This was the first international destination for my family since the pandemic began. I poured my heart and soul into planning the perfectly suited (and budget-friendly) adventure for my young family and updated my recommendations after our visit.
Below I’ve shared a practical guide to planning a trip to Costa Rica with Kids.
I started off with my typical trip planning checklist.
- Book Flights (and call to add lap infant)
- Lodging reservations
- Research entry requirements (i.e. Visa / COVID measures)
- Car Rental
- Research international sim card options
- Determine which excursions / attractions need to be booked in advance
- Look up the typical weather for the season
- Create a tailored Packing List from my master checklist
- Ask our Pediatrician if any shots or medicine are advised based on the destination
- Start reading the kids books related to the destination
15 Frequently Asked Questions about Travel to Costa Rica with Kids
What are the must see parts of Costa Rica with kids?
I looked long and hard if there was a “less touristy” part of Costa Rica I could explore with my young kids, but after hearing from countless moms and bloggers, all roads seemed to point to La Fortuna and Manuel Antonio for a family’s first visit to the country.
Knowing this confirmed that I should book flights into an airport between the two, in San Jose. (Costa Rica’s largest airport.)
Check out my post on how to spend 7 Days in La Fortuna and Manuel Antonio.
Do my kids need any shots to visit Costa Rica?
The routine vaccines are recommended, no additional vaccinations are required. Always good to double check the latest guidance with your pediatrician before visiting Costa Rica with kids.
What unique items should be packed for Costa Rica?
I have a set packing list of items that come with me anywhere I go, but here are a few bonus items that I was glad to have packed for Costa Rica with kids.
I thought I was packing this for my kids to play with, but it turned out my husband and I were the only ones to use it…to catch cockroaches and cicadas inside our Airbnb. *shudders*
Sports Cooling Towel
It made a huge difference in our endurance when we draped a cooling towel on our necks while we hiked sunny trails.
We put paper items into a gallon sized Ziploc bag with silica gel packets to mitigate moisture from the high humidity. (Passports, kids books, etc.) I had extra so I put them in my packing cubes with clothing, which stayed dry, but I’m not sure it made the difference.
A collapsible cooler bag comes in handy for packing picnics and keeping your cold beverages as refreshing as possible after a hot day exploring.
OFF Bug Repellent
Leave the all natural stuff at home, you’ll want the strong stuff with DEET. I wasn’t comfortable spraying it on my kids so I applied it heavily on their shoes, the hiking backpack, and their sunhats.
Reef Safe Sunscreen
Bring at least two bottles of reef safe sunscreen to avoid purchasing any there for $17USD+ per bottle. Locals don’t use bug spray or sunscreen so prices are heavily inflated.
Bring ponchos for the inevitable rain you’ll meet in Costa Rica with kids. Rain jacket shells are great, but ponchos are even better as they can be pulled over your backpack easily as well. Here’s the kid sized poncho we used.
The temperature was in the 90s every day and the humidity levels were extreme. We use this clip on (rechargeable) stroller fan to keep our youngest comfortable in the heat. As an added bonus it keeps mosquitos at bay.
Allergy Meds and Extra Band-Aids
Pack your Kids’ Medicine Bag with more Band-Aids than usual. To lessen kids’ reaction to mosquito bites they can take a dose of Children’s Allergy medicine. Check the dosage with your pediatrician. Keep cortisone cream on hand as well to fight the itch.
I benefited from having the noise machine as much as my kids did! I pack one for all of our trips to be consistent with bedtime norms, but it helped me sleep as well by drowning out the noises of the rainforest. (Except the howler monkeys, they cannot be ignored.) I used to use this battery operated one, but it burns through AAAs. I now travel with our everyday ultralight corded noise machine.
If you aren’t brining a Sound Machine, toss some ear plugs in your bag just in case the unfamiliar noises keep you awake.
Life Jackets / Puddle Jumper
What is the best volcano to visit with kids in Costa Rica?
Arenal Volcano is well liked because of its conical appearance and intriguing history. It has only been dormant now for 12 years (since 2010). You can hike the 1968 trail that traverses over the lava flow and dine at an outdoor cafeteria with the magnificent volcano in the background.
