With the advent of direct flights into San Jose with British Airways, Costa Rica has suddenly become the hot new family holiday destination. Combining world class wildlife with world class beaches, and with some of the continent’s best family-friendly activities thrown into the mix, it is no wonder that Costa Rica has sprung to the top of everyone’s bucket list.

Here is our definitive list of the top ten things to do in Costa Rica with kids.

1. See turtles laying eggs on the beach in Tortuguero

For one of Costa Rica’s ultimate wildlife experiences, head to the Caribbean coast from July to September to see turtles laying their eggs. It is magical to make your way down to the beach in the moonlight and see these giant animals – some nearly 200kg in weight – amble slowly up the sand. They select a suitable nesting spot and then clear a hole in the sand around 3 foot deep before disgorging dozens of white eggs into the hole. They then cover them up again and amble slowly back into the sea.

TIP: There are two time slots to see the turtles, 8-10pm and 10pm – midnight. The slots are allocated by random ballot so although each lodge will try to enable families to take the earlier slot this cannot be guaranteed. As this will mean a late night for the kids, make sure that you visit Tortuguero towards the end of your tour. If visiting from Europe, when you first arrive in Costa Rica with the kids, the jetlag will mean that you are happy to get up early in the morning, but everyone will be wanting to head to bed by 8pm and it will be very tiring to have to stay up late.

This excursion will usually be included on our Costa Rica Summer tours.

Family adventure family - Costa Rica with kids - turtle on beach in Tortuguero

Turtle returning to the sea after laying her eggs

2. Safari Float on the Rio Blanco

This is one of our favourite things to do in Costa Rica with kids. Just outside the town of La Fortuna the Rio Blanco meanders gently through the countryside, flanked by high banks thickly covered in trees that are dripping ferns and lianas. Howler monkeys call to each other with their distinctive sound, crocodiles laze on the river banks in the sun, iguanas skulk along high tree branches, herons flit from tree to tree and dragonflies dart across the surface of the water.

You float along the river in an inflatable raft, gently paddling along and keeping your eyes peeled for wildlife. Half way through the excursion you break the journey at a traditional farm. This is a very authentic place with a stilt house belonging to two sisters and a hard packed dirt floor with chickens roaming around. You can try home-made lemonade or fresh coffee as well as traditional Costa Rican snacks.

This excursion can be included on either our Costa Rica Summer or Costa Rica Easter & Christmas tours.

Costa Rica with kids - 'safari float'

See Costa Rica from the water

3. White water rafting

For a more high-octane experience on the river, try white water rafting. After a brief introduction, you climb into the raft and, accompanied by an expert guide, set off down the river. Within minutes you reach the first rapid and here starts a thrilling descent of the river as the raft rushes from side to side, pivoting around submerged rocks and flying down some quite impressive rapids.

The children will be completely thrilled. Everyone gets soaked and after the initial shock at the cold water, you quickly warm up as you follow the guide’s instructions. After the major rapids have passed there is a more gentle section where you can slide overboard and float gently down the river, admiring the forest canopy.

NOTE: The minimum age for white water rafting is 12 in La Fortuna and 9 in Sarapiqui.

This excursion can be included on either our Costa Rica Summer or Costa Rica Easter & Christmas tours.

Costa Rica with kids - white water rafting

Thrill the family with high-octane rafting

4. Sky Adventures in Monteverde or La Fortuna

No visit to Costa Rica is complete without a zipline excursion and a walk on hanging suspension bridges. There are lots of these on offer throughout the country, but in our opinion the best are offered by Sky Adventures, the original. They operate out of two locations, Monteverde and La Fortuna, but both offer a similar experience.

Start your tour with a walk over the hanging bridges. These are long suspension bridges that have been built high in the forest canopy. If you are lucky you might come across a troupe of howler monkeys but there are birds galore as well as iridescent flying beetles that will keep the children entertained.

Next up you get yourselves strapped into a harness and ride to the top of the mountain in a bubble car. Then it’s time for an adrenalin rush! Fly across the valley on a series of descending ziplines, each several hundred metres long and high above the hillside. It is wonderfully exhilarating, a real adventure and possibly the most exciting thing that you can do in Costa Rica with kids. Fabulous!

This activity can be included on either our Costa Rica Summer or Costa Rica Easter & Christmas tours.

Costa Rica kids - zip linking in Monteverde

Strap up and get ready for the family adventure of your life when holidaying in Costa Rica with kids!

5. Exploring the pristine wilderness of Corcovado

Located on Costa Rica’s remote South West coast, the steamy jungles of Corcovado teem with wildlife. This is in fact one of the most biologically diverse habitats on the planet. Based at a secluded lodge deep in the rainforest you can explore on foot, by boat or canoe. Greet the sunrise to a background track of screeching monkeys. Venture into the mangroves in search of crocodiles, tapir and jaguar. Hike along peaceful jungle trails with no sounds but the squawking of hundreds of birds. And take a dip in the ocean, from some of the most pristine beaches on the planet. There is no doubt that this will be one of the highlights of your trip to Costa Rica with the children.

