Costa Rica Family Travel: Updated for 2013

More Family Travel Ideas in Costa Rica

By Lauryn Axelrod,
updated 2/2013

The skytrek, a popular zipline in Costa Rica.
The skytrek, a popular zipline in Costa Rica.

Headed to Costa Rica with the kids? Here are a few more exciting family travel ideas, we just returned from a trip there.

Getting There
If you aren't renting a car, there are a couple of options for you. Interbus has daily private shuttles from San Jose to Monteverde. The cost for adults is $47 and children under the age of 12 are half price. You can also contact Costa Rica Expeditions has a van that will pick you up at the airport or your San Jose hotel and bring you directly to Monteverde for approximately $220. It's a 4 hour drive, the last two hours of which is on a bumpy mountain road, so bring snacks and games for the kids!
Another transportation service that will pick you up and take you anywhere in the country is available through Monteverde Transport.They offer daily shuttles to and from Arenal, San Jose and other destinations, as well as private transfers in air-conditioned vans. Shuttles are about $55 per person and a private transfer mini bus from $180 to $335, depending upon vehicle and number of people, for the whole day, anywhere! Great drivers, too, who will be happy to stop along the way to point out iguanas and other sights!

Where to Stay

Monteverde Lodge
Run by Costa Rica Expeditions, the lodge is a great family-friendly choice. With spacious rooms, a MAP rate, a lovely garden and trails (one that leads directly to the Ecological Farm, see below), and a gigantic hot tub for soaking sore muscles, you can't go wrong. From $198 night.
Find hotels in Costa Rica and flights here.

Where to Eat

*Jungle Groove Café

By far the funkiest and most family-friendly dining is at the Jungle Groove Café. An unusual beach-bar atmosphere (complete with Christmas lights and an outdoor patio with fire pit), a tasty and diverse menu with kid selections, good prices, live local music (check out the bamboo piano!) and a collection of board games, will make both youngsters and parents happy. Across the street from the artisans co-op in Monteverde. Moderate.

*Pizzeria de Johnny
For pizza and pasta, the most popular place in town is the venerable Pizzeria de Johnny. Not far from the entrance to the Monteverde Preserve, the food is great, the prices are low and it's a great place to keep the kids satisfied. Moderate.

Kid-friendly Activities and Attractions

Hiking the Monteverde Reserve is great for a day or two, but there are numerous other kid-friendly activities in the area.

*Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve

Run by the local high school, the Santa Elena Reserve is a private educational cloud forest park featuring 900 acres of old and new growth forest bordering the Monteverde Reserve. There are some easy hikes, interpretive trails, a snack bar, and terrific lookouts from which you can get a clear view of Arenal volcano and lake. More importantly, your $12 entrance fee for adults and $6 for students supports environmental education for local children. Open daily from 7am to 4pm.

*Ecological Farm (FincaEcologica)

If you do nothing else in Monteverde, take the kids to the Ecological Farm Night Safari. Armed only with flashlights, you will follow an experienced, English-speaking guide to hunt for nocturnal species like sloths, tarantulas, glow worms, leaf cutter ants, bats, and more. Sightings guaranteed! Great fun for the adults, too! Nightly at 5:30pm.$20 per person.

*Children's Eternal Rainforest

Near the entrance to the Monteverde Preserve is a section of rainforest purchased and maintained by children from around the world. A nice trail (Bajodel Tigre) and your entrance contribution give your kids a sense of helping out.

*SkyTrek and Sky Walk

By far the most thrilling activity in the area, the SkyTrekcanopy tour, in combination with the SkyTram, is an intense aerial adventure where you and the kids get to swing through the trees like monkeys, suspended 400 feet off the ground! There are currently 10 zipline cables, one of which is 7 times the length of a football field, take you safely whizzing through the canopy. Parents will love it, too!

For the more timid (or younger) family members, the SkyWalk is a series of suspension bridges that bring you close-up to plants and animals. SkyTrek/Sky Tram (they must be done in tandem) is $66 for adults, $53 for students and $42 for children. The SkyWalkis $33 for adults, $10 for students and $6 for children.

