This 9-day family-friendly Costa Rica adventure offers more than most traditional itineraries and includes a hands-on farm experience, cooking class, and horseback riding. Geared to travelers with children, the journey starts with sightseeing in San José, then moves on to Arenal, where you'll swim at the base of La Fortuna Waterfall and spend a day on a local farm. Finish up the trip in Monteverde, touring the cloud forest and the region's famed orchid gardens before soaring above the rainforest on the longest zip-line in Latin America.

Highlights

  • Watch the cloud forest come alive at night on a guided wildlife tour 
  • Learn to prepare traditional Costa Rican dishes in a cooking class
  • Milk a cow and feast on farm-fresh treats during a day in the countryside
  • See the smallest orchid in the world at the Monteverde Orchid Gardens
  • Soar through the rainforest on the longest zip-line cable in Latin America

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Explore Downtown San José San José
Day 2 Enjoy the La Paz Waterfall Gardens San José
Day 3 Take a Costa Rican Cooking Class La Fortuna
Day 4 Go Horseback Riding to La Fortuna Waterfall La Fortuna
Day 5 Visit a Local Farm La Fortuna
Day 6 Discover the Children's Eternal Rainforest Monteverde
Day 7 See Orchids & Zip-line in the Forest Monteverde
Day 8 Tour Monteverde Cloud Forest on a Guided Hike Monteverde
Day 9 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 transfer you and your family from the airport to your hotel in San José. After settling in, go for a self-guided walking tour of the city's downtown. Depending on your hotel's location, you can either walk or call a taxi to get to your first destination, Mercado Central. Featuring over 200 shops, food stalls, and sodas (traditional restaurants), Mercado Central is the perfect spot to kick off your city tour. Kids can try fresh fruit batidos (smoothies). Explore the colorful fruit stands full of fresh produce, scope out some souvenir ideas, or pop over to a soda for an early lunch of traditional Costa Rican casado

Then walk to Central Park, a small plaza that is always bustling with activity. Kids will enjoy checking out 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're in need of a caffeine fix, the theater's café is a great place for a quick coffee and pastry before moving on to explore the city's museums.

Your first museum stop is The Museo del Oro Precolumbino. Accessible from the Plaza de la Cultura, the museum is located beneath and holds the largest Pre-Columbian gold collection in all of 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: Enjoy the La Paz Waterfall Gardens

La Paz Waterfall
La Paz Waterfall

Spend the day exploring La Paz Waterfall Gardens with the family. Once at this natural park, you will visit the largest butterfly garden in the country, an aviary full of local bird species, an impressive hummingbird gallery as well as snake, frogs, and wildcat exhibits. After enjoying a delicious buffet lunch, you will visit an old farmhouse and continue along forest trails visiting three spectacular waterfalls.

Initially, the only way one could view the falls was by literally hanging over the side of the mountain, peering through trees and ferns. With the construction of the Waterfall Gardens, guests can enjoy views from the platforms above, below, and in front of the falls, as well as enjoy the fantastic photo opportunities. On the Magia Blanca Waterfall viewing platform, stop to take family photos under the waterfall. 

Day 3: Take a Costa Rican Cooking Class

Take a cooking class on typical Costa Rican cuisine
Take a cooking class on typical Costa Rican cuisine

A driver will transfer you and your family the three hours to La Fortuna this morning. After settling in at your hotel, get ready for the afternoon's activity: a Costa Rican cooking class. You'll learn how to prepare traditional Costa Rican dishes under the guidance of a local chef, then enjoy the meal.

Upon arrival, you'll learn about the gardens and farms where the ingredients come from, gaining an understanding of what it takes to get the food from the farm to the table. Then you'll try to mix up a tropical cocktail (virgin for the kids!) before you learn to prepare some Tico-style dishes. 

Day 4: Go Horseback Riding to La Fortuna Waterfall

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

Today you will go horseback riding with the kids to La Fortuna Waterfall. You'll learn about one of the few remaining indigenous tribes in Costa Rica and enjoy spectacular views of Arenal Volcano and the dormant Cerro Chato Volcano. The ride will be slow and easy up to the waterfall, perfect for first-time riders and families. Your guide will point out wildlife as you take in the beauty of the jungle. When you reach the entrance to the waterfall, you will "park" your horse at a rustic ranch and head with your guide down to the cascades.

