If you are planning your family vacations (or holidays) in Costa Rica, you will not be disappointed with the number of family activities Costa Rica has to offer. No matter what you end up doing, kids and adults will be able to discover and be amazed by nature and some of those activities will add just the right amount of light adventure or adrenaline.
A family vacation in Costa Rica will never be forgotten because it appeals to all of your senses. The most popular of all the family activities in Costa Rica is slowly and curiously exploring the trails of any public or private parks or reserves where you will find all kinds of wildlife, but there are many more activities that your family can enjoy…especially the kids! Here are just some of our top suggestions.
Costa Rica Activities for Kids
Taste the Tropics (Delicious Costa Rican Fruit Juices)
What better way to introduce your kids to the tropics than with the taste of fresh naturally sweet fruit. Wherever you go in Costa Rica it is common to find a small fruit stand on the side of the road displaying smoothies with flavors, like pineapple, mango or papaya, and lesser-known fruits, like passion fruit, lychee, sour guava or water apple. Depending on the time of the year you can discover many of the different fruits Costa Rica offers. Also, every restaurant will offer you fresh natural juices, so remember to ask what they have before you order!
Explore the Forest from Above (Hanging Bridges, Canopy & Zip-Line Tours)
No matter how old your kids are, looking at the rainforest from a birds-eye point of view will simply amaze them–and you too. For the little ones (under the age of 6) it might be best to stick to hanging bridges or a sky tram. For older and more adventurer kids, a canopy tour is “must do” Costa Rican kids activity.
If your visit the hanging bridges, remember to ask how slippery they might be and if there is a gap between the walkway and the guardrail on the bridges. Guides in Costa Rica are very accommodating and will always offer special assistance to families with younger children.
A more exciting option is the canopy or zip-line tour. Every tour has different policies and rules when it comes to children’s participation. Safety is the obvious number one priority but factors such as minimum age, height and weight are considered. Normally, if the child fits in the harness and shows the ability to use the equipment, they are allowed to participate on some level. On average, kids should be six-years-old and around 120 cm (~4 feet) tall to zip down the cables by themselves; smaller children (those under minimum weight and height) could ride attached to a guide. As the tour goes on the guide attached to the child can assess the child’s ability and potentially offer the child to go alone on the cable.
Floating for Treasures (Boat Tours)
Boat tours are a very rewarding way to explore wildlife with your family because you will not have to worry about your child getting tired or bored and it is very likely you will see cool things, like a crocodile floating like a log in the river or monkeys flying through the canopy. The one thing you should keep in mind, especially with very young kids, is to book a tour that is not too long. Most tours last around two hours, but in certain areas, like Tortuguero, they could go for as long as three hours.
A more quiet and paced way to explore from the water is joining a sea and/or mangrove kayak tour. From a kayak, you will be able to poke into corners of the mangrove in search of little wild treasures, but remember that this can be a physically demanding activity for a kid, so children under 12 usually have to go in a double kayak, either with you or with the guide, and older kids should be up for the challenge.
If you want to add a little more excitement to the expedition, look for a river floating or tubing tour. Ages for these tours tend to depend on the river and its perceived level of rapids. As you let the water take you downstream in one of the beautiful calm rivers of Costa Rica you can spot wildlife, but every now and then get the rush of traversing little rapids.
See the Unseen (Night Tours in the Forest)
Nothing will make your kids eyes bigger than finding animals in a pitch-dark forest. Night tours are common all around Costa Rica, and it is a great kids activity for all ages. These tours usually last one to two hours, during which time you can see from very active frogs and insects to sleeping birds and wandering mammals. Bring a good headlamp with you if you book a night tour, just in case the tour you book doesn’t include the use of one.
Learn to Ride the Water (Surfing, Paddle Boarding & Kayak Tours)
Surf and Stand Up Paddle Boarding lessons are common in the North and Central Pacific and the South Caribbean of Costa Rica. Most surf schools will be happy to teach your kid if he/she is at least five-years-old. Combine these family bonding lessons with a good hike and a kayak tour and you will have the perfect combo for a Costa Rica family multisport vacation.
Learn About Conservation and Wildlife (National Parks)
You might not know this, but 25% of the Costa Rican territory is under some kind of protection. So while you are here, make sure to visit at least one national park, and take this opportunity to talk with your kids about the environment and why we need to take care of it. Just imagine talking about sea life as you walk down the sandbar in the shape of a whale’s tale in Marino National Park, or talking about reusable energies as you walk around the bubbly mud of Rincón de la Vieja Volcano National Park.
Children under two do not pay an entrance fee to National Parks of Costa Rica, children between two and twelve pay a discounted rate.
A Little More Adrenaline (Whitewater Rafting)
Whitewater rafting is the one Costa Rica activity for families that will give you the biggest adrenaline rush. You can go for world-class III and IV rapids on the Pacuare River and Naranjo River, or for a slightly calmer rafting experience, you can try the Sarapiquí, Corobicí and Reventazón rivers, where rapids are class I to III. As expected, there is a minimum age limit to this activity, children 8+ for the slower rivers and children above 12 for the more adventurous rapids.
Things to Do in San José with Kids
Determining what to do in San Jose Costa Rica with kids is a common preoccupation for parents since many families fly in and out of Costa Rica via the San Jose airport. But do not despair, there are a lot of things to do with the kiddos in the capital city!
An easy activity will be visiting one of the museums downtown. 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. The Gold Museum, at the basement of the Plaza de la Cultura at the heart of the city, is a great way to experience and learn about Costa Rica’s pre-Columbian cultures. Just a couple of blocks east from there rises the four-story building of the Jade Museum, where besides learning about pre-Columbian cultures your kids will have a chance to understand the way these cultures relate to nature and the wild. For a more general experience, the Children’s Museum in the north of the city is a big complex of fun and learning activities for your kids, even if they do not speak Spanish.
Day trip to La Paz Waterfall Gardens
Day trips are always fun, so why not take one from San José? A fun hour-and-a-bit drive throughout “coffee country” as you go up the Central Volcanic Mountain Range takes you to La Paz Waterfall Gardens where the entire family can enjoy a guaranteed up-close experience with nature.
La Paz Waterfall Gardens is a self-guided experience and most of it is stroller accessible. This private attraction offers visitors 3.5 kilometers (a little over 2 miles) of safe hiking trails that will take you to see five waterfalls in the middle of cloud forest and rainforest. Also, there is an aviary with numerous species of birds where you can feed a toucan and take a selfie with it.
Do your kids love wildlife? Near their main restaurant you can also enjoy an insect exhibit, a butterfly observatory, an exhibit with white-faced and black-handed spider monkeys, a hummingbird garden with 26 documented species where twice a day visitors can hand feed them. There is also a serpentarium or snake exhibit, a wild cats exhibit that hosts jaguars, pumas, ocelots, and margays. If that’s not enough wildlife, you can also visit the ranarium (frog exhibit), the orchid exhibit, and the heliconia exhibit.
Go visit the Central Market of San José, where you can once more find all kinds of interesting 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.
Take the Family Vacation of a Lifetime to Costa Rica!
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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.