Costa Rica has always held special place in my heart. My husband and I came here for our honeymoon, and spent an idyllic few days in Manuel Antonio National Park. Despite getting robbed in Costa Rica on our last day, we knew we would some day come back and visit Costa Rica with kids.
Ten years later, we are back in the same country. Despite the changes we have seen in the ten years since (tourism has exploded here in Costa Rica!), our love for Costa Rica still remains. It’s a beautiful country. And the people in Costa Rica are truly welcoming and friendly. We have been absolutely loving our Costa Rican vacation with kids thus far!
Taking a Costa Rica vacation with kids
Costa Rica is a small country in Central America, bordered by Nicaragua to the North, and Panama to the East. The Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea line either side of the country’s coast lines. Despite occupying a very small fraction of the earth’s landmass, Costa Rica is home to around 5% of the earth’s biodiversity. This makes Costa Rica a must-visit for nature enthusiasts. And if you’re visiting Costa Rica with kids who love animals, then you’re in for a treat!
Because of its natural attractions and biodiversity, much of Costa Rica’s tourism centers around ecotourism. There is a strong sustainability component to many of the tourist activities in the country, especially among the more established and reputable companies. Preserving the environment is the topmost priority on many companies’ list. I really appreciate that about Costa Rica.
Planning some Costa Rica family tours
Prior to coming here, we reached out to a travel company called Il Viaggio Travel, that arranges Costa Rica family tours. They’re based out of Escazu, just outside of San Jose. Il Viaggio Travel works with local tour companies, attractions, and hotels throughout the country to help families visiting Costa Rica plan their perfect Costa Rica vacation with kids. They’re a Costa Rican company, and also a family with young kids, so they completely understand what it’s like to be in Costa Rica with kids.
Il Viaggio Travel helped us arrange transport around Costa Rica, from San Jose to Manuel Antonio, and then from Manuel Antonio to La Fortuna. They also helped organize one of our activities in Manuel Antonio, a canopy zip-lining tour. Stephanie, one of the owners, is so easy to work with, and is a wealth of knowledge about Costa Rica. She’s been in the tourism industry her in Costa Rica for year!
One of the other unique things about Il Viaggio Tours is that they’re the only company in Costa Rica that organizes accessible tours – essentially tours for families with wheelchairs, disabilities, and even strollers. I love that they’re making Costa Rica family tours something that’s truly accessible for all types of families!
Our tips for enjoying Costa Rica with kids
It’s been fun visiting Costa Rica with kids. Costa Rica’s motto, pura vida, is something that the locals live by every day. Literally, it translates to “pure life,” but I feel like it’s more a philosophy of enjoying life to the fullest.
For families coming to Costa Rica, experiencing the pura vida life is a great way to reconnect. To fully enjoy your Costa Rica vacation with kids, here are ten of my best tips.
Tip #1: Expect to pay American prices
After living in Mexico for four months, I have to admit that I experienced some sticker shock coming here to Costa Rica. Travel magazines tout how inexpensive Costa Rica is, but the increase in tourism has really led to a jump in prices for things like hotels, food, and transport. If you’re coming to Costa Rica with kids, expect to pay similar prices to what you would pay in the United States. Costa Rica is no longer cheap.
Tip #2: Don’t get money at the airport
In the airport in San Jose, there are money changers right at the baggage claim area. You can certainly exchange a few dollars or euros there, just enough to get you to the hotel or buy a meal. But don’t exchange more than that as the exchange rates are horrendous! You’re better off going to a cajero automatic, an ATM, when you’re in the city and withdrawing cash.
Tip #3: Spend some time in San Jose
Most Costa Rica family tours will skip San Jose and go directly to places of interest to visitors: Manuel Antonio, Arenal Volcano, or Monteverde. But in my opinion, you’re missing out on exploring a cool city if you do that! If you’re flying in and out of San Jose, considering spending a few days at the beginning or end of your trip to explore San Jose. It’s a pretty unique and fun city to visit.
Tip #4: Use Booking to help you find budget-friendly hotels
We are all about budget travel, so we’re always trying to find ways to minimize our spending. Even though prices in Costa Rica may be high, there are still some budget options available in terms of accommodations.
Use hotel search websites like Booking to help you find some budget-friendly accommodations.
