A vacation to Costa Rica with Kids should be on your family’s bucket list. This small but exciting country has so much to offer, big and small that you will not be disappointed, but you will want to come back!
This guide has the critical information you need to plan the perfect trip for your family. We at Costa Rica Escapes are experts in Costa Rica and want to share as much information as possible with you. But if you still have questions, let us help you organize your trip, and we will make the perfect custom trip that will make your kids happy as we ensure the adults enjoy and relax too.
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Traveling in Costa Rica with kids can be a fantastic experience with the right plan and advice.
People that Know Family
The tourism industry is very developed in Costa Rica; therefore, you can find the perfect fit of services for every budget and specific need. Driving around the country is relatively easy, and most popular destinations are two to five hours from the airport. More often than not, hotels are located near wild and beautiful attractions and amenities like grocery shops, pharmacies, clothing stores, and restaurants. And access to private and public healthcare is also easy to find (and reliable). In much of Costa Rica, all you need (if you are traveling with your toddlers) is at your fingertips.
People That Care for Kids – Tico Family Culture
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! That’s why everywhere you walk in with your kids, Costa Ricans will welcome them and give the whole family a little break as they make your baby laugh, teach your high schooler something, or they may even encourage their children to play and interact with yours. Your kid will make friends – big and small – everywhere you go!
Let’s start our guide by pointing out some essential tips for your trip:
- Spanish is the official language in Costa Rica, but you can get by with English almost everywhere.
- Driving in Costa Rica can be difficult. We do not recommend it, especially if you are going with your kids around. Learn more about driving in Costa Rica.
- If you decide to drive, know that using car seats for kids is mandatory in Costa Rica, except when using public transportation like small buses or taxis. Make sure your car rental company rents car seats, or bring your own.
- One important thing to know is that domestic airlines offer a 25% discount for kids under the age of 12 and kids under two fly for free.
- For your arrival at any of the international airports of Costa Rica, make sure to arrange transportation that will take you to your first destination. There are many taxi services – formal and informal – at the airport ready to help travelers. Still, there is no guarantee you will find a fair fee.
- Even though it is hard to believe, tap water is safe in Costa Rica. Ticos take public health very seriously, and they have ensured that everywhere in Costa Rica, people have the right to drinkable water.
- There are pharmacies in almost every medium-to-large town in Costa Rica. Also, there are more over-the-counter medicine options in Costa Rica than in the US. In small cities, you can find some medicines at grocery stores.
- Food is safe to eat, delicious, and abundant in Costa Rica. Learn more about traditional Costa Rican cuisine.
Find more general Costa Rica tips to prepare for your trip.
What is the Best Time to Visit Costa Rica with Kids?
Costa Rica has two seasons, the dry season and the green/rainy season. It is always a good time to visit Costa Rica with your kids, but the best time will depend on your budget and the kind of family you are. Be aware that you can enjoy all of Costa Rica’s wonders in both the rainy and dry seasons. The difference will be how long you can enjoy it during the day.
During the rainy season, you will always have a portion of the day where you need to be inside. Therefore your time at the beach or your hike inside a national park will have to be cut short. But you will enjoy a green and lush forest everywhere, and fewer people will be around.
During the dry season, you will almost always have that perfect sunny-hot weather to enjoy with your kids. The downside to the dry season in Costa Rica is that it is the most expensive time to visit, and it can be crowded depending on where you go.
Learn more about the best time to visit Costa Rica.
What to Pack for Kids?
When packing for your trip to Costa Rica with kids, you must imagine the brutal sun and heavy rain with some cold weather, especially if you are heading to the cloud forest or any volcanos. Even if you are only going to the beach, you need to prepare for the drive, which could involve driving up and down mountains where it can get cold.
We have prepared detailed advice to help you pack for your trip to Costa Rica, but here are some pointers on what you should not forget to put in your kid’s bag:
- A good sunblock, waterproof and reef-proof, would be ideal.
- A hat.
- Light long-sleeved shirts for more protection from the sun.
- Good mosquito repellent because many areas of Costa Rica are natural homes for many mosquitoes.
- Fast-drying clothing. 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.
- A lightweight but warm sweatshirt.
- Rain Jacket or rain poncho.
- Closed-toed shoes for the hikes in the forest.
- Sandals or shoes that can get wet and dry fast for beach and river activities.
- Reusable water bottles to avoid dehydration.
- Some entertainment for the drives between destinations.
