Family Itinerary for Costa Rica: Rainforest, Beach & Volcano

You’ve heard all about Costa Rica’s amazing wildlife and lush rainforest, and have booked your family’s flights to Costa Rica. You know you’re ready to create some amazing memories together but aren’t sure how best to spend your time.

In this post, we’ll give recommendations for a 10-day family itinerary for Costa Rica. It takes you to an active volcano, lush rainforest, and ends with time at the beach. With two kids ourselves, we made sure to consider certain key factors for family travel, like drive times, so that your trip goes smoothly.

Family Itinerary for Costa Rica

Day 1: Arrive at San José International (SJO) Airport. Stay overnight in the San José area.

Your first destination will be about 2.5 hours from the airport. Since most flights don’t arrive into San Jose until early afternoon and it takes about one hour to get through the airport, we recommend staying overnight in the San Jose area. Unless you’re a very active family, usually this works best for people with kids. You can spend that first night recharging, then start fresh the next day.

The outskirts of San Jose have many good options for hotels set in scenic locations. These don’t have a typical airport-hotel feel so are a nice way to start your vacation. Hotel Buena Vista is in the mountains just outside the city. It has really nice views, an onsite restaurant, and a pool.

For more options, check out our post, Best Hotels Near SJO Airport.

Tip: This itinerary will work if you are flying into Liberia International Airport (LIR) as well. From LIR, your first destination also will be about 2.5-3 hours away.

Days 2-6: Head to La Fortuna for a volcano, nature, and plenty of adventure.


Your first stop will take you to La Fortuna, home of Costa Rica’s famous Arenal Volcano. This active volcano isn’t currently erupting, but still puffs steam occasionally and is an incredible sight to see.

Arenal Volcano View
The mighty Arenal Volcano

La Fortuna is perfect for families. It has a huge selection of accommodations, including vacation rentals and many family-friendly hotels with pools. See our La Fortuna Hotel Guide for specific recommendations.

We recommend spending four nights here because there is so much to do.

Transportation Tip: For families, a rental car is usually the best way to get around. You’ll have more flexibility to make stops along the way and can be on your own schedule. To get 10% off your rental car, free car seats, and a free second driver, check out our Rental Car Discount through Adobe Rent a Car.


Here are some of the many family-friendly activities you can do in La Fortuna/Arenal.

Nature Hikes – National Parks and Reserves

La Fortuna has several excellent nature hikes that the whole family will love.

One that we almost always recommend to first-time visitors is a volcano hike. You can really get a feel for the grandeur of the volcano on a hike of its old lava flows. Two options are Arenal Volcano National Park or the nearby Arenal 1968 Trail. Weather permitting, these trails will get you up-close views from the base of the cone-shaped giant.

Other short hikes that are especially good with young kids are the Peninsula Sector of Arenal Volcano National Park, the Bogarin Trail for seeing sloths, or EcoCentro Danaus.

EcoCentro Danaus has a short 600 meter (0.4 mile) trail. The walkway is well maintained so easy for little feet to maneuver. This spot is a good one with kids because it’s easy to see wildlife. Things that can be seen include sloths, lizards, toucans, poison dart frogs, and butterflies.  

EcoCentro Danaus, Family Itinerary for Costa Rica
Thick rainforest at EcoCentro Danaus

Hanging Bridges

Traipsing along suspension bridges high above the treetops is another must when in La Fortuna/Arenal. From this unique vantage point, you can really experience the rainforest.

There are a couple of different options for hanging bridges in this area. Mistico Hanging Bridges has a two-mile (3.2 km) loop with 16 bridges. It is easy to moderate in difficulty so great for families.

A more challenging hike is Sky Adventures. Their trail spends more time on the ground in primary rainforest (never been cut down). But they also have five long hanging bridges.


Swimming below a refreshing waterfall in the jungle is on most people’s list when visiting Costa Rica. Luckily, La Fortuna has one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the whole country.

La Fortuna Waterfall (Catarata La Fortuna) is a gorgeous cascade that drops 70 meters (230 feet) into a deep pool. It’s located right outside the downtown. You buy your tickets at a visitors’ center, then just need to walk down the 530 concrete steps through the tropical forest to reach the bottom.

Be sure to bring your swimsuit to enjoy the river and natural pool!

La Fortuna Waterfall - Costa Rica Family Itinerary
The gorgeous La Fortuna Waterfall

If you love waterfalls, there’s another stunner you won’t want to miss. A day trip away is the Rio Celeste. This waterfall has a bright blue color that is out of this world. For more information on visiting, read our post, The Enchanting Rio Celeste.

Zip Lining and Adventure Tours

Before heading to the coast, you will want to get in some adventure. Although the beach has some adventure activities, the experience is better overall in places like La Fortuna/Arenal.

In La Fortuna, you can go zip lining, whitewater rafting, river tubing, waterfall rappelling, and do ATV tours. All these activities, even waterfall rappelling, are family friendly. La Fortuna has several options for zip lining, some of which allow kids as young as two-years old.

Chocolate Tours

A chocolate tour is perfect for when you have a few hours of downtime but need something to keep the kids busy.

These teach you about how chocolate actually comes from the white seeds of a fruit. There are several tour options in La Fortuna. All of them will take you through the process from drying the cacao beans to roasting and grinding into scrumptious chocolate.

Chocolate Tour La Fortuna
A young cacao pod

Days 7-10: Head to the beaches of Guanacaste for swimming and relaxation.


After some busy days in La Fortuna, you will head west about 3.5 hours to Guanacaste Province for beach time and relaxation.

This region along the northern Pacific coast has some of Costa Rica’s most beautiful beaches. Not only that, but many have calm water and are good for swimming—perfect with kids.

The resort town of Flamingo and nearby community of Potrero are excellent home bases for families. You’ll find many choices for hotels, and importantly, vacation rental homes are plentiful as well.

Potrero is a laid back, quiet seaside town with many options for affordable vacation rentals. While small, it still has good restaurants and amenities.

Flamingo is a higher-end destination with mostly luxury condos and villas in the hills with ocean views. It is famous for its white-sand beach.

Ocean views in Playa Flamingo
The view from a hotel in Playa Flamingo

To learn more about these areas, read out separate posts, Potrero: A Home Base for Beaches in Guanacaste and Playa Flamingo: A Luxury Destination in Guanacaste.



