Costa Rica with kids means adventure in the jungle, ocean, river, mountain, city, and more, in a country the size of West Virginia. Therefore, everything is reachable if you have the correct plan and the right advice. At Costa Rica Escapes, we love the idea of families visiting Costa Rica for an unforgettable trip (we live here with our kids!), so here are some of our suggestions on what to do.
Traveling to Costa Rica with Kids
A successful trip to Costa Rica with your kids starts with planning it. The tourism industry in Costa Rica is developed and well prepared to meet your needs and provide great service. The options are many, and not all of them might suit your dreamed vacation, so we recommend you do some research to make sure you are booking the right lodging and services for you and your family, or look for a professional company (like us) to help you plan that perfect trip to Costa Rica with your kids.
Preparations also mean packing. It is very important that you bring effective sun protection for the entire family. No matter what part of Costa Rica you visit, you will likely be exposed to significant sun rays. It might even be more than you are used to, and that sun is definitely stronger than at home because we are right in between the tropics. A good sunblock (hopefully waterproof), hat and light long-sleeved shirts will be good companions to have.
Also, bring a good mosquito repellent because there are many areas of Costa Rica that are natural homes for many mosquitoes and they could find your blood tasty! A collection of mosquito bites can make your children’s vacation a real nightmare, so avoid it by making sure they are protected.
Fast drying clothing is also a good thing to have in Costa Rica. Humidity can be high in many places and clothes made out of cotton, for example, could take significant time or need strong sunlight to dry.
For a complete checklist, please review our Costa Rica Packing List article.
Once you step on the plane to Costa Rica, be prepared for changes in temperature and humidity. Many people fly ready in their shorts and sandals, but depending on the time of the year you visit, your arrival might be cool and/or rainy. You probably already do this, but pack a sweatshirt for your kids in your carry-on and maybe have them wear closed-toed shoes for the flight.
Costa Rica has a pretty strict policy caring for disabled people, pregnant women, families with babies and infants, and elder citizens. If your family has a member that fits any of those descriptions, ask for assistance anywhere you go, but especially when you are at the airport, so you get to use the special line at customs.
No matter how experienced you are as a traveler, it is a good idea to have already arranged transportation that will take you from the airport to your first destination. There are many taxi services – formal and informal – at the airport ready to help travelers, but there is no guarantee you will find a fair fee. If you decide to rent a car or need help with a bigger van to take you to your hotel, we can help you with the arrangements.
Traveling Throughout Costa Rica with Kids
Depending on the itinerary you decide to follow during your trip to Costa Rica you might spend a few hours driving from one destination to the next. This can be tiring for kids and adults, so plan to make at least one stop every two hours. Luckily, Costa Ricans also suffer from the long drives and that’s why there are many fruit stands and small restaurants (called Sodas) on the side of the road everywhere you go. Take advantage of them and discover new flavors as part of your adventure!
Be aware that the use of car seats for toddlers and preschoolers is mandatory in Costa Rica so if you rent a car or hire a driver, make sure to rent or bring a car seat with you. You do not need the seat for buses.
Even if your destination is a warm and sunny beach, it is likely that you will drive over a mountain that can be rainy and cool. Always be prepared for those changes, especially the rain that easily can turn into stormy-heavy rain.
Learn more about driving in Costa Rica.
General Kid Safety in Costa Rica
Ticos, as Costa Ricans are called, are friendly and helpful, so be open to help and conversation but always have a bit of suspicion, especially when your children are around. Remember there are bad people everywhere in the world. Needless to say, do not allow your children, toddler or teenager, to wander by themselves in lonely places or with strangers.
Also, like anywhere in the world, rivers, lakes, and oceans can have unexpected currents or animals that can put your child in danger. Never leave them unattended. If your family members aren’t good swimmers, it’s better to stay in shallow water. Always ask locals if you should be aware of any other potential dangers, such as resident crocodiles.