Catch and release marlin off the shores of Costa Rica
Costa Rica offers great sport fishing as well as perfectly wonderful relaxing.

*Horseback Riding

The best way to experience the diversity of the Monteverde area is on horseback. Sabine's Smiling Horses in Santa Elena offers 3-hour, 4-hour, and all day trips through the surrounding campesino, to waterfalls, and even all the way to Arenal. Her horses are well cared-for and well trained and the guides know all the back roads and secret lookouts. $50/hour per person.

For some more sedate (and rainy day) educational activities take the kids to the Jardin de Mariposa (butterfly garden), the Serpentarium, and the Ranario (Frog Pond), all located in and around Santa Elena.


Getting There

Playa Tamarindo is located on the northwest coast of Costa Rica. It is 1 hour from the Liberia Airport (LIR) and 4 hours from the San Jose Airport (SJO). There is a small regional airport just outside of town, Tamarindo Airport (TNO). Sansa Airlines and Nature Air operate daily flights from San Jose. Private van shuttles can be arranged from Liberia for $80 and from San Jose for $220. There are also daily shuttles from other parts of Costa Rica through Interbus. The shuttles run from $44 on up with children under 12, half price. There are multiple public buses from San Jose and other main cities that are very inexpensive. There are about half a dozen car rental companies in town, so picking up and dropping off a vehicle is very easy to do.

Where to Stay

Hotel Tamarindo Yam.

This is a great option for families as they only have one and two bedroom condos in this small boutique hotel. The location of the hotel is on a quiet street, three blocks from the center of town and the beach. They have a nice pool and deck area. All condos have full kitchens, a/c, cable tv and wifi. There is 24 hour security and the property is surrounded by forest, so there are plenty of monkeys in the trees. Prices start at $115/night with taxes up to $200/night for the two bedroom condos for five people. Prices depend upon time of year and number of people in the family.

The Breeze

Located just over one block from the beach, The Breeze has five luxury, one and two bedroom villas that can easily accommodate a family of five. These modern villas are tastefully designed and decorated with open floor plans and large windows all facing inward overlooking the lush tropical gardens and split level pool. Amenities include a/c, cable with flat screen TV’s, hi-speed wireless internet, 24 hour security, and daily maid service. Babysitting and laundry service are also available for minimal additional fees. Pre-tax prices start at $175/night and go up to $275/night during the Christmas season.

Where to Eat

Playa Tamarindo has a great many restaurants with a multitude of culinary options, from local Costa Rican fare to abundant seafood options and high end steak houses. There are also plenty of options for those with limited budgets and families. Most local restaurants will have a mid-day meal special called Plato del Dia. It is usually your choice of meat or fish, with a salad, white rice, black beans, a vegetable, drink and sometimes a desert. Each restaurant will have their own take on this special, so you can go to different places each day and get a completely different experience. The cost is also usually very good for the Plato delDia, between $4 - $8 a person.

*Torre del Mar

Situated in the center of town at the top of a 4 story building, Torre del Mar is a pizza/Italian restaurant that has great food and even better views. Known as the best place in town to catch the sunset, it is also a fairly inexpensive option for families. The pizzas are very good and they have well priced pasta dishes. They are very flexible about creating options for children who have special dietary or taste needs. Moderate.

*Pizzeria La Baula

This is another Pizza/Italian restaurant in Playa Tamarindo, but it is one of the best places for families in the entire town. Not only is the food excellent, maybe the best pizza in town, but they have a fully equipped children’s playground right off the dining area. This is a very popular place and not cheap, but the atmosphere is good, the food is better and your children can play to their hearts content while you wait for your pizza. It is also not in the center of town, but just off of it on a quite side street. Expensive.

*El Pescador

Situated literally on the beach, just south of the main part of town, this local favorite serves up typical Costa Rican dishes and the freshest seafood meals to be found. While it is no longer an undiscovered and inexpensive gem, it is still a lovely setting, with moderately priced options for families who want to hang out at the beach and get some food.

