Family Vacation in Costa Rica

Costa Rica Vacations

What to Know About Taking a Family Vacation in Costa Rica

A family vacation in Costa Rica is the safest, most action-packed family vacation available in Central America. Costa Rica is the ideal place to take children and young adults for their first international adventure. A Costa Rica family vacation suitable for kids of any age, from toddlers to teenagers. The flight to Costa Rica is the most difficult part. It is also ideal for seniors. Costa Rica is the best place in Central America for grandmother and granddad to take their grandchildren on a family vacation.

If you are with young children, once you reach Costa Rica’s customs, agents will move you to the front of the line. Costa Rica is extremely accommodating for families. So, there is very little — logistically — in Costa Rica that will pose a problem for families with small children.

And with the right trip provider, boredom for families with children ages 3 to 17 is almost impossible!

Costa Rica Family Vacation, Pacuare River

The Majority of the Fun in Costa Rica is Family Fun

There is adult fun in Costa Rica as well, but the majority of the activities in Costa Rica are as equally well suited for kids as they are adults. Some activities have height and size minimums — canopy and bungee jumping for example. Rafting has an age minimum. But, most activities in Costa Rica are just as perfect for 10-year-olds as they are for people in their 30s through 70s.

Costa Rica Safest Place in Latin America to Travel

Safety while on vacation isn’t always the first concern for travelers with experience. However, safety is typically the single biggest concern for people planning a family vacation. According to the Latin America Security Index, Costa Rica is one of the three safest places in Latin America. It is the safest in Central America. (In case you are curious, the other two Latin American Countries deemed safest on the potential risk scale were Uruguay and Chile).

The police presence in Costa Rica is one of the most comforting aspects. In Costa Rica, the police are both in the streets on foot as well as patrolling in cars. While on foot, the police travel in pairs or in groups of three or four. They are easy to flag down if you need directions.

Most of the crime in Costa Rica are crimes of opportunity. Petty theft is not uncommon, so you’ll want to make certain not to leave your belongings lying around in public. It’s always a good idea to keep your valuables, money and credit cards, and your identification on your person at all times.

But, unless you end up someplace where you shouldn’t be — and all countries have those places, — the odds are slim you will have any issues on your Costa Rica family vacation.

Tico culture is very polite and respectful. They do, however, laugh and joke loudly. And, unlike the norm in North America, Ticos smile and laugh when they are nervous or uncomfortable. It takes a little getting used when you are accustomed to people being stoic and quiet when they feel out of place. But, the Costa Rica manner of dealing with stress eventually becomes one of the most charming parts of visiting Costa Rica!

San Jose International Airport (SJO) in Alajuela

Airports in Costa Rica: Best Airport to Use for Your Costa Rica Family Vacation

There are two international airports in Costa Rica. San Jose International (SJO) is located in Alajuela, west of San Jose. SJO is a short, few-hours drive to Quepos/Manuel Antonio, Jaco, and Punta Arenas — all of which are located in the province of Puntarenas. Also, SJO is the airport typically used to access the La Amistad International Park region, the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica, Golfito, and Corcovado, as well as Central Costa Rica.

The Liberia International Airport is in the province of Guanacaste. Liberia is less than an hours drive south of the Costa Rican/Nicaraguan border. LIA provides access to the Nicoya Peninsula including Tamarindo, Monte Verde, and Samara. LIA is also closer to northern Puntarenas than SJO.

Arenal/La Fortuna, as a point of reference, is roughly an equal distance from both San Jose International Airport and Liberia International.

Best Places to Visit on a Costa Rica Family Vacation

Family Fun in the Pejivalle River

Costa Rica is a small country for the Americas, one-fifth the size of Colorado or roughly the size of West Virginia. Still, Costa Rica is 20-percent larger than Switzerland 40-percent larger than Belgium, and two-and-a-half times the size of Belize. As such, there are seven distinct regions in Costa Rica.

The Pacific Coast of Costa Rica includes two of the country’s most popular tourist destinations: Quepos/Manuel Antonio and Guanacaste. Additionally, Jaco is on the Pacific side as is Golfito.

