If you’ve been considering taking the kids overseas for the first time, you may have some reservations. We often hear from parents asking if Costa Rica is a good destination for families. They raise concerns about safety, aren’t sure what to expect, and are overwhelmed by planning a family vacation to a foreign country. Our answer is always that Costa Rica is the perfect destination for a first international trip with kids. We’ve been raising our son here and couldn’t be happier with the environment he’s growing up in. In this post, we’ll explain why Costa Rica is the perfect destination for family travel.
One of the main reasons that Costa Rica is such a family-friendly destination is the culture. The people here are very friendly and genuinely kind. They absolutely love kids, and family life is paramount. As an example, for the locals, Sundays are typically devoted to spending time with family. If you head to the beach on a Sunday, you are guaranteed to see families there for the day, barbequing or playing soccer on the beach. Family is embedded in the culture so it only makes sense that it is a great place to bring kids.
Tourism is Established
Another big reason that Costa Rica is great for families is that the country is set up for tourism. Tourism is the number one industry so planning a trip here is relatively straightforward. Sure, there are many choices for destinations within the country, but you will have no problem finding suitable options for hotels, activities, and transportation. In addition, hotels and many restaurants are set up for children. Hotels often have portable cribs if you’re traveling with a baby or practical bed configurations that work for older children (like twins or bunk beds). Many restaurants, especially in popular destinations, have kids’ menus for those picky eaters. For getting around, rental car agencies offer car seats, and transportation companies have to provide them by law as well.
If you’re thinking of visiting with your baby, be sure to read our post Traveling with a Baby in Costa Rica for more on what to expect.
Keep in mind that just because you’re visiting a place where tourism is established, that doesn’t mean you’ll miss out on a cultural experience for you and your family. The locals take great pride in their country and love sharing it with others. So even if your guide speaks fluent English, he or she will still teach you about their way of life and let you practice your Spanish if you want.
Food safety concerns that exist in some other Latin American countries don’t really apply in Costa Rica. The food is safe to eat, even raw foods. We let us our son try fruits right from the local farmers’ market. The water is safe almost everywhere too, and treatment is regulated by the government. There are exceptions, however. If you’re traveling to certain beach towns in Guanacaste or to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Tourtuguero, Cahuita, or Drake Bay, we recommend filtered. Most hotels, vacation rentals, and restaurants in affected towns will provide filtered water, but it doesn’t hurt to ask if you aren’t sure. You could also bring a water bottle that filters it automatically.
Costa Rica is also quite safe from a crime perspective. The country has a peaceful democracy and no army. That means you won’t see military personnel holding scary guns or anything like that. Most crime is petty theft that can be avoided by taking precautions. A great example is going to the beach. Bags left on the sand while people are swimming are a target for thieves. But this can be easily avoided by bringing nothing of value with you or having one person stay with the bags. For more information on staying safe, read our Safety Tips post.
Wildlife and Nature
Costa Rica is one of the most biodiverse places in the world. It has almost 250 species of mammals and more than 800 different types of birds. There aren’t too many places in the world where you can literally have wildlife like monkeys, toucans, and sloths right outside your window. Some of the best destinations for wildlife viewing, which are also great for families, are Manuel Antonio, La Fortuna, Uvita/Dominical, Drake Bay, Cahuita, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, and Tortuguero. Follow the links to our destination guides with detailed information about the different towns.
Not only is wildlife plentiful, but there is so much opportunity for your kids to be out in nature. Since the climate is favorable, with tropical temperatures year-round, almost all activities are outdoors. Your kids will love exploring the rainforest, discovering cool plants, bugs, and butterflies along the way. Another interesting thing to note is that although Costa Rica has a tropical climate, some regions have different ecosystems. That means that one day you can be exploring the rainforest, and the next, the cool misty cloud forest.
Costa Rica is the postcard for ecotourism and adventure travel, making it a playground for kids too. There are kid-friendly activities for all ages. You will find wildlife rehabilitation centers that will let them get up close to animals, hanging bridges through the forest canopy, and fun night tours to see the creepy crawlies that come out after dark.
If you stay in one of the more popular destinations, like La Fortuna/Arenal Volcano or Manuel Antonio, you also will be able to do a ton of different adventure activities. Some may sound scary at first, but things like waterfall rappelling, zip lining, safari river floats, kayak tours, and horseback tours all can be great activities with kids.
Beaches and Waterfalls
Another obvious plus of traveling to Costa Rica with kids are the plentiful beaches. Costa Rica has thousands of miles of coastline, bordering both the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea. With so much beach, everyone is sure to find their perfect spot. Although some of Costa Rica’s beaches have rip currents, with a little research, you can find plenty with calmer water for swimming. Some beach towns that are particularly good for families are Playa Samara and Playa Hermosa in Guancaste or Manuel Antonio on the Central Pacific coast.
Waterfalls are also abundant in Costa Rica and so fun with kids. Some, like Llanos de Cortez, have sandy beaches where you can spend the day. Many, like the Uvita Waterfall, are easily accessible and perfect for young children. Others, like the Nauyaca Waterfalls, are harder to get to, but spectacular and well worth the adventure.
Ease of Travel
Building an Itinerary
Although Costa Rica is small on a map (about the size of West Virginia), the country is divided by big mountain ranges that can make travel more complicated. Still, it’s not too difficult to put together a family-friendly itinerary. With kids, we suggest picking two or three destinations depending on the length of your trip. This will allow you to see the country’s best beaches, rainforest, and wildlife, without having to spend too much time in the car.
Tip: Be cautious of staying in only one destination and doing day trips from there. Some hotels advertise day trips from beach destination to the cloud forest or volcano areas. These excursions can be extremely far away and costly in some cases. For many, you may have to travel 3+ hours in each direction and pay hundreds of dollars per person. In our opinion, it’s better to stay a few nights in those far-off destinations and get in your beach time separately.
For a sample one or two-week family itinerary, check out our book, Top 10 Costa Rica Itineraries. We also design custom itineraries and can help plan a getaway based on your family’s specific wants and needs. Learn more on our Itinerary Help page.
Another factor that boggles many parents is transportation. Fortunately, there are several options. Renting a car is easy and what we recommend for most families if they’re comfortable driving. Rental cars are often more affordable than shuttles for a family of four and give you the flexibility to stop and go as you please. That means you can make quick stops to let the kids run around and stretch their legs to break up those longer drives.
For those not interested in getting behind the wheel, shuttles are a great option and connect major towns and some smaller ones too. Private and shared shuttles are available. For more information on which is best for your family, read our post Shuttles in Costa Rica: How They Work and When to Use Them.
We hope that this article gave you some general guidance on what makes Costa Rica a family-friendly destination. In the coming months, we’ll be writing more posts about family travel. We’ll cover more specific topics to help you figure out the best destinations to visit and things to do with your children. To receive our articles by email, just sign up for our mailing list. It’s free!
Have a question about traveling to Costa Rica with your kids? Ask us below.
Want more information to plan your family getaway to Costa Rica? Check out these posts:
- Driving in Costa Rica – If you’re unsure about renting a car, read this post for more information on what it’s like to drive here. Covers road conditions, local customs, and rainy season travel.
- La Fortuna Hotel Guide – La Fortuna is a great destination for families visiting Costa Rica for the first time. Read our guide for the best hotels with hot springs and volcano views.
- Best Time to Visit Costa Rica – Costa Rica has two distinct seasons, dry and rainy season. Find out why rainy season can be a great time to visit with this post.