Costa Rica Overview

Things to do Mainly 'nature' driven activities- but more activities than you can possibly think of. Please note the beaches aren't the typical "cabana-filled" beaches. Most beaches are bare and the cabana/chairs are around the pool of the hotels and beach club (at least in the Guanacaste area).
Lodging There are various hotel and vacation rental options throughout the country. Most of the options were beautiful with great reviews.
Getting Around A car or car service is necessary, especially if you want to visit multiple locations on your trip. Each trip took us two to hours between destinations. Also, most of the Airbnbs need a car or golf cart to get to restaurants and grocery stores.
Getting There There are three airports in Costa Rica. The early AM flights from the United States will get you there about mid- afternoon. I put a neutral face because it depends on the airport you're flying into and the city you're going to:
SJO- San Jose, CR (Central/Capital)
90 min to Jaco
2 hrs to Monteverde
2.5 hrs to Arenal/La Fortuna and Manuel Antonio
4 hrs to Tamarindo/Guanacaste
LIR- Liberia, CR (West Coast)
45 min to Rincon de la Vieja
90 min to Tamarindo
2 hrs to Monteverde
LIO- Limon, CR (East Coast)
1 hr to Puerto Viejo de la Talamanca
Afford-ability Costa Rica isn't necessarily the cheapest country to visit in Central America. Most items were priced the same as the average city in The United States, maybe slightly less, but nothing significant

Why Costa Rica for a Family Vacation

Costa Rica is the perfect country to visit for those who are interested in seeing the beauty that nature has to offer. From the multiple volcanoes, tropical rain forests, waterfalls, and beaches, to the unlimited number of unique plants and animals, there is truly something for each member of the family vacation. The hardest thing about planning a trip here is determining which area(s) and activities you want to explore in your allotted time. Also, be sure to bake in the time it will take to get from one destination to the next. For us, we spent between two to four hours driving between locations. Therefore, I’d recommend a minimum of five full days. Unfortunately, we had only four days and it felt a bit rushed and filled with driving.

Regarding traveling with toddlers to Costa Rica, most activities require a lot of walking. Thus, be prepared to carry or bribe your toddler (we used Dum Dums lollipops to get them to walk).

Costa Rica: A Family Vacation

Costa Rica Family Vacation
Views of Arenal Volcano

Costa Rica had been on the hub’s and my “Travel Wishlist” for the longest time, before parenthood with the twins. We dreamt of this romantic trip where we wandered through nature, took in it’s beauty, and hung out on the beach. Well, this trip was a version of that. No, it was not the romantic trip we had initially dreamt of. Instead, it was a family trip to celebrate our twin boys turning two years old (more like us surviving twin-dom for two years). To make it a true celebration (and take a bit of the adulting off my husband and I), we invited Jaime’s aunt, my mom, and her husband.

Getting to Costa Rica From The United States

Costa Rica was a bit of a challenging trip to organize as we were coming from three different parts of the United States and wanted to land in Costa Rica at the same location, around the same time. Plus, we fly on Flight Deals. The goal was to get our flights from New Orleans and Milwaukee under $400 RT, and from Miami under $300 RT. With the above in mind, flying into SJO (San Jose) was the best option, especially since we originally planned to visit Manuel Antonio (about two and a half  hour drive from SJO).

In retrospect, we should’ve flown into Liberia as the majority of our time was spent in/near the Tamarindo area (about 90 min drive from Liberia but a four hour drive from SJO). Although, we would’ve still had to drive three and a half hours each way to go to the Arenal Volcano and La Fortuna. So maybe the amount of driving would’ve been about the same either way?

Our Family Home While In Costa Rica

Costa Rica offers some beautiful lodging options. We decided to go the Airbnb route since our family vacation included (5) adults and (2) toddlers, and ummmmm, we need space! The Airbnb options were beautiful; however, it was a bit of a challenge to find one that is toddler friendly. In fact, we had one Airbnb tell us to look elsewhere as it wasn’t necessarily “toddler friendly” as it was on a hill and had a pool. Similarly, most of the Airbnbs were not walking distance to restaurants or things to do.

We chose an Airbnb in Hacienda Pinilla, about 20 minutes outside of Tamarindo. It was amazing- spacious, clean, and beautiful.  The Beach Club was beautiful with an amazing pool, restaurant, beach, and gym. Honestly, I could’ve spent the entire vacation within the subdivision. The true icing on the cake was their concierge service. They helped planned the rental car, private chef, and catamaran. All of the activities they planned were beyond exceptional.

