It’s 2020 and so many people are planning their Costa Rica vacations! Since travel is one of my favorite topics, I thought I’d round up a few of my favorite places in Switzerland of Central America. Because you need more than just 10 Awesome Reasons To Visit Costa Rica This Year
After Lonely Planet named Costa Rica one of the Top 20 Places to Visit in 2020 in the world, and San Jose (the capital city) made Fodor’s list of best places to visit in Central America and the Caribbean in 2020- well, it’s going to be the place to be this year.
In 2019 I moved from the United States to CR where I spent 9 months living in the San Ramon area with my husband and kids. We went practically everywhere there was to go! I made it a point to skip the major tourist attractions and find some off the beaten path gems.
I decided to compile this helpful list of relatively unknown places we loved best! This Costa Rica travel list includes places that are great for everyone- but especially those visiting Costa Rica with kids. I’ve broken down this post into a few different sections: Beach Destinations, Rainforest Hikes, Attractions, Places to Stay and Places To Eat.
As always- if you want to cut the stress and have me prepare a personalized Costa Rica trip plan for your group, I’ll do it!
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And that’s all folks! Please do let me know where you plan to travel, what you plan to do, and if you have any questions. And- don’t’ forget to pin this post for later too!
2020 Costa Rica Travel- Best Beach Destinations
For me, the perfect Costa Rica beach destination is one where the beach is pristine, the waves are fairly calm, and there aren't a ton of people. (Read- Manuel Antonio National Park, while beautiful, is not going to be on this list.)
We tend to stick to the Pacific coasts of Costa Rica simply because the dry season seems to last a lot longer. These beaches are my current favorites:
Related post: 20 Marvelous Beaches on Costa Rica's Pacific Coast -Top Picks
This tiny beach is just a few miles north of Jaco Beach- and a completely different vibe. Part of the Punta Leona all-inclusive resort complex, non-guests of the hotel can enjoy quiet time on the beach thanks to Costa Rica's public access law for all beaches. Expect to find calm waves, gorgeous ocean views and perfectly warm turquoise water.
This beach is located on the Papagayo Peninsula- near the trio of luxury hotels Andaz Papagayo, The Four Seasons and Planet Hollywood. It's also quite close to Playa del Coco, but you won't find this destination in any vacation package.
Again, thanks to the public access laws in Costa Rica, The Four Seasons must provide public access to this pristine beach. Pack everything you need for the day as you have to bus in, but there are lovely bathrooms and showers on site. Plan to see Capuchin monkeys, iguanas, white-nosed coatis and more.
Not far from Samara Beach or the Liberia airport, this beach is a total hidden gem. This beach is completely off the beaten path, yet houses a vibrant community of hotels and restaurants. You'll drive in on dirt roads, and there's a good chance you'll never see another person along this long beach- even at high season.
There's a sea turtle conservation center that runs nightly tours, and some really good restaurants (mentioned below.) The grocery store somehow imports incredibly Italian meats and cheese I haven't seen anywhere else- odd but delicious.
Another "beach" near Jaco, this beach is home to some of the most amazing cliffs in all of Costa Rica. Peñon means cliff in Spanish, and this beach is an amazing place to visit at sunset.
Most of the sources I have read about the beach say not to bathe in the water- it is pretty near the famed "crocodile bridge" and we didn't take any chances.
You can, however, pull up to the tops of the cliffs about 3 pm and set up your barbecue, chairs, pull out your beer cooler and grab a perfect soundtrack. The sunset over the ocean is epic at any time of year. This spot is popular with the local Costa Ricans right now, so weekdays are best. Perfect day trip from Jacó or San Jose.
Costa Rica Vacations- Top Hikes
Hiking through the cloud forests of Costa Rica might be one of my all-time favorite activities- it's neck and neck with eating Costa Rican food. With a perfect climate, amazing opportunities to spot wildlife, and some of the best guides around, all you really need are some great walking shoes to get you started!
This plunging waterfall into the deep blue waters of the Tenorio Volcano is the stuff of Costa Rican legend. Located just under 90 minutes from both the Liberia Airport and La Fortuna, The Blue River National Park is an incredible place to visit.
I had visited years ago and spent time hiking the falls and in the hot springs- and the hike was downright dangerous. However, we took the kids there this past summer and the Costa Rican government had done some incredible work to improve the trails around the waterfall- and it's an incredible hike for all ages. Don't miss it!
Another set of waterfalls plunging into cold pools of water is located just an hour from San José- near the artesian town of Sarchi. With over seven different waterfalls and hiking locations to choose from, Bajos del Toro is a super undiscovered part of Costa Rica that you'll love.
There are several quaint Air Bnbs in the area, and it's a superb day trip from San Jose, or anywhere in the Central Valley. Many of the spots you may choose to visit also have sodas, or local restaurants. Plan to spend a half-day here on your way to La Fortuna, or several days chasing waterfalls.
This is the perfect first hike for families with littles, and a great hike for anyone wanting to stretch their legs on the long trip between Liberia and Monteverde or La Fortuna.
Located just about an hour south of Liberia, this waterfall is as refreshing on a hot summer day as it is gorgeous. A short 5-minute walk from the trailhead leads you to the incredible waterfall. Pack a bathing suit and a picnic for a perfect stop in your rental car!
Related post: Should I Take a Stroller to Costa Rica?
