Costa Rica is one of the top family friendly countries as it’s safe and has plenty of easy wildlife watching and nature experiences, making it a must for families who love nature. Due to these reasons, it is not too difficult to plan a fun filled trip to Costa Rica for the family.
If you’re looking for some activities for the whole family, here are our top things to do in Costa Rica with kids!
La Fortuna Hot Springs
La Fortuna is one of the top destinations in Costa Rica for families. As a leading adventure area, there are many exciting activities suitable for kids of all ages. One of those activities is the hot springs and it’s one of the best things to do in Costa Rica with kids.
Though Tabacon is the most well known hot spring, it is also the most expensive and geared more for couples or adults. Kids can enjoy it as well but for more fun hot springs with kid friendly amenities, head to Baldi or Kalambu.
Baldi and Kalambu
First, they’re much cheaper so easier on the wallet for big families ($94 adult and $30 for kids for a Tabacon day pass with dinner versus $57 for adults and $28.50 for kids with dinner at Baldi and $32 adult and $25 kids at Kalambu). Both have water slides and a kid dedicated area so they are great for families with kids of all ages, even young adults.
The water slides are the highlight of both Baldi and Kalambu, they’re not super crazy fast or high but they are addicting and exciting enough that kids will have a blast. In Baldi, there is also a separate area called Baldi Kids with special slides and games, best for younger kids.
Another great resort and hot spring is the Springs Resort & Spa and Club Rio (get $10 off in the link). They have 3 hot spring sections, a wildlife refuge and an outdoor center with many activities. This is one of the best things to do in La Fortuna with families because you get relaxation, fun, animals and adventure all in one day! And all the activities are great for kids minimum age 5.
Another nice hot spring that isn’t as expensive is the Los Lagos Hotel. Their hot springs also has waterslides and there is also have a butterfly conservatory and nature walk kids can enjoy.
La Paz Waterfall Gardens
The La Paz waterfall gardens seems like it was designed specifically for families as it has 5 different waterfalls, easy short trails and animal exhibits. It’s a fun way for kids to get up close with wildlife and experience the rain forest without getting tired out.
There is even an area where you can hold a toucan that kids will love! You can get 7% off the entrance fee for La Paz here.
If you’re looking for a nice, more upscale hotel in Costa Rica with kids, you can stay a night or two at the Peace Lodge. They are right next to La Paz Waterfall Gardens and all guests at Peace Lodge get early access to the park.
In Puerto Viejo, Bijagua and La Fortuna, you can go on a chocolate tour to learn about how they grow and process cacao to make chocolate. This is a super fun and interactive tour for families in Costa Rica. The price is good and the kids will get to learn some history and culture of Costa Rica. Not to mention they will get to sample lots of delicious chocolate.
You can read about the BriBri chocolate tour or the Rainforest Chocolate Tour in La Fortuna. That one is extremely family friendly, educational and fun!
For adventurous kids, ziplining is a must! For young kids, we highly recommend the beginner or family ziplines just in case they are a little nervous or you aren’t sure how they will be when they are up high. La Fortuna, Manuel Antonio, Tamarindo and Samara all have beginner/family ziplines which are excellent. Some of the ones we recommend are Ecoglide and Arenal Canopy Adventure in La Fortuna, Midworld in Manuel Antonio, Black Stallion in Tamarindo and Wingnuts in Samara.
We went ziplining once with a family with a 6 year old boy and at first, he was nervous. But at the end, he was SO happy and had SO much fun and wanted to do it over and over again. His dad was pretty happy about it!
Guanacaste is the province in Costa Rica known for having some of the most beautiful beaches in the country and many of them are kid and toddler friendly. Plus no trip to Costa Rica with kids is complete without some beach time!
Short Nature Hikes
Nature walks is one of the best things to do in Costa Rica with kids. Look for a short hike (around 2-3 kilometers, no more than a couple of miles) so they don’t get too tired or moody but can still learn and experience a lot.
These walks are best for older kids to explore nature and it is highly recommended to get a guide to learn about the flora and fauna. You won’t believe how much kids absolutely love seeing frogs, snakes and monkeys in the wild! Plus it gives them a good chance to practice their own wildlife watching skills.
