Costa Rica with Kids: Babies, Toddlers, Big Kids & Teens

Costa Rica is a child’s wonderland. Slow-moving sloths, brilliant rainbows, ocean waves, smoking volcanoes, thrilling zip-lines, magical forest sounds, beautiful beaches, and a family-friendly culture all make Costa Rica a memorable place for a family with children to spend a family vacation.

This article will share our best tips for traveling to Costa Rica with kids. It is broken down into three sections:

Each section will give an introduction and general recommendations about traveling with each age group and then our tips on the best places to go, the best activities, and a packing list.

Mom and toddler child in Costa Rica on vacation
Traveling in Costa Rica with kids can be an amazing experience with the right plan and advice

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Traveling to Costa Rica with Toddlers (and Babies)

One thing that you will learn quickly when traveling with a family in Costa Rica is that babies and small children are treated like royalty. This is not to say that they are spoiled, but just that they spend most of their little lives hoisted in the arms of a loving uncle or a doting neighbor. What many travelers have been pleased to find out during their time in Costa Rica is that this affectionate culture extends to their children as well.

Family life is essential for every Costa Rican. Most people live near their parents, aunts, and uncles, and they all mind everybody’s business in a good way! This is why, wherever you go with your children in Costa Rica, locals will warmly embrace them, offering your family moments of respite by amusing your baby, imparting knowledge to your high schooler, or fostering playful interactions between their children and yours. Your kid will make friends – big and small – everywhere you go!

This general regard for the needs of little ones may give some peace of mind to families who are worried about traveling to Costa Rica with their children. However, traveling with babies poses some challenges that you should be aware of.

For one, there are bugs. From the occasional mosquito bite to an unsuspecting stinging ant hill, little children are bound to find themselves itchy and irritable during the trip, hence the need for a great bug bite salve (see packing list below).

Secondly, the climate can be a challenge. The tropical sun can be dangerous to sensitive skin, and the extreme temperatures of the hot beach, or the wet, windy cloud forest can feel overwhelming for a small child.

Finally, traveling between locations in Costa Rica can be tiresome for anyone, but especially for small children who feel confined in a car seat on bumpy, mountain roads, or while traffic moves slowly behind a lumbering truck.

For that reason, we have a few general recommendations for traveling to Costa Rica with babies or small children:

  • Limit the amount of times you travel between locations within the country to avoid too many uncomfortable road trips
  • Prioritize family-friendly accommodations, ideally boutique-style lodgings that are run and operated by a local family as they will provide more personalized support if you have any special needs
  • Always check age requirements for activities and ask ahead about suitability for toddlers or small children, especially for hikes or visits to water areas such as rivers or oceans

Where to go and what to do

  • The small towns of the South Caribbean like Cahuita, Puerto Viejo, and Manzanillo (and everything in between) offer plenty of calm, secluded beaches to enjoy with your little kids.
  • Costa Rica prides itself on its direct efforts to protect flora and fauna in its territories. That’s why many private organizations have opened rehabilitation and rescue centers for animals that, for various reasons, need help to survive. Visitors are welcome in these wildlife rescue centers, and the entrance fee helps with the costs of supporting the animals. Your family can feel good about helping some animals in need, and it’s an excellent opportunity to closely look at amazing animals like jaguars, sloths, monkeys, owls, and other birds and learn about them in a controlled place.

toddler walking on hanging bridge in Costa Rica

What to pack when traveling with babies or small children

  • Water wings (these are surprisingly hard to come by in Costa Rica)
  • Bug spray and sting ointment. We suggest bringing a small first aid kit that may even include a thermometer, some baby Tylenol, motion-sickness medicine, and anything else should your child suddenly feel unwell. However, there are ample pharmacies available in every town with all of the essential medicines.
  • Baby sunscreen – it is more expensive in Costa Rica
  • Sun-protective gear like a floppy hat and SPF + swim gear
  • Car seat or booster chair
  • Water bottles and snack containers. Once you are in Costa Rica, you can buy fresh fruit and snacks at any neighborhood pulperia or local grocery store to cut up. Bananas also grow on almost every property and, if you ask the owner, are usually free for the taking since there are so many!
  • A baby carrier or sling. You can leave your stroller at home as it will not be very efficient on the uneven, bumpy roads and non-existent sidewalks of Costa Rica.

And remember, don’t worry too much about traveling with a baby. Costa Rica welcomes around 80,000 baby Costa Ricans each year (for this statistic and other demographic statistics, check out this site), so it is certainly a country that is equipped to meet your family’s unique needs.

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Traveling to Costa Rica with big kids

Big kids ages six to 12 tend to LOVE Costa Rica. It is like a big playground for them, or their favorite animal show that has come to life. With all of the rivers, oceans, lakes, hot springs, and pools, it may feel like they never get out of their swimsuits. That means that by the end of the day, they are usually exhausted and ready for a full night of cricket-rich sleep until the next day’s adventures rise with the sun.

