At Ciao Bambino, we are constantly vetting new travel partners, properties and destinations. But we also like to revisit our tried-and-true favorites to see what’s new and share the latest recommendations for both our readers and our agency clients. I just returned from a weeklong trip to Costa Rica with a new CB! travel partner, and I’m happy to report that our top Costa Rica itinerary with kids is still a winner.
Where to Go and What to Do in Costa Rica with Kids
This little country is a family travel playground. There’s something for all ages, from spying a lazy sloth to adrenaline-pumping whitewater rafting rides.
Costa Rica is also a fantastic nature experience for families. If you’re like me and can’t see a camouflaged iguana right under your feet or spot a sleeping sloth in the trees, having a naturalist guide is a real advantage.
We flew into San Jose International Airport and took a 3-hour drive to the Arenal Volcano area. I highly recommend arranging a transfer rather than renting a car — though beautiful, the roads are winding and go through mountainous terrain, and not being behind the wheel allowed us to relax and enjoy the scenery. Our driver pointed out sights like yucca and guava trees that we would have missed had we chosen to drive ourselves.
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Shortly after arriving, it was clear why Nayara Hotel Spa & Gardens is consistently rated the No. 1 resort in Costa Rica. The property does a fantastic job of blending seamlessly with the tropical surroundings so that guests can experience nature without sacrificing quality and comfort. Friendly staff cater to guests’ every whim. A highlight for my daughter was the golf cart rides — we would call for a golf cart, and almost before we hung up the phone, they were at our door.
Our CB! travel advisors always recommend starting a family trip with a crowd-pleaser activity, and ziplining over the rainforest canopy definitely fits the bill. However, if heights are not your thing, the hanging bridges are a less intense option that still allows you to view the rain forest from above. We decided to try both with Sky Adventures and they did not disappoint. The guides and staff are top-notch, ensuring everyone has fun and stays safe.
A visit to one of the many natural hot springs near Arenal is a must. Other choices include a guided hike on the volcano, horseback riding to the La Fortuna waterfall and canyoning (for kids 11 and up). All this fun is hard work, so you’ll want a day to relax by the pool or enjoy a treatment at the Spa at Nayara. I indulged in a volcanic mud treatment in an open pavilion perched above the rainforest — highly recommended!
After Arenal, we took a short flight on Nature Air to Quepos Airstrip in the Manuel Antonio area and checked in at The Preserve at Los Altos. Families who are looking for spacious, modern accommodations will love this resort, which offers beautifully appointed one- to three-bedroom condos with fully equipped kitchens and large balconies. Its location is perfect, walking distance from many restaurants, shops and a small grocery store. Emilo’s Cafe has the best coffee and amazing views of the Pacific coastline — we were regulars here during our stay.
A guided hike in Manuel Antonio National Park is a must. We were lucky to see all three types of indigenous monkeys, and a group of sloths gave us quite the show. Two male sloths were fighting for the attention of a female, but she was only interested in her baby — it was like a scene from Animal Planet. My 12-year-old thought it was so cool to see live, and it made for a great video to share with her friends.
The beach inside the national park is known as one of the most beautiful in the world. (Tip: Continue past the first beach you come to after entering the park, where all the crowds are, and you’ll find a nearly deserted gem.) Other popular activities in the area include kayaking in the mangroves, catamaran rides to explore the coast from the sea or visiting a coffee plantation.
This is a Costa Rican phrase that translates to “pure life” or “life is good.” The thumbs-up is the universal sign for pura vida. We quickly realized why locals say it so often: Costa Rica has an abundance of natural beauty with some of the nicest people ever. We travel a lot, and what stood out to us is how welcoming and friendly everyone was. The locals love their country and are happy to share it with the tourists, which is not always the case. I hope this never changes, as it is what makes Costa Rica so special.
Don’t Go It Alone
Although Costa Rica continues to gain popularity and has a robust tourism infrastructure, we still highly recommend having a trusted advisor help. Working with one of our knowledgeable travel partners who can handle the logistics and put together a kid-friendly itinerary, with a balance of organized activities, freedom to explore and downtime, will ensure a stress-free and fantastic trip for everyone.
There are several different ways to do Costa Rica with kids. Ready to plan a trip? Call us!
Editor’s Note: Sandy received a media rate to explore and share what families can see and do in Costa Rica. As always, our opinions are our own on Ciao Bambino. Photos by Sandy Pappas.