There are a handful of active volcanos in Costa Rica, but they do not have such a stunning appearance and are in more remote parts of the country.
What is the best beach to visit with kids in Costa Rica near Manuel Antonio?
For gentle waves and the best swimming, hands down, you should check out Playa Biesanz.
For amenities and convenience, we enjoyed Playa Esparilla the most.
I shared more detail about both of these beaches in my post with a sample 7 day Costa Rica with Kids Itinerary.
Is it safe to bring kids into the hot springs in Costa Rica?
Yes as long as you follow the same precautions you would for yourself, be careful of the sections with strong currants and keep their noses above water.
How much cash will I need in local currency?
We spent $200-$250 in cash during our 7 night stay. Many of the places we visited accepted credit cards (make sure you have one that doesn’t charge a foreign exchange fee). A few cash only expenses were: Parking Attendants, Beach Vendors, Highway Tolls, our Chocolate Tour, and the Rainmaker Park entry fee.
How can I stay connected on my phone so we don’t get lost or in case of emergency?
Grab a prepaid Sim Card from Claro Wireless, located next to baggage claim at the San Jose Airport.
For $20 we had 5GB of data and unlimited Waze, Whatsapp, and more.
What do I need to know about renting a car in Costa Rica?
That you should totally do it. Rental Car companies in Costa Rica require insurance. The only way we got around this fee was proving that our credit card offered this perk. (Chase Sapphire)
Also, know it is a time consuming process to pickup and return your car if traveling to and from the San Jose Airport. Give yourself 90 minutes each way for the pickup and return process and shuttle.
Our sedan was more than suitable for the route between La Fortuna and Manuel Antonio. We never felt we needed an SUV for our family of four. We are fairly light packers though.
Waze is far more reliable for directions than Google/Apple Maps (primarily for alternate routes in case of traffic).
What do I need to know about bug bites and kids in Costa Rica?
Our pediatrician gave us a tip before this trip that I hadn’t thought of before. Check with your pediatrician, of course, but since our kids have pretty severe reactions to bites, he suggested taking a small dose of children’s allergy medicine daily. Now, we didn’t end up trying this because, until the last day, our bug bites were nil to none.
What is the best season in which to visit Costa Rica with Kids?
The weather is driest and brightest between December and April.
What are the best grocery stores to buy kid snacks, milk, and supplies in Costa Rica?
Automercado, Mas x Menos, or Pali are three of the large supermarket chains that will have anything you might need.
- Quart of Milk 1030 colones
- Small Snack Bags 88 colones
- 28 grams of Britt Coffee Beans (souvenir gifts) 6000-9000 colones
What are the emergency numbers for Costa Rica?
The primary emergency number is 911, for all types of emergencies; police, fire, and medical situations.
What foods should I try in Costa Rica?
Casado, Tamal, Copos, Fresh Coconut Water, and Batidos
Are there any dangers, scams, or general things to look out for in Costa Rica?
My boys were 1 and 4 during our trip and we didn’t feel like we were in danger. That said, we were on our toes the whole trip making sure they didn’t touch anything poisonous or injure themselves on a hike. Here were some specific things we were on the lookout for in Costa Rica with kids:
Poisonous Animals and Plants
We didn’t let them touch any bugs, frogs, (animals in general) and specifically watched to ensure we didn’t hang out near one of the poison beach apple trees. My youngest would’ve certainly picked up one of these skin irritating apples and used it as a ball.
Costa Rica does have cops who pull over tourists (with justification – at least minimally speeding) in hopes of bribes. Follow the rules of the road. But just in case, a unique tip is to pack a decoy wallet with minimal cash and stuff it with some old cards so you aren’t revealing how much cash is available.
Pickpocketing Racoons and Monkeys
We watched a monkey try to unzip a bag that belonged to the party next to us at the Manuel Antonio beach. Raccoons are known to do the same, so keep an eye on your belongings.
I was white knuckle gripping my son on some of the hanging bridges we crossed or trails with steep drop offs. We kept my youngest son contained in a hiking backpack or jogging stroller.