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How to Plan the Ultimate Family Adventure Vacation in Costa Rica 

Looking for the ultimate family adventure vacation guaranteed to be life-changing and unforgettable, for all the right reasons? Then head to Costa Rica!

Planning a Costa Rica family adventure vacation for the very first time? We’re here to help you along. We tackle the most common questions (the why, where and how) so you can gain a better understanding of how to plan an unforgettable trip to this wonderous tropical paradise.

Whether you have a multi-gen family trip in the pipeline, or a sneaky getaway with kids in tow, you’ll find a million and one reasons to make Costa Rica YOUR family’s destination of choice.

Right, let’s start with the most pressing question of all.

Why is Costa Rica perfect for family adventure vacations?

zip lining in Costa Rica - the ultimate family adventure vacationAside the most obvious reason (that this is a stunningly beautiful country bursting with fascinating wildlife), Costa Rica is highly-coveted by families because of its convenience, safety and head-spinning array of outdoor adventures. This is the country you visit when you wish to not only see incredible rain forests, but zip line through them. Not just admire spectacular waterfalls, but rappel down them.

For family adventure vacations in pristine wilderness that can be enjoyed at any time of year, you’ll never find a more suitable destination.

An adventure-filled paradise just a short plane ride away

Short flights are every parent’s dream and, if you’re from North America, you’ll find short direct flights on offer from many cities. Plus, Costa Rica is just a smidgen smaller than West Virginia: this is a compact nation that’s easy to reach and even easier to explore. Getting around is easy, all the more so with private transfers.

Arenal volcano in Costa Rica - the ultimate family adventure vacationWith its modern tourist infrastructure, an endearing family-focused culture and truly amazing array of adventures suitable for families, Costa Rica is simply superb. Plus, the Global Peace Index ranks Costa Rica as the safest country in Central America and the Caribbean, and we know this is a huge consideration for many families.

Add to that a balmy year-round climate, outstanding hospitality, laid-back friendly vibe, dreamy beaches, volcanoes, jungles, wildlife galore and an abundance of child-friendly fun, and it’s easy to see why Costa Rica ranks so highly among the world’s top destinations for family adventures.

General Overview of Costa Rica

To plan a family adventure vacation in Costa Rica for the first time, it helps to have a general overview of the country’s regions. Each one is unique and astounding, and all offer their own long list of enticements.

The challenge, should you accept it, is to find the one that perfectly matches your family.

The Central Valley

For: San Jose International Airport, Monteverde Cloud Forests, volcano hiking and Turrialba whitewater rafting

The heart and soul of Costa Rica is its most inhabited region, comprising the capital of San Jose, and over three-quarters of the country’s population. This is where you will likely enter the country, unless you are specifically visiting the northern regions which are easier to reach from the Liberia airport.

The Central Valley might be a fabulous starting point but there’s much more to it than mere convenience. The valley is all about rolling hills, charming villages and traditional plantations you can visit. This is the country’s fresh produce basket so there’s plenty to savor along the way. If that’s not enough, you’ll find volcanoes to hike and thermal baths to soak in, and the stellar Monteverde Cloud Forests to discover.

Northern Pacific Coast

For the Liberia International Airport, Arenal Volcano, Manuel Antonio, Guanacaste beaches and all-inclusive resorts, as well as Nicoya and Papagayo Peninsulas

This is by far the most visited and famous region in Costa Rica, the one home to its two most visited treasures (Manuel Antonio National Park and Arenal Volcano) and the one boasting Insta-worthy beaches. The northern Pacific boasts the wild and gorgeous Nicoya peninsula, as well as the upmarket Papagayo, with its glitzy resorts catering to the most luxurious and indulgent activities. The coast is filled with quaint beach towns and, at sea, it’s all about swimming, snorkeling, SCUBA diving, surfing, SUP boarding and every-other-water-sport imaginable.

BEST TIME TO VISIT: This is the driest corner of Costa Rica and the one which enjoys the longest dry spell, year after year. Travel here between mid-November and early May and, if you want the highest chances of bone-dry skies, book your trips in January, February or March.

