This family-oriented journey around Costa Rica leads you around the country's beautiful waterfalls, lush rainforests, and vibrant wildlife habitats. Do some cultural sightseeing in San José before moving on to Arenal to hike around a volcano, look for sloths in the wild, and go for a dip in hot springs. Learn how chocolate is made from bean to bar before exploring Monteverde Cloud Forest. The adventure culminates in Manuel Antonio National Park with a sailing and snorkeling trip.


  • Walk around San José's lively markets and try Costa Rican street food 
  • Learn how chocolate is made during a hands-on tour of a cocoa bean farm
  • See sloths, spiders, frogs, monkeys, and exotic birds in the cloud forest
  • Boat around a mangrove ecosystem on a kid-friendly excursion
  • Get up close with tropical fish while snorkeling in Manuel Antonio National Park

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Explore Downtown San José San José
Day 2 Walk in the Rainforest After Dark La Fortuna
Day 3 Sloth and Bird Hike & Dip in Hot Springs La Fortuna
Day 4 Safari Float & Visit a Chocolate Farm La Fortuna
Day 5 Tour a Wildlife Rehabilitation Center  Monteverde
Day 6 Children's Eternal Forest Monteverde
Day 7 Monteverde Cloud Forest Guided Hike Monteverde
Day 8 Manuel Antonio National Park Manuel Antonio
Day 9 Hike, Sail & Snorkel in the Park Manuel Antonio
Day 10 Boat Around Damas Island Estuary Manuel Antonio
Day 11 Depart Costa Rica  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Explore Downtown San José

The National Theater
The National Theater in San José
Welcome to Costa Rica! A driver will be waiting for you and your family at the airport to take you to your hotel in San José. After getting settled in, go for a self-guided walking tour of the city's downtown. Depending on your hotel's location, you can walk or call on a taxi to your first destination: Mercado Central (Central Market). The perfect spot to kick off your city tour, Mercado Central features over 200 shops, food stalls, and sodas (traditional restaurants). Explore the colorful fruit stands full of fresh produce, scope souvenirs, or pop over to a soda for an early lunch of traditional Costa Rican casado. Read more about Where to Eat in San José.

It's a short walk to Central Park, a small plaza that is always bustling with activity. Kids will enjoy seeing various outdoor sculptures as you make your way through the park toward Catedral Metropolitana, whose interior combines Greek Orthodox, Neoclassical, and Baroque styles. Continue walking down Central Avenue until you reach the historic Teatro Nacional, an opulent Neoclassical building constructed in the late 19th century. A free guided tour is offered on the hour. If you require a caffeine fix, the theater's café is a great place for a quick coffee and pastry before exploring the city's museums.

Your first museum stop is the Museo del Oro Precolumbino, accessible from beneath the Plaza de la Cultura and holds the most extensive Pre-Columbian gold collection in Latin America. A guided visit provides unique insight into the history of Costa Rica and the rest of Central America. Next, head to the Museo del Jade, the world's largest collection of pre-Columbian jade artifacts. The museum's distinctive modern architecture is hard to miss, having been built to look like a block of raw jade stone. As you wander among thousands of unique jade pieces, your family will gain an even deeper appreciation for Costa Rica's rich history. 

Day 2: Walk in the Rainforest After Dark

Try and spot the red-eyed tree frog in Ecocentro Danaus

This morning your driver will transfer you to your hotel in La Fortuna (around three hours, depending on traffic). You will head to Ecocentro Danaus in the late afternoon, a private ecological reserve located 2.75 miles (4.5 km) east of La Fortuna. Here, you will wait for nightfall to embark on a guided nature hike and discover the reserve's nocturnal creatures. As you walk, your guide will point out various insects, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals. Kids will enjoy spotting bullfrogs, the iconic red-eyed tree frog, the translucent glass frog, and perhaps the brightly colored poison dart frog, one of the planet's most poisonous frogs. 