Inland Costa Rica — which has mountains in the south and savanna in the north — includes the capital, San Jose;  La Amistad International Park (Cerro Chirripo and the Pacuare River); and Arenal/La Fortuna.

Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast includes Tortuguero; Puerto Viejo; and the country’s largest port city, Limon.

From Coast to Coast, at its narrowest point, is it only a six-hour drive from the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean sea. So, it is possible to visit both Costa Rican Coasts on one Costa Rica family vacation. And, even though doing so requires a fair amount of travel, you and your family can still fill each day with adventure activities and sight-seeing excursions.

Pacific Coast Costa Rica Family Vacation

The majority of the resort-style tourism is located on the Pacific Coast. Again, there are three regions on the Pacific Coast: Guanacaste; Quepos/Manuel Antonio and Jaco; and Golfito. In addition to their geographic location, the climate of the three regions are distinctly different. Puntarenas is a dry climate, semi-arid desert. The area around Jaco is mostly rolling hills and canyons covered in long, savanna-esque grass. Because Quepos/Manuel Antonio and Golfito are butted up against La Amistad International Park, mountain jungle runs down to the coastline.

Family dog on the Nicoya Peninsula – twitter@MikeGunton

Nicoya Peninsula (Provincia de Puntarenas and Guanacaste)

The Nicoya Peninsula is in northern Costa Rica on the Pacific Side. It is the father peninsula of the similarly-shaped-but-smaller Osa Peninsula at the opposite end of the country to the south. It is on the Nicoya Peninsula — according to Costa Rican lore — that famous athletes and actors like Michael Jordan and Mel Gibson have large estates. There are a large number of beach resorts on the coast of the Nicoya Peninsula. The most popular beach resort towns on the Nicoya Peninsula suited for a Costa Rica family vacation are Playa Hermosa, Tamarindo, Playa Azul, Samara, and Mal Pais.

In the Gulf of Colorado between the Nicoya Peninsula and Costa Rica’s mainland, there are also a number of island resorts. The most popular island in the gulf is San Lucas Island. The popular tourist destinations inland on the Nicoya Peninsula include Palo Verde National Park, Diria National Park, and Parque National Barra Honda.

Dr. Miller’s version of a Tamarindo sunset – twitter@docmmiller

Located on the northwestern point of the Nicoya Peninsula, Tamarindo is the most popular beach destination in Guanacaste. Tamarindo is famous for its surfing as it has some of the longest waves in the country. Unlike many of the beaches on the Nicoya Peninsula, mountains back Tamarindo Beach. So, the setting around Tamarindo is spectacular for 360 degrees.

In addition to the long, sandy beaches, Tamarindo has wonderful nightlife and excellent accommodations. And between November and April, it is possible to hike north of Tamarindo Beach and watch Leatherback Sea Turtles nest and hatch on Grande Beach. Langosta Beach to the south of Tamarindo is a quiet, secluded beach you can use to get some peace and quiet if you want to get away from the crowds.

General Overview and Things worth knowing about Tamarindo:

Endless beach of Playa Hermosa – twitter@shanhela
Coco and Playa Hermosa (Guanacaste)

There are two beach towns named Playa Hermosa on the Pacific side of Costa Rica. One is in Guanacaste while the other is further south in the province of Puntarenas. Playa Hermosa – Guanacaste is less than a kilometer from the town of Coco. Most locals consider the two towns one and the same.

Coco and Playa Hermosa are famous for their scuba diving and sport fishing. There are a handful of sport fishing companies in Coco/Playa Hermosa – Guanacaste. And, there are more than 10 dive shops, dive centers, and scuba tour agencies. But, there is more to do in  Coco and Playa Hermosa than fish. There are two horseback riding facilities and a buggy tour company.

The beach at Playa Hermosa is more than a mile and a half long. Less than a half a mile from Playa Hermosa Guanacaste — around the point at the northern end of the beach, — is Playa Panama. Hike over the point at the southern end of the beach and you arrive at Playa del Coco.

And, the accommodations are excellent. There are a number of hotels, a resort, and several bed and breakfasts. Or, you can rent a timeshare condo if you are not interested in a hotel setting.

