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The Ultimate Guide for Visiting Costa Rica with Kids

Are you looking to visit Costa Rica with kids? For nature lovers big and small, it is a dream destination. If I had to choose one country in the world to recommend for outdoor loving families, it would hands down be Costa Rica. Costa Rica is a large country, with an abundance of things to do from top to bottom which could takes weeks, if not months to really explore. However most travelers do not have weeks to travel around this beautiful Central American country. Luckily with our extensive guide, you can easily create a wonderful Costa Rica itinerary that takes in the best of the country from volcanos to cloud forests to beaches.

After several visits to Costa Rica with kids, we have come up with the perfect things to do in Costa Rica itinerary for adventure loving families like ours. Whether your kids are into creepy crawlies like tarantulas or slithery vipers or cuddly sloths, it is all here waiting for you to explore.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

Planning a Trip to Costa Rica with Kids

When to Go to Costa Rica with Kids

Costa Rica with KidsWe visited Costa Rica on three different occasions – once in February, in late November and right in the middle of rainy season in July.  The dry season for Costa Rica is between mid November to April, which is also the most recommended time of year to visit. However, it is also the busiest time and when prices are often quite inflated.  Even though it was the dry season on two of our visits, it did rain occasionally during both of trips. 

July is the middle of the wet season, but is also the main vacation season for most families in the northern hemisphere. You will find everything operating as usual in Costa Rica during this time, although at times a bit slower than normal during heavy rains.

Get the family excited about your trip with these amazing family friendly books on Costa Rica.

Which Airport to Fly Into

Costa Rica has two major international airports – Liberia (LIR) located in the northern part of the country and San José (Juan Santamaría, SJO) in the capitol further south. Both airports are modern and fairly easy to get in and out of. I flew into Liberia on our first trip and into San Jose on the second and third trips. 

Both airports are close enough to the more popular destinations in Costa Rica that you can choose which airport works better for you based on price and flight schedules. If you can find flights that work, flying into one and exiting from the other is the ideal situation so that you will not have to backtrack.

Check out these amazing destinations in Costa Rica within easy reach of Liberia Airport

Cost of Travel in Costa Rica with Kids

Costa Rica is not a cheap destination by any stretch. It is the most expensive country in Central America with many prices on the same level with the United States. This is definitely not a budget destination, so plan accordingly. You can find accomodation and meals for all budget levels, however most activities within the country are quite pricey.

If you are on a strict budget, check out prices of the activities you want to do in advance to get an idea of what they run. For example, guided night walks run anywhere from $24 – $40 per person and zip lining is from $70-$120 per person depending on location and the package.

Self driving and forgoing local guides for nature walks will help reduce costs, but I highly recommend getting guides whenever possible. We missed out on seeing the elusive Bell Bird because we didn’t have a guide and did not know that the “honking” sound we kept hearing was in fact the Bell Bird!

Getting Around Costa Rica with Kids

By Car

The easiest way by far to get around Costa Rica with kids is by hiring your own car. It seems daunting, but overall, driving conditions in Costa Rica are quite similar to what you would be used to in your home country. Signage is decent and for many parts of the country the roads are new and well looked after. Note, however, there are plenty of areas off the beaten path that have horrendous roads. For the itinerary give below, all of the roads are relatively nice and sign posted.

We hired our car from Alamo Rental Car in San Jose and returned it in Quepos as we were going overland to Panama for our next destination. We found this to be a wonderful experience that was hassle free and cost efficient. Shop around to the different rental car companies and even consider booking through the local office itself as they often provide other discounts not found on 3rd party websites.

By Local Driver

On our first trip to Costa Rica I was nervous to drive as I had heard horror stories about how difficult it can be to get around as well as the possibility of scams involving rental cars. Based off of that, we hired a local tour company who helped with our itinerary planning as well as provided a driver/guide for our visit. This was not a cheap option, but was a great way to see the country the way we wanted to while also having a driver to provide information along the way.  If this is an option you would like to explore, you can contact the company we used  Il Viaggio Travel for more information and to receive a quote. 

By Bus (Private & Public)

In addition to the options above, you can also look at private and public bus options between destinations. My husband joined late on one of our trips and took the bus to join us. The main bus for the country is Interbus which has routes all over the country with most departing San Jose. Gray Line is another option with shared tourist shuttles providing direct service between popular towns. 

