I’m thrilled to bring you an amazing guest post today from the adventurous and talented Giselle Wyckoff. Giselle is a NYC mom of 2. She recently spent a week in Costa Rica with her family and documented the entire journey for us! She’s here to share all their amazing adventures, activities and experiences – giving some tips, advice and recommendations on how to successfully do Costa Rica with kids. If you have any questions for Giselle, leave them in the comments below! Pura Vida!
I consider myself a lover of travel, amateur photographer, and a mom who likes to expose her kids to the world around them, while capturing as many memories as I can. I have a ten-year-old boy and a seven-year-old girl. We live in New York City and consider ourselves true urbanites. However, we wanted to take the kids out of their city comfort zone on a true outdoor adventure. This past October we traveled to the Papagayo peninsula of Costa Rica. Our experiences from wildlife-watching and tasting fresh fruit, to surfing and ziplining, brought out the inner child and adventurist in all of us.
Traveling to Costa Rica
Papagayo is in the Guanacaste region on the southern pacific coast of Costa Rica. To get there you fly into Daniel Oduber Quiros International Airport in Liberia (LIR). Jet Blue, American and other airlines have direct flights from multiple cities in the United States. Upon arrival, we were greeted by very friendly locals and felt safe during our entire stay. The Costa Rican people (“Ticos”) live by the motto, “Pura Vida,” which translates into ‘pure life.’ Pura Vida is more than a phrase, it’s truly a way of living. It’s used for greetings and farewells – it encompasses the optimism and easy-goingness of their lifestyle.
Costa Rica has two seasons: dry (December-June) and rainy (July-November). And rainy definitely means rainy! The rainy season is a great time to explore the lush forests. It’s also the perfect time take advantage of the swells when surfing and the full rivers when rafting. It’s usually sunny in the morning with tropical showers in the afternoon. The temperature is warm throughout, with the average temp in Guanacaste hovering around 75-800 F year-round. Make sure to pack your raincoats, water shoes and a water-resistant/waterproof bag for day trips. Don’t forget hiking shoes and bathing suits, as well. Make sure to pack bug spray…and lots of it.
Where we stayed
We stayed at the Andaz Papagayo which is part of the Hyatt group. The hotel is a 40 minute scenic drive from the airport, which was lush and beautiful. We saw many of the local crops (sugar cane) and native birds and animals. The beautifully landscaped property of the hotel is set between two beaches and surrounded by all things tropical. The wildlife on the property is an unexpected added bonus. Our kids enjoyed seeing the monkeys and colorful birds right outside our room!
Like most of the hotels throughout the region, a lot of attention is paid to nature and conservation. All of the employees were eager to share their knowledge about the local wildlife, foliage and ecosystem, which was interesting for all of us. The concierge at the Andaz helped us with our daily itineraries and activity planning. They also connected us with Tropical Comfort Tours, who arranged all the activities, adventures and day trips throughout our stay.
What we ate
Coffee, sugarcane, tropical fruit, rice, beans, seafood and meat are all locally grown and harvested. Only the freshest of the fresh! Our meals were truly authentic as we ate in several local restaurants. Favorite local foods include plantains, casados (rice and beans) and seafood ceviches. Bottled water is offered everywhere; however, we did not find drinking the ice or water at any of the restaurants outside our resort to be an issue.
There are so many amazing activities to do and day trips to take in Costa Rica. It’s an adventure-lover’s dream come true. It’s also an amazing place to relax surrounded by nature. Whether you’re looking for a thrill ziplining through the jungle or just want to spend a day lounging at the beach, Costa Rica has something for everyone in the family. There are so many things to do, you can spend every day of your trip doing something different. Most hotels can make day trip arrangements for you, or steer you to a reputable third party for activity planning. We chose a combination of action-adventure outings and relaxation for each day.
Day 1: Surfing
Surfing in Costa Rica was at the top of our bucket list. We took a trip to Playa Tamarindo which is about an hour away from the resort. It is a long, rocky beach with shallow waters and breaks perfect for surfing, especially for beginners. There were quite a few surfing companies on the strip, and we used Iguana Surf. They provided the instructor, surfboards and the rash guards. There was a twenty-minute tutorial on the beach which included safety, paddling out, and popping up on to the board, and then it was time to hit the water!
