What to do in Costa Rica with Kids
If happy is the way you like your family holidays, then Costa Rica—an annual inclusion in lists of the world’s happiest countries— might be the perfect place for the next one. But it’s not just smiles your kids will be wearing: They’ll need to pack their swimsuits, lace up their hiking boots, and dust off their binoculars. Adventures aplenty await!
With coastlines on both the Caribbean and the Pacific as well as a tropical treasure trove of cloud forests, live volcanoes, and diverse wildlife, Costa Rica has something to interest everyone. There are even a bevy of activities that will have enough experiential oomph to persuade a teenager’s eyes, at least momentarily, away from the smartphone.
Here’s our guide on what to do in Costa Rica with Kids…
Help Release Baby Sea Turtles
Sea turtles nest on both coasts of Costa Rica, which means that there’s almost always a good chance of viewing the endangered species.
In the first half of the year on the Caribbean side, at Tortuguero National Park, it’s often possible to find Hawksbills and Leatherback Sea Turtles nesting.
From August to November, Olive Ridley Sea Turtles come to the Pacific coast in their famed arribada, in which literally thousands of animals arrive to nest. Ostinal Beach is home to the largest arribada in the world. Time your trip well, and it’s even possible to help release baby turtles back into the wild!
Learn to Ride the Waves
Costa Rica also has plenty of surf breaks on both the Atlantic and Pacific sides. So taking surfing lessons is a favorite pastime for many visitors.
From less crowded beaches like those in jungle-lined Nosara to more popular spots like Tamarindo, the Pacific coastline is dense with sweet surf breaks and equally so with surf schools to help you learn how to ride them. On the eastern shore, Puerto Viejo is the place to be.
In other words, wherever your Costa Rica itinerary takes you, riding the waves— even for complete beginners— can add to the adventure.
Zip Line Through the Cloud Forest
Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is one of Costa Rica’s many nature reserves, and it’s particularly well known for its amazing canopy tours.
A mixture of high-hanging suspension bridges and zip lines that’ll send you whizzing through and above the treetops equates to a thrilling experience for everyone in the family
And that’s not even taking into account its unique ecosystem, with a special collection of orchids, lichens, and bromeliads you won’t find anywhere else. It is also home to over 100 species of mammals and 400 different types of birds!
Hike Through Jungles to Spot Wildlife
Specifically noted for its biodiversity, Costa Rica is chock full of national parks and has a web of wonderful walking trails.
Whether it’s jungles, volcanoes, or sandy coastlines that interest you (or all of the above), hikes are on tap in this country, and the wildlife is crawling everywhere.
Among the amazing Cost Rican Wildlife your family is likely to spot are Poison Dart Frogs, Capuchin and Howler Monkeys, 3-toed Sloths, and Toucans, all of which are seen regularly.
Soak in Volcanic Hot Springs
While bathing might not seem like a typical family activity, this is bathing of a different sort.
At the foot of the active Arenal Volcano, there are collections of natural pools that are heated by geothermal energy. It’s a great place for you and your family to rejuvenate yourselves after the last adventure and before the next one.
Most of the hot springs are beautifully landscaped, often with lush fauna, waterfalls, slides and swim-up bars (banana smoothies also available). Traditional water parks may seem like a sham after visiting this place, which has a much more natural feel.
Raft Atop Croc-Infested Rapids
Okay, hyperbole aside, the truth is that white-water rafting and crocodiles never really cross paths.
But it is possible to white-water raft, as well as cruise through crocodile habitats, while in Costa Rica. There are loads of rafting options in the country, but the Corobicí River is well-suited for all ages and rafting abilities. There’s also plenty of wildlife—monkeys, sloths, iguanas and more—that can be seen right along the shores.
Rio Tarcoles is the top destination for spotting a LOT of crocodiles. And while rafting there isn’t possible for obvious reasons, there are boat tours offered for seeing the huge reptiles up close.
Go Whale-Watching on the Pacific
It’s vacation, so it’s time to put away those copies of Moby Dick and start looking out for whales for real. Bahia Ballena Marine Reserve is home to a gaggle of sea mammals, including Humpback Whales and several species of Dolphins.
The waters of Costa Rica are home to Humpbacks for more months per year than any other place. The best times to visit are during their seasonal migrations, which last from August to October and then from December to April. Daily snorkeling tours are available, and a great way to spot the whales.
Beyond all these amazing destinations (no wonder everyone’s so happy!), there are loads more educational and enlightening experiences for kids and adults alike. Costa Rica is still home to indigenous tribes, has some of the best environmental conservation projects in the world, and offers the opportunity to study Spanish in an immersive setting.
It’s so safe there that the country doesn’t even bother having a military. And while it’s a long way from your favorite Starbucks, Costa Rica doesn’t lack any of the amenities necessary to keep families entertained and… well, happy. –Jonathon Engels
BIO: Jonathon Engels is a traveler, writer & teacher who’s been living abroad as an expat since 2005. He’s a regular contributor to Green Global Travel as well as Permaculture News, which focus on helping to keep the world green and clean. He’s also the founder of The NGO List, a compilation of grassroots NGOs seeking international volunteers. His work can also be found at Jonathon Engels: A Life Abroad and his personal blog.