Costa Rica with Kids

Author: Dan Brewer

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If your family loves nature, there are few destinations on Earth more magical for a family vacation than Costa Rica. Blessed with an almost unfair amount of natural riches including two coasts, mountains, dense jungles and cloud forests, there is no end to the family adventures you can have in Costa Rica with kids.

There are so many incredible regions to travel within this beautiful Central American country, so we tried to plan a Costa Rica family vacation allowing us to see as much as possible. Although it was in high season, visiting Costa Rica with kids over Christmas was the perfect time for us to visit.

a boy catches the sunset on the beach at the all-inclusive Best Western in Jaco, Costa Rica

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Planning a Holiday in Costa Rica with Kids

When to Visit Costa Rica with Kids

Our advice for when to book your family trip to Costa Rica is a pretty tropical holiday guideline. Most families (like us) will need to visit Costa Rica in winter during their kids Christmas vacation from school, but there are also many benefits to visiting Costa Rica during the shoulder season as well.

the view of the Arenal Volcano from the La Fortuna Butterfly Conservatory in La Fortuna
Arenal Volcano National Park

High Season in Costa Rica

High season in Costa Rica is typically between the winter months of December and April. This is when the weather is typically dry and many tourists visit the country for its beaches, wildlife, and adventure activities.

two kids play in the sand and water at Playa Manuel Antonio Beach
Manuel Antonio Beach

In exchange for the best weather of the year, a visit to Costa Rica with kids in high season also means expensive accommodations and big crowds at the top tourist destinations throughout the country.

We planned our Christmas family trip to Costa Rica several months in advance and were surprised to discover that several of our preferred accommodations were already fully booked. Learn from us and book your accommodations as early as possible if you are planning a family vacation to Costa Rica during high season and especially over Christmas.

Shoulder Season in Costa Rica

The shoulder season for visiting Costa Rica with kids is usually considered to be the months of November and May. During this time, the weather in Costa Rica is still relatively good, but there are fewer tourists. If you can schedule your Costa Rica family vacation during shoulder season, you will enjoy to fewer crowds and more affordable accommodations.

How Long to Travel in Costa Rica with Kids

With so many amazing tourism destinations such as Guanacaste, La Fortuna, Monteverde, Manuel Antonio National Park and Corcovado National Park, you could visit Costa Rica with kids for over a month and still not see everything. This timeline isn’t often realistic while traveling with kids, so coming up with the best Costa Rica itinerary for your family will depend entirely on your interests and how much time you have.

a white faced monkey with a baby on its back at manuel antonio national park in costa rica
Manuel Antonio National Park

We created our family Costa Rica itinerary by focusing on our interests – we wanted to see as much amazing Costa Rica wildlife and jungle as possible with a healthy dose of beaches and family-friendly resorts as well. We then factored in travel times (with our rental car) to strategically give our kids some downtime on travel days.

With three weeks for our Costa Rica road trip itinerary, we tried to find a balance to make the whole family happy. We included the places we wanted to see, as well as plenty of family-friendly destinations in Costa Rica for kids.

If you’d prefer a one or two week itinerary for your Costa Rica family holiday, we offer some suggestions below on how to reduce our three week Costa Rica itinerary to a two week Costa Rica itinerary.

La Fortuna Ziplining with kids

Getting Around Costa Rica with Kids

Chances are good that you’ll be flying into San Jose or Liberia to begin your family vacation to Costa Rica. Neither of Costa Rica’s two largest cities offer much for tourists, so you will likely begin your Costa Rica self drive itinerary at the airport. Both major Costa Rica airports are in rural areas, allowing you to avoid driving in the heart of these large cities.

two kids look for Costa Rican wildlife in the mangroves in-between drake bay and sierpe, costa rica
Corcovado Mangrove Tour

Costa Rica Rental Cars

After spending a night at a family-friendly San Jose airport hotel, we picked up our SUV rental and drove to Guanacaste for a stay at a RIU all-inclusive resort. Afterwards, we headed inland for some adventure in La Fortuna, before spending another night at a beach resort in Jaco.

We finished our family road trip in Costa Rica by driving south to visit the two best national parks in the country: Corcovado National Park and Manuel Antonio National Park. We loved the convenience of having a rental car in Costa Rica, allowing us to see and do things on our own schedule.

our rental car for our family road trip around Costa Rica

Costa Rica Driving Conditions

After a stressful time driving in Mexico on a previous family trip, I was nervous about driving in Costa Rica, but I needn’t have worried. The highways to the major tourist destinations are in very good shape and the drivers are much less crazy than in Mexico. It was an almost completely stress-free driving experience in Costa Rica.

