Costa Rica with Kids Under 5

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Costa Rica with an almost 4 yr old

March 2015

Hi! I am going to take my almost 4 year old to Costa Rica in May and am wondering if anyone has any suggestions on particular places to stay. I have been a few times without a child but this will be the first time going with her and as a single parent. I would love to stay places that are kid friendly and walkable (no car needed) I love Samara for these reasons as well as the swim-able beach but I would like to explore some other areas. I am considering Nosara although I hear I may need a car and the beaches are only for surfing, not swimming. I am also considering going to Finca Tres Semillas (three seeds farm). Does anyone have experience in Nosara or Finca Tres Semillas or other suggestions of not to miss spots? I also welcome suggestions for lower priced hotels or homestays in your favorite area. Thanks! Pura Vida Mama

Our experience is dated, but 9 years ago we went to Nosara with our almost three-year-old. I didn't get a real family friendly vibe there. She was well-behaved but I felt like most of the other travelers were young surfers who were annoyed by our existence. And the beaches weren't very pleasant. I will say that the place we stayed was lovely. We splurged on the junior suite at Giardino Tropicale which was very relaxing and had a nice pool. We rented a car so I don't know what it would be like without a car there. I haven't been to Samara, but from what I've heard it might be a better choice. take me with you!

Hi Pura Vida Mama,

I just went to Nosara last summer, and although it is stunning, I don't recommend it for little kids. The road is impossible and the waves are huge. Plus your child is probably too young for turtles, since that's a nighttime thing. Playa Hermosa, however, is perfect for little kids (the one in guanacaste, not in southern Puntarenas). No waves and fish swimming everywhere. It's a sleepy little beach town without much in the way of activities, though, so I don't know if you like that. I'm sure the all- inclusives in papagayo have lots of things to do geared toward families.

Another place I love to visit is the Hacienda Guachiipelin in Rincon de la Vieja. They have a lot of activities there, but I'm not sure if three-going-on-four is a bit too young. They do have a swingset, and as you know, nature is everywhere in Costa Rica, so there is always something for a kid to discover. Personally, I like to fly into Liberia and pretty much always stay in guanacaste. If you are going to the Central Valley, there's a big water park in Orotina with a kiddie pool and water play features. It's not really a destination, but if you are already in the area, it might be worth a stop. Have fun!

Family friendly destination for kids 2 and 5

June 2013

hi, i am hoping to plan a vacation to costa rica over christmas/new year holidays, with my husband and 2 kids aged 5 and 2, but don't know where to go. I'm looking for nice beaches with gentle slope into ocean so kids can play in the water, also nearby rainforest hikes, snorkeling would be nice, and my husband surfs so if there was a surf destination nearby would be nice too. Does anyone know where i could find some/most of that? We don't need a super-fancy hotel or resort. Would also consider a different destination with the same activities, if anyone has other ideas Thanks! lp

We spent 2 weeks in Costa Rica with our then 5-year-old and 18-month-old. We had a great time! The 5 year old loved the wildlife in Monteverde. Our favorite place was Tabacon Hot Springs, which everyone loved. The big pool (with waterslide!) was warm but not too hot for the kids, as were several of the other pools which are all hidden away in the jungle. At night everything is lit up and gorgeous & full of jungle noises. We stayed at the Tabacon Resort which gives you all-day access to the hot springs whenever you want it. We are not usually fancy-hotel people, but it was really fun. Found a great deal on for a huge room. The food is overpriced and not fabulous, but we really felt like we were in a jungle paradise! Our trip was a year ago, and our now-6 year old still says Tabacon is his favorite place in the world! Rebecca

Guaria de Osa is a rustic but comfy ecoresort stewarded by ethnobotanist (and Berkeley High grad) Jonathon Miller Weisberger and his family. They have a week coming up especially for families. Jonathon is a surf instructor, among his many talents, and yoga and guided nature walks are offered at the lodge. They have a Facebook page too. Also want to visit Costa Rica

Costa Rica with Curious 1.5 yo

June 2008

We just bought tickets to Costa Rica and the anxiety and excitement is kicking in. We are wondering about baby gear and if there are places we can rent items like car seats, stroller, playpen, etc. Better yet, does anyone have a recommendation of a place that caters to toddlers? We are definitely looking to stay near the beach, no preference of which coast at this point. Both my husband and I are accustomed to backpacking so this is a new challenge for us to balance out the actual needs of a toddler versus the luxuries and conveniences of American lifestyle. Thanks!

