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9 reasons why Costa Rica is the ultimate family adventure holiday destination

Rainforests, beaches, thrilling activities and exotic wildlife, Costa Rica makes for a family holiday to remember.

By Kim Gregory | Last updated Dec 21, 2023

Costa Rica coastline

There’s a reason why Costa Rica is so popular on our Mumsnet forums. This tropical Central American country is a paradise teeming with exotic wildlife and nature, from cloud forests to out-of-this-world beaches. Whether you’re a family that wants to relax in hot springs or whizz through treetops on a rainforest zip-line (or both!) there’s something for all on a Costa Rica family holiday.

We’d recommend Costa Rica as a family holiday destination for older children (from around 12+) so they can make the most of age-restricted activities and appreciate the educational offerings - especially as it won’t be the cheapest trip. Plus, direct flights from London to San Jose take around 11 hours (you can’t yet fly direct from other UK airports). Once you’re there, the tourism infrastructure is pretty good in the popular hotspots but be prepared for lengthy journeys on windy roads between destinations. You’ll also need to look into vaccinations and travel advice and prepare yourselves for lots of encounters with bugs and animals, so pack your spray. Yes, that includes spiders and snakes! Having said that, a family holiday to Costa Rica is a one-of-a-kind, bucket-list experience that kids won’t forget in a hurry.

For more travel inspiration, consider our guide to the best long-haul holiday destinations for families, or for something a little closer to home, we've got a roundup of destinations within a 3-hour flight of the UK.

Costa Rica family holidays, according to Mumsnetters

People jumping on a beach at sunset in Costa Rica

"One of my DC's favourite holidays. Lots of action, nature, wildlife, mountains, jungles and coast" - recommended by Mumsnet user, dreichuplands

"It was amazing - perfect for older kids. Rainforest and wild animals like sloths, monkeys, coati, geckos, toucans etc. Ziplining, active volcanoes, hot springs" - rated by Mumsnet user, Penguinpandarabbit 

"2ds aged 6 and 10 - our first adventurous family holiday. Highlights were kayaking in Tortuguero, joining the locals in the free hot springs in Arenal, seeing the kids doing the zip wires with no fear, Montezuma and staying overnight at Curu" - vetted by Mumsnet user, Nateismine

1. Wonderful wildlife

A sloth in a tree in Costa Rica

"The wildlife was astounding. We saw everything including a humpback whale and her calf" - recommended by Mumsnet user, dumbcrumb

"Tortuguero was a highlight. There is so much wildlife to see from the boat trips - howler monkeys, sloths, snakes, birds, caimans etc. I would go back there in a heartbeat" - recommended by Mumsnet user, Chemenger

Spotting wildlife in Costa Rica will prompt a ‘wow’ from even the grumpiest teen. As one of the most biodiverse countries on the planet, it’s home to half a million species. Take guided tours of forests and national parks for exotic encounters with sloths, monkeys and coatis. From the coastline, you might spot manta rays and whales in the right season. Toucans and scarlet macaws fly overhead. Local guides have an impressive eye for spotting all kinds of creatures and will offer jaw-dropping facts for teens to take away.

Brian Young, Managing Director at G Adventures who run family tours to Costa Rica, says: "There’s a reason Costa Rica is celebrated for its wildlife. What could be better for young travellers than watching monkeys swinging through the trees, sloths in their natural habitat and - for those visiting Tortuguero at the right time of year - sea turtles laying their eggs on the beach at night".

2. Thrilling adventures

People horse riding across a tropical beach in Costa Rica

"Would strongly recommend Costa Rica. There was ziplining a few hundred metres up, active volcanoes, horse riding and water slides through jungle" -  recommended by Mumsnet user, PenguinPandas

Heart-pumping activities in sublime settings come hand in hand with a trip to Costa Rica. Adventurous teens will love zip-lining above rainforests or kayaking through mangroves and there’s nothing like experiencing the thrill together. Always try activities with trusted guides, seek their advice beforehand and choose gentle options to settle any nerves. Check restrictions - such as age, height and health - then get ticking that bucket list.

3. Spectacular beaches

Manuel Antonio national park beach from above

"Manuel Antonio was incredible. Beautiful beaches, squirrel monkeys everywhere. There was a national park that had the most incredible beach. Wish we’d spent every day there. It's such a beautiful country" - recommended by Mumsnet user, Ajahd

"Tamarindo was the most beautiful beach town with lots of kid-friendly adventure options and a few restaurants, mainly casual beach bars. I’d recommend taking the kids to Surf Shack Burgers & Wings for the best grilled cheese burgers and milkshakes!" - recommended by Mumsnet user, sunlove

Costa Rica’s tropical beaches are paradisiacal. Palm trees, forests and national parks meet fine sand and gorgeous waters on the Pacific and Caribbean coasts. There are beaches geared up for relaxation - like Santa Teresa with its glorious sunsets, best enjoyed with a happy hour cocktail in hand - and some perfect for surfing like laid-back Playa Samara, which offers teen surf lessons. Keep your eyes peeled from any shoreline for exciting sea life. It’s not safe to swim in some areas due to rip tides so always ask for local and expert advice beforehand, including on the day.

4. Proudly sustainable

La Fortuna waterfall

"It was without a doubt the best holiday we’ve ever had. So much so I don’t think I’d go back in case it ruined the memories!" - recommended by Mumsnet user, sunlove

With a quarter of the country having protected status, Costa Rica does a lot to maintain its proud biodiversity - that’s why it’s a growing eco-destination. Get the kids involved in Agritourism, where they’ll get hands-on at an environmentally-friendly farm, or pick a tour that involves community tourism. There are plenty of luxurious but sensitive ecolodges where you’ll stay in the heart of nature.

