending little energy lying poolside or on a beach chair in the sand with or without pulp fiction to keep you company and ubiquitous tiny paper umbrellas and maraschino cherries floating the tops of exotic mocktails and cocktails. Early morning tee times are easy to reserve and kids programs allow for time at the adult only pool. Life seems supremely civilized. The other is the adventure vacation. These journeys keep the heart racing and the blood pumping and generally rely on memory making through thrill seeking. Children once content with building sandcastles on the beach may soon request that the vacation include at least one stomach lurching activity and/or speed blazing on skis or boards, in or out of the water.
The best vacations are often a healthy balance of both. Costa Rica may just be the ideal family journey. As soon as a family's youngest is finally tall enough and weighs enough to zip line through the rain forest canopy, finds pleasure rather than terror with thoughts of white water rafting the Pacuare River, and can hike for miles exploring waterfalls tucked beneath suspension bridges and steep terrain, it is time to explore Costa Rica. To thoroughly enjoy the vast geography and topography of Costa Rica, a guide remains the best way to explore this tiny, military free, Central American country.
MEET ERIC GOMEZ
A native Costa Rican, cyclist, nature photo lover, swimmer, runner, and passionate tour guide, Eric is Costa Rica's premier travel. Eric believes that cultural interaction with local people is an integral part of a travel lifestyle.
Eric carefully plans and executes every detail of of a Costa Rican adventure, from guided tours of the cloud and rain forests, the smoking Arenal volcano, and whitewater rafting, to zip lining, suspension bridges, hot springs swimming, community service at an orphanage, an eco-farm hands on learning experience, monkey feedings, and the stunning Pacific beaches of Papagayo.
There is a reason Costa Rica has been named the most sustainably happiest country in the world. With 800 miles of coastline, some of the world's highest life expectancy and literacy rates, and no winter, it's an obvious choice for expats seeking a tropical paradise.
A BIRD WATCHER'S PARADISE
The emerald green waters of Costa Rica's north western peninsula remains the quintessential place for sun and surf, restoration and relaxation. A turtle watching, bird watching, snorkeling, paddling, or visit to the Monteverde cloud forest thermal hot springs are all near this gulf shore paradise. Or, opt to do little more than read a book on the beach and sip cocktails under a star filled southern hemisphere sky.
A guided riverboat tour of Tortuguero’s beaches and black water canals produced sightings of scarlet macaws, green sea turtles, blue heron, jaguars, three-toed sloths, river otters, and the chance to view capuchin monkeys playing just a few feet from the boat.
Shouts of “Pura Vida!” may be heard just about anywhere in Costa Rica. It expresses a toast to “pure life” and embodies the heart and soul of this relaxed and happy community-focused nation ready to share its rich culture with its adventure-seeking guests.
While the natural beauty of Costa Rica is breathtaking, the people are some of the kindest and most responsible on the planet. With limited resources, citizens democratically adopted a constitution that would let the people decide how to allocate tax revenues. The country could afford to provide healthcare, education and cultural enrichment, or fund a corrupt military that today would almost exclusively be dedicated to fighting a never-ending drug war near its border with Nicaragua, but not both. After a 44-day civil war, the military was formally disbanded in 1948.
Third world countries provide ample opportunity for giving back to those less fortunate. A day at an orphanage may include helping a teacher teach English, or assisting with simple age-appropriate activities such singing “Old McDonald Had a Farm” to the younger students, or answering questions about the life of the American teenager. The day culminates in a friendly soccer match, and a shared meal of rice and beans. For many, this is the highlight of an experience based trip to Costa Rica.
More commonly known as coconut water, this delicious tropical drink is enjoyed straight from the coconut. Strike up a conversation with a local street vendor who will serve this thirst quenching, all natural beverage straight up with a straw.
Don Juan's Eco Farm
On both sustainability and environmentally friendly scales, Costa Rica earns high marks. Just a few miles from the Arenal Volcano, Don Juan welcomes guests for a day in the life of a Costa Rican farmer. A tour of Don Juan's farm reveals the secrets to an enormous plantation yield on a single hectare (about 2.5 acres) of land. Dairy cows, pigs, hens and tilapia are sources of food, fertilizer, and produce the methane gas used to heat the outdoor covered kitchen. Thirty different plants are organically produced and include pineapple, yuca, sugarcane, annatto, cocoa and coffee beans with companions such as the tobacco plant used only as natural pest controllers. Gather with the farm hands and learn to press tortillas and have a go with the "trapiche", the primitive machine used to extract liquid from sugarcane stalks.
A day on the river is a thrill seeker's key to spiked adrenalin. Anyone over eight years old may don a helmet and a life vest, learn a few strokes on dry land, and hop into a raft for a journey down some of the most pristine rivers in Central America. With tropical landscapes and lush jungle vegetation, the views are spectacular in and out of the boat.
BACK TO NATURE
CATCH A WAVE
Costa Rica is home to some of the best waves in the world. While the Caribbean coastline boasts some of the roughest and most aggressive swells in the country, attributed mainly to regional tropical storms, the more gentle, Pacific coast is home to surf shops filled with locals intent on ensuring that even the most timid beginner feels like a native by the end of the day.