Glorious nature is the main reason to visit Costa Rica, known for rainforests alive with monkeys and macaws. But here are a few more: 15 to 26ºC temperatures with very little rain, a slew of family-friendly attractions, and one of the most economically and politically stable countries in Central America. Many eco-travellers beat a path to Monteverde, a mountainous area in the northwestern corner of the country. Here’s how to make the most of this tropical paradise.
FUN STUFF FOR KIDS AND PARENTS
WHERE TO WANDER
The main place to stroll in Monteverde is the small downtown of Santa Elena, where you can jostle with squads of backpackers for a seat at one of the many restaurants and bars. Check out La Pizzeria de Johnny for casual Italian fare or Morphos for Costa Rican specialties (like casado, a traditional dish of beef, cabbage, beans, plantain and rice). Given the young crowd, central Santa Elena can be noisy at night, especially on weekends.
Renting a four-wheel-drive vehicle provides the most flexibility, but roads can be bumpy and slow. To avoid the hassle of driving, book a tour with Costa Rica Expeditions (costaricaexpeditions.com), run by an expat New Yorker. Monteverde tours depart from San José and range in length from three to 12 days.
Visitors have easy access to Costa Rica’s good, inexpensive health system, but there’s only a small clinic in Santa Elena. Significant medical problems may require an ambulance ride to the Hospital Monseñor Sanabria in Puntarenas, a two-hour drive from Santa Elena.
The Quaker-run Hotel El Establo (hotelelestablo.com) is one of the more luxe hotels in this laid-back region, with a spa and a solar-heated pool. Blow the budget on a two-level suite. The Hotel Fonda Vela (fondavela.com) is eco-friendly with solar panels, recycled plastic roofing and sustainably harvested lumber. There’s even organic shampoo and conditioner in the guest rooms. Inexpensive private cabins are available at the Mirador Lodge (miradorlodge.com), nestled in the forest just north of Santa Elena. The lodge offers reasonably priced shuttles to local attractions.