A Costa Rica family vacation is a must do for those who love nature, animals and adventure. For outdoor families like ours, there is no better destination, especially when you have a nature obsessed kid!
Having been to Costa Rica twice already, we were super excited when offered the opportunity to take a Costa Rica family vacation with Intrepid travel.
I have done two tours with Intrepid already and loved them both. My first trip was to China on my own as a 20 something traveler and last year I took an amazing Borneo family holiday with my 7 year old son in tow.
This trip to Costa Rica is a bit different, as it is a Solo Parent tour. I’ve wanted to check these trips out for a while. I even tried to book one on our around the world journey, but couldn’t get the dates to work. Thus, you can imagine how excited we were to finally get the chance to check out this variant of the family tours offered by Intrepid, all while in one of our favorite countries!
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Review of the Costa Rica Solo Parent Tour
Since I had already been to Costa Rica previously, I chose to do the longest Costa Rica family vacation option available with Intrepid in order to see a few new places that hadn’t made it into either of my previous trips. The Costa Rica family vacation is offered as a Solo Parent trip like I did or as a regular Family Tour. This trip, just like the country itself focuses on animals, nature and of course plenty of adventure activities.
Over the span of 15 days, we visited quite a few destinations including:
- San Jose
- Tortuguero National Park
- Arenal /La Fortuna
- Manuel Antonio
The 2020 itineraries for the Costa Rica family trips has changed. The trip will no longer include Tortuguero and will include a homestay instead of Sarapiqui. The new tour is also only 10 days instead of 15. Thus my specific thoughts on the itinerary may not be as relevant, however, what does not change is the experience of traveling in Costa Rica with Intrepid.
Continue reading to find out more about what I liked and didn’t like and what the kiddos felt about exploring this adventure and nature rich country on a tour.
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TRAVEL TIP: For families with tweens and teens, Intrepid also offers a slightly different tour option that focuses more on physical adventure activities.
Things to Know Before You Go to Costa Rica
Located in Central America, Costa Rica is a popular destination for school trips, family travel and solo travelers. The country is known to be quite safe with a good tourist infrastructure in place. One of the best things about Costa Rica is that the water is safe to drink throughout the country reducing chances of traveler sickness while on the road. Because of this, Costa Rica is also the most expensive country in Central America with prices rivaling the US for food and activities. However, due to the ease of the language, food and infrastructure, Costa Rica is an ideal family destination.
Visa & Arrival Information
Depending on where you are from, you may need a visa for Costa Rica. Americans, Canadians and most Europeans do not require a visa, but do check before your trip.
Arrival to either of Costa Rica’s two major airports is simple and efficient. As is available with all Intrepid tours, you have the option to book an airport pick up. The price difference is around $10 between their private pick up and an Uber.
What to Pack for a Costa Rica Family Vacation
Packing for Costa Rica is pretty similar throughout the year as the weather doesn’t change a ton. In general expect hot, humid conditions for much of the country with cool and wet conditions in the cloud forest areas. You can check out my Southeast Asia packing list as a guide since it is almost exactly what we took on our most recent trip to Costa Rica.
While the packing list is essentially the same throughout the year, if you go during summer, aka the rainy season, you will need more rain gear than at other times of the year. I prefered both an umbrella and a poncho for our trip during the rainy season.
Otherwise, my must-have items for a trip to Costa Rica in any season include light breathable clothes for the heat and humidity, light long layers for cool nights and cloud forest areas like Monteverde, and comfortable footwear including sandals, water shoes and/or hiking boots.
Most travel operators, Intrepid included, require guests to have travel insurance for the duration of their trip. Typically American health insurance is not inclusive enough to act as travel insurance, but definitely check with your provider before researching other options.
My insurance is not valid, so I always purchase coverage through World Nomads. They offer the most affordable basic travel insurance out there. We have been happy with their service so far, but haven’t actually made any claims to this point!