Corcovado can be included as part of either a Costa Rica Easter & Christmas itinerary or Costa Rica Summer trip.

Costa Rica with kids

Look for howler and spider monkeys, tapir, coatis, crocs and much more

6. Go tubing down the Rio Celeste in Tenorio

In the north of Costa Rica, away from the more well-trodden tourist track, is small Tenorio National Park. The Celeste River cuts through the area, the colour of the water a strangely brilliant turquoise. Here, equip yourself with a large inflatable tube and spend a fantastically fun couple of hours floating down the river. At times you get caught up in the rapids and shoot down at speed, at other times the adrenalin recedes and you float slowly through a beautiful verdant landscape with creepers trailing along the edge of the river. We also know a wonderfully family friendly lodge here, making this a wonderful addition to any trip to Costa Rica with kids.

This activity can be included on either our Costa Rica Summer or Costa Rica Easter & Christmas tours.

Costa Rica with kids - tubing Rio Celeste

Stubborn Mule’s Charlotte Hamilton tries out tubing with her dad in Tenorio National Park

7. Glamping on a remote beach near Manuel Antonio

Costa Rica has absolutely stunning beaches on both the east and the west coasts and it’s difficult to choose a favourite. The golden sandy beach at Samara backed by swaying palm trees is always a hit, as are the picture perfect beaches of Cahuita over on the Caribbean coast.

But for something a bit different, a dash of tropical idyll away from the crowds, it’s hard to beat the little-known beach at Matapolo. Just 30 minutes from the busy beaches of Manuel Antonio, Matapolo is a long and dramatic dark grey sandy beach, with crashing waves and incredible views. There isn’t much here and you will often have the beach pretty much to yourselves. At night you can stay in deluxe African safari tents right on the beach in a small glamping resort.

Perfectly set up for families, these have one large double bed and two single beds for the kids, and there is a small pool. Cue lots of long walks on the beach (perhaps to the turtle hatchery where little hatchlings are released on most days), sunset cocktails on the porch and invigorating body surfing in the waves.

This glamping resort can be included on our Costa Rica Easter & Christmas tour.

Costa Rica with kids - boys playing on a gorgeous beach in Costa Rica

One of Costa Rica’s many stunning beaches

8. Sea kayaking on the Pacific at Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio is one of the highlights of a visit to Costa Rica with kids, a national park that is packed full of animals as well as a couple of glorious beaches. But, it does get busy and if you want to escape the crowds whilst soaking up the stunning coastline, what better way than to take a sea kayaking excursion? Both single and double kayaks are available so this works with all children. Younger ones can be given a short paddle and plonked in the front of the kayak to ‘assist’ as well as they are able.

You make your way past a steep cliff with vultures and pelicans swooping across it, then continue across the bay to a quiet beach where you stop for a fresh fruit snack. There is also fantastic snorkelling along the way. All in all, a great couple of hours.

Speak to us about adding this on our Costa Rica Easter & Christmas tours.

Costa Rica with kids - sea kayaking in Costa Rica

Experience ‘pura vida’ out on the ocean

9. Snorkelling on Cano Island

For a more impressive snorkelling experience on a trip to Costa Rica with kids, it’s hard to beat a day trip to Cano Island off the coast of Uvita. The snorkelling here is absolutely superb, with remarkable visibility and a superb range of marine life. Turtles, reef sharks and stingrays are all common, together with a multitude of brilliantly coloured fish. On the boat ride to and from the island you also have the opportunity to spot dolphins (which often come and swim alongside the boat), and in season (August to November in particular) there is the chance of seeing humpback whales.

This can be added to either of our Costa Rica itineraries.

Cano Island Costa Rica

Snorkelling at Cano Island is some of the best in Costa Rica

10. Random wildlife encounters

Costa Rica’s wildlife is well documented and an absolute highlight of any trip. It is abundant and any holiday will doubtless include a number of different national parks with excellent wildlife spotting opportunities.

However, one of the great delights of a holiday in Costa Rica with kids is the wildlife that you come across by chance; the young sloth that you see slowly making its way along the telephone wires when driving up to Poas Volcano; the mother sloth with a baby clinging to her belly slowly moving through a tree to seek shelter from the rain; the white faced capuchin monkeys jumping from tree to tree alongside the path that you are walking along; the red eyed tree frog on the walkway as you return to your bungalow in the evening; the toucan in the hotel gardens; the hummingbirds flitting around the pond.

Every day brings new wonders and the children will be rapt with it all.

Last minute family summer holiday in Costa Rica - girl with huge blue butterfly

The family will encounter Costa Rica’s wildlife at every turn

Costa Rica with kids extras

These top 10 activities can be combined into the perfect family holiday to Costa Rica. In order to get the most out of your holiday make sure that you check what the weather will be like when you are due to travel. You don’t want to arrive expecting sunshine every day only to realise that it’s the rainy season!

Wikipedia has some great information about Costa Rica’s varied wildlife or check out the Costa Rica Tourist Board website for further information.

Liddy Pleasants, MD Stubborn Mule Travel
I’d love to hear about your experiences of travelling to Costa Rica with kids so do email me at info@stubbornmuletravel.com.