Ecotourism and Family Travel in Costa Rica

Ecotourism and Family Travel in Costa Rica

Posted on July 14, 2016   •   Written by

“Ecotourism is the heart of Costa Rica’s tourism sector,” says Alejandro Castro Alfaro, Director of Marketing for the Costa Rica Tourism Board. “The country takes pride in providing unique, safe and authentic experiences for visitors of all ages.”

After just a few hours in the country, this is abundantly clear. If you weren’t pre-sold on Costa Rica’s unique environmentally conscious tourism offering before you arrived, then you will certainly not remain indifferent to it once you’ve seen it firsthand.

Family travel in Costa Rica: a nature guide with kids in a Costa Rican forest

A nature guide with kids in a Costa Rican forest. Photo courtesy of Cayuga Collection.

Here’s a quartet of thought-provoking considerations to drive the point home early:

  • 26 percent of the land has been set aside for conservation as national parks, biological reserves, wildlife refuges and protected areas;
  • although it occupies only 0.03 percent of the earth’s surface (an area slightly smaller than Lake Michigan in the USA), Costa Rica is home to nearly 5 percent of the world’s biodiversity (more than 500,000 species!), a full 3 percent just within the borders of one national park (Corcovado);
  • in 2015, Costa Rica claims to have generated 99 percent of its electricity using renewable fuel sources and that 285 days were entirely free of fossil fuel;
  • Costa Ricans are commonly called the happiest people on earth, routinely scoring at the very top of the Happy Planet Index.

“Sustainability has always played a big role within Costa Rica, and it naturally permeates the tourism industry,” sums up Erick Nassar, Marketing Manager of Namu Travel Group, which operates as Costa Rican Vacations in Costa Rica. “It’s not just a trend to position within a niche.”

Certification for Sustainable Tourism
Given the country’s profound commitment to best environmental practices, in 1997 the Costa Rica Tourism Board introduced a certification program created to help consumers differentiate tourism businesses based on the degree to which they comply with a sustainable model of natural, cultural, social and economic resource management. Called the Certification for Sustainable Tourism (CST) program, it consists of five levels of sustainable tourism achievement – measured in green leaves – five being the maximum when a company truly stands out for its sustainability practices.

Family travel in Costa Rica: A child with a toucan at La Paz Waterfall Gardens in Costa Rica

Hanging out with a toucan at La Paz Waterfall Gardens in Costa Rica. Photo courtesy of Il Viaggio Travel

“Visitors who choose to visit CST-designated tourism companies such as hotels, tour operators and car-rental companies support businesses that take proactive measures to avoid the negative impacts on the environment, culture and society,” continues Mr. Alfaro of the Costa Rica Tourism Board. “The CST program emphasizes the need to use recycled, reusable and natural products, in addition to using devices for energy and water saving, waste management, information and others, which opens the door to a new market for environmentally and socially friendly products. The goal of the program is to develop a synergy among different economic sectors and to achieve an overall positive balance in terms of sustainability.”

Sustainable Family Travel in Costa Rica
The importance of sustainable travel is no different when it comes to family travel. “A family vacation in Costa Rica is a way to raise awareness about sustainability for the whole family,” says Ana María Baldioceda, Marketing & Sales Manager for the Cayuga Collection of Sustainable Luxury Hotels & Lodges. “We find that especially children are really open to the concept of nature conservation and hiking through a primary rainforest is a life-changing experience.”

Cayuga isn’t alone in having identified Costa Rica’s special standing when it comes to family travel. “Lush and exotic, Costa Rica is a thrilling spot for a family vacation,” reads Ciao Bambino!. It “continually amazes us,” confirms Family Vacation Critic. It “is officially a hot spot for family travel… every kid’s dream come true,” slam dunks Trekaroo.

Family travel in Costa Rica: kids with a surf board on a beach in Costa Rica

Loving the surf in Costa Rica! Photo courtesy of Cayuga Collection

And it really does live up to the hype. It’s got an astonishing diversity of plants and animals, changing landscapes — beaches, rainforests, rugged mountains and volcanoes — access to nature, well-established sports and adventure opportunities, quality accommodation at all budget levels, reliable transport and, generally speaking, it is safety. What could be better for moms, dads, juniors and grands traveling in small groups or large ones in search of memorable experiences?

