Finding the Good Stuff in Costa Rica (with Kids)
To celebrate my husband’s 40th birthday, we took a family vacation to Costa Rica in early April. Below are my tips for traveling to Costa Rica with kids, including where to find the very Best Stuff if you like to include healthful meals, eco-friendly hotels, and general wellness as part of your vacation.
Best Itinerary for Costa Rica With Kids
Our vacation was nine nights long, and we broke it up as follows:
- Two nights near the Arenal volcano. Even though the volcano is no longer active, we wanted to stay in this region because my kids are obsessed with volcanoes. The area around La Fortuna is also famous for its naturally occurring hot springs, which I knew we would all enjoy.
- Two nights in the cloud forest of Monteverde, which features a unique ecosystem and is where my husband spent six months working as a guide twenty years ago.
- Three nights relaxing on the beach near Manuel Antonio National Park, which is famous for the wildlife and stunning ocean views.
- Two nights near the airport on a gorgeous coffee plantation in Santa Barbara de Heredia.
I can confidently recommend this as an itinerary if you choose to travel to Costa Rica with kids. Of course, I don’t know what we missed by skipping other popular areas like Tortuguero and Guanacaste. (Please comment below with your experiences in other parts of Costa Rica with kids!)
While we enjoyed having nine days to spend in Costa Rica instead of seven, you could definitely “do” Costa Rica with kids in less time—I think a week would be plenty, and in that case I would spend only one night near the airport and two instead of three on the beach.
Driving Within Costa Rica with Kids
Our driving route DID end up totaling 12.5 hours in the car. That said, the Costa Rican countryside was so gorgeous that none of us really minded the time spent on the road. Our longest drive (between Monteverde and Manuel Antonio) was four hours long, but we stopped along the way, and it wasn’t terrible.
Where to Stay in Costa Rica with Kids
Near Arenal Volcano: Tabacon Grand Spa & Thermal Resort
We chose Tabacon Grand Spa & Thermal Resort for our stay in the Arenal area because it included access to the incredible hot springs for which this region is famous.
The accommodations at Tabacon were luxurious, we enjoyed spectacular views of the volcano, and the hot springs didn’t disappoint.
I was, however, slightly disappointed by what seemed like a somewhat half-hearted commitment to being environmentally friendly and toxin-free, especially compared to the other places we stayed.
In the Monteverde Cloud Forest: Hotel Belmar
When deciding where to stay in the cloud forest region of Costa Rica, Hotel Belmar was a no-brainer. Hotel Belmar is probably the “greenest” hotel I’ve ever experienced, from their on-site organic gardens to all (truly) natural bath products in the rooms.
Disclaimer: Hotel Belmar provided a reduced rate for my accommodations.
In Manuel Antonio: Arenas del Mar
In the Manuel Antonio area, we chose Arenas del Mar for its access to the beach. The staff made our stay especially wonderful, in spite of a Halloween crab infestation in our room!
We did spend a lot of money during our four days in Manuel Antonio, but we had fun doing it! Arenas is clearly more committed to being “green” than Tabacon–from bamboo straws to water conservation efforts, it was more environmentally friendly than any American resort I’ve experienced.
Near the Airport: Finca Rosa Blanca
Our flight out of Costa Rica was at 7:00 a.m., and so I wanted our final couple of nights to be spent in a hotel nearish to the airport. We decided against staying in San Jose itself, and I was thrilled to stumble upon the breathtakingly beautiful Finca Rosa Blanca during my research.
Finca Rosa Blanca is touted as one of the most unique hotels in the world. My kids declared this room the best of our whole trip!
Finca represented the coolest part of our stay—from the coffee tour to the room to getting to hear the owner, Glen’s story–which really highlighted his commitment to wellness and clean travel.
Disclaimer: Hotel Belmar provided a reduced rate for my accommodations.
Where to Eat in Costa Rica with Kids
Overall, my kids ate pretty healthfully during our trip. There was plenty of fresh fruit, avocados, rice, and beans. You could get fruit smoothies everywhere, and they never had weird syrups or juices the way they do in America. Of course, every restaurant also offered dedos de pollo (chicken fingers), so they ate plenty of those as well.
As for the adults, I can’t say that Costa Rican cuisine is something I’ll be seeking out now that I’m back (not that any Costa Rican restaurants exist in New York City, as far as I know). That said, I did enjoy some good meals there, and it was easy enough to find vegetarian options.
Some meal highlights of our trip:
1) The food at dinner at Belmar, from the organic juice and smoothie bar to their excellent on-site restaurant.
2) The snacks at Finca Rosa Blanca.
3) The Green Room in Jaco (an otherwise kind of yucky surf town outside of Manuel Antonio).
Wellness & Eco-Tourism in Costa Rica
Obviously, Costa Rica is known for being a major eco-tourism hub, and indeed the country as a whole has an obvious commitment to sustainability. Costa Rica was also was a full of Good Stuff–from healthful food to wellness services.
Of the four hotels we visited, Hotel Belmar and Finca Rosa Blanca were the most impressive in terms of a true committement to sustainability, non-toxicity and wellness.
Here are some highlights from our trip.
What to Do in Costa Rica with Kids
Here are some of the activities we enjoyed most.
Where to Shop in Costa Rica with Kids
The Bottom Line on Costa Rica With Kids
Costa Rica is a perfect place to travel with kids, thanks to to its wide array of wildlife, kid-friendly hikes and outdoor activities, and access to the beach. If I you have a car sick-prone child, the roads around Monteverde are pretty brutal, but the driving otherwise wasn’t bad. If you’re committed to clean luxury travel, definitely consider a stay at Finca Rosa Blanca or Hotel Belmar. And if you want to relax pool- or ocean-side, my top pick is Arenas del Mar.
Please share your own experiences in Costa Rica with kids below.
Maia, Founder & CEO
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Happy New Year ..Hello I loved your article on Costa Rica travel with kids. My family (7yr old & 13 yr old & husband) and I will be visiting in April. I booked one night at finca Rosa Blanca as our final stop before we return home. We fly out late Sunday night from San Jose. I only booked Saturday night there but I’m thinking I should add Friday as well. In your opinion is there enough to see & do there for 2 nights? Kids love nature & animals – thank you in advance Maureen
Actually, I think one night is perfect there. We did two but there’s not so much for kids there…
I read your blog from time to time and really respect your opinion. My daughter was just bit in the face by a dog. Do you have any recommendations on what I should but on her wounds for scarring? I am using Manuka Honey and Aragon oil. Is there anything else you have learned that may help? Thank you, Kristen
oh I’m so sorry to hear this! I really have to defer to whatever you doctor suggests on this one.