Costa Rica with Teens & Preteens

Parent Q&A

  • Mexico/C.R. beach vacation with teens?

    (2 replies)

    Archives are old...Considering a trip to a Spanish-speaking place with 3 kids next August--17,15 & 12.  2 kids are taking Spanish and want to try using it!  We love to snorkel, so near a beach with clear water a plus.  Must have a nice pool.  We've NEVER been to Mexico or beyond (Costa Rica, Dominican Republic??)...  Any recommendations for a hotel or resort (all inclusive ok) with these features, that won't break the bank?  Club Med?  (or do they all speak French?)  Thanks for any hints, tips, or recommendations.

    I've traveled several times to Mexico and Costa Rica both with and without children over the last 20 years   Things have changed a lot (more people speak English now). If the goal is to get your kids to work on their Spanish, you will need to stay away from all-inclusives and resort-type areas.  My kids attend a Spanish immersion school so their Spanish is good but I find that when we are in resort area where there are lots of people who can speak or understand English it just isn't used.  I went to Nicaragua with my 13-year old earlier this year and that was a bit better but Costa Rica has gotten really developed since I first went there 17 years ago.  That said, Costa Rica is a great country and easy to navigate.  I say try to rent a few Air BnBs near Arenal and on the Nicoya Pensinsula away from touristy areas like Tamarindo.  Places south of Tamarindo have great beaches and you are more likely to find places for your kids to brush up on their Spanish.  There is a little resort called the Flying Crocodile near Samara that might suit you as well. 

    Lapa Rios on the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica is one of my favorite places in the whole world. It is beautiful, wild, and luxurious, all at the same time. It is pretty far removed from any kind of town or nightlife, though, so I'm not sure if the kids would get bored if they are looking for more social stuff. I agree with the other poster about Spanish not really being necessary at the all-inclusive / touristy areas in Mexico or Central and Latin America. That said, I found that people usually really appreciated being spoken to in Spanish and would quickly switch to Spanish when they realized I didn't need them to speak English. Have fun! 

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Costa Rica this summer with 12 year old

Jan 2013

We're considering a vacation to Costa Rica with our 12 year old son and wondered if anyone has any advice/tips for travel. We'd love any recommendations for places to stay and things to do. We don't really want an all out deluxe resort but also don't want to deal with driving ourselves around. Thanks in advance for your help! Anne

Hi! We went to Costa Rica with our 12 and 13 year this past October and had a blast. We did rent a car and picked simple driving routes and found it very easy to get around! We flew into the north, Liberia, spent 3 days at an all inclusive beach resort RIU - it was nice and very inexpensive when we went. There we went snorkeling, pools, kayaking....

then we drove to Fortuna, saw the Arenal Volcano - had some great hikes (led by the nature guide at the Arenal Observatory where we spent 1 night), went to the Tabacon Hot Springs. We moved hotels to the Tree House Hotel outside of Fortuna, it was a thrill for the kids! Real tree houses in the middle of a rainforest - sloths outside our room - run by an nice american couple. In that area we went zip lining, rappelling, white water rafting.

We then took a 5 hr drive to Manuel Antonio - it was the highlight with a beautiful park on the beach with monkeys, sloths and many other animals. We were very fortunate to land upon an amazing guide - Mario - who showed us things we would have never seen! My son took a fantastic surfing lesson with a local. Near Manuel Antonio we rented a great 2 bedroom condo with pool right near the park - found it on VRBO. We flew out of San Jose and didn't spend any time there - big city!

If you want to ask more details I'm happy to share with you, send me an email. Amy

We just spent winter break in Costa Rica with our 10 and 12 year olds. Great trip, so much wildlife and fun things to do like surfing, snorkeling, and ziplining-- great choice for pre-teens and teens I think. We were there over two weeks which gave us enough time to do Atlantic coast and Pacific coast and the cloud forest, but if you have less time, you'll want to choose your locations more carefully. We tended to stay in cabinas (small hotels with separate cabins for our family that usually had a kitchen) and while they were on the higher end of paying for accomodations, being able to cook for ourselves was important to us. Most of the food in Costa RIca is lackluster.

We also rented a car and drove ourselves because we had a rambling itinerary. If you settle on a few locations, I know a lot of people who have just used a driver to get around and liked that. My kids particularly liked ziplining and seeing the quetzal at MOnteverde. For surfing, great locations are Playa Nosara and the Dominical area on the Pacific coast. from Dominical you can do a lot of day trips to the Osa Peninsula to see great wildlife in mangroves, at Isla Cano and at Corcovado National Forest.

