Costa Rica was one of the most family friendly places we have ever been. My husband and I first talked about wanting to plan a trip to Costa Rica way back when we were first engaged. Well 12+ years and 5 kids later, we finally sat down to plan the trip. I was nervous at first to take all of the kid somewhere I had never been as our first international trip as a family of 7. I also worried if Teddy (12M) was too young to bring along. I’m so glad we decided to go for it. It was an incredible week of adventure, fun and family time. The people of Costa Rica are welcoming and love showing their beautiful country to others. Here’s how we spent our time there; our Costa Rica itinerary with kids.
Because it was our first time traveling to Costa Rica, our first international trip with all 5 kids and our first international trip post 2020… we wanted to take it easy. This is a good itinerary for people heading out on their first trip to Costa Rica with kids. We hope to go back in the near future and explore a lot more of the country. I am very aware that this itinerary barely scratches the surface on all the wonderful things you can see in Costa Rica but it was the perfect intro for our crew and hopefully will be for yours too!
Where we went: We found out that there were inexpensive, direct flights from our home airport (EWR) to Liberia. I zoned in on that region. I had heard great things about staying on Peninsula Papagayo with children and spent time chatting about going there post 2020 with @wanderlust.crew. After deciding to fly to Liberia and stay on Peninsula Papagayo, we selected Four Seasons Costa Rica as the resort we would stay on for our 7 days in Costa Rica.
Getting there: I started looking at flights and accomodations in February. If you live near New York, I’d recommend checking out JetBlue. We flew direct from Newark to Liberia. The flight was about 5 hours, not super easy with little kids but not too bad! From Liberia Airport it’s about a 30 minute drive to Peninsula Papagayo. I found a car service via TripAdvisor and set it up via email before we left.
The line for custom was very long but as soon as we walked off the plane, there were people to help families and took families to a separate line (that was less than a 5 min wait). Both upon arrival and at departure, everyone in the Liberia airport was kind and extremely accommodating to families.
Our taxi driver welcomed us to Costa Rica and offered to stop at a local coffee and smoothie shop because he knew it was a long flight for all of us. For no extra charge, simply to be nice, he took a pit stop at an excellent spot. He didn’t rush the kids either, rather encouraged them to head inside for chocolate samples, see some iguanas, etc. Our taxi driver, Junior, was the first person we met in Costa Rica and every person we met from that point on were all just as happy, kind and welcoming.
Full bellies and a few minutes to run around after a long flight made a huge difference in all of the kids attitudes. It made checking into the hotel and getting settled much easier! Oh and the last thing that made the taxi ride in awesome: we had to stop on the road to let a monkey pass. He took his time crossing which was great for us…. all 5 kids got to see him. The kids wondered all summer if we “would see monkeys in Costa Rica” and we saw one before we even checked into the resort!
Costa Rica Itinerary with Kids
Day 1: Arrival & Explore the Resort
We checked in to Four Seasons Costa Rica by about 2pm. We got right into swimsuits to explore the resort. It’s an absolutely incredible resort. I’ll share some details and activities throughout the itinerary but also will do an additional post all about the accommodations for families, staying there, etc because there’s a lot to share!
We ran right to the ocean and jumped in. It was the first time swimming in the Pacific Ocean for all 5 kids! After some splashing and digging in the sand we made our way to the pool. We had an early, easy poolside dinner the first night. By 6pm it was 8pm our time and all of the kids were getting tired and ready for bed.
Day 2: Kayaking, Trail of Giants and Nature Center
We wanted to take the big kids kayaking and morning was the best time (currents and winds). So after breakfast we took turns kayaking with the kids. The views were breathtaking and it was a lot of fun. The resort has complimentary kayaks to use and they helped give great directions on where to go (and not go).
We made reservations through the resort to do the Trail of Giants. It’s a tour you take riding on golf carts with a guide along the golf course. We saw monkeys, birds, iguanas and often you can see snakes too. The “giants” on the tour are the trees you’ll see. The tour also takes you up to the 6th hole which is known for it’s amazing views. The kids really enjoyed the tour and it was perfect for all ages (mine are 1-11 years old).
After the Trail of Giants, we went to the Papagayo Nature Center. This was a trip highlight for sure. My kids love nature and the naturalist in the center was excellent answering all of their questions and showing them so many native “critters” (don’t worry all scorpions shown are not alive). He showed them tools found from early inhabitants of the peninsula, talked to them about what they could find hiking in the area, etc. We were the only ones there and spent a long time learning and exploring.
When we saw our vehicle for the ride back to the resort, I think my kids all thought they were on the set of Jurassic Park! Both of these activities were complimentary for guests staying at FS Costa Rica.