General Overview and Things worth knowing about Coco and Playa Hermosa:

Samara sunrise – twitter@hoteldosaguas

If there is a list of most beautiful beaches in Costa Rica, Samara is on it. If you are interested in snorkeling and/or scuba diving, Samara is a can’t miss attraction on the Nicoya Peninsula during your Costa Rica family vacation. While not as popular as Tamarindo and Playa Hermosa, Samara is outstanding. In a horseshoe-shaped bay, Samara has calm, clear water. Less than 100 yards from the beach into the ocean, Samara has a coral reef. The reef attracts a wide variety of tropical fish and several species of stingray.

Located on the southern end of the peninsula, Samara is a small town. Though there are no resorts in Samara, there are plenty of quality hotels. There is a heavy North American and European influence in Samara, so many of the lodging accommodations are very creative and high quality.

General Overview and Things to know about Samara:

Mal Pais Family Vacation Costa Rica
Mal Pais attracts foodies and fitness nuts from all over the world – twitter@hannahteter
Mal Pias

Though Mal Pias is on the Nicoya Peninsula, it is part of the province of Puntarenas as opposed to Guanacaste. Mal Pais is an amazing little beach pueblo with striking scenery behind the town and massive views of the Pacific out front. It was little more than a fishing and ranching community 20 years ago. Today, according to Forbes Magazine, “Mel Gibson, Tom Brady, and Gisele Bundchen own homes [in Mal Pais].”

Best known for the extraordinary five-star resorts overlooking the ocean, Mal Pias is not only for the rich and famous. Though they are on the higher end of the spectrum for Costa Rica, many of the hotels and bed and breakfasts in Mal Pias are reasonably priced for your family vacation in Costa Rica. And because of the number of North American and European-owned restaurants, the food in Mal Pais is some of the best you will find in the country.

General Overview and Things to know about Mal Pais:

Other Places to Visit on the Nicoya Peninsula
Santa Teresa on a quad – twitter@jules_deerman

There are a large number of other beaches worth visiting on the Nicoya Peninsula.


Again, Guanacaste is the northwestern-most portion of the country. It butts up against the Nicaraguan border. Most people associate Guanacaste with the Nicoya Peninsula. But, there are actually more popular destinations in Guanacaste including the Monte Verde Cloud Forest and Arenal located in the La Fortuna area. Arenal is the home of the country’s most famous volcano as well as being the country’s most popular inland tourist town.

In addition to Arenal and Monte Verde, the province of Guanacaste also has Rincon de la Vieja National Park; Rio Celeste Waterfall; Santa Rosa National Park; and Palo Verde National Park.



Arenal/La Fortuna is the most well-known place in Costa Rica aside from a few of the Pacific Coast beach towns like Quepos/Manuel Antonio and Jaco. Everything Costa Rica has to offer is available in Arenal, save beach and ocean activities. Arenal has an active volcano. The country’s largest reservoir is in La Fortuna. There is an abundance of rivers in the area. Arenal has hot springs as well as mud baths. Lodging and accommodations in Arenal/La Fortuna range five-start resorts to backpacking hostels.

The list of things to do in Arenal includes:

General Overview and Things to know about Arenal/La Fortuna:

A hanging bridge in the Monte Verde Cloud Forest – twitter@TavHoag
Monte Verde Cloud Forest

There are spectacular sites all over Costa Rica. The Monte Verde Cloud Forest, however, is right at the top of the list. The preserve is 26,000 acres in area and the biodiversity it protects is unmatched, even in Costa Rica. The Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve has a unique history. A group of Quakers from Alabama in the United States moved to the area around the preserve during the Korean War. Hoping to avoid the draft, the Quakers moved to Costa Rica and began etching out a new life by producing cheese and dairy products. Originally opened in 1972, the preserve is the result of efforts by a group within the Quaker community to protect the area from deforestation and agriculture.

Tours through the cloud forest include a Sky Trek Canopy tour; hanging and suspended bridges; as well as extremely well-maintained, wood-plank walkways. For the more adventurous families, there are also longer tours that include trails hiking paths. Without question, the Monte Verde Cloud Forest is one of the most popular Costa Rica family vacation destinations for very good reason.

