The first step to planning your family trip to Costa Rica is to figure out where you are going. Once that happens, the real fun begins- figuring out the activities you want to do while you are on the ground. Whether you are on the ground for 7 days or a month, you’ll want to do at least a few of the activities on this list. Here, I’ve curated the best activities for families of all shapes and sizes.
Costa Rica is an agricultural country, and agriculture means horses. Horses are used often for festivals and celebrations, but riding a horse through the rainforest or on the beach is thrilling.
We love to horseback ride through the coffee farms in the Central Valley, or canter along Jaco Beach up to the lookout over the ocean and Playa Hermosa.
Make sure to use horses that are well-taken care of and have a reputable local guide take you on your tour.
A walk across the hanging bridges of the dense cloud forests of Costa Rica is undoubtedly one of the best things to do on a family vacation in Costa Rica. Trek across walkways suspended more than 150 feet above the ground where you will experience the gorgeous rainforest up close (sometimes above the clouds).
If you’re lucky, you’ll see howler monkeys, but there are also plenty of birds and flying beetles to keep the kids enthralled. Be sure to pack some warm clothes; the little ones, especially, may need a jacket while up there.
Our favorite hanging bridges are Arenal Mistico near La Fortuna.
If you have watersports lovers in the family, you certainly don’t want to leave Costa Rica without checking off surfing. From as far north as Tamarindo Beach to Dominical in the south, you’ll find nice baby waves for kids who want to learn to surf. Don’t worry- if you are an expert surfer there are plenty of great big waves at Playa Grande and Playa Hermosa on the Pacific Coast, or in Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean Coast.
Costa Rica is renowned for magical waterfalls that would make for a memorable family excursion, so take a tour and explore as many as you can in a single day! La Paz Waterfall Gardens in Alajuela, Bajos del Toro near Sarchi and La Leona waterfall near Liberia are some of my favorites, but a skilled guide can help you find other hidden gems that you can have all to yourselves.
Bring a swimsuit because after admiring the gorgeous water descend voluminously to the base, you and the cubs will be ready to take a plunge into the calm pool at the bottom. Also, you’ll be happy to know that most of the falls are situated in national parks, meaning, you’ll have a chance to see some wildlife while you’re there too.
Wildlife watching is another fun activity that will make your Costa Rica family vacation unforgettable, and where better to go than a national park? Depending on where you go, you’ll discover an abundance of charming animals like spider monkeys, sloths, raccoons, iguanas, sea turtles, and exotic birds.
Moreover, many trails in national parks are kid-friendly and lead to scenic beaches and/or viewpoints. Go with a guide who will have a telescope so you can have a better view of animals hiding high in treetops, and definitely keep your peepers peeled for the playful monkeys hanging out in the lush trees near the beaches.
A coffee tour doesn’t sound like something kids would enjoy, right? Wrong! Go on one and you will realize that they are truly made for the whole family. The Café Britt Coffee Tour in the Barva Mountain region, for example, is one of the best options for families; it’s quite kid-friendly and delivers hands-on experience and terrific theater performances that even children enjoy. I love Hacienda Alasacia (Starbuck’s Farm) and the locally-owned Espiritu Santo coffee tour in Naranjo.
There are plenty of such tours in Central Valley where the majority of coffee factories are located. Book one and learn how some of the Ticos’ favorite coffee flavors are produced. Not only will you have a chance to visit the vast coffee plantations; you will even taste the processed coffee after the tour.
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A river float tour is one of the best ways to sneak up on incredible wildlife in its natural habitat. While there are many places to enjoy such an adventure, a favorite to make time for is the Penas Blancas River in La Fortuna. After delighting in the magnificent views of the Arenal Volcano, take a calm, smooth tour along the river where a friendly guide will steer you and point out ducks, iguanas, kingfishers, sloths, monkeys, crocodiles, and a host of other wildlife.
This is an amazing full-day trip for the whole family, just make sure everyone wears a hat and sunscreen, as sometimes it can be extremely sunny along the river. A safari float is a great option in place of white water rafting.
If your kiddos are adrenaline junkies, Aventuras del Sarapiquí near La Virgen offers a kid-friendly rafting experience. Children as young as 6 years old can be able to ride gentle Class I and II rapids with the appropriate safety gear provided by skilled instructors. It’s also one of the best places to go rafting for people who are a little scared at the start.
You’ll enjoy two hours of indescribable fun; even the younger kids can hit the water on a tube or safari float on calmer stretches of the river. What’s more, you will see amazing wildlife.
Many hotels and gardens in Costa Rica offer the chance to stroll through a butterfly garden, and if you can, it’s definitely worth a visit to one. Wander through beautiful structures that can house up to 100% of the butterfly species in Central America!
With experienced guides who keep you entertained throughout the tours, butterfly gardens can be great places for you and the kids to learn about the magnificent, delicate creatures and their marvelous life cycles. Watch them feed, rest, and fly about – it’s a place to truly absorb natural beauty.
While the most famous hot springs are located in La Fortuna de Arenal, there are tons of hot springs around the country. Visiting volcanic hot springs is a must in Costa Rica. You haven’t lived until you’ve experienced a hot soak under the stars in the tropical rainforest- bonus points if it rains!
Animal Rescue Centers
Visiting an animal rescue center such as Zoo Ave, La Paz Waterfall Gardens or Las Pumas can be a great way to see wildlife in a protected area. With younger children, it can often be hard to have the patience to look for animals in the wild, but seeing Costa Rican animals can be the highlight of any trip.
This is why sometimes the best option for wildlife viewing is at a rescue center. Here, you can see lots of species up close. Knowledgeable volunteers will often give lots of info about the animals and their origins.
Oftentimes there are restaurants on site too, so young children can have a snack or meal in between viewings. Visiting a sloth sanctuary is one of our favorite activities.
Canopy Tour/Zip Line
The best way to see the forest canopy is from above- and zipping through the trees on a canopy tour is one of the most exhilarating experiences you will have.
You’ll find reputable tour operators across the country, but if you are traveling with young kids you’ll want to check the age, height, and weight requirements.
Older kids will love the adrenaline rush- and if you can get a line with a Tarzan Swing they’ll be even more thrilled. We love Eco Glide in La Fortuna– be sure to check them out.
There are countless hikes across Costa Rica. Whether you hike down to La Fortuna Waterfall or take a guided tour through a national park, both the rainy season and the dry season offer great hiking opportunities as long as you have the right shoes. We love to use a local guide and find a hike that lets us spot as many plant and animal species as the lush rainforests will allow.
Many people don’t know there is a bioluminescent bay in Costa Rica but there is! In the province of Puntarenas, just a short ferry ride from to the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula you’ll find our favorite tour operator- Bahia Rica.
Once night falls you’ll hop into a kayak and paddle out into the bay to see glowing dinoflagellates. It’s the experience of a lifetime and I highly recommend you do it if you are in the area.
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