Monkey Boat Tour in Costa Rica

I’m a planner. It is safe to say that every excursion, meal, and experience will be organized by me when I travel with others. Our family trip to Jaco, Costa Rica was no exception. I wanted our vacation to be memorable and so I spent the better half of two months meticulously researching and organizing ideas. 

A woman is taking a monkey boat tour in Costa Rica. She sits on the edge of a boat while a monkey climbs onto her back. She has a black t-shirt on and white shorts. The monkey is small, furry, and black and white.
Absolutely enthralled with this adorable babe.

One thing that people who travel with me should know is: do not fuck with my vision. I’m all for input from others. But, if I have my heart set on seeing a particular site, or if you put me in charge of planning because you’re too lazy to do it…don’t even THINK about reorganizing my carefully laid itinerary. 

I nearly lost it when the boss of our driver began, “if you’re staying for a week, I have so many great activities to recommend. Might I suggest our monkey boat tour? Your little one would love it.” My husband nodded enthusiastically at the suggestion. 

A father holds his baby who is laughing as he smells a bunch of flowers
Henry absolutely loves smelling flowers..he laughs so much!

Don’t you dare I thought to myself as I gripped the seat of the car. A monkey boat tour sounded like the most touristy activity that we could possibly encounter on our trip, and I wasn’t about to spend my day doing that when I had so many “off the beaten path” type activities planned. 

So, needless to say if you peep the title, I did in fact spend my day on a monkey boat tour in Costa Rica. Because when you have a family IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT YOU WANT. But, you know what? I loved it, and that monkey boat tour in Costa Rica was the best memory I have from our week long trip. 

To start, it was a billion degrees outside and I felt incredibly sexy with only one of my legs and a puddle of sweat accumulating in my shorts which no doubt looked like I had a bathroom accident. Yes, the experience started with all of the components needed for a mediocre day. We wandered through the gift shop selling the usual tourist trap merchandise and I tried to see how many times I could possibly roll my eyes. 

However, I’m a people person – and meeting our tour guide and seeing him interact with our son was the catalyst for our best day in Costa Rica. 

Andrei (let’s pretend I’m spelling that right) is a natural with people and children especially. He was everything I imagine when I hear the word Tico. Our guide walked through the dirt barefoot, and was enviously tan. Andrei had deep brown kind eyes with a touch of benign mischief shining through, and curly brown hair. He’s a younger and more handsome version of John Leguizamo. I later learned he spends all of his days giving monkey tours, fishing, and surfing. Now that is pura vida. His image definitely matches his lifestyle.

A father has his baby strapped to his chest and is about to climb on board for a monkey boat tour in Costa Rica. A tour guide stands next to him giving a thumbs up before they board.
Baby daddy and baby getting ready to board along with our dope tour guide Andrei

He took an interest in Henry almost immediately and made him laugh and smile. He told us that he has two children himself who were very young and were both expert fishermen. Many days they go down to the river themselves and haul in a catch of sealife. In fact, he jokes with his ex-wife that she shouldn’t need to cook when the boys are over because they can catch their dinner themselves.  

We board a small boat which is very low to the water. I had prior assumed that we would be on a giant commercial boat peddling down the river with throngs of tourists like the Creole Queen. I was wrong. One other family from California – two parents and their two children climbed on, and sat in the front of the boat. A young man in the back of the boat operated the engine and Andrei called out directions.

A young man in a black and white photo operates an engine for the monkey boat tour in Costa Rica.
Driving down the waterway looking for wildlife.

Prior to reaching the famed monkeys we were able to see a lot of the wildlife that calls the waterways home including giant termite colonies, crocodiles, and birds.

Two giant termite nests sit high in the lush green jungle trees. A part of the monkey boat tour in Costa Rica
Giant termite nests in the trees. Yeckkkk!

The day was steamy and muggy, but being under the canopy of the boat as calmly sailing down the river kept us cool. Only when we would stop did it get semi-hot. Henry being so small was much more intolerant of the heat than anyone else on board. This is where it comes in handy to always be prepared. We fixed him right up with a bottle of Pedialyte and a personal fan.

A tired mother and her baby son sit on a boat on the waterways of Costa Rica on the monkey boat tour. The baby is playing with a small portable fan
Keeping a baby cool on a super hot day in the jungle is no easy task

After sailing down the water and admiring the wildlife and greenery we pulled into a crook in the water and shut the engine off. We were surrounded by trees whose brown paper bag branches twisted and turned like skeleton bones. The branches were covered with masses of deep, dark, overgrown, green leaves. It was largely silent save for the sound of chirping beatles. That was until we were startled by what sounded like softball sized hail falling on the canopied roof of the small boat. 

