Two young boys in swim gear, life jackets and helmets sit at the front of a blue inflatable raft on a green river

A family trip to Chilamate Eco Retreat, Costa Rica (2024)

This is one of those places – a bit like Rafiki Safari Lodge that I wrote about in an earlier post – that is more of an experience in itself rather than just a place to crash. So why should you add Chilamate to your itinerary for a family trip to Costa Rica?

Our trusty Lonely Planet was pretty effusive about Chilamate and I’d spent ages studying their website – I initially booked us in for a three night stay, then when their email confirmation came through it included a long list of amazing sounding activities we could opt for during our stay – so I added on another night so we could fit it all in!

The retreat is a family-run lodge with strong ties to the local community. The whole family were so welcoming, and so knowledgeable about the local area and the tours, they really make the place feel like home.

Where is Chilamate Rainforest Eco Retreat?

Chilamate is just outside Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui, which is in the North-West of Costa Rica.

The area is very rural, and the town of Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui is pretty small but it does have a decent-sized grocery store, a restaurant and a couple of places selling ice-creams. The Chocolate Tour here seems to be a popular stop for coach tours.

The eco retreat itself is set back down an unpaved road, and across a bit of a worn-down bridge, so it’s very quiet and peaceful.

The lodge sits right on the Sarapiqui river, with gorgeous views in the evening down the river, and a rope swing in front of the property for when you want to cool off! The area is also one of the richest regions of Costa Rica in terms of biodiversity, so if you want flora and fauna, this is a great place to visit.

How to get to Chilamate Eco Retreat

We travelled there from La Fortuna, which took around 50minutes in an Uber (and cost about £60). We went on to Manzanillo on the Caribbean Coast at the end of our stay, which took about 4-hours by Interbus (the shared shuttle service in Costa Rica). This was pricey for the four of us, coming in at £220. The public transportation to Sarapiqui is not great, which is why we ended up with the Uber and Interbus, which were both expensive ways to get around. It was, without a doubt, worth it though (and once there you can walk to pretty much all the activities/tours they offer).

We couldn’t find any public bus services that were running so this wasn’t an option. If you have your own wheels (highly recommended for a family trip to Costa Rica!) then it’s a fairly easy drive as the lodge is just off the main highway.

What is Chilamate Eco Retreat like?

The lodge is based around a big communal lounge area, which has a small bar, lots of tables/chairs and sofas to relax in, a dart board and table football, the tiniest little souvenir shop selling local products and a selection of board games. There’s also free coffee and water. This is all under a thatched roof with open sides, so you still really feel immersed in the surrounding jungle.

The rooms themselves are spread around the site, linked by covered walkways. The site itself is pretty big so there is a lot of space and greenery between the rooms, which makes them feel really private. Most rooms also have hammocks and/or seating outside them. Chilamate run educational courses from the retreat so there’s an open-air classroom in the middle of the space as well (also good for yoga in a morning!).

The best part about being surrounded by nature is that you can spot wildlife in the undergrowth right outside your room!

One morning we spotted six poison dart frogs on the way to breakfast!

Green and black Poison Dart Frog sits in the leaf pile

They serve meals in the communal area (for people staying there and for anyone else staying nearby that wants to book in). Breakfast was included in the rate, and probably the best we’ve had on our travels – loads of cooked options, fresh fruit and freshly baked cakes/bread. We had dinner there on one of the nights of our stay and it was a buffet with loads of choice – if we’d had the budget we definitely would have taken the dinner option more!

The rooms at Chilamate Eco Retreat

We were booked in to a standard family room, but were upgraded to the Family Suite on arrival as it was available. It was HUGE. There was a king bed and three singles, a small living area with TV and a really good kitchen with a huge breakfast bar/table. This was perfect for us – we tried to cook as much as possible in Costa Rica to keep costs down, so the well-equipped kitchen was super useful. And the breakfast bar was the perfect spot for a bit of home schooling 🙂

The bathroom was massive, with a multi-option hot shower. The lodge also offers a really cheap laundry service which we took full advantage of!

Image of Family Suite room, showing two beds, brown sofa and chairs, breakfast bar and kitchen beyond. Roof is sloped with wooden beams

Our suite also had a small decked area outside that overlooked the fields, and was entirely surrounded by mosquito netting so was actually a nice space to sit out in the evening without being mauled by the little horrors.

The wifi was surprisingly good considering the fairly remote location and worked well enough for the boys to watch their maths videos and for us to watch a film one evening on the small TV. During the several weeks of our family trip to Costa Rica, this was definitely up there as one of the best spaces we’ve stayed in!

What we did during our stay

There are loads of options for activities, and the lodge has a big focus on working with the local community which meant that most (if not all of the tours) were run by locals, making sure our tourist money went straight in to the community. I’ve listed below the activities that we opted for during our stay, but there are many more on offer via the lodge.

Whitewater Rafting

The first activity we booked in was whitewater rafting, as I’d had this on the hitlist for Costa Rica and had read that the Sarapiqui River – with it’s range of gentle to moderate rapids – was great for kids.

