Costa Rica without the Kids

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Suggestions for 12-day trip to Costa Rica

Nov 2013

Hi, I am going to Costa Rica over the December holiday break. Any suggestions or ideas of what I should see. How much is realistic to do in 12 days? Andy

We loved Costa Rica. So beautiful! Where to go really depends on your interest -- there is a lot to explore. We spent most of our trip last winter in Santa Teresa/Playa Carmen on the Nicoya Peninsula. It's a laid back surfer village populated with a mix of ex-pats and Costa Ricans, and it's rather a trek to get there (unless you want to take a puddle jumper). Great for surf lessons, yoga classes, good food, and relaxing on the beach. We also spent a few days near San Jose (we stayed in the mellower Alajuela) and tried to go up one of the volcanoes, but it was totally socked in with clouds. Fun and beautiful anyway.

We were traveling with an 18 month, so we didn't move around much. That works better for me anyway, I like getting to know a place rather scurrying around a lot. It's a small country -- with rental car I think you could get around quite a lot. Just depends what you want. Have fun! Costa Rica fan

My favorite place in Costa Rica (if not the world!) is the Osa Peninsula on the Pacific coast. Lapa Rios is an incredible ecolodge there. Worth at least 4-5 days. Ziplining is a classic and very fun touristy thing to do - I think we did it in Monteverde but there are lots of fun places to do it. We also really enjoyed hiking near the Arenal volcano and then hitting the Tabacon hot springs. The roads in CR are not great, so if you want to see several things in 12 days you will need to fly. Nature Air is a good option. Happy to share more thoughts if you want to email me directly!

Costa Rica for easygoing winter vacation

April 2013

We are thinking of going to Costa Rica in December and wanted recommendations about the weather at that time, and quiet, peaceful places to stay and be in nature. Specific ideas of hotels and locations would be helpful, as well as snorkeling opportunities and seeing wildlife. Thanks

I can't comment about the weather in December, because we went in July during rainy season (a.k.a. green season). I definitely recommend a stay at the Arenal Springs Hotel ( which is really low key, but comfortable and close to a lot of things to do (e.g. hikes) around the volcano. Most of the rooms have views of the volcano and a really nice breakfast is included in the price.

Wherever you decide to stay, I would only book places that have air conditioning.

Some of the places in Costa Rica are very touristy like the town of La Fortuna which is the main town near Arenal volcano. The restaurants charge you San Francisco restaurant prices. We started eating where the locals did and would always order the 'cassada' which is the local dish that includes fish/chicken/meat, rice, plantains, and usually a couple of other items for just a few dollars. Usually at these places, you can always order a hamburger and fries if the kids decide they don't want casada, but our best and cheapest meals were eating with the locals.

Another thing...this is one of the cleanest countries you will ever visit. They say you can drink the water in Costa Rica, and we did sometimes, but I would play it safe and buy bottled water when available. My point is that even in these local eateries where there is sometimes nothing more than a counter and a stools, they are so incredibly clean. The propieters would often be cleaning as we were eating. Everywhere we went we marvelled at how sparking the kitchens and the cookware was. Daphne

December is a great month to visit. The rainy season often ends by mid November and so everything is still green, but the sun stays out most every day. It is better to go earlier in the month since it is less crowded and less expensive. Prices will be at their highest between the 20th and January 6th and the best spots will sell out at least 4 months in advance.

For serenity and wildlife with close access to snorkeling by boat, the Osa Peninsula is the best place to view nature, but it depends on your budget and how long you want to travel. By car and boat it can take 5-6 hours from the airport in San Jose, or by plane and taxi less than two. Since you will be surrounded by primary and secondary rainforest some showers are to be expected.

If you want wider beaches, more sunshine, excellent snorkeling conditions, and larger resorts, the Northwest part of the country is best. Snorkeling on the Caribbean also is good and much less crowded, but again takes longer to reach.

The most often visited place for first time visitors to Costa Rica is Manuel Antonio, due to the monkeys and sloths seen in its National Park that adjoins a beautiful beach and vistas. You can also do full day snorkeling trips to Isla del Caño from there.