It’s possible to get around Costa Rica with public transportation, but our research showed it to be very inconvenient when traveling with kids. It’s likely best to leave the buses to the backpackers and get a rental car to make the most of your time during your family vacation to Costa Rica.

Playa Manuel Antonio is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in Costa Rica
Playa Manuel Antonio

Where to Stay in Costa Rica with Kids

As such a family-friendly destination, it should be no surprise that there is a wide selection of kid-friendly places to stay in Costa Rica. For our family vacation, we stayed at a variety of accommodations including family-friendly hotels and vacation rentals.

two kids run to the next water slide at the Riu Guanacaste water park
Riu Guanacaste All-Inclusive Resort

As a general rule, we found vacation rentals (like Airbnb or VRBO) to be the best option for our family while traveling around Costa Rica. When we travel with kids, we prefer vacation rentals over hotels as we value the kid-friendly amenities such as kitchens, laundry facilities and separate bedrooms.

our kids loved the pool at our rental house in La Fortuna, Costa Rica
Our La Fortuna Rental House

Family travel to Costa Rica during high season can be quite expensive, so as a bonus, staying in vacation rentals allowed us to buy groceries to make our own meals. We liked to eat breakfast at our apartment, pack a healthy lunch then eat at a nice restaurant for dinner. This strategy made it easier to eat healthy and to travel to Costa Rica with kids on a budget.

kids love the fruit smoothies at kid-friendly restaurants in La Fortuna

Family Travel Tip: It is almost always very hot and humid in Costa Rica. If possible, try to find accommodations with air conditioning in every bedroom to help everyone get a good night’s sleep.

Family-Friendly Costa Rica Road Trip Itinerary

Here is our three-week Costa Rica itinerary with kids. As mentioned previously, due to the relative inconvenience of public transportation, ours was a self-drive road-trip itinerary for Costa Rica.

Family travel is all about finding balance. Although we planned many family-friendly activities for the kids, we also added activities we love to do to our itinerary. You’ll see our three-week Costa Rica itinerary tried hard to achieve a good balance, hopefully making the whole family happy and satisfied.

two kids have a ball playing on Playa Matapalo near the fami;y-friendly Riu Guanacaste all-inclusive resort

Three Week Costa Rica Itinerary Overview

  • Day 1: San Jose Airport
  • Days 2-6: RIU Guanacaste All-Inclusive Resort
  • Days 7-10: La Fortuna
  • Day 11: Jaco All-Inclusive Resort
  • Days 12-14: Corcovado National Park (via Sierpe and Drake Bay)
  • Days 15-18: Manuel Antonio National Park
  • Day 19: San Jose Airport
when visiting corcovado national park with kids, watch for the ultra cute squirrel monkeys
Corcovado National Park

19 Day Costa Rica Itinerary & Best Things to do in Costa Rica with Kids

We loved our Christmas family holiday in Costa Rica and couldn’t be happier with spending nearly three weeks in Costa Rica with kids. Our road trip itinerary gave us sufficient time to explore each area and find some of the best things to do in Costa Rica with kids.

a young girl rappels through a waterfall in La Fortuna, Costa Rica
La Fortuna Canyoning

Day 1 – San Jose with Kids

After a full day of flying to Costa Rica from Canada, we arrived in the capital city of San Jose quite late. We spent the night at the family-friendly Holiday Inn Airport Hotel, which was a 2-minute shuttle ride from the airport. They have a great buffet breakfast and a large outdoor pool which is a very kid-friendly 3 feet deep.

a boy is excited for his banana car at the family-friendly San Jose Costa Rica airport hotel

Days 2 – 6: RIU Guanacaste All-Inclusive Resort with Kids

Once the world started to open up again for travel during COVID, we snuck in a super-easy family vacation to Mexico to stay at the RIU Palace Cabo San Lucas. Typically, we are more of an active hiking & biking family than a ‘relax on the beach’ family, but our kids loved the all-inclusive experience so much that we decided to treat them to another stay, this time at the 5-star RIU Guanacaste Resort.

