Family Travel: Why Costa Rica is the Perfect Destination

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 sons here and couldn’t be happier with the environment their growing up in. In this post, we’ll explain why Costa Rica is the perfect destination for family travel.

Family Travel in Costa Rica - Why Costa Rica is the Perfect Destination


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.

Why Costa Rica is the Perfect Destination Families - Chocolate Tour
Chocolate tour near Manuel Antonio


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 kids 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 FortunaUvita/Dominical, Drake Bay, Cahuita, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, and Tortuguero. Follow the links to our destination guides with detailed information about the different towns.

Why Costa Rica is Perfect Destination for Families - the Wildlife
Two-toed sloths most often can be seen on the Central and southern Pacific coast, as well as the Caribbean coast

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.

Kid-Friendly Activities

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.

Why Costa Rica is Perfect Destination Families - Night Tours
A night tour in Drake Bay

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, Playa Hermosa, and Playa Potrero in Guanacaste Province, or Manuel Antonio or Esterillos Oeste 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.

Why Costa Rica is Perfect Families - Waterfalls
The stunning Nauyaca Waterfalls near Dominical

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.

Family Travel in Costa Rica
Hiking in Cahuita, Costa Rica with our son Sam


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. For more information on the  best destinations to visit and things to do with your children, check out the Family Travel section of our website. 

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.


  1. Hi Jenn and Matt,

    This article and your book are proving very useful in planning our August trip to Costa Rica with our 9 and 12 year-old girls.

    So far I am thinking of splitting up our two weeks between La Fortuna, Samara and Monteverde. Since this is the rainy season I am wondering how smart it would be taking two kids up to Monteverde. The hanging bridges there sound amazing however. Can they still be explored during August rain?

    Also, will there be plenty of opportunities to view wildlife with these three locations? Should I add in Manuel Antonio to the itinerary as well? I’d prefer not to unless it really is that much better for exploring the rainforest and wildlife spotting.


    1. Hi Anthony, Monteverde should be ok in August in terms of rain. Just plan to get your activities in during the morning hours when rain is less likely. Hanging bridges can still be done in the rain but the experience will be better if you can avoid it since wildlife will be less active.

      You should be able to see a decent amount of wildlife in those 3 destinations so that you can avoid adding Manuel Antonio if you prefer not to go there. If you’d like advice on specific tours that are good for seeing wildlife with kids that age, we’d be happy to help through our Tour Booking Service. We specialize in family travel and work with a lot of different families.

    2. Hi Jenn and Matt,

      We are a family of 5 (kids are 13, 11, 6) and we would like to spend a week exploring either Monteverde or Arenal by renting a car after landing in Liberia. For the final week of the trip we’d like to spend time on the beaches on the Pacific side.
      Is it safe to drive around these areas in July?
      Thank you,

      1. Hi Allison, July isn’t super rainy usually and the routes you will be traveling on are all major roads. If you only access Monteverde from Liberia, even that road (Route 606), is fully paved now. It’s still nice to have a 4×4 for Monteverde, though, because many of the smaller side roads are still tough dirt. Here’s a link to our Road Conditions post with more specific information on road conditions:

  2. We are flying into San Jose and visiting Manuel Antonio and Nicoya Peninsula (Montezuma, Isla Tortuga) with our kids. I just reviewed the CDC’s recommended vaccines including rabies, Hep A and typhoid and wondering if the recommendations would apply to the Cities we are visiting? The CDC website is vague.

  3. Hello,
    Our extended family of 14 is staying in Playa Grande the end of the month. We are renting a large van (seats 9), and have ages 6-70. We are renting a house, and are limiting travel somewhat b/c of grandparents. Any beaches you’d recommend we definitely visit (that we can easily drive to)? We plan to hit Llanos de Cortez, and will hopefully do the estuary tour in Tamarindo. Kids would also love to try snorkeling.

    Also, curious how much cash (small denominations I assume) we should plan to bring along with us? Thanks.

    1. Hi Amy, Playa Conchal is good for people of all ages because the water is usually calmer. It’s about a half hour from Playa Grande and it’s possible to do casual snorkeling from the shore if conditions are right. There are also some smaller beaches in the Brasilito area if you want something more off-the-beaten path. See our Brasilito post for info.

      It’s hard to give advice on how much cash to bring because it varies a lot by traveler. You can read our Money Matters post for more info about that. Hope your family has a great trip!

