Costa Rica really has it all – beaches, volcanoes, rainforests, hot springs, sloths, monkeys and more. It is a fairly easy destination to get to from the United States. And Costa Rica has something for every age and personality, whether you’re a family of nature lovers, adventurers or seekers of white sand beaches. Here’s what your family needs to know about this exotic yet accessible vacation destination.
Costa Rica Family Vacation: Complete First Timer’s Guide
I recently returned from a 10 day multi-gen Costa Rican getaway with family members ages seven to seventy. I’m back with travel tips to make the most of your first time vacation to Costa Rica’s national parks, rainforests, beaches, volcanoes and more.
While Costa Rica is not a large country, travel on the roads can be time consuming. You may want to narrow down your destinations to just a couple of areas. Chose one rainforest or cloud forest, and then also a beach town. There’s certainly no lack of things to do in Costa Rica with kids. Whether you book one of the many all inclusive resorts or a beachfront condo, you are sure to get a flavor of Costa Rican Pura Vida.
TravelingMOM Tip: For the ultimate Costa Rican adventure, book an Adventures by Disney Costa Rica tour.
Travel to Your Costa Rica Vacation Destination
There are two international airports in Costa Rica: San Jose and Liberia. The Arenal Volcano area near La Fortuna is about three hours from either airport. But Guanacaste or the Tamarindo area on the Pacific coast of the country is closer to Liberia. Monteverde and the Caribbean coast will be easier to reach via San Jose airport.
Getting Around Costa Rica
Costa Rica may look like a small country, but don’t count on driving to several destinations. Road travel can be slow, and driving in Costa Rica is downright scary. As someone who regularly navigates Colorado’s icy roads in winter and calmly drove the Amalfi Coast, I thought I wouldn’t be scared. But I was surprised.
Highways are few and far between. Most roads do not have shoulders, leading to cars parked in the middle of the road. Street lights are non existent. Bridges are one lane. And people, dogs and cyclists like to meander the road with little attention to cars.
You may want to consider hiring a car and driver rather than renting a car, if possible. Arrange for a car and driver through your hotel. Or you can locate recommendations through Facebook travel groups.
Exploring the Rainforest: Where to Meet the Animals
The Arenal Volcano area should be part of any vacation to Costa Rica with kids. Arenal attracts visitors for its now-dormant volcano and natural hot springs, but it also boats a spectacular lake and the most amazing eco system filled with wildlife and fresh fruits and vegetables.
If you could visit only one area in Costa Rica, Parque National Manuel Antonio would be the place to go. With rainforest, animals galore and beaches too, you can find it all here. It is one of the most popular national parks in the country.
Corcovado National Park is one of the least developed areas of the country. Here you’ll find a rich wilderness experience. This is the place for a jungle and wildlife adventure.
Palo Verde National Park offers boat tours and is a short distance from the many beach towns of the Guanacaste region. Here you are likely to see colorful birds, monkeys, crocodiles and Iguanas.
Whichever area you chose, you are likely to be able to fly across the rainforest on zip lines, cross the forest on canopy bridges, hike to waterfalls, horseback ride and even experience whitewater rafting.
Best Family Beaches
This Pura Vida nation offers all kinds of spectacular beaches from white to black sand. Whether you want to relax on the beach with a book, surf or splash in the waves, there’s a beach for you! Here you will find all inclusive beach resorts and beachfront condos.
On the Pacific coast,the Guanacaste area encompasses the Papagayo and Nicoya Peninsulas. Tamarindo is the best known town in the province, but probably not the most family-friendly.
Our family made Playa Potrero our home base for the second half of our Costa Rica vacation. It is a quiet beach town where you are likely to hear perfect Spanish from the mouths of American gringos. The town boasts excellent restaurants and perhaps the most spectacular sunsets in the world.
Just a couple of miles away, Playa Flamingo offers up a harbor where catamaran cruises depart for their tours. Playa Grande, also a short distance away, is known for turtle spotting. Puntarenas, still off the Nicoya Peninsula is fairly close to San Jose.
Playa Tortuguero is the beach to go for turtle spotting on the Caribbean coast. Cahuita offers a couple of interesting beaches aptly named Playa Negra and Playa Blanca after the color of the sand. There’s also a wide variety of wildlife in this area.
The Foods of Costa Rica
Our family really enjoyed the traditional Tico fare. Breakfast included delicious fresh fruits as well as Gallo Pinto. Our favorite lunch and dinner entrees included a barbecue chicken dish from Que Rico Restaurant at the Arenal Volcano Inn. We ordered Arroz con Pollo (rice with chicken) at restaurants throughout the county, as it became a family favorite. The traditional Casado including beans, rice, fried plantains and a choice of meat was also fun to try at different restaurants.
Our family returned home with a very large bottle of Lizano Salsa, which is used to flavor many of these traditional dishes.
We highly recommend dining at a Soda in every town you visit. A Soda is a casual restaurant, often run out of someone’s home, with an open air dining area. The menu is basic but authentic. A Soda is more affordable than many of the restaurants catering to tourists, and much more authentic. You get a real taste of the area!
Is it Safe to Travel to Costa Rica?
We never felt unsafe in Costa Rica, other than perhaps driving our rental car at night on curvy roads in the pouring rain. There is petty crime. Just do your best not to be flashy and leave valuables in your hotel safe.