A Guide to Traveling Costa Rica with Kids
Is Costa Rica kid-friendly? Is it safe? Where should we go? What kid-friendly activities exist in Costa Rica? If you’re planning a trip to Costa Rica with your kids, these questions are likely crossing your mind. But fear not! We’re here to answer your questions.
Is Costa Rica safe for kids?
Costa Rica is one of the safest countries in the Americas; however, because it brings in nearly two million tourists a year, there are, naturally, some things tourists need to be aware of when it comes to safety. Most of the crime is petty theft, such as pickpocketing. Be sure to avoid carrying valuables with you or in your car. This single action is a big step towards ensuring your family remains as safe as possible.
Where should I visit if traveling with kids?
Costa Rica is one of the most eco-diverse countries globally, so narrowing down where to visit can be challenging. It comes down to what activities your family enjoys and the ages of your children. Costa Rica has seven regions, but we’ll focus on two of them, which feature natural beauty and adventurous experiences while keeping the kids happy, excited, and engaged on the trip. The good news is that these two regions border each other!
Sun, sand, surfing. That’s how I describe the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica. This area is known for hot, dry weather and spectacular beaches that line the Pacific Coast. Tamarindo is the main beach town in this region and is becoming tourist central, with lively beachside restaurants and a small yet bustling town. Even though it’s popular and more built-up than other beach towns, it still radiates laidback beach vibes. If you’re looking for a quieter escape, the sleepy beach towns of Nosara, Samara, and Santa Teresa, south of Tamarindo, may fit the bill. The Guanacaste region also encompasses the Nicoya Peninsula, one of the five Blue Zones in the world, where people live the longest and are the healthiest. However, if you’re looking to trek through tropical rainforests and rappel down waterfalls, Guanacaste isn’t the best choice. Enter Alajuela.
- Age recommendation: Anyone and everyone that enjoys sunny beach weather! Note: A few beaches have more shore break and potential rip currents, so it’s important to research this before going.
Not to be confused with the town of Alajuela (near San José), the Alajuela region is full of tropical waterfalls, dense cloud forests, hot springs, zip lines, volcanos, and coffee plantations. It’s likely the Costa Rica region everyone hears about the most. There are countless excursions and activities that will get your adrenaline pumping while also making you feel at one with nature. Depending on your kids’ ages (and your level of bravery), this may be the area you want to spend most of your time. In the shadows of the Arenal Volcano, the region’s main town of La Fortuna is a jumping-off point to experience everything your adventurous heart desires. Many tour companies operate out of La Fortuna, so there are plenty of options to keep you busy.
- Age recommendation: This is one region where you may find yourself on the sidelines if you have young children (under eight years old), as many of the adventurous excursions in the Alajuela region require participants to be older to enjoy them. That said, the hot spring resorts can offer a perfect family experience. Some of them even have hot spring waterslides!
What are some kid-friendly activities in Costa Rica?
Costa Rica has a plethora of fun activities for kids of all ages. Most are based outdoors in the fresh air and are sure to keep their active and curious minds excited. Below are some of the most popular kid-friendly activities. Keep in mind, some do have age requirements, so double-check the details when planning.
Hanging Bridges / Canopy Tours / Rain Forest Walks
The hanging bridges in the cloud forest and tropical rain forests are our all-time favorite activities. This experience can be self-guided, or you can hire a guide to explain and educate you on your surroundings. You’ll get an amazing view of the rain forest from up in the trees and will likely come across a lot of wildlife. On our tour, we saw a few species of monkeys, lots of colorful insects and spiders, as well as plenty of reptiles, like frogs and even a snake. If it weren’t for our guide pointing out creatures and giving us insights into the different plants, we would have likely missed most of the sightings. If you’re up for it, they also offer these tours at night! There are quite a few options for hanging bridges and rainforest walks, but the majority are in the La Fortuna and Monteverde areas.
- Age recommendation: All ages! Keep in mind that very young explorers may get tired of walking. Strollers are not a good idea on these tours, so we recommend a baby-wearing alternative. More on that below!
Zip-lining is perhaps the most recognizable adventure activity in Costa Rica. But the biggest, longest, tallest, fastest, and most scenic zip lines are found around the Arenal Volcano and throughout the Alajuela region. This is one experience you won’t soon forget, but it may not be for the faint of heart.
- Age recommendation: Each zip-line operation has its own age restrictions, but as a very general rule of thumb, it’s hard to find a zip line that allows kids under five years old, and even then, they might have to ride tandem with an instructor. You don’t want to miss this activity, but double-check the age requirements before booking your excursion.
Also in the Alajuela region, near La Fortuna, are the natural hot springs. Some have kept their hot springs as natural as possible, whereas others have directed the hot spring water into cascading pools, swim-up bars, and even waterslides! There are varying degrees of temperature to experience, so find the right hot spring pool for you.
- Age recommendation: I’ve not found any hot spring resorts with age restrictions, but it’s advised that each parent chooses the best option for their family based on their children’s ages and the water temperature.
Canyoning / Canyoneering / Rappelling
It goes by a few different names, but this may be the most adventurous thing you can do in Costa Rica! Essentially, your group and a guide hike into the rain forest to a small river, follow it downstream and rappel down a series of waterfalls to eventually reach the bottom. Yes, rappel down a waterfall! The guides will train you on how to descend the waterfalls and use the safety equipment, of course. My wife and I did this before we had kids, and it was such a memorable experience. Most of these experiences are found near the La Fortuna area.