  4. Matt,

    I am planning on traveling and staying in Punta Leona over Thanksgiving with three teen age girls. Can you give me some suggestions of what to do with them?? I know we will try and get to the beach at least once, and maybe deep sea fishing. What else is close by to do??

  5. Hey there,

    Thanks for offering your expertise, in advance! My partner and I are getting married in June, but already have a one (almost two) year old, who will be with us for our honeymoon, for ten days or so, in July! We are looking to find a couple amazing lodges, that feel special and splurge-worthy but also can accommodate a toddler. We are also new to planning, so haven’t narrowed down the specific places we want to go, though Monteverde appeals to us, and we are more nature/mountain/hot spring loving people than we are beach people. Do any spots come to mind that can’t be missed!? Many thanks!

    1. Hi Liz, That is a very specific question. We would want to know more about the two of you and where you should visit in order to give recommendations. The best way for us to help you would be through our Custom Itinerary Service. Here is the link for more information. We love planning honeymoons and would love to share our experience traveling here with little kids!

  6. Hi Matt and Jenn,

    What has the Costa Rica done to prevent the spread of coronavirus in its country? Has the country stopped flights from China or other countries listed on the CDC website? Are there any current cases in Costa Rica that you are aware of?

    Thank you!

    1. Hi Jasleene, Costa Rica currently has no suspected or confirmed cases of coronavirus. There are no travel restrictions on entry into the country right now. Here is a good link on information on the measures that have been taken with regard to prevention: Costa Rica has the testing kits and has been using them at the airports to test anyone who is arriving in the country from an affected area and is showing any symptoms. The Ministry of Health is monitoring the situation and working with public and private hospitals and clinics as well. Here’s another good article in English:

  7. Hi,
    I am planning on going to Costa rica in August. Single mom with two boys , 9. 12. I drive all the time on trips, but solo in a foreign country, I am debating renting a car vs shuttles. HOw easy is it tro drive around and the rental process? I have read some negative reviews about renting.

    1. Hi Jaqui, Driving here isn’t bad as long as you have your route planned and avoid driving long distances after dark. Roads are not well marked and different conditions can make it harder to drive after dark (poor visibility due to fog or rain; lines not marked; little to no street lighting). But most people find driving here not as bad as what they expected. Here is a link to our article all about driving in Costa Rica:

      The key to having a good experience renting a car is choosing a reputable company. There are a few good ones but we recommend Adobe. They have newer cars, good customer service, and are straightforward with their fees. Here is a link to our rental car discount page if you’d like to learn more or check availability and get a quote: Our readers get 10% off and other benefits.

      Hope you and your boys have a great visit!

  8. Hi Jenn and Matt,

    We plan to stay 5 weeks in Costa Rica with our baby on board (6 months) from mid July until end of August 2021. We did not arrange a complete tour planning yet, but one of our so far favourite places might be the Drake Bay / Carate / Corcovado Park area. We plan to stay there for the last week and were thinking of getting rid of the car for at least the days in that area, as we would have to leave the car outside (in Sierpe?) anyway.

    Therefore, would you recommend to drop off the rental car in Uvita? And what would be the best way to get from Uvita to Sierpe then?
    Afterwards we thought of either flying back from Drake Bay to San Jose Airport, or rent a car again to drive to San Jose.
    We are very happy if you have any advice for us regarding the logistics and maybe also accomodations around Drake Bay and Carate (with baby :))!

    Thank you!
    Jeannine & Jan

    1. Hi Jeannine and Jan, Often it is less expensive for people to keep the car while they are in Drake (and leave it in Sierpe), but if you plan to stay there for a week, it will probably be cheaper to drop off the car in Uvita. You could do that and then take a private shuttle from Uvita to Sierpe. For the return to San José, we currently are not recommending small planes due to safety and reliability concerns. Shuttling is an option. Gray line has a shared option but I think it’s still around $100 pp. a private shuttle would be $375 total,
      so it may be cheaper to just take a shuttle back to Uvita to get another car. As far as we know, none of the rental car companies are offering delivery of cars to Sierpe anymore. The company that we recommend, Adobe, does have an office in Uvita. Here’s the link to our rental car page if you’d like to check availability and rates: Our readers get 10% off and free car seats, which is nice.

      For where to stay in Drake Bay, you can check out our Drake destination guide: It would probably be easier to stay in or around town with a baby.

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