My expertise is surf travel and I had lived in Costa Rica for three years, traveling both coasts and the interior extensively.  Greg

We spent our honeymoon at Monte Azul in the rainforest about four hours south of San Jose. It was outstanding. The best part of the site is that they offer really wonderful day trips, so we never felt like we were missing out by staying in one location because we used Monte Azul as a base but still got to do a lot of things. The casitas are small - just a bed, a bathroom, and small kitchenette. But we loved it. With 98 5-star reviews out of 100, we weren't alone. The food is gourmet, everything that can be locally sourced is locally sourced, and it's the most beautiful rain forest you can imagine. It felt like stepping into Oz. The website says it is now $269 plus tax a night, but we stayed there for six nights and only paid for five, because I saw that promotion in one of their newsletters as a .pdf. You could probably ask if they'll do a discount. San_Isidro_de_El_General_Province_of_San_Jose.html and

Here's the catch, though: children under 15 aren't permitted unless you rent out all four casitas (you can have up to two adults per casita). I couldn't tell from your post whether this was a family vacation (or how old your kids are) or a grown-up getaway. - Loved the little monkeys

Costa Rica while pregnant?

Aug 2010

Has anyone been to Costa Rica, rented a car to get around, and stayed in small, quaint places along the way? We're flying into San Jose and thinking of going to Arenal Volcano and then Quepos/Manuel Antonio State Park for a jungle/beach experience. Ideally, we hope to have some mild outdoor adventures (e.g., hiking and snorkeling, but no zip lines for me - I'll be 6 mos pregnant when we go) and plenty of R We prefer small inns, cute B's, and cabanas with a kitchen rather than busy resorts and big hotels. Somewhat rustic accommodations are ok, as long as there is some charm. Also hoping to keep things on the inexpensive side. Looking for recommendations, especially places to stay! Dreaming of a relaxing beach vacation

My family and I (10 adults and our little boy who was 18 months at the time) visited Costa Rica in Dec/Jan of 2009 and had a fabulous time. We stayed in what we considered to be 'off-the-beaten-path' places and loved them all for different reasons. Here's where we stayed - check them out on Trip Advisor too!

* Pura Vida - Outside of San Jose, this was our base when we arrived for a few days as we explored coffee farms and rain forests.

* Villa Blanca - This place was truly magical and amazing. We did zip-line here, but not necessary. Most of our family did not. Lots of hikes and beautiful terrain.

* Horizon - This was where we stayed the longest (on the beach in Santa Teresa) and honestly, I didn't want to leave. The owners are so incredible and the place is unforgettable.

* Finca Los Caballos - This was our last stop (in Montezuma) which was also quite lovely.

Good luck! scoles

We loved the Hotel Costa Verde just outside Manuel Antonio. Very nice, and close to the park. I have also stayed at the Hotel VelaBar there which was more rustic, but still fine. If you are going to Monteverde at all, Cabanas Los Pinos are cute cabins with kitchens and very nice owners. We splurged for the fancy resort at Arenal, and it was very nice, but know that you can also get a day pass to the hot springs there without staying at the resort. Have fun and Pura Vida! 

Going to Costa Rica without the kids

April 2004

My wife and I are thinking about going to Costa Rica in August, without children, for 6-7 days. We were thinking of going to the Pacific Coast (Manuel Antonio), and perhaps Tortuguero for a day or two also. I'd be grateful for any thoughts on whether this trip is too ambitious for such a short time, and whether the weather on either coast will be ok (not too rainy, not too hot) at that time of year. (I'm hoping for information a bit more specific than what is already posted.) Thanks! Chris

I spent a month traveling in costa rica several years ago when I was single. It was beautiful. Get a Lonely Planet Guide, it's the best guide even if it is targeted to people traveling on the cheap. The thing about CR is that becasue there are so few roads (like one and it wasn't paved when I was there) in the country, you have to go back to San Jose any time you travel from one place to another. Renting a car will make that less of an issue, but keep in mind on a 6 day trip you will spend the better part if not the entire day traveling from SJ to your destination and back again. If you rent a car I suggest staying at a hotel that has cars. Or maybe you can do that at the airport--look into it because you'll want to save the time. That said, Manuel Antonio is a lovely place to spend a few days if not the whole time depending on how quickly you get bored with prestine beach and wildlife. And it is relatively close to SJ. Another idea would be to go to MA for a few nights and then stop in Playa Jaco for a night on the way back. Jaco is the closest beach to SJ and is a bit more lively than MA. I would not recommend the east coast at all since it is way farther away from SJ and has a much different feel than the west coast. Not sure about weather in August--it's either the hot or rainy season. My advice is not to take chances with the rainy season on a 7 day vacation. Best time to go to Central America is the dry season: December through May give or take. Have a wonderful time! Loved Costa Rica

