Costa Rica is a favorite destination for all ages. This 10-day adventure allows your family to experience the highlights of the country from the towering Arenal Volcano, to the spectacular, remote beaches of Guanacaste. There are plenty of kid-friendly activities along the way, from sampling locally produced chocolate, to zip lining through the trees, to surf lessons in the Pacific.

Highlights

  • Cross suspensions bridges for tree-top views of the jungle
  • Swim at the base of the La Fortuna waterfall
  • Admire the sunset from a catamaran cruise on the Pacific

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in San José, Children's Museum & Dinner with a View San Jose
Day 2 San José to Arenal Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 3 Arenal Hanging Bridges & Arenal 1968 Reserve Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 4 La Fortuna Waterfall - Free Afternoon Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 5 Wildlife Spotting at the Caño Negro Refuge Arenal/La Fortuna
Day 6 Arenal to the Gulf of Papagayo Gulf de Papagayo
Day 7 Beach Time - Sunset Catamaran Cruise Gulf de Papagayo
Day 8 Palo Verde Boat Tour and Artisan Village Gulf de Papagayo
Day 9 Free Day in Guanacaste Gulf de Papagayo
Day 10 Depart Costa Rica  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in San José, Children's Museum & Dinner with a View

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Welcome to the land of pura vida! After arriving at Juan Santamaria International Airport in San José, Costa Rica's capital city, a representative will meet you and drive you to your hotel. After checking in to your hotel, you'll have the day to explore on your own. 

Suggested activities include: 

  • Take a stroll through the San José Central Market, the largest in the city, with over 200 shops, food stalls, and sodas (traditional restaurants—perfect for an inexpensive lunch of casado, a traditional dish of rice, beans, and meat served with tortillas. 
  • Visit the Museo de los Niños, a children's museum with more than 40 rooms of interactive experiences on topics ranging from the human body to outer space. 
  • Explore Spirogyra Butterfly Garden, located in downtown San José amidst the city's lush botanical garden. Kids will love seeing the butterflies in their natural habitat and learning more about different species. 
  • Visit the Teatro Nacional, an opulent Neo-Classical building constructed in the late 19th century, which offers free guided tours on the hour. You can also check their calendar to take in dance, music, and theatre performances.

For a casual kid-friendly dinner spot Tiquicia, a hilltop stalwart that serves up delicious local fare accompanied by live folk music on weekends and views of the Central Valley.

Day 2: San José to Arenal

Arenal Volcano
Arenal Volcano

After breakfast, it's on to La Fortuna, best known as the base for exploring the Arenal Volcano National Park. Located north of the Tilaran Mountains, the cone-shaped Arenal juts out above the San Carlos Plains. After you check into your hotel, you'll have the rest of the day to explore on your own. 

If you want to get up close to the volcano, kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding on Lake Arenal (optional) provides spectacular views of its peak. Or, opt for a zip lining tour through the forest canopy, where you'll cross canyons, and take in the Fortuna and Pino Blanco Waterfalls, along with the majestic Arenal Volcano.

Here are a few restaurant recommendations for your stay in La Fortuna

  • Don Rufino, which serves a mix of local and international flavors in charming digs that include an open-air bar overlooking the main street. 
  • Café Mediterraneo, a friendly osteria serving up homemade pasta and pizza. 
  • La Parrilla de María Bonita, a must-visit for perfectly cooked steak as well as Mediterranean dishes like falafel and baba ghanoush. 
  • Rancho Perla, a popular open-air restaurant (you may even spot sloths hanging from the nearby trees) serving well-prepared Costa Rican staples.
  • Ave Del Paraíso, which offers daily theme dinners such as Italian, Mexican, Mediterranean and Costa Rican.

Day 3: Arenal Hanging Bridges & Arenal 1968 Reserve

The hanging bridges at Mistico afford breathtaking views of Arenal and an astounding array of wildlife
The hanging bridges at Mistico afford breathtaking views of Arenal and an astounding array of wildlife

Head out early to Mistico Hanging Bridges Park, where visitors can wander along trails and kids will get a kick out of crossing 15 bridges—some that are hundreds of feet long—for a once-in-a-lifetime view of Arenal Volcano. You'll also get an up-close look at the incredible biodiversity that occurs in this region, where upland and lowland rainforest meet. More than 350 bird species can be found in this park alone. 

After lunch, take an optional hike to Arenal 1968. This private reserve is named for the volcano’s eruption of that same year, which completely changed some of the region’s topography: lava fields now predominate on one side of Arenal. Trails wind through those lava fields as well as through the rainforest, offering beautiful views of the volcano. This is a more challenging hike—if you're looking for something more mellow, there are plenty of easier trails in the area.

Optional tour: Naturally heated thermal springs are plentiful here, and several places nearby offer the chance to soak in the relaxing waters. Kids will clamor for a visit to Ecotermales or Tabacon Hot Springs, with five main springs, dozens of cascading waterfalls and warm pools of varying temperatures, plus a cold-water pool with a thermal slide (and a swim-up bar for the adults).

