Top 7 things to do for adventurous teens & their families
Anyone who travels with tweens and teens knows that pretty scenery and a nice pool aren’t enough to satisfy kids seeking bragging rights on Instagram. My two teenaged sons are adrenaline junkies, which means my husband and I are often along for the (wild) ride. But they also value truly unique experiences - those once-in-a-lifetime, I-can-only-see-this-here memories. Fortunately, Costa Rica has both types of experiences to entice your teens.
Here are my top 7 picks for activities in Costa Rica for tweens and teens.
Ok, let’s start with the less extreme experiences and work our way up (or in this case, down… way down!).
If you’re traveling with a family with kids across a wide range of ages, I suggest a zipline operation like Ecoglide Arenal Park near La Fortuna. This park is really well run. I appreciate the fact that they send multiple guides with your group to man three stations at a time, meaning that your family doesn’t have to wait for every single person (typically 12 in a group) to complete one zipline before moving on. It results in a much more enjoyable experience. Plus, the ziplines are a good length and not too short. About halfway through the course, you’ll come to the Tarzan Swing. This swing is optional and costs an extra $25. It’s ideal for older kids who are looking for an adrenaline rush. I found that screaming wasn’t optional; it was involuntary! Watch here.
Also in the area of Arenal Volcano, you’ll find Pure Trek Canyoning, where your family can do four rappels (three down waterfalls and one down a rock wall), a Monkey Drop (zipline and rappel), and a rock climb in a rainforest slot canyon.
The award for sheer number of unique activities in one place that teens will love goes to Sky Adventures near Arenal Volcano. The Sky Limit package combines a high ropes course, ziplines, canyoning, rappelling, Tarzan swing, Tibetan bridges, and other adventure activities in the heart of the rainforest. Sky Adventures also has river tubing and Flyboarding. Plus Sky Adventures’ other location in Monteverde has something that I’ve never seen before - adventure tree climbing in a cloud forest!
Finally, if you have a family of daredevils, head over to Monteverde Extremo Park about 30 minutes from the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve. Here the canopy package includes 16 cables, a Tarzan swing, a rappel, plus two Superman-style lines (you ride with your arms extended out) of which one goes through an underground tunnel. Or you can just opt for the Superman package that includes the aerial and subterranean flights. If you and your older teens are craving the ultimate thrill, strap into the Extreme Tarzan Swing (minimum age 12) or the Bungee Extremo (minimum age 18, must weigh at least 110 pounds), a jump of 197 feet from a platform raised 470 feet off the ground. Click here to watch. Know that I’m completely out at this point!
Photo courtesy: Monteverde Extremo Park
2/Find your way in the dark
While you’ll undoubtably see wildlife while visiting Costa Rica’s national parks and reserves during the day, nightfall brings an entirely different experience and a different list of creatures. And if you’re like me and can’t get enough of those colorful, poison dart frogs that Costa Rica is known for, you need to hunt them (for photos) at night.
Make sure to book a guided tour because wildlife can be tricky to spot. You’re going to need an expert with you - someone who can hear croaking and know where to find a frog that may measure less than a half inch! Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park runs a night walk tour every night, starting at 6 p.m. The tour lasts 2-1/2 hours. You must be 10 years old to participate. Cost: Youth (11-18) $39; Adult $49.
KidTripster Tip: You can bring a camera. The guide will indicate when a flash can be used, depending on the animal. Also use insect repellent and wear long pants and closed-toe shoes.
Or head to La Selva Biological Station. La Selva is a protected area, owned and operated by the Organization for Tropical Studies, a consortium of universities and research institutions from the United States, Costa Rica, and Puerto Rico. The preserve is home to more than 2,077 species of plants, 125 species of mammals (72 of them are bats), 470 species of birds, 48 amphibian species, 87 species of reptiles, 45 species of freshwater fish, and tens of thousands of insects, arachnids, and other arthropods. The big draw on the night tour is the poison dart frogs. Night walks start between 6 and 7 p.m. and last two hours. Cost: Youth (5-12) $33; Adult $50.
If you don’t mind going without air-conditioning, you actually can stay at the station overnight in the 2-bedroom, family bungalow. Cost: Double $62/night + Additional person $46 + Youth (5-12) $26; includes lodging, breakfast and taxes; discounts in low season (May, September-December 14).
Then wake up early and go on the guided birding tour at 5:45 a.m. Birding for teens? Yes, you’d be amazed at how into birdwatching older kids can get when they’re with a guide who actually knows what he or she is looking for. Cost: Youth (5-12) $33; Adult $50.