Morpho Tours is a private company that I reached out to as well. They have shared vans in addition to private van services. Prices are still quite a bit higher than taking local transport, but it is a good compromise between the cost of a private driver and the inconvenience of public buses. 

By Organized Tour

A third option on getting around Costa Rica is to book a family tour. You can book a private tour like I mentioned above with Il Viaggio Travel or you can also look to join a group tour with a company like Intrepid Travel. Intrepid offers family focused tours for teens, kids of all ages as well as tours for parents traveling on their own with their kids. If you are not interested in planning your own itinerary and would like to experience Costa Rica with other kids, this is a great option to explore. Read more about our 15 day Costa Rica family vacation with Intrepid to see if it’s right for you.

Where to Stay in Costa Rica with Kids

Costa Rica is not a particularly cheap destination compared to its neighbors in Central America, however, it offers a multitude of accomodation options fit for all budget levels. We have stayed in everything from basic guesthouses to 4 and 5 star hotels on our visits. While this is not an exhaustive list, here are some of our favorite places that we have tried in the most popular locations in the country.

Family Friendly Hotels in San Jose

  • The Hampton Inn & Suites is minutes away from the airport in San Jose making it an ideal stopover when arriving or departing the country.
  • Hotel Presidente San Jose City Center is a luxury options smack in the middle of the action in Downtown San Jose.
  • A basic, clean mid-range option a little outside of downtown San Jose is Autentico Hotel. Great for quick stop overs.

Family Friendly Hotels in Arenal / La Fortuna

  • The Springs Resort & Spa is my number 1 choice for families looking for luxury in Arenal. We love everything about this hotel including the activities provided, rooms and of course hot springs!
  • For more budget friendly options, we also stayed at Hotel Montana del Fuego. We would highly recommend this hotel for it’s beautiful views over the volcano.
  • Arenal Observatory Lodge is *the* place to stay if you want to be right in the middle of nature and on the volcano itself. The hotel books up quickly, so you will need to plan well in advance for this one. Spend time exploring the more than 7 miles of trails to see waterfalls, rainforest, streams and tons of animals, not to mention one of the absolute best views of the volcano.
  • We also loved the Volcano Lodge which has great hot springs on the property, but is located a bit out of town. Their sister property San Bosco Inn allows use of the springs and provides easier access to town. 
  • Another mid range options is Cabanita las Heliconia.

Family Friendly Hotels in Monteverde

  • Monteverde is filled with adorable and unique places to stay. During one of our visits, we stayed in neighboring Santa Elena at El Establo Mountain Resort. This hotel offers amazing views, night walks on the property and massive grounds to explore.
  • Hotel Aguti Lodge & Reserve is a more up market place to stay in Monteverde, again offering expansive grounds for exploring the wildlife in the area. 
  • Hotel Los Jardines de Monteverde is a good mid-range option for a basic hotel without all the resort amenities.

Family Friendly Hotels in Manuel Antonio

Family Friendly Hotels on the Pacific Coast

There are a multitude of beach locations up and down the coast that are great for families to explore. Some of the more popular hotels in the Tamarindo area are provided below.

Booking.com

Family Friendly Hotels in Rio Celeste

Family Friendly Hotel Near to Liberia Airport

  • When flying in late at night at Liberia airport, we preferred to stay in the nearby town of Canas at the Hotel La Pacifica. The hotel is about 40 miles from Liberia airport, but is doable even with a late night arrival as the roads are empty. We loved seeing the animals run around the property in the morning before our departure.

Health Precautions in Costa Rica

Travelers to Costa Rica do not need any specific vaccinations, however it is important to be vigilant about protecting yourself and your children from mosquitos as there are mosquito borne diseases in the country. Malaria is present in a few regions of Costa Rica as well as dengue. The risk is small, but do protect yourself when heading out particularly in the rainy season.

Medical facilities in Costa Rica are top notch if you do need to see a doctor for any reason. We always recommend that you travel with travelers insurance. We use World Nomads for short trips and Allianz for longer trips.

 

Many visitors ask if the water and food is safe. For the most part they are both safe. We have had no problems on our visits thus far. That said, I do highly recommend investing in a water purification water bottle to help reduce the use of plastic water bottles during your trip. 

