Costa Rica Off the Beaten Path: Our Best Kept Secrets

A sea turtle in Tortuguero National Park. Photo from
A sea turtle in Tortuguero National Park. Photo from

One of Ciao Bambino’s most requested family travel destinations, Costa Rica shows no signs of dipping in popularity — if anything, it’s still gaining steam. This hotspot in Central America attracts ecologically minded families who crave adventure and natural beauty in safe surroundings with creature comforts. While the classic week-long itinerary pairs Arenal Volcano and Manuel Antonio National Park, if you have more time, it’s worth venturing farther afield to some of the country’s lesser-known regions. To see more of Costa Rica off the beaten path, our valued travel partner shared a few family-friendly favorites that deserve to be on your radar.

Where to Go in Costa Rica
A sea turtle in Tortuguero National Park. Photo from

Best Places in Costa Rica Off the Beaten Path


Tucked in a corner of northern Costa Rica and accessible only by domestic flight, the rustic and removed Tortuguero area is an underrated gem. Despite its position on the Caribbean coast, Tortuguero isn’t a beach-lounging destination — it’s a place to get off the grid for two or three days and to see wildlife that’s unique to this part of the country. Take a private boat tour through the canals to spot brilliantly colored macaws and toucans, monkeys, sloths, iguanas and more. Turtle hatching season, roughly October and November, is a particular highlight for lovers of sea turtles.

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Bajos del Toro

If mountains are more your speed than the coast, consider Bajos del Toro, a Costa Rican gem nestled between the volcanoes and valleys in the heart of the country. This area pairs nicely with the typical visit to Arenal and La Fortuna, reachable by a 2-hour ground transfer; it’s known for hiking trails, birding, cloud forests and waterfalls, especially the breathtaking Cataratas del Toro. Splurge on a stay at El Silencio, a luxe Relais & Chateaux lodge that sits amid a private nature reserve (minimum age is 8).

Best Places in Costa Rica
Las Catalinas. Photo by Las Catalinas

Las Catalinas

Although it’s part of the relatively touristed Guanacaste province, Las Catalinas —a purpose-developed beach town within a vast forest preserve — feels worlds apart and remains one of our favorite destinations in Costa Rica. For families who want to incorporate beach time into a Costa Rica itinerary, this fits the bill; it’s less busy than ultrapopular Manuel Antonio and has the best vacation rentals in the country. The town’s tiny scale and car-free cobbled streets allow older kids a measure of freedom; the calm surf is ideal for younger ones. As with Bajos del Toro, Las Catalinas is easily accessible by road.

Osa Peninsula

Few Costa Rica travelers make it to the remote and rugged Osa Peninsula, but for those who do, the payoff is dazzling: This is ecotourism at its most unspoiled and authentic. It is the definition of why families crave off the beaten path destinations. Osa’s high point is the majestic Corcovado National Park, a tangle of old-growth rainforests that teem with exotic wildlife. Pacific coast beaches aren’t the draw here, but surfing and whale watching can be spectacular. We highly recommend Lapa Rios Ecolodge (minimum age of 6), an upscale retreat where guests are immersed in the wilderness with staff naturalists on hand to lead excursions and activities. Getting to Osa requires a domestic flight from San Jose.

Relevant Links:

Browse all family-friendly accommodations and activities in Costa Rica on Ciao Bambino

Costa Rica with kids: Our favorite family-friendly adventures

A Costa Rica family tour: Arenal to Tortuguero

A family-friendly vacation at one of Costa Rica’s top ecolodges

Best itinerary for a Costa Rica family vacation

Best places to stay in Costa Rica with kids

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