Best Places to Visit in Costa Rica as a Family

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Costa Rica is rightfully known across the world as one of the best family travel destinations – let us help you plan for trip to Costa Rica with kids!

The country is beautiful, safe, and friendly – not a bad start.

One of the best reasons to travel to Costa Rica with kids is the endless vacation options.

You and your family can enjoy vacations centered around:

Whatever it is that your family is looking for – you can rest assured that Costa Rica has it in abundance.

Family surf lesson in Costa Rica

Costa Rica by beaches

It’s only right that we start off this guide with Costa Rica’s spectacular coastline.

After all, Costa Rica actually translates to “rich coast”. And rich it is – the country has 912 miles of coastline!

The country is also one of only 11 countries in the world that have both an Atlantic and Pacific coast – let’s dive into some of our favorite spots along both of them!

Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio National Park is actually the smallest national park in Costa Rica!

Located just over an hour away from us here at Bodhi Surf + Yoga, Manuel Antonio National Park is a popular day trip for those staying around the Uvita and Dominical areas.

Manuel Antonio National Park with kids

The national park’s main beaches are:

  • Playa Espadilla Norte
  • Playa Espadilla Sur
  • Manuel Antonio Beach

Playa Espadilla Norte is recommended for families with younger children. It’s the closest beach to downtown Manuel Antonio and has all the amenities your family could need:

  • Lifeguards on duty
  • Parking
  • Public restrooms
  • Nearby restaurants
  • Local vendors

Entry into this beach is also free, as it sits just outside of the national park. This will make the beach a bit busier than the others within the Manuel Antonio National Park.

Playa Espadilla Norte has plenty of activities to keep the whole family busy. Tours and activities can be booked at hotels or companies in Manuel Antonio, and include:

  • Jet ski tours
  • Snorkeling
  • Surf (lessons or board rentals)
  • Horseback riding
  • Parasailing

Playa Espadilla Sur requires a bit more of a trek to access – but it’s much quieter, more secluded, and less commercialized than Espadilla Norte.

It’s located inside the Manuel Antonio National Park, and is perfect for families looking to get off the beaten path a bit.

Because of this, this beach is recommended for families that tend to be more active.

Playa Espadilla Sur is also a haven for animal and wildlife enthusiasts, with many tour options based around this.

Here, you’re bound to see some of Costa Rica’s famed wildlife while trekking through the jungle to the beach, including toucans and sloths!

Manuel Antonio Beach is about a 30-minute hike from the national park’s main entrance – making it a dream option for those families that enjoy a hike and an adventure!

If you’re into snorkeling, this is the beach for you. The undisturbed coral seascape makes Manuel Antonio Beach a haven for all sorts of colorful marine wildlife.

You won’t find the watersports activities at this beach, but it’s a pristine location for swimming, surfing, and snorkeling.

*NOTE*: The beaches within the national park are open from 7am – 4pm every day except for Tuesdays. Entry costs $18.08 for adults, and $5.56 for children aged 2 –7.

Playa Chaman in the Marino Ballena National Park

Marino Ballena National Park

The Marino Ballena National Park gets its name from the humpback whales that migrate here year to year from December to April to mate.

The park is based in a small town called Uvita – which is where you can find us here at Bodhi Surf + Yoga!

The national park covers 422 land acres and 13,281 sea acres, with the main objective being to protect and preserve the thriving marine ecosystems located here.

*NOTE*: The park opens from 7am – 8pm, and costs $6.78 for everyone above 12 years of age.

Now we may be biased, but we believe that this is the best place in the world to surf.

The beach is wide and extends about two miles from end to end, meaning we never have to worry about it being crowded during our surf lessons.

Our students can have all the space they need on the sand and in the water, leading to a comfortable surfing experience for them.

The Playa Uvita section of the beach is home to the famous Whale’s Tail! You’re sure to have seen photos of this sandbar in the shape of a whale’s tail when researching Costa Rica’s Pacific coast.

