Costa Rica for kids, walk on the beach
Central America,  Costa Rica,  Destinations

Costa Rica with kids

Updated 12/03/21

 

Visiting Costa Rica with kids is the perfect choice for a once in a lifetime family trip. 

Costa Rica provides everything an adventurous family is looking for – from idyllic palm tree lined beaches to an incredible, diverse landscape of caves, rainforests, volcanoes and waterfalls.

Plus, with accessible and amazing wildlife opportunities everywhere you visit, a family trip to Costa Rica is like stepping into a living nature text book.

Whether you plan to hike in the cloudforests of Monteverde, enjoy thrilling adrenaline pumping activities or simply soak in the hot springs of Arenal and relax on pristine beaches, these tips for  visiting Costa Rica with kids are for you.

 

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Tips for visiting Costa Rica with kids

 

 

Is Costa Rica safe for families?

We felt very safe in Costa Rica, more so than in other countries we have visited though we did not visit any large cities in Costa Rica.

We did not feel threatened, never received a ‘hard sell’ and did not encounter pushy vendors. We found the local people to be warm, friendly and helpful. Plus they adored children.

Costa Rica is a safe country to travel in IF you use the same precautions you would anywhere else in the world. 

 

Adopt ‘Pura Vida’

Costa Rica is known for its laid back, relaxed approach to life. 

‘Pura Vida’ is not just used as a salutation; Costa Ricans live and breath this philosophy. Something we could all benefit from!

Embrace pura vida. Don’t get stressed if your bus is late or activities or events aren’t happening at a pace you would you like or are used to. I’m not saying life in Costa Rica does not run efficiently or on time – it does – but people do not get stressed, angry or upset if something goes awry. 

Relax and adopt ‘pura vida’. 

 

Respect Costa Rica’s ecology and ethos

This incredible Central American country is justifiably proud of its eco friendly policies, outlook and reputation.

Costa Rica covers a tiny 0.3% of the planet’s surface but has 5% of Earth’s biodiversity. One quarter of the landmass of Costa Rica is protected by law. 80% of Costa Rica’s energy comes from renewable energy sources and the country has an ambitious plan to be carbon neutral by 2050. 

There are many things that foreign visitors can do to help and to show their respect for this ethos.  

Do not damage any plants or interact with/feed wild animals.

Use resources thoughtfully and with consideration ie. don’t ask for fresh towels daily. 

Avoid waste and always bring your litter back to your accommodation. 

If you wish to experience an animal encounter visit an ethically orientated (and operated) organisation.

This may sound obvious and preachy but we saw tourists casually dropping litter, picking tropical flowers and attempting to feed bread to coatis.

 

children sitting on a bench surrounded by trees cloud forest Costa Rica with kids
Taking a well earned break from a hike in the cloud forest at Monteverde

 

Take advantage of Costa Rica’s wildlife opportunities

Costa Rica is a living breathing teaching resource for kids to learn about the natural world and its diversity of flora and fauna. 

We have never visited a country with so many easy opportunities for spotting wildlife or with such accessible natural wonders. 

Explore the beaches rather than simply lie on them, hike in the cloud forests, visit a national park, soak in a natural hot spring, climb a volcano. Sit, watch and wonder.

In the cloud forests at Monteverde we watched hummingbirds feeding and examined giant millipedes on the forest tracks. (Costa Rica has 52 species of hummingbird and over 25,00 insect species). We were lucky enough to see the rare Resplendent Quetzal and enjoyed a guided nocturnal hike finding tarantulas, tree frogs and kinkajou. 

In the garden of our Airbnb in Santa Elena, we were wowed by huge Blue Morpho butterflies and scurrying skunks. We saw our first sloth on a cocoa farm in La Fortuna. Walking along the beach one day we came across an enormous iguana devouring a mango.

But our highlight of Costa Rica was releasing newly hatched baby turtles at sunset at Playa Junquillal; one of our most magical and memorable travel experiences ever and undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Costa Rica for kids.

 

dark figures against a sunset on the beach, baby turtles on the sand in Costa Rica with kids
Releasing turtles at sunset at Playa Junquillal – the black lumps on the beach are the baby turtles edging their way to the ocean.

