Costa Rica has always held special place in my heart. My husband and I came here for our honeymoon, and spent an idyllic few days in Manuel Antonio National Park. Despite experiencing theft in Costa Rica on our last day, we knew we would some day come back and visit Costa Rica with kids.
Ten years later, we are back in the same country. Despite the changes we have seen in the ten years since (tourism has exploded here in Costa Rica!), our love for Costa Rica still remains. It’s a beautiful country. And the people in Costa Rica are truly welcoming and friendly. We have been absolutely loving our Costa Rican vacation with kids thus far!
This post was updated on May 21, 2020.
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Taking a Costa Rica vacation with kids
Costa Rica is a small country in Central America, bordered by Nicaragua to the North, and Panama to the East. The Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea line either side of the country’s coast lines. Despite occupying a very small fraction of the earth’s landmass, Costa Rica is home to around 5% of the earth’s biodiversity. This makes Costa Rica a must-visit for nature enthusiasts. And if you’re visiting Costa Rica with kids who love animals, then you’re in for a treat!
Because of its natural attractions and biodiversity, much of Costa Rica’s tourism centers around ecotourism. There is a strong sustainability component to many of the tourist activities in the country, especially among the more established and reputable companies. Preserving the environment is the topmost priority on many companies’ list. For families who value ethical and sustainable travel, this is one of the most wonderful things about Costa Rica.
Want some ideas of where to go. Read all my Costa Rica posts here.
Planning family tours in Costa Rica with kids
Prior to coming here, we reached out to partner with a Costa Rican owned company called Il Viaggio Travel, that arranges Costa Rica family tours. They’re based out of Escazu, just outside of San Jose. Il Viaggio Travel works with local tour companies, attractions, and hotels throughout the country to help families visiting Costa Rica plan their perfect Costa Rica vacation with kids. The owners are parents with young kids, so they completely understand all the logistics that go into planning a trip to Costa Rica with kids.
Il Viaggio Travel helped us arrange transport around Costa Rica, from San Jose to Manuel Antonio, and then from Manuel Antonio to La Fortuna. They also helped organize one of our activities in Manuel Antonio, a canopy zip-lining tour. Stephanie, one of the owners, is so easy to work with, and is a wealth of knowledge about Costa Rica. She’s been in the tourism industry here in Costa Rica for years!
One of the other unique things about Il Viaggio Tours is that they’re the only company in Costa Rica that organizes accessible tours – essentially tours for families with wheelchairs, disabilities, and even strollers. I love that they’re making Costa Rica family tours something that’s truly accessible for all types of families!
Our tips for enjoying Costa Rica with kids
It’s been fun visiting Costa Rica with kids. Costa Rica’s motto, pura vida, is something that the locals live by every day. Literally, it translates to “pure life,” but I feel like it’s more a philosophy of enjoying life to the fullest.
For families coming to Costa Rica, experiencing the pura vida life is a great way to reconnect. To fully enjoy your Costa Rica vacation with kids, here are ten of my best tips.
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1. Expect to pay American prices
After living in Mexico for four months, I have to admit that I experienced some sticker shock coming here to Costa Rica. Travel magazines tout how inexpensive Costa Rica is, but the increase in tourism has really led to a jump in prices for things like hotels, food, and transport.
If you’re coming to Costa Rica with kids, expect to pay similar prices to what you would pay in the United States. Costa Rica is no longer cheap. Plan your travel budget accordingly.
2. Don’t get money at the airport
In the airport in San Jose, there are money changers right at the baggage claim area. You can certainly exchange a few dollars or euros there, just enough to get you to the hotel or buy a meal. But don’t exchange more than that as the exchange rates are horrendous! You’re better off going to a cajero automatic, an ATM, when you’re in the city and withdrawing cash.
3. Spend some time in San Jose
Most Costa Rica family tours will skip San Jose and go directly to places of interest to visitors: Manuel Antonio, Arenal Volcano, or Monteverde. But in my opinion, you’re missing out on exploring a cool city if you do that!
If you’re flying in and out of San Jose, considering spending a few days at the beginning or end of your trip to explore San Jose. It’s a pretty unique and fun city to visit. The Essential Costa Rica guide book from Fodor’s has some suggestions of things to do in San Jose. We especially like visiting the Museo de los Niños, which is a must for a 10 day Costa Rica itinerary.
