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Traveling to Costa Rica with kids is the ultimate in family vacations! Here’s my step-by-step guide for a super easy and unforgettable trip!
Alright Mamas, today we’re talking about a gem of a travel spot – Costa Rica with kids! Sometimes you really just want a super easy family adventure vacation. In other words, you are craving a warm weather trip right this second and you don’t have a ton of time or energy to plan it.
And oh yeah…please make it an unforgettable cultural experience packed full of outdoor activities! And a beach would be heaven too.
You’re in luck because a family trip to Costa Rica is a perfect choice. I’m going to give you the step-by-step details of how we took this insanely easy trip that your entire family will love.
Flying to Costa Rica With Kids
We flew non-stop into the Daniel Oduber Quiros International Airport in Liberia (LIR). A direct flight to Costa Rica from the northern US will usually take around 5-6 hours to arrive.
You can also fly into the Juan Santamaria International Airport in San Jose (SJO). It is the larger, busier airport, although Liberia is quickly catching up as more resorts are popping up in the Guanacaste region.
We redeemed True Blue points for free flights on JetBlue (check out this post for all the info on how you can travel hack your Costa Rica vacation too!). If you are paying cash, tickets typically cost $300-800 from the US.
Costa Rica follows Central Standard time year round (with no Daylight Savings Time). So if you live in the US this is another nearly jetlag-free vacation. A parent’s dream!
Renting a Car in Costa Rica With Kids
Some countries are just plain stressful to drive in, but Costa Rica is different. While it’s true that four-wheel drive will give you peace of mind in off-the-beaten-path spots, the vast majority of tourist areas are accessible without it. We rented a small four-wheel drive crossover but truthfully we never had to switch it out of two-wheel drive!
There’s one super important thing to know before you book, however. When you rent a vehicle in Costa Rica, you don’t just need the standard collision insurance (which many credit card companies provide). You must, I repeat must also get mandatory third party liability coverage. It is actually required by Costa Rican law, and it is not covered by your credit card policy. This leads to a ton of confusion.
Unsuspecting tourists will find a too-good-to-be-true rate online (often on the US website of one the big brands), only to see their bill double when they arrive at the car rental agency and the additional fees are added on.
We rented from Vamos Rent-A-Car after reading loads of recommendations and we could not have been happier. They were friendly, helpful, and spoke English (so not to worry if you are still working on your Spanish!). But most importantly, they have an amazing resource on their website with all the info on the required insurance. So you will never be hit with a surprise charge when you rent from them.
For more info on travel hacking your way to a free car rental (even from a small local agency with no loyalty program!) read my blog post Take Your Family To Costa Rica For Free.
The Costa Rican Rainforest Hotel You Must Visit With Kids!
As soon as I came across the Rio Celeste Hideaway Hotel, I knew we had to stay there. It is only a 2-2.5 hour drive from the Liberia airport but it feels like another world! Only 26 rooms are spread throughout the grounds of the small hotel, and those rooms are huge! All of the casitas have private outdoor garden showers (for real!) What is cooler as a kid than taking a shower outside in the rainforest?!
The pool area is the perfect spot to relax after a day of hiking. My son loved going for a swim with my husband before dinner and it gave me a chance to relax on one of the covered lounge chairs and read.
And wow, were we blown away by dinner (and every other meal we ate at the hotel)! Everything we tried was fantastic, and the servers always went out of their way to make our son feel special. And don’t miss the hot chocolate! Most Costa Rican hotels offer it as a coffee alternative for the kiddos.
Hiking Tenorio Volcano National Park With Kids
Tenorio Volcano National Park is a great chance for little hikers to stretch their abilities. The entire trail is 3.7 miles round trip, but don’t let that scare you off, because you don’t have to do the whole thing!
The first stop on the trail (just an easy 30 minutes in) is the jaw-dropping Rio Celeste waterfall. So even if you are traveling with kiddos that can’t do the entire hike, you can still make it to the park’s most famous spot. There is a stairway leading down to the base (250 steps!) but it is manageable, with a railing the entire way.
