Featuring outdoor adventures and abundant opportunities to spot monkeys, sloths, and toucans in the wild, this family-friendly 11-day trip around Costa Rica is fun for all ages. Start by hiking to waterfalls and soaking in hot springs in Rincón de la Vieja National Park, then continue to the Gulf of Papagayo to snorkel around a coral reef and tour a coffee farm. Visit a scarlet macaw refuge before wrapping up the trip with a day of hiking and wildlife viewing in the Werner Sauter Biological Reserve.

Highlights

  • Swim in a refreshing waterfall pool in a national park
  • Look for monkeys, crocodiles, and colorful birds in the wild
  • Try surfing or SUP (stand-up paddleboarding) on the beaches of Sámara
  • Explore an underwater world on a snorkeling excursion
  • Enjoy a safari-style float with the family down the Corobicí River

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Soak in the Río Negro Hot Springs Rincón de la Vieja
Day 2 Hike in Rincón de la Vieja National Park Rincón de la Vieja
Day 3 Go on a Guided Rainforest Hike Rincón de la Vieja
Day 4 Experience Pacific Green Turtles Nesting Gulf of Papagayo
Day 5 Explore the Beaches of Guanacaste Gulf of Papagayo
Day 6 Free Day in Papagayo Gulf of Papagayo
Day 7 Snorkel Around the Catalina Islands Gulf of Papagayo
Day 8 Visit a Coffee Farm & Indigenous Community Sámara
Day 9 Tour a Scarlet Macaw Refuge and Breeding Center Sámara
Day 10 Hike in the Werner Sauter Biological Reserve Sámara
Day 11 Depart Costa Rica  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Soak in the Río Negro Hot Springs

siblings plaster themselves in hot spring mud
Siblings have fun getting muddy 

Welcome to Costa Rica! You and your family will arrive in Liberia and transfer to your hotel in Rincón de la Vieja. Thermal waters have rejuvenating and therapeutic properties that people worldwide have appreciated for millennia. Today is your chance to experience this at some of Costa Rica's loveliest hot springs. When you stay at Hotel Hacienda Guachipelin, located on the edge of Rincón de la Vieja National Park and the country's most active volcano, you can take a dip in the incredible hot springs of the Río Negro. Beautiful and relaxing, these volcanic hot springs are naturally heated by the Rincón de la Vieja Volcano.

Surrounded by a dense, dry tropical forest, the Río Negro Hot Springs area is beautiful and peaceful. The river's crystal clear waters flow beside 10 thermal pools built on the riverbank, each rich in minerals and naturally heated in the volcano's depths. You can use some of the hot volcanic mud to plaster over your body: this works like a body mask in a spa, with all the associated benefits of nutrient-rich volcanic mud on your skin. Kids will have lots of fun smearing mud all over themselves! When the mud dries, you can wash it in the cold waters of the river, enter the thermal water pools, and repeat the blissful process. 

Day 2: Hike in Rincón de la Vieja National Park

Hiking through Rincón de la Vieja National Park

Today you'll transfer to the outskirts of Rincón de la Vieja National Park and embark on a brisk 45-minute walk along a scenic forest trail to the entrance. Pause to enjoy views of the Rincón de la Vieja Volcano, the largest and most active volcano in Guanacaste Province. Some of the highlights kids will enjoy along the hike are steaming fumaroles, mini-geysers, and bubbling volcanic mud pits.

You and the family will hike the Las Pailas loop trail over 2.5 miles (4 km) through tropical forest. Lookout points along the way feature some of the best views of the volcano and the wildlife that abounds nearer the trail, including tropical birds, armadillos, collared peccaries, iguanas, white-nosed coatis, and various types of monkeys. When you finish your hike, you'll be ready for a refreshing swim in the Oropendola Waterfall. It is located a short walk from the park entrance on a trail that winds along the Río Blanco (White River). The Oropendola Waterfall plunges an impressive 82 feet (25 m) down to a bright turquoise pool.

Day 3: Go on a Guided Rainforest Hike

Hike to dreamlike waterfalls
Waterfalls in the forest

Today the family will venture into Tenorio Volcano National Park for a moderate three-hour hike along the Río Celeste, one of the most stunning natural attractions in Costa Rica. Local legend says that after God was done painting the sky, he washed his brushes in this river, which resulted in its famous electric-blue waters. 

The hike leads you and your kids 4 miles (7 km) along the river through a rainforest ecosystem home to exotic animals like monkeys, sloths, peccaries, and anteaters. You'll pass by the specific point where two streams merge and produce the reaction in the minerals that give the Celeste its exotic color. The hike culminates with a descent of 253 steps to reach the Catarata Río Celeste, a waterfall of such profound beauty you'll think you've found your own private paradise. You'll visit hot springs (swimming is not allowed), fumaroles of volcanic gases, and the Borbollones, where exhaust gases at the base of the river give the appearance of boiling water.

Day 4: Experience Pacific Green Turtles Nesting

Nighttime Pacific Green Turtle Nesting Experience
A hatchling turtle 

This morning, a driver will pick you and your family up in a private, air-conditioned minivan and transfer you to the Gulf of Papagayo. In the evening, you'll witness an incredible phenomenon of nature as hundreds of green sea turtles come ashore to lay their eggs.

The departure time for the tour will be based on the tides and predictions of the park rangers for the arrival of the turtles. Naturally, sea turtles operate on their schedule, so the waiting period can vary. As soon as some of the turtles are ready to begin laying their eggs, your family will head out to the beach, making your way to the nesting place where the large sea turtles dig holes in the sand to lay between 65 to 90 eggs. Watch with the kids as the mother turtles cover their nests with sand to protect their offspring from predators. After an incubation period, the tiny hatchlings will emerge and make their way to the ocean.