Making It Work
As awesome as Costa Rica is, though, “Family travel is a whole different animal than regular tourism,” remarks Nick Biblis, Marketing Analyst for Thomson Family Adventures. Even in Costa Rica, “The itineraries have to be thought out so that there are interesting activities in between point A and B (not just transfers, as much as possible), the drive times need to be shorter than with regular tourism, and the activities need to be good for grandparents and small children alike. The hotels must be able to give the following services: pool (mandatory), a flexible restaurant that will offer kid-friendly meals, rooms that are large enough to fit a roll-away or be able to accommodate at least 3 people together, and as much as possible, availability of kid-friendly features like game room and TV.”

“All of these elements” — and more — “are taken into consideration and incorporated into our clients itineraries,” agrees Stephanie Sheehy, General Manager of Il Viaggio Travel; however, only after “we have selected hotels by their eco policies, do we make the selection for family travel. We consider 14 important factors to select a family-friendly hotel. Tours are also preselected based on their sustainable policies. And are offered to our clients based on the kids ages.”

Family travel in Costa Rica: kid abseiling through a waterfall in Costa Rica

Abseiling through waterfalls is fun for all ages in Costa Rica. Photo courtesy of Il Viaggio Travel

Fortunately, Costa Rica offers sufficient product and program diversity to allow for this amazing degree of selectivity, even when you examine what suits the cross-section of ecotourism and family travel in Costa Rica, and especially when you remember that, as Philippe Brisson of Costa Rica Monkey Tours reminds us, “Family vacations should be fun, interactive and include learning experiences specially for the young ones.”

Looking at Specifics
Even with expert, family-focused, sustainable tour companies and trip planners on hand to help travelers with their every need, we know that a glimpse behind the operational curtain can be a big boost for travelers when they consider their options. So we reached out to several of our members and asked for their thoughts.

Here then are some of their musings about what’s in store for eco-minded family travelers in Costa Rica. All of the topics and opinions shared here are those of well-practiced experts, the kinds of considerations that we believe should factor in everyone’s plans.

Product Development
“Everything is about details and making it a unique experience for every family member.”
– Stephanie Sheehy, General Manager, Il Viaggio Travel

“Most of our hotels and lodges don’t have TVs and we found that it has a very positive impact on reestablishing communication between family members.”
– Ana María Baldioceda, Marketing & Sales Manager, Cayuga Collection of Sustainable Luxury Hotels & Lodges

“We don’t operate the activities in which our travelers take part — rafting, zip-lining etc. We work with local operators to find local providers who are certified by the Costa Rican Bureau of Tourism or that have a proven trajectory with excellent safety and service standards.”
– Nick Biblis, Marketing Analyst, Thomson Family Adventures

“An important part of ecotourism that is sometimes overlooked when talking to families is the importance of quality, healthy and sustainable meals during vacation. Food is an important gateway for kids into a destinations culture, so the Costa Rica Tourism Board, along with the Costa Rican Chamber of Restaurants (CACORE) and the National Institute of Biodiversity (INBio), created the National Plan for Healthy and Sustainable Food. Developed as a new strategy which will improve the country’s competitiveness as a travel destination, the plan will help promote its gastronomic products and highlight its national heritage. The program’s purpose is to promote Costa Rican cuisine as sustainable, considering social, environmental and economic aspects in all phases of the production, marketing and service. The program not only assists in training culinary establishment’s staff on how to prepare traditional dishes, but places high emphasis in using local plants, vegetables and fruits for the recipes. This initiative is expected to garner increased appreciation for the local gastronomical culture at a national and international level.”
– Alejandro Castro Alfaro, Director of Marketing for the Costa Rica Tourism Board

More Than Just ‘Family-Friendly’
“At Costa Rica Monkey Tours, we hand pick child-friendly hotels in specific locations that offer ideal environments rich in culture, comfort and wildlife abundance.”
– Philippe Brisson, Costa Rica Monkey Tours

Family travel in Costa Rica: a child planting a tree with a guide in a Costa Rican forest

Tree planting with a guide in a Costa Rican forest. Photo courtesy of Cayuga Collection

