It’s no surprise that Costa Rica has long been a top destination for travelers looking for eco-friendly adventure and because it offers a wide range of activities for all ages, it has become a top rated holiday spot for families.
With a mix of beautiful safe beaches, abundant wildlife attractions, seemingly limitless outdoor recreation, and genuine adventure, Costa Rica offers something for everyone. Even of the pickiest of your family will find something to fall in love with while visiting Costa Rica.
One of the best aspects of Costa Rica is its accessibility, with quick direct flights now offered from many US cities as well as several popular European cities. Travelling around Costa Rica with family is also quite easy and safe.
While you can rent a vehicle and create your own road trip around Costa Rica, the country is also well connected through the local bus network. You can also easily book taxi and van transfers as you make your way around the country, travelling from places like Papagayo to Monteverde or La Fortuna to San José.
Let’s take a trip around Costa Rica to some of the most popular places that are family-friendly which are making this biodiverse gem of Central America one of the world’s top family vacation destinations.
Most international flights arrive in San José at the Juan Santamaría International Airport which is one of Central America’s finest and busiest airports. It only makes sense then that we start here to discover a range of family-friendly attractions worth visiting in the nation’s capital.
You can begin with the Museo de los Niños (Children’s Museum) which ironically was once used as a prison but now looks like an inviting castle filled with educational displays and interactive exhibits spread out over dozens of different rooms.
Kids will learn about Costa Rican culture as well as ancient cultures, the universe, archeology, electricity, the human body, recycling, and more. Experience an earthquake simulator, stand beneath life-size dinosaurs, and even stand inside a giant human mouth. Adults will enjoy browsing the small art gallery as well as visiting the section describing the building’s history as a prison.
The capital is also home to Butterfly Kingdom where you can surround yourself with quite literally over a thousand colorful butterflies from a range of species. There are hands-on activities and opportunities to view caterpillars and chrysalises. You’ll find even more butterflies within the city at the Spirogyra Butterfly Garden.
Families may also enjoy visiting San José’s Simón Bolívar Zoo and Botanical Garden where you can observe many Central and South American animals like macaws, jaguars, tapirs, coatis, and monkeys.
The capital is even home to a small theme park called Parque Diversiones which offers up a nice mix of adrenaline-pumping rides for adults and older children as well as tamer rides for younger kids. There are four roller coasters and a number of refreshing water rides that will allow you to cool off. Best of all is the fact that proceeds go to fund the local Children’s Hospital.
La Fortuna is often regarded as the country’s adventure capital, where outdoor adventure abounds. One of the most popular activities is hiking the Arenal Volcano. Situated within a national park, there are a number of trails catering to different fitness levels that make their way around the volcano, old lava fields, and Lake Arenal.
A hike along the park’s El Ceibo Trail will reveal a giant 400-year-old Ceiba tree. Ziplining is also popular in the area, as is checking out the short hike to La Fortuna Waterfall which plummets well over 200 feet and provides a refreshing natural pool you can swim in. Whitewater rafting is popular on the Balsa River which provides family-friendly Class II (suitable for younger children) and Class III rapids (suitable for teens).
La Fortuna also offers coffee and cocoa (chocolate) plantation tours where you can learn how coffee and chocolate are made, while also enjoying samples of course. Also worthwhile is checking out the Mistico Hanging Bridges. Here, you’ll find lovely trails that cut through the rainforest and make their way across 16 different hanging bridges, with interpretive signs to guide you on the various plants and animals in the forest.
The most popular trail is a 2-mile circuit that is easy to manage for nearly all age levels. There are even stroller rentals available for younger children who may otherwise tire quickly on foot. The aptly named Arenal Bridge offers a view of Arenal Volcano and is the highest at nearly 150 feet above the forest floor. The longest bridge is Tayra Bridge which spans nearly 370 feet.
Many families also head to Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast to indulge in the many activities offered in the Papagayo Peninsula. Located in the Guanacaste province, the seaside resort destination is served by the Guanacaste International Airport.
Papagayo is home to some pretty fancy beach resorts including the Four Seasons Resort which was named one of the world’s top family beach resorts. Most of the resorts offer youth programs and family-friendly pools, along with endless beach activities like snorkeling, sea kayaking, and paddleboarding.
There are dozens of beaches to choose from in Papagayo, many being secluded and reachable only by kayak. Their positioning on the west coast also makes them exceptional places to catch the sunset. And because the waters of the Gulf of Papagayo are protected from large swells, they offer safe swimming for families with small children.
There are also a number of fun day trips from Papagayo including the Africa Adventure Safari Park which will make you feel as though you transported yourself to Africa with its mix of zebras, giraffes, ostriches, and various antelope species. Several national parks are also in the area such as Guanacaste National Park and Palo Verde National Park.
Monteverde may be Costa Rica’s top ecotourism hotspot. It is most notable for being home to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve which is rich in plant and animal life, offering a number of well-managed trails that are rather accessible and easy for all ages.
In addition to hiking, the region abounds with adventure that includes ziplining, canyoning, horseback riding, and abseiling. You’ll find the longest zipline in the country at Aventura Adventure Park which extends well over 5,000 feet in length. They also offer a thrilling Tarzan swing.
A number of other reserves perfect for hiking that receive less attention are also available including the Santa Elena Cloud Forest and Children’s Eternal Rainforest. Some reserves even offer special night tours in search of nocturnal creatures.
Families looking for a more remote adventure can look to Tortuguero on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast. Not accessible by road, getting here is half the adventure. Tortuguero offers families a similar feel to visiting the Amazon but is much safer and more economical.
Boat tours navigate the large network of natural canals that wind their way through the rainforest. Tortuguero National Park is home to more than 400 bird species along with countless reptiles and mammals. There are a number of jungle eco-lodges to relax in after a day of exploring.
However, Tortuguero is most famous for it being a top nesting spot for sea turtles which haul themselves onto the beaches each summer and early fall. Ranger led tours at night during season can allow you to witness the natural spectacle of giant sea turtles laying eggs. Green, loggerhead, hawksbill and leatherback turtles all nest along Tortuguero’s beaches.