Day 5: Explore the Beaches of Guanacaste

Conchal Beach
Conchal Beach on the Gulf of Papagayo
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Explore the beautiful beaches surrounding the Gulf of Papagayo today. Your family will swim in crystal clear waters and relax on the sand to your heart's content. Playa Conchal consistently tops lists as one of the best beaches in Costa Rica, and with good reason. The beach is made up of small white shells instead of sand, making a striking contrast to the bright turquoise waters. The mild temperatures of the water make it a fabulous swimming spot, but be aware that the currents tend to be strong, so it's not recommended for swimming with small children.

Playa Ocotal is perfect for families looking to ditch the crowds and experience a more local vibe. With clear blue waters and two rocky reefs on either side of the beach, it's an ideal spot for snorkeling. Playa Hermosa is known for its magical sunsets and open-air bars where you can take in the view. For a white-sand beach that is truly off the beaten path, try Playa Penca. There are no facilities, so it's wise to pack a picnic for your family. The beach can even be reached by sea kayak from Playas del Coco for a little extra adventure.

Day 6: Free Day in Papagayo

Sensoria, in Rincón de la Vieja National Park
Sensoria in Rincón de la Vieja National Park

Today can be as relaxing or adventurous as you like. Hike a jungle trail called Sensoria, part of a wildlife sanctuary featuring thermal pools and waterfalls that plunge into turquoise lagoons. Or, you can experience the rainforest from the water during a two-hour safari float with the family down the Corobicí River, where a guide will point out monkeys, bats, lizards, and even crocodiles.

You can also choose a guided trip down the Tenorio River, the best river in the Guanacaste area for whitewater rafting. Or try stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) with the kids. The water is so clear (especially during the dry season) that you can see all kinds of fascinating sea creatures below the surface from the safety of your board.  

Day 7: Snorkel Around the Catalina Islands

Snorkeling at the Catalina Islands
Snorkeling at the Catalina Islands
The Catalina Islands is a group of 20 volcanic islands and rock formations that rise above the ocean surface in front of Flamingo Bay. Today, you'll visit a local dive shop in Playas del Coco, where your family members will be outfitted in snorkeling gear. Then you'll board the dive boat for a 40-minute ride to the Islands.
 
The rocky islands may not look like much at first, but below the surface of the indigo waters, you'll find an underwater menagerie of exotic wildlife. You'll see quickly why the Catalina Islands are a world-famous diving location attracting divers of all experience levels. Animals you and your kids might spot include giant manta and devil rays, sea turtles, parrotfish, moray eels, and much more. In the right season, you can even hear humpback whales singing! 

Day 8: Visit a Coffee Farm & Indigenous Community

Diria Coffee Tour and Indigenous Culture Experience
Coffee beans ready to be harvested
Your family will tour a working coffee farm located within the Matambú Indigenous Reserve today. The town of Matambú is a small community located on the only existing indigenous reserve in the Guanacaste province.
 
The Diria Coffee Tour is a project that was founded in 2003 with the primary goal of benefiting the Matambú community. The project aims to teach domestic and international tourists about how coffee is grown and processed using traditional methods. The tour begins at a typical indigenous home where you and your kids will learn about the legacy of the pre-Columbian Matambú (also known as Chorotega) tribe in Costa Rica. 

Next, you'll learn how coffee is made from bean to cup as you tour the farm. For kids, there's plenty of space to run and play! The tour culminates with a coffee tasting for parents and snacks for the whole family. You'll continue to Sámara to spend the night.

Day 9: Tour a Scarlet Macaw Refuge and Breeding Center

Costa Rica, girl feeds blue and gold macaws
A little girl feeds a blue and gold macaw

Visit a scarlet macaw rescue center today, where you and your family will 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. Thanks to the efforts of the Recovery Network, they are now back and on their way to thriving here again. 

Upon arrival, your family will take a walking tour through the tropical dry forest. At the same time, your guide explains how the center rescues and rehabilitates wild macaws and 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 thrive and further populate the forests they once thrived in.

Throughout the visit, you and 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. Thanks to the network's efforts, nearly 50 great green macaws were released on the southern Caribbean coast, and over 160 scarlet macaws were released on the Pacific Coast in Tiskita, Palo Verde, Curu, and Punta Islita in previous years. Witnessing these incredible efforts and their direct impact on the birds' survival is sure to be an experience you will cherish forever. 

Day 10: Hike in the Werner Sauter Biological Reserve

Werner Sauter Biological Reserve (photo courtesy of Samara Adventures)
Werner Sauter Biological Reserve

The Werner Sauter Biological Reserve paths will lead your family on a rainforest hiking adventure today. You will be hiking in one of the Guanacaste province's only private reserves. This belt of tropical dry forest is one of the rarest—and due to wildfires and large-scale deforestation, the most vulnerable—biomes of Central America. In this forest haven, water scarcity has caused wildlife to evolve and thrive in an environment with fewer nutrients than in other tropical forests.

Your experienced guide will lead you and the kids through the reserve on a hike of approximately three hours, amazing you with information about this area's biodiversity and other wonders as you walk.

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

Map of Family Trip to Costa Rica's Volcanoes, Waterfalls & Coral Reefs - 11 Days
Map of Family Trip to Costa Rica's Volcanoes, Waterfalls & Coral Reefs - 11 Days