Southern Pacific Coast

For the spectacular Corcovado National Park in the remote Osa Peninsula, the Costa Ballena, plus some of the least-visited but outstanding Pacific beaches

The less-developed southern Pacific coast stands in amazing contrast to its unneighborly brother. Lush rain forests and beaches abound, but with fewer towns and roads, it feels like you’re exploring wild jungle. You are! For wildlife spotting, desolate beaches and rain forests galore, this south-eastern belle is unbeatable. Head to Drake Bay and use that as a springboard to reach the remote and unspoiled Corcovado National Park, which we’ll detail below.

BEST TIME TO VISIT: This is an exceptionally lush part of Costa Rica, one that receives a lot of rain. So much rain, in fact, that its extremities are often cut off from road connections during the rainiest months. For this reason, the best time to visit the Southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica is between December and April. Having said that, note that domestic flights from San Jose run all year round and are actually the preferred transfer method for many visiting families, even during dry season, because it’s simply faster!

Northern Caribbean Coast

For the remote Tortuguero reserve, and distinct lack of car traffic! This is Costa Rica’s Amazon!

On the east, you’ll find a totally different scene – one that frames one of the most remote wetland and wildlife reserves in the country: Tortuguero. The startling stretch of coast is volcanic in nature, so you won’t find ‘idyllic’ white sand beaches here but a haven for sea turtles, caimans, river otters, more than four dozen species of freshwater fish, as well as toucans, kingfisher and a flurry of monkeys. This is, without a doubt, a wilderness lover’s Utopia.

BEST TIME TO VISIT: Visiting an isolated wetland and rain forest reserve that’s cut off from the rest of the world is a unique experience that can be enjoyed at any time of year. You’ll be on a boat anyway, so it just won’t matter! Instead, choose to visit this corner of Costa Rica between July and October (sea turtle nesting season) or September and October for the highest chances of clear skies and long, sunny days.

Southern Caribbean Coast

For the unique culture, off-beat explorations, surfing beaches, coastal national parks and an overall less-frequented coast

Head south to the easternmost region of Costa Rica, and you’ll encounter a vibe that’s decidedly more Afro-Caribbean than Latin American. Puerto Viejo, the largest center in the southern Caribbean Coast, is a magnet for laid-back surfers and anyone who wants to escape the hectic pace of, well, everywhere else, and just retreat to their own corner of terrestrial paradise. This pocket of Costa Rica is not nearly as ‘remote and unvisited’ as it used to be but it’s still a world away from more famous destinations in the west.

BEST TIME TO VISIT: Given the Caribbean and Pacific coasts in Costa Rica tend to play a game of tug with their wet seasons every year, the southern Caribbean is best visited between August and October.

Best Time to Plan a Family Adventure Vacation in Costa Rica

You’ve probably deduced, by now, that you can visit Costa Rica at any time of year. Thanks to the insane geographical differences between the country’s two sides, there is always one region experiencing its dry season, no matter the month! If that’s not enough, know that traveling to this amazing country during the west season, which we aptly call Green Season, is an absolute scoop. Everything is vibrant green, mass tourism is absent, prices lower and the most famous attractions are even more enjoyable than usual.

Sure, you’ll likely suffer a downpour but they usually come just after lunch (perfect for siesta time) and you will likely enjoy many hours of clear skies and idyllic temps.

Plan Your Ultimate Family Adventure Vacation in Costa Rica Today

What Are Costa Rica’s most unmissable highlights?

Oh, where to start!

Perhaps, it’s best to start at the beginning!

First-time visitors usually make a beeline for these top three Costa Rica highlights:

  • Arenal Volcano
  • Manuel Antonio National Park
  • Monteverde Cloud Forests

Arenal Volcano and its surrounding wilderness is the Costa Rica of postcards. The Arenal peak is perhaps the most photographed in the country and its most iconic sight bar none. This is usually the number 1 destination for family adventure vacations in Costa Rica.

Yet because this is Costa Rica (as you soon will learn), Arenal is not something you simply look at. This is a place that offers untold adventures for families looking for a super fun time.

Arenal is all about canopy tours and hanging bridges, zip lining, hiking to volcano viewpoints and soaking in hot and therapeutic natural springs the whole family will love. The volcano and its namesake lake are amazing child-friendly areas that offer a bevy of activities for kids of all ages.