“We recommend keeping the number of destinations and hotels that families visit in a week to no more than two or three. Also, not every minute of the day needs to be filled with a rainforest hike, a waterfall rappelling adventure, surf lesson, dolphin tour or any of the other fun activities and tours that are available at and around our hotels and lodges. Give yourself time to adjust to a different climate and take in the somewhat slower rhythm of Costa Rica. Pura vida!!!”
– Ana María Baldioceda, Marketing & Sales Manager, Cayuga Collection of Sustainable Luxury Hotels & Lodges

“[Coservation, education and sustainability] can all be big, heavy themes. But when illustrated by knowledgeable speakers – during a hike, paddle or snorkel – they can be much more easily understood and appreciated… by kids of all ages.”
– Troy Glennon, Director – Latin American Product Development, Un-Cruise Adventures

Finding the Right Hosts and Guides
“All of our Family Packages include a private, certified guide/driver/host who stays with the clients at each location, helping them to understand each ecosystem, interact with locals, visit local restaurants etc. I also say he is a Host, because he is also available to play with the kids while parents have a spa treatment, for example.”
– Stephanie Sheehy, General Manager, Il Viaggio Travel

“We use very experienced guides in Costa Rica that are local to the area and have a personal connection to it. They, as well as the rafikis (Swahili for friends) we send on trips, are trained every year in guiding family trips.”
– Nick Biblis, Marketing Analyst, Thomson Family Adventures

“Our guides are trained and certified to handle any type of costumers including families, incentive groups and young adults throughout their travels.“
– Philippe Brisson, Costa Rica Monkey Tours

“Our local staff has a natural way of connecting with families: making them feel at home and catering to their needs comes naturally to most of them!”
– Ana María Baldioceda, Marketing & Sales Manager, Cayuga Collection of Sustainable Luxury Hotels & Lodges

Family travel in Costa Rica: families taking part in Club Rio Kayaking in Costa Rica

Families taking part in Club Rio Kayaking in Costa Rica. Photo courtesy of Il Viaggio Travel

Focus on Ecotourism Principles
“In addition to the obvious draw of various activities (kayaking, paddleboarding, snorkeling) enjoyed on board by kids of all ages, the ‘message context’ of the sites we visit is also considered and integrated. Throughout the cruise, we focus on themes of ecotourism, conservation/education and sustainability. Not only are these part of our onboard presentations delivered by our naturalist staff, they are also themes in each site visit.”
– Troy Glennon, Director – Latin American Product Development, Un-Cruise Adventures

“Our resorts and ecolodges are located in unique destinations, and we have programs in place to benefit our local communities and preserve our natural surroundings.”
– Ana María Baldioceda, Marketing & Sales Manager, Cayuga Collection of Sustainable Luxury Hotels & Lodges

“In our experience, families look at ecotourism as a way to add purpose to an usually leisure-oriented activity. Of course, all-inclusives are also popular among this group, but many parents want to broaden their kids’ horizons (and their own) by understanding the importance of protecting the environment, sustaining local economies and immersing in different cultures.”
– Erick Nassar, Marketing Manager, Namu Travel Group (Costa Rican Vacations)

Ecotourism Experiences
“The ‘Jacinta’ program is one of the projects we’re involved in that we are most proud about. The ‘Jacinta’ is a box with latex gloves, biodegradable trash bags, reflective vests, gel alcohol and a log book. The guides and rafikis explain the project to the families at the beginning of each trip. Whenever travelers have some idle time (before dinner, while waiting for a local flight to arrive, during down times etc.) they help collect trash in beaches and parks. The trash is then taken to a local recycling center and a log is kept of which families participated and what they found. This works on two counts: the children in the group get to see firsthand how invasive plastic is, as usually the majority of the trash consists of plastic bottle caps and straws. And also, often local people voluntarily and spontaneously take part in the activity, which is a great way to interact with the locals.”
– Nick Biblis, Marketing Analyst, Thomson Family Adventures

Family travel in Costa Rica: kids participating in Thomson Family Adventures' Jacinta program

Kids participating in Thomson Family Adventures’ Jacinta program. Photo courtesy of Thomson Family Adventures