From the Flamingo/Potrero area, you can visit an incredible 8+ beaches within a 15-minute drive. Many of these are undeveloped and pristine, like Playa Danta, Playa Dantita, Playa Prieta, and Playa Penca. Others have amenities. At places like Playa Conchal and Playa Flamingo, restaurants and beach chair rentals are just a short saunter away. 

Guanacaste Beach - Costa Rica Family Itinerary
The secluded Playa Dantita near Potrero

Other Activities

When you’ve had enough splashing in the waves, there’s snorkeling, scuba diving, stand-up paddleboard, kayaking, and catamaran tours. You can even rent small sailboats to explore the area’s quiet coves.

Although farther away, day trips can be a fun way to break up your beach time. Llanos de Cortez near Liberia is a gorgeous waterfall with a gentle pool for swimming.

Las Pumas Rescue Center is a wildlife rehabilitation center that will get the kids up close to rainforest animals and birds.

If you want to see another volcano, Rincon de la Vieja is about 1.5 hours away. The intense thermal energy that this volcano creates forms bubbling mud pots, powerful steam vents, and acidic crater lakes.

Finally, if you haven’t seen monkeys yet, a boat ride up the Tempisque River will almost guarantee a sighting. Read our post, Palo Verde National Park: A Wildlife Tour Through Guanacaste’s Wetlands for more details.

Boat Tour Palo Verde - Costa Rica Family Itinerary
A boat tour up the Tempisque River to see wildlife

Other Guanacaste Destinations

Guanacaste is a huge region with lots of diversity. If Flamingo and Potrero don’t sound like what you’re looking for, here are some more great choices. All are still within a reasonable drive to Liberia International Airport and would work well for the second part of your trip.


Tamarindo is a very popular, built-up beach town with a central area steps from the sand. This town has lots of restaurants and good shopping. The main beach is best for surfing, but the waves aren’t huge so you can still wade in the water. For more information, read our post, Tamarindo: Where Paradise Meets Convenience.

Playa Hermosa

A quieter beach town in northern Guanacaste. The main beach is a picturesque calm cove that is great for swimming. Playa Hermosa has many options for vacation rentals and condos. For more information, read our post, Playa Hermosa: Costa Rica’s Northern Beauty.

Playa Hermosa - Family Destination
Playa Hermosa (Guanacaste)


Located in the less developed southern part of Guanacaste, Samara is a smaller beach town with a relatively calm cove. Despite its modest size, the town has a nice centrally located downtown with beachside dining. For more information, read our post, Samara: Guanacaste’s Most Overlooked Beach Town.

Day 10: Fly back home.

From the Flamingo/Potrero area, Costa Rica’s Liberia Airport is only about one hour away. That means that if your flight departs in the late morning or afternoon, you can enjoy that last night at the beach.

Hopefully, this itinerary will have given your family a good sense of what Costa Rica is all about, and you’ll bring back some unforgettable memories. Even though we live here, our family still loves exploring Costa Rica’s many destinations and discovering new things about each place. 

Have a question about your family’s Costa Rica itinerary? Ask us below.

Looking for more information to plan your family’s trip to Costa Rica? Check out these posts:

Planning a Family Vacation to Costa Rica: Read this for more help with choosing an airport, destinations, and activities, as well as tips on transportation and packing.

Family Travel: Why Costa Rica Is the Perfect DestinationInfo on what makes Costa Rica ideal for a first family international trip. Culture, safety, accessibility, and more.

Traveling with a Baby in Costa Rica: Covers the quirks you’ll want to know about traveling with a baby.

Car Seats in Costa Rica: Learn about Costa Rica’s car seat laws and your options for getting seats.

Why to Get Travel Insurance for Visiting Costa Rica: Travel insurance is always a good idea, especially when traveling with kids. Learn about costs and coverage with this post.


  1. We are planning to do your family itinerary but we will be in Costa Rica for 12 days and we’d like to add another destination. I’m debating between tortuguero and Manuel Antonio. We’ll be there from may 29th – June 9th. We are traveling as three families together with 12 kids. The kids are 10-17.

    1. Hi Stacy, We saw your other comment on our two-week itinerary post so we will try to incorporate that into our response here as well.

      In late May/early June, I think I’d do Manuel Antonio over Tortuguero since it won’t be turtle nesting season in Tortuguero. There’s a lot more for the kids, and everyone, to do in Manuel Antonio. Manuel Antonio is nice because it’s so easy to see wildlife around town. If you’re going to Guanacaste, you won’t get as much wildlife there (it’s more about the beaches).

      You’re right to skip the Osa this trip since I don’t think you’ll have enough time for it.

      For your question about La Paz on our other post, yes, that’s an awesome stop. It’s a gorgeous wildlife center. We have a whole post about it with more details: You could stop on the way from San Jose to La Fortuna if you get an early start or do an overnight.

      If you have more planning questions, you could check out our Video Chat Service ( We have been helping lots of people with their itineraries lately.

      Hope that helps!

      1. Hi! We will be planing a 10 days trip with our kids (8-10 and 14)… like the mix of jungle and beaches at the end. Just curious what you would recommand as a beach with easier waves to boogie board of learn to surf in July or August…. playa carillo/samara region or playa nosara or safer in the driest part along flaya flamingo/playa conchal? and do you think it’s safe to book 2-3 nights in the Arenal region within the rain season? we could also go visit the jungle and volcano as day trips and rent just one place for the 10 days… Thanks for your input 🙂

        1. Hi Alexandra, Samara would be fine in July/August and it’s good for boogie boarding. We would skip Nosara. Flamingo/Conchal would be ok too. You would want to go to the beaches up near Potrero for boogie boarding there. We would definitely do 2-3 nights in La Fortuna (3 preferably because there is so much to do). Arenal has different weather patterns and typically isn’t that bad that time of year. That’s where you’ll get the jungle experience, see wildlife, and do adventure tours.

          1. Hi! I’ve recently discovered your blog and love all the info! We are planning an 8 day trip over spring break doing la Fortuna and then beach. We have friends who’ve recommended Nosara so I’m curious your reasons to skip it? We have 3 kids 5,8,10. Would love your input. Thanks!

          2. Hi Abby, Nosara has developed a lot in recent years and there have been various problems associated with this. In that area, we prefer Samara, especially for families. Nosara isn’t the best spot for families in our opinion unless you want to surf. Hope that helps! Feel free to reach out through our video chat service if you’re still unsure where to spend your beach time. We’d be happy to help!

