Costa Rica is one of the most stable countries in Central America, with welcoming Ticos, lodgings to suit every style and budget, as well as long-established operators offering an array of family-friendly activities from easy wildlife encounters with sloths and toucans to adrenaline-fueled adventures. 

Its landscapes of smoldering volcanos, palm-fringed beaches and magical rainforests are epic, but thanks to good infrastructure, all these natural wonders can be enjoyed by the youngest travelers.

Many attractions and public transport offer discounts for kids under 12, and toddlers and babies often go free – always ask if you're unsure. 

The best places to travel in Costa Rica with kids

La Fortuna is one of the top destinations in Costa Rica for kids of all ages, where activities revolve around the still-rumbling Arenal Volcano, and hiking, kayaking, zip lining and hot springs are all on offer.

Manuel Antonio on the Central Pacific coast offers easy wildlife watching and sublime beaches, Monteverde’s cloud forest reserves brim with colorful birds and butterflies, and Guanacaste Province gives kiddos the chance to ride the Pacific rollers.

The best things to do in Costa Rica with kids 

The best things to do in Costa Rica with babies and toddlers: nature, butterflies and cuddly-looking animals.

An increasing number of Costa Rica’s national parks – including Manuel Antonio, Arenal Volcano and Carara – have accessible, well-marked trails where you can push a stroller as you hike.

So immerse your young adventurers in the sights, sounds and smells of the rainforest as you look out for monkeys, sloths and scarlet macaws – a night hike is the ultimate adventure for young jungle explorers.

Or learn about sloths and other wild things at a wildlife sanctuary – perhaps Kids Saving the Rainforest in Manuel Antonio or Sloth Sanctuary Selvatura Park and the Butterfly Garden near Monteverde. 

Two children look into the crater of Poas volcano © Matteo Colombo / Getty Images
Two children gaze into the smoking crater of the Poás volcano © Matteo Colombo / Getty Images

The best things to do in Costa Rica with young children (aged 4 to 7): volcanoes, hot springs and foodie tours

Fledgling volcanologists will enjoy peering into Poás Volcano’s yawning crater with its stunning turquoise lake – the route to the viewpoint is stroller accessible. Book online in advance; afternoon cloud cover is common, so try to arrive as early as possible.

Arenal Volcano’s perfect cone sits within its namesake national park near La Fortuna. Climbing to the top is a no-go, but several trails crisscross lava fields and wind through its butterfly, bird and snake-filled rainforest – the short, flat Los Heliconias trail is ideal for kids. 

Then enjoy a family soak in the region’s hot springs – the budget friendly Baldi Hot Springs has a dedicated area for kids – or splurge on a day pass at The Springs Resort & Spa with its forest trails, water slides and an array of pools. 

You only have to drop into a local market to marvel at Costa Rica’s dazzling array of tropical fruits, and lots of farms run kid-friendly foodie tours like the sustainable Finca El Paraiso in Monteverde, where you can milk a cow and discover how cheese is made. Or, go from bean to bar on the Two Little Monkeys chocolate tour near La Fortuna.

Mixed race boy zip lining
A world of adventure awaits your kids in Costa Rica © Mike Tauber/Getty Images/Tetra images RF

Best things to do in Costa Rica with tweens and teenagers: zip lines, surfing and rafting

Whizzing along one of Costa Rica’s many zip lines will thrill even the most hard-to-please teen. Some companies allow thrill seekers as young as three years old to soar above the forest canopy (attached to a guide), while some have a minimum weight and height limit, so check before you book.

Ecoglide Arenal Park is one of the best, and Selvatura Park in Monteverde offers family packages, including a monkey's eye view of the forest from a series of hanging bridges. 

Novice wave riders of all ages can find a beach break along Costa Rica’s seemingly endless Pacific coastline. Surf schools specializing in family fun include Peaks ’n Swells, close to the laid-back beach town of Montezuma on the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula – they cater to learner surfers as young as four.

Or head for the calm waters of Playa Sámara and rent a boogie board. Always be aware of rip currents and ask advice from a local – ideally a lifeguard – before letting young swimmers dive in. 

For more water adventures, Costa Rica’s rivers boast some spine-tingling rapids, and first-time rafters from four years of age can ride Class I rapids with time for a swim and a snack break while older kids can take on more high-octane whitewater. Aventuras del Sarapiquí offers family-friendly rafting tours, relaxed tubing and more. 

A child practices the basics of surfing on the beach
Kids learn the basics on the beach at a surf school in Santa Teresa. © GROGL/Shutterstock

Planning tips for traveling in Costa Rica with kids

Tap water is safe to drink except in remote rural areas. But if you’d rather not risk it with your little ones, save the environment (and some money) by investing in a water filter such as LifeStraw – they have a version for kids and a program donating safe drinking water to schools.

High-factor, reef-safe sunscreen is usually more expensive in Costa Rica, so buy it at home. And pack some long pants for rainforest hikes and closed-toe hiking shoes to keep your budding David Attenboroughs from getting stung by fire ants.

 

This article was first published Apr 11, 2016 and updated Oct 6, 2023.

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