Family Itinerary for Costa Rica: Rainforest, Beach, and 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.

Overview

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.

Activities

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.

Waterfalls

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.

Overview

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.

Activities

Beaches

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

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)

Samara

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.

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