  2. hello! we will be traveling to CR for the first time in april/may, a family with 2 boys 11 and 12 from europe. really grateful to have found your fantastic website. as we are boating enthousiasts (and new to surfing): i stumbled across your mention of small sailboats, above, that may be available for rent in the Potrero/Flamingo region. On the internet such a rental doesnt seem to have left any trace – do you have a tip where you could get a small sailboat for rent? This would make a big difference for us.

    Translated with (free version)

    1. Hi Don, Sorry for our delay in responding. Your comment went to spam for some reason.

      Yes, you can rent small sailboats in Potrero. Go to the Costa Rica Sailing Center. Here is the link.

  3. Hi Jenn & Matt: Great website and super informative. I’m planning a family trip to CR at the end of May/1st week of June. We fly in/out of Liberia (direct flight, so preferred over SJO). We’ll have 7 full days there (excluding our days flying in/out). We have 2 boys (age 7 and 9) and they are super active. Normally our vacations are to big cities as they like things like subways and trams and mechanized things. But we thought we’d change it up (plus CR is one of the few places we can travel to!). Our boys won’t sit still for more than 30 min (sound familiar?) so active things are the way to go. With things like zip lining and horseback riding, are there age/weight/height requirements?

    I know they’d love to do things like that Rain forest Canopy Ride in Jaco. Is that too far if we’re coming in/out of Liberia and try to roughly follow your itinerary above? Or is there something similar in the La Fortuna area?

    Since we’ll be traveling during the rainy season I know we’ll need to be flexible with our activities and need to shuffle days around. I’m assuming since it’s off season + Covid, most of these places/activities won’t be too busy and will be available by just showing up and not reserving in advance? Or do I need to book these in advance?

    1. Hi Steve, Sounds like a fun trip for your family! Your boys will be able to do most tours at 7 and 9. Definitely horseback riding and zip lining. If they don’t meet the weight or height requirement for zip lining, they would just go tandem with a guide. But there are some zip line facilities where younger kids can go on their own. Some things do have age restrictions, like whitewater rafting, but in general you will have many options.

      The Jaco tram is a bit far but you could do the tram ride at Sky Adventures in La Fortuna instead.

      As for reservations, yes it will likely be slower but almost all tour companies are requiring prior reservations now because they have to operate at reduced capacity. So you would just need to make arrangements at some point in advance, even if it’s last minute.

      If you’d like help figuring out tours, feel free to reach out through our tour booking service:

  4. Hello! My family of 4 (kids 12 and 11) is travelling to Costa in March. We have two and half weeks. We are staying near the SJO airport the first night and then heading to La Fortuna for 3 nights (but might make it 4), then Monteverde for 3 nights (but might make it 4). Then we have about a week and half open. We want the second half to be more beach with snorkeling and national parks. We are a very active family. I was thinking about doing Manuel Antonio and then Uvita area before traveling back to the airport. Or, should we focus more on Guanacaste region? I don’t want it too touristy, but am ok with a little bit. What are you suggestions? Also, should I keep 3 nights with La Fortuna and Monteverde or go to 4 each? Thanks so much!

    1. Hi Danielle, I would do 4 nights in La Fortuna because there is so much to do there, and 3 nights in Monteverde.

      For your beach time, Guanacaste doesn’t have much for national parks nearby. So Manuel Antonio and Uvita may be a better fit. Manuel Antonio has a ton of activities to keep you busy and many options for hiking. Uvita has quite a bit too, and a lot of waterfalls. The one thing is that snorkeling isn’t the best in those areas. It’s available but conditions aren’t always the best. You could do a day trip to Cano Island from Uvita, though, which has excellent snorkeling. I hope that helps!

  5. Hi! Just came across your website in my research. My family (3 young kids 7-2yo) are planning to spend a month in Costa Rica over Christmas. I’m loving all of these suggestions. It definitely feels overwhelming to plan such a long trip. We like to travel slow so want to spend some time in each place. Would you recommend figuring out 3-4 areas we want to explore and then go from there? Also having a hard time figuring out the car rental situation. We got a quote and it was over $5k for the month. Any suggestions for getting that cost down? Also interested in the house sitting scene and wonder if that could be a viable option for a family of 5? Thanks again for all the info! Can’t wait for our trip.

    1. Hi Mette, Yes, picking 3 or so places to divide the month would be a good way to start. House sitting could be an option but it can be tough to find shorter term sits that time of year because it’s high season so either owners are back or they’re renting their house on Airbnb. For the rental car, did you get a quote through Adobe? We have a monthly discount through them. Here is the link with more info:

      If you’d like some logistical help with where to visit based on what your family is interested in, we do have a video chat service where we can talk to you for one hour for $100. Here’s the link with more info:

  6. Hello, we booked our flights for next Summer, 16 nights. We fly into San Jose, out of Liberia. We are staying in San Jose for the first night, then we are thinking Fortuna (4 nights), Monteverde (2 nights), then we are looking at a place in Samara for the last 9 nights . We love fishing, want to learn to surf and relax at the end. I am wondering though if we should have a couple of days elsewhere first and shave off a day in Samara, or if you have other thoughts. Kids are 14 and 11, and we are moderately adventurous. Thank you.

    1. Hi Katja, We would recommend adding one night onto Monteverde so that you have two full days (it’s a fairly long drive from La Fortuna to get there). Then you could add another destination like you said. Maybe take a look at Rincón de la Vieja to see a different volcano area for a couple of nights. Or if you want more beach time, you could do somewhere in Northern Guanacaste like Potrero. Either of these areas would be a big contrast from Samara.

  7. Hello, my family and I are traveling to Costa Rica next summer. I’m looking for a tour that combines the Hanging Bridges and zip-lining, but isn’t all day, ie 6 hours or less. Is that possible? Also, do you have to take a tour to go to the La Fortuna waterfall? Can my family and I grab a taxi, and go by ourselves?

    1. Hi Ro, We know of a great option for a zip lining/hanging bridges tour that is less than six hours. Feel free to reply to this thread if you’d like more information. We’d be happy to help you arrange it and can send more information by email.

      You don’t need to take a tour to La Fortuna Waterfall. If you won’t have a car, yes, just take a taxi. Then you pay the admission fee and can walk down the stairs to get to the waterfall. There’s no need for a guide.

