Costa Rica’s Best Eco-Adventures for Families

A safe and traveler-laden enclave in the troubled region of Central America, Costa Rica has emerged as both an extremely eco-friendly country and also a tourist magnet. But can both of these identities coexist, with tourism often a blight on sustainability?

Local eco-tourism projects and a substantial focus on sustainable tourism seem to be proving that this duality can, in fact, coexist. Jump into the rainforest jungle with your family and participate in an eco-volunteer opportunity in just about any city, town, or remote village you like. From saving sea turtle habitats and nurturing abandoned baby sloths to planting trees and cleaning up the beach, there’s a volunteer opportunity for everyone.

Experience Costa Rica’s rich traditions and local flavor when you make your way off the beaten path and into the green zones.

Sea Turtle Conservation

Yep, there are plenty of things to do on a beach besides soak up the sun. Sea turtle conservation programs on both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts allow families to help researchers spot, tag, and measure sea turtles before releasing them back into the sea. During hatching season, you might patrol the beach to spot eggs and build protective cocoons for nesting turtles. Some facilities rehab injured adult turtles.

Families can take advantage of tours and programs that range from a few weeks to several months. Most include housing and meals in exchange for several hours of daily work, while letting you explore the inland features of Costa Rica on the weekends. The consistent schedule and animal interactions are great for keeping kids focused and excited.

A trip with Elevated Destinations splits travelers’ time between sea turtles on the beach and journeys to an organic chocolate farm. There couldn’t be a sweeter combo. 

Rainforest Conservation

Tropical rainforests have been home to some of the earth’s earliest people groups, as well as an intense variety of priceless plants and animals that serve a variety of environmental and humanitarian purposes.

Rainforests allow for a slow absorption and release of rainwater, which mitigates flooding and droughts; heavy tree cover also gobbles up carbon dioxide emissions and slows climate change. On the human side, a number of plants found only in the rainforest have become our modern treatments for things like malaria, heart disease, and leukemia.

A rainforest canopy covers nearly half of Costa Rica’s land mass, and has pretty low rates of deforestation thanks to an army of volunteer organizations and green government rules. However, the effort needs continuous monitoring, thanks to risks from loggers, developers, farmers, and miners who want to encroach on the forest.

Families can take a few days or weeks to connect with nature and fall in love with the forest creatures through wildlife rescue. Some programs allow volunteers to assist researchers and require a longer stay. Responsible Travel and Projects Abroad have some pretty exciting wildlife conservation programs in the forest.

Community Projects

Individual community projects all over Costa Rica are another good way to get involved. Many of them revolve around organic and sustainable farming trends. Coffee plantations, cacao growers, and produce farms can all use a hand sometimes, which can be a delicious and rewarding way to help out.

Work with community employees on a coffee plantation in Costa Rica’s central highlands to pick, roast, and package the product with opportunities from International Volunteer HQ, which has programs for families for a week or more. You’ll also be part of reforestation and conservation efforts in the village surrounding the plantation. A local homestay is a great opportunity for your family to interact with Costa Ricans off the job too.

Volunteers at ACUOMITA Indigenous Women’s Project assist local women in the Talamanca region in producing chocolate from cacao. Notably, this opportunity is an ecotourism lifestyle that’s actually conceived and managed by the local women. It combines tourism in a remote part of the country with assistance in the process of extracting, crushing, and processing the cacao beans into tasty chocolate that your kids can devour on the bus ride home. Programs are as short as a single day, but accommodation is available for those wishing to stay longer.

The family-owned, four-bedroom Finca Verde Lodge in Bijagua, near Tenorio National Park, is another great way to experience a community through volunteer efforts. Help maintain the family’s agro-ecological farm, plant some trees in the rainforest, and interact with local villages through community projects with your hosts, the Salazar family. Contact them directly for opportunities as short as one day.

If your kids are old enough to work 5–7 hours on a real, working organic farm, visit WWOOF Costa Rica, which can connect you with a farm looking for international volunteers. Stays range from a week to several months. The site gives options for home stays, but it’s up to you to contact the host. Be sure to confirm that they’ll accept children, too.

Planning on participating in ecotourism during your next family vacation? Share your ideas with us!

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