RELATED POST: Read up on all the top things to do in Costa Rica with kids
What to Expect on a Costa Rica Family Vacation with Intrepid Travel
All of the travelers on a Solo Parent tour will be solo parents with their children. On my tour that meant 2 moms with their (three) children. The make up of Solo Parent does not mean you must be divorced or single, rather that you want to travel with your children without any other parent.
In my group the two families hailed from the U.S. and Canada with kids ages ranging from 7 to 12. Our guide told us that typically many families come from the UK and Europe.
As always when traveling with Intrepid, the group sizes are small. Our group was only 5 people. The maximum is 16 which would typically mean around 4 families.
TRAVEL TIP: If you prefer to have more families to interact with, you can ask Intrepid while booking your trip how many spaces are filled in each trip as well as the ages of the other children.
Who is the Guide?
Intrepid uses guides local to the country of the tour whenever possible. Often they are not necessarily guides, rather tour facilitators, meaning they take care of all the logistics so you don’t have to! For Costa Rica, our tour leader was a sweet, calm lady with fiery red hair, named Tania.
She was a great leader in every way. Her best strength was her quiet ability to read the room and the guests on tour. She was able to anticipate our needs, wants and requests often before we even vocalized them. You could tell she genuinely liked working with the family tours as well which was nice.
Of course she also took care of all the little details of our trip flawlessly. We were never delayed, and we were always well-informed about where we were going and what we needed to bring, which helps take the guesswork out of each day. This skill is especially important for family travelers as children often want and need to know the plans well in advance to begin mentally preparing.
She went out of her way to make our trip the best it could be by rearranging activities that were rained out, bringing little goodies like color your own postcards and creating special experiences we would never have on our own.
A tour guide can make or break your trip. Luckily, we have always had the best experience with Intrepid guides making the trip fantastic!
How Will You Travel?
One of the great aspects of Intrepid Tours is their ability to utilize local transportation options when available. The family tours don’t use local transport as much as the regular tours, so we were happy to see the inclusion of several local rides on this trip.
The majority of travel on this tour was done via private mini bus. This made the hours in-transit quite comfortable and easy for all of us to chat and get to know one another. One of our buses even had WiFi.
In addition to the private transfers, we also took two boat rides – one to our hotel in Tortuguero offered by the hotel itself and a boat shuttle from Arenal to Monteverde.
In Sarapiqui we decided to visit a location outside of town a bit, so we all hopped on the local bus for a ride. The kids loved it and it was a great way to see more of the surrounding countryside.
Where Will You Stay?
This trip is an Intrepid “Original Style” trip, which means 2 to 3 star level of accommodation. The hotels were all local style rooms that were clean, comfortable, and usually even came with hair dryers (my travel standard!).
Intrepid always looks for unique, locally and culturally relevant accomodation options at their destinations, rather than chain hotels. I have found that Intrepid trips tend to feature at least one unique accommodation option. On this trip, I think that our jungle hotel in Tortuguero fits the bill. However the children felt that the “treehouse” hotel in Sarapiqui was more unique.
Overall, the level of accommodation on this Original Style trip was much higher quality than in Borneo which was the same style of trip.
All of the hotels had pools which is a great bonus for traveling with children. This meant it was easy to have down time each day when necessary.
On the Solo Parent tour you will almost always be sharing a room with your kids unless you are traveling with more than 2 and the hotel cannot accommodate 4 or more in one room.
What Will You Eat in Costa Rica?
Traveling through Costa Rica, you have the opportunity to eat local food as well as more traditional Western food at almost all stops. If your tour is anything like ours, you will start out eating all the local food and end eating much more Western food.
We lucked out in the food department as our guide Tania loved good food and always knew exactly where to take us. She was great about planning group dinners for us or offering personal recommendations based on taste and/or budget.
We ate at many local favorites providing us a whole new take on eating in Costa Rica. Being our third trip here, we had a good sense of what to eat, but I will admit the food on this tour was 100 times better than what we ever found on our own.
What Will You Do on This Costa Rica Family Vacation?