      1. Hello!
        We are planning to go go Costa Rica for 7 Weeks.
        We would like to not change home a lot of Times. Are There 1 or 2 places more on center to do beaches, Monteverde, Volcano Arenal and Tortuguero?
        Thanks for your article. Its help us à lot with the kids 🙂

        1. Hi Stéphanie, It is a little hard to have a home base centrally to do all those things because many of the drive times are long. You could Atenas as one home base and use it to see Monteverde and some of the central Pacific coast (Jaco area). It will still be at least a two hour drive to get to these places, though. You may be better off splitting your time between the Arenal area and somewhere on the Pacific coast like Jaco. From Jaco, you could do Monteverde as a day trip and also see Manuel Antonio. There are lots of nice beaches in this area. See our Jaco post for details. Then you could do Tortuguero separately maybe at the beginning of your stay before going to Arenal. The Caribbean coast is quite far so not really possible on a day trip. Hope that helps!

      2. Hi! Thank you so much for all this great info! Our family of 7 will be in Costa Rica for 2 weeks this may. Of course we want to see it all, but I don’t wanna make our trip too packed and busy.. Do you think it’s too crazy to try to see and the cloud forest and Arenal as well as Manuel Antonio and then also go to the Caribbean coast?

        1. Hi Mara, It’s a lot of driving to include the Caribbean coast but it’s doable with 2 weeks if you’re okay with that. Make sure to spend at least 2 days in Monteverde and 3-4 everywhere else. You could build in an overnight on the way to the Caribbean side to break up the drive. Maybe in Heredia or near Braulio Carrillo National Park. Hope that helps!

  8. Hello, we are planning to travel over the holidays/first of the year. We have a house for a week in Jaco, planning some excursions there. Then we have 7-8 days for other adventures with kids 10,12,20 and 22. Thinking fortuna and Monteverde and maybe one other spot. Thoughts? We do have a day trip to Manuel Antonio during our week in Jaco, but only one day. We were considering travelling down the coast to Uvita or Domincal. Trying to decide on a car for some or all of our second week of travel.

    1. Hi Kim, With 7-8 days, we would do two more destinations in addition to Jaco. La Fortuna and Monteverde are great choices. They both have a ton to do. Uvita/Dominical is nice too if you want more beach time and has a totally different feel from Jaco. It is farther, though, so will make you farther from the airport or your next destination.

      Usually renting a car is the most economical option for a family. Cars also give you more flexibility. But you could do private shuttles too. You could compare pricing through our rental car discount page and shuttle booking page. If you do decide on Dominical/Uvita, be sure to rent a car for that part as the area is very spread out.

  9. Hello – any recommendations on how we could alter this itinerary if we’re flying in to Liberia and flying out of San Jose? We are a family of 4 with two kids, ages 12 and 6. We are planning to be in Costa Rica for two weeks around mid-December.

    1. If you’re flying out of San Jose, we’d pick a beach town on the central Pacific coast like Jaco or Manuel Antonio. That will put you between 1.5-2.5 hours from the airport for when it’s time to leave. Both destinations are good with kids those ages but many people prefer Manuel Antonio because it has so much wildlife. You can follow the links we just gave for more info about each place.

  10. HI there!

    We’ll be traveling with a 1 y/o for 3 weeks around CR. We are hesitating between spending time in the caribbean coast (Puerto Viero and surroundings + Tortuguero National Park) or the Pacific Coast down South (Corcovado National Park and surroundings). Is it ok to visit Corcovado with a little one? or is it more like an adult-adventure trip?
    We won’t be able to do both unfortunately, and we want the whole family to enjoy the trip! Thanks

    1. Hi Florence, It’s better to save Corcovado for when your child is older. It’s hard to access, super hot, and not recommended for little kids. Tortuguero would be a better option. Much more manageable and you’ll still see a lot of wildlife and experience pristine nature.

  11. Hello! Firstly thank you – your website is so incredibly helpful. We (parents and 2 kids age 10 and 8) have a 3 week trip booked in March. We have most of the trip sorted (SJO to Fortuna, then to Nosara and possibly slightly further south on Nicoya peninsular). And then heading right over to Pacuare. But question is… is it possible to get from southern Nicoya peninsular over to Punta Aranus. Is the ferry to Punta Aranas a good idea? Or best to drive back up and around towards San Jose? And to break up the journey over to Pacuare is there a good one or two night place (away from the city) before we head to Caribbean side? Thanks so much!

    1. Hi Fay, Yes, taking the Paquera-Puntarenas ferry would be a good way to break up the drive if you go to the southern Nicoya Peninsula. If you go straight from
      Nosara it’s easier to drive. But the ferry is very nice if coming from somewhere like Montezuma or Santa Teresa. It’s a scenic ride. Here’s the link to our post on the ferry with more information.

      You could stop somewhere a little outside San José like Atenas or Heredia. That will make the drive to the Pacuare much easier the next day.

  12. Hi there! Just booked our CR trip for 4/13-23 (Easter weekend falls in this timeframe) w/ a 17 yr old girl and 12 yr old boy. Daughter just wants to see sloths, son and husband adventure and me a great beach town with restaurants, shops ets but more authentic surf town than touristy. SO lots to try for in 10 days. Was thinking to head from SJO to La Fortuna for a few days, then Monteverde and then I’m torn between heading to Tamarindo or Manual Antonio. We don’t want to be living out of a suitcase so would prefer 3 stops max. I’d hate to leave CR and miss out on the real wildlife of MA but also would love to end in a small beach town with a great vibe and not secluded. Any recommendations? Thanks in advance!

  13. Hi. Very nice blog. I would be very gratefull if you could recommend what’s better after staying 4 nights in La Fortuna – Guanacaste (north) or Manuel Antonio. We are travelling with 2 boys – almost 3 years and 7 months, a we are staying in Costa Rica 11 nights (1 in San Jose excluded). Thank you.

    1. Hi Mihaela, Both are nice. I would choose based on the time of year you are visiting. If you’re coming soon during dry season (Dec.-end of April), Guanacaste will be very, very dry with a sort of barren landscape. Manuel Antonio keeps is lushness longer since it’s farther south where it’s less arid. Manuel Antonio is good year-round and also awesome for kids in general if you aren’t sure which to pick. Hope that helps!

