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Is Costa Rica Kid Friendly? 19 Amazing Reasons We Love it!

My family and I LOVE Costa Rica and have been many times. But for the first time traveling family, I understand wondering is Costa Rica kid friendly?

Costa Rica is very kid friendly, featuring beaches to swim, jungles and rainforests to do easy hikes in, animal sanctuaries to tour, or zip lining across treetops. Costa Rica rates a 1 (the lowest level) on the US State Department’s travel advisory list as well.

But there’s so much more to know and explore about Costa Rica! And even though my family and I have been a number of times, there’s still a ton left for us to explore too.

So let’s review all the most common questions and concerns about taking kids to Costa Rica.

Make sure to check out my Costa Rica Travel Resource List with links to everything you need!

Is Costa Rica a good place for a family vacation?

Absolutely!  My family loves going to Costa Rica and we’ve been many times and will continue to go.

I also have friends there and friends with kids from the US who have moved there. As with any place in the world, that doesn’t mean its without crime or free of dangers. But generally speaking, Costa Rica is an awesome place for a family vacation.

My family includes my 3 daughters.

To be fair, we have only been back to Costa Rica once since the birth of our 3rd daughter in late 2017, but it’s definitely on the list.

Here are some of the things my family loves most about Costa Rica:

  • Beautiful year-round weather – Costa Rica averages a temperature all year between 70° to 81°, and great weather all year including the rainy season. Since it’s close to the equator, it doesn’t really go through seasonal changes but does get more rain between May and November
  • Wildlife everywhere – We’ve seen macaws, howler monkeys, sloths, tons of iguanas, and so much more, almost everywhere you go
  • Amazing beaches – It arguably doesn’t get any better than the beaches in Costa Rica. Pristine sand and warm clear blue water. Most of the time, we’re almost alone too; so not overcrowded.
  • Jungles and rainforests to explore – We’ve hiked through forests to bathe in volcanic hot springs, done rainforest nature hikes, and eaten at the base of a volcano, just to name a few
  • Ziplining – Honestly, I wasn’t expecting any of my daughters to want to do this, but when my oldest backed out, my middle daughter took her place and loved it so much she did it the next day too when she was 7
  • Friendly locals  – The people of Costa Rica (Ticos, as they are known), are friendly, warm, and inviting people.  They love their country, are proud of it, and welcome the chance to show it to you
  • Yummy food and lots of fresh fruit – Fruit and vegetable stands are everywhere in Costa Rica. You’ve never seen such an abundance of great stuff at such low prices
  • A peace-loving country – Unlike the turmoil that surrounds some Latin countries, Costa Rica is a peace-loving country that abolished its military in 1948. So you won’t see armed Federales toting machine guns anywhere
  • Tons of reserved national parks – 25% of Costa Rican land is dedicated to it’s 161 national parks and refuges. An amazing and preserved natural habitat is usually just a short drive away

But even all that only scratches the surface.

How often does your family take a vacation? Mine usually just does 1 big trip a year, but some families do 3 or more. I decided to research and compile exactly How Many Vacations Does the Average Family Take.

So if you’re interested to see how your family compares, take a moment and check out my article on that.

Is Costa Rica safe for families?

Yes, is the short answer. My family and I have ALWAYS felt safe on our trips.

However, like any country, there is going to be more crime in the larger cities. In Costa Rica, however, that’s really just the capital of San José and maybe the next 2 biggest cities, Liberia and Limón.

Since we go to Costa Rica to get away from it all, we tend to avoid big cities anyway (although we did once eat at an awesome Indian restaurant in San José).

We always rent a car but tend not to drive at night. But that’s honestly more to do with the roads being single lane, and not always fully paved, than due to the possibility of crime.

The US State Department issues travel warnings and advisories across the globe. They currently have Costa Rica at a Level 1 (the lowest out of 4 levels).

That being said, they do have the following specific travel advisories for certain parts of Costa Rica:

“Exercise increased caution in:

  • Central neighborhood in Limón due to crime
  • Liberia city due to crime
  • Desamparados neighborhood in San Rafael due to crime
  • Pavas and Hospital neighborhoods San José due to crime”

Aside from always flying in and out of Liberia, we have not spent any large amount of time in any of those places.

Limón is on the Caribbean side which I have always heard was slightly higher in crime than the Pacific side (where we always are).

San Rafel is just outside of San José, but we stayed in the town of Atenas outside of San José and had a fantastic time with no issues.

So just use normal caution like you would anywhere and you should be just fine.