While we were in San Jose, we thought it would be fun to stay in the same bed and breakfast that we stayed at for our honeymoon, Casa 69. It was a budget option for us back then, and fortunately it’s still a good budget option today. Even in tourist-filled places like Manuel Antonio, you can still find a few budget-friendly hotels, close to the beach and national park. We ended up staying at Waterfront Hotel Verde Mar, which had direct access to the beach!
Tip #5: Eat at the sodas
One way we try and save money during our Costa Rica vacation with kids is to eat at the local eateries, called sodas. These places serve typically Costa Rican dishes like soups, ceviche, and rice with meat. We like ordering casados, which consists of any type of meat with rice, along with beans, plantains, salad, and some kind of vegetable side dish. The cost of this dish tends to be between 2,500 to 4,000 colones ($4-$7), depending on what city you’re in.
Tip #6: Consider renting a car
Buses in Costa Rica are really cheap. According to the tourism board, the public bus rates between cities tends to be around $1 for every 25-30 kms. This can be a great option for a family visiting Costa Rica with kids. However, travel times on the buses can be long. And in some cases, the are no buses that serve the destinations you want to travel to. The next best option is the Interbus, which are public shuttles that service popular tourist destinations. However, the rates can be $45-$65 for adults, and $22.50-$32.50 for kids.
If you’re planning on traveling to multiple cities during your Costa Rica vacation with kids, you might want to consider renting a car instead. Car rental rates range between $50-$90 per day, inclusive of basic insurance. Rentals of a week or more tend to yield the lower rates. Renting a car can give you the flexibility of traveling around Costa Rica at your own pace, and might actually be cheaper than taking the shuttles.
Tip #7: Hire a guide
Ten years ago, when we were visiting Manuel Antonio National Park along the southern Pacific Coast, we decided not to hire a guide. Instead, we walked through the park on our own and tried to spot animals during our hike. This time around, we decided to hire a guide through a company called Efrain’s Nature Tour. And we’re so glad that we did. During our three hour hike in Manuel Antonio National Park, we saw over 20 animals! If you’re doing some Costa Rica family tours, there may already be a guide included in your tour.
Tip #8: Don’t pack in too many activities in one day
One thing we’ve learned from traveling with kids is to take it slow! This tip is no different when you’re doing a Costa Rica vacation with kids. There are so many activities to choose from in Costa Rica. You can have your pick of zip lining, hiking, horseback riding, rafting, swimming, farm tours, or a combination of all them! If you’re planning on visiting Costa Rica with kids, try and refrain from packing in too many activities into one day. Instead, try and just choose one activity per day, and spend the rest of the day enjoying the pura vida lifestyle!
Tip #9: Respect the rules
Tourism is Costa Rica’s main industry. As such, the Costa Rican government knows that if they want to maintain that industry, they need to invest in rules and regulations to protect the natural resources and environment. Many of the rules that exist in the national parks or outdoor locations are in place to help protect tourists and to protect the environment. If you’re planning to visit Costa Rica, respect the rules that are in place.
Tip #10: Give the animals their space
On a similar note, if you’re planning to do some wildlife watching during your visit to Costa Rica with kids, be sure to give the animals their space. If you feed the animals, they may end up becoming aggressive towards you, as they expect you to give them food. And sometimes, prolonged contact and exposure to humans can change some animals’ natural behaviors. This can have unintended consequences to the ecosystem of Costa Rica. While you’re certainly welcome to take pictures of the animals that you see during your visit to Costa Rica, it’s best to keep a safe distance and give them their space.
Making family memories in Costa Rica
In our short time here in Costa Rica, we’ve made some amazing family memories together. We loved hiking in Manuel Antonio National Park and seeing all the natural wildlife. And we enjoyed challenging ourselves on the canopy tour near Manuel Antonio, and zip-lining through the trees.
Whatever you end up doing in Costa Rica, I’m sure that you’ll have a great time. And with these tips, you’ll certainly be able to make your own family memories of Costa Rica.
Have you visited Costa Rica with kids? Share your memories of taking a Costa Rica vacation with kids in the comments.
Note: I received a hosted stay of one night for my family and me courtesy of Il Viaggio Travel. I also received a guided tour of Manuel Antonio National Park with Efrain’s Nature Tours courtesy of CNN. However, the opinions expressed in this blog post are completely my own.
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