We have been to Costa Rica with our son when he was 1.5 yo. We had a good time but we couldn't do a lot of cool stuff because it was not appropriate for a child. The beaches are just fine; a good place to relax but not great. Mother

We went to CR with our four year old. We also were backpacking travelers before our child. Don't count on renting a car seat. Sometimes airlines will give you a bag for your carseat but you can also bring a big plastic bag and check it. The piece of mind is worth it. If you have time and plan on moving about, car rental is cheap. Navigating is hard in CR, but drivers move quite slowly and safely. I suggest you stay outside of San Jose your first night or two. SJ is big awkward city. Alejuela (spellling?) has good accommodations. Our favorite beach location for a low key vibe was Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean coast(Casa Verde hotel is inexpensive, lovely and has a pool). But, it is far away. Manuel Antonio might be easier with a toddler. Have a great trip.


Costa Rica with Toddlers

Oct 2006

Has anyone been to Costa Rica with toddlers? We're planning a family trip in June (6 adults and 2.5 year old twins) and I'm looking for lodging recommendations and places to visit with the children. Basically ANY advice about travelling to Costa Rica with children would be very helpful. Should we be concerned about the quality of the roads? Sickness and emergency care? Safety. Etc. Thanks so much! HL

We went to Costa Rica this summer with our four year old. I suggest you stay outside San Jose when you arrive. Alujeula (sp?) is 20 mins. by car from the airport, and smaller and easier to navigate. We stayed at the Hotel Colinas Del Sol our first two nights. Sweet, small and has a pool. It has a web site if you google it. Travel within the country is very easy. It's recommended that you rent a 4 wheel drive, which we did. It made us more confident on the road, but in retrospect we didn't find it necessary. We went everywhere. We started in Samara on the Nicoya Peninsula, nice beach, and easy with kids. Went to Arenal -- rained out, on to the Los Angeles cloud forest(magical and serene but quite expensive for us) and then to Puerto Viejo, south of Cajuita, which was a hightlight. Great vibe, great food and lovely beaches. We can recommend the Casa Verde Hotel -- inexpensive with a beautiful pool. On our way back to the Pacific Coast, we stayed in Orosi - nice overnight. Finally, we spent a couple of nights at Hacienda Baru - a wildlife refuge. Costa Rica has everything you would hope for toddlers, but I strongly recommend that you bring your own child seats.

Eco-travel to Costa Rica with toddler and grandma

March 2003

My husband and I are planning a trip to Costa Rica with our eighteen-month-old daughter and my mother. We are interested in more of an eco-travel type vacation with easy access to wildlife, as opposed to staying at one of the touristy, luxury resorts that have cropped up in recent years. We'd also like to do a bit of scuba diving, althought I understand that the diving may be so-so due to mediocre visibility. From the reading I've done, it seems as though there are so many different regions to visit that we are having a hard time narrowing it down. Any recommendations as to places to visit and/or stay are greatly recommended.

Also, I've read the archived recommendations for travel agents but did not see anyone who specializes in Costa Rica. If you know of someone, please share the name! Thanks.

I have a former kayaking instructor who now has an ecotourism business in Costa Rica. He ran a class act in w. Massachusetts so I am sure his Costa Rica operation is well-run, fairly economical and very high in terms of safety standards. I know they do whitewater trips as well as more mainstream ecotourism.  His name is Tom Foster. kathryn l

We visited Costa Rica 2 years ago and most enjoyed staying at Hacienda Baru on the southeastern coast. Although the cabins were quite rundown, the area was wonderful! The beach was about a 1/4 mile hike when we always marvelled at the cutter ants crossing our path. Once at the beach, we always saw monkeys in the trees. There was also a shallow tidepool that would be good for little kids. At the cabins we saw baby birds eye-level in a bush, tons of birds, butterflies.