Hiking the Monteverde Reserve is great for a day or two, but there are numerous other kid-friendly activities in the area.

Kid-friendly Activities and Attractions

Playa Tamarindo is one of the best swimming/surf beaches in Costa Rica. It is almost a mile long with white sand and clear blue water. Also, because it is in the dry forest, there are many more days of sunshine, even during the rainy season. There is a community lifeguard program and there are lots of surf companies giving surf lessons and renting boards.

*ISLS Family Spanish Camp

A great way to spend time in Playa Tamarindo as a family is to attend a Spanish program. ISLS has year round adult and children’s classes. During the summer they also have teen camps that combine surf, adventure and Spanish for 13 to 17 year olds. For children 4 to 12 there is the Children’s Art, Sports and Spanish Camp. This camp combines age appropriate Spanish lessons, playtime at the beach, surf lessons, adventure tours, crafts and exchange with local children from 8 to 2 pm Monday through Friday. Adult Programs start at $300/week and the teen and children’s camps depend upon program and length of time, but start at $500/week.

*CRSI Surf Institute

Playa Tamarindo was made famous as a surfing destination by Bruce Brown’s Endless Summer II surf movie. It is a great destination for all ages and levels of surfer. CRSI has wonderful family surf programs that combine board rental, surf lessons, videotaping and review sessions with excursions to other nearby beaches. Families receive water safety training, surf theory clinics and surf seminars. Pricing of the program depends upon how many are in the family and length of time. A one week family surf camp with two adults and two children runs from $900/week.

*Monkey Park Rescue and Rehabilitation Center

Located about 30 minutes outside of Tamarindo, Monkey Park is an educational option for families. First off, this is not a zoo and should not be looked at like one. It is a center which takes in injured and illegally domesticated animals. Those animals that can be rehabilitated are released back into the wild. Those that can’t are kept at the facility, housed, fed and taken care of. Visitors pay $15 to visit the facility and the butterfly garden.

Read more GoNOMAD stories about ziplining.

*Horseback Riding

The best way to experience the diversity of the Monteverde area is on horseback. Sabine's Smiling Horses in Santa Elena offers 3-hour, 4-hour, and all day trips through the surrounding campesino, to waterfalls, and even all the way to Arenal. Her horses are well cared-for and well trained and the guides know all the back roads and secret lookouts. $10/hour per person.

For some more sedate (and rainy day) educational activities take the kids to the Jardin de Mariposa (butterfly garden), the Serpentarium, and the Ranario (Frog Pond), all located in and around Santa Elena.


A completely different, yet equally terrific family travel destination is Manuel Antonio National Park, with miles of beautiful beaches and rainforest to explore, and lots of monkeys to watch!

Getting There

Several flights daily leave San Jose for Quepos, which is right next to Manuel Antonio, on Sansa or Nature Air. The flight takes under 30 minutes and tickets start at $69 on Nature Air and $ 85Sansa. Prices are per person, one way with tax included. The jungle airstrip in Quepos is a real throwback! Reservations and tickets may be made online.

You can also hire a car in San Jose for the 4-hour drive or arrange a private transfer from Monteverde or Arenal through

Where to Stay

There are numerous lodging options in the area, ranging from inexpensive to pricey. The best bet for families is to choose one with a kitchenette for packing lunches, late night snacks, early breakfasts, and those nights when no one wants to go anywhere.

*Hotel Costa Verde

A family favorite, Costa Verde offers a variety of rooms (some with kitchenettes) at reasonable prices, a good restaurant, pools, trails, and, monkeys! Every night around dusk, hundreds of monkeys descend from the trees around the restaurant for dinner. While it's not the most eco-sensitive practice (feeding the monkeys makes them dependent), it's great fun for the kids. $87 - $173 + tax per night for their least expensive garden view option.

*Villas Nicolas

A good value for families with older kids, who want a bit of privacy. These spacious, and beautiful villas offer one and two bedroom options, kitchenettes, bedrooms, ocean and jungle view balconies with hammocks, a pool and restaurant. Intimate, but inexpensive. From $85-$310/night plus tax.However you need to be aware that children under 6 years of age are not permitted at the hotel.

