Local travel experts, Il Viaggio Travel, explain how the Central American destination is delivering off-the-beaten path, Covid-safe travel bubbles for families.
By Maryann Jones Thompson / Photo courtesy Casitas Tenorio B&B
As veteran travelers look to restart their globe trotting, Costa Rica is once again a top-of-mind destination for families who want an adventurous and Covid-safe vacation. The combination of a wide variety of natural attractions, excellent healthcare system and solid tourist infrastructure is why ROAM included Costa Rica on its list of 21 Family Adventures for 2021.
No one knows the country’s opportunities better than Emilio Zúñiga and Stephanie Sheehy of Il Viaggio Travel, a Costa Rican travel company specializing in family, green and accessible travel. In fact, Il Viaggio recently spearheaded the nation’s first beach changing/rest room for the disabled and was named a “Best in Travel” partner for 2021 by Lonely Planet.
ROAM caught up with Il Viaggio in February 2021 to learn the latest developments in the fight against Covid, the state of tourism, and the best itineraries for first-time and return visitors to Costa Rica.
ROAM: What has Costa Rica been like during the Covid 19 outbreak?
Il Viaggio: I believe Costa Rica is experiencing the pandemic pretty much like everywhere else in the world – with a spirit of resilience. We are all trying to get through it without knowing exactly what is going to happen the next day.
The tourism industry is very sensitive to what happens around the world – and this is a global challenge that is going to be around for a while.
Costa Ricans are usually very positive about life and its challenges. One researcher calls us “the Happiest Country in the World” because we have strong family and community bonds. So even in Covid, we are trying to live the “Pura Vida.”
Fortunately Covid infection numbers have dropped significantly since December, according to the Health Ministry. The government has pledged to vaccinate the entire adult population. Vaccinations began on Christmas Eve 2020 and approximately 1,000 people are getting vaccinated daily. That is an important number when you have a total population of 5 million.
ROAM: Are you seeing a lot of tourists in the country now or is tourism still lower than normal?
Il Viaggio: We started seeing a lot more foreign tourists arriving in Costa Rica between November and December 2020. In February, countries like the USA, Canada, England, France, Germany and the Netherlands have enacted new restrictions on travelling, which is affected Costa Rican tourism industry again. Spring and summer should be strong again, however.
ROAM: How has Covid changed the types of experiences families are typically looking for when they travel to Costa Rica?
Il Viaggio: We have seen a significant increase in the preference for private, escorted tours, which is good because this type of tour has been our specialty for more than 15 years. The terms “travel bubble” and “off-the-beaten path” are requests we now hear on a daily basis. But in general, active tours and outdoor activities is what families are always trying to find when they plan a trip to Costa Rica. And that is exactly what they will find in here!
ROAM: Are there certain towns/destinations that you would recommend for visitors during Covid?
Il Viaggio: Costa Rica has a wide variety of places that are perfectly suited for these kinds of Covid-era requests. Our kilometers of beaches and acres of rainforest are the two obvious assets that pop up in my mind. Drake’s Bay in the Osa Peninsula and Tortuguero are probably the best choices. Both of these spots offer the perfect combination of rainforest and beach.
ROAM: What do you recommend for families visiting Costa Rica for the first time versus return visitors who want to do something different?
A typical Costa Rican experience will normally include 3 elements: Forests, volcanoes and beaches. First-timers will typically do the Cloud Forest at Monteverde, the Arenal Volcano at La Fortuna, and the beach and national park at Manuel Antonio. These are wonderful areas with lots of places where each member of the family can enjoy nature.
But for ROAM readers who are more experienced and adventurous travelers, here would be my top 3 destinations: Rio Celeste (rainforest, national park and waterfalls), Rincón de la Vieja (dry forest, volcano, national park, adventure activities and hot springs) and Nosara (beach, surf and yoga.) Have a look at the Casitas Tenorio B&B for an example of what you’ll find in the Rio Celeste area.
The Rincon de la Vieja area in the province of Guanacaste is one of those places I really enjoy, and I believe second-timers do as well. It is the perfect combination of rural and off-the-beaten path, yet close to Liberia´s international airport, and Papagayo´s famous beaches and resorts. Rincon de la Vieja offers lots of hiking alternatives, adventure experiences and hot springs, all in one place. Hacienda Guachipelin is an incredible place to stay in the area.
ROAM: What should families know about visiting Costa Rica in 2021?
Il Viaggio: The tourism industry has worked really hard to implement biosafety, anti-Covid protocols since May 2020. Families should feel very safe to travel around Costa Rica now. All of the families we have received during the past three months were very impressed at how seriously Costa Rica is taking safety protocols. Be sure to check the “Safe Travels” web site and hire only certified companies. You’ll see that IL VIAGGIO TRAVEL is one of them 😉
ROAM: Il Viaggio has been a leader in developing accessible travel options for Costa Rica. You recently completed construction on the first accessible dressing room at Playa Hermosa – congratulations!
Il Viaggio: The accessible beach project is something we have been working on for the past three years. And making it possible was a huge challenge. Especially during the pandemic where everything you hear in the news is negative. Finding a way to develop something positive was very rewarding.
Long story short: Il Viaggio Travel has a department that specializes in designing trips for travelers with disabilities. Costa Rica has decent facilities all over the country for wheelchair users – except for at the beaches. So we turned a big trailer into a 100-percent accessible changing room, bathroom and shower. Now disabled people have all the facilities needed to enjoy the beach and the sea, just like other visitors.
The idea of making the changing room on a trailer is so that it can move it from one beach to another every few months so people with disabilities from all over the country can use it. Hopefully, other beach towns in Costa Rica and other countries will replicate this model and it can help lead to a more inclusive society.
Maryann Jones Thompson – March 2021
After a thousand years in publishing as a business journalist, ghostwriter, content strategist and market researcher, Maryann brings her experience traveling as a backpacker, businessperson, expat and mom to writing and editing for ROAM.
© ROAM Family Travel 2021 – All rights reserved
It's not just for billionaires anymore.
Oh the places you'll go... from home!
Locals' favorite family-friendly lakefront destinations
Same coast. More value. Fewer crowds.
25 unique & classic must-drive vacations for families
Incredible golds, oranges and reds of the coast, high desert and mountains.
Gotta get away? Check these ideas for COVID-19 trips
Armchair trips for active families.
Take the grandparents on a cross-state odyssey of Wild West vistas & outdoor majesty
Your one-stop-shop for 2020 family vacation ideas from all the top travel writers.