As a mom who lived in Costa Rica for three years, I definitely have my favorite places to go in Costa Rica with kids! However living there is different than visiting. When you only have one week you have to try to fit in as much fun as possible while still trying to relax and really take in all the lush and natural surroundings.
If you are traveling to Costa Rica with your kids make sure you prioritize the most important activities your family wants to do and then let that guide your vacation. Here’s my favourite Costa Rica 1 week itinerary based on travels we enjoyed during our time living in this wonderful country.
Guest post and photos by Andrea Fellman. Updated for 2021
To help you establish what areas you might enjoy most, I have put together a brief guide to the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica. This is the northern pacific side and the area in which I lived and explored the most while living in Costa Rica.
Costa Rica may be a small country but the travel time between regions takes longer than you might expect and so you will need to account for travel time from one region of the country to another.
And then there are some of the more remote areas like the Osa Peninsula or Tortuguero that are only accessible by boat.
Depending on how much you want to move around, and how much you want to see and do, you could visit three of these areas listed below in a week. And, if your vacation is 10 days, then perhaps even one more.
Don’t discount visiting Costa Rica in the rainy season either, there are lots of great things to do during the ‘green season’!
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Costa Rica itinerary
I do suggest that you rent a car so you are on your own time and can be flexible with your road trip itinerary. We have used AutoEurope a number of times and have always been impressed with their service.
The roads in Costa Rica are easy to navigate and most of the ones you will be traveling on are paved. Wifi works pretty well throughout the country, your map apps and the Waze app will get you everywhere you want to go.
Some of the larger hotels have excursions that can help you set up and these usually include transportation, so if you prefer to stay in one spot you won’t necessarily be stuck there the whole time. Your hotel should also be able to set you up with a shuttle transfers, from one destination to the next as well.
Many people in Costa Rica speak English and are extremely helpful, they are used to tourists and for the most part, very happy you are there. The country motto after all is “Pura Vida”, which means pure life or good life but also translates to “no problem” or “all is good”.
So, the sooner you relax and ease into the Pura Vida way of life and attitude the better your vacation will be!
Rio Celeste Waterfall & Hike
If there was one experience that I would say was my favorite, it would be hiking to the Rio Celeste Waterfall in the Tenorio Volcano National Park. Not only do you see the electric blue waterfall but if you continue to the head of the river you’ll get to see where the two rivers merge and the minerals from the river and the volcano mix together to create the blue water.
It is on this continued hike that you and your kids will be able to cross some very small hanging bridges that take you over the river. This is a true gem deep in the rainforest, a bit off the beaten path but totally worth it.
Where to stay at Rio Celeste
La Carolina Lodge is an off the grid hotel with very little modern amenities but you’ll be able to swim in a rushing volcanic river and sit and soak up all the natural beauty surrounding you in the naturally heated stone hot tub. It’s a wonderful place to spend the night.
There is electricity in your rooms, but the rest of the property is only lit by candlelight. Your family can also go on a horseback riding adventure over their 170 acres of lush countryside and the kids can even help milk their cows!
Check reviews for La Caroline Lodge on TripAdvisor.
Arenal Volcano & Hot Springs
Probably the most popular area in Costa Rica is the town of La Fortuna, home to the Arenal Volcano and it’s famous hot springs. This is also where you’ll find La Fortuna waterfall, a stunning 70m-high cascade of water.
This area is known for lots of outdoor activities and where some of the best zip lining in Costa Rica happens; you can see the volcano as you soar through the air. You can hire a guide to take you fishing on Lake Arenal, go waterfall rappelling, horseback riding, river rafting and take a chocolate or coffee tour. We recommend Get Your Guide for booking tours.
Just the drive to La Fortuna is magical, as you pass the rolling green countryside on the winding roads that take you deeper into the country with gorgeous views of the lake and volcano.
Many hotels have basic hot spring pools, but if you are looking for places with multiple pools, waterfalls and even waterslides you’ll want to look at Tabacon Hot Springs, The Springs and Baldi Hot Springs. Even if you are not staying at these hotels, day passes are available.
Where to stay at Arenal Volcano
There is no shortage for places to stay in La Fortuna and there is something for everyone’s style and budget. You can stay in a luxury jungle resort or have just as an authentic experience in more modest lodge or cabin style accommodations.
I have stayed at both Tabacon Thermal Resort & Spa and The Lost Iguana Resort and would highly recommend them both. Tabacon Hot Springs does tend to be more adult, so I would recommend it to kids ages 6+, but I have seen younger there and the buffet at Tabacon Hot Springs is worth it!
Check current rates and reviews for Tabacon Thermal Resort & Spa and The Lost Iguana.
Beaches of Guanacaste; surf, hike and bike
If you are looking for a beach getaway, then head to the Guanacaste coast, for some of the best beaches in Costa Rica. But please be aware that the beauty of the beaches in Costa Rica is that they are beautifully untouched and locals want them to remain this way.