Costa Rica With Kids (or Without!) Best Attractions
Everyone knows the basics about the Costa Rican travel experience- zip line, beach, museum, bird watching, maybe ride a horse or two. The three attractions listed below are super kid-friendly, and not to be recommended by any travel agency. They are all tested by our family- and excellent additions to any trip.
A trip to Costa Rica is just not complete without milking a cow! Ok- maybe not, but the Dairy Farm called Corso is one of my favorite discoveries in all of Costa Rica.
Head over to Corso on your way to or from the Poas Volcano, or just take a quick day trip from San Jose. You can expect to milk a cow, take a short guided hike through the lush rainforest, ride in a huge tractor, pick fresh strawberries, and see how cheese is made.
When you are done the kids can play on the huge playground while adults drink fresh strawberry beer. Eat farm to table food at the restaurant and everyone finishes with homemade ice cream. What could be better than that?
Just a few minutes down the road from Corso Lecheria are La Paz Waterfall Gardens- one of our most memorable experiences as a family.
Plan to take photos with toucans, see butterflies hatch, pet cows, and hike multiple waterfalls. Did I mention the orchid garden or the epic buffet lunch? You can stay on property or nearby- this is a great day trip from San Jose or stop on the way from the Alajuela airport to La Fortuna or Monteverde.
There are several rescue centers for wildlife in Costa Rica- unfortunately, many people seem to want to make animals pets that aren't supposed to be.
Las Pumas is a wildlife reserve located on the main highway to Liberia, and on the turnoff to Biajuga and Rio Celeste area. It is funded in part by a grant fro the University of Costa Rica, and houses lots of different feline species from around the country.
The entrance fee is nominal and the staff is knowledgable and friendly. My girls adored seeing the big cats- none of whom can return to the wild after growing up in captivity. Avoid visiting during the heat of the day, as felines are nocturnal and sleeping in the heat.
Yeah- I didn't know it either until recently. There is a bioluminescent bay in Costa Rica! Heading to the Paquera area is an easy overnight from the Central Valley or Guanacaste, and you can kayak at night and see the glowing bioluminescence just offshore.
Stay the night on property or book just the tour- it's an easy trip fro Santa Teresa, Montezuma, Puntarenas and the Playa QueseraçCurú area.
Places To Stay
There are so many lodging options in Costa Rica, and I will round up favorites over the next few months. In the meantime, I wanted to use this post to highlight the most pura vida accommodations that I found while living in Costa Rica.
Near the Tenorio Volcano and Rio Celeste is the sleepy little town of Bijagua, which houses an absolute hidden gem- Casitas Tenorio. Made up of several small houses nestled in pristine rainforest. You'll stay in your own private house, but enjoy phenomenal birdwatching at breakfast, which is included.
Owners Pippa and Donald will treat you like family- Casitas Tenorio is a home away from home that you cannot miss.
Chayote Lodge is just one hour away from the Juan Santamaria International Airport, but it feels like it's in a whole other world. Located outside Naranjo, this lodge celebrates Costa Rican coffee culture in the heart of coffee country.
Each "room" is modeled after the rectangular coffee receivers used to collect coffee beans in rural Costa Rica. The rooms look out over the entire Central Valley, and offer phenomenal sunset views. There is a restaurant/bar on site as well that has decent food- but the views are spectacular.
A German husband and wife- he a cattle rancher and she a professionally trained chef- have built just two tiny beach houses on the north end of Junquillal Beach.
Each house is equipped with internet and a kitchenette, plus access to a gorgeous plunge pool. Costa Rican cooking classes are available- but if you prefer to just unplug and enjoy the wild beach- you can do that too. We adored our reasonably priced 3-night stay here- but there isn't airconditioning so it can get very hot in the summer. All the more reason to be at the beach!
Places To Eat- Costa Rica Foodie
I love Costa Rican food so much. Whether traditional Costa Rican dishes or delicious fusion food, I jump at literally every opportunity to eat out in Costa Rica. Here are three new places I found in 2020 that I LOVE.
It's no secret that I LOVE La Fortuna- and have eaten my way through the town more times than I can count. On our very last trip to La Fortuna before we headed back to the States, we took our kids ziplining. The guide recommended the new "soda" La Hormiga as the cheapest and most delicious place to eat in La Fortuna. He was not wrong.
I am totally biased on this one- but Pizza Loca has the most incredible pizza in all of Costa Rica. Owned by Ivania Quesada- a hardworking mom and entrepreneur (and personal friend) Pizza Loca is located just outside of San Ramon in the area of La Paz.
Known for its tight-knit community, phenomenal bird watching and one of the last fully working sugar cane factories in the country, spend a day hiking La Paz before heading over to Pizza Loca to enjoy soaring sunsets, complimentary sangria and the best pizza in the world.
When we stayed at Casas Pelicano we cooked our breakfast and lunch each day, but I am a sucker for eating out during the sunset (especially when it includes epic cocktails.) We stumbled upon the Junquialla Eco Lodge, owned by a Canadian family who is running the business while raising young children in Costa Rica. #goals
Each night at sunset there is live music, epic beach views and a great happy hour crowd enjoying the drink specials. The kitchen churns out amazing Costa Rican food, great kid's meals that are super reasonably priced, and a daily special. The three nights we went were all amazing- but I loved chicken wing night the best because they had Thai sauce- just like home.
A great place to stay as well- but definitely much busier than Casa Pelicano.