Day 3: Enjoy a Sloth and Bird Hike & Dip in Hot Springs

Look up to see wildlife
A sloth clinging to a tree

Go on a hiking excursion today along the so-called "Sloth Trail." This nature trail cuts through a habitat for sloths (both two-toed and three-toed) who like to hang on the branches of the trees and feed on bright green leaves. It's fun for the whole family to look for these slow-moving creatures overhead! On this two-hour guided hike, you'll see a few of these animals and perhaps even spy a mother sloth and its baby. During the walk, your bilingual guide will also point out other animals common to this area, like the famous red-eyed tree frog.

In the afternoon, discover the La Fortuna area with a hike around Arenal Volcano and other nearby nature reserves. The trails in the area are generally not strenuous—perfect for a leisurely and informative hike with children and a naturalist guide. Start at the entrance of the 1968 Trail, where you'll hit the well-maintained trails that skirt the base of the Arenal Volcano and Lake Arenal. This 1.5-hour route offers some of the best wildlife viewing opportunities in the park, and your naturalist guide will keep a well-trained eye out for exotic birds, monkeys, and other animals along the way.

In addition to the forested parts where you can spot wildlife, you'll also walk through sections of the park devastated by the lava flow of 1968, resulting in little to no vegetation in its surroundings. Your guide will explain the history of the area, both pre-and post-1968 eruption, while also pointing out the unique flora and fauna you will encounter. Of course, the trail also provides magnificent views of the massive Arenal Volcano, the pristine Lake Arenal, and the extinct volcano Cerro Chato. After hiking the trails, your guide will drop you and your family off at Tabacon Hot Springs so you can soothe your muscles with a dip in mineral-rich waters. Find out more about the hot springs experience here.

Day 4: Embark on a Safari Float & Visit a Chocolate Farm

The cocoa bean harvest

Get acquainted with the tropical river ecosystem and experience the tranquility of the forest while floating slowly down the wildlife-rich Peñas Blancas River. This is a golden opportunity for your family to observe many wildlife species such as monkeys, sloths, iguanas, turtles, and alligators, as well as different types of birds like herons, cormorants, American darters, and passerines. You might even get lucky and spy a quirky reptile called a basilisk lizard, capable of walking on water.

This tour is perfect for smaller children and those who don't want to do as much walking but would appreciate plenty of opportunities to observe and photograph nature's beauty. The raft makes for a quiet and peaceful trip—you will only occasionally need to paddle to avoid an obstacle. The raft's material allows it to be light, highly buoyant, and stable without affecting the river floor as it passes or disturbing the animals that inhabit it. In addition, the boat captain is an experienced naturalist guide equipped with the knowledge to interpret the ecosystem and provide interesting information about it. 

A delicious activity awaits in the afternoon. During a hands-on chocolate tour, you'll learn about the origin, history, and production of one of Costa Rica's most famous exports. You'll participate in the cacao harvest and the drying and grinding of the seeds used to produce creamy cocoa butter, and learn how a traditional Costa Rican chocolate drink was developed centuries ago. You and your kids will also have the opportunity to sample plenty of freshly made chocolate. 

Day 5: Tour a Wildlife Rehabilitation Center 

Help care for animals like white-faced capuchin monkeys at Proyecto Asis
A white-faced capuchin monkey at Proyecto Asis

Today you'll visit Proyecto Asis, a rehabilitation and rescue center for local animals. The tour, led by a naturalist, begins with a brief introduction to the center, followed by a walk along the trails around the reserve. You'll stop in front of each animal enclosure to learn about its residents. While the animals at the center vary, your family will likely see anteaters, snakes, monkeys, parrots, and sloths. Volunteer tours also offer you the chance to help care for the animals during your visit, preparing food and helping to feed them—an activity that's especially entertaining for children.

Plan your trip to Costa Rica
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Day 6: Discover the Children's Eternal Forest

Monteverde cloud forest
Monteverde cloud forest

Transfer to Monteverde, traveling over water. But this is no ordinary route. You will be picked up at your hotel and taken to the boat dock. After arriving at the shores of Lake Arenal, you'll board a boat with your family and begin the journey to the other side of the lake. Upon arrival, you'll officially be in the Monteverde region of Costa Rica. 