What to Pack for Costa Rica with Kids

Regardless of what time of year you visit Costa Rica with kids, you will need virtually the same items. As the weather is variable in the different regions of the country, you will need to remember to bring light layers for the cool nights of winter and for day time throughout the year in places like Monteverde. You will also always need plenty of sun protection items, sunscreen, bug spray and clothes that dry quickly. It is always hot and humid in many part of the country, therefore pack light, breathable shorts, t-shirts and dresses.

Particular for the rainy season, you will need to include rain jackets, umbrellas and possibly even rain boots depending on where you plan to go.

Some of our favorite items that we found helpful in Costa Rica include:

To be honest we take almost the same things on every trip we go on, which includes the above as well as packable down jacket, rain jackets, hiking boots, sandals, swim gear, dry quick towel and sleep sheets. If you want to know more specifics on our packing lists, check out our RTW family packing list here. This is our basic go to list for all trips!

9 Adventurous Things to Do in Costa Rica with Kids

Costa Rica is a magical country offering a multitude of activities for the adventurous and the not so adventurous! There are many things in Costa Rica that are available in different locations, so instead of recommending specific places, I want to give you the top family friendly activities to keep in mind while planning your Costa Rica itinerary. 

Go Ziplining

Costa Rica and ziplining are pretty much synonymous with one another these days. A visit to Costa Rica is not complete by most people’s standards if you don’t try your hand at ziplining. Typically ziplining is not available for kids younger than 6, however we have seen a few places that will allow smaller kids to go with the guide. 

Additionally, there are restrictions on weight at the upper and lower end of the scale. Please read carefully for the different options before booking or choosing a location. 

Ziplining is available in most touristy areas like Arenal, Monteverde, Manuel Antonio and various beach towns. Some recommended companies to check out are EcoGlide in Arenal, Los Sueños Zipline in Herradura, 100% Aventura, Sky Adventures and Selvatura in Monteverde.

If there is only one adventure activity you do in Costa Rica, it is ziplining. It is so fun even when it’s frightening!

Hike at Arenal Volcano National Park

One of the most mesmerizing things for families in Costa Rica is seeing the looming perfectly formed Arenal Volcano on the horizon. One of the not to miss activities here is to hike around the lava fields. For families who have never seen a volcano lava field up close, this is a special treat. There are a variety of trails within the Arenal Volcano National Park that are appropriate for families.

The best time to go is during the dry season, but some of the smaller trails are still open during the rainy season. As I always recommend, getting a guide is much more enjoyable than going on your own. Trust me, we do a lot of hiking and in Costa Rica it never pays to go it on your own if you are interested in seeing the local wildlife. We have always regretted it when we were trying to save money and not get a guide.

Horseback Riding

Horseback riding is another popular activity offered throughout the country. It is a wonderful way to experience more of the jungle, climb volcanoes or explore beaches. Kids as young as 4 can often ride on their own with tame horses. We rode horses as part of our stay at The Springs Resort & Spa. It was so wonderful to venture into the jungle on horseback. My son LOVED when we crossed a pretty high river on horseback too. 

There are opportunities to ride horses up Arenal Volcano at the national park as well. Note, there is no shade there, so don’t forget the sunscreen.

Hike and Swim at a Waterfall

Waterfalls are all over Costa Rica. It is a right of passage it seems to hike to one and hop in to cool down! One of the easiest to reach for families is the La Fortuna Waterfall. This is not necessarily a hike, rather a walk down about 500 stairs (that yes, you have to climb back up!) to a beautiful waterfall and small swimming hole. This is a perfect half day excursion for families with kids of all ages. You might have to carry the little ones back up, or perhaps they might have to drag you back up, but it is worth it!

Get Your Adrenaline Pumping with White Water Rafting

In certain areas of the country, the big adventure for visitors is white water rafting. While not appropriate for young children, there are mellow rivers that allow families to go on slower moving boats. Day trips are offered from Arenal and La Fortuna as it is often stated as being the gateway for adventure activities.

The Penas Blancas River is a slower moving river perfect for families looking for minimal adrenaline, but fun on the water. If you are near Sarapiqui there are bigger rapids for the more adventurous as well as multi-day tours that would be great for families with teenagers.

