The tiny South American republic of Costa Rica – one of the most bio-diverse areas on the planet, with everything from volcanoes and beaches to rainforests and mangrove swamps – is a stunning natural playground offering family holidays with lots of scope for both fast-paced adrenaline thrills such as white-water rafting and more sedate pastimes like paddling through swamps or paddling on the beach.

You could just sit and relax, but that would mean missing jaguars in the forest, crocodiles and turtles on the beaches, cowboys, volcano-climbing, and amazing scenery everywhere, whether lush mountain trails through the jungle or open plains. This is a place where tapirs, butterflies, toucans and exotic plants abound.

Between Panama and Nicaragua, Costa Rica is an oasis of calm in an increasingly agitated world. This is the country that got rid of its army, after all, and Costa Ricans, or Ticos, are incredibly friendly. Children are genuinely appreciated, so travelling with them here will be a delight.


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Things to do with kids in Costa Rica

Take a hike to see some of the strangest and/or cutest animals on the planet, including macaws, toucans, tapirs and iguanas. Head for one of the several National Parks in Costa Rica (covering almost 30% of the total land mass). In Corcovado National Park you can stay at a camp on the beach, snorkel, surf and horse-ride. Manuel Antonia National Park offers the heady combination of gorgeous beaches fringed by a jungle teeming with wildlife. Or enjoy a boat-trip along the narrow waterways of Tortuguero National Park, spotting brightly coloured birds in the trees and even the odd crocodile basking on the shore.

Hit the beaches for unforgettable family holidays. Playa Tamarindo in the province of Guanacaste is a surfer’s dream; with younger kids, Playa Uvita south of Dominicalis is a better swimmers’ beach, with the added benefit that you might spot dolphins and whales from its sands.

Discover the Nicoya Peninsula, one of a handful of worldwide ‘Blue Zones’ where people live longer and more healthily due to their environment. Forbes magazine recently voted its Malpais beach among the top 10 in the world, and local beaches as a whole score highly in Tripadvisor polls. Malpais and Santa Teresa are great places to learn to surf, whether at a surf camp or through individual lessons. 

Keep the kids up late to watch turtles laying their eggs at the Refugio Nacional de Fauna Silvestre Ostional at night. Animal-lovers might also visit the hands-on butterfly gardens at Monteverde.

Whizz through the jungle on the zip-wire in Arenal Volcano National Park (for the less brave, there are sky gondolas). 

With ages 9/10 and up, experience the thrills of white-water rafting, but make sure to ask around about a tour operator’s safety standards. The best spot is the Pacuare River, on the way to which you’ll travel through banana plantations and past volcanoes.

Take the hour-long boat-trip to the Isla del Cano, which might reward you with sightings of whales depending on the time of year.

Just one of Costa Rica's many gorgeous beaches.© www.visitcostarica.com

Just one of Costa Rica's many gorgeous beaches.


Food in Costa Rica is simple and hearty if – dare we say it? – sometimes bland (beans and rice are virtually ubiquitous). Most of the seafood is imported and hence expensive. Don’t expect kids’ meals in restaurants, though most will serve an adult portion to split between two kids.

You will find plenty of fruit, plus coconut milk to sip with a straw straight from the nut. For water, stick to the bottled stuff.

Typical local architecture.© www.visitcostarica.com

Typicla local architecture.

When to go to Costa Rica

Temperatures, which depend largely on elevation, are fairly constant in Costa Rica year-round, making it a good bet for family holidays at any time. The average daytime temperature in San José (1,172m) is mid 20°Cs, and on the coast it's around 30°C; the mountains are naturally coolest.

The driest time in Costa Rica is Dec-April, the wettest (most humid) May-Nov, although heavy rainfall can occur any time of year, especially on the Caribbean coast.

One of Costa Rica's dramatic craters.© www.visitcostarica.com

One of Costa Rica's dramatic craters.


Expect to pay from £900pp for flights to Costa Rica. Once you're there, accommodation can be very cheap by Western standards.

Destination stats

Capital citySan José

Flying time15hrs All flight times are based on flights from UK London airports, to the capital or nearest destination airport.

Carbon footprint6.16 CO2 Estimated tonnes of CO2 produced for return flights for a family of four.

TimezoneGMT -6

CurrencyCosta Rican Colón

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Kids playing on the beach in Costa Rica.© www.visitcostarica.com

Kids playing on the beach in Costa Rica.

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Costa Rica wildlife.© www.visitcostarica.com

Costa Rice wildlife.