The majority of the tours that you can book leave from Playa Uvita, and include:

  • Snorkeling
  • Whale watching
  • Diving

At Bodhi Surf + Yoga, we work with a number of tour operators and help our guests book tours. Take a look at our guide for the activities you can do while here!

Our town is small and safe, but there’s still plenty to do – it’s the perfect vacation for your trip to Costa Rica with kids!

If you’re interested in bringing the family down to experience our spectacular national park, check out our family surf packages!

Costa Rican free frog

Puerto Viejo

If you’ve done any research into Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, you’ve definitely heard of Puerto Viejo.

If you tend to enjoy your vacations infused with the tranquility associated with Caribbean vibes, Puerto Viejo is the place for you.

Two of the best beaches for families include:

  • Playa Negra
  • Punta Uvita

Playa Negra is very near the restaurants and shops of the touristy Puerto Viejo town.

Because of this, the beach can get crowded at times.

But you can easily escape the crowds by walking further down the beach – it stretches over six miles!

Playa Negra is hailed as a great family destination, due to its:

  • Good waves for beginner surfers
  • Great reputation for swimming and snorkeling
  • Crystal clear water
  • Accessibility

It’s also known for its range of family-friendly tours and excursions on offer, including:

  • Indigenous chocolate tours
  • Macaw tours
  • E-bike beach tours
  • Wildlife rescue center

Playa Negra backs stretches to the Cahuita National Park. There, you can enjoy more Caribbean white sand beaches and lush jungles – an excellent day trip for the fam!

Punta Uva is one of the most typical Caribbean beaches that you’ll find on this side of the country, famed for its soft white sand and clear water.

The beach is about six miles from the Puerto Viejo town center, meaning to access it you’ll most likely need a car or take a taxi.

The pristine clear water makes for ideal snorkeling and diving conditions, where you can swim upon the beach’s coral reef and spot fish and crabs of thousands of colors.

What makes this beach even better?

Most of the area is within the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife refuge, making it an ideal location for families that enjoy nature and wildlife spotting!

Sunset in the Nicoya Peninsula

Nicoya Peninsula

The Nicoya Peninsula is known as an international wellness destination, and perfectly suits families that prefer more of an off-the-beaten-path experience.

The peninsula is 80 miles long and is characterized mainly by its rugged mountainous landscape and pristine secluded beaches.

Over the years, it has become a hub for visitors seeking wellness, yoga, digital detoxes, and surfing.

The Nicoya Peninsula is well equipped to host families looking for exactly this.

Two of the go-to beaches amongst families are:

  • Playa Santa Teresa
  • Nosara

Santa Teresa is a small town located remotely on the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, with its main beach being Playa Santa Teresa.

The main form of tourism within the town is wellness tourism – making it a very laid back and relaxing destination to visit.

For the surf-obsessed members of the family, Santa Teresa has got you covered.

Playa Santa Teresa is known for its waves, and you can expect to find an uncrowded lineup due to the long wide beach.

Following a recent tourism boom over the last few years, visitors can find a selection of restaurants, hotels and resorts, amenities, and shops – whatever a family could need!

Nosara is another small town on the Nicoya Peninsula, and is known for a string of beaches – the most popular being:

  • Playa Guiones
  • Playa Pelada
  • Playa Garza

Playa Guiones is known for having the best surf out of the three.

Aside from surf and yoga, here families can enjoy:

Arenal Volcano

Costa Rica by volcanoes

If there’s one thing that Costa Rica is known for just as well as its beaches – it’s volcanos.

The country has over 60 volcanoes that are now considered extinct or dormant, and six that are still active.

Arenal Volcano

Arenal Volcano is probably Costa Rica’s most well known volcano – and rightly so. Standing at 5,437 ft tall, it deserves its spot at the top of this list.