See Creepy Crawlies on a Night Walk

Taken by my 8 year old @Ciantravels

The best thing you can do at night in Costa Rica is go on a night walk. These are offered in most areas. We have done them in Arenal/La Fortuna, Monteverde and Manuel Antonio. (See links below for specific recommendations in each place.) This is where you will have the opportunity to see the elusive red eyed tree frog that is synonymous with the country. We have seen them in the day, but they were asleep so we couldn’t see their eyes! We have seen tarantulas, a huge variety of frogs, sleeping toucans, sloths and so much more on our night hikes. This is definitely something to experience in at least one of your destinations. Again, we have done them all over and never get tired of them.

Experience the Forest Canopy with a Hanging Bridges Hike

The hanging bridges hikes located in both Arenal and Monteverde are must do adventures for anyone visiting Costa Rica. Here you will experience iconic views, see an assortment of wild animals from vipers to sloths and you will get a real feel for the jungles of Costa Rica. Monteverde offers cloud forests while Arenal offers regular forests, so I sort of recommend doing them both. We never had enough of the hanging bridges during our visits. They are great for all ages and don’t require much of an adventurous spirit!

Soak Up the Waves on one of Costa Rica’s Many Beaches

The “pura vida” life is seen so clearly on the many beautiful beaches lining both shores of the country. On the Caribbean side you have a more chill slow life Carribean zone while on the Pacific side you will find yogi’s, surfers and families just like yours. Families tend to love spending time around Tamarindo. From here you can explore up and down the coast checking out various beaches each day or find one you love and stay put. We stayed at Hermosa Beach which was super chill, but perfect for a last stop. Manuel Antonio is also a beautiful beach to spend some time at if you are arriving or leaving from San Jose.

Trek Through the Jungle in Search of Wildlife

Costa Rica Itinerary for Families

One of the best things to do in Costa Rica for all adventurers big and small is to walk through the jungle in search of wild animals. This doesn’t have to be scary or difficult, rather it can be as easy as a guided walk through Curi Cancha Wildlife Preserve in search of the beautiful quetzal bird or sleeping sloths. 

For those wanting true adventure, spending time in the Oso Peninsula trekking through the jungle will provide just what you are looking for. Anyone seen a baird’s tapir there? That is our ultimate goal!

Sample 8 Day Costa Rica Itinerary for Families

As you can see from the multitude of things to do in the country, you could easily spend months exploring from coast to coast. However, the reality is that most of us have only 1 or 2 weeks maximum. This is why I have now returned 3 times!

While there is so much to do and see in Costa Rica, it is easy to become overwhelmed wanting to do it all. I speak from experience. Instead, we recommend that visitors choose a smaller area to focus on if there is limited time.

In general, most visitors to Costa Rica make a stop to Arenal/La Fortuna, Monteverde and then a beach somewhere along the western coast. For visitors with more time, additional stops are added in on the Caribbean coast and at more off the beaten path in-land destinations.

Here I focus on a classic Costa Rica itinerary taking in the main towns of Arenal and Monteverde, leaving the beach destination up to you depending on where you fly into/out of.

Short on time? Which destination is best – Arenal or Monteverde?

This classic 8 day itinerary loop from Liberia (or San Jose) takes in the major sights, offering ample opportunities for animal sightings, time for adrenaline inducing activities and for a touch of relaxation.

Note: The itinerary below assumes a flight arriving to Liberia, however, it is also possible to do this trip from San Jose. Rather than go to a beach further up north, you would go south to be closer to San Jose for your departure.

Day 1: Arrival

Classic Costa Rica ItineraryDepending on what time you arrive, you might need to stay near the airport, rather than attempt to get to La Fortuna/Arenal in the dark. The roads are narrow, curvy and often gravel, so they are best done in daylight. It takes approximately 3 hours to get to La Fortuna from both Liberia and San Jose airports.

If you have arrived early in the day, head on to Arenal/La Fortuna to get a jump start on your trip. There is a ton to do and see in Arenal, so the more time you have there, the better.

If your itinerary allows time for an additional destination, stop at Rio Celeste (see above for hotel recommendations) for time to explore beautiful rivers and hiking opportunities.