Like I mentioned previously, Costa Rica is known for its amazing diversity of nature, wildlife and adventure activities. Thus, there was no shortage of included and optional activities to experience all of these on our itinerary. Some of the activities that are included in the price of this trip include:
- Coffee Plantation Tour
- Animal Rescue Center Visit
- Hanging Bridges Tour
- Volcano Hike
- Guided Hike at Manuel Antonio
As I mentioned previously there were also many days where we had free time to choose the activities most appealing to our family and/or group.
The optional activities for this tour included:
- Hiking, kayaking, boating and/or Sea Turtle Nesting in Tortuguero
- Frog Heaven
- River Rafting
- Hot Springs
- Zip lining
All optional activities were just that, optional. Depending on the ages of the kids in the group, you might find yourself doing different things. My son is more into land based activities so that is where we spent our optional time. However the other family on our group was much more into the physical adventures like white water rafting.
Compared to our Borneo tour, I felt we had more down time on this tour to choose optional activities. Since we had been to Costa Rica previously, we opted out of more than we would have had it been our first trip. However, we fully enjoyed the down time at the hot springs and the hotel pool.
Thoughts on the Itinerary and Activities
The best things about traveling to Costa Rica is the ability to see animals at every turn, immerse yourself in nature and get the adrenaline flowing with adventure activities. The 15 day Intrepid family tour allows ample opportunity to do all of this. However, for the most part, the adventure activities you might have on your bucket list are most likely not included in the tour price. The positive of this is you can opt in or out on most things. The negative is that it can add a decent amount to your overall budget.
The Intrepid itinerary for the family tours is changing for 2020, so much of this will not be relevant for much longer. Click here for the most up to date Costa Rica Family Tour offerings.
During our trip, we visited Tortuguero where we had the opportunity to witness a green sea turtle coming on shore to nest. This was an amazing experience that was definitely worth the adventure to get there. Even though we had quite a bit of rain during our visit, we loved it. Had the weather been nicer, it would have been the icing on the cake! (On the current itinerary for 2020 this stop is sadly taken off.)
Next was Sarapiqui where we had the most amazing experience of all – releasing a sloth back into the wild. While this wasn’t a planned Intrepid itinerary experience, it was typical Intrepid style. Our guide sought out this experience because none of our group had much to do in Sarapiqui. This absolutely MADE our trip. Check out the video below to get a glimpse into our experience.
One of the things that is difficult to get in Costa Rica is authentic cultural experiences. Since one of our other activities had been cancelled, our tour leader scheduled a visit to a local family home where the kids helped make patacones for our local style dinner. Sarapiqui is no longer on the 2020 itineraries. However, it is replaced with a local home stay experience, which will be a great way to feel more part of the local culture.
Nature & Adventure Activities
Next was Arenal and Monteverde where adventure sports and nature prevail. Included in our tour was a nature hike at Arenal Volcano which we all loved — even when we got soaked in a rainstorm! In Monteverde, we all enjoyed the included hanging bridges guided walk and seeing our first snake of the trip. While my son and I chilled out in hot springs, the rest of our group had a blast white water rafting which they highly recommend.
In addition to chilling in hot springs and soaking up the vibes at our wonderful hotel, we also added on a night walk and zip lining in Monteverde, which according to my son was the most epic of our entire trip!
The last stop on the itinerary was Manuel Antonio. This park is a must visit on almost all Costa Rica itineraries and for good reason. There are tons of animals and several beautiful beaches to relax on for your last few days. The kids had so much fun body surfing in the waves while the grown up watched the monkeys and raccoons steal food from people’s bags!
If I were to change anything about the tour, I would probably skip Sarapiqui unless other animal release experiences like we had could be built into the itinerary regularly. The only other thing I would like to see more of (which they have included on the 2020 itineraries) is more cultural experiences like cooking or language classes.
Even though I would skip Sarapiqui, according to the kids the hotel here was one of their favorite hotels on the entire trip. Goes to show what we parents value versus the kids!
Would I Recommend This Costa Rica Family Vacation?