The guides were great finding wildlife when hiking in the woods: sloths in the trees, toucans. We took a night hike and they found shrimp, green poison tree frogs, a snake. We slept in the forest one night and heard very interesting calls. There we saw the blue morpho butterflies, bats, scorpions.

And that's just what I remember right now -- I'm sure there was more wildlife. I recommend wearing long pants and mosquito repellant when hiking the the forest, because my husband brought wildlife home in his leg -- bot fly larva. It didn't hurt him, but was very gross.

Hacienda Baru also has the ''Flight of the Toucan'' where you can slide across the forest on ropes. We also climbed a huge tree using climbing gear.

As I said, it's not fancy, but of the 3 places we stayed,it was the most interesting, with the best wildlife and nicest staff. Barbara

I don't know how it will be bringing a toddler with you, but I can recommend several places. Tortuguero Jungle located on the coast on the Caribbean side. Stay at the Tortuga Lodge. The nicest place to stay, but erhaps more expensive. It is a very tasteful lodge with a lovely tropical garden around the property.They will take you on a tour of the is like a mini version of the Amazon. We saw toucans, lizards that run across the water, lots of caimen, howler monkeys, spider monkeys, and a sloth.They also have a small jungle you can go on a walk through where you can see snakes and poison dart frogs (long sleeves, pants, mosquito netting, hat and repellent strongly advised....they provide rubber boots). They also take you on a tour at night to see the very large leatherback sea turtles laying their eggs on the beach. My friend and I went into the local village and hired a private guide to tour the canals at a more quiet time of day. It was late in the afternoon just before sunset. That is suppose to be a good time to possibly see more animal activity. The amazing thing was that we saw a Jaguar! It was swimming across the canal. Our guide yelled out in such excitemint. He had never seen one, and he has lived their all his life. That night in the village we were all treated to free drinks at the local ''Delta''. News traveled fast, and by morning everyone knew about the two american girls who saw the Jaguar. Other travelers who stayed at the lodge where we stayed were very envious. We were just very lucky. Jaguars are extremely rare to see. It was thought that they were no longer living in Tortuguero, till that memorable day. After that we traveled to the Arenal Volcano. That was amazing! I highly recommend staying at the Volcano Observatory Lodge. We were again very lucky. Arenal is the most active Volcano in the world but it does have its quiet periods. We were there when it was spewing out hot red lava and rocks every 10 to 15 minutes! Often the mountain is enveloped in clouds so you can't see anything. The night we were there was a clear night and it was better than any fireworks show I'd ever seen. The observatory Lodge seemed to be family friendly as I recall. I saw several kids there. The Lodge is in a great location. It is very close to the Volcano so that you can feel the earth shake, but it is safe from the direction of the lava flow. I never made it to the Monteverde Cloud Forest, but that is definitely a place to visit. Our last stop was the Pacific coast on the Nicoya Penisula. We went there to see the nesting Ridley sea turtles. August is their peak time. We saw them in the hundreds! That is located at Fuana Silvesre Ostional National refuge. Another place I've always wanted to see that I heard amazing things about is Corcovado Natioinal Park. It is one of the largest with most variety of animal and plant species. Good luck planning your trip. If you decide to go to Tortuguero Jungle, mention the two American girls who saw the jaguar. My stepmother visted there recently and stayed at the same lodge and she said that they talked about the american girls who saw the jaguar. I gues we are famous down there. If you have any questions, feel free to email me directly. My husband and I and our 21/2 year old might be going there this August for a wedding. My biggest concerns are travel safety. Drivers are wild down there, and the roads are bad. Laurey