Consider G Adventures' National Geographic Family Journey which includes a visit to the Monteverde Institute, a research and educational organisation supported by National Geographic. Kids can learn about reforestation projects before getting their hands dirty in the tree nursery.

5. Ravishing rainforests

A monkey in Manuel Antonio National Park

Costa Rica is blessed with rainforests so lush, biodiverse and alive with critters and insects that your kids might feel they’ve stepped into a film. Go on a guided walk at Manuel Antonio Park to get right to the heart of nature. Local guides will impress with their wildlife-spotting abilities and endless knowledge. We’ll say it again: don’t do it if you’re scared of bugs!

6. Incredible cloud forest

A hanging bridge through a forest in Costa Rica

"My favourite place was Selvatura in Monteverde. We did the butterfly garden, suspension bridges walk, hummingbird garden, reptile and amphibian museum. The whole day was just magical. We also hired a guide to take us birdwatching in Monteverde and we saw Resplendent Quetzals and lots of other beautiful birds" - recommended by Mumsnet user, HoldMyLobster

Head to Monteverde and you’ll witness the rare cloud forest, born from the tropical mountainous environment that creates consistent cloud cover. It’s a great natural learning experience with incredible views to boot. Look out for rainbows framing the forests. Join the clouds on a zipline adventure or soak up the views at a slower pace as you cross the series of spectacular hanging bridges with a guide.

7. Tropical food

Array of fruit on a stall in Costa Rica

"We quite liked the Costa Rican food, it suited our fussy dd. You get used to rice and beans, even for breakfast! Grilled fish, chicken and fresh fruit appeared a lot. On the Pacific side the food was very international - more Costa Rican on the Caribbean" - recommended by Mumsnet user, chemenger

We’re not promising gourmet deliciousness here. In fact, some Mumsnetters criticise the local food over on the forums. But we think Costa Rican cuisine is ideal for fussy eaters and sometimes, that’s all we ask for. Visit sodas (restaurants with authentic, reasonably-priced food) to try the main dish, casado: fish or meat alongside vegetables, salad, fried plantain and the staple rice and beans. There’s also Costa Rica’s renowned coffee, chocolate and a rainbow of tropical fruit options. There are international restaurants in most places for the unconvinced.

8. Epic tours

A beach on Isla Tortuga, Costa Rica, from above

To ease worries and prevent planning-related meltdowns, you might want to consider booking a family tour package to Costa Rica. We think it’s the best way to do it as experts will look after you and your teens, recommend appropriate activities, sort the transport and plan itineraries to maximise your time and enjoyment. One example is G Adventures’ Costa Rica Family Experience: you’ll make tortillas with locals, kayak on Lake Arenal, take a night tour in the jungle, spot wildlife in the cloud forest then head to Manuel Antonio to kayak through mangroves, learn to surf and relax on beautiful beaches.

9. Relaxed activities

Tabacon Thermal Resort & Spa's hot springs

"Arenal was an incredible experience, lots of activities including a horse trek to a waterfall called La Fortuna. The hotel pools had hot springs, as most of them did, which was amazing" - recommended by Mumsnet user, Ajahd

"Got a two day pass to The Springs Resort & Spa and oh my goodness, it was utter heaven on earth. It ended up being one of the trip’s highlights'' - recommended by Mumsnet user, cheeseismydownfall

Not every family member will be jumping for joy at the word ‘canyoneering’. Thankfully, there are tons of relaxing, just-as-exciting activities. Try yoga classes surrounded by nature or head to La Fortuna to pamper in bubbling hot springs, surrounded by forest. Watch for hummingbirds fluttering overhead! Kids will thank you for chocolate tours (including tastings!) and there are coffee tours if you need a pick-me-up.

Is Costa Rica good for a family holiday?

Costa Rica family holidays allow you can tick off bucket-list adventures: think zip-lining through cloud forests, guided animal-spotting in lush national parks and relaxing in hot springs or on tropical beaches. Kids can learn environmental lessons too. There are however, long journeys to consider (to Costa Rica itself and between destinations), health advice to read up on (including vaccination recommendations), and animals and insects are prevalent so it’s not suited to squeamish travellers. We think a Costa Rica holiday is best suited to children aged 12+. Here’s our guide to travelling with teens and other family adventure holidays.

When’s the best time to visit Costa Rica?

December to April is the dry season when it’s brightest and least likely to rain. If you’re going specifically for wildlife encounters, research migratory seasons but be aware of tropical storms. Check the Met Office for up-to-date information.

Do you need vaccinations to visit Costa Rica?

Check NHS advice and seek advice from your local health professionals on vaccinations and other health considerations, such as malaria, before booking a trip.

Where’s best for families to stay in Costa Rica?

Stick to the areas set up for tourists like Monteverde and Manuel Antonio, which will have a range of stays from hostels to all-inclusive resorts. Try an ecolodge for a fun learning experience.

How we chose our recommendations

We noticed lots of Mumsnet users recommended Costa Rica as a holiday destination. We looked at advice on places and activities within the forums. Then we did some online research across trusted travel publications and consulted the experts at G Adventures, who run family tours to Costa Rica. Having collated that information, we created this list to inspire your planning.

Why you should trust us

We work hard to provide unbiased, independent advice you can trust. We do sometimes earn revenue through affiliate (click-to-buy) links in our articles. This helps us fund more helpful articles like this one.