Stretching across the narrow strip of Central America with one foot in the Pacific Ocean and the other in the Caribbean, Costa Rica was for many years a remote destination only reached by intrepid backpackers, naturalists, and die-hard surfers. In the past 15 years, all that has changed, and the country is fast rising to the top of bucket lists everywhere, loved for its unspoiled landscape, excellent surfing, natural thermal spas, and adrenaline-charged activities.
Best times to visit
Costa Rica has similar weather to the Caribbean islands, which means dry season (December to April) is the optimal time to visit—bear in mind though that dry season is also high season, so you’ll be sharing beaches and activities with plenty of other tourists. From May onwards it can rain daily, but often not more than a heavy shower in the afternoon, so a summer visit is still a viable option.
If you have children in tow, don’t think that Costa Rica is out of reach; the country has plenty to offer young travelers. We asked Amanda Norcross of Family Vacation Critic to share her top tips for getting the most out of a trip to Costa Rica as a family. She told us that while it can a great destination for all ages, it’s really ideal for older children: “[The country is] especially fun for families with tweens or teens that can take full advantage of the country’s adventure activities.” And what a wealth of adventure activities there are—ATV tours, jungle ziplines, active volcanoes and more.
Amanda recommends a trip to Manuel Antonio National Park on the Central Pacific Coast (pictured above). A protected rainforest reserve, it encompasses some of the most beautiful beaches in the country and unspoiled forest. Amanda says, “You can really see a lot of wildlife there, including sloths which kids just love, plus you can go ziplining or kayaking through mangrove forests.” She recommends hiring a guide for the day if you’re planning to explore the forest, to help the kids get the most out of the experience. “A guide can often point out features and wildlife that you might not notice yourself.”
Another top pick for children aged 11 and up is Arenal Volcano National Park, some 50 miles west of the city of San Jose. Although the volcano is no longer active (there has been no new volcanic activity since 2010), it’s one of the country’s most iconic sites, and the park has a number of eco-activities to enjoy. Kids interested in science will enjoy tracking the preserved lava flows that cover the landscape in some parts of the park; again Amanda suggests exploring with a guide who’ll take you to the best spots (and point out monkeys, parrots, and other wildlife along the way).
Arenal is also home to the Tabacon Hot Springs—an outdoor spa naturally heated by underground geothermal activity. You can bathe in hot pools and cool off in a real river, all surrounded by lush tropical vegetation. There’s even a waterslide. It beats an overcrowded water park any day! If you have older teens, you can even try white water rafting on the river, an activity that will excite even the most jaded teenager.
The majority of flights in and out of Costa Rica touch down at San Jose, the country’s capital. For families traveling via San Jose—Amanda recommends a visit to the city’s Children’s Museum (Museo de los Niños). She says, “It’s a really great hands-on museum, plus it’s a good place to stretch your legs and let the kids explore when you get off the plane before heading out to the coast.”
Where to Stay
With so much to see in this country one of the hardest decisions to make when planning is where to base yourselves to get the most out of your vacation. A lot of the major activities are centered around Manuel Antonio in the south and Guanacaste in the north, so take a look at your bucket list of activities and plan your accommodation accordingly. Be aware that roads are not the best in Costa Rica, and although there are many more paved roads than there were a decade ago, an AWD vehicle is still a good idea.
See all our Costa Rica luxury homes
Mirazul, Manuel Antonio
Luxury Retreats has a number of properties located close to the entrance to Manuel Antonio national park, such as Mirazul, a hilltop home that sleeps up to 12 people and is less than 10 minute’s drive from the park entrance. Kids will love the two-layer pool that has its own waterfall and pet crocodile (a sculpture, not a real croc!) that guards the water. Adults will love the dining room with floor to ceiling windows revealing expansive Pacific Ocean views, and the daily maid service. A chef can be arranged too, giving everyone a really relaxing trip. Part of the Tulemar resort community, a stay at Mirazul gives you access to kayaks, boogie boards, resort pools, spa services, and other amenities, so there’s no chance that the kids will be bored.
Casa Colibri, Nosara, Guanacaste
Close to Costa Rica’s second biggest airport, Liberia, plus the surf town of Tamarindo, Guanacaste is one of the country’ most popular tourist areas. Casa Colibri, set in the lush hills of the Nicoya Peninsula will have your children feeling like they are staying right in the jungle. Sleeping up to 10 people across 4 bedrooms, two of which are set up for kids, there’s plenty here to keep everyone amused, including basketball and tennis courts, a private pool with shallow section ideal for younger children, and a spectacular rooftop terrace. Horseback rides along the nearby beach can also be arranged, as can a private chef to take the pain out of meal planning.