  14. One more question: if you had to pick staying on the Pacific coast near Manuela Antonio versus staying near Manzanillo, Limon, which would you pick? We really want to snorkel

  15. Hi Jenn and Matt, Thanks for the blog – its super helpful. We’ll be traveling to Costa Rica for 10 days June 26-July 5 with our boys who are 13 and 15. We fly in and out of SJO. We’re interested in the 2 day Pacuare River rafting trip and would also like to see the jungle/wildlife suspension bridges/ziplining (La Fortuna and Monteverde?) and a low-key beach area. Is it too much to do both La Fortuna and Monteverde in that amount of time? My boys like to boogie board and play in the waves. What beach would you recommend for that? Also, where would you put the river rafting in our plans – start or end with it? Thanks in advance!

    1. Hi Kelly, I think you could do the Pacuare rafting at either end of the trip but usually we recommend doing your adventures activities early on and then relaxing at the beach at the end. I do think it would be too much to try to do both La Fortuna and Monteverde with 10 days so I would pick one. Maybe La Fortuna since it has a greater variety of activities unless you are set on seeing the cloud forest. For beach time, if you’re flying out of San José, you should do the Jaco area, Manuel Antonio, or somewhere in between like Esterillos. Jaco and Esterillos are best for boogie boarding. Hope that helps!

  16. Hi, thanks so much for all of the helpful Information in your blog. We are very excited to visit CR in April next year.
    We will only have 7-8 days, we are traveling with another family with 1 year olds and 4 year olds. We live at a beach and are in
    Mexico before hand so
    Not too fussed about visiting beaches. I was looking into Manual Antonio & La Fortuna, do you think we could split the time between the two? Or would you recommend one over the other?
    I have been to MA pre kids and loved the wildlife being everywhere (in restaurants, around our hotel etc)- does this happen in LF?
    We are interested in moderately easy hikes (because of the kids), nature, wild life, jungles. We are not worried about zip lining as have done it a lot before and it’s difficult with the kids.

    1. Hi Rhian, Yes, I think I would split the time between La Fortuna and Manuel Antonio. La Fortuna doesn’t have all the wildlife around like Manuel Antonio – it’s much more spread out and set up differently. But it still has a good amount of wildlife to see at nature reserves and is great with little kids. Here’s a link to our post on Things to Do with Young Kids in La Fortuna to give you some ideas.

  17. Hi you two, I’ve been bouncing around the internet and my Lonely Planet book, excited but overwhelmed by all the amazing things Costa Rica has to offer. I budget backpacked through here in 1996 and want to return now with my family. It’ll be a different kinda trip!
    We haven’t booked our tickets yet, as we’re not sure of how long to take – we have to balance money and adventure – but our big wish is to witness an arribada and as much wildlife as possible in beach, jungle and volcano. La Fortuna is a given!

    These are my quandries so far. I think that if i can resolve them, the trip plan will fall into place! Your website is amazing and has really helped to solidify the cascade of ideas in my mind.

    For turtles – Ostional or Tortuguero… or both? 18th of July is 10 days before full moon
    Poas or Irazu?
    Monteverde or Manuel Antonio?

    And finally, we think that maybe three weeks is about right, but car hire is expensive and your deal with Adobe is one month min… so, do we bite the bullet and go for the month!?

    What do you think?

    1. Hi Josh, Glad that our website has been helpful!

      For turtles, I think it’s based on the new moon, which is July 28. Usually the arribada lasts for several days that time of year, so I think I would probably head to Ostional to hopefully see it. Tortuguero is nice too and has the chance of seeing green sea turtles more expectantly, but if you could catch an arribada, it would be really special. I would recommend following the local guide association Facebook page for updates.

      We have been to Poas twice and still haven’t seen the crater. It’s just really hard to see. Irazu can be clouded over too but easier to see. We have seen it and it was nice but didn’t knock our socks off. It’s also in kind of a random location. Have you looked at the Rincon de la Vieja area? That is a cool place with really interesting volcanic features.

      Monteverde and Manuel Antonio are completely different so it would be hard to pick only one. For us, we prefer Manuel Antonio because we like the beach and the wildlife viewing is amazing.

      It is nice to have a rental car with kids, so it may be worth it to go for the month. It depends on how much independent travel you want to do vs. going on guided tours.

      Hope that helps!

      1. Thank you so much for your reply you two. I only just found your website again, after forgetting its name! We’ve booked our flights (12 July to 8th August) and thanks to you directing us towards the local guides’ Facebook page I’ve been able to work out that arribadas happen approximately a week before new moon(ish!). So, we’ll aim to be around Ostional around the 21st of July. I’m so excited already. Thanks to your advice, we looked into 4×4 hire but it’s out of our range. So we’d need to find a hostel that we can drive to in a normal car but is close enough to get on an Ostional tour. Can you recommend a zone to stay in?

        Once again, thanks for your help. I’ve been searching all night for arribada info and it’s hard to find. The Facebook page was spot on!

        I think our itinerary will be SJ – Arenal (vol/hike/canopy/float) – Ostional (beach/turtle) – Tortuguero (sloth/boat/turtle/mangrove) – SJ… but there’s room for something more… can you think of any treats along that route?

        Cheers, and I hope youre having a good year.

  18. I’m hoping to plan a CR vacation over Christmas this year with my husband and 20 month old. Would this itinerary be a good one for that time of year and with a toddler-baby? Your articles have been so helpful already!

    1. Hi Carie, Yes, this is a great itinerary with a toddler and over Christmas. The only thing is that it will be busy in La Fortuna and the beaches of Guanacaste, especially the week between Christmas and New Years. You may be fine with that. If not, look for smaller towns nearby to avoid the crowds. Not sure if you have seen it, but here’s a link to our post on What to Pack for Your Baby for later on.

  19. We will be travelling with our 12 and 13 yo next April. Our family speaks fluent Spanish and would like to spend part of our trip in locations that are not loaded with tourists and maybe stay at a house. Do you have recommendations for us?

  20. Hi there,
    I will be in CR for 10 days, flying in/out of San Jose. Trip includes me and my 13 years old daughter who likes adventures. We intend to visit La Fortuna and Monteverde. However, I can decided between Nicoya peninsula for glamping or Manuel Antonio. Please advise.
    Have you been to Isla Chiquita? I’d love to visit there and looking for the best way to get there. My daughter is into zip liming, ATV, horseback riding, snorkeling and absolutely loves the beach. How many days would you suggest to stay in each place. We arrive in San Jose at 1pm and don’t plan on staying in the city. Any private shuttle or semi private shuttle recommendations would be great as we don’t want to rent a car. Thank you so much.
    By the way your website is fantastic.