4. Look for budget-friendly hotels
We are all about budget travel, so we’re always trying to find ways to minimize our spending. Even though prices in Costa Rica may be high, there are still some budget options available in terms of accommodations.
While we were in San Jose, we thought it would be fun to stay in the same bed and breakfast that we stayed at for our honeymoon, Casa 69. It was a budget option for us back then, and fortunately it’s still a good budget option today. Even in tourist-filled places like Manuel Antonio, you can still find a few budget-friendly hotels, close to the beach and national park. We ended up staying at Waterfront Hotel Verde Mar, which had direct access to the beach!
5. Eat at the sodas during your stay in Costa Rica with kids
One way we try and save money during our Costa Rica vacation with kids is to eat at the local eateries, called sodas. These places serve typically Costa Rican dishes like soups, ceviche, and rice with meat. We like ordering casados, which consists of any type of meat with rice, along with beans, plantains, salad, and some kind of vegetable side dish. The cost of this dish tends to be between 2,500 to 4,000 colones ($4-$7), depending on what city you’re in.
6. Consider renting a car
Buses in Costa Rica are really cheap. According to the tourism board, the public bus rates between cities tends to be around $1 for every 25-30 kms. This can be a great option for a family visiting Costa Rica with kids. However, travel times on the buses can be long. And in some cases, there are no buses that serve the destinations you want to travel to.
The next best option is the Interbus, which are public shuttles that service popular tourist destinations. However, the rates can be $45-$65 for adults, and $22.50-$32.50 for kids.
If you’re planning on traveling to multiple cities during your Costa Rica vacation with kids, you might want to consider renting a car instead. Car rental rates range between $50-$90 per day, inclusive of basic insurance. Rentals of a week or more tend to yield the lower rates. Renting a car can give you the flexibility of traveling around Costa Rica at your own pace, and might actually be cheaper than taking the shuttles.
7. Hire a guide
Ten years ago, when we were visiting Manuel Antonio National Park along the southern Pacific Coast, we decided not to hire a guide. Instead, we walked through the park on our own and tried to spot animals during our hike. This time around, we decided to hire a guide through a company called Efrain’s Nature Tour. And we’re so glad that we did.
During our three hour hike in Manuel Antonio National Park, we saw over 20 animals! The hike really inspired our kids to keep exploring the world. If you’re doing some Costa Rica family tours, there may already be a guide included in your tour.
8. Don’t pack in too many activities in one day
One thing we’ve learned from traveling with kids is to take it slow! This tip is no different when you’re doing a Costa Rica vacation with kids. There are so many activities to choose from in Costa Rica. You can have your pick of zip lining, hiking, horseback riding, rafting, swimming, farm tours, or a combination of all them! If you’re planning on visiting Costa Rica with kids, try and refrain from packing in too many activities into one day. Instead, try and just choose one activity per day, and spend the rest of the day enjoying the pura vida lifestyle!
9. Respect the rules
Tourism is Costa Rica’s main industry. As such, the Costa Rican government knows that if they want to maintain that industry, they need to invest in rules and regulations to protect the natural resources and environment. Many of the rules that exist in the national parks or outdoor locations are in place to help protect tourists and to protect the environment. If you’re planning to visit Costa Rica, respect the rules that are in place.
10. Give the animals their space
On a similar note, if you’re planning to do some wildlife watching during your visit to Costa Rica with kids, be sure to give the animals their space. If you feed the animals, they may end up becoming aggressive towards you, as they expect you to give them food. And sometimes, prolonged contact and exposure to humans can change some animals’ natural behaviors. This can have unintended consequences to the ecosystem of Costa Rica. While you’re certainly welcome to take pictures of the animals that you see during your visit to Costa Rica, it’s best to keep a safe distance and give them their space.
Want to learn more about how to travel responsibly as a family? Read this post.
Making memories in Costa Rica with kids
In our short time here in Costa Rica, we’ve made some amazing family memories together. We loved hiking in Manuel Antonio National Park and seeing all the natural wildlife. And we enjoyed challenging ourselves on the canopy tour near Manuel Antonio, and zip-lining through the trees.
Whatever you end up doing in Costa Rica, I’m sure that you’ll have a great time. And with these tips, you’ll certainly be able to make your own family memories of Costa Rica.
Have you visited Costa Rica with kids? Share your memories of taking a Costa Rica vacation with kids in the comments.