Another huge benefit to bringing your kids is to Costa Rica is that we have seen children find bravery they didn’t know they had – whether by joining a pick-up soccer game at the local plaza or by putting their heads under the water to snorkel – Costa Rica gives big kids ample opportunities to confront their fears and feel proud of themselves.

A family with big kids will be happy to count on a really awesome family itinerary that includes a nice combination of adventure activities each day, along with some downtime for recharging. Likewise, good planning is important because there are several activities with age limits – like canopying or white-water rafting.

kids on the beach in Costa Rica

General recommendations:

  • Make sure your accommodations have a pool and, ideally, a small restaurant, or at least include breakfast so that there is one less meal to plan each day.
  • Bring some fun interactive toys for your children to share with other children they meet to foster connection. This could be bubbles, temporary tattoos, or a frisbee.

Where to go and what to do

  • Arenal revolves around an active volcano and has almost every activity besides the beach.
  • Manuel Antonio, in the Central Pacific of Costa Rica, also offers a little bit of everything for all families except for hot springs!
  • Visit a local Costa Rican farm. Something as simple as seeing chickens and cows or visiting a banana plantation, a coffee farm, or a cacao plantation can be mesmerizing for your child and very interesting for adults. Besides a great experience, you can all discover new flavors together!
  • Go for a hike in one of the Costa Rican National Parks. Here are some easy-ish and accessible hiking trails that the family may want to experience while you are here:

What to pack when traveling with big kids

  • Reusable water bottles so that kids can fill up their bottles with fresh water each morning and prevent waste
  • Granola bars for those in-between moments
  • Sunscreen, hats, SPF+ swimsuits
  • A first-aid medicine kit with the essentials
  • Books for quiet time and group activity books to play in the car like MadLibs or riddles. Costa Rican flora and fauna books are also a great way for children to begin to identify wildlife and feel empowered to understand the world around them.
  • Headlamps for night hikes
  • A variety of clothing based on your itinerary – shorts, and t-shirts for low elevation and pants and windbreakers for high elevation

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Traveling to Costa Rica with Teenagers/Young Adults

Teenagers and young adults (12-22 years old) are often beginning to define their values and envision their role in the world, which is one of the reasons why we love helping families bring their teenagers to Costa Rica. Costa Rica is a great place to start or to continue learning about the world. Our sister company, Costa Rica Explorations, hosts service-learning programs for high school students.

General recommendations

  • Include your children in the planning of the trip and help them feel empowered and prepared by keeping them abreast of each day’s plans.
  • Discuss what it means to build cross-cultural awareness and how to non-judgmentally observe the local culture, customs, and attitudes of the people that they meet.
  • Encourage them to identify something about Costa Rica that interests them and to become the group expert on that topic, for example, How did Costa Rica become associated with peace?, What are the main sources of electricity in Costa Rica?, or Where can you spot sloths?
  • Discuss the importance of culturally sensitive conduct and attire to honor the place where you are traveling. This also helps to keep teenagers safe from dangerous situations. For example, most Costa Ricans would tell you that it is generally not a good idea to be on the beach at night. By learning the local customs, travelers keep themselves safe.

family in Costa Rica on vacation with kids

Where to go and what to do

  • Drake Bay is a once-in-a-lifetime destination that is most suitable for families with older kids (teens and tweens) due to the traveling time involved, the remoteness of the location, and the more adventurous activities.
  • Incorporate a volunteer experience in your trip such as turtle nesting and truly see the “Circle of Life.” See a turtle nesting at Tortuguero National Park (northern Caribe) or Playa Grande (pacific north). Visit our in-depth guide about “When & Where to See Sea Turtles in Costa Rica on Your Vacation.”
  • Go White Water Rafting down one of Costa Rica’s famous rivers like the Pacuare River (Central Valley), Naranjo River (Central Pacific), or Sarapiquí River (Northern Plains).
  • Explore the beautiful La Paz Waterfall Gardens
  • Visit the Hanging Bridges in Monteverde cloud forest.

What to pack when traveling with teenagers/young adults

  • Sunscreen and bug spray. Use both liberally the first few days of your trip until your skin has adjusted to the tropical sun and bugs.
  • A pack of playing cards for evenings at the hotel.
  • Depending on your trip itinerary, bring hardy clothing such as close-toed shoes (for hikes), pants (for horseback riding), and light jackets (for high-elevation locations).

Do it for the Kids & Plan Your Trip!

In our experience, traveling to Costa Rica with kids is totally worth it. They will love the country and learn so much on their trip and everyone will come home with amazing memories. You want to make traveling with your children easy, so keeping it as simple as possible could be the key to your trip’s success. Costa Rica Escapes can assist with this in planning. Contact us below. ¡Buen viaje!

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