If you go to Dominical we stayed at Villas Alturas (we keep meaning to put in a trip advisor on it but haven't yet) which was the most amazing place to stay-- we loved it-- great staff (managed now by two Americans)and ambiance, and the most amazing view of the Bay.

Most people want to see Manuel Antonio-- it is pretty, but it gets crowded and there are so many other places in Costa Rica to see the same things, I'd go elsewhere.

On the Atlantic Coast, we stayed in Cahuita and if you go there don't miss the Jungle Rescue Center-- you get a lot of contact with baby monkeys and see a great deal of amazing wildlife they are caring for after injuries-- but most people don't choose to go the Atlantic side-- not as developed for tourism though that is changing.

Have a great trip- we can't wait to go back. anon

Los Lagos near Arenal is great! We stayed there a couple of yrs ago w/ our then 11 yr old daughter. There's nice pools, water slides, but it's not too 'resort-y.' Prices pretty reasonable too. michael

Costa Rica over Thanksgiving with 8 & 12 yos

July 2012

Our family, including 12 and 8 year-old boys, is thinking of a week-long trip to Costa Rica. We want the kids to see a different culture and think they would be more excited to see volcanos and monkeys than museums. Is November a good time to go (i.e. warm enough to be in the water but not too rainy)? What are the not-to-miss places? Any recommendations of mid-priced places to stay? Excited to Travel

If your trip includes Drakes Bay (southern end of CR) make sure to take the night tour with the Bug Lady! The boys will love it--it's interesting, educational, and scary! anon

Going to Costa Rica with kids 10-13

Feb 2008

We're heading to Costa Rica this June and I have a couple of questions I didn't find in the archives. Seems like all of the flights out of the bay area are at night.....true?? If not when did others fly out and what airlines? Of course we want the least amount of stops and to fly during the day but I'm not sure I'm being realistic. We're traveling with four kids between 10 and 13 so we want to see some fun stuff and kick back and swim. Did you have a favorite destination that you would recommend? Any and all info much appreciated. Diana

My husband and I went to Costa Rica and really enjoyed ourselves. Manuel Antonio nature preserve (in the southwest) was great for both rainforest and ocean. Also loved Monteverde and the Cloud Rainforest where you can do a zipline canopy tour which is fabulous. Tabacon hot springs at the foot of the Arenal volcano (North)was awesome and relaxing. We saw the volcano erupt at night! Because the roads are so challenging, you may prefer to stick to one area, but those destinations were all wonderful! I also recommend checking out: for lots of info and ideas about place to go. They are a great, small, Bay Area-based eco-travel company. Seems to me we were going to fly at night but elected to get bumped and then traveled by day. That was 5 years ago, so options might have changed.

There are lots of options for daytime flights to Costa Rica, from both San Francisco and Oakland. While there are no nonstop flights to either San Jose or Liberia (the two international airports in Costa Rica), many carriers offer service with one stop. American, Continental, Delta, USAirways, and Frontier all have daytime flights with one change of plane. TACA, United, and Continental have overnight flights.

The one advantage of an overnight flight is that you can continue straight on to your final destination without spending the night in San Jose. There's nothing terribly wrong with San Jose, but it's not as nice as the rest of the country. Personally, I hate overnight flights, so I prefer to fly in, spend the night in San Jose, then head out to the beach or the cloud forest the next day. I have never flown in to Liberia, but if your final destination is along the north-west coast, it might make sense to fly in and out of Liberia.

Whereever you land, and whatever airport you use, Costa Rica is wonderful! Beautiful country, friendly people, and easy to get around. You will have a great time! Emma

I've only been here as an adult, but Manuel Antonio is awesome. It's in a little beach town with little Inns to stay at. There is a National Park there that is a tropical forest (surrounded by ocean) filled with habituated monkeys, iguanas, cute little crabs, etc. There is a larger town called Quepos nearby with more to do. I just hung out and ran around the beach and forest but a friend who went there jet skiied and did other exciting things. It's so beautiful! Andi

We took American Airlines which was a day time fight with one layover. We loved Monteverde and the Monteverde Reserve. In the morning we took guided tours which is a must if you want to see anything. Those guides are amazing at finding all the birds and animals and they carry binoculars so you can see! Just book a guided tour the day before through your hotel since they sell out the day of. And in the afternoon we did the zip lines. It was scary at first but so much fun. Don't miss Morpho's Cafe for their food. It's excellent and has reasonable prices. Elaine