- Age recommendation: Due to the intensity of the activity and the need to be self-sufficient, this is recommended for children 13 and older. It’s perfect for your adventure-loving teenager!
La Fortuna Waterfall
If you happen to be in the La Fortuna / Arenal area, this waterfall should not be missed. It’s a beautiful waterfall with one long, single drop of 250 feet (75m). There are a few viewing platforms along the way down the winding staircase to get to the base of the falls and natural waterfall pools at the bottom if you want to swim. You can also combine the La Fortuna waterfall with a horseback ride to avoid the stairs.
- Age recommendation: All ages! But be aware that there are a lot of stairs to get both down and back up from the waterfalls. Young children will likely get tired and may need some assistance.
Riding horses is a popular experience in Costa Rica and is available in many places. However, our favorite place is at one of the beaches along the Guanacaste region, such as Tamarindo. A guide will take you along some beautiful beaches, and trotting along the sand at sunset is an unforgettable experience.
- Age recommendation: This one depends on rider experience and the nature of the tour. On many tours, the horses know the route and are well-trained; however, you’re still dealing with an animal, and anything can happen. This is probably a better experience for kids 12 and older.
Grab a board and head to the Guanacaste coast for this one! Costa Rica is world-renowned for its surf breaks, but that doesn’t mean you have to be a professional to enjoy the waves. At many of the beach towns in Guanacaste, surf schools cater to first-timers, families, and children. I recommend the Tamarindo, Nosara, or Samara surf schools for easy waves and an abundance of instruction companies.
- Age recommendation: Most companies offer lessons to kids younger than ten years but may require a private or semi-private lesson to ensure they have the instructor’s full attention. At ten years and older, most kids can join a group lesson where the instructor/student ratio is often four students per instructor.
If surf lessons are too advanced for your little one, boogie boarding may be a great substitute! Boogie boards can be purchased or rented from just about any surf shop along the Guanacaste coast and provide hours of entertainment for the kids. Be sure to select a beach with a gradual slope to minimize the risk of drop-offs and rip currents. We found the main beaches at Tamarindo and Nosara to be excellent for beginner boogie boarding.
- Age recommendation: Four years and older, but of course, it depends on the child’s comfort and experience in the water. Life jackets are always recommended.
A few estuary tours are available in the Guanacaste region, but the best one is in Tamarindo. The tour consists of transport from your accommodations to the estuary, where you’ll get on a small boat and cruise up the water. The guide will point out all types of birds, reptiles (like crocodiles and frogs), and even some monkeys jumping from tree to tree. It’s both a relaxing and educational experience.
- Age recommendation: All ages!
Along the Guanacaste coast, you’ll find a lot of possibilities to explore the tide pools. Our four-year-old spent hours walking among the tide pools, searching for crabs and fish. Our one-year-old son had a blast splashing around in the shallow water. We found the most accessible tide pools were those facing the main beach in Tamarindo.
- Age recommendation: All ages!
You may find yourself with some time in Costa Rica’s capital, San José. It’s home to the main international airport, and each time we’ve visited, we spent a night or two in San José. If the kids are up for educational fun, check out these two fantastic museums.
- Museo de los Niños (Children’s Museum) contains 40 interactive rooms with different adventures. The kids can learn about exciting topics, such as archaeology, Egyptian culture, the universe, nature in Costa Rica, and electricity, just to name a few.
- Museo de Ciencias Naturales La Salle (Natural Science Museum) is the place to bring your child that loves the science behind things, especially animals. This museum has a spider monkey skeleton on display, dinosaur bones, and a vast collection of taxidermied animals and birds from all over the world.
- Age recommendation: All ages!
What to pack for Costa Rica
To make the most of your family trip, here are a few things to bring with you and items we recommend leaving at home.
- Rain jackets for the whole family: This is important if you plan to visit the Alajuela region’s tropical rain forests or cloud forests.
- Swimsuits and plenty of them: Both the beaches of Guanacaste and the hot springs of La Fortuna will be calling you, so make sure to bring your suits!
- Binoculars: These will be useful for spotting all the wildlife you encounter on hanging bridge canopy tours, rain forest tours, and estuary tours!
- Sunscreen and bug repellent: You can buy these in Costa Rica, but we have found that purchasing these items on location is more expensive than at home. So, if you have room in your luggage, bring some along.
- Favorite snacks: If your kids have pre-packaged snacks they can’t live without, make sure to bring them along. There are great grocery store options throughout Costa Rica, but often, you won’t find the same products as at home.
- Baby carrier (if applicable): If you have young kids and are used to pushing them around in a stroller, you may want to wear your baby or toddler instead, as some destinations aren’t stroller-friendly.
- Sturdy, water-repellent shoes: If you’re planning to do any rainforest activities, like canopy tours, hanging bridges, nature hikes, canyoning, or zip-lining, bring supportive shoes that dry out relatively quickly. We each bought a pair of sport sandals, and we used them a lot while in the Alajuela region.
There you have it—a guide on how to visit Costa Rica with kids! We hope you found this guide helpful in planning a successful family trip to this beautiful country. With so much to see and do in Costa Rica, we have no doubt your family will come away having experienced the trip of a lifetime.