A small black and white monkey climbs onto the boat of the monkey boat tour in Costa Rica
Checking out the scene

“They’re here” Andrei declared cooly with a smile. (I’m convinced he could deliver any message in that cool and collected manner.) It just works for him. Like my students when I say, “whoever helps me clean gets a prize” they descended cautiously and smoothly toward the boat. Adorable white and black furry monkeys came into focus and began peering into the boat and climbing down over the edges. I couldn’t believe that I had been knocking this activity as too touristy. This was a close encounter! I was in the home of the monkeys.

A small black and white monkey climbs onto the side of the boat.
So unbelievably adorable. I couldn’t believe how close they got!

I walked toward the front of the boat and sat down eyeing the trees around me. Everything seemed to move fast. Wap! A spoonful of mushy bananas was smashed into my hand by the boat driver and the next thing I knew a monkey had literally jumped and landed on my head. I was surprised at the lightweight of the animal. The monkey wasn’t at all aggressive and I was in total bliss with the experience. But, also, I had a full body sunburn.

Par for the fucking course. Sums us up pretty well!

More monkeys fled to me – two to three at this point and the piles of bananas kept accumulating on my hand. Their tiny little claws felt like razors and sandpaper on my raw red skin. I was so happy, but at the same time said to myself something along the lines of, “Fuck fuck fuck” due to the scratching pain! 

My husband was in awe and his eyes darted every way because he never knew which way a monkey might approach him. Henry…not so much. At first he was more entertained by and interested in the people’s reactions on the boat. Once he saw the monkey on my head he drew back and began screaming. I felt awful that he was afraid, but, if I can be the worst mom ever for a moment – I also couldn’t stop laughing. He was never in harm’s way and seeing his tiny hands try to swat the monkey’s away from me was adorably futile. It’s awesome to see the world through his eyes and at all times entertaining!

A family interacts with a small black and white monkey on the monkey boat tour in Costa Rica
So, is this what it would be like to have TWO children?

It was only at the second stop for monkeys did Henry really fall in love with the monkeys. He bounced in excitement when they came around us and onto the boat. Thankfully we got some really great family photographs that do not involve him sobbing. Although he won’t remember the experience, I’m glad that he left the experience more enthralled with the animals than he was traumatized. 

Monkeys sitting in green vibrant trees looking off into the distance. The monkeys are small and black and white.
Monkeys chillin at home.

Having monkeys crawl all over you isn’t unlike having your small child or pet climb all over you looking for treats. They are entirely adorable and more than once I got the urge to cradle one in my arms like a baby. My best advice? Don’t. Although that goes without saying. The monkeys are curious, small, and behave very much like my son. They pulled gently on my clothes, looked at me inquisitively, and ate food right out of my hand even though maybe I’d rather be eating that food because I work all day and I didn’t get to eat my lunch yet again and I’m seeing stars from lack of nourishment but SURE you go ahead. 

A small furry black and white monkey clings to a tree trunk in the jungle.
A close up look

We had many opportunities to interact with the monkeys, take great photographs, and learn about them and their habitat. Being in such a small group provided intimacy and relaxation. I much prefer this as opposed to fighting with dozens of others over getting to see the monkeys first and get the best spot for photographs. I knew in these moments that our monkey boat tour in Costa Rica would be my favorite memory. It was more interactive than I would have imagined. (Already want to visit? Click here)

Two small furry black and white monkeys cling to each other in the jungle of Costa Rica. A site that can be seen on the monkey boat tour of Costa Rica
SO damn amazing.

Andrei grew up exploring the backwaters as his playground as a child. So much of what he knows about the wildlife and their behavior is simply from life experience. I can’t tell you how authentic and exciting that was for me. I’m so passionate about learning about people, and I got to experience his local story through this excursion.

Sailing down the waterways of the monkey boat tour of Costa Rica

It was so refreshing to not be shown around by some guy in a starched uniform and a clipboard. Andrei really gave us a local’s perspective regarding the monkeys. As a local, he really respects the environment where the monkeys and all of the creatures live. It was his own home in many ways. 

In one moment in particular, he began clapping loudly and we weren’t sure why. He looked at the water amused and said, “look there”. The bugs on the water would jump high every time he clapped. “They hear that sound and think a fish is coming”. My husband loved this and began clapping himself, we all did. “How’d you figure that out?” I asked. He shrugged and looked out toward the brown water littered with dancing insects. “Just started clapping one day when I was a kid and saw it happen.” 