The biggest surf town with the most action on the beach and main street filled with surf shops, restaurants, bars and nightlife is the popular town of Tamarindo. This is where you’ll find larger hotels, luxury vacation rentals, more dining options, surf lessons, and a lot of amenities that will keep the kids entertained and very happy!
Tamarindo is a great spot for families, because it has a little more going on for a variety of ages and interests.
Playa Grande is one town over from Tamarindo and also a surfer’s paradise but much less inhabited. Families can rent more secluded beach homes and vacation rentals here and be a little less away from the crowds, but you will probably need a rental car.
Playa Conchal is a gorgeous beach and well known because part of the beach is made up of all shells. Playa Flamingo is another popular beach and is typically very quiet and offers some of the best sunsets.
If you are looking for mountain biking and hiking then head to Playa Danta, which is my absolute favourite.
Where to stay in Guanacaste
Tamarindo’s vacation rentals and hotels are endless, go with whatever suits your budget and style. The only hotel on Playa Conchal is the Westin Playa Conchal, but do not let “all-inclusive” turn you away, this place is fantastic! (and I am not an all inclusive type of person).
Playa Flamingo Beach Resort is very nice if you want to stay in Flamingo and for Playa Danta, you will want to check out Las Catalinas. Las Catalinas offers incredible luxury homes, modern condos and studios for rent, and is a very family friendly while being very chic!
Check current rates and reviews for the Westin Playa Conchal.
Monteverde – The Cloud Forest
For the nature lovers you’ll want to get lost up in the cloud forest. As you drive and make the climb to Monteverde, you will literally be driving through the clouds!
Do yourself a favor and stop to take as many photos as you can, the views are breathtaking. You may even wonder if you are still in Costa Rica, it looks a bit more like a Swiss village nestled high up in the mountains.
It can get chilly in Monteverde, so bring a light jacket and some long pants. Monteverde has many guided nature walks with plenty of bird watching and wildlife spotting opportunities. This is also where you can experience some pretty incredible ziplines and hanging bridge tours.
Where to stay in Monteverde
The Monteverde Lodge and Gardens is what I’d think staying in a little luxury bird house would be like. The rooms are very well decorated and and most have a beautiful porch area for sitting right up against the tropical grounds and listening to the sounds of chirping birds, the rushing river in the distance and if you’re lucky, the rainfall.
This hotel has an excellent restaurant and a beautiful bar area, which serves coffee and light refreshments in the afternoon. There is a large jacuzzi room that is filled with large window panels just like a greenhouse and the garden out back leads you to several walking and hiking paths!
Check current rates and reviews for the Monteverde Lodge and Gardens.
Nosara Yogis Delight
If you’re looking for a slower and very relaxed beach vibe while finding some zen and peaceful moments (even with kids) in your Costa Rica vacation then head to Nosara. This yoga inspired beach town is the definition of tranquillo.
Home to the Yoga Institute and close to some of the more off grid beaches, this area is a favourite among surfers looking to keep away from the more touristy stretches of sand.
Next to Nosara is another beach town called Samara, and if you want to literally step out into untouched paradise, be sure to jump on over there too. When I saw this beach for the first time my mouth dropped.
Both of these towns are in the Nicoya Peninsula just below Guanacaste and are not as built up as much as the beaches to the north in Guanacaste. If you want to surf, practice yoga, ride bikes and have a more relaxing family vacation in a more remote area, this place is for you.
Where to stay in Nosara
Most of the accommodations are small hotels that are pretty basic as far as amenities go, you will not find large hotels or luxury resorts. The hotels in this area can be a bit more basic and laid back beach style.
One of the best hotels in Nosara is the The Harmony Hotel, an eco-friendly hotel that offers a beautiful yoga studio, garden, spa, and healthy juice bar. The hotel also has it’s own farm off the property where they grow most of their own food for their restaurant and caters to the more health conscious traveler.
Please note: for families you would either need to book two rooms or the two bedroom suite as they only have rooms with king beds.
Check current rates and reviews for The Harmony Hotel.
2 thoughts on “1 amazing week in Costa Rica – the best places to go”
Wow, this recap looks absolutely amazing! We are looking to go at the end of June or sometime in July. Our boys are 8 and 4 and I was thinking they may be a bit young for the hiking? How intense is it? I know you mentioned to pick three spots. What three would you recommend given the ages of our kids. And would you recommend renting a car at the Liberia airport and driving around? It is too hectic to stay from hotel to hotel?
The Waterfall Hike is actually pretty tame and a four-year-old can definitely do it. I recommend renting a car at the Liberia Airport. Driving is safe and fine. And the beaches and things to see and do are a bit spread out so if you want to explore it’s good to have a car. Do be sure to lock it however and don’t leave any valuables in it! As for the three spots I recommend Tamarindo/Playa Flamingo, Rio Celeste and La Fortuna /Arenal Volcano. Hope that helps, enjoy!
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