Arenal is considered the adventure capital of Costa Rica. If your family has a hunger for adventure – this place has to be on your itinerary for Costa Rica with kids!

The beauty of Arenal Volcano is that it’s not just the volcano itself that attracts people – it’s everything that comes with it. There seems to be an unlimited amount of tour options here for families, including:

  • Hiking
  • Hot springs
  • Chocolate experiences
  • River safaris
  • Zip lining

Being based in the spectacular Arenal National Park, hiking is one of the all time favorite activities on offer here.

While you can’t hike the actual volcano, the 29,692 acre national park has a labyrinth of trails for all difficulty levels, with hundreds of viewpoints of the majestic volcano and the surrounding rainforest.

While hiking through the Arenal National Park, you’ll come across dozens of hanging bridges passing over rivers and valleys that seem to be hundreds of meters down.

The local town La Fortuna is also 100% worth checking out.

Here, there are some excellent restaurants, many souvenir and clothing stores, and tour operators. The town has a park situated in its center, and has a buzzing atmosphere all day long.

It’s not a bad spot to sit back and do some good old fashioned people watching!

Volcan Poas
Wiki Commons

Poás Volcano

Poás Volcano is another one of Costa Rica’s six active volcanoes.

Just a bit taller than Arenal Volcano, Poás stands at 8,900 ft high and is situated in the Volcano Poás National Park, which encompasses 2,965 acres.

This volcano might be a better option for families with younger kids, due to its ease of access.

You can drive right up to the top where the entry is, and access facilities such as restrooms, a restaurant, and a gift shop.

Once you’re at the entry point, you’ll be given a safety helmet and you’ll sit in a theater to watch an informative video about the volcano and the national park.

From there, it’s just a quick half a mile walk along a paved road to the viewpoint. Here, you’ll see the second largest crater in the world! It’s 0.9 miles in diameter, and 900 ft deep.

What you’ll also see, is one of the most acidic lakes in the world! The lake at the bottom of this crater has a pH of about zero – making it extremely acidic and toxic.

Sometimes, the lake boils and releases sulfurous gasses – definitely earning its name as hot lagoon (Laguna Caliente).

These gasses and chemicals create a very pleasing blue/green color within the lake – a beautiful contrast against the gray rocks!

*NOTICE*: The volcano is open from 8am – 3:30pm daily, and has a $10 entrance fee.

Irazu Volcano

Irazu Volcano

Location: Cartago Province
Distance from SJO airport: 2 hours drive
Recommended hotels for families: Guayabo Lodge, Hotel Quelitales, Orosi Lodge
Best for: Hiking, day trip, bird watching

Irazu Volcano is the tallest volcano in Costa Rica, standing at a giant 11,260 ft tall!

Just like Poás Volcano, Irazu is very accessible. It’s about 18 miles from Cartago and 30 miles from downtown San Jose – making it a great day trip option if you’re staying in either of those cities.

The Irazu Volcano National Park encompasses almost 6,000 acres – and has excellent self-guided hiking trails throughout the park.

At the volcano’s summit you can take a 1km walk to view the volcano’s four craters, as well as the crater lake Diego de la Haya which has dark green water.

Due to Irazu’s great height, it’s recommended to wrap up in warm clothes – it has an annual average temperature of 41 – 48.2 fahrenheit!

Many hotels and tour companies in the area provide tours that include visits to nearby hot springs. Other family tour options include:

  • Horseback riding
  • Canyoning
  • Rafting
  • Birding
  • Mountain biking

*NOTE*: The Irazu Volcano National Park opens daily from 8am – 3:30pm, and entry costs $15 for visitors over the age of 13, and $5 for children from the ages of 2 – 12.

The nearby city of Cartago is also worth a visit, especially for the history and culture buffs in the family.

Throughout its colorful history, the city has dealt with not only civil unrest, but also destruction resulting from natural disasters such as earthquakes and the effects of volcanic eruptions.

