In a land of such dizzying adventure and close encounters with wildlife, waves, jungle ziplines and enticing mud puddles, it can be challenging to choose where to go. Fortunately, your options aren’t limited by region, and kids will find epic fun in this accessible paradise that parents will enjoy too.
Best Regions for Kids
- Península de Nicoya
Excellent beaches and family-friendly resorts make this an ideal destination for families. This is a great place for kids (and their folks) to take surfing lessons.
- Northwestern Costa Rica
The mysterious and ghostly cloud forests of Monteverde pique children’s imaginations about the creatures that live there, while the area’s specialty sanctuaries let them see bats, frogs, butterflies and reptiles up close.
- Central Pacific Coast
Easy trails lead past spider monkeys and sloths to great swimming beaches at Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio, a busy but beautiful piece of coastal rainforest.
- Caribbean Coast
The whole family can snorkel all day in the relatively tranquil waters of Manzanillo or Cahuita and set out on a night adventure to see nesting turtles.
Costa Rica for Kids
Mischievous monkeys and steaming volcanoes, mysterious rainforests and palm-lined beaches – Costa Rica sometimes seems like a comic book made real. The perfect place for family travel, it's a safe, exhilarating tropical playground that will make a huge impression on younger travelers. The country’s myriad adventure possibilities cover the spectrum of age-appropriate intensity levels – and for no intensity at all, some kids might like the idea of getting their hair braided and beaded by a beachside stylist in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. Whatever you do, the warm culture is extremely welcoming of little ones.
In addition to amazing the kids, this small, peaceful country has all the practicalities that rank highly with parents, such as great country-wide transportation infrastructure, a low crime rate and an excellent health-care system. But the reason to bring the whole family is the opportunity to share unforgettable experiences such as spotting a dolphin or a sloth, slowly paddling a kayak through mangrove channels, or taking a night hike in search of tropical frogs.
You can’t not spot wildlife in Costa Rica – coatis cause regular traffic jams around Laguna de Arenal and scarlet macaws loudly squawk in tropical-almond trees down the central Pacific coast. Stay a day or two at a jungle lodge, and the wildlife will come to you.
Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio, Pacific coast Tiny and easily accessible; a walk through this park usually yields sightings of squirrel monkeys, stripy iguanas and coatis.
Parque Nacional Cahuita, Caribbean coast Seeing white-faced capuchins is almost guaranteed along the beach trail; go with a guide and you’ll probably see sloths, too.
Parque Nacional Tortuguero, Caribbean coast Boat tours through Tortuguero canals uncover wildlife all around, but staying in any jungle lodge outside the village will reveal the same.
Chilamate Rainforest Eco Retreat, Sarapiquí Valley In the valley's steamy rainforest, this family-friendly lodge has miles of trails for easy wildlife-spotting hikes.
Turtle-Watching, Pacific and Caribbean coasts One of Costa Rica’s truly magical experiences is watching sea turtles lay their eggs under the cover of night.
Not getting close enough to wildlife in the wild? Animal encounters are guaranteed at wildlife sanctuaries and animal refuges. Many of these organizations rescue and rehabilitate orphaned or injured animals for release or lifetime care.
- Frog’s Heaven, Horquetas A frog-lover’s heaven, this tropical garden is filled with all sorts of brightly colored (and transparent!) amphibians, including the iconic red-eyed tree frog.
- Ecocentro Danaus, La Fortuna Walk the trails to look for monkeys and sloths, visit a pond with caimans and turtles, delight in the butterfly garden and ogle frogs in the ranarium (frog pond).
- Jaguar Centro de Rescate, Playa Chiquita No jaguars were here at the time of research, but you may get to hold a howler monkey or a baby sloth. You’ll also see colorful snakes, raptors and frogs.
- Alturas Animal Sanctuary, Dominical Meet various rescued critters here, from macaws and monkeys to Bubba the famous coatimundi.
- Playa Ocotal, Península de Nicoya Placid, wooded gray-sand beach on the quiet northern end of the peninsula.
- Playa Pelada, Nosara area This low-key beach has little wave action and big, intriguing boulders.
- Playa Carrillo, near Sámara South of family-friendly Sámara, this beach can be all yours during the week and convivially crowded with Tico families on the weekends.
- Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio, Pacific coast Beach visits are usually enlivened by monkeys, coatis and iguanas.
- Parque Nacional Marino Ballena, Pacific coast A yawning stretch of white-sand, jungle-fringed beach, a sand spit shaped like a whale’s tail at low tide, and the chance to see whales spouting offshore.
- Playa Negra, Cahuita This black-sand, blue-flag beach (meeting Costa Rica’s highest ecological standards) has plenty of space to plant your own flag.
- Playa Manzanillo, Mal País & Santa Teresa Beautiful, jungle-backed beach from here to Punta Mona (about as far south as you can go before you have to start bushwhacking).
Mangrove tours Kayaking or canoeing through the still waters of mangrove canals can turn up waterbirds, caimans, sleeping bats and sloths. Try Parque Nacional Marino Ballena, around Puerto Jiménez and Tortuguero.
Surfing lessons For surfing lessons specifically tailored to kids, check out One Love Surf School on the Caribbean coast; kids’ lessons are also offered at beginner beaches in Jacó and Tamarindo.
White-water rafting Family-friendly rafting and ‘safari trips’ happen year-round on Ríos Sarapiquí, Savegre and Pejibaye.
Volcán Irazú, northeast of Cartago Peer into a volcano's crater at this national park with a kilometer of trails suitable for children.
Although Costa Rica is in the heart of Central America, it’s a relatively easy place for family travel, making pre-departure planning more similar to that required for North America or Europe than, say, Honduras.
Eating with Kids
- Hydration is particularly crucial in this tropical climate, especially for children who aren’t used to the heat and humidity; fortunately, Costa Rica’s tap water is safe everywhere (except for the rare exception, usually in remote areas).
- If you’re traveling with an infant or small child, stock up on formula, baby food and snacks before heading to remote areas, where shops are few and far between.
- Kids love refreshing batidos (fresh fruit shakes), either al agua (made with water) or con leche (with milk); the variety of novel tropical fruits may appeal to older kids.
- Coconut water might be old news back home, but watching a smiling Tico hack open a pipa fría (cold young coconut) for you with a machete is another thing entirely and it's often cheaper than bottled water.
- Many restaurants have kids’ menus, but these tend to offer international rather than Costa Rican food.
Getting There & Around
- Children under the age of 12 receive a discount of up to 25% on domestic flights, while on some carriers children under two fly free (provided they sit on a parent’s lap).
- Children aged three and up pay full fare with most bus companies.
- Car seats for infants are not always available at car-rental agencies, so bring your own or make sure you double (or triple) check with the agency in advance.