*Si Como No Resort

A sprawling, Disneyesque, eco-resort with landscaped grounds, two pools, three restaurants, a movie theatre (!), spa services, jacuzzis, and a wide range of room choices with fold-out sofas, kitchenettes or wet bars, this is a good choice for families. Kids will be enthralled with the waterslides and parents can enjoy the swim-up bar. From $205-$435/night plus tax.

*Tulemar Bungalows

Upscale and unbeatable accommodations with views and a private beach (one of the very few in the area), the Tulemar Bungalows offer private, one bedroom octagonal bungalows perched on a jungled hill (monkeys and sloths, too!) with 180-degree views of the magnificent coast. The bungalows have AC, a kitchenette, a separate bedroom with two beds, a living room with two foldout sofas, and bathroom with huge sunken tubs. The restaurant beside the infinity pool is one of the best in the area, and the private beach has kayaks and boogie boards free for guests, along with beach chairs and a snack bar! Bungalows start in season at $270/night, off-season $195. Their 3 bedroom premium villa can accommodate 10 adults and goes from $660/night off season and $815 during the high seasons. All prices are plus tax.

Where to Eat

While most hotels have restaurants on site, there are also several other dining options in the area, again ranging from elegant and pricey to downright funky and cheap!

* El Gran Escape
A local and tourist favorite right on the harbor road in Quepos (the town at the bottom of the hill en route to Manuel Antonio), El Gran Escape serves huge portions of the freshest seafood and south-of-the-border dishes in the area. Fun open air atmosphere and kids' menu choices, too! Moderate.
* El Avion
A bit of Central American history that the kids and adults will enjoy, El Avion is actually a C-130 transport plane from the Iran-Contra fiasco in Nicaragua now relocated to a Manuel Antonio hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean. You can't beat it for atmosphere or price: an entire grilled Red Snapper is only $17 with tax and tip. There are also burgers and sandwiches for the kids! Don't miss! Moderate.
*Mar y Sombra
Right on the beach at the edge of Playa Espadilla, this is a good, inexpensive choice for a fun evening. The food is decent enough – seafood, chicken, etc. – and there is live music most nights. Kids can play in the sand and adults can dance. Inexpensive.

Kid-friendly Attractions and Activities

*Manuel Antonio National Park
The highlight of the area, the park has several unspoiled beaches to swim in and miles of trails to explore. Look out for the endangered Mono Titi (Squirrel Monkeys), that swing from the trees. Sloths are big here, too. You can hire a guide at the entrance or pay the $10 entrance fee and go it alone. Children under 12 are free. Beaches have showers, snack bars and bathrooms. All Costa Rican National Parks are closed on Mondays, so keep that in mind when you are planning your trip.

*Other beaches
Just outside the entrance to the park is the main public beach, Playa Espadilla. Just as beautiful as the ones inside the park, but more crowded (because it's free), it's a half-moon sweep of off-white sand, blue-green waves and sunshine. There are numerous snack stands, restaurants, rentals and facilities across the road.

*Canopy Tour

The Rainmaker River Walk &Canopy Bridge Tour, located about 20 minutes from Quepos, is a half-day expedition. The tour begins with a walk along the Rio Seco and then continues on through six sections of bridges and platforms, suspended through the forest canopy. The whole operation is an effort to educate visitors and preserve the rainforest. Self-guided tours are $15/person and tours with a guide are $35/person. Their restaurant is available for lunch.

*Kids Saving the Rainforest

In the lobby of El Mono Azul Hotel is a gift shop and convenience store run by the local environmental organization Kids Saving the Rainforest. They exhibit rainforest art created by local children. They operate a local wildlife sanctuary and rescue center. Their profits go to supporting conservation protects, education and the preservation of the rainforest; especially for the endangered Mono Titi monkeys.

Read more GoNOMAD stories about: Bicycling - Canoeing - Hiking - Horseback Riding - Kayaking - Rafting - Sailing - Snorkeling - Skiing - Snowboarding - Surfing - Ziplining

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