I’ll do my best to keep this article updated as I do most of my articles, but anytime you travel internationally, it’s always a good idea to check travel advisories first.

Where do families go in Costa Rica?

Above is my middle daughter Jolie juicing a sugar cane pole in Costa Rica!

While my family has been up and down the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, we tend to prefer the province of Guanacaste. But I have to say we’ve never been to the Caribbean side, nor have we been south of San José. So there’s a LOT of Costa Rica we’ve yet to explore.

As for where to go in Costa Rica with your family, it depends on your goals.

  • Do you want to lounge on the beach?
  • Want to Zip Line?
  • Explore volcanos and jungles?
  • Be at an all-inclusive resort?

I will also say you don’t have to choose just 1 thing as we’ve done all of those except the all-inclusive.

We like to rent a house on VRBO or Airbnb and rent a car and then use that as a home base to adventure from. Some of the most fun areas on the Pacific side for families include:

  • Tamarindo – Yes, it’s a surfing village and yes it’s touristy and a little crowded, but we still love it. Great beaches, beautiful ocean, a nearby wildlife refuge that’s fun for the kids, with plenty of beach-front restaurants
  • Manuel Antonio – About 3 hours south of San José, this is a National Park abundant with monkeys, sloths, and other animals. Amazing beaches, waterfalls, with activities like snorkeling, surfing, and kayaking
  • Arenal volcano – Located just east of Guanacaste in the Alajuela province, Arenal is one of 14 volcanos in Costa Rica and has been dormant since 2010. Amazing views, hikes, hot springs, fishing, or just floating a river. White-faced capuchin monkeys, jaguar, and deer are abundant in the area
  • Sámara – Located in Guanacaste but way down the Pacific coast lies the beautiful town of Sámara. Pristine pink sand beaches are also known for their sea turtle nests. Unlike the surfing villages, these ocean waves are minimal and perfect for smaller kids
  • Jacó – Jacó is the only place we’ve ever seen macaws in the wild. It’s also an outstanding surfing village known for it’s black/gray sand beaches. While it’s also popular for its nightlife, there’s still tons to do with kids, from seeing crocodiles at the nearby Carara National Park or hiking in rainforests to breathtaking waterfalls
  • Playa Conchal – Our personal favorite beach (of any we’ve been to in the world). The waves are almost non-existent, which keeps the surfers away but was perfect for our young daughters. The sand was white and the water was crystal clear. While there is a nearby Westin Resort, the beach was largely deserted where we were. Howler monkeys lined the trees nearby too. Those are my older 2 daughters at Playa Conchal in the picture at the very top.

Now some of those are admittedly pretty touristy and can be a bit more crowded than some other destinations in Costa Rica. But even tourist towns in Costa Rica are still pretty awesome.

I have a detailed Guide to Guanacaste Costa Rica on my website that goes into great detail about traveling throughout the region and Costa Rica in general, so I highly recommend you take a moment and check that out.

Traveling to Costa Rica with your family

I do think the Liberia airport is easier to get in and out of than San José.

Liberia is much smaller than San José which has more of a Manhattan big-city feel than anywhere else in Costa Rica.

While the first couple of times I went to Costa Rica, the Liberia airport was small with a roll-up staircase to meet the plane, these days, it’s as modern as any US airport.

Like any big expense, it pays to Plan Your Family Vacation early to avoid overpaying, places and flights being sold out, or going deep into debt.

My article details all the crucial planning steps you need for an amazing family vacation, so just click the link to read it on my site or bookmark it for later.

Is Costa Rica safe for babies?

Yes is the answer here too!

We took our oldest daughter Astrid to Costa Rica when she was 1 year old (pictured right above). She had just learned to walk and took some of her first steps on the beach in Tamarindo.

Unless you are traveling from a country known for being at high risk of yellow fever outbreaks, no vaccines are required to visit Costa Rica.

The CDC does have a list of recommended vaccines, of course. But if you aren’t up-to-date, don’t choose to do all the recommended vaccines, or don’t vaccinate at all, as the laws currently are, you’ll be just fine.

Also, unlike much of Mexico, the water in Costa Rica is generally safe to consume.

Do you need a car seat in Costa Rica?

While the laws probably do vary a little, car seats are legally required in Costa Rica just as they are in much of the world.

The good news is it’s easy to check your car seat on the plane. AND every US airline allows you to check your car seat(s) for free! Check it either at the baggage counter or at the gate.

But most rental car companies do offer car seats too (for a fee) if bringing it sounds like a hassle.