I have spent many summers in CR, my father is CRican and lives in San Jose. I was there last summer and decided I'd never go again in the summer. It was just too wet. It is the rainy season there, as I expect you know. I spent time on the Atlantic and Pacific--in Tortugero and just north of Manuel Antonio. It rained and rained and rained. Not just afternoon rain or short showers. We spent 4 straight days near Puerto Viejo holed up in the cabin because of the rain. Another 5 days frustrated in Nicoya because of rain. I was there for 1 month and wanted to have weeks relaxing on the beach-- was there with my husband for his first time and I was 5 months pregnant. Knew it was our last vacation for a long time. It was so frustrating! Tortuguero is AMAZING, but it rained and rained and rained. Made the trip up the canals not as comfortable or interesting because we couldn't see the wildlife. For 6-7 days, doing both coasts IS too much. It takes time to get around the country. Manuel Antonio is nice, but it's REALLY touristy and developed. THat's a slightly less rainy area of the country--if there will be less rain any where that's the area--but I've spent time there in our summer when it's been very wet. Tortuguero is absolutely worth a trip, but takes a day to get there, and as I said, it can be torrential.. You can be lucky--out of 30 days last summer we had probably 5 incredibly clear, warm perfect days. But we also had 5-6 days of straight rain. July and August are the wettest months, travel can be difficult because of the roads. If you go, I'd suggest only going to one area--maybe MA because you ahve a better chance of nice weather. Or decide where to go once you're there. Tourism is low at that time of year so you don't have to make reservations everywhere. You might get there and hear the weather forcast and see that the Pacific is being it by a storm and head for the Atlantic. The weather can change day to day, forcasts aren't entirely reliable. Take a deck of cards, some good books, and plan on being flexible. Or just walking in the rain. Which isn't as nice and romantic as it sounds--tropic rain storms can be violent. Hope this doesn't sound too negative--it was just relaly frustrating being there last summer and waking up day after day, praying for sun, then looking out only to see dark clouds and wet beach. The sunny days were so amazing it made the rainy days even harder. It is hot, by the way. Hot and humid on either coast. Good luck! Elena

My husband and I went to Costa Rica last August without the kids and had a great time! The weather was fabulous -- no rain during the day, T-storms, etc. at night if any. We went on Cruise West's Pacific Coast tour for one week. It is a small cruise ship -- 100 people maximum. On our tour there were 50 of us! The cabins are small but comfortable and well-appointed. We made wet landings via Zodiac each day at different stops along the coastline and then walked/ hiked inland with our naturalists. They carried spotting scopes and were incredibly knowledgeable about the wildlife. Our hiking took place in the mornings (7:30 a.m.); we returned to the ship for lunch and then went back to the shore for water activities (snorkeling where appropriate) for the afternoon. The food was great -- though not the kind of overly-indulgent stuff you see on huge cruise ships. And you don't have formal night, etc. Very low-key. A great way to explore Costa Rica! And you can add on a day or more in San Jose or anywhere else you like. P.S. Kids are encouraged to come along if you're interested. Judy

My husband, son (6 at the time) and I visited Costa Rica last year in June, during the ''green'' (aka rainy) season, which I assume continues into August. It was one of the best vacations of our lives, I think I can say without exaggeration. We stayed for a little less than two weeks, beginning in Alajuela, going up to the Arenal Volcano (near La Fortuna) for three days, then back down to Alajuela and on the Poas Volcano/La Paz waterfall tour, then we flew down to the Osa Peninsula/Drake Bay for three days at an eco- resort where we went on a dolphin tour, then back to Alajuela and home. The book I consulted to help me put together this combination of independent and tour travel was Beatrice Blake's Key to Costa Rica. It is an excellent guide. Many of the places listed in the guide are on the internet, so you can communicate directly with people in Costa Rica; those in the tourist industry speak excellent English for the most part (though I found that my little bit of elementary Spanish was very helpful).