There are over 500 steps to get to the base of the La Fortuna Waterfall along a private trail. When you reach the bottom, you'll have an opportunity to take lots of pictures and swim in the river's cool waters. Head back up the trail and staircase to your horses when you and your family are ready. You'll stop by a little thatched-roof cabin on your way back to learn about the Maleku tribe. Their economy relies on tourism and the sale of their original handmade artwork. The Maleku have inhabited the La Fortuna Waterfall area for hundreds of years; these days, fewer than 600 tribal members exist.

Later, stop at Tabacon Hot Springs so you and your family can soothe your muscles with a dip in mineral-rich waters. These springs have been used as therapeutic baths for centuries. End the day with a nice dinner at the resort's restaurant, which serves Costa Rican dishes and international fare, before being picked up and transported back to your accommodations.

Day 5: Visit a Local Farm

Spend a day on the farm
The entrance to the farm

On today's half-day excursion, you'll visit a sustainable farm that uses natural resources while promoting traditional Costa Rican farming practices. The local hosts will welcome you with a fresh fruit juice, at which point you'll embark on a tour of the property. This is a hands-on farming experience, and the first order of the day is learning how to milk a cow—especially fun for kids! Then the party starts (for adults) as you sample a local concoction made from fresh milk, chocolate, and homemade liquor.

You and your family will also participate in processing sugar cane to extract its sweet juice, which makes another potent cocktail when mixed with organic spearmint liquor. Throughout the experience, you'll observe the distillation process. Afterward, you'll also be able to visit a small ranch and archeological site to view some ancient indigenous artifacts.

Then you'll take a relaxing stroll with the kids through a beautiful orchid garden that abounds with medicinal plants. A guide will be on hand to point out the most interesting species. Afterward, you'll gather with the other guests on the tour, and everyone will share in a spread of freshly prepared farm favorites like coffee, tortillas, cheese, potatoes, and more. Once the tour is over, head back to the hotel.

Day 6: Discover the Children's Eternal Rainforest

Monteverde cloud forest
Monteverde cloud forest

Today you will transfer to Monteverde, traveling over water. But this is no ordinary route. You and your family 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 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 Rainforest with the kids. 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: See Orchids & Zip-line in the Forest

Wild orchid in Costa Rica
Wild orchid in Costa Rica

Today you'll visit the Monteverde Orchid Gardens. Located in downtown Santa Elena, this beautiful working farm has replicated the natural habitat of its orchids by growing all of their varietals outside. There is plenty to see here, with more than 500 species of orchids on display. The gardens contain everything from larger species to miniatures (including the smallest orchid in the world) and even hybrids and introduced orchids so you can better understand the differences between a naturally-grown orchid and orchids made in labs. The trails throughout the gardens are easy and accessible for everyone, including children, making this an ideal place to relax and connect with nature. 

You'll switch gears in the afternoon and experience an adrenaline-pumping zip-line ride that's perfect for older kids and teenagers. You'll start by ascending high above the jungle canopy via a network of trails and suspension bridges. The exotic flora and fauna of the region will be on full display. Your specialized guides will point out the most interesting specimens and residents of the cloud forest's remarkable ecosystem. Upon reaching the end, the adventure of whizzing down the mountain begins. You will connect to a zip-line cable that stretches over the treetops and across canyons, returning you to the starting point.

After a few shorter cables, you'll reach the Big One: the longest zip-line cable in Latin America, measuring 5,216 feet (1,590 m). The extensive cable lets you and your family enjoy the view as you fly above rolling hills and lush rainforest. If you opt to try the Superman, you'll be suspended from your back as you soar above the cloud forest superhero-style, making every flying dream you've ever had a reality. And as if that isn't enough adventure, you'll have the choice to do the Tarzan Swing, a free-fall experience. You'll leave with your legs shaking and your heart racing!

Day 8: 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 with the kids, 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 resplendent quetzal. It's a nature lover's paradise.

Day 9: 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 9-Day Costa Rica Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Costa Rica? Check out these other 9-day Costa Rica itineraries, with outdoor adventures, family-friendly trips, and best-of tours to hit the highlights. 

Map

Map of Costa Rica Family Fun: Culture, Wildlife & Cloud Forests - 9 Days
Map of Costa Rica Family Fun: Culture, Wildlife & Cloud Forests - 9 Days
Yenyi
Written by Yenyi Fu, updated Jun 2, 2022