Do infants need a passport?

Yes, is the short answer here also. Every US citizen, including newborns, need a passport to travel to any foreign country.

Since babies, obviously can’t write or talk much, the parents (both of them) have to apply for the passport in person WITH the baby (no mail-in forms for babies for anyone under 16). Make sure and bring your child’s original birth certificate with you. Parents will need to bring a valid US driver’s license, passport, or other official ID.

If for some reason, both parents can’t be present, then the parent who can’t be there will have to sign a notarized Statement of Consent (click to download from the government).

Essentially this is simply to prevent 1 parent from taking a child away from another parent and fleeing to another country.

Unlike passports for people ages 16 and over, passports for infants, or anyone under 16, are only valid for 5 years.

Best places in Costa Rica for toddlers

When my wife and I took our then 1-year-old daughter Astrid to Costa Rica for the first time we stayed in the town of Ocotal in the northern part of the province of Guanacaste near Playas Del Coco. The north is where Costa Rica connects to Nicaragua, although we weren’t quite that far north.

There’s a Four Seasons in that general area just in case you’re wondering about safety; it’s a nice area.

We spent much of our time in the pool of the house we rented (with a nice ocean view) or at one of the many beaches we went to. But we also explored the Monkey Park Wildlife Rehabilitation & Release Center near Tamarindo which was a lot of fun.

As you know if you are parents of a toddler, they are on the go (until they are ready for you to carry them). So with that in mind, these are some of my top recommendations where you’ll have fun and so will they:

  • Diamante Eco-Adventure Park – See monkeys, sloths, and jungle cats in their natural habitats along with snakes, frogs, and huge crocodiles. But there’s also hummingbird gardens and a great butterfly observatory too. The park works to fight the illegal capture and trade of wild animals and releases the offspring of the animals they confiscate from smugglers back into protected areas of Costa Rica. So you’ll have a blast while supporting a great cause! Learn more on the Diamante website. Just a little north of one of our favorite towns in Guanacaste called Portrero and a very short drive from the Liberia airport.
  • Corso Lecharia Farm – A working farm your toddler will love! There’s a playground where cows and chickens hang out at, a tractor ride tour of the farm, and kids can even milk a cow if they wish. They also have strawberry greenhouses to see how strawberries are grown (and yes, they’ll get you some to eat). Located a little north of San José. They also have a restaurant and ice cream shop too. Learn more on their bilingual website.

Make sure to check out my Costa Rica Travel Resource List with links to everything you need to get the best deals on all your travel needs!

Traveling Costa Rica with a 4-year-old

Four-year-olds up to age 6 obviously have a slightly longer attention span than toddlers but aren’t quite as adventurous, or at least as resilient as tweens and teens. So finding fun stuff to do with them is a little different.

Having said that, almost everything I’m mentioning in this article could be fun no matter what the age, so I encourage you to check it all out and see what makes the most sense for your family.

Here are some of my best recommendations for pre-k kids through early elementary age:

  • The Beach Chocolate Factory – Located in one of our favorite beach towns along the Pacific coast in Guanacaste, called Brasilito. They make amazing chocolate with just 2 ingredients; cacoa and sugar. For older kids, they also offer interactive workshops. Have your kids peel fresh-roasted cacao beans and turn it into their very own chocolate treat! Check out more on their website.
  • Manuel Antonio Park Nature Guided Tour – While this tour is 4 hours, the hiking route is stroller-friendly! So it could be great fun for the adults when centered around nap time. Manuel Antonio Park is one of the most diverse habitats on the planet. You’ll likely see monkeys, toucans, sloths, iguanas, hummingbirds, and much more. Learn more about Jade Tours on their website.
  • Volunteer at the Proyecto Asis Wildlife Rescue Center – While they do often have families stay with them for multiple days learning and helping with their animals, you can also just drop in for a daily tour. While kids of all ages are welcome, kids need to be 6 or above to volunteer without a parent being present. Nestled in La Fortuna near Arenal Volcano, you and your kids will get up close and personal with several kinds of monkeys, macaws, toucans, caimans, turtles, anteaters, and sloths, just to name a few. Check out the Protecto Asis website to learn more.

Traveling Costa Rica with tweens

Here is my oldest daughter Astrid and I snorkeling off the coast of Isla Tortuga!

Cruise to Isla Tortuga

One amazing thing we did as our 2 older girls were headed towards their teen years was to take a cruise to Isla Tortuga.