Day 3: Hike to see the Howler Monkeys & Beach Day
We woke up early in the morning and headed out on a hike to find the howler monkeys. We heard the best time was first thing in the morning, so we left the room by 7am. On the Playa Virador beach at FS Costa Rica, there is a staircase if you look into the trees. You can hike straight UP via this staircase. It’s not easy to do with kids BUT it was a lot easier having stairs and safe spots to stop along the way than a hike without stairs. It’s safe for them to do and there are spots with benches to take breaks. There are also plenty of spots where you are walking flat for a while along the bridgelike walkways. All of the climbing was well worth it.
Instead of looking for the monkeys… listen. They are called howler monkeys for a good reason – they howl loud! We saw so many adorable monkeys in the trees including some babies following their parents (just like ours were). After watching the monkeys for a while we turned around to head back. You can continue on and then down the mountain to Prieta Beach.
The hike to see the monkeys was so much fun! Be sure to go early in the morning and bring tons of water.
We spent the rest of this day enjoying beach and pool activities. At the beach the kids enjoyed: snorkeling, boogie boarding, shell collecting, swimming out the the docks and meeting tons of hermit crabs.
Day 4: Boat Day
We knew we wanted to see lots of the sea animals in Costa Rica too. The best way to do that is obviously on a boat. I did a lot of research and Pacific Coast Discovery had great reviews. I emailed and they were very interested in making sure the day and how we spent the hours on the boat were driven by what we hoped to see and get out of the day.
When we told them there were some mega animal lovers on the boat (all 5 kids!) they made a point to find as many animals in the wild they could to show the kids. We saw tons of dolphins, sea turtles, fish and coati (those on the beaches). We searched for whales too but didn’t find any.
They also took us to two beaches. They chose them based on us having small kids which was great. One had caves which the kid thought were so cool and the other was covered in beautiful shells. On one of the beaches, while we were off swimming around, the boat captain was setting up a whole spread of fresh fruit, snacks, etc. The kids (and Tom & I) enjoyed them while we boated to the next spot.
I can’t say enough good things about Pacific Coast Discovery and the day they created for us on their boat. We all said it was one of the best days EVER as a family.
Day 5: Rainforest Day & Exploring Offsite
Two things we wanted to make sure to see while in Costa Rica: sloths and volcanos. I did a lot of research and talked to the concierge a lot at FS Costa Rica to try and figure out an plan to see more wildlife and a volcano with our crew. We wanted to rent a car and drive ourselves to have freedom to explore some of the small towns a bit and be able to leave once we knew the kids had it for the day. If you have small kids, I am sure you can appreciate being hesitant to sign up for an 8 hour tour somewhere. Knowing my 5 kids and their limits and at the same time knowing what they would enjoy most, I wanted to plan a day myself.
We rented the car via the resort. They made the process so easy and the car was waiting at the lobby in the morning. We drove from Peninsula Papagayo to Bijagua Ranas. It’s a rainforest reserve in the small town of Bijagua. The town is in between the Miravalles Volcano and the Tenorio Volcano so the kids got to see two volcanoes. The cost of entry to Bijagua Ranas was $10 a person and I believe you have to pay cash (we paid in USD).
You get your own guide. Ours was wonderful and was so patient and kind to the kids. We saw many sloths including this precious baby sloth that was only a few months old. We saw a variety of tree frogs, toucans, macaws, monkeys and more. We also got to EAT some ants!
Guess what it did the whole time we were in the rainforest: rained…. actually poured. We were prepared with raincoats but I should have brought a full change of clothes for everyone too because even in raincoats we were soaked to our underwear. But we were having so much fun no one was even bothered by the pouring rain. One other tip besides raincoats and a change of clothes: make sure you have good, safe shoes. It gets muddy and slippery walking around.
We were going to drive to Rio Celeste and do the National Park after but we heard that the entry was very muddy and possibly not safe plus the hike to see the river was about 3 hours and we didn’t think the kid would make it. But if you do go to Bijgua Ranas and want more to do in the area, the entrance to the national park is very close by.
We explored the small town of Bijagua for a while. We had lunch at Cafe la Semilla (highly recommend) and visited some of the small shops. We loved the town and all of the time we spent there.
The kids loved talking about all of the things they saw and checking them off their “hope to see in Costa Rica” lists. Between this day, the resort and the boat, they checked off everything. For some books we read with the kids before the trip, click here.
Day 6: Last day: Enjoy the beaches, pools and a little relaxing
We packed a lot of adventure into a few days and wanted to spend the last day just enjoying FS Costa Rica the beautiful beaches of Costa Rica. We spent the whole day between the 2 beaches and 2 pools. We didn’t leave the water until it was dark out!
Day 7: Depart
We had one last delicious FS Costa Rica breakfast and then Tom took the kids for a swim while I packed up. We headed to the airport and sadly said goodbye to Costa Rica.
On our trip from the airport to the resort, our driver said “is this your first trip or your second trip?” We replied our first. He said he knows it’s always either someone’s first or second trip because after the second trip you move there. After a week in Costa Rica, I completely understand what he meant. Pura Vida.