ABSOLUTELY ?. I loved this tour, my group, and of course Costa Rica. Having already been to the country a couple of times we knew what to expect at most of the destinations. That said, I will say that the Intrepid Costa Rica family tour offers such a different experience. Yes you lose some of the flexibility of staying in places longer, or sleeping in some days, but you get such a greater insight into the country than you can on your own.
Thanks to the mix of destinations on the itinerary, I feel like this tour offers a great overview of the country.
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Overall, this was a really great tour. The only downsides I can think of are that it could include more of the optional activities and some of the meals where there is no other option available. Yes this would increase the overall package price but for many families it is easier to know up front your costs with only true optional activities being additional. Costa Rica is not a cheap destination in Central America so by the end of the tour you start to feel a bit drained financially due to all the meals and extra activities.
Since this was our 3rd visit to Costa Rica we did not feel the need to do all the additional activities, but the few we did participate in cost around $340. This included: Green Sea Turtle tour, Frog Heaven visit, 2 night walks and zip lining. If we had gone white water rafting or to other hot springs this would have gone up another $200.
Just for reference for families planning this trip, you can also expect to spend around $500 on food for 15 days for 2 people.
Who is This Trip Good For?
Even though I love Intrepid’s trips and have since my first one in 2001, it must be said they are not for everyone. Overall, this tour is great for active families who want to be out exploring nature and/or getting their adrenaline rush on. There is plenty of down time, but for a 2 week trip, you definitely need to be prepared to get up and go each day as there is only one real down day to sleep in and chill.
Even though original style family trips with Intrepid tend to put guests in a higher level of accomodation than the non-family trips, it is important to note that high end travelers may not love the hotel options provided. Prepare for one or two nights with no air conditioner and basic rooms. They are always clean and well situated, but definitely not up to luxury style if that is what you are used to.
Families who would enjoy this trip are those who are interested in seeing a good deal of Costa Rica with the least amount of hassle. On this trip, you can just enjoy your time with your kids without dealing with daily logistics which is a nice change of pace especially for solo parents!
Solo Parent Tour vs Regular Family Tour?
This trip was the Solo Parent Tour which is offered in a few countries around the world on a limited scheduled. If you also travel solo with your child you might be wondering – is there a reason to take the solo parent tour versus the regular parent tour? In my view probably not. From what I saw on the ground, the regular Costa Rica family tours were quite booked up. However our tour only had 5 people on it. This can be good for those wanting a small intimate experience, but it is also nice to have a few more families in the mix.
For me, as a solo parent, I feel comfortable going with the regular family tours. On my Borneo Intrepid tour 2 out of 3 families were solo parents. I also noticed on several of the Costa Rica family tours that we ran into there were also solo parents.
That said I can see how some single parents might book the Solo Parent tour in the hopes to develop camaraderie with other single parents. My recommendation is to ask Intrepid before booking how the individual tours are shaping up and choose based on whether you want a smaller intimate group versus a larger more dual parent family focus.
An unofficial benefit of having a couple of dual parent families on tour means that there are always extra eyes to watch the kids when the moms have a break 🙂
Why Travel with Intrepid?
When I first chose to travel with Intrepid in 2001 to China, I choose the company based on their unique ability to mix bucket list items with local cultural experiences. I loved that we got off the beaten path even in heavily touristed locations or sights.
Now on my 3rd trip with Intrepid, I have to say, it’s just the same!
However, these days I am a more educated and conscientious traveler. Intrepid is one of the world’s largest small group tour companies, but with a mission and focus on responsible, sustainable tourism that really resonates with me.
It is a brand that I know I can stand behind with confidence. The way Intrepid treats their leaders, their policy to work with a variety of local operators, and encourage spreading the wealth of the tourism dollar are all important to me.
I also love their use of hotels that offer free water, less use of plastics and better treatment of the environment.
For me, all of this combined with the small group size that allows travelers to experience destinations on a more local level, is what makes Intrepid my favorite travel company.
Thank you to Intrepid Travel for hosting us on this Costa Rica Solo Parent Tour. As always, all opinion are my own.
If you want to read more about about Costa Rica, here are some other posts to check out:
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