5 Tips for a Family Vacation in Costa Rica

Capuchin monkeys on branch of tree, Costa Rica

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Rainforest Rendezvous: Plan a Kid-Friendly Costa Rica Vacation

With lush rain and cloud forests that teem with birds and monkeys, active volcanoes and great beaches, Costa Rica in Central America is an ideal destination for a family adventure. Visiting with children means skipping strenuous hikes and remote wilderness and prioritizing accessibility and convenience. However, that doesn't mean you have to miss out on the region's natural wonders. Reduce the hassle of traveling within the country by basing yourself in places that pack multiple attractions and amenities into a manageable area.

Make Monkey Friends at Manuel Antonio National Park

Seeing animals in their natural habitats is among the most rewarding experiences for visitors to Costa Rica. You can easily combine excellent wildlife watching with a spectacular beach at Manuel Antonio National Park (Cantón de Aguirre, Puntarenas, CR) on the Pacific Coast, where it is almost guaranteed that you'll get a good look at the country's notoriously mischievous capuchin monkeys, as well as sloths and iguanas. Manuel Antonio Beach is great for snorkeling. Park admission is $16; children 12 and under get in for free. The selection of restaurants around the park also makes this area a hit with families.

Take a Hike at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve

A good destination for hiking with children is Monteverde in northern Costa Rica, where the trails of Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve (Carretera a Reserva de Monteverde, Provincia de Puntarenas, Monte Verde, CR) harbor the brightly hued Resplendant Quetzal, one of Costa Rica's most famous birds, as well as monkeys and exotic plants like orchids and bromeliads. The entrance fee is $20 for adults and $10 for kids ages 6 through 12. Other draws include the Monteverde Butterfly Gardens (Puntarenas Province, Monteverde, CR), where in addition to free-flying butterflies, the kids can see caterpillars in various stages of metamorphosis and other insects. Adults pay $15, while children between the ages of 4 and 6 pay $5. Younger kids get in for free. Only cash is accepted.

Seek Accommodations with Activities for Children

Choosing a hotel or resort that caters to children ensures that the littlest members of your travel party won't get bored. For easy access to Manual Antonio National Park, a great choice is Hotel San Bada (Next to Manuel Antonio National Park Entrance, Provincia de Puntarenas, CR), which offers a pool with a slide. Also suitable for travelers with kids is Hotel Los Lagos (6 KM west of La Fortuna Central Park, La Fortuna, San Carlos, CR) within view of the famous Arenal Volcano, which has pools fed by rainforest water and access to crocodile, frog and butterfly farms. An all-inclusive option within two hours of many major attractions is the DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Central Pacific (El Roble, 23, Provincia de Puntarenas, Chacarita, CR), which offers Kidz Paradise, an area where children ages 4 through 12 can play video games, make crafts or take cooking lessons. Expect an additional fee for children at check-in.

Consider Climate and Temperature

One of the most important decisions you'll make when planning a trip to Costa Rica is choosing when to go. Costa Rica has distinct wet and dry seasons. The former, characterized by afternoon rains, falls between May and late November; the latter comprises the rest of the year. Costa Rica welcomes most visitors during the dry season between late November and April, which offers the most favorable weather. However, this is also when you'll have to contend with the largest crowds and the highest rates. Make reservations well ahead of time when planning a trip for the dry season. Keep in mind also that temperatures in Costa Rica vary according to elevation rather than season. Generally speaking, the higher in altitude you go, the colder it gets. The highest elevations can see temperatures around the freezing point at night.

Pack Light but Do it Right

When it comes to packing for Costa Rica, less is more, especially if you're going to be switching hotels. Regardless of when you visit, take clothing you can easily layer, as it is typically much warmer on the coasts than in higher elevations, such as the cloud forests. Even if you are visiting during the dry season, rain is always possible, so pack raincoats for each member of your travel party. Don't forget swimsuits for the family if you plan to spend time at the beach. Comfortable shoes, insect repellent and sunscreen are also musts, as are prescription and over-the-counter children's medications. Binoculars are useful for spotting wildlife.