Food is safe in Costa Rica because there is a collective consciousness of the importance of public health, reinforced by government authorities. But, try to eat fruits and vegetables at places that look clean and safe, and wash them yourself if possible. Also, wash and clean your children’s hands often.
Water is safe to drink all around Costa Rica, but if you want to be extra careful, you can use bottled water. Our only suggestion is you use reusable bottles as much as possible to help reduce pollution.
In the end, Costa Rica is a safe country and you should have little concerns for a family trip. Learn more here.
Things to Do with Kids of All Ages
We firmly believe Costa Rica offers a lot for people of all ages. But we also believe a successful trip means choosing the right activities, especially for the little ones. That is why we have put together a list of suggested activities for different ages, considering that what could appeal more to toddlers, might not be of interest to your teenager. If you want more general suggestions, please visit our page about things to do with kids in Costa Rica.
Things to Do in Costa Rica with Toddlers
At this early age, your child can move around and voice his/her desires but it is still very much dependable on you, which means he/she is coming along to everything you do, and you need to find the perfect balance. Visiting Costa Rica with toddlers can actually be a great trip, and here are some suggestions to help your baby’s intellectual, social, and emotional development:
- Visit national parks and protected areas with accessible paths so you can stroll around your child.
- Find a beach with calm waters to splash and safely practice swimming skills.
- Take a boat tour at Tortuguero (northern Caribe), Sierpe (south Pacific), Tempisque (north Pacific), Sarapiquí (northern plains) or Tárcoles (central Pacific).
- Visit a farm/plantation of cacao, banana, coffee, or tropical fruits like pineapple or peach palm.
For more ideas visit our Costa Rica with toddlers article.
Things to Do in Costa Rica with Preschoolers
All of a sudden your child seems to have a mind of his/her own! He/she wants to go places, see things and wants it now. You need to keep the trip busy enough that they are happy and occupied, but also that you are not at the mercy of your loved offspring. Here are some ideas:
- Fly to your destinations.
- Visit a serpentarium or a butterfly garden.
- Choose a hotel with a kids pool.
- Visit a beach that is fun and safe for the family and where many sand castles can be built.
Things to do in Costa Rica with Grade-Schoolers
Things might be a little different now that you get to travel with your child a little bit older. He/She is a lot more independent and starts to combine knowledge with creativity into solving problems. This gives you the opportunity to start exploring another side of Costa Rica with Kids, which is more adventurous but still relaxing and fun. How about you consider:
- In San José, visit museums and the amusement park.
- Visit one of the four National Parks that have a volcano (Rincón de la Vieja, Irazú, Barva and Poás)
- Visit a biological reserve that offers guided tours like La Selva in Sarapiquí.
- Go birding! With a list of more than 700 species of birds, you can make the trip list a constant challenge for your kids.
- Go see a turtle nesting at Tortuguero National Park (northern Caribe) or Playa Grande (northern Pacific).
- Take day hikes at one of the many national parks that offer safe and interesting trails like Manuel Antonio National Park (central Pacific), Quebrada González at Braulio Carrillo National Park (central valley), Palo Verde National Park (Nicoya golf).
Things to Do in Costa Rica with Teenagers
Adolescence can be a challenging time for everybody in the family. No better way to keep things peaceful and friendly that letting your teen feel “free” and “adventurous.” Because of the great service that Costa Rica’s tourism industry offers, and provided by the right company, you can give your family many opportunities to laugh, encourage one another, and create closer bonds, all while respecting each other’s space. We suggest you consider:
- White Water Rafting at Pacuare River (central valley), Naranjo River (central Pacific) and Sarapiquí River (northern plains).
- Surf Camps in Central and North Pacific.
- Hot spring “party” at La Fortuna.
- Beach time to tan and relax anywhere in the pacific and the south caribe.
- One day challenging hikes at Rincon de la Vieja National Park (Guanacaste), Cerro Chato in La Fortuna, or Monteverde.
- Multi-day hikes at Corcovado National Park or Chirripó National Park.
- Snorkeling in the South Caribbean.
- Biking from one beach to the next in the South Caribbean.
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.