“The Campanario Biological Station lies in the Pacific lowland tropical rain forest of the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica and stretches nearly 170 acres inland from the sea. It is proud to be home to a wide array of rare and endangered flora and fauna. Campanario offers Neotropical Ecology courses throughout the year for individuals, family groups and students of all ages. Campanario is one of our planned stops in the Osa Peninsula – here we see conservation research, ecotourism and education in action.”
– Troy Glennon, Director – Latin American Product Development, Un-Cruise Adventures

“All of our clients visit at least three national parks. Why? Because we want them to support conservation, learn about it and be part of this wonderful country full of natural experiences. All of our packages are carbon offset too, because we plant trees to compensate the CO2 produced on the trips. We offer our clients the experience of planting them too. If they don’t want to plant them, we do it for them.
– Stephanie Sheehy, General Manager, Il Viaggio Travel

“Our trips DO NOT include plastic water bottles. We give each passenger his/her own refillable bottle to use through the trip. We buy big jugs of water that are kept inside a cooler on the bus, so it’s always fresh. In a group of 10 people, for seven days, with a minimum of two water bottles per day we are talking about keeping 140 plastic bottles from reaching the landfills. This is no small number!”
– Nick Biblis, Marketing Analyst, Thomson Family Adventures

“We also have a new initiative to use bamboo straws. The idea is to show children (and adults too) that really, straws are not needed to drink. Five minutes on your lips, 500 years in the environment. We instead carry bamboo straws for those that definitely feel the need to use a straw. Usually only one or two people will request to use one after learning how bad they are for the environment!”
– Nick Biblis, Marketing Analyst, Thomson Family Adventures

Meeting Locals
“Social aspects are just as important because many children really enjoy the visits to the schools that are supported by our hotels and lodges. They interact with children in the classroom or during their breaks (soccer games guaranteed).”
– Ana María Baldioceda, Marketing & Sales Manager, Cayuga Collection of Sustainable Luxury Hotels & Lodges

“In Golfo Dulce, we meet a couple who are living the dream of an ‘off-the-grid’ lifestyle on their jungle/beachfront property only accessed by boat. They are making a living by adding guest bungalows to their farm/preserve and showcasing openly to guests the challenges and triumphs of sustainability.”
– Troy Glennon, Director – Latin American Product Development, Un-Cruise Adventures

We also include at least one cultural experience which can be a mascarada and cimarrona tour OR a cooking lesson OR artisan workshop OR dance lesson.”
– Stephanie Sheehy, General Manager, Il Viaggio Travel

Planning Resources and Sample Trips


Essential Costa Rica logoCosta Rica Tourism Board

The Visit Costa Rica website has a list of all CST-certified properties, vendors and tour operators in the country.

 


Cayuga Collection logoCayuga Collection

* Arenas del Mar Resort
* Lapa Rios Ecolodge
* Finca Rosa Blanca

Visit here for more hotels in the Cayuga Collection. Also of interest is their Nature Family Adventures website, which includes a link to their detailed, downloadable, 20-page Family Mini-Guide all about extraordinary family getaways.


Costa Rica Monkey Tours logoCosta Rica Monkey Tours

Visit here for sample trips with Costa Rica Monkey Tours or build a custom itinerary perfect for your family.

 


Costa Rican Vacations logoCosta Rican Vacations

* Green Family Adventure
* Eco-friendly Costa Rica
* Rainforest Volunteer Day

Visit here for more family travel in Costa Rica with Costa Rican Vacations.


Il Viaggio Travel logoIl Viaggio Travel

All family tours with Il Viaggio Travel are tailor made.

Visit here for sample itineraries and more about family travel with Il Viaggio Travel. Also of interest is their family travel in Costa Rica blog and Costa Rica Family Travel community in Google+.


Thomson Family Adventures logoThomson Family Adventures

* Costa Rica Multi-Sport Adventure
* Costa Rica: Volcanoes & Beaches
* Costa Rica Teen Adventure

Visit here for more family trips in Costa Rica with Thomson Family Adventures.


Un-Cruise Adventures logoUn-Cruise Adventures

* Uncharted Isthmus! Sloths, Monkeys & Mangroves

Visit here for more Un-Cruise Adventures in Costa Rica.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

industry member Spotlight

The New York Times Travel Show (FTA Member)

The New York Times Travel Show ever is widely regarded as the “gateway show” for the world’s travel destinations wishing to present to the U.S. market.

Learn More
The New York Times Travel Show