There are few places on earth as magical and transformative as Costa Rica for a family vacation. Small children go wild over all of the beautiful bugs and large mammals that they’ve only ever seen in picture books. Big kids love jumping waves and zip-lining in the jungle. For teenagers and young adults, traveling through Costa Rica feels like an introduction to international travel as they pay attention to the local customs, figure out how to buy a soda in Spanish, raft down a white-water river, and so much more. Days are full of adventure and experiences, and evenings are spent as a family, recalling the day’s highlights.
This article will help inspire you with the benefits of a Costa Rica family vacation and also give you our top insights about where to go and what to do when planning a family itinerary.
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Is it a Good Idea to Take a Family Vacation to Costa Rica?
YES! Time and time again, we have seen how a well-planned vacation to Costa Rica has countless benefits for a family:
- A week or two in Costa Rica will positively impact your kids’ mindset, travel experience, cultural perspective, education, and sense of adventure. There is no better way to positively impact all of that at once for your kids than to come to Costa Rica on a family adventure vacation.
- A family adventure in Costa Rica will be healthy because it will allow your family to participate in healthy activities and eat healthy food.
- The trip will be educational because you will have close encounters with so much wildlife you will talk about it for days to come.
- The trip will be entertaining because you and the family can do once-in-a-lifetime activities like ziplining through the rainforest or soaking in volcanic hot springs.
- A family adventure in Costa Rica will provide rich exposure to a different lifestyle, and your family will be able to take it all in while also taking time away from the phones, computers, and tablets.
The Best Places to Visit in Costa Rica with Kids
When traveling to Costa Rica with kids, we suggest you consider choosing destinations that offer a wide variety of adventure activities to meet everyone’s bucket list, are easily accessible, and are relatively close to each other, so you don’t have to spend too much time in the car. Below is a list of our favorite kid-friendly destinations around the country.
One of our favorite places to visit in Costa Rica is Arenal, in the northern plains of the country. The communities around this active volcano, like La Fortuna, rose from the ashes – literally – in the late 1960s and built an incredible array of attractions and activities for people of all ages and preferences. In Arenal, you can go stand-up paddling in the morning, zip-lining in the afternoon, and, in the evening, soak in the hot springs under the stars. It is a place that has something for everyone.
Tip: Our Costa Rica Rainforest-to-Beach Family Vacation Itinerary includes the best activities and accommodations in the Arenal area.
Near Arenal is Monteverde, a mountain town populated by Quakers who immigrated there in the 1950s to develop a peaceful community with an emphasis on organic farming. The Quaker community worked to protect the cloud forest, and as a result, the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve was established. It is a steep climb up curvy mountain roads to reach the town, but there is nothing quite like the silent mist of the cloud forest and the unique flora and fauna of Monteverde.
Tip: Monteverde is the first stop on our Costa Rica Collection Family Itinerary. It allows families to submerge in the cloud forest and feel the powerful benefits of nature on their very first night in the country.
In terms of beauty, accessibility, adventure activities, and accommodations, it doesn’t get much better than Manuel Antonio on the Central Pacific. Located just 2.5 hours west of the Juan Santamaria Airport in Alajuela/San Jose, Manuel Antonio is easy to get to while also feeling like a totally exotic destination. Its rainforest cliffs hide boutique accommodations high up above the sparkling Pacific Ocean. And the Manuel Antonio National Park will guarantee that your family has close encounters with monkeys, sloths, coatimundis, iguanas, and plenty of sea and bird life.
Tip: Manuel Antonio is one of our favorite beaches to visit, which is why we include it in our Rainforest Escape Family Itinerary. It allows you to experience rainforests and beaches all in one place.
If your family is a little more travel-savvy and you want something off the beaten path, Drake Bay in the South Pacific is one of your best options. Just getting there feels like an adventure as you either need to book a 1-hour domestic flight to Drake Bay’s small landing strip in the middle of the jungle, or you will need to travel to the small south Pacific town of Sierpe and then take a small boat for one hour around the bay. However, once you arrive, you will be immersed in lush jungle life in beautiful eco-lodges. For day trips, you can either take a guided hiking tour of Corcovado National Park or go snorkeling/scuba diving off Isla del Caño. We typically recommend this trip for families with older kids (10 and up) since some adventure activities have an age restriction.
Tip: Check out our Remote Costa Rica Adventure Itinerary if you want to consider this part of the country.
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How to Choose a Special Accommodation for Your Family
In a country with over 3,000 hotels, there are many options for places to stay. There are treehouses in the jungle, bungalows on the coast, cabins in the mountains, and everything in between. No matter how packed your trip is, you will always have those early and late hours of the day at your hotel, so you will probably want to make the most of that time to connect with your family and even with other families. And, if you have budgeted some time to relax with no activities, it’s all the more reason to make sure you will be spending your downtime in a place that has excellent amenities and a high-quality team.
