Learning Through Play In Costa Rica

Green Season in Costa Rica (May-November) is spectacular. Wet, but wow. The wondrous natural playground packs in 6 percent of the world’s biodiversity into a landmass the size of Virginia—and it’s at its lushest during the summer. Plus, hotel rates are lower.  So we say now’s the time to slow down and watch cutter ants carry leaves through the rainforest, whiz over a canopy of trees, and make eye contact with monkeys. Here’s a playful getaway plan for curious adventurers.

HOW ABOUT A GAME OF RAINFOREST HIDE AND SEEK?

With 900 lush acres of rainforest, the thoughtfully designed eco-hotel Tabacon Grand Spa Thermal Resort is located near active pursuits in the inland Northern region of Arenal. The carbon-neutral resort invites children to climb through cascading rivers of warm water fed directly from Volcán Arenal. They can also splash through 30 dipping pools around the property and, yes, play hide-and-seek among towering pandanus trees and toddler-height bromeliads.

Sneak away for a couple’s massage in an open-air bungalow (the resort provides complimentary in-room babysitting when parents book a treatment at the Grand Spa) or have a Cacique mojito at the partially submerged pool bar while the littles play in the neighboring waterslide.

The newly renovated Orchid rooms (with two Queen beds) start at $350 a night; or spread out in an oversized two-bedroom Tabacon suite, from $678 a night.

WINNING TIC TAC TOE IS EVEN BETTER WHEN YOU PLAY IN VOLCANIC SOIL.

Just minutes from Tabacon Resort lies Volcán Arenal, one of the country’s most active volcanos. There are trails for all fitness levels at Arenal National Park; the hike up to the observatory is doable for kids as young as 3 and offers a glimpse of the devastation from the 1968 eruption. Children will see and touch “volcanic bombs”— molten formations that were violently spat out during the eruption—peppered throughout the regrowth of the relatively young forest. At the top of the observatory, play a game of tic-tac-toe in the rich, dark volcanic soil while taking in the panoramic views of Volcán Arenal and Lake Arenal. Jacamar Naturalist Tours, conveniently located onsite at Tabacon, can pre-arrange all tours in Arenal.

PLAYING TARZAN BEATS PLAYING SUPERMAN.

Better than any theme park ride, the 40-minute canopy tour from Athica Canopy Tours includes ten ziplines of all different speeds and distances; children as young as 4 can zip in tandem with an experienced guide. The finale is a yell-at-the-top-of-your-voice Tarzan swing—a bucket list experience, to be sure.

AND THE CHOCOLATE. MY GOD, THE CHOCOLATE.

The two-hour Rainforest Chocolate Tour in La Fortuna takes visitors back to the origins of the drink of the gods and offers a science lesson on pollination in the cacao plantation. Learn how cacao pods are turned into chocolate, then try samples flavored with hibiscus, peppermint, coconut, and raisins. After tasting 100% organic chocolate without added fillers or palm oil, the kids may think twice before scarfing down the artificial stuff back home.

IF YOU’RE BRAVING THE RAINFOREST WITH A BABY OR TODDLER . . . .

 

–photo credit: Four Seasons Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo

Park it at the Papagayo Peninsula in Guanacaste. Sandwiched between two pristine beaches on the isthmus is the Four Seasons Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo—a one-stop shop for families who want a taste of Costa Rica without venturing off the property.

Play “I Spy,” spotting howler monkeys at sunrise from your room’s balcony or iguanas on the mini golf course. Snorkel the aquarium-like waters, filled with puffers and angel fish. There are also water sports and wagons full of sandcastle-building equipment for those who just want to unplug on the beach.  Cooking classes, salsa lessons, and Spanish language classes provide a quick immersion into Costa Rican culture, and a robust kids program lets the little explorers play while parents relax.

Terraza Rooms with two double beds start at $575. For more room, try a Canopy one-bedroom suite (from $1375) or a Residence Pacifico two-bedroom (from $2095), which is equipped with a dining room, full kitchen, and washer/dryer.

HERE’S TO HOPING YOUR KIDS LIKE RICE AND BEANS.

Both resorts offer truly spectacular restaurants with memorable ceviche. But if your little ones have still-developing palates, local basics like rice and beans, sweet plantains, or empanadas stuffed with beef, chicken, or fried yucca are the way to go. And of course, the Four Seasons has a stellar kids menu with traditional fare (like tofu and rice with grilled fish) without the spice.

BEFORE YOU GO.

Make sure everyone has their Hepatitis A vaccine; the CDC requires it for travel to Costa Rica. Green Season downpours are quick but drenching. Pack a light rain jacketrain/mud boots, and a wet bag to keep the soggy stuff in one place.