Visiting Costa Rica with kids is a perfect choice for a family holiday.
It is a welcoming country with friendly people who adore children.
There are so many things to do in Costa Rica for kids that you will leave wishing to return!
The country provides everything an adventurous family is looking for – idyllic, palm tree lined beaches, an incredible and diverse scenery of caves,volcanoes and waterfalls plus accessible and amazing wildlife opportunities.
Destinations don’t come much better than Costa Rica!
Tips for visiting Costa Rica with kids
Learn some Spanish.
The Costa Rican people (‘Tico’s’) are friendly and English is widely spoken. People will happily talk to you to practice and improve their English.
But we noticed the smiles when we attempted a few words of Spanish in return.
People were particularly delighted when our children tried some Spanish.
And it counts towards homeschooling!
Adopt ‘Pura Vida.’
Costa Rica is known for its laid back, relaxed approach to life.
‘Pura Vida’ is not just used as a salutation, it is a lived and breathed philosophy – and an attitude we could all benefit from!
Don’t get stressed if a bus is running late or things 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 if something goes awry).
Relax and adopt ‘pura vida’.
Respect Costa Rica’s ecology and ethos
Costa Rica is justifiably proud of its ecologically minded reputation.
Costa Rica covers just 0.3% of the planet’s surface but has 5% of Earth’s biodiversity. One quarter of the landmass of Costa Rica is protected. 80% of its energy is from renewable energy sources and the country has an ambitious plan to be carbon neutral by 2050.
There are many things foreign visitors can do to help and to show their respect for this ethos.
Do not damage plants or interact with or feed animals. Use resources thoughtfully and avoid waste. Don’t ask for clean towels every day at your hotel!
If you wish to experience an animal encounter visit an ethically orientated (and operated) organisation. and above all, don’t litter!
This may sound obvious but we saw tourists dropping litter, picking tropical flowers and attempting to feed bread to coatis.
When is the best time to visit Costa Rica?
Costa Rica is warm all year round but has a rainy season and a dry season.
Travel, public transport and attractions may be affected by seasonal variations and bad weather.
The rainy season (or green season) varies according to location but roughly speaking is from April/May to November/December. Rainfall can be heavy leading to muddy road conditions and even landslides.
If you want to see turtles laying their eggs you need to time your visit for July – November.
Bring travel sickness medication
Roads in Costa Rica are winding and bumpy, particularly in quieter, rural areas.
Consider bringing anti sickness medication for long journeys but check in advance it is permitted to bring the medication into Costa Rica.
Take advantage of Costa Rica’s wildlife opportunities
Costa Rica is a living breathing natural science textbook. There are countless possibilities for homeschooling opportunities in Costa Rica.
We have never visited a country with so many accessible opportunities for spotting wildlife.
Walk the beaches, hike in the cloud forests, visit a national park. 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)! In the garden of our Airbnb, we were wowed by huge Blue Morpho butterflies and scurrying skunks.
In Santa Elena we were lucky enough to see the rare Resplendent Quetzal and did a nocturnal hike to search for tarantulas, tree frogs and kinkajou.
We saw our first sloth on a cocoa farm in La Fortuna.
However, our trip highlight was releasing newly hatched baby turtles at sunset at Playa Junquillal; one of our most magical and memorable travel experiences.
Taking advantage of the country’s flora and fauna opportunities is one of the best things to do in Costa Rica with kids.
Spread the tourist dollar – go local!
Try to spread the tourist dollar by staying, shopping and eating local. Avoid internationally owned businesses and chains if you can. 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.
We wanted to visit a ‘chocolate farm’ but did not want to join a tour of a large manufacturing facility. Through our hotel owner we heard about a local family who held tours on their farm.
Grandad collected us in his jeep and we spent a wonderful day tasting 13 different fruit produces of the farm, squeezing sugar cane and plucking cocoa pods. It was a fantastic day trip from La Fortuna.
Research before visiting Costa Rica with kids…
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 are visiting tourists.
Do your research before you visit Costa Rica’s beautiful, 800 miles of coastline and learn to recognise rip tides.