The transportation and tourist infrastructure in Costa Rica is well-organized and efficient. Having said this, I would also say that the country is not large, but you have to allow for significantly more time to cover distance than you would in the U.S., as the roads are generally rural and often mountainous. It took three hours for our guide to drive us from Alajuela to Arenal, for instance. We depended on public transportation and tour guides rather than renting a car, and I was glad we did, as the traffic in the populous areas can be daunting, and signage on roads was of the rural variety. Not like interstates here, for example.

We had concerns about the weather, but the only thing that was a bit of a drag was the rain in the afternoons. It usually began at two or three o'clock and could continue through the evening and night or let up by sunset. On a couple of days it began earlier, but we just put on rain gear and kept going. When we flew down to Drake Bay (in an eight-passenger plane) we landed on an airstrip in a pasture (the ''airport''), which was subsequently rained out during our stay. The amazing thing was that our hosts handled this problem swiftly and efficiently without telephones -- through radio communication they organized a boat from another resort up the River Sierpe, a bus to another airport, and a flight from that other town, all of which went off without a hitch! The unscheduled trip up the densely forested, unpopulated tropical river was unforgettable.

We saw gorgeous butterflies, monkeys, toucans, parrots, a sloth, iguanas, a caiman, dolphins, and numerous other animals on our various excursions, all in the wild. At Drake's Bay the howler monkeys in the trees above our cabin were our alarm clock. The plant life -- flowers, trees, coffee and pineapple plantations -- was overwhelming. My son liked the ''canopy tour'' (whizzing through the top of the jungle on cables) and the natural hot springs (heated by the Arenal Volcano) at Tabacon the best.

I would be happy to talk to you more about our trip if you would like to write to me directly. Happy traveling! Linda

I've been to Costa Rica twice, each time was in August. Yes, that is the rainy season, and it did rain really hard a few times, but that didn't ruin my experience. I had a fantastic time! The worse rain storms came late afternoon and evenings. The advantage of going during that time is that it is the off season, so lodging is cheaper, and there are fewer tourists.

6-7 days is not enough time to see both sides of the country. Traveling through the country can be very slow going and exhausting depending on where you go, how much you try to see and how you go (car, plane, bus, boat). San Jose is central, and it can take all day to get to either coast. Some places the roads are bad. The best way to get to Totuguero is to take a small plane. My suggestion is to focus on one area and not try to see both sides of the coast. There are so many wonderful places to see in Costa Rica. I've been to Tortuguero, Manuel Antonio, Arenal Volcanoe, Marina Ballena, Hacienda Baru, and Refugio Nacioanl de Fauna Silvestre Ostional. All of these places were amazing in different ways. I've heard wonderful things about other places as well. I do want to mention one thing about Manuel Antonio. It is a great place for families with young children, but it is also very touristy. Since you won't be bringing kids along, I suggest a place that is a bit more remote and adventurous. I can give you details about all the places I visited if you would like to know more. You can contact me directly. Laurey

Traveling to Costa Rica before our first child is born

Dec 1999

I loved Costa Rica, although it will be very busy at this time of year. The medical system is reportedly quite good, at least in the central valley, although I didn't have any personal experience of it. My favorite place was the town of Fortuna. It is easy to get to, very friendly, cheap lodging, and lots of great day hikes and day trips from there. However, I wouldn't want to have my kid born there. As the parent of child who was born at 29 weeks, I know that it can happen, (about 13% of births are before 36 weeks) and that I would want to be around the best medical care possible and close to my support system. Hope this helps, Tim

My husband and I traveled a lot before our daughter was born and I have to say our favorite place was Costa Rica. This is a very healthy country. They have one of the highest literacy rates in the world, free education and social security for all citizens. I would feel comfortable with any medical care given . After spending time in Mexico and Jamaica, it was a completely different experience in Costa Rica. We traveled from coast to coast, which you can do in a few short hours, and saw very very little poverty. There was no panhandling anywhere and we felt quite safe. There are beautiful beaches teeming with life, more shell creatures than I had seen anywhere else. They have a world famous rain forest. We met young college students who were majoring in Eco-Tourism, and were told that the country doesn't want outsiders owning hotels and tourist sites with locals working in them, they want Costa Ricans to own the hotels and that is what is happening there. It is a wonderful country to travel in and I would be happy to talk with you further is this is where you choose to vacation. Lark