Where Should We Travel with Kids in Costa Rica?
We don’t get tired of saying it: Costa Rica has everything for everyone! But, of course, the choice of where to travel with your kids in Costa Rica will depend on the kind of family you are. If you want to go to a place with a little bit of everything, consider the Arenal and Manuel Antonio areas.
- 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!
- Drake Bay is also a popular destination, but it is more 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.
Where to Stay in Costa Rica with Kids?
When traveling with kids, one of the most important things to consider (besides safety) is accessibility. Some of the most popular areas for families with kids are on the central pacific coast and the northern pacific coast. The beaches are beautiful. Along with easy access to the beaches, many services and activities are available, and there are options for all budgets.
If you browse through our website and blog, you will find that we have covered almost the entire country with information about the different destinations to help determine where to go in Costa Rica. But to read more about our favorite places to visit in Costa Rica, read our Where to stay in Costa Rica blog post and The Best (Authentic) Places to Stay in Costa Rica with Kids. We seriously have you covered with advice!
Choosing Between Resorts and Authentic Lodging
We at Costa Rica Escapes are all about authentic travel. We understand the benefits of choosing a chain or all-inclusive resort when you travel with your family. Still, the only way to justify the time and money spent traveling abroad is by discovering the real soul of the place you visit.
If you are looking for adventure but need R-n-R time, resorts in Costa Rica with your kids may be more relaxing for parents. Resorts in Costa Rica are so diverse you can choose from beach time with your kids, on-site hot springs, rainforest hiking trails, or mountain settings with breathtaking views. Most resorts offer standard amenities like pools, restaurants, and gardens to explore. However, we highly suggest you find authentic lodging to enjoy with your family. Unique lodging creates a truly memorable experience!
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Is it Safe to Travel to Costa Rica with Kids?
It is safe to travel with children in Costa Rica. So let’s get that out of the way. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Like anywhere in the world, you must always keep an eye on your kids, no matter how old they are, and never let them wander by themselves in lonely places or with strangers.
Also, 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, staying in shallow water is better. Always ask locals if you should be aware of other potential dangers, such as resident crocodiles.
As we said before, food and water are safe in Costa Rica because there is a collective consciousness of the importance of public health reinforced by government authorities.
There is a wide range of activities and tours that you can do as a family while visiting Costa Rica. Many of those activities are suitable for children of all ages, like walking the trails of national parks, visiting animal sanctuaries or wildlife refuges, or taking a boat tour for wildlife watching.
For the more adventurous families with older kids (teens and tweens), you can choose more demanding activities like zip-lining above the forest, river tubing, or whitewater rafting.
Learn more about Costa Rica’s safety.
Is Costa Rica Fun for Kids?
Absolutely yes. And the great thing about it is that a trip to Costa Rica with your kids can also be very educational.
Unless you come from a tropical country, your kids will be continuously amazed by all the wildlife they discover through exhilarating and adventurous activities, like hiking in the rainforest, floating down a river, or snorkeling in the Caribbean ocean.
On top of it, something as simple as sitting in the back of a bus driving to your next destination can bring amazement, too, like spotting troops of howler monkeys sitting on the trees next to the road.
What Can Families with Kids do in Costa Rica?
The only thing kids can not do in Costa Rica is snowboarding or skiing. However, there are activities for kids of all ages and all levels of adventure spirits. Here are a few suggestions.
Best Beaches in Costa Rica for Kids
If you come to Costa Rica, you must take your kids to the beach. The country has two oceans, so the options are many, from white to black sand beaches, from calm-like pool water to bucket-list surfing waves, and from high-rise landscapes to lush forest views. Read our Best Beaches in Costa Rica for Families blog post to learn more about our favorite spots.
A country with two coasts means many beautiful beaches for all tastes and needs. Some of those beaches might be too rough even for adults, but some offer just the right combination of sand (to make castles!) and calm water (to bathe and play).
In the South Caribbean, Cahuita, Puerto Viejo, and Manzanillo (and everything in between) offer plenty of calm, secluded beaches to enjoy with your kids.
The calm beaches in the North Pacific allow you to feel comfortable in the water with your kids, and there are plenty of them. Here are some specific beach suggestions for you to consider.
Things to Do with Kids of All Ages
We list a few activities we recommend for your trip, depending on the age of your children. Still, once more, we invite you to contact us and let us plan your dream trip to Costa Rica with your kids. We at Costa Rica Escapes are experts in Costa Rica, and we can organize the trip that fits your family style and passions perfectly.