 

Taking advantage of these incredible wildlife opportunities is one of the best things to do in Costa Rica with kids – and one your kids will remember for years to come.

 

Spread the tourist dollar – go local! 

Try to spread the tourist dollar by staying, shopping and eating local.

Support locally owned hospitality, businesses and tours. If you are staying in a resort, leave the resort to eat and shop. 

Seek family owned attractions to visit; your support is vital to these local businesses and families.

We wanted to visit a ‘chocolate farm’ but did not want to join a commercialised tour of a large manufacturing facility. Our small hotel owner, a La Fortuna local, told us about a local family who offered tours to tourists on their family farm. 

‘Grandad’ collected us from our hotel in his jeep and took us to the family’s remote farm. We spent a wonderful day touring the farm, meeting the family, tasting 13 different fruit produces of the farm, squeezing sugar cane to make juice and plucking cocoa pods.

We learned how chocolate was made and got to grind our own beans to make delicious hot chocolate. It is one of our kids favourite days. I would highly recommend Don Olivio’s Chocolate Tour. 

 

 

Do your research before visiting Costa Rica with kids

 

When is the best time to visit Costa Rica?

The dry season is peak season running from December to April. Christmas, New Year and January are particularly busy months with visitors. Costa Rica will be hot, dry and humid. It is a great time to visit for wildlife spotting.

May to November is the green season. The weather will be wetter and cooler but Costa Rica will be quieter and cheaper. Sudden downpours occur and roads can become impassable overnight. Wildlife will be active.

Due to its topography, different parts of Costa Rica experience different climates at the same time of year. For example the Caribbean coast is dry during September and October. The beaches of Guanacaste will be warm but the elevated forests of Monteverde will be cool.

 

Learn to recognise a rip tide

Costa Rica is notorious for rip tides.

Drowning is the leading cause of death in Costa Rica; every year, 50 – 60 people die from marine drowning.  One third of these fatalities are visiting tourists. 

Learn to recognise rip tides before you visit Costa Rica’s beautiful, 800 miles of coastline. 

If you want to swim in the sea always ask a local person for advice. If there is no-one swimming in the sea then there is usually a good reason why. Be especially wary of isolated spots where you cannot use this rule. 

 

Research age and height restrictions on tours and activities

Avoid disappointed kids by researching the activities you would like to before arriving in Costa Rica.

If you are visiting Costa Rica with toddlers or with a baby, many activities (such as white water rafting and ziplining) have lower age limits. Tarzan swings have weight limits. 

Book activities offered by reputable, certified companies with good reviews from other families. Family reviews are essential as families (especially mums) have a different concept of risk to young, carefree backpackers!

Our youngest child was six when we visited Costa Rica.  He loved zip-lining with a guide (he was fearless, unlike his mum) but was too young for the tarzan swing and rafting.

girl looking through binoculars on a green bridge above a tree canopy, family trip to Costa Rica
Enjoying the canopy views from the hanging bridges in Monteverde

 

Costa Rica travel with kids 

 

Car rental in Costa Rica

Many visitors choose to hire a car in Costa Rica and self drive around the country.

But this is not a budget friendly option so if you are not planning on driving every day, a car rental may not be your best option.

Plus, if you do not wish to retrace your steps, you will have to pay a one way drop off fee.

If you want to hire a car, check Costa Rican car seat regulations. If your child’s usual car seat meets Costa Rican regulations, consider bringing your own seat from home. This way you know it has never been in an accident, is clean and can be properly fitted. 

Don’t forget to research Costa Rica’s driving regulations, signage and rules of the road before you start your road trip. 

 

Public transport

We travel by public transport whenever we can but this did not prove a good option for us in Costa Rica.

Long distance, direct bus routes are rare so any long distance bus journeys involved multiple changes and connections. This is no problem if you can speak fluent Spanish and are travelling solo or in a couple but not so great if travelling with three kids and pigeon Spanish. We were nervous about getting stranded in the middle of nowhere after a missed connection. 

So for our two longest journeys, we used private transfers – something we never do. But this option worked for us in Costa Rica.

The transfers shaved hours off our journeys and saved a lot of stress. Our drivers were friendly and were happy to answer every question we asked about Costa Rica; we learnt so much local knowledge from our drivers.  It also meant that when one of the kids felt sick we could stop the vehicle. Unfortunately, this happened several times on Costa Rica’s bouncy, winding roads. 