Some great nature walks for kids are the hanging bridges in Monteverde and Arenal, national parks with short trails like Arenal Volcano, Manuel Antonio, Poas Volcano and Rincon de la Vieja and private reserves like Hacienda Baru in Dominical or Arenal 1968.
The hanging bridges walk is one of the best things to do in Monteverde with kids. They are ideal for kids who don’t want to go ziplining or are too young to do the longer trails.
Visit Wildlife Rescue Centers
Costa Rica has some great wildlife rescue centers for kids to learn about conservation and importance of taking care of nature. Not only it it an incredible learning experience but they’ll be able to get up close and personal with animals like toucans, sloths and monkeys.
Some of the best rescue centers are Jaguar Rescue Center, Toucan Rescue Ranch, the Ara Project and Kids Saving the Rainforest (which was actually started by two 9 year old girls).
Children’s Museum and Oxigeno in San Jose
It may seem like San Jose is the place in Costa Rica you most want to avoid especially with kids but if you have a day in the city, there are actually several interesting museums and cultural things to enjoy. One of those is the Museo de los Ninos, or the Children’s museum.
There are a number of interactive exhibits and displays that focus on history and educating kids on various topics. What is even more interesting is that the building used to be a military prison and since Costa Rica abolished their army many years ago, the museum stands as a symbol to future generations of what it would be if the civil war and political turmoil continued.
In 2018, San Jose opened up the new Oxigeno Human Playground. This large center has stores, restaurants, cafes and a very big kids play area. This is an excellent place for families to visit and mingle with other local families!
Small and Easy to Get to Waterfalls
Catarata Llanos de Cortes
In Guanacaste, there is a beautiful waterfall hidden in the dry tropical forest that is easily accessible and has a big pool for swimming. This is the Catarata Llanos de Cortes waterfall.
The walk to the waterfall from the parking lot is very short. The pool isn’t super deep so it’s perfect for kids to swim and toddlers to float with parents. Just be very careful if you’re visiting during the rainiest months of September – November.
This is one of the best things to do in Guanacaste with kids because it’s easy to get to, cheap (only $2 for parking) and has a very calm pool to swim in.
**As of 2019, they no longer allow people to go on the rocks behind the waterfall. There is a lifeguard there who will blow a whistle and watch for people trying to go behind. Swimming in the pool only.*
Families will love Uvita waterfall! The rocks have smoothed over to create a natural slide and the pool isn’t very deep. It’s a 5 minute walk from the parking lot and is around $2 per person.
Cascada el Pavon
This is another waterfall in Uvita near Ojochal and it’s great for families visiting Costa Rica. It’s quite small and the shallow pool is fun for swimming and bathing. The best thing is that Cascada el Pavon is free!
Safari floats and river boat rides
If your kids don’t want to walk a lot, a safari float is an excellent choice. I went on a safari float (boat ride down a calm river) from Arenal with a family of two young girls who had an absolute blast. They went crazy when they saw monkeys and sloths! They got really good at pointing out wildlife, one of them even spotted an otter!
This is one of the best things to do in Arenal with kids that are too young to walk more than a couple of miles. The best ones are the Penas Blancas or Rio Frio safari floats from La Fortuna or the Palo Verde National Park or Hacienda El Viejo (get 7% off) boat ride in Guanacaste. The Sierpe mangrove boat ride down in the South Pacific is also a great one.
This is definitely one of the best things to do in Costa Rica with kids who want to see wildlife but can’t walk long distances.
If you’re interested in doing any of the tours in Arenal (Penas Blancas/Rio Frio safari float, hanging bridges, ziplining), we have an awesome discount!
Tips for Visiting Costa Rica for Families
Plan an easy itinerary
I highly recommend giving yourself plenty of time in each destination. Since most of the touristic destinations are fairly spread out, you don’t want to be in the car for too long with kids. The average driving time can be anywhere from 2-4 hours.
