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If your children are into wildlife, they’re going to be easy to please in Costa Rica — and it’s easy to get back in touch with your own sense of child-like wonder in a land of volcanoes, jungles and giant lizards. Here are some of Forbes Travel Guide’s editors’ picks for kids both young and old.
1. The Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica. On the Caribbean Coast, a small family-run wildlife reserve north of Cahuita National Park began gaining a reputation as a place where locals could bring injured animals. However, their lives were changed when a crippled sloth was dropped at their door; they quickly fell in love with the slow-moving tree-dwellers. Now the sanctuary focuses almost entirely on the health of injured or orphaned sloths, and opens its doors daily to visitors who want to meet the friendly mammals up close. Best of all is their adorable cast of baby sloths — try and get there in the late morning to see them at their lunchtime best.
2. La Paz Waterfall Gardens. In the foothills of the Poas volcano, and only an hour from the airport, La Paz (as well as its luxury boutique hotel, the Peace Lodge) offers a more straightforward take on Costa Rican flora and fauna, built around a series of five waterfalls and surrounded by pristine cloud forest. The zoo-like setup and short, paved trails can be a shock to those used to the wildlife in Costa Rica being a little more untamed, but it also means kids are guaranteed to see animals rarely glimpsed outside a cage, like jaguars, ocelots and marmosets.
3. The “Crocodile Bridge” at Tarcoles. For parents looking for a break on the road from San Jose to the Central Pacific beaches, the sight of a bridge covered with tourists looking downward is their lucky break. In the water beneath, there’s almost always dozens of crocodiles swimming and sunning themselves in the Tarcoles river — a free, fun glimpse into the wilderness surrounding you. Nearby stands offer refreshing coconuts with straws to drink their water (“pipa fria”), as well as fresh fruit and assorted snacks.
4. Ziplining at Los Sueños. Ziplining is big business in Costa Rica, with nearly every tourist destination offering some sort of dash through the treetops to thrill-seeking visitors. Vista Los Sueños (north of Jaco) is not only one of the biggest and best, but also offers guided rides to children as young as four. The fifteen-platform zip through transitional rainforest is not only an exhilarating ride, but also a great way to see the canopy and ocean from a different angle.
5. Sabana Park. San Jose may not have a lot to offer the younger set, but Sabana Park, on the city’s western side, is a prime exception. The enormous park, built over what used to be the city’s airport, is a favorite among locals looking to run or skate on its outdoor tracks or just grab lunch in the shade of its colorful eucalyptus forest. Kids are sure to enjoy the climbable dinosaur bone sculpture jutting out into the park’s artificial lake, as well as the pony rides trotting along the perimeter. Overhead, the Urban Canopy Tour runs an eight-cable zipline through the treetops, while vendors on the ground sell fresh fruit juice and granizados, a fruity snow cone made with sweetened condensed milk. Make sure to visit the park’s dual museums of Contemporary Art and Natural Sciences and, if you’re lucky, the new National Stadium (located on Sabana’s western edge) — the true center of culture for most Costa Ricans — will be hosting a soccer game.