3/Hike the base of Arenal Volcano
While Costa Rica boasts seven volcanos, Arenal may be the most photographed. Arenal Volcano National Park is located about three hours from San José. Most people base themselves in La Fortuna to explore the park.
Arenal Volcano violently erupted in 1968, killing 87 people and burying three villages. It remained active until 2010, spewing hot rocks, lava, ash, and smoke from its top nearly every day. While the volcano has been quiet since then, it’s still considered very dangerous due to toxic gases and potential landslides. Visitors aren’t allowed within a 2-1/2-mile perimeter of the crater.
However, two trails at its base are open to the public: Bosque 1968 and Colada 1968 Trails. Of the two, the Bosque 1968 Trail is more strenuous but certainly doable for a family with older kids. The steep trail is 3 miles long with exposed roots and rocks to traverse. The Colada 1968 Trail is shorter at 2.4 miles, also with some steep sections. Both trails include a viewpoint, where - on a clear day - you’ll get an impressive photo of the volcano. You’ll also see the old lava field littered with boulders the size of houses that were shot out of the volcano at speeds up 1200 miles per hour!
The Arenal Volcano National Park Visitor Center and trailheads are located about 25 minutes from La Fortuna. Cost for park access: $15/person.
KidTripster Tip: As with all nature walks in Costa Rica, I think having a guide is invaluable. The guide gives context to the geology that you’re seeing. He or she also spots and identifies the wildlife that you encounter along the way. If you book a tour with Costa Rica Family Holidays, your personal guide will be able to lead you.
4/Brave the rapids
There are plenty of outfitters in Costa Rica who’ll take you whitewater rafting in various locations.
For teens who are 14 years old and up, I recommend a 2-day/1-night whitewater rafting trip on the famous Pacuare River with Rios Tropicales. The rapids of this jaw-droppingly beautiful river range from Class II to IV. The trip includes an overnight stay in a rainforest ecolodge.
For teens younger than 14, go with a 2-day/1-night rafting trip down the Sarapiquí River with a stay at the Pozo Azul Tent Suites. Here your kids also can go horseback riding, rappelling, and searching for bats at night.
KidTripster Tip: If you’re unsure if your teens will enjoy rafting, opt for a day trip, just to get their feet wet… well, their feet and everything else!
Photo courtesy: Rios Tropicales
5/Stay in an ecolodge
If you want your teens to unplug from their devices, go remote… really remote. Check into one of Costa Rica’s ecolodges where your morning wake-up call comes courtesy of a troop of howler monkeys. Some of these lodges are actually treehouses that sit in the rainforest canopy. These properties will take some extra effort to reach, but that’s part of the experience.
Looking for something really unique? The family suite at Hotel Costa Verde near Manuel Antonio National Park is a treehouse made from a 1965 Boeing 727!
KidTripster Tip: If you plan to visit an ecolodge in Tortuguero, you may want to time it with the hacking of the turtles starting in November.
Photo courtesy: Hotel Costa Verde
6/Watch turtles hatch
Even tweens and teens will admit, nature is pretty awesome. One of nature’s great spectacles plays out in Tortuguero every year with Green sea turtle mothers laying and then burying their eggs from August through November. Those eggs start hatching in November, and the tiny baby turtles attempt the dangerous journey to the sea. It’s also possible to see Olive Ridley, Leatherback, and Hawksbill sea turtles at different locations at different times of the year go through the same lifecycle.
My best advice? Choose what time of year you’d like to visit Costa Rica, then consult this guide to see which turtles are doing what and where during that period.
7/Be a beach bum
With 800 miles of shoreline on two coasts - the Pacific and the Caribbean - finding a beach isn’t difficult.
If your teens have an interest in snorkeling, here’s some of the best spots: on the Pacific - Papagayo Peninsula, Isla Tortuga, and OsoPeninsula - and on the Caribbean - Cahuita National Park, Puerto Viejo, and Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge.
If your kids want to give surfing a try, these areas tend to be good for beginners: on the Pacific - Tamarindo, Nosara, and Samara - and on the Caribbean - Playa Cocles. The waves on the rest of the Caribbean side are too big for first-timers.
One of the resorts that I recommends is Tango Mar Resort on the Nicoya Peninsula along the Pacific. It has a wide range of activities that appeal to teens including ATVing, beach horseback riding, paddleboarding, kayaking, snorkeling tours to Tortuga Isle, and a bioluminiscence nocturnal tour.
Want to know what our KidTripster Teen thinks of Costa Rica? Click here.
Editor Shellie Bailey-Shah can’t personally vouch for the bungee jump at Extremo, but she’d love to hear from anyone who gives it a try!
This writer received a complimentary tour for the purposes of this review. However, all opinions expressed are solely her own.