Many of the city’s ruins from these disasters can still be seen today, as well as the Spanish influence in the colonial style buildings – most significantly the Basilica.

Within Cartago, there are also a wide range of restaurants, hotels, and tour operators.

Volcano

Rincón de la Vieja Volcano

Location: Guanacaste Province
Distance from SJO airport: 4 hours drive
Recommended hotels for families: Borinquen Thermal Resort, Buena Vista Del Rincon, Blue River Family Resort & Hot Springs
Best for: Hiking, activities, hot springs

Rincón de la Vieja Volcano is based in Guanacaste – making it a great day trip option if you’re staying near the beaches of Tamarindo.

Although the volcano is about a four hour drive from the Juan Santamaría International Airport in San Jose, it’s only about an hour away from the Liberia airport.

The volcano stands tall at 6,286 ft, and is based in the Rincón de la Vieja National Park – which itself is located within the Guanacaste Conservation Area.

The national park comprises 3,409 acres, with the majority of the landscape being geothermal.

What does this mean? Hot springs! The majority of the tours you can book throughout the national park include visits to the park’s national hot springs.

It’s very popular to bathe in the mud (volcanic clay) found in these hot springs, due to its exfoliation and circulation benefits for the skin.

The national park has seven major hiking trails that you can self-guide yourself around.

If you and the fam are looking to book a guided tour, many of the hotels and local tour operators offer experiences such as:

*NOTE*: The national park opens from 8am – 3pm and is closed on Mondays. The price for entry for adults is $15, and $5 for children.

Waterfall in Costa Rica with kids

Costa Rica by waterfalls

Here at Bodhi Surf + Yoga in Uvita, one of our favorite things to do during a sweltering week is go to cool off at our local waterfall – we include it in our guests’ weekly schedule!

Trust us, there’s no better feeling than escaping the heat, heading into the mountains and cooling off at a jungle-shaded waterfall.

The great thing about Costa Rica is that, no matter where you are in the country, there’s most likely a waterfall not too far away – the country has hundreds of them!

La Fortuna Waterfall

In order to get to the La Fortuna Waterfall, a pretty steep hike is required.

Don’t let this put you off – it’s still completely doable as a family with kids, but it isn’t as easy as driving up to the entrance and it being right there.

The trail for the hike has had steps built into it – about 530 of them. This takes about 15 minutes walking down, and about 20-25 minutes walking back up.

On the way down you’ll be able to stop at various viewpoints, taking in breathtaking (quite literally) views of the Arenal Volcano National Park.

The La Fortuna Waterfall is located within a 210 acre biological reserve within the national park.

White-faced monkey in Costa Rica

Once you’ve reached it, unfortunately you’re not able to swim at the base because of its incredibly strong current. Instead, there are a number of pools that the water feeds into that are perfect for swimming – and cooling off after the 530 steps.

There are a few ways that people tend to embark on this excursion.

You can follow Catarata La Fortuna’s guide and do your own self-guided tour. There are plenty of facilities around, including:

  • Parking
  • Toilets
  • Souvenir shops
  • A restaurant
  • And an orchid garden

Another common (and very fun) option is booking a horseback riding tour. I personally highly recommend this tour – I am by no means a fan of horses (I’m terrified of them in fact), but had an amazing time trotting through the rainforest.

Other tours can also be arranged, including swinging bridges and hot springs tours.

*NOTE*: The La Fortuna Waterfall is open daily from 7am – 5pm, and entry costs $18 for adults, and $5 for children.

Nauyaca Waterfall

The magnificent Nauyaca Waterfall is located about 45 minutes from us here in Uvita, making it an ideal day trip if you’re staying in the area.

In order to enter the waterfall and the property you must have a reservation, which you can buy at the office for $10.

From there, you can hike to the waterfall and back, which is a seven mile round trip. You’re recommended to bring your own food and water, as there is nowhere to buy anything along the way.