Day 4: La Fortuna Waterfall - Free Afternoon

La Fortuna River and the falls
La Fortuna River and the falls

Today, you'll experience the other star of the Arenal Volcano region: La Fortuna Waterfall. If Arenal is the most famous volcano in the country, then La Fortuna is easily the most famous falls. It's located a 15-minute drive from the town of La Fortuna, at the base of the dormant Chato Volcano. The waters here plunge 210 feet into a tropical lagoon, and a 500-step downhill hike provides the opportunity to see the falls from the bottom up. Besides taking photos, be sure to swim and relax in the La Fortuna River below the falls.

Then it's back to your hotel where you'll spend the rest of the day unwinding. If you want to indulge in the hot springs one more time, no one will blame you.

Day 5: Wildlife Spotting at the Caño Negro Refuge

Howler monkeys are common in Caño Negro
Howler monkeys are common in Caño Negro

After breakfast in La Fortuna, you'll take a day-trip to the Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge (a two-hour drive each way). It's located in the far north of the country, near the border with Nicaragua, but it's well worth the travel time. 
This ecologically diverse refuge has been named a "world protected area" by Ramsar and is home to an abundance of wildlife.

Touring the area by boat down the Río Frio, you'll spot dozens of the more than 200 species of exotic birds that call this area home. Some avian varieties you can expect to see include spoonbills, jabiru storks, ibises, northern jacanas, ducks, and egrets. You'll see other wildlife, too, such as jaguars, three different species of monkeys, caimans, and turtles. Be sure to keep an eye out for sloths hanging from the treetops during your stop for lunch along the river.

Day 6: Arenal to the Gulf of Papagayo

The arid, volcanic valleys of Guanacaste
The arid, volcanic valleys of Guanacaste

Road trip time! This four-hour drive takes you west through Guanacaste, past volcanic mountain ranges, flatlands, and villages as you head toward the fabulous Pacific Coast. Stop for a bite and enjoy traditional foods, fresh local fruits, or perhaps a batido (fresh fruit smoothie)—a kid favorite, especially made con leche (with milk). As the dry plains and tropical dry forests slowly give way to azure seas, you’ve arrived at your destination, Papagayo, one of the most biodiverse regions in the world.

Once you arrive, you can rest up at your hotel or spend the afternoon exploring with a sea kayak and snorkeling tour that's ideal for families. You'll paddle across the turquoise waters of Tamarindo Beach to the white sand of Capitán Island, you'll have the chance to see the coral reef teeming with exotic fish.

Day 7: Beach Time - Sunset Catamaran Cruise

Sunset over the Pacific in Papagayo
Sunset over the Pacific in Papagayo

There's no shortage of secluded bays and inviting beaches in Guanacaste Province. And after so much activity, you're likely eager for a day relaxing on the sand. If you happen to be a surfer (or just want to learn), Papagayo is the place. You'll find both beginning and advanced waves in the village of Tamarindo, as well as a number of surf schools. This laid-back surfer haven is also home to some of the best restaurants in the country. 

In the evening, you'll board a catamaran for a sunset sail. The ship will stop in a tranquil bay, drop anchor, and you'll explore the crystalline waters while the crew prepares a dinner feast. While you eat, enjoy the sunset over the Pacific horizon while keeping a sharp eye out for dolphins, sea turtles, flying fish, or even a breaching whale.

Day 8: Palo Verde Boat Tour and Artisan Village

Prepare for a jungle cruise
Prepare for a jungle cruise

If you're an avid birder and/or wildlife enthusiast then you're going to love this full-day excursion. First, you'll transfer to Palo Verde National Park, where you'll embark on a two-hour river trip that's like a Disney Jungle Cruise come to life. As you motor down the Tempisque River, white-faced capuchin monkeys swing from the tree branches on shore as caimans and even the occasional crocodile patrol the waters. Birders will be treated to the sight of various species including tiger herons, ospreys, ibises, and the jabiru.

Afterward, you'll transfer to the small village of Guaitil. It's a hotbed of local culture in that many residents make handcrafted pottery here. This has been the case for generations, and you can browse the various products and appreciate the craftsmanship on display. Perhaps even take an item or two home.

Day 9: Free Day in Guanacaste

Visit the blue waterfall at Sensoria
Visit the blue waterfall at Sensoria

Today is free for you to explore in whatever way you prefer. You can opt to head back inland and embark on a jungle trail tour to Sensoria, part of a wildlife sanctuary at the foot of the Rincon de la Vieja Volcano. You'll relax in thermal pools, swim in waterfall lagoons, and do some more wildlife spotting. Or, you could enjoy the rainforest from the water on a two-hour safari float along the Corobicí River. A local guide will point out monkeys, bats, lizards, and even crocodiles. 

For families with kids over 12 years old looking for an adventure, you could take a guided trip down the Tenor River. Its white-water rapids make it the best river in Guanacaste for rafting. After a challenging trip down the rapids led by experts, you'll enjoy lunch before heading back to your hotel in time to catch one last sunset.

Day 10: Depart Costa Rica

One last view of Costa Rica
One last view of Costa Rica

It's time to say adiós to Costa Rica! After breakfast, you'll transfer to the airport and catch your international flight home.

Map

Map of Relaxed Costa Rica Family Adventure - 10 Days
Map of Relaxed Costa Rica Family Adventure - 10 Days
Yenyi
Written by Yenyi Fu, updated Mar 18, 2019