Costa Rica Family Adventures
Story & photos by Chris “Chez” Chesak
In the Costa Rican jungle, at the base of the zipline tower, she balked, refusing to go any further. With my family all geared up in harnesses, helmets and gloves and the guides egging her on, our 8-year old daughter was not only afraid of the zipline – she was too afraid to even climb the tower that would kick off the tour of several ziplines through the park.
As the rest of our group giddily climbed up, Sylvia and I stayed back, discussing her options. I started to mentally console myself to the idea that soon I’d be returning all my gear and sitting with Sylvia back at the park’s entrance shelter. Maybe we’d walk around and look for exotic bugs. Maybe we’d play a word game. Maybe I’d begrudgingly break out my phone to play Hangman and Scrabble for Kids – all while the rest of the party flew hundreds of feet at a time through the jungle, having a blast… as Sylvia and I sat back at the entrance.
Travel is about pushing boundaries; getting someone out of their comfort zone to experience new landscapes, cultures, and activities. With family travel, it’s a fabulous opportunity for children in particular to take leaps forward in their concept of the world. It pushes them, immersing them in a new situation that forces their spongy little minds toward new understanding.
And Sylvia, along with her big sister Lillian, had certainly taken some leaps forward during our family adventure in Costa Rica.
Using the family-owned ecolodge La Quinta Country Inn as our base, we explored the Sarapiqui region of central Costa Rica. The trip was perfectly paced for families, with leisurely morning start times, nice gaps in the afternoons for reading or taking a nap, and plenty of time in the evening for the kids to swim in the cozy hotel pool, which overlooked the tumbling Sarapiqui River.
We’d already hiked a volcano in Parque Nacional Volcan Poas, explored the rainforest at La Selva Biological Station, taken a river safari during a fantastic tropical deluge, and enjoyed a rushing white water rafting trip together. While Sylvia had had some fears about the rafting, she quickly overcame them and was soon ‘riding bronco’, where you sit on the very front of the 8-person raft, holding onto only a thin, nylon rope as we bucked and rolled through class II and III rapids. Until the zipline, Sylvia had bravely tackled each adventure.
Our girls were learning and discovering at every turn. There were sloths to be spotted on canopy tours and jungle hikes. Bugs to learn about, including giant beetles and Leaf Cutter Ants, fauna to touch and explore, and – perhaps most importantly – local peoples to get to know and understand. Simply driving in a van to a new activity spawned conversations comparing housing and homes around the world.
But now, at almost the conclusion of our trip, Sylvia’s bravery had finally run out. The steel zipline tower with grated steps had done her in. I told my wife and oldest to go ahead and join the rest of the party, as I started to unbuckle my helmet.
“Dad, did you say that we could do the zipline together?” she suddenly asked. I again explained that we could actually be harnessed together and fly down the zipline as one.
“Maybe we could do that,” she said. “Just the first one though.”
Awesome. She wanted to try, at least the first zipline. Then maybe we’d hike back up to the entrance.
After talking her up the steps, the guides clipped us together, and then clipped us to the line. Sylvia was whimpering, terrified of what would happen next. The guides pushed us off and we started the run down the line. Sylvia screamed in terror, a long continuous wail right in my ear.
Then the scream changed pitch, flipping from terror to outright joy. She was loving it! She screamed her joyful scream the entire length of the run, so loud and so long that the rest of our group was laughing hysterically when we arrived at the platform.
For the next zipline, Sylvia said sternly, “Dad, this time I want to try it by myself.” And she did! Clipped alone to the second line, she screamed her joy during the entire run, again spawning laughter from our group. And she didn’t look back, eagerly clipping into all of the next ziplines, even the ones that took us flying over tumultuous white water rivers, grinning the entire way.
Sylvia faced and overcame her fears that day, and you could see her actually take a developmental step forward, see how she’d learned and matured just a little bit more. And that sort of self-discovery is what travel, and indeed life itself, is all about.
If You Go
We used the Michigan-based tour operator Journeys International to book our trip, specifically their Costa Rica Rainforest Adventure for Families itinerary. They have a variety of departures, or can develop a custom trip based on desired dates. We flew via Atlanta to San Jose to start our adventure.
Chris ‘Chez’ Chesak is Executive Director of the Family Travel Association and a 15-year veteran of the travel industry. While he’s lived all over the U.S. and traveled to nearly 30 countries, he has the most fun when he’s exploring with his wife Sally, and two daughters. An avid outdoors person and writer, he’s happiest on a trail, on skis, or nestled into a sleeping bag. His daughter Sylvia is now crazy about ziplining – and utterly fearless when it comes to riding them.