Costa Rica for 6th grader on a field trip

Jan 2007

My 6th grader will be going to on a week long study trip to Costa Rica to work with leatherback turtles. I am wondering if we really need to buy bug repellant clothing, which is pricey, and if so, what are the essential items? Any other survival tips? Signed, Costa Rica newbie

I spent one summer in a cloudforest in Ecuador and another in the Ecuadorian Amazon, both to study monkeys. I don't think you will need bug-repellant clothing, esp. for just one week. I wore just long cotton pants and long-sleeved cotton shirts. (I got cargo-style pants from REI and long-sleeved light cotton shirts from thrift shops.) He may want short-sleeved t-shirts too. Good rubber boots help with walking through mud, etc. He can get those there or perhaps just basic rubber boots at a hardware store. He's not studying monkeys like I did so he may just run around in t-shirts, shorts and flip-flops....ask the person running the course. Bug repellant will be a must, but bug-repellant clothes should not be necessary. Andi


Going to Costa Rica with 12-year-olds

April 2006

I have been looking into going to Costa Rica with my husband and soon to be twelve year old twin boys. We are an active family that likes to exert ourselves on vacation. Does anyone have a recommendation for an ecolodge in the Corcovados area? It would be nice to not spend a fortune. We would like to go to Monteverde as well and only have a week. Is it possible to link these two places without going back to San Jose? Is there a big advantage to avoiding the rainy season? Karen

We visited CR in July 2004 and stayed at La Paloma Lodge near Corcovadas park -- it was fantastic but expensive. There are definitely some less expensive options in the area but some of the ones I glimpsed on hikes etc seemed to be platform tents w/out attached bathrooms or comfortable lodge. I don't think I would recommend that during the rainy season as it rains all night long. Plus petty crime is on the rise in the area (we had camera and rain jacket stolen) so you want to be sure your accomodations are secure. Finally you should stay where all meals are included as there really isn't a town with restaurants or stores. We enjoyed being there in the rainy season -- the mornings were clear with a rainstorm in the afternoon and rain most of the night. It was pleasantly warm (probably high 70s-80s) in the south but Monteverde was quite cool, especially at night. I don't think you can avoid flying back to San Jose from the Osa peninsula but that is nothing to worry about. Your flight will most likely leave early and you will be in San Jose well before noon with plenty of time to get to Monteverde (no need to spend the night in San Jose). You will have a great time -- we did not have children at the time but met many happy families. It seems the ideal destination for a family vacation. Eve

We went to Costa Rica with our then-six-year-old a few years ago and loved it so much! If you don't have Beatrice Blake's guide The New Key to Costa Rica, you should definitely get it. That's how I planned our route and found places to stay. She emphasizes eco-friendly and locally owned places. Our first night however we stayed in a lovely place owned by a couple of ex-pat Californians in Alajuela (we avoided San Jose, Alajuela is near the airport and a good starting point). The name of that hotel was La Rosa de America. They have a beautiful garden and pool, and it is easy to arrange sightseeing of nearby attractions from there. If you stay there, ask for directions to Las Delicias de mi Tierra, a nearby restaurant. It's super and cheap, popular with locals.

Our son loved the ''canopy tours'' in which you climb up to platforms high in the trees in the rain forest, belt yourself into a harness, and go zipping from tree to tree on cables. We went on one (that included horseback riding to the forest) near the Arenal Volcano. Also near the volcano was one of our favorite spots, the Tabacon Resort (hot springs, pool, natural river heated by the volcano). We stayed at a modest but great little place, the Cerro Chato lodge outside of La Fortuna (which is very touristy town). The owner, Miguel Zamora, was a wonderful guide and very helpful. I know you don't plan to go to Arenal, but those places were special to us.

We went during the rainy season, and the basic issues were: every afternoon it poured, starting around two to three. Sometimes it would then let up in the evening, sometimes not. Occasionally the rain would start earlier but then it was lighter. Most of the time we put on ponchos and it was fine. It is in any case usually warm, which is easier to bear. The only time I was worried about the rain was when we flew to an isolated area in the south to see dolphins (Drake Bay) and we nearly couldn't get out again. But really the rain was not bad.

Wish I could go again! Linda