If you are planning a family vacation to Costa Rica, you won’t be disappointed with the number of family activities Costa Rica has to offer. No matter what you end up doing, kids and adults will both be able to discover and be amazed by nature, and some of those activities will add just the right amount of adventure and 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 tour activities in Costa Rica is 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 — no matter the age! Here are just some of our top suggestions for Costa Rica family tours.
Costa Rica Activities for Families
Taste the Tropics (Delicious Costa Rican Fruit Juices)
What better way to introduce your family to the tropics than with the taste of fresh, naturally sweet fruit? No matter where you go in Costa Rica, you will find small fruit stands on the side of the road making juice out of fresh pineapple, mango, or papaya, and lesser-known fruits like passion fruit, lychee, sour guava or dragon fruit. Also, every restaurant will offer you fresh natural juices, so remember to ask what they have before you order!
The time of the year determines which of the plethora of fruits will be in season. Trust us — even if you’ve had a Costa Rican banana or mango back home, it tastes infinitely better if it was picked mere hours before!
Even the pickiest of eaters will discover a new favorite flavor in Costa Rica. The local fruit pairs perfectly with traditional Costa Rican meals, like Gallo pinto (rice and beans breakfast), ceviche (a seafood dish), or patacones (fried plantains). As you’ll soon be hearing, buen provecho — enjoy your meal!
Explore the Forest from Above (Hanging Bridges, Canopy & Zip-Line Tours)
Whether you’re young or simply young at heart, looking at the rainforest from a birds-eye point of view will simply amaze you. Costa Rica is famous for its hanging bridges and its zipline tours, and for good reason — they’ve been a must-do family tour activity here for decades, providing a unique perspective to the country’s incredible biodiversity.
Costa Rica’s rainforest canopy can be fun for all ages, but consider the physical abilities of your loved ones if you’re planning a family tour. The rainforest is often rainy (it’s funny how that works), and slippery and muddy trails might not be appropriate for everyone.
For the little ones (under the age of 6) or older adults, it might be best to stick to hanging bridges or a sky tram. If you visit 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 if needed.
The Arenal Volcano area has several hanging bridges, and you can also find them in Monteverde and other private reserves across the country. Many are handicap accessible.
For older kids and more adventurous families, a canopy or zip-line tour is an unforgettable Costa Rica group activity. Rather than hiking, you’ll soar through the canopy like the macaws and toucans, experiencing a combination of adrenaline and awe.
Every zip-line 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 6 years old and around 120 cm (~4 feet) tall to zip down the cables by themselves; smaller children (those under minimum weight and height) can 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.
Sloths and monkeys live in the canopy of Costa Rica’s forests, so keep your eyes peeled!
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’s likely you’ll see interesting things, like a crocodile floating like a log in the river or monkeys leaping through the canopy.
The one thing you should keep in mind, especially with very young kids, is to book a tour that isn’t too long. Most tours last around two hours, but in certain areas, like within the Amazon-esque canals of Tortuguero, they could go for as long as three hours.
A more involved 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, so children under 12 and older adults usually have to go in a double kayak, either with you or with the guide.
If you want to add a little more excitement to the expedition, look for a river floating or tubing tour. Appropriate ages for these tours tend to depend on the river and its level of rapids. As you let the water take you downstream in one of Costa Rica’s many beautiful rivers, you can spot wildlife, and every now and then you’ll get the rush of traversing small rapids.
And if you’re not afraid to get wet, snorkeling tours in places like Cahuita National Park, near Drake Bay and in Guanacaste are the perfect way to come face-to-face with sea turtles, rays, colorful schools of fish and other incredible underwater wildlife.
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 family activity for all ages. These tours usually last one to two hours, during which time you can see all kinds of wildlife, from very active frogs and insects to sleeping birds and wandering mammals.
For the herpetophobes and arachnophobes among us: Yes, you might see snakes and spiders, but your guide will make sure you keep a safe distance. As with most wildlife, they don’t represent a threat as long as you keep a respectful distance.
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. And have no fear: The rainforest comes alive in the darkness, and a night tour with your family is the perfect way to experience it.