My husband and I traveled to Costa Rica summer 2001 with our then 4 yr old and 18 month old and I was five months pregnant. It was August and contrary to what many folks believe, the weather was quite pleasant. We rented a minivan and drove all over the country, even to some places considered not very safe for tourists. It was my third time in CR so I felt very comfortable venturing in certain places. Because we had the kids, however, we stayed away from the areas considered more dangerous. August was a very pleasant time to be there because there are not many tourists, so the staffs of the various hotels we stayed in were not overwhelmed and therefore were more amenable to communicating with us and arranging more detailed tours etc. The children had a wonderful time. We found the driving quite safe. In fact much of the time the roads were fairly empty. Here in the U.S. we are accustomed to more heavily traveled roads, therefore we take many precautions. You should be slightly more cautious when you drive anywhere that you are not familiar with the roads. Some differences I should mention while driving in CR is that roads are not very well signed and of course many signs are in Spanish. Thus if you do not speak Spanish and you plan to drive, you should become familiar with the language at least for those purposes. Another precaution naturally is that of insect bites. Some areas are more prone to mosquitos and noseeums than others, so you should go prepared with insect repellent and mosquito netting etc (not to mention sun screen, raincoats(it can be quite rainy in CR certain times of the year, especially in the forest, so check before you go)). For volcano visits we found that having a backpack for carrying the younger child came in very handy. We also took an umbrella stroller along for walking on city streets. Finally, take your important medication, other necessary over the counter drugs such as tummy ailment medicine (Mylicon etc), and any of your kid's favorite snacks. Medicines are widely available, however, instructions are written in Spanish. Other things such as diapers, wipes, baby lotion etc are also widely available in the cities.

CR is a beautiful country and children are precious to them, so taking a toddler should be just fine.

Enjoy your trip. Sharron

Traveling in Costa Rica with a pre-schooler

February 2002

I am planning to travel to Costa Rica with my 3 year old in late March/early April. I've been there twice before, but last about 8 years ago and never with a child. Any advice on specific places to go, things to think about, etc would be much appreciated. I'm also wondering about the logistics of public transit with a preschooler -- or if I should just bit the bullet and rent a car for getting around the country. Thanks! Tara

I recommend beaches and rainforests. There's so much interesting stuff on the ground there. A trip with a guide helps you see even more. At Hacienda Baru in Dominical we went for a night hike and saw more neat stuff. Barbara

Here are some ideas from a former Berkeley mom who's been living in Costa Rica for a year and half. Although my kids are older (14 and 11), there's still a lot for a 3-year-old to do here.

Costa Rica is heaven for animal-lovers; it's pretty easy to find monkeys, turtles, agouti, iguanas, birds, etc. in many parts of the country. (My 11-year-old son said there was a sloth this afternoon at the school bus stop, for example.) You'll see more with someone to point everything out to you; ask around, at hotels or park ranger stations, for tours and/or a guide who's kid-friendly.

The kids liked Zoo Ave in Alajuela; they have mostly birds, but also other animals, easy to see. There are quite a few butterfly gardens, serpentariums, frog exhibits, etc. all over the country, where you can see critters close up.

For more traditional museum-type activities, the Children's Museum in San Jose is a good one; it helps if you read Spanish. Parque de Diversiones, in the western suburbs, is kind of like a cross between Fairyland and Disneyland's Main Street. My kids thought they were a little old for it, but yours should be closer to it. Lots of history of Costa Rica to keep you interested between going on rides, paddleboats, etc.

Late March, when you're planning to come, is Semana Santa, or Holy Week, this year. It's by far the busiest week of the year in terms of Costa Ricans going on vacation, and also, paradoxically, the week that a lot of the transportation systems cut back. Reservations are a must.

The public transportation system is excellent and cheap, and the country is small; but some of the roads make for pretty slow going (our mountaintop is a five-hour bus ride from San Jose, for example.) Some areas are off-limits in rental cars unless you get four wheel drive. Yours certainly wouldn't be the only 3-year-old on the bus. Costa Ricans are *extremely* tolerant of -- no, make that delighted by -- children, however you're traveling.

A good guidebook for families is Beatrice Blake's New Key to Costa Rica. Written by a mom, and it shows; lots of specific suggestions, e.g., kid-safe beaches, low-key hot springs, child-friendly hotels and restaurants. Hope this helps. Jane