For the driving days, make sure to pack plenty of snacks and water. Even though Google Maps or Waze may say it’s *only* 3 hours, it can very well turn into 4 or 5 depending on traffic, the weather and how many stops you take along the way.
Pick places that aren’t too far apart and stay at least 3 nights in each one. Some of the most popular destinations in Costa Rica for kids are Arenal, Gulf of Papagayo (Guanacaste), Manuel Antonio, Samara, Uvita and Tamarindo. Avoid going to very remote places like Drake Bay and Osa Peninsula or small towns like Boca Tapada if you have young kids/babies/toddlers.
Consider staying at an all-inclusive resort
For big family groups (like 3 or 4 families) of various ages, it may be easier to book your trip at an all-inclusive resort, especially if you’re only in Costa Rica for a short period of time (less than 1 week).
All-inclusive resorts provide more kid friendly services and have big properties so it’s much easier to coordinate when it comes to food, activities and rooms. And then you can do day trips from the resort if anyone wants to go hiking or do any excursions.
Book a vacation rental/home
If an all-inclusive resort isn’t an option for your large group, then definitely check out vacation rentals instead of hotels. You can find large houses for rent in Costa Rica with multiple bedrooms. Another option are condos and each family can rent their own condo. That way you can have all the amenities and comforts of home so you can cook, have a living room, separate bedrooms, etc.
Rent a car or book private transportation
We also recommend renting a car. It’s the most comfortable way to get around Costa Rica with kids. You don’t need to work your trip around buses which are not the most comfortable or efficient for families with little ones.
By renting a car, you can stop whenever and wherever in case the kids get hungry or need a bathroom break. You can’t do that on the bus and you can only do that with private shuttles, not shared. Car rental companies also rent out baby and booster seats (read about Costa Rica booster/baby seat laws) and when you rent your car, make sure to ask the company to send you a photo of the car seat they have so you can be sure it will work for your family.
Get up to 20% off and free booster and baby seats with our Costa Rica car discount below!
If you don’t want to drive, you can hire private transportation which is much more comfortable than buses. Private transportation can stop whenever you want too which is is very nice.
Check kid ages for tours
Some tours have a minimum age for tours. This includes Pacuare river white water rafting (minimum 12 or 14 years), 5 for canyoning and 8 for white water tubing for some tours.
Don’t forget to check the weight and height limit. Some ziplining tours like Diamante Eco Adventure Park have a minimum weight and height limit for their zipline.
Nanny services are not readily available
Unfortunately nanny services are not readily available in Costa Rica. Only the resorts like Westin Conchal or JW Marriott Guanacaste have a kids club with nanny services.
If you have small children that can’t do certain activities, you’ll have to plan accordingly. Either one parent goes one day and the other parent goes the next. Or you’ll have to save them for when they get older!
I know in Tamarindo there are some babysitting services available like Sunshine Babysitting. Contact them before your trip so you can plan accordingly.
Take note of allergies, medicines and health conditions
If your kids have severe food allergies, make sure to learn how to say it in Spanish or write it down so you can show the waiters. Then if your kids are taking any prescription medicines or are allergic to any medicines, make sure to write it down and bring the prescription in case of emergency. Also write down if your children have any health conditions. For any medications that you don’t have the name in Spanish, write down the name of the active ingredients.
We also recommend to eat only at the hotel restaurants or the touristic ones. Since food allergies are not that common in Costa Rica, local restaurants (sodas) may not take it seriously and they often cook everything in one pan with the same oil. If you don’t speak Spanish, they may not properly understand.
I would also recommend researching where the clinics and hospitals are in your destinations if your children have medical conditions. Hospitals are not found in every town so the closest one may be a 30 minute to 1 hour drive away which is why we don’t recommend visiting rural or remote areas with kids that have severe medical conditions or something that may require immediate medical assistance.
Touristic beach towns have public and small private clinics but the hospitals are only in the big cities. Tamarindo does have a 24 hour clinic in case of emergencies.
Get a local phone number
I highly recommend getting a Costa Rica pre-paid sim card so that you will be able to contact someone in case of emergency. The emergency number in Costa Rica is 911 and they have an English speaking option.
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