If you have hardy little hikers you can continue further along the river and into the rainforest. The trail increases in difficulty slightly after the waterfall, but it was still very easy for our son at 6 years old. There are two small bridges further down the trail, so you will want to make sure your kiddos are ready to listen and follow directions.
When you make it to the end of the trail, take the opportunity to point out to your kids how the water changes color right before their eyes. The vibrant, cloudy blue is created when two completely clear rivers come together and the aluminosilicate particles clump together (you can read more on the science behind Rio Celeste’s color on the PLOS Blog).
As you hike back to the park entrance, keep an eye out for wildlife. We were lucky enough to catch a large iguana scurrying up a tree!
What to know:
- The entrance fee is $12 US per person.
- If it has recently rained heavily the water will not be as blue.
- The trails can get muddy. It was raining the day we hiked here (it is the rainforest, after all!), but with the moderate temperatures, we were totally comfortable in our Merrell barefoot trail running shoes (our usual hiking footwear). Near the beginning of the trail there is a boot washing station where we easily sprayed off the mud.
Staying at the Andaz Costa Rica Resort At Peninsula Papagayo With Kids
A visit to the Andaz Peninsula Papagayo was the inspiration for our entire trip, and it did not disappoint. As soon as we arrived at the airy lobby we were offered welcome drinks and cold towels. While we checked in, valet staff quickly transferred our luggage to a hotel golf cart and parked our rental car (valet parking is free at the resort).
The Andaz is somewhat spread out, but the resort is crawling with staff driving golf carts who always offer to take you to your destination. You can always call for a golf cart pick-up from your room as well.
There are two family-friendly restaurants on resort property. Rio Bhongo is the main restaurant, where kiddos can easily enjoy quesadillas for lunch or a burger for dinner while Mom and Dad try locally inspired dishes. This is also where breakfast is served in the morning. American and Continental buffets are offered, with the option to order off the menu. But whatever you do, do not miss the coffee bar! The baristas are seriously skilled, so make sure you grab a morning coffee here.
Chao Pescao is the Andaz’s relaxed tapas style restaurant. The food is more adventurous, but they have a kids menu with several basics like mac and cheese. If your kiddos are little foodies, this is a great chance to introduce them to Arepas (our son loved the chicken Gallinita version!). Make sure you enjoy one of Chao Pescao’s intricate cocktails while you’re there. The mixologists even offer a non-alcoholic menu with fun choices. Like El Pitufo, made with Poas strawberries, basil, wild berry sherbet, and local lime so your kids can feel fancy too!
After a full day of adventuring, the Andaz’s family pool is the perfect spot to relax while your little ones splash around. The super gradual and wide zero entry area makes it easy for even very young kiddos to enjoy the pool.
The Ultimate Kid-friendly Hike in Costa Rica
Rincon de la Vieja National park is home to the ultimate kid-friendly hike in Costa Rica. The 2.5 mile Las Pailas loop trail is an easy walk that takes you through several distinct ecosystems. You will see a waterfall, mini volcano, and bubbling mud pots along the way (a great chance for kiddos to see the power of a volcano first hand!). If you are super observant you might even spot spider monkeys in the treetops, lizards sunning themselves on rocks, or the famous Blue Morpho butterflies darting throughout the trees!
At the time we visited there was a vending machine with drinks available, but you will want to bring plenty of water along with you. The arid parts of the hike can get hot and sunny, so come prepared. Sunscreen is a must as well!
What to know:
- Rincon de la Vieja National Park is closed on Mondays
- Entrance to the park is $10 US per person
- Along the dirt road into the park, you will come to a toll (literally just a closed gate and a shack manned by an attendant). The toll is $2 US per person and yes, it is legit and required to continue on!
Are you planning a family adventure vacation to Costa Rica with kids? For all the details on how to travel hack a family vacation to Costa Rica, read the blog post Take Your Family To Costa Rica For Free.