- Float down Peñas Blancas River on a safari boat trip
- Spot monkeys, alligators, and waterbirds in the wild
- Enjoy jungle canopy thrills with the kids at the Sky Adventures Park
- Snorkel with tropical fish off the coast of Isla Chora
|Day 1||Explore Downtown San José||San José|
|Day 2||Enjoy the La Paz Waterfall Gardens||La Fortuna|
|Day 3||Go on a Safari Float & Soak in Hot Springs||La Fortuna|
|Day 4||Have Fun at the Sky Adventures Park||Monteverde|
|Day 5||Tour the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve||Monteverde|
|Day 6||Relax on the Beach in Sámara||Sámara|
|Day 7||Kayak & Snorkel Around Isla Chora||Sámara|
|Day 8||Visit a Scarlet Macaw Refuge and Breeding Center||Sámara|
|Day 9||Enjoy a Safari Boat Trip||Sámara|
|Day 10||Depart Costa Rica|
Day 1: Explore Downtown San JoséWelcome to Costa Rica! A driver will be waiting for you 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).
It's a short walk to Central Park, a small plaza 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.
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. Next, head to the Museo del Jade, the world's largest collection of pre-Columbian jade artifacts. As you wander among thousands of unique jade pieces, your family will gain an even deeper appreciation for Costa Rica's rich history. Read this 24 Hours in San José article for more ideas of what to see and do.
Day 2: Enjoy La Paz Waterfall Gardens
Spend the day exploring La Paz Waterfall Gardens. Once at this natural park, you and your family will visit the most extensive 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 to 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 for fantastic photo opportunities. On the Magia Blanca Waterfall viewing platform, stop to take photos under the waterfall.
Check into your hotel in La Fortuna and have dinner at one of these recommended restaurants to finish the day.
Day 3: Go on a Safari Float & Soak in Hot Springs
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.
This tour is perfect for kids and those who don't want to walk as much 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.
Later, you and your family will hike around Arenal Volcano, taking in views of the pristine Lake Arenal and the extinct volcano Cerro Chato. Then your guide will drop you off at Tabacon Hot Springs so you can soothe your muscles with a dip in mineral-rich waters. If you're interested in staying in a hotel with access to hot springs, check out this article.
Day 4: Have Fun at the Sky Adventures ParkLocated in the mountainous northwest region of the country, Monteverde is famed for its sprawling Cloud Forest Reserve, home to countless wildlife species. You'll transfer here in the morning and head to the Sky Adventures Park, where you'll have your pick of ways to explore the cloud forest: zip-lining for the action-inclined, sky tram trips for a panoramic perspective, or walks along suspension bridges for close encounters with elusive bird species and other wildlife.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Day 5: Tour the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve
Today your family will explore the Santa Elena Cloud Forest. While the Monteverde Reserve is on the "must-see" list of most travelers to Costa Rica, the Santa Elena Reserve offers the opportunity to take in this rare ecosystem without waiting in lines for a photo or stepping off the path as large tour groups pass by.
Additionally, as Santa Elena is slightly higher in elevation than the Monteverde Reserve, the rainfall and cloud coverage increase is considerable. This, combined with the lack of crowds, makes the atmosphere of the cloud forest all the more ethereal and mesmerizing. And because the local community runs the reserve, the tourism dollars generated by visitors go directly toward aiding the local schools and protecting and maintaining the forest.
Of course, wildlife abounds here. The cloud forest is home to an astonishing number of animals. Elusive feline species include pumas, jaguarundi, and the endangered jaguar. More commonly seen species that kids will enjoy spotting include spider monkeys, sloths, bright red poison dart frogs, and tarantulas.
Day 6: Relax on the Beach in Sámara
After breakfast, you will travel onward to Sámara on the Nicoya Peninsula. This afternoon is the perfect time to enjoy the region's fantastic beaches. Playa Sámara is by far the most accessible and lively option. Located on the outskirts of town, it sits on a small cove with a flourishing coral reef just offshore. This means the currents here stay relatively calm, so the waves are suitable for beginner surfers. This makes it a great option for families and more active travelers wanting to try out some water sports.
Other options for your family include Playa Carillo, a 10-minute drive south of town. This is a quieter beach with a more local vibe. Playa Barrigona is the furthest option from town (about a 30-minute drive), but it is also considered the most beautiful beach in the area. Because it is only accessible by car (4WD recommended), tourists are unlikely to visit the beach. However, the waves aren't as calm, so Playa Barrigona is better suited to travelers and older kids who are comfortable swimming among strong currents or even looking to catch a few waves. This quiet escape is well worth the trek!
Day 7: Kayak & Snorkel Around Isla Chora
Join a kayak and snorkeling tour today to explore the underwater world surrounding Isla Chora. Just off Sámara's coast, the island is a haven of white sand beaches and aquamarine-hued water. After breakfast, you'll be picked up from your hotel and driven to the south end of Sámara's beach, where your choice of kayaks and SUP boards await. After gearing up and receiving a brief explanation of paddling techniques and safety procedures, you and your family will set out with your guide on a 25-45 minute paddle across the lagoon to Isla Chora.
Once you're there, snorkel around the island's reefs, looking for sea turtles. Then savor some well-earned snacks and beverages on the beach. Before paddling back, take the kids to check out the island's iguanas as they sun themselves on the hillside.
Read this article on the Best Things to Do on the Nicoya Peninsula.
Day 8: Visit a Scarlet Macaw Refuge and Breeding Center
Visit a scarlet macaw rescue center with the family today to learn about the conservation efforts contributing to the bird's stunning recovery from the brink of extinction. Just south of Playa Carrillo is Punta Islita, home to the Macaw Recovery Network. The network is a conservation organization dedicated to the survival of Costa Rica's native macaws.
Upon arrival, you and the kids will take a walking tour through the tropical dry forest while your guide explains how the center rescues and rehabilitates wild macaws as well as those affected by the illegal pet trade. They also have a program where injured birds that cannot be released are kept in safe habitats for breeding purposes. Once their offspring become old enough, they are released into the wild to further populate the forests they once thrived in.
Throughout the visit, your family will meet many of the birds that the center has rescued and gain firsthand knowledge of the complex restoration work performed by the organization. The reserve is a must-see for anyone who wants to experience the area's natural wonders and meet these remarkable, charismatic birds for themselves.
Day 9: Enjoy a Safari Boat Trip
Hop aboard a catamaran today to explore the coastline. Home to cavorting bottlenose and spotted dolphins, the clear waters here are also on a migratory route for humpback whales (sightings are best between August and November). After seeing what you can spot from the boat, it's time to get into the water yourself. You and your family will be outfitted with snorkeling equipment to discover an underwater world!
Return to dry land for one last Costa Rican dinner before the trip comes to a close.
Day 10: Depart Costa Rica
The trip ends today. Your family will transfer to the airport to catch your flight out. Safe travels!