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 a good reason why.
Be especially wary of isolated spots where you cannot use this rule.
Research restrictions on tours and activities
Research your activities before you go. Choose activities with reputable, certified companies with good reviews from other families. (Families have a different concept of risk to younger travellers)!
If you are visiting Costa Rica with younger kids or with a baby, many activities (such as white water rafting and ziplining) have lower age limits so check restrictions before choosing which activities to do.
Our youngest child was six when we visited Costa Rica. He did zip-lining with a guide but was too young for the tarzan swing and rafting.
Compare transport options before you book
Many visitors choose to hire a car in Costa Rica and self drive around the country. But if you are not planning to drive every day, a car rental may not be your best option. Plus, if you do not wish to retrace your steps, you will pay a one way drop off fee.
If you are planning to drive a car, check Costa Rican car seat regulations. If your own 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.
Research Costa Rica’s driving regulations, signage and rules of the road before commit to a car rental and before you start your road trip.
We travel by public transport whenever we can but we felt that long bus journeys were challenging to organise in Costa Rica. Bus routes tended to be short so any long distance bus journey involved multiple changes and connections.
With weak Spanish we were nervous about getting stranded after a missed connection.
For our longest journeys, we used private transfers and then relied on local buses to get around once we had arrived at our destination.
The transfers shaved hours off our journeys (and saved a lot of stress)! It also meant that when we got sick we could stop the vehicle…
If you are travelling from La Fortuna or Arenal to Monteverde, consider the bus/boat/bus option. The lake crossing at Arenal is stunning – though the road on the other side is very bumpy.
Think about what to pack for Costa Rica
Costa Ricas tropical climate means there mosquitoes. There is a risk of dengue fever and zika in Costa Rica so learn to recognise the symptoms.
Check your countries foreign travel advice for the most up to date information.
If you are wondering what to wear in Costa Rica, choose loose fitting cotton clothes and consider covering up at dusk. Pack adequate supplies of effective mosquito repellent – as well as anti itch creams and lotions.
I would recommend bringing toe covered sandals – such as Keens or Tevas – for kids to wear in Costa Rica. Flip flops have no grip and continually kick up stone and grit. Save your flip flops for poolside wear.
If you are planning to hike or walk in the cloud forest, walking shoes or boots are a must – or at the very least sturdy trainers. The paths are rocky and uneven.
For more ideas of what to pack for Costa Rica, read our Costa Rica packing list here.
Is Costa Rica safe for families?
Yes. Costa Rica is a safe country to travel in as long as you use the same precautions you would anywhere else in the world.
Don’t walk around flashing cash or valuables, instead lock them in a safe where one is available.
Avoid walking after dark in big cities.
There are poisonous snakes in rural areas in Costa Rica, and though the chances of seeing one are small, do not stray from a hiking path or touch unfamiliar plants. One guide told us to always check the other side of a log before stepping over it.
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. We were surprised how quiet some of the popular hiking routes were.
If you or your children have food or medical allergies, write them onto card and translate it into Spanish to show in restaurants, hotels and clinics.
Costa Rica has 16 volcanoes, several of which are active. Know what to do in the event of an earthquake or tsunami.
Know where the nearest clinic is or how to contact a doctor. This is especially important if staying in self catering accommodation such as an Airbnb.
We had an emergency dash to a clinic in Guanacaste when our son fell and cut his head badly. We had no idea where the nearest clinic was. It turned out it was a one hour drive away and we had no car. We were fortunate that we were staying in a hotel with wonderful, helpful staff. They immediately called a taxi and phoned the clinic to alert them we were coming.
This horrible incident made us realise that wherever we go, we need to know how to contact a doctor AND a taxi. It was also a sobering reminder of the risks of ‘going rural’ with kids.
Do not let these do’s and don’ts put you off booking a family trip to Costa Rica – or getting out and about to explore it!
Costa Rica is one of the best places to travel with kids and we cannot wait to return.
For helpful information about planning a trip to Costa Rica, check out this excellent Costa Rica blog. It’s 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?