The drive from San Jose to our family-friendly Costa Rica all-inclusive hotel was the longest of our entire trip – clocking in at around 4.5 hours. The final few minutes to the RIU resort was along a very narrow rural road, but outside of that the highways were in great shape and easy to drive. In fact, a decent portion of the drive between San Jose and Liberia is along a divided highway.

The all-ages Riu Guanacaste all-inclusive hotel sits on an incredible piece of beachfront property along a large bay. You’ll be amazed at the vistas of the surrounding Guanacaste landscapes as you sit on the black sand Matapalo Beach.

The beach at the Riu all-inclusive is great for kids, but if you’d like some time away from the sand, your family can also enjoy the use of three swimming pools, which come in a variety of depths. Our favorite memory from our stay at the Riu resort was dancing away in one of the pools during a kid-friendly foam party!

A beautiful fountain in the middle of one of the three outdoor swimming pools at the all-inclusive Riu Guanacaste hotel

Our family loves to eat, and we ate very well at the Riu Guanacaste in Costa Rica. There’s a wide selection of buffet and themed à la carte restaurants, which kept us plenty full during our stay.

a young boy is excited to have four strawberry waffles at the main breakfast buffet restaurant at the Riu Guanacaste all-inclusive hotel

Given our family trip to Costa Rica was over Christmas, we wanted to schedule our stay at the RIU Guanacaste over Christmas, but by the time we went to book it, the Christmas to New Years dates were all sold out. If you want to stay at the RIU Guanacaste over Christmas, don’t delay and book as early as possible!

a 9 year old girl plays in the warm, calm waters of Matapalo Beach, in front of the Riu Guanacaste family-friendly resort

If you’d like more information on this family-friendly Costa Rica all-inclusive resort, read our full review of the Riu Guanacaste with kids or check with the hotel for availability.

Days 7 – 10: La Fortuna with Kids

Up until recently, La Fortuna was home to one of the most active volcanoes in the world in the nearby Arenal Volcano National Park. Although, the Arenal Volcano has decided to take a well-earned break, the action and adventure all-around this Costa Rica volcano resort town is still very alive and well.

Visiting Costa Rica with Kids

Family Adventure Activities in La Fortuna

After a three hour drive from the Riu Guanacaste to our vacation rental in La Fortuna, we spent our three days in La Fortuna going on all sorts of adventures with our kids. We found an incredible family-friendly zip-lining experience (for ages 5+), kid-friendly canyoning (again, ages 5+), a gentle white-water tubing tour and even a visit to a butterfly and frog conservatory to see some of Costa Rica’s most famous inhabitants up close.

a 7 year old boy smiles as he rappels down a waterfall near Arenal Volcano

Get all the details about visiting La Fortuna with kids, including recommendations on where to stay and kid-friendly restaurants.

Day 11: Best Western Jaco Beach Resort

Our next major Costa Rica destination after La Fortuna and Arenal Volcano National Park was Corcovado National Park. Given it would have been a very long 6.5 hour drive between La Fortuna and Sierpe, we decided to break it up with a one-night stay at the Best Western Jaco Beach Resort, which was conveniently located approximately halfway between the two.

a family is excited for lunch at the all-you-can-eat buffet at the all-inclusive Best Western resort in Jaco Beach, Costa Rica

The Best Western Jaco Beach Resort is another very family-friendly Costa Rica hotel – in fact it seemed more than half the guests were families with kids. Compared to the Riu Guanacaste, the Best Western Jaco Beach Resort is a modest all-inclusive hotel, but it’s the only all-inclusive resort in the area and was still a very fun stay with kids.

The Jaco Beach Best Western Resort sits on a beautiful piece of beachfront property along a large bay with mountain landscapes on either end. To be honest, due to a few natural dangers, the beach isn’t the best for kids to swim in, but the hotel compensates for it with several fun swimming pools.

the beachfront infinity pool at the Best Western Jaco Beach All-Inclusive Resort is the nicest pool at the hotel

If you’d like more information on this family-friendly Costa Rica all-inclusive resort, read our full review of the Best Western Jaco Beach Resort with kids, or check with the hotel for availability.

Days 12 – 14: Drake Bay & Corcovado with Kids

Corcovado National Park is world-renowned for its biodiversity and is considered the very best place to see wildlife in Costa Rica. With such an amazing reputation, we knew we had to fit Corcovado National Park into our Costa Rica itinerary.