Because it gets dark in Costa Rica at about 6 p.m., night tours won’t interrupt your family’s sleep. You’ll have plenty of time to review the incredible pictures of frogs and sloths before bed.
Learn to Ride the Water (Surfing, Paddle Boarding & Kayak Tours)
Surf and Stand Up Paddle Boarding (SUP) 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 5 years old.
There is no upper age limit for surfing or SUP, and Costa Rica has hundreds of miles of beaches — many of which are great for beginners. And for the surf enthusiasts in your family, Costa Rica has world-class waves as well. Tamarindo was featured in the movie “Endless Summer II,” and the country has hosted the World Surfing Games in Jaco.
Beach activities don’t stop at SUP and surf. Some popular beaches, like Manuel Antonio, offer parasailing, and the Pacific Coast sunsets are truly spectacular.
As with any body of water, be mindful of children and inexperienced swimmers — and be mindful of our other safety tips to ensure your Costa Rica family trip is a positive one.
Combine the stunning beaches and refreshing oceans with a good hike and canopy tour, and you will have the perfect combination 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 environmental protection. So while you are here, make sure to visit at least one national park, and take this opportunity to talk with your family about the environment and why we need to take care of it.
Costa Rica has made significant conservation efforts since the 1980s, and the country’s expanding rainforests (and 30 National Parks) are a testament to their accomplishments. Today, Costa Rica houses about 5% of the world’s biodiversity despite its relatively small size.
Just imagine talking about sea life as dolphins and humpback whales play in the water at Marino Ballena National Park, or talking about reusable energy as you walk around the bubbling mud of Rincón de la Vieja Volcano National Park.
You can even take your kid’s science project to the next level by visiting the crater at Poas, Irazu or Turrialba, three different volcanoes near San Jose. The first two involve little walking and paved trails, so they’re ideal for the whole family.
Corcovado National Park in southern Costa Rica has been described as the “most biologically intense place on earth” by National Geographic, but visiting can be physically daunting for families. Manuel Antonio in the Central Pacific is a more suitable alternative, and you are virtually guaranteed to see monkeys and sloths.
Children under 2 years old do not pay an entrance fee to National Parks of Costa Rica; children between 2 and 12 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.
Determining what to do in San Jose, Costa Rica is a common preoccupation for travelers since many families fly in and out of Costa Rica via the San Jose-area airport. But don’t despair, as there are many family activities in and around the capital city!
An easy activity will be visiting one of the museums downtown. They are all small enough that children won’t feel overwhelmed and are interesting enough to keep anyone entertained for a couple of hours. The Gold Museum, at 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 of the Gold Museum is the National Museum. It’s housed in an old military fort and contains several indoor and outdoor exhibits, including an impressive butterfly garden.
For families with younger kids, the Children’s Museum in the north of the city is a big complex of fun and learning activities, even for children who don’t speak Spanish (but we’re sure they’ll pick up a word or two).
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 and well-maintained hiking trails that will take you to five waterfalls in the middle of cloud forest and rainforest. Also, there is an aviary with numerous species of birds where you can come face-to-face with a toucan.
Does your family 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, and a hummingbird garden with 26 documented species. There is also a serpentarium (snake exhibit), and 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.
Costa Rica tries to keep most of its wildlife wild, but private reserves like La Paz help to offer a home to animals that were rescued from the illegal animal trade. Your family’s visit supports their care.
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.
Even if you’re not in San José, many towns across Costa Rica have a weekly farmer’s market — typically in the morning on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. There is no better way to explore different fruits and vegetables, fresh coffee, and other delicacies at reasonable prices.
Costa Rica’s markets are a great representation of the country’s agrarian culture, and your family can experience it firsthand, too. Check out a coffee farm to learn about all the steps that go into your morning brew, or take your family to a chocolate tour. The latter is especially popular with kids because everyone gets a sweet treat at the end!
With full stomachs and after several days’ worth of sun, sand, surf and sloths, your family will return home from a Costa Rica vacation refreshed and content.
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.