Costa Rica Family Vacation Itinerary

Day 1
Early morning flight to San Juan (SJO)
Arrive at SJO around noon
Took car service to Airbnb in Guanacaste, 4 hour drive
Chef prepared arrival snacks and drinks as we arrived after 8PM
Day 2
Relaxed at pool and beach club at our Airbnb community
Personal chef cooked dinner at our Airbnb rental
Day 3
Drove to Rincon de la Vieja National Park (via rental car), 2 hour drive each way
BBQ at our Airbnb Rental
Day 4
Breakfast at JW Marriott located in our Airbnb community
Panache Catamaran Tour
Day 5
Took car service to Arenal Hanging Bridges, 4 hour drive
Toured and ate dinner in La Fortuna
Took car service to San Juan for flight the next day, 2.5 hour drive
Day 6
Brunch at our hotel, Costa Rica Marriott Hotel Hacienda Belen
Afternoon flight from SJO back to the USA

Rincon de la Vieja National Park

So. Much. Fun! We learned about the volcano mud, 200-220 Degrees Fahrenheit

Rincon de la Vieja, one of the seven active volcanoes in Costa Rica, is full of adventure- volcanoes, waterfalls, hot springs and mud baths. We entered the park through the Las Pailas entrance, which has a $1.50 toll /car. A few minutes up the road, you’ll find a pretty modern building where you can purchase your tickets to the various attractions. We decided to do a guided tour through the volcano trail so we could have help identifying unique animals and plants, as well as learn about the volcanoes. The guided tour costs $25/person vs. $15/person for the unguided tour. The trail normally takes about two to two and a half hours, but with twin two-year-old’s in tow, it took us closer to three hours.

If you have a stroller(s), know the path is uneven and contains sets of various amounts of stairs; therefore, strollers won’t work. Let’s just say, not only did I get my steps in but I also got a weighted workout in with carrying a 30lb toddler for a decent amount of the journey. Fortunately, our saving grace were Dum Dums lollipops. They gave them the “energy” to walk some of the journey themselves. Although we had extra “luggage” in tow, I’d recommend visiting Rincon de la Vieja. It was a great learning experiencing, especially about volcanoes, animals, and trees. Unfortunately, the crew was a bit tired after this journey to explore the waterfall or hot springs.

Panache Catamaran Sunset Cruise

Our Airbnb Concierge at Stay in Tamarindo setup this Panache Catamarn excursion for us. The van picked us up at our Airbnb and we drove about 45 mins to Flamingo Beach where we boarded the beautiful Panache Catamaran. The staff and service was impeccable- unlimited fresh, handmade cocktails along with fresh sandwiches, beans, guac, tortilla chips, and salsa. Although this trip to Costa Rica was a family vacation, our aunt decided to stay at the Airbnb with the boys. Can you say “adult time!” My husband even paddle boarded for the first time and KILLED IT! Such a pro!

Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park

The Highlight of Our Trip

What an awesome place, Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges! Not only does it offer nature tours across hanging bridges but adventures like horseback riding and canyoning. We opted for the guided hanging bridge tour for $40/person vs. $26/person for the self guided tour. Luckily we were able to take the strollers. They worked “relatively” well but the wheels did get stuck and became hard to maneuver several times along the trail. Our guide brought to our attention the last shortcut to bypass some of the trail as he thought it would be challenging, or not possible, to use the strollers for some of the trail. Even with the shortcut, we were still able to complete three hanging bridges!! The last bridge was over 75 feet high and 300 feet long. Oh, did I mention that I’m afraid of bridges? To be able to conquer my fear like this was amazing.

Things We Wished We Had Time to Do

In Costa Rica, there is SO MUCH TO DO, and we had such little time to do everything. The top three things I MUST DO when I return to Costa Rica:

  1. La Fortuna Waterfall- The pictures look breathtaking! We actually drove there, only to learn that the last call was at 4PM rather than the closing time of 5PM. We arrived at 4:30PM. How were we going to tackle the 500 steps each way, with toddlers? Slowly and with Dum Dums lollipops 😉
  2. Manuel Antonio- we so wanted to do this area as every single person that has been to Costa Rica said it was a MUST VISIT! Unfortunately, it’s on the other side of the country and we decided on the Guanacaste area due to more favorable weather in early March
  3. Puerto Viejo de la Talamanca- this is the Jamaica of Costa Rica, full of culture, fun, and even black sand beaches. This is also the closest city to the Panamanian border (another country I must get to).

Toddler Tips

Costa Rica Family Vacation- toddlers view of Arenal River

Did having twin, two-year-old toddlers in tow cause some “areas of opportunities?”  YES! Would I bring my twin toddlers back on a vacation to Costa Rica? INDEED, tomorrow if possible. Like previously stated, there is so much adventure and things to do in Costa Rica that each night our two-year-old twins basically fell asleep as soon as they hit their beds. They spent most of the day either running on the beach, playing in the pool, or attempting to hike a trail.

The main two “opportunities” we faced with having our toddlers in tow were:
1) Time in the car
Each destination/activity (besides the beach/pool) was a two to four hour drive each way.
 2) Most activities are NOT stroller-accessible
Since when does nature make nice, smooth, wheel accessible paths? Never, right? Also remember that each activity is two to three hours of walking. An ErgoBaby Carrier could be a great option.
My recommend solutions:
1) Plan your itinerary in advance
At the minimum, have an idea of what you want to do each day. You don’t want to plan a lot of driving or activities that require a lot of walking back to back, if possible.
2) Activity Days
Be prepared with a lot of snacks (bribes) and entertainment. We always kept Dum Dums lollipops on hand for those desperate times. Also, download a playlist of their favorite songs and shows, as the cellular reception isn’t reliable.
3) Driving
If possible, get a driver, especially for the longer drives. This allows for all hands on deck to keep the little ones entertained during the ride.

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