Moments like these are so genuine and so pure. I treasure every chance I get to catch a genuine glimpse into the story of another person. Andrei seemed genuinely happy. He was proud to recall his childhood memories and to share the new memories he creates with his own children in nature.

A grasshopper made out of palm leaves from the jungle of Costa Rica. A local guide made it.
Andrei made this by hand for Henry…absolutely incredible.

He ripped palm leaves down from the trees and created giant grasshoppers for Henry and the other two children. The attention to detail was impeccable and inexplicable. If I had a map and 100 years I would never be able to re-create his artistry. “How’d you learn to do that?” I asked. Again he shrugged and looked at me as he wrapped the palm leaves every which way. “Watching people on the water do it as a kid.” 

Traveling with a baby has its challenges, but it is absolutely doable and all the more adventurous!

Wandering through the backwaters of the jungle, searching for monkeys and interacting with them certainly feels like I got an authentic Costa Rican experience. I’ve learned that often things that are full of tourists are popular for good reasons – they are almost always worth experiencing. After all, would I suggest someone stay away from 42nd street? Would I suggest others to snub their nose at a chance to see a Broadway performance? Absolutely not. I think there is a clear difference between tourist-ed and cheesy or exploitative. In the case of my monkey tour I had a tremendous opportunity. I had the chance to look at the natural life of Costa Rica. What’s more to see the life of the local people from the area. I nearly snubbed my nose because they happen to offer a gift shop on the premises. 

Sometimes the best laid plans do not work out – and for good reason. My original plans were entirely inappropriate for a nine month old. We took the Monkey tour because I’d rather do something that nothing. I’m more than glad that I did. Traveling with children can really change the way that you travel, but sometimes that winds up being for the better.

Looking for more of my adventure? Try this hilarious post:


12 thoughts on “Monkey Boat Tour in Costa Rica

  1. You’re an inspiration to any parent who travels with a kid ! Love reading about your adventures !

  2. What a fun excursion! Most monkeys are not friendly, I have seen way too many monkey-poo throwing incidents. The small boat and great tour guide, plus friendly monkey is such a winning combination!

  3. I’m a big planner too and love to put a lot of research into my trips. I also get annoyed when I do all the planning and then someone wants to change it last minute. Your monkey boat tour sounds amazing and like it worked out good for you in the end! That’s so cool that you got so close to the monkeys….or I guess they got incredibly close to you! I would be a little intimated with monkeys crawling on my head. What a memorable experience!!

  4. What a fun experience for you all. So fortunate to have a guide like Andrei on your monkey tour. I loved your photos of the cheeky monkeys on the roof. What type of monkey was it?

  5. This is such an interesting tour and I like how you have nicknamed it – monkey boat tour. I like monkeys but after traveling to Thailand and being surrounded by dozens of wild monkeys, I have change a bit my preferences. However, it seems that the monkeys you met in Costa Rica were more friendly, even with the kid (which is great).

  6. I love that you relinquished a bit of your planning and had an open mind. It looks like such a fun thing to add to the itinerary. And something that obviously the entire family can enjoy! I’m headed to Costa Rica in April, so this excites me about the possibility of going to do this. So fun!!!

  7. We did a few tours in Costa Rica but have missed the Monkey Boat Tour. Although I am not sure what I would do if monkeys were climbing all over me! But I am sure that your husband and son loved to see that show. I can just imagine Henry bouncing with excitement. It was so nice that you got this up close encounter. Far too many wildlife experiences are seen only through a good zoom lens.

  8. It’s very cool that what you thought would be a tourist trap experience turned out to be a nice authentic excursion. The way you described your son swatting at the monkeys is a little funny — I’m glad he wasn’t afraid of them at the next stop and became interested in the wildlife. I’m not sure if I would have been scared of or liked monkeys jumping close to me at that age. Probably a bit of both as well! I’m glad your guide made the experience enjoyable.

  9. Such a cool experience! I am an animal lover as is my daughter, so this would be just perfect for us. I am very similar to you when it comes to planning. I always like to have an itinerary laid out to make the most of the time. However, I have learned some of the best experiences are the spontaneous ones!

  10. Hahaha! Me too!!! I too do all the organizing and when my husband tries to mess with it in the last minute, I become a tigress.. I roar at him and then he instantly gives up. Good to know, something impromptu was an incredible success for you, this time! And yea, as you say, traveling with a kid has its own challenges, but it is amazing at the same time as well. We too travel with our toddler. Is that Babybjorn One or Lillebaby?
    Its amazing how ‘one-with-nature’ this activity is. I can’t believe the monkeys were cool to come to you? Hahaha… I would have laughed too, if my toddler started to scream if I had a monkey on my head…..

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