General Overview and Things to know about Monte Verde:

Map Province of Puntarenas Costa Rica
The Province of Puntarenas includes the majority of the country’s Pacific-side beach towns.

Province of Puntarenas

The Province of Puntarenas runs almost the entire length of Costa Rica along the Pacific Coast. Save those on the Nicoya Peninsula and a small area in the northern-most part of the country, the vast of the Pacific-side beaches are in Puntarenas. Though extremely narrow in most parts, from north to south, the Province of Puntarenas is by far the longest province in Costa Rica. While there are dozen more exceptional beach towns in Puntarenas, the following four areas are the most popular.

Puntarenas sunset – twitter@juanca_zuniga
Puntarenas (The Beach Town)

Of all the places in the Province of Puntarenas, the beach-town peninsula of Punta Arenas (sand point) unique. The geography of Punta Arenas is different than that found anywhere else in Costa Rica.

What makes Punta Arenas so special is that it is a very long, extremely narrow peninsula. In most places, the Punta Arenas Peninsula is only a few hundred yards wide. In some places, it is less than the width of a football field. Yet, the peninsula is several miles long!

Still, there are very good, paved roads on the Punta Arenas Peninsula. And some of the best resorts in the country are on the Punta Arenas Peninsula! On the mainland portion of Punta Arenas, you will find some of the best restaurants, finest shops, and best hotels in the province.

Punta Arenas does not have as many things to do recreation-wise as its neighboring Puntarenas beach towns to the south. But, with respect to Costa Rica family vacation beach-town aesthetics, Punta Arenas is at or near the top of most visitors’ lists.

General Overview and Things to know about Punta Arenas:


There are a few places in Costa Rica that everyone must visit at least once. Everyone needs to raft the Pacuare River. And, Everyone needs to zip line down the Arenal Volcano. Everyone should make an effort to see a giant Leatherback Sea Turtle. And, everyone needs to visit Quepos/Manuel Antonio!

Again, Arenal/La Fortuna provides everything Costa Rica has to offer except beaches. Likewise, Quepos/Manuel Antonio has everything Costa Rica offers except a volcano! There are exceptional beaches all around the area. Of course, that means there is surfing and body boarding in Quepos. That means there is horseback riding on the beach as well. There are buggy and UTV tours. And because of the mountains that butt up against the coast, there are restaurants with sunset views high above the ocean. It can’t go without being mentioned, the cuisine in Quepos is exceptional.

The mountains surrounding Quepos are what make this one of Costa Rica’s a can’t-miss beach town. Manuel Antonio National Park is as well maintained as any park or reserve in the country. Its facilities are also second to none in Costa Rica. The park has hanging bridges and wildlife viewing tours as well as hiking trails galore.

For the adrenaline junkies, Quepos has parasailing. A boat pulls you over the ocean as you glide hundreds of feet above under a parachute. Quepos has bungee jumping, too. The fall is the farthest in the country. And, the skydiving in Quepos is the most reputable in the country. The rafting on the Savagre and Naranja Rivers are both in the top three of the best rivers in Costa Rica.

General Overview and Things to know about Quepos/Manuel Antonio:

Jaco Costa Rica family vacation
Even the street art in Jaco is beautiful – twitter@CatMatu

With its beautiful high-rise hotels, four and five-star restaurants, and a plethora of casinos and sports bars, Jaco is Las Vegas on a micro-scale. Even though the beaches are not as remarkable as some others found in the Province of Puntarenas, it does not matter. Many of the guests of Jaco’s hotels spend the majority of their time in the swimming pool anyway.

There probably isn’t any place in Costa Rica where there is something happening 24-hours a day with the exception of Jaco. No matter what time of day or night, there is always something to do in Jaco! And the beaches in Jaco are nothing to scoff at. With soft yellow sand and plenty of space for everyone, Jaco Beach is certainly worth visiting if you are looking for an affluent beach town with plenty to do day or night!