Days 2-4: Arenal/La Fortuna

Classic Costa Rica Itinerary for FamiliesIf you stayed near the airport, get up and moving early to begin your explorations in Arenal and the La Fortuna areas. If you were able to snag a room at the Arenal Observatory Lodge, your hotel will have all that you need for an afternoon of exploration.  Wander around on more than 7 miles of trails to see waterfalls, rainforest, streams and tons of animals, not to mention one of the absolute best views of the volcano!

If you are staying elsewhere, check out our list of amazing activities to do in Arenal and La Fortuna. You will be hard pressed to fit it all in during your stay!

Consider a morning horseback ride or hike at Arenal Volcano National Park or cool down at the La Fortuna Waterfall.

If you aren’t planning on seeing hanging bridges in Monteverde, don’t miss Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park for a guided hike through their 2 mile trail taking in 6 hanging bridges along the way. Definitely go with a guide so you don’t miss the sleeping sloths, snakes and monkeys hanging up in the trees.

If you didn’t stay at a hotel with hot springs, take some time to visit one of the many hot spring pools in the city. For a spectacular day, splurge on Tabacon Hot Springs to soak up the thermal energy in these natural pools. A bit more budget friendly option is the Baldi Hot Springs.

 

Day 5-6: Monteverde

Today will start with an early morning departure from Arenal to Monteverde. The trip involves an approximately 1 hour boat ride across Lake Arenal before transferring to a private bus for a bumpy, but scenic ride through the hills. You can book your transfer here.

From the boat dock, it will be an additional 2-4 hour drive to Monteverde depending on the condition of the road. During my last visit, the road was unpaved for the majority of the way making it slow going.

RELATED: Read our Guide to Monteverde before you go!

If you have the stamina, drop your bags at your hotel (See above Where to Stay section for suggestions like the El Establo Mountain Hotel) and head out to explore Santa Elena town before going out on a night hike to see the creatures of the night. A night hike is such a unique adventure, we recommend it to anyone who has kids old enough to stay up late. You will see tarantulas, sleeping toucans, sloths, and so much more, if you are lucky!

 

Classic Costa Rica Itinerary for FamiliesToday start your day at Selvatura Park with options to zip line, walk magnificent hanging bridges and see a butterfly and hummingbird garden. Stay for as long as you like before heading back to town. If you find you have more time in the afternoon, check out the Children’s Eternal RainForest for easy hikes.

Are you missing familiar food from home? Check out Taco Taco in Monteverde. It is one of our favorite taco places ever, and we live in California!

Day 7: Monteverde/Beach

Classic Costa Rica Itinerary for FamiliesOn your last day in Monteverde, take a early morning guided hike at one of the various reserves to take in more of the scenery. The Curi Cancha Reserve is a great place for birders and a chance to catch the photogenic quetzal. There are trees you can climb in, hummingbirds to spy on and a canopy of intertwined trees to walk through. We recommend hiring a guide to lead you through the park. Guides can be booked in advance here. 

After your morning hike, head back to the hotel to check out and pack up for the coast, arriving just in time for dinner and the setting sun. If you are leaving out of Liberia airport, choose a beach with less than a 2 hour drive to the airport. We enjoyed our stay at Playa Hermosa, however there are a ton of options between Nosara and Tamarindo for those departing from the North.

If you are leaving from San Jose, head south towards Herradura and enjoy relaxing by the ocean and hotel pool.

Day 8: Beach

Classic Costa Rica Itinerary for FamiliesToday is a day to chill and take in the sights and sounds of the beach. Regardless of which beach you settled on, there will be plenty of opportunities for relaxation. If you need some more adventure on your last day, check out local tours for deep sea fishing, surfing lessons or nature hikes in the local area.

If you have more time for your Costa Rica itinerary, add on days at the beach to explore up and down the coast. You can also visit the Rio Celeste area before Arenal or hang out at Manuel Antonio National Park. For the truly adventurous head down to the Oso Peninsula.

If you feel nervous to explore Costa Rica on your own, Intrepid Travel has some amazing family focused tours of the country including ones for families with teens, a solo parent adventure and more.

Do you have a favorite spot in Costa Rica that you recommend be included on a visitor’s itinerary? Share it below!

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