Shunning conformity, this varied nation between the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea beckons those who seek a more genuine and adventurous family holiday. If this is your first time to Costa Rica — and if traveling with an infant (note: it's a good idea to pack a car seat) — there are a range of options within a three-hour drive of either San José or Liberia International airports. Lesser-visited locales are farther afield, though it’s best to minimize the amount of time spent on the road. Even though Costa Rica looks like a small country, it can take a long time to get from point A to point B due to the rugged terrain.
Parents can rest easy as Costa Rica is wild and exotic, but at the same time safe, accessible and perfect for kids. Large-scale resorts boasting a wide range of amenities are certainly available, especially in Jaco and Guanacaste, but many will come here to enjoy alternative options for lodging. There are family-run boutique hotels, rustic-chic lodges, surf camps, hostels, private villas, and even rooms built into tree houses, so here is your opportunity to try something different. For the best prices, consider November or May — prices will be lower than the high season and there will be less rain than the wet season.
#1 Unique activities for all ages
Your kids will not have time to say "I'm bored". Costa Rica has an endless supply of beaches on either coast, while the interior is a natural playground for outdoor enthusiasts. There’s so much to do it’ll be a challenge to fit it all in. There are water sports like kayaking, snorkeling, stand-up paddle boarding, sport fishing, and surf lessons, as well as hiking through rainforests, waterfalls, and volcanoes, not to mention ATV rides, canyoning, whitewater rafting, and thermal hot springs.
This is the birthplace of jungle canopy zip lining, and many operators accommodate small children while attached to a guide who will control the speed. Take advantage of several opportunities to partake in multiple activities in one day. For instance, it's possible to zip line through Monteverde Cloud Forest on the same day that you explore Arenal Volcano. Or hike through Manual Antonio, and then spread out on one of the park's white-sand beaches for swimming, body surfing, and snorkeling through schools of tropical fish.
Here are a few itineraries with great options for adventure activities:
- Family-Friendly Arenal and Manuel Antonio National Park - 9 Days
- Costa Rica National Parks Adventure
- Arenal Expedition - 4 Days
#2 Unforgettable flora and fauna
Imagine waking up to the sound of howler monkeys and exotic birds, and then plucking tropical fruit straight from a tree in the garden. With a half a million different species of animals and plants (that includes 800 species of birds) throughout its protected land, Costa Rica says they have the densest biodiversity in the world. The country also ranks high for land conservation -- more than 25% of its territory is preserved. There are also nesting sites for different species of turtles, and neat kid-friendly attractions like the sloth sanctuary, which rescues injured, orphaned and abandoned sloths. Here's more on where to find wildlife in Costa Rica.
Many of Costa Rica’s rainforests and national parks have hikes for all ages and guides who will educate. These easy trails offer an activity for little ones who may not be old enough to participate in some of the more adventurous sports listed above. For them, it will be exciting enough to see a white-faced capuchin monkey or keel-billed toucan in the trees.
Here are a few great itineraries that include wildlife:
#3 Experience Latin culture
This vibrant Spanish-speaking country is an awesome introduction to foreign travel. Costa Ricans (or Ticans as they call themselves) are proud to share their culture, which blends influences from other immigrant cultures like Europe, the Caribbean, and China, for a happy and laid-back society. If you don’t have time to spend a day exploring the cultural sites of San José, the nation’s capital, there are ways to take part in smaller villages and their local customs.
Several festivals (or fiestas) and celebrations around the country take place throughout the year so keep an eye out. As for food, the best way to experience authentic Costa Rican cuisine is by eating at a soda, a small family-owned restaurant. Many villages also hold weekly farmer’s markets, which is a cool way to feel a part of the scene and even practice your Spanish. Speaking of, your kids will be saying "Pura Vida" like a pro in no time.
#4 Teach kids about the environment
Cost Rica knows the importance of saving the environment; it's one of the most eco-friendly places on earth and is a leading country in the world for sustainability and ecotourism. The majority of Costa Rica's energy comes from renewable sources, and every hotel and restaurant is tuned into a recycling program. The environment is such a common conversation piece, it’s a good chance to immerse yourself and teach your kids about the impact they have. This can mean anything from offsetting your carbon footprint to purchasing hand-made souvenirs at a local market, to learning more about the wildlife and how to protect it. There are even workshops and museums you can attend to learn more about the environment, like the Guanacaste Conservation Area (a UNESCO World Heritage Center), INBio Park, and Museo de los Niños.
Make sure to leave Costa Rica even cleaner than you found it. Pick up a piece of litter when you see it and continue the practice when you return to your home country.
#5 Unplug together
Need we say more? All the reasons listed above — outdoor activities, flora, fauna, culture, and eco-friendly practices — will encourage the family to unplug. Though underdeveloped, Costa Rica is certainly not a third world country; Wi-Fi is common, but getting online is not as reliable as you may be used to, so it's a good place to embrace a gadget-free vacation. Disconnecting from the fast pace of our modern world can be a healthy change giving you the chance to reconnect as a family and enjoy each other instead.
Looking for other ideas for travel to Costa Rica as a family?
We have planned many trips for families to Costa Rica, be it with toddlers or with teenage kids. See some of our past trips for ideas of what you can do with your family.