Alternatively, you can book a tour through the office at Nauyaca Waterfall.

The 4×4 tours are their most popular – this is a much better option if you’re a family with young children or elderly family members.

You’ll be driven down to the ranger station near the base of the waterfall, and will then have to walk about 10 minutes. This part of the walk however is very doable with kids.

Once you’ve reached the waterfall, you’ll notice something very unique about Nauyaca – there’s two of them!

Nauyaca has an upper and a lower waterfall (both accessible), with a combined height of 200 ft.

There are multiple pools at the bottom of the lower fall for swimming, and you can climb up to the upper level to soak in the view.

For the adventurous families, horseback riding tours to the falls can also be arranged through Nauyaca’s office.

Nauyaca Waterfalls

La Paz Waterfall and Gardens

  • Location: Alajuela Province, Sarapiqui
  • Distance from SJO airport: 1 hour drive
  • Recommended hotels for families: Peace Lodge, Altura Hotel, Villa San Ignacio
  • Best for: Animals and wildlife, hiking, accessibility

Being located so close to San Jose, La Paz Waterfall and Gardens is one of the most accessible waterfalls in Costa Rica.

La Paz isn’t just one waterfall – the park contains five of them.

The largest waterfall is named La Paz, and has a jaw dropping 110 ft drop.

Our entire Bodhi Surf + Yoga team actually visited La Paz Waterfall and Gardens for a staff trip – and let us tell you, the place is incredible.

The 2 miles path leading to the waterfalls takes you through the cloud forest, which is amazing in itself. But along the way you’ll stumble upon many lookout points, with each one being even more incredible than the last.

These lookout points give you the most amazing views of each waterfall – bring a jacket, some of the platforms are in the splash zone!

The impressive waterfalls are only just a part of what La Paz Waterfall and Gardens has to offer. The property also has a butterfly farm, as well as an animal sanctuary with over 100 species of animals, including:

  • Jaguars
  • Pumas
  • Sloths
  • Snakes

The park comprises 70 acres of land – you could easily spend all day (or two!) here.

We’re a big fan of this place – not just because our team had an amazing time there, but because of their dedication to sustainability.

La Paz Waterfall and Gardens has been awarded the Ecological Blue Flag, something that we’re in the process of doing here at Bodhi Surf + Yoga.

La Paz Waterfall Gardens

Catarata Llanos de Cortez

Catarata Llanos de Cortez is often referred to as an oasis in the desert, as it’s based in the dry Guanacaste region.

This waterfall is a great option for families with young children – new development in the area has made Catarata Llanos de Cortez much more accessible.

The waterfall is only about 100 meters from the parking lot! The walk itself is very easy – there is a path with steps and a rope for handrail.

This waterfall is great in both the dry and rainy seasons.

During the dry season the pool at the foot of the waterfall is shallow enough that you can stand in it. There’s also a sandy beach facing the falls, making it a great spot for a picnic and sunbathing.

During the rainy season, another waterfall forms on the wall to the right of the main fall, due to all of the excess water.

The Catarata Llanos de Cortez property is also fully equipped with bathroom facilities.

*NOTE*: Admission fee is $7 for adults, $4 for children, and free for kids under the age of 6. Parking is included with the admission fees.

Fiery-billed Aracari
Cusinga (Aracari) bird in Costa Rica

Costa Rica by wildlife and nature

Did you know?

Costa Rica accounts for only 0.03% of the Earth’s surface, but contains almost 6% of the world’s biodiversity.

I don’t know about you, but that’s absolutely mind blowing.

It’s no secret that Costa Rica is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world – it’s home to around half a million species.

Let’s take a look at a few places that you can take the family, to hopefully see a few of them.

Tortuguero National Park

The Tortuguero National Park comprises an entire network of marshy islands – it’s often referred to as the Amazon of Costa Rica.

The national park protects 47,000 acres of land and marine area.