Isla Tortuga is an island off the coast of Costa Rica and while simple, it was also amazing! Believe it or not, but we did this on Christmas Eve. Remember the weather is pretty nice 365 days a year.

We used Calypso Cruises and LOVED our experience!

Hopefully, Charlie is on your boat as he made all the difference, but all their staff was great. We took a 2-hour cruise out of Puntarenas which is on the Gulf of Nicoya far south on the Pacific side of Costa Rica.

The boat had food, drinks, 2 small swimming pools, and what was essentially 2 large nets you could sit on watching the ocean pass underneath you. On the island itself, we had a few hours to explore, but there was a large meal prepared for us too.

The island has some really friendly pigs that let us play with them, but there were also some locals who would bring up oysters from the ocean to order, cleaning them right in front of us, all for $1.00 each!

They also let us snorkel off the coast for a while too, which was awesome also. I can’t recommend Calypso Cruises more! 

Paradise Hot Springs

You’ll LOVE the geothermal pools at Paradise Hot Springs located near Arenal Volcano National Park.

The resort has 6 mineral pools and 2 thermal Jacuzzis and day passes there are currently under 30 bucks! The thermal waters from Arenal Volcans have healing minerals combined with an amazing hydro-massage for back, neck, legs, and feet. Trust me; you haven’t really relaxed until you’ve soaked in a Costa Rican thermal pool.

As you soak, you’ll be surrounded by different amazing views (each pool has a different view):

  • Misty mountains
  • The majesty of Arenal Volcano
  • Thick rainforests
  • Tropical flower gardens

Just note they don’t allow kids under age 2.

Ziplines, Aerial Tram & Hanging Bridges

If your tweens are adventure lovers, then they’ll love soaring across treetops and through mountains on zip lines, getting a bird’s eye view of rainforests.

But that’s only the beginning of the fun at Sky Adventures!

Take an open-air gondola that goes up mountains, zip line across canyons, take a series of hanging bridges exploring Monteverde Cloud Forest with breathtaking views of Arenal Volcano, Nicoya Gulf, and much more!

For kids age 5 and up, through adults.

Tour a sloth sanctuary

Lastly, consider a private tour of a sloth sanctuary!

A Private Tortuguero Tour with Sloth Sanctuary & National Park is surprisingly affordable and a blast!

You’ll visit a sloth sanctuary, check out a banana plantation, and enjoy amazing views of the pristine Caribbean coast. Starting in Limon, in the old quarter, you’ll learn about the history of the area and the awesome Afro-Caribbean culture.

It’s also worth noting that we saw an awesome firework display on the beach for the 4th of July in the town or Portrero about halfway between Liberia and Tamarindo. I guess they know there’s a lot of US citizens there.

So to quickly recap, here are my . . .

19 amazing reasons that Costa Rica is kid-friendly

1.  Generally low crime everywhere

2. Year-round temps in the 70’s and 80’s

3. Safe tap water

4. Many beaches with little to no large waves

5. Animals everywhere

6. Friendly people everywhere

7. 25% of the country is dedicated to parks

8. Easy to fly to (many locations are just a 3-hour direct flight, compared to the often grueling travel to places like Hawaii)

9. Easy to rent a car in Costa Rica (and your phone’s GPS/maps should work)

10. Many people and places speak English

11. Ocean water is warm and clear

12. Plenty to do, from beaches, jungles, rainforests, waterfalls, and dormant volcanos

13. Inexpensive

14. Yummy food that isn’t spicy

15. Lots of fresh fruit and vegetable stands everywhere

16. Lower speed limits on the roads (compared to the US)

17. Even during the rainy season, the rain is minimal (May to November)

18. Modern airports

19. Lots of stroller-friendly towns and nature trails

Of course, Costa Rica, while incredibly family friendly, isn’t always for kids. So if you and your spouse are looking for a romantic getaway, Costa Rica is great for that too.

So check out one of my most pinned articles on Pinterest about the Best Places to Stay in Costa Rica for Couples (click to read it on my site).

Final Thoughts

In this article, I took an in-depth look into Costa Rica, a place that holds a special place in the hearts of me and my family.

I explored lots of aspects of our favorite family vacation destination. We looked at activities for different age kids, how easy it is to travel there with kids, and some of the safety concerns about international travel there.

Ultimately though, my post was geared to answer the question is Costa Rica kid-friendly. The answer is most definitely yes!

If you have been, what’s your favorite spot in Costa Rica?

Make sure to check out my Costa Rica Travel Resource List with links to everything you need to get the best deals on all your travel needs!

Jeff Campbell