The conditions were suitable for my family with the light crowd, long wide beach and knee to waist high swells. The instructor guided each of us on how best to effectively get up and ride the wave. Our son took to it almost immediately! Within minutes he was up and riding small waves. He’s asked for a surfboard every day since!
Day 2: Ziplining
There is nothing like the rush you feel zipping through the clouds hundreds of feet in the air! We took a trip to Monteverde, a cloud forest reserve found in the Central Highlands of Costa Rica. Jairo (our guide and fifth family member on the trip) from Tropical Comfort Tours drove us in a van to the top of the mountain. The trip was nearly four hours of breathtaking views and exposure to several diverse Costa Rican communities. We stopped for an authentic Costa Rican breakfast of Gallo Pinto (eggs with rice and beans), and then headed for the forest.
Monteverde has something for every adventure-lover, including ziplining, horseback riding, nighttime nature/animal hikes, hanging bridge canopy tours, bungee jumping and coffee making and chocolate tours. Two days is probably ideal to cover most of this, but since we only had a day, we opted for the ziplining and the hanging bridge tours. There were eight ziplines, which ranged from 500 to 2500 feet in length, and up to 300 feet in the air, spanning over the clouds and forest, which had our hearts racing.
The guides from Sky Adventure were amazing, and really put an emphasis on safety, making sure everyone was comfortable at all points. My seven-year-old had to zipline with an instructor due to the lack of weight (which actually made me happy), although she would have probably liked to have gone solo! The views from above were both exhilarating and breathtaking! The extensive ecological biodiversity on the hike among the canopy of the forest was astonishing for the kids.
Day 3: White water rafting
We went to Canon de la Vieja for a family outing for some white-water rafting. Next time, we will do it in the dry season! The rapids were classified as level 2, but because we were at the end of rainy season, it became more of a level 3/4 course. Saftey is priority – helmets and life vests are required for everyone. I would also recommend that children are capable swimmers if they are going to participate. We were each in separate dokis (inflatable boats) with our own guides, although they put both kids together to balance out their boat.
It was an intense 45 minutes of dips, turns and splashes, but a pure thrill, and we felt especially safe with safety guides in two extra boats in front and behind us. In between fighting the rapids, there were stretches where we would peacefully drift down the river, and we were able to observe the nature around us – birds, bats, frogs, trees, etc. The contrast between the rocky bumps and the tranquility of the calm river was beautiful.
Day 4: Relaxation
We spent the fourth day relaxing and enjoying our surroundings. Because of our limited time in Costa Rica, I had everyone running like the Energizer bunny the first three days. I kept reminding myself that they are still kids, so our last day was completely unscheduled. We walked along the nature trails observing the wildlife — white-faced capuchin monkeys swinging from the trees above us and the family of coatis (small, cuter raccoons) playing and eating in the forest.
We also walked the beach and saw many species of crabs, fish and shells. But alas, the kids wanted some time at the Andaz Kids Club, Cambio. They played board games, baked and decorated cupcakes, and did art projects. They got to play on the swings near the beach and relax in the pool. And most importantly to them, they enjoyed a pineapple smoothie sitting next to an iguana! I reluctantly obliged, and found myself a hammock, rounding out another wonderful day.
Costa Rica was wonderful and we loved everything we did. And amazingly, there is so much more than we were able to experience, including volcanoes, hot springs, waterfalls and national parks. Everything that we did was new and incredible to us. There is nothing like sharing new experiences with your children. Seeing their excitement, watching them overcome fears, and broadening their minds was everything I hoped that this vacation would be. I am most grateful for this trip because everything we did, ALL of us did, creating long lasting memories and tighter bonds.
To Costa Rica with love…this is not good-bye, this is see you later…Pura Vida!
Giselle Wyckoff is from New York City, mom to Max (10 years old) and Sam (7 years old), an operating room nurse and amateur photographer. Growing up in the metro area has given her a love for food, travel and adventure, but she also likes to break away to the east end of Long Island for a little tranquility and downtime. In her free time, she enjoys tennis, the beach, spending time with family and friends, and enjoying all that NYC has to offer- restaurants, museums, and fashion. Her passion for photography is influenced by these interests, focusing on capturing the vibrance and beauty in family shots, street and travel photography. You can find her at the following locations: