Costa Rica is a gem of a destination for families. This Central American country offers adventures for all ages from its beautiful beaches to lush tropical rain forests, wild rivers, and animal sightings. At times, it can feel like the country offers TOO many opportunities for exploration, so it’s important to narrow down the “must-see” list. Here are our suggestions for what not to miss in Costa Rica with kids.
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What Not to Miss with Kids in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is a small country, but it has plenty of natural beauty to keep the whole family entertained. If your family loves outdoor activities, this destination needs to be at the top of your list. It’s easy to reach from the United States, and Costa Ricans are extremely welcoming. If you are planning a Costa Rica family vacation, here are some things you don’t want to miss!
Note: Another reason to visit Costa Rica is its focus on sustainability. The country is aiming for zero-net emissions by 2050 and they are heading for 100% renewable electricity by 2030. If your family is looking for sustainable travel destinations, Costa Rica is the place to be.
1. Zipline through the rainforest
The Costa Rican rainforest offers majestic scenery from below, but it is equally impressive from above. It’s easy to find a place to zipline in Costa Rica because they seem to be all over the country.
Look for a canopy tour in Arenal, Jaco, Monteverde, Guanacaste, and Manuel Antonio. We had a great experience with Sky Adventures in Arenal, which included 7 zip lines in just under two hours. The scenery above the forest canopy is breathtaking, and the guides were amazing with our kids.
2. Explore Costa Rica volcanoes
Volcán Irazú lies 50km from San José, making it perfect for a day trip. Irazú Volcano National Park is the most visited National Park in Costa Rica and visitors can explore the area via a hiking trail without a guide.
The main attraction is the Diego de la Haya crater with its bright green lake, and the summit of the volcano is over 11,000 feet. If you go, expect a challenging hike, and bring layers, it can get cold at this altitude.
If you are staying in the Arenal Volcano area, you can book a guided tour of the park to see the lava fields and some amazing scenery.
For a longer hike in Costa Rica with kids, consider Las Pailas Trail at Rincón de La Vieja volcano. The volcano, Rincón de La Vieja rises 6200 ft above the jungle floor and visitors can take a 2.5 mile hike to see the boiling hot springs and bubbling mud pots. Kids will love this and everyone is kept a safe distance from the volcanic activity.
3. White water rafting in Costa Rica with kids
The white water rafting options in Costa Rica are plentiful, so know which class of rapids you will encounter before signing up for a guided tour. Some Costa Rica white water tours offer kayaks and rafts. I recommend rafts for families with an experienced guide.
Rivers come in all sizes, so consider Penas Blancas and Rio Balsa if you have younger children. The Pacuare and Sarapiquí rivers are class III-IV rapids, so consider this experience with older kids who can paddle and stay in the raft. We loved the Sarapiquí river, but it was certainly rough in spots!
4. Relax in hot springs in Costa Rica
There are close to two hundred volcanic formations throughout the country, so as a result, there are quite a few hot springs in Costa Rica. Many can be found near Arenal Volcano National Park.
Adventurous families can find natural hot springs that are off the beaten path, just ask the locals for their recommendations.
5. Visit the Monteverde cloud forest
Monteverde is a popular destination for visitors. It is home to two cloud forest reserves: Santa Elena and Monteverde. Each one has unique vegetation and together there are over four hundred bird species. This is THE place to find unique orchids and the beautiful quetzal bird. Be sure to stop at the Selvatura Butterfly Garden which is one of the largest such gardens in Latin America.
Monteverde also has extreme zip lining, bungee jumping, and some of the best waterfalls in Costa Rica. There are also hanging bridges that span up to 500 feet in length and up to 180 feet above the floor of the rain forest. Consider booking a tour to make the most of the cloud forest experience.
6. The best of Costa Rica National Parks
Costa Rica’s National Parks are a haven for animal lovers. Tortuguero National Park on the Caribbean coast is home to howler monkeys, sloths, caymans, and macaws. The nearby beaches offer seasonal nesting tours to observe the sea turtles laying their eggs.
Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula is Costa Rica’s largest national park with over 100,000 acres of rainforest. It’s home to crocodiles, spider monkeys, anteaters, pumas, and over 400 species of birds. All visitors to the park must have permits and a local tour guide.
Manuel Antonio National Park on the Pacific side of Costa Rica is home to capuchin monkeys, iguanas, and toucans, and is a great spot for sloth sightings. The park also offers beautiful soft sand beaches that are made for relaxing and building sand castles. All of these parks have amazing wildlife watching.
7. Surfing school in Nosara
Parents will love the stunning views and laid-back vibe of this charming beach town. Known for its yoga retreats and fabulous sunsets, it’s also the perfect spot for surfing.
There are several surf schools here because the water is quite calm, making it perfect for beginners of all ages. Nosara was named one of the top 20 surf towns by National Geographic, so if you’re looking for a place to relax near Guanacaste, this is the place to be.
Looking for other places to relax? Don’t miss these best beaches in Costa Rica.
8. Head out dolphin and whale watching in the Pacific Ocean
One of the unexpected benefits of staying on the Pacific side of Costa Rica is having access to some awesome whale watching and some of the best beaches in Costa Rica for kids.
Humpback whales migrate through the Golfo de Papagayo from July to October. Bottlenose, spinner, and common dolphins can be seen all over the Pacific coast throughout the year.
Some companies will have organized tours, but you might have just as much luck booking a snorkeling tour and having them show you the animals when they appear.
9. Learn about the origins of cocoa with a chocolate tour
Kids of all ages can enjoy a tour of a local chocolate plantation. We visited Rainforest Chocolate Tour outside of La Fortuna.
It was a great way to learn about the cacao plant, the history of chocolate in Costa Rica, and sample some local chocolate. Afterward, be sure to explore the town of La Fortuna de San Carlos or head to La Fortuna waterfall.
If you prefer to explore coffee plantations, we would recommend Café Britt near Heredia and Don Juan in Monteverde.
The Costa Rican culture is very laid back and the locals are extremely welcoming. Everywhere you go, you’ll be greeted by “pura vida” with translates to pure life, but means “hello”, “good-bye”, and everything in between. Simply return the greeting and you’re sure to get a smile.
If you’re looking for other Costa Rica tips, check out our articles: 15 Reasons Families Will Love an Adventures by Disney Costa Rica Vacation, How to Plan a Costa Rica Multigenerational Vacation, and How to Plan for a One Week Trip to Costa Rica.
Where to Stay in Costa Rica with kids
Marriott San Jose – if jet lag is an issue, or you just want to get your bearings before you set out to explore the rest of Costa Rica, consider staying at the Marriott San Jose.
Set on a 30 acre coffee plantation, this property offers an airport shuttle, lush vegitation, delicious food, beautiful pools, and a fabulous spa.
El Mangroove, Autograph Collection – El Mangroove occupies an ideal spot on the Golfo de Papagayo.
The property offers a beautiful beach front, bike rentals, fabulous food, and a gorgeous pool area with sunset ocean views.
The Springs Resort and Spa – The Springs is a luxury accommodation where every room has a view of Arenal Volcano.
There are over 28 mineral hot springs on property and four restaurants. Guests have access to “Club Rio” and adventure outdoor center 1.5 km from the property that has kayaking, trail rides, rock climbing and rappelling, mountain biking, a wildlife preserve for rescued animals, and more.
The Westin Golf Resort & Spa, Playa Conchal – This all-inclusive resort sits on a beautiful beach, is centrally located to several attractions and small towns, and has a spa for some relaxation time.
It is one of the best resorts for kids in Costa Rica with a kids club, kayaking, snorkeling, and on-site tennis and golf.
Arenas del Mar – A luxury beachfront property in Manuel Antonio that offers a private beachfront and personalized service.
Families can enjoy two pools and two beaches, try a tortilla-making class, or go out on boogie boards. Fun for everyone!
Be sure to check out our other recommendations for amazing all-inclusive resorts in Costa Rica!