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, for big and small, that not only you will not be disappointed, but you will want to come back!
This Ultimate Guide to Costa Rica with Kids has the critical information you need to have to plan the perfect trip for your family. We at Costa Rica Escapes are experts in Costa Rica, and we 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 make sure the adults enjoy and relax too.
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 driving your kids around. Learn more about driving in Costa Rica.
- If you decide to drive, know that the use of 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 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 to drink in Costa Rica. Ticos take public health very seriously, and they have made sure that everywhere in Costa Rica, people have their right to drinkable water.
- There are pharmacies in almost every medium to big size 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 also the kind of family that you are. Be aware that in both the rainy and dry season, you can enjoy all of Costa Rica’s wonders. 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 very green and lush forest everywhere you go and also there will be a lot fewer people around.
During the dry season, you will almost always have that perfect sunny-hot weather you so much want 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 have to imagine the hard sun and heavy rain with some cold weather in between. 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, hopefully waterproof.
- A hat.
- Light long-sleeved shirts for more protection from the sun.
- Good mosquito repellent because there are many areas of Costa Rica that 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 toes shoes for the hikes in the forest.
- Sandals or shoes that can get wet and dry fast for the beach and river activities.
- Reusable water bottles to avoid dehydration.
- Some entertainment for the drives between destinations.
Where Should I travel with Kids in Costa Rica?
We don’t get tired of saying it: Costa Rica has it all for everyone! 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 that has a little bit of everything, we suggest you consider the Arenal and Manuel Antonio areas.
Arenal revolves around an active volcano and has almost every kind of 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 due to the traveling time involved, the remoteness of the location, and more adventurer kind of 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 northern pacific coast. There, the beaches are beautiful, it is easy to get in and out, there are all kinds of services and activities 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 you 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 also 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 resort or an all-inclusive resort when you travel with your family. Still, we believe that the only way to justify time and money spent traveling abroad is by discovering the real soul of the place you visit.
If you are debating on what kind of lodging to book for your trip to Costa Rica, we invite you to read a more in-depth article about why we don’t recommend our clients to lodge at resorts but instead choose an authentic all-inclusive Costa Rica family vacation. We highly suggest you find authentic lodging to enjoy with your family!
Is it Safe to Travel to Costa Rica with Kids?
It is safe to travel with children in Costa Rica. 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, 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.
Like 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.
Learn more about Costa Rica’s safety.
Is Costa Rica Fun for Kids?
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 will 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?
Probably the only thing kids can not do in Costa Rica is to ski. Besides that, 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, from high-rises landscapes to lush forest views. Read our Best Beaches in Costa Rica for Families blog post to learn more about our favorite spots.
Things to Do with Kids of All Ages
We want to list a few activities that 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.
Things to Do in Costa Rica with Toddlers
- Visit national parks and protected areas with accessible paths so you can stroll around with your child.
- 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.
Find more ideas for visiting Costa Rica with toddlers.
Things to Do in Costa Rica with Preschoolers
- Visit a herpetarium or a butterfly garden.
- Choose a hotel/lodge with a kids pool.
- Choose a hotel/lodge with lots of green space for running and jumping around.
Things to do in Costa Rica with Grade-Schoolers
- Visit one of the four National Parks that have a volcano (Rincón de la Vieja, Irazú, Barva and Poás)
- 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 (pacific north).
Things to Do in Costa Rica with Teenagers
- White Water Rafting at Pacuare River (central valley), Naranjo River (central Pacific) and Sarapiquí River (northern plains).
- Surf Camps in Central and North Pacific.
- One-day challenging hikes at Rincon de la Vieja National Park (Guanacaste), Cerro Chato in La Fortuna, or Monteverde.
Things to Do in San José with Kids
Many of the family trips to Costa Rica start and end in San José, sometimes leaving enough time to explore a bit with the kids. 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 all 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, or the Costa Rican Art Museum, or more play-oriented museums like the Children’s Museum.
- Take a day trip; there are so many different options to choose from: to mention a few there is La Paz Waterfall Gardens, Doka Coffee Tour, or Britt Coffee Tour.
- 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 traditional 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 on their own.
Ready to Plan a Trip? Contact Us!
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.