Kid-Friendly Costa Rica

Diverse landscapes and a laid-back vibe make Costa Rica a great destination for families.  

By Carrie Miller

Parents looking to show their kids the great outdoors may want to consider a vacation in Costa Rica. More than a quarter of the country is devoted to protective parks and reserves, so there are lots of fun opportunities to spot a sleepy sloth or capering capuchin monkey. Plus, it’s relatively easy to get around, allowing you to spend most of your time in nature instead of figuring out how to get there.

Hike Through Tropical Forests

Sugar-sand beaches, volcanoes and national parks draw travelers to the northwest province of Guanacaste. Consider flying into Danial Oduber International Airport located in its capital, Liberia. Just 15 miles from the city, the 34,800-acre Rincón de la Vieja National Park is filled with cascading waterfalls and bubbling mud pots. Howler monkeys, sloths and other animals make their home in the park’s tropical forests. It’s namesake—5,925-foot-high volcano Rincón de la Vieja—towers over trails that wind through hot springs and craters and afford panoramic views along the way.

See Wildlife Up-Close

On Guanacaste’s west coast, the 50-acre nonprofit Nosara Wildlife Sanctuary at SIBU rescues injured or orphaned animals such as collared anteaters or capuchins, rehabilitates them and then reintroduces them into the wild. Some are given a permanent home inside the grounds. Two-hour visits include a guided tour and conservation talk. Children must be at least 5 years old, and for the protection of the animals, travelers need to have been in Costa Rica for at least three days before entering the sanctuary. (Tip: Reservations are essential.)

Take a Class

South of Nosara lies the tranquil bay of Carrillo. It’s got a sandy bottom, small waves and no undertow, making it a great place for beginners, and you can sign the family up for surf lessons. You can also take a guided hike with Samara Trails through the tropical dry forest of the Werner Sauter Biological Reserve, which may include a stop at a mango plantation, where kids can sink their teeth into fresh organic fruit. The Samara InfoCenter offers a small tropical cooking class using ingredients picked from a nearby garden. Classes cater to all levels, and dishes may include coconut chicken and other local specialties.

Explore the Beaches and Waterways

Guanacaste is home to more than 400 miles of coastline, and its most stunning beaches are set along the Gulf of Papagayo. Five beautiful crescents dot the coastline—Playa Matapalo, Playa Ocotal, Playa del Coco, Playa Hermosa and Playa Panama. Pick one and spend a day (or two or three) frolicking in the waves or picnicking on the sand. You might also consider heading inland to Palo Verde National Park for an all-day river tour with Anywhere Costa Rica. You may spot iguanas or storks, and the tour ends with a visit to a traditional Guaitil village, where you’ll find examples of pottery created in the pre-Columbian style of the Chorotegas, an indigenous tribe. Some pieces depict the varied wildlife Costa Rica is known for and make great souvenirs to remind you of your time in this colorful country.

Anywhere Costa Rica
888-371-0214;; tours, from $103* a person 
Nosara Wildlife Sanctuary at SIBU
Guanacaste; 011-506-8413-8889;; admission, $65 a person
Rincón de la Vieja National Park
Guanacaste; 011-506-2666-0630; admission, $15 a person
Samara InfoCenter
Beach St., Playa Samara, Guanacaste; 011-506-2656-2424;
Samara Trails
Samara Beach, Guanacaste; 011-506-2656-0920;; tours, $40 a person; children under 12 years old, $30
  • *Prices have been converted to U.S. dollars.
  • NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
  • Published: July 2016