Below are some of the questions that we hear frequently and what we tell our clients.
Airbnb, hotel, or all-inclusive resort?
Airbnbs can be an excellent way to meet a local family (especially if the family lives nearby on the same property, as is often the case), have access to the full amenities of a house, and avoid large groups of tourists. However, in the larger tourist towns, Airbnb properties are bulk-managed and will not provide you with an opportunity to meet locals. Also, we have heard lots of stories and read lots of reviews of Airbnb houses that promise one thing and deliver another. Ultimately, it is too much of an unknown variable for most families who want to ensure a peaceful and easy trip to a foreign country.
There are a handful of all-inclusive resorts within Costa Rica that can undoubtedly provide peace and ease; however, clients often tell us that after a couple of days there, they feel restless and bored. While there are some exceptions, in general, we avoid using all-inclusive resorts in our itineraries because they are large and sacrifice too much of the authenticity of the experience.
Our favorite category of accommodations are our boutique Casual, Premiere, and Upgraded accommodations, which have been hand-selected because they provide families with a personalized experience in a distinct and beautiful environment, are community or family-run, and are clean, safe, and comfortable.
Close to town or more remote?
In general, accommodations further away from town will give you more up-close access to nature. Except for San Jose, we recommend that you look for properties that are
15-20 minutes away from the bus and motorcycle noise of town centers.
Choosing a more remote property will typically mean that the property grounds are more extensive, which means it is more likely to include a garden or a pool. Imagine enjoying a great cup of Costa Rican coffee early in the morning as you spot hummingbirds frantically flying from one flower to the next, or a toucan eating a banana, or a coatimundi roaming the gardens right in front of your room or your breakfast table!
Large hotel or small?
Choosing the size of the hotel will depend on what you and your family are looking for. Large hotels will likely have more amenities, such as multiple pools and larger grounds for exploration. However, there will also be more tourists, and it is more likely that the property is owned and operated by a large corporate entity. Smaller hotels are more likely to be locally owned and to have elements of the local environment, along with the expected amenities. In general, we look for boutique properties that have demonstrated their taste and their commitment to a positive traveler experience.
A lot of the accommodations that you can find in Costa Rica pride in where they are located and, therefore, are carefully designed to fit the surroundings without leaving aside comfort and safety. What comes out of that detailed process is unique lodges and hotels that enhance the beauty surrounding them. They become part of that environment.
The most important qualities to look for in a kid-friendly hotel
As you look at hotels, we suggest that you prioritize the following qualities:
- Breakfast included
- Pool (if in a low-elevation location)
- On-site concierge or support desk
- Plenty of greenspace for exploration
- Location (15-20 minutes from the center of town to cut down on noise)
Our Top 10 Kid-Friendly Activities
Costa Rica sometimes feels like a huge playground for children and the young at heart. It is impossible to run out of beautiful places to explore – from hidden waterfalls to misty forests to secluded beaches.
We typically recommend that you schedule one adventure activity per day, along with a few days at the end of your trip, to relax in a peaceful rainforest hotel or beach lodging. Most family adventure itineraries will include a canopy/zip-line tour, a visit to some hot springs, and some time at a breathtaking family beach on the Pacific or Caribbean. But below, we’ve put together a list of our top 10 kid-friendly activities that may make your trip just that much more special.
- Climb a volcano like Poas, Arenal, or Irazú
- Explore the central market or the boho neighborhoods of San José
- Visit a local farmer’s market on a Friday or Saturday and see how many fruits and vegetables you can identify
- Enjoy the healthy food and return home with a new diet of fresh fruits and simple meals
- Dip into a Catholic mass in the local church to observe – these are typically held in the morning (8 or 9 am) and in the afternoon (4 or 6 pm)
- Paddle fast on a whitewater rafting tour down some of Costa Rica’s beautiful mountain-to-beach rivers
- Purchase artisan products or locally produced coffee. Remember, haggling is not common in Costa Rica.
- Sip on some Costa Rica Coffee and take a coffee farm tour
- Head down to the neighborhood soccer field (“plaza”) on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon and cheer for a local soccer game
- Take a slow walk as a family down a country road and pay attention to the sounds and smells
If you want more insight into what activities to include in your family adventure to Costa Rica, check out this article: Things to Do in Costa Rica.
Have Questions? Contact us!
Don’t hesitate to contact us if you still have questions or want to hire our services. We would be thrilled to help and ensure you have the best possible family vacation in Costa Rica.
John Rabenau has been working in the eco-tourism & adventure travel industry in Costa Rica since 2002. He has worked in a variety of capacities from Outdoor Educator & Principle Guide to Itinerary Design Manager & Business Owner for numerous organizations. He has grown Costa Rica Escapes into one of the most reputable Costa Rica travel agencies since its creation in 2006, hosting more than 5,000 people with custom vacation itineraries.