    1. Hi Belline, The Nicoya Peninsula has a different feel from Manuel Antonio so it depends on what you’re looking for. The main destinations on the Nicoya are Santa Teresa and Montezuma. These are more remotely located. Montezuma is small. Manuel Antonio is much more developed and mainstream, with lots of options for activities.

      We haven’t made it to Isla Chiquita yet but have heard good things.

      We would split the time 4 nights La Fortuna, 3 nights Monteverde, 3 nights Nicoya or Manuel Antonio.

      For shuttles, you can get information and rates on our Private Shuttle Booking page. We don’t book shared shuttles. For that, we recommend Interbus.

      If you’d like any more help planning your trip, feel free to reach out through our Video Chat Service page.

  21. Hi! So glad I found your website, it’s SO good.
    We’re planning on coming to CR 26 March – 13 April and trying hard to figure out what to do. Originally we were going to fly both in and out of SJO until I read your itineraries and now I don’t know whether to fly in to SJO out of LIR – mainly because in my head we were going to do the Guanacaste region and that’s a lot closer to LIR for the flight home (I hadn’t realised it was a long drive from there to SJO).
    We’re Two adults and a 8 year old – planning on doing la fortuna, monteverde and then really wanted to tag on somewhere which might be good for beginner’s surfing (and/or boogie boarding). Am I being overambitious or is there somewhere further south that might tick the surf options for the end? Many thanks, Leila

    1. Hi Leila, If you want to fly in and out of San Jose, you could do Manuel Antonio or Uvita for your beach destination. The northern end of the main beach in Manuel Antonio is good for beginner surfing. It’s only about 2.5 hours from SJO. Uvita is also good for beginner surfing and boogie boarding, but it’s a little farther (about 4 hours).

      For somewhere in Guanacaste, Tamarindo is close to LIR (about 1.25 hours). It’s a busier town. For something quieter, Samara is a great option for beginner surfing because the waves are really gentle. It’s about 2 hours from LIR and 4.5 hours from San Jose. Hope that helps!

  22. Hello! What a nice website you are running!
    We are planing to go to CR this December for 11 days. Arrival and departure from Liberia airport. I was thinking 3 days at La Fortuna, 3 days at Manuel Antonio and 4 days at the beach closer to Liberia airport. We will rent a car. We dont mind driving, but do you think its enough time to visit Manuel Antonio, or should we stay closer to Liberia and visit just Arenal and beaches? We love nature and animals. Prefer calmer beach for swimming (or snorkeling). Any suggestions? Thank you and have a wonderful day!

    1. Hi Giedre, If you leave La Fortuna earlier in the morning on the day you drive to Manuel Antonio, it would be worth it. With 3 nights, you’ll have 2 full days in Manuel Antonio. Manuel Antonio is a lot different than Guanacaste (it has a lot more wildlife) so worth checking out, especially if you are okay with driving. Maybe pick a beach destination in Guanacaste that is close to the highway/Liberia to limit driving on that end. A good option is Playa Hermosa or for something with more going on, Playas del Coco right next door.

  23. Thanks for a fast reply! We decided to stay one night on arrival day at Hermosa beach (your recommended Hotel Mangaby), then head to La Fortuna and stay for 3 nights, then Manuel Antonio – 3 nights. Instead of staying last 3 days at the beach, we found a beautiful remote jungle lodge (close to Rainmaker) and will stay there for another 3 nights before going back to Liberia. One night close to Liberia airport (or at the nearest beach). Its our first time in CR and we are so excited. Im keep reading your website:)

  24. Hi there! Our family of four (12 YO boy and 9 YO girl) will be headed to Costa Rica for 11 days in the beginning of April. My kids love adventure, animals, beaches, and surfing. So, we want to do rafting, ziplining, surfing, etc. I def wanted to do the Proyecto Asis and stay at the Treehouse Hotel. My husband prefers luxury so I thought in one city, we could stay at a nicer high end hotel. This is our first time in CR. Here are my initial thoughts and questions. Fly into San Jose. Get car rental. Drive to Treehouse Hotel. Do you think we should definitely go to Monteverde? Then I wanted to go to a nice beach area with a nice hotel. Manuel Antonio seems far. Should we go to Tamarido instead? Or in that direction and then fly out of Liberia. Or do you think we should def go MA?

    1. Hi Audrey, Tamarindo will be very dry that time of year since it is the end of dry season, so we would go to Manuel Antonio instead for your beach time. It will be dry too but it’s true rainforest so the trees don’t lose their leaves and it’s not brown. I would do three destinations max with 11 days. La Fortuna sounds like a good choice based on what your family is interested in. Monteverde is nice for seeing the cloud forest, but there are other options as well. If you did La Fortuna, Monteverde, Manuel Antonio, you could fly in and out of San Jose. If you’d like any more help figuring out your itinerary, we have a video chat service where we could talk to you one on one. Hope that helps!

  25. Hi we are a family of 4 (12yr old and 6yr old children) and are travelling to Costa Rica in April. We are planning to go to la fortuna/arenal for safari float, sloths and hanging bridges and then possibly onto samara as we have heard the sea is good for the children to snorkel and calmer than other areas. We then want to spend time in Manuel Antonio for more wildlife and beaches before flying home from San Jose. Does this sound ok for 15night trip.. is it worth going to samara or do you have any other suggestions? We are thinking about hiring a car and wondered if you have any recommendations?

    1. Hi Nicola, That sounds like a nice itinerary but it is a bit of driving to do Manuel Antonio at the end. Totally doable with 15 nights, though. It makes sense why you want to go to those beach towns and I can’t think of an alternative to Manuel Antonio with a similar feel that’s closer. So we’d say to go for it.

  26. HI, We are traveling to Costa Rica for 16 days (including travel) from US with our 2 year old daughter end of March. Do you think it’s too much to do Manuel Antonio & Uvita area then up to Montverde, La Fortuna, Tamarindo area during the 16 days? We haven’t booked our flights but thinking we can fly into san Jose and out of Liberia & rent a car during our time. Would you advise just 1 area (either south or the north) and which one with a 2 year old? We don’t want to waste multiple days driving around but are into beautiful scenery, wildlife, beach, and food!