After a quick drive from the Best Western Jaco Beach Resort to Sierpe, we took a fun water taxi to the remote outpost of Drake Bay, which was the base for our family adventures in Corcovado National Park.

a boy with a big smile enjoys swinging on a purple hammock at his house rental in drake bay, costa rica

Visiting Corcovado National Park with kids is an experience we won’t soon forget – it sure lived up to its reputation of a great place to see wildlife in Costa Rica with kids!

Night Jungle Tour with Kids

Our adventures began on our first evening in Drake Bay with a night jungle tour. Armed with flashlights and rubber boots, our guide led us up the mouth of a creek near our house rental.

we enjoyed our night jungle tour in Corcovado national park with kids

The jungle comes alive at night and we got to see it all, from all the famous Costa Rica frogs (including the red-eyed tree frog), to lizards, giant spiders, scorpions and much more! Although it was a bit scary for the kids at first, the excitement of our family adventure quickly overtook them and we had a great time!

seeing mating red eyed tree frogs on our visit to corcovado national park with kids was a highlight of our night jungle tour

Family Wildlife Tour of Corcovado National Park

We followed up our nighttime jungle tour with a daytime jungle tour in Corcovado National Park. Our family had an incredibly successful jungle tour thanks to the adept eyes of our guide and our daughter (who is becoming very good at spotting wildlife!).

Just a few of the many highlights included spotting 3 out of 4 of Costa Rica’s monkey species, a mother tapir and her baby, several brilliantly colored toucans and an anteater.

toucans were our kids favorite bird on our family corcovado jungle tour

Snorkeling with kids at Cano Island Biological Reserve

The Cano Island Biological Reserve, not far offshore from Drake Bay, is a popular destination for snorkeling. We’ve been wanting to give our kids more exposure to the beauty of underwater life so we went on a Cano Island snorkeling day trip.

Given the Pacific Ocean is not world-renowned for its clarity, the water around Cano Island is surprisingly clear with a good amount of tropical fish. The highlight was when a large sea turtle swam right below us!

a 7 year old boy loves the high speed boat ride between Sierpe and Drake Bay, Costa Rica

Mangrove Wildlife Tour

Our final adventure of our visit to Corcovado National Park with kids was to take an exciting mangrove tour from Drake Bay back to Sierpe. Water is a magnet for wildlife, so we saw an impressive variety of Costa Rica wildlife with our kids, including seeing the final of the four Costa Rica monkey species. In addition, we saw so many crocodiles and tropical bird species that we lost count.

a playful white faced monkey delighted our kids on a mangrove tour to sierpe, costa rica

Read more on our family wildlife tour to Drake Bay & Corcovado National Park with kids.

Days 15 – 18: Manuel Antonio National Park with Kids

Ever since visiting for the first time over a decade ago, I’ve always dreamed of coming back to Manuel Antonio with my family. Why? Manuel Antonio National Park is not only one of the most beautiful national parks in the world, but it also has world-class wildlife spotting opportunities along with several stunning beaches. It’s a perfect place to visit in Costa Rica with kids.

the two main beaches in Manuel Antonio National Park are back-to-back on the narrow portion of this peninsula

Given we couldn’t spend Christmas at the Riu Guanacaste all-inclusive resort like we had originally wanted, we did the next best thing and planned our visit to Manuel Antonio National Park over Christmas. We even splurged and hired a private national park tour for our family on Christmas day!

a family wears santa hats while visiting Playa Manuel Antonio on Christmas Day

Manuel Antonio Jungle Tours with kids

Despite seeing an incredible amount of wildlife so far in our family Costa Rica vacation, we hadn’t had any good sloth sightings. This was rectified on Christmas Day when our guide found many sloths for us, including two mothers with their tiny sloth babies!

a boy looks on in wonder during a family jungle tour at Manuel Antonio National Park in Costa Rica

Our jungle tour guide also spotted many other Costa Rica species we hadn’t yet see on our family trip including colorful crabs, bats, moths and even a large, beautiful carnivorous flower! After the jungle tour, we spent a fun afternoon on one of the beautiful beaches within Manuel Antonio National Park.

two kids play in the sand and water at Playa Manuel Antonio Beach

We returned to Manuel Antonio National Park the day after Christmas, but this time we went without a guide. Given how hard it is to see wildlife in Costa Rica without a trained guide, we had low expectations for our solo walk through the national park, but we really surprised ourselves.