The local guide who ran our rafting was absolutely brilliant – probably one of the best guides we’ve had for anything anywhere in the world! He was an ex-Costa Rica national rafting team member, and had worked on rivers across Costa Rica and the US. He was so much fun, and great with the boys. The adrenaline and the sheer delight of the boys when we hit the first rapid was something I don’t think I’ll ever forget! The rapids were all class 2-3 so perfect for us on our first family rafting outing.

Young boy and man in swim gear, life jackets and helmets sit on edge of blue inflatable raft with flowing river in the background

We stopped a couple of times so we could all jump in from the side and from the boat, and for drinks and fruit. We spotted loads of bird life (when we weren’t being thrown around on the rapids!).

We all loved it! They also offer a more chilled option where you raft downstream spotting wildlife at a more leisurely pace. The whole trip for us lasted about 3-hours in total, and best of all, the rafting ends right outside the lodge so we could just walk back in.

The cost for the four of us was £210.

Chocolate Tour

We’d seen options for chocolate tours all over Costa Rica and had it on our to-do list. The tour in Sarapiqui is a short walk from Chilamate Eco Retreat. It lasts around two hours and gives you the opportunity to learn about how and where cacao is grown, the process of farming the beans and how it’s turned in to chocolate. And of course, there were plenty of opportunities for tasting (and drinking) chocolate!

Boy holds cacao pod out in front if him while tour guide holds an axe as if to cut it in half. Behind is a world map showing chocolate producing regions
Young boy sits alone on a row of green and pink bench seating drinking a hot chocolate

It certainly ticked the ‘educational activity’ box for the boys (plus they very much liked the gift shop at the end!). The tour cost £92.50 for the four of us.

Ethnobotany Walk

I’d seen this on the list of activities on offer at Chilamate but hadn’t really considered it initially. 

Once we arrived and the owners talked us through the tour though it sounded great (and crucially, highly educational!) so we booked on. 

The tour is run by one of the their neighbours, who took us out around the local area and explained what all the flora was and all the various uses of the different plants. We tried edible plants and the boys got to crush up some things that we used either as dyes or in medicines (including one that had an anaesthetic element, which Steve ate far too much of and ended up with a very numb mouth!). The boys really engaged with it all and were brimming full of facts by the end!

This one came in at £50.

Boy holds pestle aloft in front of table containing various fruits and plants
Image of several fruits and medicinal plants laid out on a wooden table
Cooking Class

I was keen on this – partly to learn how to cook a traditional Costa Rican dish, but also as an opportunity to meet local people in their own home and to learn more about their way of life.

Chilamate connected us with a local woman who welcomed us to her home and showed us how to prepare a meal of stewed vegetables, rice, tortillas, salad and homemade lemonade. My basic Spanish just about got us through (with a lot of added gesturing!) and we shared the delicious meal with her family. It was a lovely way to spend an afternoon – very different from lots of the adrenaline-filled stuff we’ve done in Costa Rica but so interesting for all of us.

We paid a total of £80 for the four us (but this did include eating a massive meal too!)

Snake Garden

Steve took the boys to the Snake Garden, which is only about 15minutes away on the local bus service. It was pretty pricey at £48 for one adult and two kids – but the boys really enjoyed seeing so many snakes! They also had crocodiles that had had their teeth removed; whilst they were rescue animals that wouldn’t have survived in the wild, it triggered an interesting debate with the boys about the ethics of keeping animals in captivity (and one of the nice things about the trip is that we actually have time to engage with them in these kind of conversations).

You can take the local bus service to the Snake Garden; it picks up from the main highway about a five minute walk from Chilamate and drops off right outside the Snake Garden.


While the boys were off looking at snakes, I treated myself to a massage and a bit of chiropractic treatment from another of the neighbours. Anyone who knows me will have heard me moaning about the state of my neck and right shoulder, so this was a real treat and really helped in terms of pain management for me. Possibly the best US$40 I’ve spent so far 🙂

The verdict

As you can probably tell, we loved our stay at Chilamate Rainforest Eco Retreat. It’s definitely a great option for families, and for getting some educational activities under your belt with the kids! Their ethos of supporting the local community and connecting travellers with it was really fab to see, and prompted lots of discussions with the boys about sustainable tourism and how important this is to local communities.

It also really did feel like a stay immersed in nature AND staying in a family home. Megan and her family are so incredibly knowledgeable about Costa Rica and can provide tons of tips for your travels. Overall, the ‘service’ at the lodge is amazing – they really make you feel like part of the family and go out of their way to help make your stay as good as it possible can be.

Whilst Sarapiqui might be a bit off the beaten track for most visitors to Costa Rica, it’s definitely worth adding to any family trip itinerary.

Planning a family trip to Costa Rica?

If you’re thinking of taking the family on the trip of a lifetime to Costa Rica, then check out some of our other posts here for tips and information:

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