Costa Rica with Kids – Lapa Rios Rainforest Lodge
Will travel for exceptional wildlife experiences! In our family, dream vacation activities include rising before dawn in the Amazon to watch parrots feeding on a clay lick or leaping over the side of a boat into a Pacific Ocean current to snorkel with baby sea lions. For this reason, when planning a family trip to Costa Rica, we knew that the Osa Peninsula, home to over half the species found in Costa Rica, would be a perfect fit for us. This Costa Rica family adventure vacation was also very much encouraged by my husband, who had visited the Osa Peninsula region many years earlier as a backpacker and longed to share it with the rest of us. Back then, the Osa Peninsula hotels were rather rudimentary (a tent camp on the beach actually), but for this trip, we were looking for something a little more luxe. We quickly honed in on one of Costa Rica’s top luxury eco resorts for families, Lapa Rios. Read on to learn more about this very special Costa Rica vacation with kids.
Note: If you are short on time (I like to write rather lengthy posts), feel free to check out this 3 minute video of Lapa Rios Lodge with kids. If nothing else, you should watch it for the baby monkey on her mom’s back at about 1:30.
About Lapa Rios
Lapa Rios (meaning River of Scarlet Macaws) was so named for the beautiful birds that filled the sky when Americans John and Karen Lewis first visited the property nearly three decades ago. These former Peace Corps volunteers set out to protect this treasure of an ecosystem by buying up more than 1000 acres of Osa Peninsula farmland and primary rainforest. Today, the Lapa Rios compound includes 17 bungalows, an impressive lodge and a community school all tucked away into the landscape – running from a mountaintop to the sea. Lapa Rios is a charter member of National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World ™ and is part of the Cayuga Collection – an award-winning group of sustainable hotels in Central America.
For those looking for a Costa Rica family adventure vacation package, Lapa Rios is a great option since the experience is all-inclusive (no surprises at the end). A stay includes 3 à la carte meals a day, snacks, non-alcoholic drinks, guided onsite tours and transportation to and from Puerto Jimenez Airport. Lapa Rios is most suitable for children 6 and above due to the nature of the landscape and tours.
Lapa Rios Bungalows
Lapa Rios allows you to experience the most of indoor-outdoor living with their fully screened luxury bungalows. Guests can enjoy the sights and sounds of the jungle right from their beautiful (and romantic) canopy-netted bed, or likewise while relaxing in a hammock on the deck. In keeping with their sustainability practices, toiletries are all eco-friendly and are available at both the indoor and outdoor rain showers. As I write this, I can’t help but think of my daughter excitedly shouting to me from the outdoor shower “Mom ! There is a toucan in the tree right above me!”
In the evenings, turndown service includes a nightly treat or small gift – something that my kids would rush back after dinner to find. For me, the best part of our stay in the bungalows was the early morning coffee, tea or hot chocolate delivery, quietly left outside the door at around 6am. The jungle comes alive at dawn and I simply cannot oversell the experience of sitting on the deck while watching pairs of scarlet macaws fly overhead and listening to the haunting calls of howler monkeys in the distance.
Note: There are 17 bungalows at Lapa Rios. The higher the number, the further the bungalow is from the main lodge. We were in unit 10 which meant a little uphill walk to the pool and meals in the main lodge. This was fine for us as we appreciated the exercise and also enjoyed all the wildlife we would see along the way.
Lapa Rios Amenities
The immediate grounds of Lapa Rios are simply lovely and include a large main lodge and dining room with several beautiful decks overlooking the jungle and beyond to the ocean. There is also a gorgeous pool area, a yoga studio, and a little wifi hut (that we fondly referred to as the wifi cafe). From our travel experience, it is not a given that you will find a pool at a lodge in the jungle, and quite honestly, I had forgotten how important this can be for kids. My kids were in it almost every spare moment. When they weren’t in it, they were exploring around it, watching the monkeys in the trees, the iguanas in the bushes, or at night, by flashlight, the toads and frogs that congregated around it.
Lapa Rios Activities and Excursions
A stay at Lapa Rios lodge includes a whole range of complimentary tours and activities suitable for varying fitness levels and interests. As we were visiting Lapa Rios with kids, we started with the Pigs and Twigs sustainability tour which takes guests to see the organic garden and the resident pigs (who help out at the lodge by eating the vegetable food scraps). In the following days, we also enjoyed a waterfall walk, beach-combing and swimming in the bay below the lodge, and hiking the Osa Trail with the fabulous guide Edwin (He has worked at Lapa Rios for over 20 years!). Our activities weren’t limited to the rainforest of course. We also enjoyed an early morning family yoga session and the kids even took a little Spanish lesson one day while my husband and I had some more relaxed pool time (without a game of Marco Polo). Another highlight was a guided tour of the jungle at night where we were able to see all kinds of creatures that wouldn’t necessarily be visible during the day. The common element in all the tours, however, was the fact that there was so much wildlife to see and that the guides were so incredibly knowledgeable. Check out the full list of Lapa Rios Activities and Tours.
Note: We did do one offsite tour which involved riding horses to a waterfall and rappelling 30 meters down it. While the photo makes it look pretty amazing, I will admit to feeling more terror than I have ever felt in my whole life – wondering what the heck I had been thinking when booking this as a family activity. To be fair, however, my husband and daughter (11) both loved it. My son (13) wasn’t a fan, but that may have been because we did a tandem rappel, during which I kept losing my footing and swinging wildly into him. He has definitely kicked me off his Navy SEALs team. If adrenalin inducing activities are your thing, this one might just be for you.