    1. Hi Jenny, We would cut Tamarindo from that itinerary. It adds a lot of driving and that region will be really hot and dry at the end of March. I don’t think you’ll be missing much by not going there since you have a lot of other really great beach time planned.

  27. Hi there,
    I’m wondering what the beaches of Manuel Antonio are like for small children (we’re travelling with a 1, 5, and 9 yr old)? Originally I was thinking of doing La Fortuna and then heading to Playa Hermosa; however, after reading through your blog I see that the vegetation will be quite dry and brown around there. Would Manual Antonio be a better option? We are flying in and out of Liberia. Thanks!

    1. Hi Erin, There are beaches with calmer water in Manuel Antonio but it’s a little far from Liberia Airport. Have you looked at Samara? It’s a nice beach town with kids and much closer to the airport.

  28. I have read most of your posts and now feel totally overwhelmed with information! We will be going to CR in June for 15 days. We want adventure (boys 12 and 15), cloud forest, rainforest, and beach for 5-6 days at the end. We fly in/out of Liberia and don’t want to spend too much time in the car and can’t take puddle-hopper flights. My husband does not want to go back to La Fortuna/Arenal (he’s the only one whose been to CR)- what is your second best recommendation for adventure parks? And I saw you dissuade someone from Nosara, so for a quieter but not too quiet beach, or two, we’d like to go to two different beach spots, where would you recommend.

    1. Hi Annie, Monteverde is good for adventure activities and nice with kids because it’s the cloud forest. There are a lot of wildlife activities too. If you’re flying in and out of Liberia, you could do Samara for a beach town or Playa Hermosa. Both have lovely beaches and are small but have a decent amount of restaurants. Samara has more activities. If you need more help deciding on an itinerary, feel free to reach out through our video chat service.

  29. Love all of your itineraries and information! Traveling to Costa Rica 1st week in June with a 5 yr old and 8 year old.
    Day 1 – Fly in to SJO -drive to Arenal volcano
    Day 2 – Arenal volcano national park / hanging bridges and la fortuna waterfall
    Day 3 – Zip line – which do you think is best for kids?
    Day 4 – drive to Manuel Antonio National park area (5 hrs) beach / dinner
    Day 5 – thoughts on what to do here?
    Days 6 – National park / lunch at beach
    Day 7 – beach day – do you know of a place that offers surf lessons for 5yr olds+??
    Day 8 – beach and drive to SJO – hotel
    Day 9 – depart

    Do you think that is the best itinerary for kids? I saw it on your 7 day itinerary but your family one doesn’t mention going to Manuel Antonio National Park? Is that worth the long drive? My kids really want to experience: Volcano, beaches, sloths, monkeys, hiking, zip lining and just fun active experience but if I can do all of that without the day trip to Manuel Antonio that would be great.

    1. Hi Monika, I think we left Manuel Antonio out of the family itinerary and included Guanacaste instead because Guanacaste has calmer beaches. But Manuel Antonio is really good with kids too and a great place to visit in general. It also has a lot of wildlife and many options for activities so fits with what you’re looking for.

      Your itinerary looks good. For zip lining, EcoGlide in Arenal is great for younger kids like yours. In Manuel Antonio, we would do the national park and get a guide so that you see the most wildlife since that’s important to your family. There´s also a nice tour at Isla Damas, which is a river/mangrove system where it’s easy to see wildlife. Let us know if you’d like any help booking these tours. We work with an excellent team of guides for MA National Park and a local family that does the Damas tour.

  30. Hi! My husband and I are going to Costa rice from July 4th-July 20th with our 20 month old son. We fly in and out of Liberia. We were thinking of doing Bijagua, La Fortuna, Monteverde and then end at Tamarindo.
    Does this seem manageable is there any place you would remove?

    1. Hi Alex, That seems like a great itinerary for your family. You won’t have to drive too much since you’ll be flying in and out of LIR, and the destinations are a reasonable distance from each other. When dividing your time, you may want to spend the most time in La Fortuna since there are lots of activities there (see our post on Activities in La Fortuna with Young Children). Make sure to rent a 4×4 for the drive from La Fortuna to Monteverde since it will be rainy season. Here’s a link to our rental car discount for when you’re shopping around for a car.

  31. We are a family of 4 including 2 kids (ages 7 and 10) planning to travel to Costa Rica for 2 weeks very end of July through early August. We love nature and also the idea of some wildlife viewing and relaxing beach time. We have looked at Tortuguero as part of the itinerary and Drake’s Bay or Uvita. Also, my son loves soccer and baseball and it might be fun to add a game in too if possible! Wondering what you recommend as a rough itinerary.

    1. Hi Rebecca, We would do either Tortuguero or Drake Bay and not both, to avoid too much travel time. Both are remote destinations that take a while to get to. We are partial to Drake Bay because it’s incredible for nature and wildlife viewing. But Tortuguero is a good option for late July/early August because it’s turtle-nesting season then. I guess it depends on how important the turtle watching is to you.

      f you do Tortuguero, we would do that first. Then the itinerary would be something like Tortuguero then maybe La Fortuna to Monteverde to Manuel Antonio (you also could just pick 3 of those places). If you do Drake Bay instead, we would put that towards the end of the itinerary. Hope that helps!

  32. Hi! We are traveling with our 22 year old son. We like to walk/hike, see volcanoes, waterfalls, suspension bridges, etc and also relax some at a beautiful beach. We also like to be close to things such as shopping, restaurants-preferably walking distance some of the time. What areas would you recommend. Our number of travel days are flexible.

    1. Hi Laurie, There are a lot of different options for that. For volcano, waterfalls, hanging bridges, we would definitely do Arenal/La Fortuna. Beach time is more flexible and depends on the time of year you’re visiting. If soon (North American summer), Guanacaste usually has nice weather during rainy season and beautiful beaches too (see our Guanacaste post for specific beach towns in this region). Manuel Antonio is nice also (more wildlife and activities) and has a lot of restaurants close by. It’s usually not too rainy until later in rainy season (September). Hope that helps!

      1. Thank you for the information. How many days do you recommend in Arenal/La Fortuna? We would like to go there and to Flamingo. Flying in on a Friday and staying until the following Sunday(10 days). We are looking to go the end of July, will the weather be nice in those two locations that time of year?

        1. Hi Laurie, We would spend at least 4 nights in La Fortuna since there is so much to do there. You could spend more than that, though, depending on how much time you want at the beach.