General Overview and Things to know about Jaco:

Family Vacation Golfito Costa Rica
Virgin rainforest covers the Osa Peninsula and surrounds much of Golfito – twitter@kelseydavisdesign
Golfito and the Osa Peninsula

The Osa Peninsula is one of the most remarkable places on the planet. On the peninsula is Corcovado National Park, one of the last places on the planet with virgin low-land rainforest. At the southern end of the Province of Puntarenas, hence, the country, Golfito and the Osa Peninsula are home of the country’s most impressive sailboat and yacht marinas. In addition to accommodating sea-going vessels from around the world, the area is exceptional for whale and dolphin watching. And, around the Osa Peninsula is some of the best sportfishing in Costa Rica.

The town of Golfito is not a spectacular beach town, but the surrounding area offers some of the most picturesque jungle in the country. That means the horseback riding tours, canyoning/rappelling, and hiking is as good as anything you will find in Monte Verde or Quepos/Manuel Antonio. In total there are three major parks in the area — including La Amistad International Park. For those interested in a nature-centric Costa Rica family vacation, Golfito and the Osa Peninsula are a must.

General Overview and Things to know about Jaco:

Orosi Costa Rica
The Ujarras Church was first constructed in the 1580s.

Inland (Mountains) Costa Rica

The major attractions inland are the volcanos, the rivers, the mountains, and the rainforest. And, three of the four major cities in Costa Rica are inland near the continental divide: San Jose (the capital), Alajuela, and Cartago (the first capital of Costa Rica). The majority of the tourism inland centers around the national parks. Activities include rafting, zip lining, canyoning & rappelling, aerial trams, buggy & UTV tours, horseback riding, and birding.

For those families interested in Costa Rican culture, there is coffee and sugar cane plantation tours; rodeos, carnivals & festivals; magnificent churches and church ruins; and, again, countless exceptional national and international parks in Costa Rica. While Monte Verde and Arenal/La Fortuna are technically inland, they are in the northern province of Guanacaste while the majority of the recreation and tourism inland is farther south.

The areas with the strongest tourism industries are La Amistad International Park; the Pacuare River; and the Sarapiqui.

Costa Rica’s biodiversity in unique in the world and the biodiversity in La Amistad International Park is unique even within Costa Rica – twitter@alexmonro

La Amistad International Park

The largest park/reserve in Central America, La Amistad International Park is also home to more biodiversity than almost any place on the planet, save the oceans. In part because it is a rainforest and in part because it spans across the isthmus that separates North and South America, the number of different flora and fauna in La Amistad is staggering. The park covers an area of 400,000 hectares, more than 1,500 square miles.

For example, the number of different species of birds — avifauna — in Costa Rica is greater than 800. That is more than is found in all of Alaska, the Continental United States, and Mexico combined. Seventy-five percent of those species are found in La Amistad. In La Amistad alone, there are more than 600 species. According to the UK’s Darwin Initiative, La Amistad International Park has, “3,046 species of vascular plants, of which 73 are found nowhere else.”

In addition to plants and birds, La Amistad is home to five (5) big cat species; a species of deer; and a large variety of other mammals including peccary, anteaters, sloth, deer, grison, and agouti just to name a few. And, four species of monkey are living in La Amistad.

No place in Costa Rica offers a family a better opportunity to begin to understanding the importance of biodiversity than La Amistad.

General Overview and Things to know about La Amistad International Park:

Duckying the Pacuare River

Pacuare River

The Pacuare River defines rafting and kayaking in Costa Rica. While the Savagre and Naranjo rivers on the Pacific Coast and the Rio Toro near Arenal are all great day trips, the Pacuare River is the crown jewel in Costa Rica. There is a handful of eco-lodge resorts on the way down the river comparable to any others in the country. And, because of the volume of the Pacuare — and the rich tradition of rafting, — the best rafting companies and guides in Costa Rica are on the Pacuare River.

If you are looking for fun the entire family can enjoy on your Costa Rica vacation, the Pacuare River is second to none.