What Makes Lapa Rios Special
Through my work as a travel blogger (and our family obsession with nature travel), we have been lucky enough to visit some of the best jungle lodges in Central America and South America. While they have all provided wonderful experiences, we noted several things that were very unique and quite exceptional at Lapa Rios.
1. If you are specifically wanting to see wildlife at a relatively close range, Lapa Rios was the best we have ever experienced. For example, prior to this trip, we had only ever seen toucans at a distance through binoculars (not in a tree right above our outdoor shower ). While walking to and from our bungalow each day, we saw scarlet macaws, squirrel monkeys, white-faced monkeys, iguanas, toads, and frogs. Although we missed it, some lucky guests even had a sloth hanging out in a tree right by their deck. Part of the abundance of wildlife would certainly have to do with the fact that we traveled to Costa Rica in rainy season when food is plentiful, but even so, the Osa Peninsula is very special in this way. As one guest put it, all you needed to do was stay put for a moment and look around.
2. Another thing that my kids really appreciated was the freedom to roam. At Lapa Rios, they could walk around the property quite freely without having to constantly be with a guide. There were also several little excursions that we could do just as a family. From our previous experience with rainforest and jungle lodges, this is not typical. While of course there are very good reasons for not letting guests wander off into the jungle in certain scenarios, it was really nice to be able to do a few things on our own and not as part of a guided group.
3. We travel frequently as a family and I think a lot about our impact on the places we visit. While I knew that Lapa Rios took their commitment to the community and environment seriously, I was quite blown away by all the sustainability initiatives they have in place. Just a small sampling of these include:
- Hiring from the local community when possible and providing year-round employment.
- Supporting a local school project on the property.
- Buying provisions and supplies locally whenever possible.
- Buying what the fishermen have to sell on any particular day (not dictating what they need to provide).
- Banning all single use plastics (straws are made from bamboo, guests are encouraged to bring their own water bottles etc.).
- Feeding compost scraps to their pigs and using their methane to fuel the staff kitchen.
- Using eco-friendly products in and around the lodge (soaps, mosquito repellent etc.)
- Using recycled products wherever possible. For example, although the bungalow roofs look like they are made of leaves, they have actually recently been replaced with a cool product made from recycled water bottles.
Getting to Lapa Rios
The drive time from San Jose to Lapa Rios is a little over six hours. Otherwise, the closest airport to Lapa Rios is Puerto Jimenez – which is only a short 45 minute flight from San Jose’s Juan Santamaria Airport (SJO). Once you touch down, you are warmly greeted by a representative from Lapa Rios and taken on a short 45 minute car ride to the lodge. The whole process is very easy and stress-free.
Tips for Visiting Lapa Rios
To make your stay at Lapa Rios the best it can be, I offer the following tips.
- As mentioned earlier in this post, the beautiful bungalows are completely screened allowing you to hear the full symphony of the jungle. We loved waking up to the calls of the howler monkeys in the distance, but if you really need your beauty sleep, you may wish to bring along a set of earplugs.
- I like to wear my Nike running shoes everywhere, but on the Lapa Rios tours I would like to encourage hiking boots, or better, the rubber boots provided by the lodge. The rubber boots are really comfortable and they have plenty available (even kids sizes) – just bring your own boot socks (long socks). The rainforest is full of little critters (such as trails of leaf ants) and the boots just give you some extra peace of mind.
- It’s nice to have your own set of compact binoculars for hikes (although the lodge does have some for loan). For the kids, we also brought along extra flashlights as they each like having their own when seeking out the creatures of the night.
- While we did not have much of an issue with mosquitos at Lapa Rios (despite visiting in rainy season), even a few can be annoying to some people. The lodge offers a complimentary natural repellent in the cabanas, but if you are really bothered by them, you may wish to bring your own. I like the individually wrapped Picaradin wipes. Sorry Lapa Rios ! I know they are not eco !
- If you visit in Costa Rica’s Green Season as we did, I recommend a good lightweight rain jacket and a wet bag or large Ziploc to put items in that haven’t completely dried by the time you leave. That said, the property does have quite a quick turnaround laundry service.
- While the lodge has a small wifi area, the signal is quite weak, so you may want to plan to take a break from it all. Quite humorously, we happened to be at Lapa Rios during the World Cup and ended up hovering around the main office computer watching the England – Colombia shootout.
- Lapa Rios welcomes children from 6 years old. The most popular tours for kids include the Waterfall Walk (sloshing through the river in rubber boots), the Matapalo beach tour and the Pigs and Twigs tour.
Learn More About Lapa Rios Ecolodge
Without hesitation, I can say that I think Lapa Rios provides one of the most complete luxury rainforest lodge experiences in Central America and I recommend it wholeheartedly. That said, I really like to encourage people to read lots of reviews from other travelers before making a booking. Please see what other prior guests of Lapa Rios are saying on TripAdvisor. Learn more about everything this beautiful Costa Rica lodge has to offer at LapaRios.com.
Disclosure: We were welcomed at Lapa Rios with a reduced media rate. All other costs for the trip including flights were incurred by us. All opinions in this post are entirely my own. This post may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.