Since our family moved to Costa Rica two years ago, I get asked a lot of questions about traveling to Costa Rica with kids. I recently shared the five best things to do in Costa Rica with kids on Flights.com, but I wanted to get a little more specific about why Costa Rica is a great place to travel with kids and share some helpful tips for planning your family vacation to Costa Rica.
1. Costa Rica is bigger than it looks
I live in Guanacaste, on the Northern Pacific-side of Costa Rica, which is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the country. The closest airport in the Northern region of Costa Rica is the Liberia Airport. Flights into Liberia are usually a little more expensive than flying into San Jose, but worth it if you are visiting this part of the country (more on this below…).
You should know that when searching for the distance between the different areas of Costa Rica, you cannot always trust Google Maps, from a travel time perspective. I would add almost an hour to anything Google Maps says! The main roads in Costa Rica are paved, but many of them are simple, two-lane highways, and traffic moves a little slower here. You can get stuck behind slow moving trucks, cattle, or just about anything else you can imagine. Plus, some of the roads in the mountains can get very windy and so it’s not like you’ll be driving at a full 60-MPH either.
2. Fly into the Liberia Airport
Like I mentioned above, if you are visiting the Guanacaste area, fly into the Liberia Airport. It is only an hour drive from most of the beaches — Playa Flamingo, Playa Conchal, Playa Grande, Tamarindo — and the Papagayo Peninsula. The Four Seasons and the brand new Andaz Hotel is located at the Papagayo Peninsula. The Westin Conchal and the Flamingo Beach Resort are a little further south, and then you’ll reach Tamarindo, which is another popular tourist destination.
If you fly into San Jose you will be in for a four hour shuttle ride to reach the Northern Pacific side. Don’t forget to factor in the shuttle price to and from San Jose to see if it really saves you that much verses simply flying into Liberia in the first place. A shuttle for a family of four from San Jose is about $250 each way, just to give you an idea. The Liberia Airport is also a little bit closer to the Lake Arenal area and should take you about three hours to get to.
3. A bit about driving in Costa Rica
You can certainly rent a car and drive yourself around Costa Rica. Driving in Costa Rica is not dangerous and there nothing to be afraid of. Most of the roads you will be driving on are paved and pretty easy to navigate. And, you do not necessarily need a car with four wheel drive, depending on where you are going to be exploring. If you are still uncomfortable with the thought of driving in a foreign country, there are plenty of shuttle services to take you everywhere you want to go and your hotel can help book them for you. For the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica, we usually use Eco Trans. Another great transportation resource for your visit is the Liberia Costa Rica website.
4. Pura Vida!
The people of Costa Rica are happy, helpful and friendly. This country is built on tourism, so they are very professional and most of the people working at the hotels, restaurants and on your excursions speak English. They help tourist all year round and understand the importance of good service. However, do not misunderstand good service for speedy service — things do move a little slower in Costa Rica, so relax! The common phrase in Costa Rica is “Pura Vida.” You will hear this phrase a lot while you are in Costa Rica and it simply means, “everything is good” or “life is good,” which it really is here. Costa Ricans are known as “Ticos” and “Ticas,” they will always be polite and very kind to you, so be kind back.
5. Visit Lake Arenal and Monteverde
To really see the authentic Costa Rica, you’ll want to head to Lake Arenal or Monteverde. Yes, there are beautiful beaches in Costa Rica and many people come just for the sand and surf, but you can see beautiful beaches anywhere, quite honestly. If you want this vacation to be different from your typical beach resort vacation, then go inland to the rain forest. This is the real heart of the country in my opinion.
You’ll want to stay for at least two nights, as this is not a day trip — it takes too long to get there and there is too much to see and do to turn around and head back the same day. Lake Arenal is known for its lake, massive volcano and the incredible hot springs. Monteverde is called the Cloud Forest for a reason — you are literally in the clouds and It feels a bit more like a quaint European mountain town than a tropical rain forest. Beware that the weather can be cooler inland and this is where it does rain quite a bit, much more than the beaches, so be sure to pack an extra layer.
6. Must-try: Zip lines and hanging bridges
Zip lining is probably one of the most popular activities in Costa Rica and you should definitely try it, as well as walk the hanging bridges of Costa Rica. I recommend doing this while visiting Lake Arenal or Monteverde. SkyTrek is one of the most popular zip lining companies — they are very safe and professional and they operate in both Lake Arenal and Monteverde. There are other zip line options all around Costa Rica and I have been on a few of them, but they’re not as impressive as Sky Trek. The Arenal Hanging Bridges are also a fantastic way to spend a day as a family and from here, you will see one of the best views of the Arenal Volcano.
7. What to eat in Costa Rica
You’ll find a variety of food options in Costa Rica. The food is good, but simple. The traditional Costa Rican dish is the casado, which consists of rice, beans, chicken or beef and a small salad. Every restaurants’ version of this dish can be a little different, but I’ve never had a bad one. Another popular dish is arroz con pollo (rice and chicken), which is a little like having fried rice. It is mixed with vegetables and chicken and kids love this dish! The fish in Costa Rica is always fresh and you should definitely have the ceviche. Even if you have kids that are picky eaters, there is plenty of chips and guacamole, fresh fruit and smoothies to keep them fed while you visit. And yes, you can drink the water in Costa Rica!
8. Costa Rica is totally connected
There is wi-fi everywhere in Costa Rica, so you will never feel helpless, out of touch or unavailable. Costa Rica is still on 3G, but I can get service out on a catamaran boat without any problems and update my Facebook and Instagram as we are on adventures. Having wi-fi will also help you navigate driving directions and maps. If you want to be able to make phone calls while you’re visiting, you should contact your service provider and work the international plan details before you come. My husband and I work online everyday and we rarely have any internet issues. If our internet does go out, we blame the monkeys in the trees.
9. Mark your calendars: The best time to visit Costa Rica
It’s always a good time of year to come to Costa Rica! Okay, well, to be honest the two months that are dry, dusty and dirty are March and April. They’re my two least favorite months here because everything is brown and dead. It’s dry season and there are even brush fires near us. I would avoid coming during those two months, even though they are usually during spring break time for kids.
September and October are the rainiest months, but my favorite time of year because the rain makes everything so beautiful in Costa Rica. Typically, at the beach, the rain hits in the afternoon, cools things down and then opens up for a fabulous sunset. The rain is a little less predictable when you head inland, but if you are visiting the hot springs you want it to rain… trust me!
10. Costa Rica is kid-friendly
There is so much to do here with kids, which is why it shocks me that people go to the same old theme park every year on vacation. If you are nervous about taking your kids out of the country, then Costa Rica is the perfect place to get their first passport stamp! It’s a very civilized country that caters so much to tourism that you’ll never feel unwanted or nervous about traveling here. Kids can learn to surf, stand-up paddle board, boogie board, go scuba diving, go out fishing, zip lining, horseback riding, hiking, explore waterfalls and hot springs, go kayaking and whitewater rafting, and see hundreds of animals! What more could you ask for on a family vacation?
Costa Rica is really the ideal travel experience for families who are looking for a little adventure, but still want some modern amenities and luxuries. Depending on what type of family travel you’re up for, Costa Rica has something for everyone!
Disclosure: This post is in partnership with Flights.com head over to their blog to read the 5 Best Things to do in Costa Rica with Kids.