We had learned a lot from our guides and spotted quite a bit of wildlife on our own. And, in fact, we had a truly incredible sloth encounter, which ranks up there as one of our Top 5 animal encounters of our lives!

During our visit to manuel antonio with kids, this sloth came very close to us

Kayaking near Manuel Antonio with kids

We’ve done a tremendous amount of family-friendly activities in Costa Rica, but we hadn’t yet gone kayaking. For our final day in Manuel Antonio National Park, we joined a kayaking tour through the mangroves near the park.

It was great fun sharing kayaks with our kids as we made our way through the atmospheric mangroves. Although it’s harder to spot wildlife while kayaking, we still had several great encounters, including an up-close visit from some white-faced capuchin monkeys.

a family looks for Costa Rica wildlife on a kayak tour through the mangroves near manuel antonio national park

Playa Biesanz

We spent our final morning in Manuel Antonio with our kids at a stunning beach just outside the national park limits. Playa Biesanz is a beautiful, secluded beach loved by locals and tourists alike. There’s great wildlife spotting at Playa Biesanz as well, with several monkey species and sloths calling the surrounding jungle home.

a 7-year old boy plays in the water at the family-friendly Biesanz Beach in Costa Rica

Get all the details about visiting Manuel Antonio with kids, including more about our incredible sloth encounter, recommendations on where to stay and kid-friendly restaurants.

Day 19: San Jose Airport

After a bittersweet morning at Playa Biesanz, we made our way back to our San Jose airport hotel. We stayed at the Holiday Inn again due to its very convenient location so close to the airport.

This time we had enough time to let the kids play at the pool, before crossing the parking lot to have our final meal in Costa Rica at Denny’s. Ya, ya… we know… it’s not the most authentic Costa Rica dining experience, but we figured our kids deserved a big stack of chocolate chip pancakes for dinner after being so adventurous on our family trip to Costa Rica!

kids play in the outdoor pool at the Holiday Inn airport hotel in San Jose, Costa Rica

A Shorter Costa Rica with Kids Itinerary

If you don’t have three weeks for a Costa Rica family holiday, you can easily break up our Costa Rica itinerary into smaller pieces. These two Costa Rica itineraries are perfect for a 1 week trip to Costa Rica or even a 2 week family vacation to Costa Rica.

Costa Rica Itinerary Idea #1: Guanacaste – La Fortuna

Fly into Liberia and spend time enjoying two of the best family-friendly destinations in Costa Rica. Guanacaste is home to many family-friendly all-inclusive resorts, including the 5-star Riu Guanacaste resort, which we stayed at.

a swimming pool at the Riu Guanacaste resort is beautifully illuminated at night

Meanwhile, nearby La Fortuna (and Arenal Volcano National Park) is the adventure capital of Costa Rica. With so many adventure activities, such as ziplining, canyoning, tubing, ATV tours, and more, there are so many things to do in La Fortuna with kids, you’ll run out of time!

Tubing with kids - La Fortuna Costa Rica
Tubing in La Fortuna

Costa Rica Itinerary Idea #2: Jaco – Corcovado – Manuel Antonio

If your family are nature lovers like us, this Costa Rica itinerary is perfect for your family vacation. Both Corcovado National Park and Manuel Antonio National are world-class wildlife spotting destinations. Corcovado is more remote and rugged, while Manuel Antonio is much more accessible. We recommend visiting both if you have the time and opportunity.

kids love the loud growling sounds of a howler monkey in the jungle
Howler Monkey

Then, after visiting the deep Costa Rica jungles with your kids, why not relax at a beachfront all-inclusive resort in Jaco on your way back to San Jose? 

the sun sets behind palm trees on the beach near the Best Western Jaco Beach All-Inclusive Resort
Jaco All-Inclusive Resort

We hope you love your family vacation to Costa Rica with kids as much as we did!

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Dan Brewer is an intrepid family travel blogger with a passion for exploring the world's most captivating destinations. With 58 countries under his belt and a sense of wanderlust that knows no bounds, he has made it his life's mission to share his travel experiences and insights with fellow families who love to travel.

When Dan isn't traveling with his wife and kids, he's either out enjoying the Canadian Rockies he calls home or working on one of his three travel sites (Family Can Travel, Travel Banff Canada and Ultimate Sports Road Trip).