          End of July, Flamingo usually gets some rain, mostly in the afternoon and evening (downpour-type rain). La Fortuna has different weather patterns. It’s rainier in general but usually isn’t too bad in July. Here’s a link to our Rainy Season post. Note that this year we’re under an El Nino weather pattern when less is predicted overall.

  33. Hi! I’m so glad I found this website. Your articles are so helpful! La Fortuna, Monteverde and Samara was our planned itinerary, but we’re flying in and out of SJO. Do you think it’s too much driving for 12 days? We get in at 11 or 12 the first day, so I think we can make it to La Fortuna that day, but we’ll spend the last night in San Juan. I don’t know if we should swap Samara for Manuel Antonio. I’ve read a lot but am interest in any pros/cons you can offer. I’m traveling my husband and our two sons (13 and 9) traveling and half the family is prone to motion sickness.

    1. Hi Megan, Glad our site has been helpful! I don’t think it’s too much driving to do La Fortuna, Monteverde, and Samara in 12 days with one overnight near the airport. Samara is a really nice beach town and if you’d rather go there, just do it. Manuel Antonio is nice too. The main draw is the thick jungle and all the wildlife. But Samara is great because the main area of town is right along the beach (Manuel Antonio is situated more on a hill, driving distance to the beach). Hope that helps!

  34. Hello… loving your blog! It has been crucial in helping me plan our first trip to CR. We fly into SJ on 7/25 for a 10 day stay (wish it was longer!). Our first leg will be in the Peurto Viejo area, after that I’m stuck. Would going to Tortugeuro for a night or two, and then on to the La Fortuna/Arenal area as our final stop be too much in 10 days? Skip the turtles? We would rather spend more time immersing ourselves in the pura vida than driving around. The problem is that everything sounds wonderful! Would love to do a video chat, but I think waiting a couple more weeks to book things might be too last minute. What a great service to offer though! Thanks so much for any & all input. We are an active family of 4 w/2 seventeen year old boys 🙂

    1. Hi Sabina, I think we’re too late to help with this now since you’re arriving in a few days. We were on a work trip the first two weeks of July. Hope you were able to figure out a great itinerary.

  35. Hi,

    Are the beaches in Guanacaste, on the Pacific Ocean side? If so, is the water cold? How far are the beaches on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica from La Fortuna?
    Is there public transportation available to get to La Fortuna from the Caribbean beaches?
    We’ll only be in Costa Rica for 8-10 days, and we’re not sure whether to start our trip at the beach and then go to Fortuna, or vice versa. Thanks in advance for your reply.

    1. Hi Claudia, Yes, the beaches in Guanacaste are Pacific Ocean. The ocean is warm everywhere in Costa Rica.

      It’s about a 5-6 hour drive from La Fortuna to the southern Caribbean coast where the nice beaches are.

      Usually we recommend starting in La Fortuna because that’s where all the activities are and ending at the beach to relax.

  36. So excited to find your site! We are starting to dream / plan of a trip in Feb 2024. Likely about 16 days, for 2 parents plus an 11 year old. I’m going to tell you my dream list and see what you say! Jungle hikes / walks, sloths, monkeys, parrots and other wildlife, beaches for swimming and easy / medium level surfing, snorkelling, peaceful and laid back, local food and ideally not in the most touristy areas. Bonus points (but not critical) for – forest canopy ziplining, volcano viewing, wildlife rehab places and horse riding! I haven’t done much research yet but Osa Peninsula sounds amazing. Would like to spend a few nights (2-6) in areas, rather than somewhere new every day. Thanks so much!

    1. Hi Anni, There are a lot of choices for a trip that includes those activities. We would choose where you go based on the feel you’re looking for, as some destinations are much more touristy/busy than others. The Osa is amazing but farther away. It’s definitely doable with 16 days, though. If you do the Osa, you could do one inland destination (maybe Bijagua/Rio Celeste area since you prefer off the beaten path) and then head down the Pacific coast. You could do Uvita/Dominical on the way to the Osa.

      Hope that helps! Feel free to reach out through our Video Chat Service if you’d like more help.

      1. Thanks so much! I look forward to diving into your recommendations, and will be in touch if we need more support. Thank you also for the car rental advice and discounts, that was very helpful!

  37. Hi! Thank so much for the wonderful information. We are planning a 12 day trip in March with our family of five (three kids 4, 7 and 10). We have 7 days booked in Santa Teresa and struggling to figure out where to round out the trip after that. We are flying out of San Jose midday and have 4 nights after Santa Teresa to book. Given our flight time, we’d need to get to the airport mid morning so would need to be reasonably close to San Jose. We’re considering one other destination after Santa Teresa but may make sense to split it up into two further destinations to get closer to San Jose. La Fortuna sounds great for families and perhaps we head there after Santa Teresa (noting it’s a long drive). Would you have any suggestions for areas to consider beyond that that are closer to San Jose (to pass through after La Fortuna or perhaps to bypass La Fortuna all together? Thanks again for all the helpful information!

    1. Hi Chris, Sorry for the late reply (sometimes it takes us a while to get through the comments we receive), but glad we were able to connect through a video call to answer your questions. Let us know if you need any more help as your plans progress. Thanks!

  38. Hi guys, great website! We are travelling to CR for 3 weeks through Liberia in March with our 2 boys 4 and 6 who are active, like wildlife and are not good car travellers. We will be visiting and staying with friends who have moved to Nuevo Arenal for a good portion of the trip. Likely at the beginning and then end. We will be renting a 4×4 for the entire trip. We plan to do day trips to La Fortuna area and then will probably spend 5-6 days in Monteverde and then want to have some beach time. We want easy swimming for kids, shade, wildlife activities, less touristy and preferably with some jungle around the beach. From reading your articles I wonder about Samara but curious about Montezuma. Any other suggestions for a beach location that meets many of those goals? Also is 5-6 days in Monteverde too long?

    1. Hi Caitlin, Samara or Montezuma seem like they would work for your family, but Montezuma is quite a bit farther so we would go with Samara if your kids aren’t great in the car. It has a good beach for swimming, some wildlife activities, and isn’t super touristy (though is getting more popular). You could also look at Playa Hermosa Guanacaste, which is another smaller destination, but it has less forest and wildlife in general.

      4-5 days in Monteverde is good. Unless your kids are really good hikers, we wouldn’t do more than that. Hope that helps!

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