General Overview and Things to know about Pacuare:

Zip-lining over the Sarapiqui River – twitter@CHSespanyolo


Though Sarapiqui is the name of a town and it is the name of a river, it is also the name of an area. The town is unremarkable, but the river and the area have a great deal to off families visiting Costa Rica. Like the other tourism centers in Costa Rica, Sarapiqui offers all the recreation basics like zip lining and canyoning/rappelling. The Sarapiqui is the only river in the northeastern part of the country that offers rafting, kayaking, and duckying. It is the only whitewater river in the area. In addition to the Sarapiqui River, the area also offers tours through parks, reserves, and biological research centers.

General Overview and Things to know about Sarapiqui:

Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica

There is a stark contrast between the Pacific Coast beach towns in Costa Rica and those on the Caribbean side. Not only are the people different, so is the food and the culture. While all Costa Rica is “tranquillo” — tranquil, — Caribbean Costa Rica is very tranquillo. Underdeveloped in relation to the Pacific side, there are only a handful of moderately sized beach towns on the entire Caribbean Coast. That means peace and quiet for you and yours while on a family vacation in Costa Rica.

But, the amenities are quality and the lodging, while not resort style, is far from rustic. The four most popular tourism-oriented beach towns on the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica are Tortuguero, Puerto Viejo, Cahuita, and Manzanillo.

Tortuguero may be the most peaceful place in Costa Rica – twitter@ivanreinoso


Most famous for the Leatherback Turtles that nest on the beaches from July to September, Tortuguero has a great deal more to offer. One of the most unusual places in Costa Rica, the only access to Tortuguero is by plane or on boats. There are no roads through the swamps surrounding Tortuguero. The boat ride from Parishmina to Tortuguero is one of the most peaceful, beautiful activities in Costa Rica.

Once in Tortuguero, there is plenty to do. There are boat tours through the swamp for wildlife and bird watching. It is possible to hike around much of the area surrounding Tortuguero as well, though a guide is a very, very good idea. On one side of the island, you can sit and look into the jungle swamp. On the other, you can look out over the Caribbean Sea. While Tortuguero does not have as many activities as some of the other beach towns on the Caribbean side, it has high-quality lodging and amenities and is one of the most peaceful experiences in the country. Tortuguero is an ideal destination while on a Costa Rica family vacation.

General Overview and Things to know about Tortuguero:

Relaxing in Cahuita with a view of the Caribbean – twitter@smileyouretraveling


The first great destination south of Puerto Limon, Cahuita is unique in that it is one of the few areas that has both white sandy beaches and black sand beaches. While not as developed as Puerto Viejo to the south, Cahuita has several resort-style hotels. Cahuita is ideal for the family in Costa Rica that wants peace and quiet and exceptional views as well as great food and high-quality lodging.

On the Caribbean side of the country, while all the beaches are great, there are two places with the best beaches. Cahuita is one of them. It is for this reason that Cahuita is growing faster than any other beach town on the Caribbean Coast. Still, though there has been a great deal of development over the last ten years, Cahuita is one of the quietest, best-kept secrets in Costa Rica.

There are few places to take a family vacation in Costa Rica more beautiful than Cahita!

General Overview and Things to know about Cahuita:

View from above Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica – twitter@jtsuhar

Puerto Viejo

The heart and soul of Caribbean Costa Rica, Puerto Viejo has it all. From ATV/buggy tours and horseback riding to surfing, snorkeling, and sport fishing, Puerto Viejo has all the recreation a family visiting Costa Rica desires. A lively nightlife as well as great restaurants and sports bars, Puerto Viejo defines a tranquillo party town.

Like its counterpart on the Pacific Coast — Quepos — Puerto Viejo has a large number of expatriates living there. Many of the older expatriates own hotels, bed and breakfasts, and restaurants. There are also a large number of younger gringos and Europeans living in Puerto Viejo for the surfing. Puerto Viejo has a wide variety of people living there, to say the least!

General Overview and Things to know about Puerto Viejo:

Manzanillo is very, very quiet – twitter@JHLAWYER







At the edge of the map — just a short distance from Panama — Manzanillo is the hidden gem of Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast. A small little fishing town, Manzanillo has the most beautiful beaches on the Caribbean. Long with soft brown sand, it is not uncommon for a person to have miles of beach paradise all to themselves. For those people who want to know what untouched Costa Rica looks like, visit Manzanillo.

General Overview and Things to know about Manzanillo:


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