Once at our destinations, we used reliable local buses and cheap local taxis.

 

Don’t dismiss tourist routes

If you are travelling from La Fortuna or Arenal to Monteverde (or vice versa) consider the bus/boat/bus option that is heavily promoted to tourists.

We weren’t sure whether we would feel like herded sheep but we didn’t and loved this scenic trip. We travelled in our own minibus and then on an open sided boat with other tourists who had arrived in buses, cars and coaches. The lake crossing at Arenal is stunning and it was wonderful to get a different perspective of the landscape.

When you arrive on the other side, you are directed to the same sort of vehicle you previously travelled in which has just dropped off tourists to catch the boat back across the lake.  This tourist route is a well organised machine!

I would recommend families try to travel in their own bus rather than a large coach. The roads on this route are very bumpy and we had to stop a couple of times for a roadside vomit… 

 

Bring travel sickness medication!

As I have mentioned a couple of times, roads in Costa Rica are winding and bumpy, particularly in quieter, rural areas. Three of our family of five were car sick; a leaving home gift of reinforced sick bags came in very useful in Costa Rica!

Consider bringing anti sickness medication for long journeys but check in advance it is permitted to bring the medication into Costa Rica. 

 

Plan carefully what to pack for Costa Rica

If you are wondering what to wear in Costa Rica, I would recommend packing loose fitting cotton clothes whatever activities you have planned. Cover up at dusk and pack adequate supplies of effective mosquito repellent – as well as anti itch creams and lotions.

Bring toe covered sandals for kids to wear in Costa Rica such as Keens or Tevas. Flip flops have no grip and continually kick up stone and grit. If you are planning to hike or walk on the rocky, uneven paths in the cloud forest, walking shoes or boots are a must.

For more ideas of what to pack for a trip to Costa Rica with kids, read our Costa Rica packing list here. 

 

Safety precautions

 

Health

Costa Ricas’ tropical climate means there will be mosquitoes. There is a risk of dengue fever and zika in Costa Rica so learn to recognise the symptoms of these serious illnesses.

There are poisonous snakes in rural Costa Rica and, though the chances of seeing one are small, do not stray from hiking paths. One guide advised us to always check the other side of a log before stepping over it. Avoid touching unfamiliar plants.

Write the details of any food or medical allergies and translate it into Spanish. You never know when you may need to show it in restaurants, hotels and clinics. 

Know where the nearest clinic/hospital is and how to contact a doctor. This is particularly important if you are staying in self catering accommodation such as an Airbnb.

And always bring an emergency first aid kit with you on day trips and hikes.

 

Safety

Take local advice before heading out on a hike and always alert someone to where you are going and what time you will be back. Ideally, never hike alone; we were surprised how quiet some of the more popular hiking routes were.

Costa Rica has 16 volcanoes, several of which are active. Know what to do in the event of an earthquake or tsunami. If in doubt, ask a local what the local guidelines are. 

Check your governments foreign office travel advice for the most up to date information on travelling in Costa Rica.

Take the usual safety precautions that you would adopt in other countries. Avoid walking in isolated areas after dark, even in big cities Don’t flash cash or valuables, wear a money belt, neck wallet or a hidden pocket scarf. 

You can read our tips on how to travel safely with children here.

 

Costa rica family vacation, girl in pink t shirt and brown trousers looking at a forest of green trees and a lake
Hiking at Arenal Volcano

 

Finally…

Don’t let these tips put you off booking a family trip to Costa Rica – or getting out and about to explore the country once you are there. Use our Costa Rica itinerary to help you plan where to go.

Costa Rica is one of the best places to travel with kids; we loved every single minute of our visit and cannot wait to return. 

There are so many things to do in Costa Rica for kids that you will leave wishing to return.

 

Don’t forget to check our essential packing for Costa Rica guide here.

 

For helpful information about planning a trip to Costa Rica, check out this excellent Costa Rica blog written by locals. Their extensive and specialist information helped us to plan our independent Costa Rica family holiday.

 

 

 

Have you been to Costa Rica with kids? What are your Costa Rica travel tips?

 

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