The whole area around Arenal and its base-town of La Fortuna offers an impressive overview of Costa Rica’s most adored activities and landscapes, and boasts perhaps the most comprehensive tourist infrastructure in the whole country. It’s also centrally located so makes a great springboard for family adventures in Costa Rica.

Simply put: you won’t find a better spot to start your dream adventure!

See the full list of Arenal Activity Options

The next two most famous destinations for families are the Manuel Antonio National Park and the Monteverde Cloud Forests, each unique and unforgettable in its own way.

Manuel Antonio is coveted for wildlife spotting and is one of the best places to see sloths in Costa Rica. This sensational national park is a luscious tropical rain forest that tumbles into the sapphire waters of the Pacific. It boasts a long sandy beach and high concentration of animal residents, so it’s considered the best wildlife spotting destination on the central coast.

In our view, it also offers an idyllic ‘intro’ to Costa Rica adventures. Here, you’ll find a mix of land-based and sea-based fun, including hiking and horseback riding, canopy tours, snorkeling, boat trips, and tours of local villages and coffee farms. The park itself is visited in a day but the whole area around it abounds with adventures, so stay a while and soak up the splendors.

See the full list of Manuel Antonio Activity Options

Head up to the clouds at Monteverde and you will experience a magical side to Costa Rica – one that boasts fresh evenings and ethereal landscapes.

The Monteverde Cloud Forests are a bird-lover’s dream, a unique ecosystem home to 400+ species of exotic birds, as well as sloths, coatis, a crazy array of fascinating insects and frogs, and even pumas, although your chances of seeing the last are quite remote. They are, after all, the country’s shiest residents!

In Monteverde, the famous birthplace of eco-tourism in Costa Rica, you can enjoy thrilling zip-lining (the longest run in the country is found, right here) and canopy tours on hanging bridges, go wildlife spotting after dark (the best!), visit animal sanctuaries and savor some of the most prized local organic produce in the whole country.

See the full list of Monteverde Activity Options

Adventurous families who are experienced at traveling off the beaten path will do well to also check out the Corcovado and Tortuguero, Costa Rica’s top remote destinations.

Corcovado National Park is one of the country’s least developed corners. It takes up the majority of the south-western Osa Peninsula and is reputed to be the most bio diverse reserves in the world. Corcovado is out of this world and what it lacks in super-modern tourist infrastructure it more than makes up for in memorable wildlife and wilderness experiences. For more immersive family adventure vacations in Costa Rica, Corcovado is unrivaled. And don’t worry, there are a handful of excellent family-friendly lodges around this jungle haven to make a first-time visitors’ life very comfortable indeed.

In Corcovado, you can look forward to national park hikes and bird-watching excursions, snorkeling trips to nearby Cano Island and startling dolphin and whale-watching boat trips.

See the full list of Corcovado Activity Options

On the absolute opposite side of Costa Rica, the north-east, is where you’ll find one of the world’s prime turtle nesting habitats. Tortuguero National Park is deceptive, in a way, because looking at it on a map, one would imagine reaching it from the capital would be very easy. Alas, in this corner of unspoiled wilderness, waterways, jungles and wildlife, life is a little more isolated than that!

Tortuguero is the Caribbean coast’s pride and joy, a wetland reserve that’s ruled by wildlife and loved by visitors. Here, you can look forward to sunrise wildlife watching canoe trips, a singular hike to the peak of volcanic Cerro Tortuguero (now extinct, of course), night-time walks in the reserve and a visit to a turtle conservation center that’ll inspire you to live more sustainably from hereon in. So, leave behind the sounds and experiences of the modern-day world and head to Tortuguero, for a wilderness experience like no other.

Don’t forget the beaches!

The last destination nod should definitely include a family-friendly beach, right? But the burning question is…which one?!

Costa Rica is blessed with over 900 miles of coastline – on the western Pacific and eastern Caribbean sides – plus, of course, the many islands you can visit by boat. It helps to remember that you can’t just throw a pin on Costa Rica’s coast and be assured that it will be suitable for swimming – least of all for kids. This is, after all, a surfer’s paradise as well, and you know that means colossal waves and wicked rips.

As is the case with hiking trails, there are plenty of family-friendly beaches from which to choose. The best beaches for families visiting Costa Rica are on the northern Pacific side: you’ll find an exceptional array on the stunning Nicoya Peninsula and plenty on the upscale Papagayo Peninsula, which brims with luxury resorts and all the mod-cons you’ll ever desire.