Is Costa Rica part of a bigger family travel adventure for you? Use my ebook, Hey Kids, Let’s Go Travel! as a resource for tools, advice, and action steps for planning your trip.
Note: This is a sponsored post. I received a hosted stay of one night for my family and me courtesy of Il Viaggio Travel. I also received a guided tour of Manuel Antonio National Park with Efrain’s Nature Tours courtesy of CNN. However, the opinions expressed in this blog post are completely my own.
Need help thinking through how to budget for a family trip? My Travel Budget Worksheet is just the tool you need! Click here to receive your free copy by signing up for my newsletter.Want to connect with me on social media? Find me on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter. And for those of you who are dedicated to traveling more responsibly, sustainably, and ethically, join over 200 like-minded families on my Facebook group, Responsible Family Travel.
How wonderful that you got to visit Cosa Rica with your children. Your write-up and photographs are inspiring. Thank you. – A great resource for people traveling with children.
Aw, thank you! I’m glad it was helpful for you!
We were in Costa Rica two years ago with our 5 year old and had a blast. It was more of a tranquil vacation though as opposed to adventurous. We would love to go back. I totally agree with your tip to hire a guide. We did that in Asia and was worth every penny! You get so much more on your trip learning from a local.
That’s great! What was your favorite part about Costa Rica?
You are so right – Costa Rica is a fantastic place for kids: There is so much to see and to do – and I love how they respect the environment.
Yes, we agree. Costa Rica has so many things to do for families!
We haven’t been to Costa Rica but a trip there is coming up (although at our 70s we no longer have to go with kids). Thanks for the tips though. They still apply.
That sounds fun. Where do you plan to go in Costa Rica?
I really admire parents who travel with their children. Such a wonderful education for them. Costa Rica looks amazing btw and thank you for all your tips for travelling families.
Thanks! We love traveling with our kids!
I have only been to Costa Rica with friends, but it looks like an easy travel spot with kids too! We did skip San José, but now wish we would have spent at least one night there. Next time!
There’s always your next visit! 😉 San Jose has some pretty cool museums there, plus we liked visiting the mercado.
Some wonderful tips you have given. I really liked #9 and #10. Although they look very simple tips from outside, they are equal important for responsible tourism
Thanks! I ‘m glad you liked the tips.
Well, according to you, Costa Rica looks like an outstanding place for kids. They can get to know how to take care of environment.
Thanks! Costa Rica is truly an amazing place to visit.
I just love Costa Rica and lived there for 4 months a few years back. What great tips you have given for visitors coming to this beautiful country. I love your tips about the wildlife. Yes, it is all there in the jungle but difficult to spot (guides are a big help!) and giving them their space is so important. It still amazes me when humans move right close up to wild animals. Did you get to the Caribbean side?
I didn’t get a chance to visit the Caribbean side, unfortunately. I heard it’s great to visit too! We’ll have to save it for next time.
Costa Rica is amazing with kids and a perfect family vacation spot. Good you tipped us that not to exchange at airport and also hire a guide. I would prefer renting a car as guided by you.
Thanks! We had a fun time visiting there with our family.
I love the different things you can do in Costa Rica, you’ve outlined them so well here. I’m not usually one to book guides, but in a place so huge and the jungle so massive, I might have to on my next visit!
Costa Rica definitely has a lot going for it in terms of activities!
I had this amazing opportunity last year to visit Costa Rica for a short study course which I could not attend for some reason. It looks so amazing even for the adults. Hopefully I can make it this year 🙂
I hope you get to visit Costa Rica some day.
You have so many great tips!
Thank you so much!
Great suggestions! I hope you will pop over to neighboring Boquete, Panama sometime and bring the kids. I live there part-time and its similar in everything (Food, climate, terrain), but we have double rainbows almost daily for two straight months. 😉 You are right about the prices. When we got to Panama 6 years ago, it was so much cheaper than the US but now it is about even with South Florida. Sad that things have gotten so expensive. Nice suggestions. I love that you mentioned not cramming too much into the day. Places like that are full of surprises that may end up being more fun than the original intentions anyway. 😉
Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to visit Panama! That’s going to have to be on our list for next time.
Great tips here, especially about not getting money at the airport. I’d love to eat at sodas! This makes me hungry now. Also, pura vida is definitely something I can live by.
Yes, we love the pura vida mentality in Costa Rica!