By Nadine Mellor, Kids Collections Editor

After two years of spending (perhaps too much) time together during lockdown, our Kids Collection Editor (and keen birder) Nadine and family (husband Colman, Esme aged 14 and Cormac aged 10) decided to spend even more time together and tick Costa Rica off the bucket list. They had a great many adventures and wildlife encounters during their two-week once-in-a-lifetime trip. And stayed at some lovely hotels en route… 

i-escape blog / Just Back From Costa Rica / Manuel Antonio

It’s a 16-hour direct flight from London to San Jose; inevitably it took a few days to adjust to the new timezone and temperatures. Early to bed and early to rise meant the kids were up for 6am birdwatching tours in the first few days! Costa Rica is blessed with many national parks, expert guides, and incredible biodiversity for such a small country. All hotels on our trip featured amazing wildlife.

i-escape blog / Just Back From Costa Rica / Hanging Bridges

We headed first to the hot and humid Caribbean lowlands for some white-water rafting on River Sarapiqui,  a tremendous success with just the right level of danger for all. Cormac bounced out of the raft during some rapids, but our guide hauled him back in one swift move.

i-escape blog / Just Back From Costa Rica / White-water rafting

Stop 1:
 Luna Nueva Lodge, near La Fortuna

i-escape blog / Just Back From Costa Rica / Luna Nueva Lodge

Our first stay was at Luna Nueva Lodge, an eco-lodge of bungalows set in lush grounds full of birds and with a spring-fed pool in the Central Highlands, 30 mins outside tourist hub La Fortuna. We feasted on gorgeous fresh healthy food, as befits a working farm focused on regenerative agriculture – nearly all fruit and veg is grown on property. We stayed in their new casitas – Colman and I had a tranquil deck looking into the rainforest, the kids had a hammock on theirs – which are really smart with polished concrete floors and power showers.
i-escape blog / Just Back From Costa Rica / Luna Nueva Lodge

We found the farm tour absolutely fascinating. We learned about rainforest-style cultivation, ate termites (they taste of resin, amazingly flavourful for such a small creature!), tried many unusual fruits, saw stingless bees making honey, and discovered how chocolate is made. That afternoon we went to see Arenal Volcano. Our guide was both birder and vulcanologist so showed us dense rainforest trails and took us to the 1968 eruption platform.


i-escape blog / Just Back From Costa Rica / Arenal Volcano

Stop 2: Senda Monteverde, Monteverde

i-escape blog / Just Back From Costa Rica / Senda Monteverde
The journey to the renowned Monteverde cloud forest included a boat trip along Arenal Lake (more volcano views). Eco-hotel Senda Monteverde has bungalows nicely spaced apart in a small bowl-shaped valley, long views to the Pacific and backs on to a private reserve (free entry for guests). The grounds were teeming with wildlife including agouti and coatimundi which regularly came right up to our bungalow. The kids voted the food here the best on our whole trip (probably something to do with the burger and chips).


i-escape blog / Just Back From Costa Rica / Monteverde zip lining
You could easily spend a week in world-class Monteverde. We went on the famous zip-lines above the forest canopy (I was frankly terrified on the 1km ones, which Esme loved the most) and enjoyed the vistas from the hanging bridges. On our excellent night safari we saw scorpions, frogs, a porcupine, sleepy sloths and birds, various lizards and a side-striped viper (to Cormac’s delight).


i-escape blog / Just Back From Costa Rica / Monteverde wildlife

Stop 3: Ylang Ylang Beach Resort, Montezuma

i-escape blog / Just Back From Costa Rica / Ylang Ylang Beach Resort
To the Pacific Coast, for a new habitat – drier coastal forest – and to boho-chic Ylang Ylang Beach Resorta 10-minute walk along the white sand beach from laid-back Montezuma on the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula. It isn’t advised to drive as you could get stuck in the sand, so you’re collected by their 4×4 jeep buggy. The resort comprises a mix of casitas and dome-shaped bungalows beside the beach, shrouded in tropical trees and palms; their pool was probably our favourite of the holiday. Squirrels, iguanas and lizards hang out alongside. There’s a delightful open-sided ocean-facing yoga space. The buzzy restaurant specialises in seafood and fruit smoothies, with a yummy sushi menu and generous cocktails. We loved the constant sound of the surf.


i-escape blog / Just Back From Costa Rica / Ylang Ylang Beach Resort

Although we still managed a daily activity we took it easy as temperatures are higher here. I went horse riding along the beach to a waterfall and a tour of the Curu Wildlife Reserve (lots of monkeys!); we all did a big boat trip to Tortuga Island which was fun – if touristy (loads of other tour boats too) – and did some snorkelling.


i-escape blog / Just Back From Costa Rica / around Montezuma

Stop 4: Arenas del Mar, Manuel Antonio

i-escape blog / Just Back From Costa Rica / Arenas del Mar
Our final destination was across the Gulf of Nicoya to Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica’s most visited national park. We stayed at upscale Arenas del Mar – which has an unrivalled position atop a bluff overlooking two picture-perfect horseshoe bays to each side, and the wonderful Pacific. Golf buggies whisk you from the main restaurant and infinity pool above, past the ocean view rooms and suites, to the pool and beach restaurant on the semi-private beach below. The beach restaurant has themed nights (think street food and seafood); the top restaurant features beautifully presented dishes and views of the bay. Service was excellent and breakfasts delicious. We loved our ocean view suite and terrace with its Jacuzzi and resident black iguana.


i-escape blog / Just Back From Costa Rica / Arenas del Mar
Activities abound: we enjoyed the complimentary tortilla-making class, the night safari, the rainforest walking trail down to the beach; the kids went to a movie night one night. There were sloths just above our heads, toucans flying over the pool, white-faced monkeys trying to steal our bags, and basilisk lizards running across the swimming pools (aka Jesus Christ lizards). Esme and I had a tranquil 2-hour kayak through the mangroves, and we all did a wildlife tour of (very) popular Manuel Antonio; the tour ends at a third horseshoe bay where you swim in jade-coloured sea. On our final evening we had cool drinks beside the infinity pool as the sun set across a magical sea.


i-escape blog / Just Back From Costa Rica / Manuel Antonio Wildlife


We booked transfers between hotels – a mix of private and shared – and these worked out well, if you want a more stress-free holiday and the chance to chat to the locals – nearly all of our drivers spoke pretty good English. We recommend Tailormade Tours – Costa Rica who can create a brilliant bespoke tour around the country, including road and air transfers. We did meet several other families who were self-driving as an alternative option; roads are safe if a bit potholed.


i-escape blog / Just Back From Costa Rica / Cocktails
Oh yes, and the final bird count? 151 since you ask!

Charmed by Costa Rica? Click to see our full collection of hotels and villas in the region