Here are a few of the best family-friendly beaches you’ll want to check out. They all come complete with insanely charming beach towns offering plenty of accommodation and beach activities as well:

  • Playa Hermosa (a blue-flag beach that’s particularly clean, safe and enjoyable)
  • Playa Tamarindo & Playa Flamingo (nearby one another, and offering lots of sea-based activities – ideal if visiting with older kids or on a multi-gen family trip)
  • Playa Samara
  • Playa Espadilla @ Manuel Antonio (this beach has lifeguards on duty!)
  • Playa Santa Teresa (best with older kids who want to take surfing lessons)

And there’s lots more where that came from!

How much can I fit into my family’s adventure itinerary in Costa Rica?

Costa Rica may indeed be small and compact country, yet the sheer concentration of highlights and the mountainous terrain means you should never plan to visit too many destinations in just a single week. Don’t go planning your family adventure vacation in Costa Rica thinking you’ll be able to do it all because you surely will not. Plus, this is not exactly an easy self-drive destination: highways are few and far between, most roads are narrow and shared by buses, cars, pedestrians and donkey carts (not to mention the odd stray dog) so it takes some fortitude (and loads of experience) and time to cover even short distances by road.

All of this adds to the charm but also transfer times between spots – make sure you have private transfer vehicle with local driver and your family vacation will be a lot more hassle-free and enjoyable.

For a truly blissful family vacation, one that includes a little of everything the country offers (adventure, culture, enlightenment and relaxation in equal measure) we recommend first-time families to hone in on two or three destinations, tops, for a week-long stay.  Use these as your bases and then fill your days with as much nearby adventure as you and your family can handle.

On a day-to-day basis, we also recommend you plan a balanced mix of activity and down-time.

Plan Your Ultimate Family Adventure Vacation in Costa Rica Today

Where do families stay when visiting Costa Rica?

This is undoubtedly the most varied list of all. Accommodation options really do run the gamut between remote and rustic eco-lodges and 5* luxury, all-inclusive resorts. Although it may be tempting to go for the all-comforts-included resorts, keep in mind that Costa Rica is the country that started eco-tourism and the nature lodges here are still among the best in the world.

If you think your kids might enjoy seeing toucans, monkeys and all sorts of wildlife while enjoying their breakfast al fresco, don’t miss staying in an eco-lodge. They will seriously make your vacation all the more unforgettable.

At Costa Rica Rios, we plan unique itineraries for families that include authentic lodge stays – so you and your loved ones can get a feel for the real Costa Rica. We know that you may be apprehensive about visiting for the first time so we say “Don’t worry, and let us take good care of your family when you visit Costa Rica!” We’ve been planning family adventure vacations in this amazing land for almost 30 years and run award-winning active tours that will revitalize and amaze your whole family.

Trust the experts for your Costa Rica Family Vacations and we’ll show you what true family adventures are all about!

Costa Rica is a stunning land of jungles and toucans, sloths, hot springs, dreamy beaches and super loud monkeys. An absolute dream for families craving adventure. With oodles of convenience, safety and variety, Costa Rica turns a mere ‘family holiday’ into the adventure of a lifetime.

You know, the kind your kids will be raving about for years to come!

Get inspired!

See our most popular itinerary: Family Favorite Adventure Vacation

The ideal itinerary for the family who can’t keep still: Active Family Adventure Vacation

The perfect balance of jungle & beach: Tropical Adventure Vacation

Experience both sides of Costa Rica on The Best of Both Worlds Vacation

For true adventures in the wild, see our Off the Beaten Path Family Vacation

And SO MUCH MORE!

Plan Your Ultimate Family Adventure Vacation in Costa Rica Today

COVID REGULATIONS FOR 2022:  As you can well appreciate, the COVID-related regulations for travel (both to Costa Rica and back to your home country) are constantly changing. We recommend you keep abreast of the latest news from official websites (like the Costa Rica Embassy in the US), and check again prior to traveling, in case there are any last-minute changes.

Once in Costa Rica, and if enjoying a family adventure vacation with us, we endeavor to help you book COVID testing if needed. We’re here to assist you with anything you may need, so you may enjoy a hassle-free vacation.

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