Tortuguero receives high rainfall – nearly 20 ft of rain yearly, and even during the ‘dry season’ daily afternoon showers are very common.

This creates an extremely rich environment where freshwater meets the sea – making the beaches, canals, wetlands, and lagoons of Tortuguero exceptional areas for wildlife and nature spotting.

The name Tortuguero roughly translates to place of turtles, or turtle catcher.

So, any guesses as to what this place is most famous for?

Baby turtle release in Costa Rica

That’s right! Many tourists visit the Tortuguero National Park each year, with the main attraction being the turtles that nest on the beaches there.

The Green sea turtles and Hawksbill turtles nesting season runs from July to October, and Leatherback turtles from February to April.

Sometimes if you’re lucky and you’re at the right place at the right time, you can see turtles laying eggs on the beaches during the day, but the majority of the movement occurs at night.

Because of this, it’s recommended that you take a night tour.

Tortuguero is home to an extensive network of creeks and lagoons that feed into the beaches, that are home to:

  • Seven species of river turtles
  • Spectacled Caiman
  • River otters
  • Over 50 species of fish

You’re bound to spot some of these animals on a kayak or boat tour during the day.

Corcovado National Park

The Corcovado National Park is home to 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity, and encompasses over 105,000 acres of land and over 8,000 acres of sea.

Better yet, the national park encompasses 13 major ecosystems, including:

  • Golden sand beaches
  • Rainforests
  • Cloud forests
  • Mangrove swamps

So it’s fair to assume that some decent nature and wildlife spotting can be done here!

The Corcovado National Park alone can meet the needs of your Costa Rica family vacation! Whether that be sunbathing on a golden sand beach, discovering hidden waterfalls, or trekking through the rich and luscious jungle.

You and your family can visit the national park as a day trip from somewhere else, like this one here from us in Uvita.

It’s worth noting that there are no roads within the national park. Once you enter, exploration is by foot only.

*NOTICE*: The national park opens from 7am – 4pm every day. Entry for adults is $15 and $5 for children aged between 2 –12 years old. The camping zones cost $4 to access.

Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

It’s no wonder Monteverde is in the clouds – it sits at 5,000 ft above sea level on the Tilarán mountain range.

The national park protects 10,193 acres of cloud forest, and encompasses over 8 miles of well maintained trails with access to multiple observation platforms and hanging bridges.

The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is one of the most biodiverse regions in Costa Rica – it’s home to:

  • 500 species of orchids
  • 425 species of birds
  • 120 species of mammals
  • 60 species of amphibians
  • 101 species of reptiles
  • 658 species of butterflies

This national park is sure to please the bird enthusiasts in the family. It’s home to dozens of species of hummingbirds and the Quetzal – only found in the cloud forests of Costa Rica.

There are a number of family friendly tours offered to see the best of the cloud forest, including ziplining, horseback riding, and night tours.

But here’s something for those coffee loving families – coffee typically grows better at higher altitudes, like at Monteverde.

Monteverde has local coffee farms where you can take tours and learn about how coffee is farmed, picked, and turned into coffee. Most hotels will allow you to book tours like this through them.

Surf trip in Costa Rica with kids

Make this year’s the best family vacation yet!

Will you and your family be joining us here in Uvita for our family surf camp?

Wherever you decide to take your family in this incredible country, you’re all sure to have the time of your lives.

And who knows, maybe you’ll make visiting Costa Rica an annual thing!

You could experience a different part of the country each time – or keep going back to the places here that the family loves.

In the meantime, if you and your family are interested in our family surf and yoga camp, take a look at our availability calendar!

Hopefully we’ll be seeing you soon, ¡Pura Vida!

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About the author

Avatar photo

George Frost

George is a food, music, nature, and football-obsessed blog writer at Bodhi Surf + Yoga. He comes all the way from Bermuda and loves sharing his culture with everyone. He is passionate about traveling, as well as experiencing and learning from other cultures.