Check into your hotel before the evening's activity, a nocturnal walk in the Children's Eternal Forest with the family. The largest private reserve in Costa Rica is part of UNESCO's Water and Peace Biosphere, the Costa Rican Network of Private Reserves, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The activity starts right after nightfall, allowing you to observe the awakening animals and others who seek their nests and caves to sleep.

Day 7: Tour Monteverde Cloud Forest on a Guided Hike

Explore the dense jungle of the Monteverde Cloud Forest
The dense jungle of the Monteverde Cloud Forest

Transfer from your hotel to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, one of Costa Rica's ecological crown jewels. Known as the "green lung of Costa Rica" due to its rich biodiversity, this sprawling reserve is located high in the mountainous northwest region of the country. On a guided tour, you'll get an overview of the incredible biodiversity of this region, where upland and lowland rainforest meet. More than 350 bird species live here, including the quetzal. It's a nature lover's paradise that kids will enjoy exploring.

Learn more about the Best Things to Do in Monteverde.

Day 8: Travel to Manuel Antonio National Park

Crocodiles on the banks of the Tárcoles River 

After breakfast, you and your family will transfer to Manuel Antonio National Park in a private, air-conditioned minivan. The drive takes approximately five hours, depending on traffic.

You'll stop along the way in the town of Tárcoles and make your way to a bridge over the Tárcoles River. The river is famous for having the largest American crocodile population in Central America, and this is your family's chance to see these toothy reptiles in the wild. These particular crocodiles can grow up to 16 feet (5 m) and weigh 1,500 pounds (680 kg). The area is home to over 2,000 crocodiles. You can usually see at least a dozen of them sunbathing on the riverbanks or floating in the water from the bridge.

Continue to the national park, check in to your hotel, and get some rest before the next day's excursion.

Day 9: Hike, Sail & Snorkel in the Park

Be on the lookout for sloths hanging from the trees
A sloth hanging from the trees

Explore the pristine natural beauty of the world-famous national park today. The region is filled with wildlife, including monkeys, sloths, birds, reptiles, and butterflies that kids will enjoy looking for along the way. Start with a picturesque hike that leads you to a gorgeous beach. Enjoy the sights and sounds of the lush rainforest, white sandy beaches, and crystalline blue waters along the journey. 

Later in the day, you will board your catamaran at the pier in Quepos and go for a sailing adventure along the coast. Your guide will point out notable wildlife and vegetation as your family admires islands, cliffs, and natural rock formations. After touring the coastline, the captain will set anchor at Biesanz Bay, where you and your kids can snorkel or relax onboard and enjoy a barbecue lunch. If you venture into the water, you're likely to see parrotfish, starfish, angelfish, and dolphins. 

Please note that afternoon sailing is unavailable from May through November, but morning sailing is available year-round.

Day 10: Boat Around Damas Island Estuary

The mangrove roots provide a unique sanctuary to hatching fish
The mangrove roots provide a unique sanctuary for hatching fish

Today your family will explore the Damas Island Estuary and mangrove ecosystem on a boat, gliding along the water while birdwatching and admiring the verdant flora of the area. You'll weave your way through the natural tunnels and passageways created by the ebb and flow of the river as you discover this fascinating tidal world.

The unique conditions created by the shifting sediment and saltwater in the mangroves attract various sea animals. Your experienced guide will spot flora and fauna along the way, pointing out reptiles, anteaters, and monkeys to you and your kids. Birdwatchers will be delighted by the variety of Herons, Kingfishers, Ospreys, Frigate birds, and more. Lunch is provided before or after the boat trip.

Day 11: Depart Costa Rica

Sunset in Costa Rica
The trip ends today. Your family will transfer to the airport to catch your flight out. Safe travels!

More Great 11-Day Costa Rica Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Costa Rica? Check out these other 11-day Costa Rica itineraries, with outdoor adventures, family-friendly trips, and best-of tours to hit the highlights. 


Map of Costa Rica for Families: Outdoor Adventures & Wildlife - 11 Days
Map of Costa Rica for Families: Outdoor Adventures & Wildlife - 11 Days