The following list is just a summary of many of our suggestions.
Visit a Farm
Many destinations in Costa Rica offer visitors the opportunity to discover and enjoy life on a typical 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!
Close-Up Encounters with Wildlife
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.
Do your kids like bugs? Insects, frogs, lizards, and snakes are always a great success with small children. Find a butterfly garden or an insect exhibit, and you will have so much material to blow your kid’s mind!
Experience Wildlife Naturally
Are your kids interested in seeing scarlet macaws or toucans? With a list of more than 700 species, you and the family can have fun looking for specific birds and make the trip list a constant challenge for your kids.
Experience turtle nestling is a must-see, and truly see the “Circle of Life” with your little ones. Go 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.”
Hiking Nature Trails
Hiking can be a fun family adventure, even with toddlers. Some private reserves, like La Selva Biological Station in the North of Costa Rica, have accessible trails and amazing rainforest to share with your family.
The Costa Rican National Parks system wants to make nature accessible to all. Therefore, many renowned national parks have accessible trails where if you have a stroller for a toddler, you can push your toddler’s stroller as you hike and show your little one the colors, shapes, and noises of the rainforest.
Here are some Hiking Trails that the family may want to experience while you are here:
- Carara National Park in the Central Pacific
- Santa Rosa National Park, north of Liberia, has accessible trails.
- Poás Volcano National Park has a paved path to the volcano’s main crater.
- Irazú Volcano National Park’s route to the main crater is half cement and half sand.
- Rincón de la Vieja is a place to go with the family, as there is zip-lining, horseback riding, whitewater rafting, or rappeling down a waterfall.
- Manuel Antonio National Park has one trail packed with gravel, so if you have a stroller, you should be ok to walk with a toddler.
Family River (Boating) Time
Boat tours are a great way to explore the rainforest of Costa Rica safely and comfortably. There are fantastic boat tours in every major destination of Costa Rica. Here’s a quick breakdown:
- In the North Caribbean, boat tours at Tortuguero National Park take you to the most remote corners of this incredible wildlife destination.
- The Sarapiquí River is a great place to discover from a boat in the North of Costa Rica.
- A boat tour of the Tempisque River in the North Pacific will allow you to encounter a significant amount of water and migratory birds.
- A boat tour in the Tarcoles River in the Central Pacific will get you close to the giant American Crocodiles.
- A boat tour of the Sierpe river in the South Pacific will give you a better understanding of the mangrove habitat.
Help your kids get excited for your trip with our fun and educational article, Costa Rica Facts for Kids.
Active Families with Teenagers: Listen Up!
So, your family may be older and more active. Here are some great ideas and opportunities that you should 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.
- Hike in Cerro Chato in La Fortuna is sometimes open to the public. You may need a reservation.
- Explore the beautiful La Paz Waterfall Gardens,
- Visit the Hanging Bridges in Monteverde Cloud Forrest
If you are looking for more adventures in Costa Rica with your family, check out our article, “Plan the Ultimate Costa Rica Family Adventure Vacation.”
Things to Do in San José with Kids
Many family trips to Costa Rica start and end in San José, sometimes leaving enough time to explore with the kids. So here are a few things you can do with them in the capital city of Costa Rica!
- Visit one of the many museums in the heart of the city. They are small enough that your children will not feel overwhelmed, and they are interesting enough to keep them entertained for a couple of hours. You can choose from more formal museums like the Gold Museum, the Jade Museum, the Costa Rican Art Museum, or more play-oriented museums like the Children’s Museum.
- Visit the Central Market of San José, where you can find all kinds of exciting fruits and vegetables, look at traditional Costa Rican dresses, enjoy a cup of sorbet ice cream or have one more giant Casado for lunch. The market is a big honeycomb, so make sure your kids don’t wander alone.
Do it for the Kids & Plan Your Trip!
We threw you a lot of information, but we are excited to help you plan a family trip. We know how much work it can be, so we put this guide together to help you as much as possible.
Traveling through Costa Rica on a family vacation can have ups and downs. In Costa Rica, we know you will experience travel differently through the eyes of a child. Every beautiful tropical flower on a trail, an animal hanging from a tree at the beach, or a nice breeze from a breathtaking viewpoint can truly warm your heart.
And let’s be honest; 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.
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.