Costa Rica is one of the world’s true trailblazers in responsible ecotourism, not to mention one of the most beautiful and biologically diverse countries on the planet. Despite its growing popularity as a travel destination, it’s also surprisingly pristine, with over 25% of its lands protected. It’s no wonder Costa Rica is perennially celebrated as the happiest place on earth.
Originally appreciated primarily by backpackers, thrill-seekers and wildlife lovers, Costa Rica is gaining notoriety as a family travel hotspot. It’s been recognized as the safest country in Central America, with English widely spoken and a largely well-maintained infrastructure. The biggest challenge most families run into is figuring which of its countless adventures to pack into their itinerary. That’s where these Costa Rica travel tips and the expertise of Exodus come in!
Costa Rica has 26 National Parks, not to mention a bounty of wildlife refuges and private nature reserves. Some parts of the country boast an expansive array of ecosystems, from coastal marine areas and wetlands to volcanic landscapes and cloud forest. There’s an equally varied list of activities available, from relaxing in natural hot springs and hiking through the rainforest to ziplining through the canopy and kayaking in wildlife-rich waters.
Getting to Costa Rica from the US is relatively easy. Our Costa Rica travel tips will help you figure out what to do once you get there:
Explore Arenal Volcano
Considered one of the most active volcanoes in the world, Arenal has a surprising abundance of things to do in its vicinity. There’s kayaking in Lake Arenal. The towns of La Fortuna and Tabacón are replete with natural hot springs, many of which are beautifully landscaped to resemble waterparks or tropical oases. The area also offers plenty of picturesque hikes and the famous La Fortuna waterfall, which can be accessed by horseback.
Go Pacific in Punta Islita
On the opposite side of the country from Puerto Viejo, Punta Islita is a tiny village down on the Nicoya Peninsula. Here you’ll find dramatic vistas of the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean, and an ample abundance of adventure activities. The Pacific Coast is known for its many great beaches, where you can try horseback riding, fishing, kayaking, and more. Nearby is Playa Corozalito, a mangrove, where visitors may have a chance to spot nesting Sea Turtles from July to November.
Discover Corcovado National Park
Described by National Geographic as one of “the most biologically intense places on earth,” Corcovado is the largest national park in Costa Rica’s stunning collection. It has over a dozen different ecosystems, with a well-established network of hiking trails that allow visitors to access them. Wildlife such as Coatis, Monkeys, and Sloths run rampant through the park, and rare animals like Jaguars, Tapirs, and Harpy Eagles are occasionally seen. Birdwatching is also a major draw here.
Adventuring in Manuel Antonio
Corcovado is Costa Rica’s largest national park. But Manuel Antonio, its smallest, was ranked among the world’s most beautiful national parks by Forbes. Despite being under eight square miles, this park draws over 100,000 visitors a year with its picturesque white sand beaches, forest-covered mountains, 100-plus species of mammals, and nearly 200 species of birds. Word to the wise: Watch out for kleptomaniac Monkeys!
Watch for Wildlife in Tortuguero National Park
In the less-visited northeastern part Costa Rica, the canals of Tortuguero allow visitors close-up views of Caiman, River Otters and Crocodiles. In the trees you can spot slow-moving Sloths, sun-soaking Iguanas, and branch-hopping Toucans. And did we mention its copious nesting Sea Turtles? Tortuguero is a gem in Costa Rica’s conservation crown, and it’s accessible only by boat or plane: No cars allowed.
Walk on the Clouds in Monteverde
Located just south of Lake Arenal, Monteverde is Costa Rica’s famed cloud forest reserve. This vastly diverse biosphere boasts numerous ecological zones, which provide home to more than 600 animal species and 2500 plant species. Popular activities in the park include guided nature tours, canopy walks with spectacular bird’s-eye views, and zipline tours through the forest. Don’t miss the Hummingbird Gallery across the street from the entrance!
Snorkel (or SCUBA) Caño Island
The tropics are treasured for their secluded islands. Costa Rica has many to choose from, but Caño Island (off the coast of the Osa Peninsula) is one of the coolest. The island, which is home to some of the country’s mysterious Stone Spheres, has been a protected biological reserve for nearly 40 years. As a result, its coral reefs are teeming with life. Divers and snorkelers can spot everything from Rays, Moray Eels, and Sea Turtles to harmless Reef Sharks and even Whales (during their winter migration).
Raft the Rio Pacuare
Many years ago, Costa Rica’s electricity agency planned to build a hydroelectric dam on the Pacuare River. But when concerns about pollution and ecological issues were raised, it was ultimately rejected. The 67-mile river is now a fantastic place to try whitewater rafting, with the added bonus of spotting amazing wildlife along the way (see: Monkeys, Sloths, and Toucans). There are multiple classes of rapids, including choices that are appropriate for children and families.
Catch That Old Caribbean Vibe in Puerto Viejo
Located on Costa Rica’s southeastern coast, the sleepy beach town of Puerto Viejo is a perfect place for lapping up the lazy breezes of the Caribbean. It’s also one of the country’s premiere surf spots, with some great breaks for beginners to learn on. With a large population of Jamaicans, the vibe is definitely more Caribbean down here.
Learn About Conservation at Tirimbina Biological Reserve
Tirimbina is one of many biological reserves in Costa Rica, but it’s particularly good for families because it has educational programs for all age groups. Naturalist-guided tours teach visitors about the area’s flora and fauna, including tours focused on birds, frogs or bats. There’s also an excellent chocolate tour that teaches visitors all about the history of cacao production and the process of turning cacao into chocolate.
Travel to Costa Rica with Your Family!
Looking for the perfect multigenerational adventure combining nature, adventure and beach time — plus cocktails and golf for the adults? Our Costa Rica Travel Planner can create a private adventure… Bring your schedule, interests and budget, and we’ll take care of the details.