Family vacations in Costa Rica FAQs


A Costa Rica family vacation is often a one off trip of a lifetime, so you want to make sure that it will be the right decision and, indeed, destination for you all. We work hand in hand with family specialists who appreciate all the nuances and needs of family travel and will be able to answer all of your questions. Before that, here are a few of our most common concerns from those thinking of a family vacation in Costa Rica, and which we hope will help assure you that this really is a dream come true for one and all.

How safe is Costa Rica for family travel?

Without doubt one of Latin America’s safest destinations, Costa Rica hasn’t looked back since abolishing the military after its bloody civil war of the 1940s. There is a very peaceful vibe here. As with anywhere, petty theft can happen, particularly on beaches, in San José and in popular tourist hubs, so take care. And only use licensed cabs, but all this applies to most cities. In terms of outdoor adventures, Costa Rica is a world leader with stringent health and safety procedures. Always check buoyancy aids on water activities to make sure they fit and are tight. 911 can be used to call the emergency police, ambulance or fire service and, as with any vacation abroad, check the FCO website for safety information and entry requirements.
Natasha Preston, from our supplier Exodus, shares her advice for traveling in Costa Rica with kids: “For families looking for that jungly experience, who want to see the wildlife and do some adventure activities, Costa Rica is brilliant as it has all that but without feeling too remote or too punishing. You probably wouldn’t take your family down to the Pantanal in Brazil, for example, or to Guyana. You’d see very similar wildlife and birdlife, but Costa Rica has a much better infrastructure. It’s more geared up for the tourist market without feeling overly commercialised.”

What about jungle creepy crawlies?

Costa Rica probably isn’t the country for you if wildlife isn’t your thing, because as well as monkeys and myriad birdlife you will get ants in your pants, beetles bustling and spiders spinning. vActually, the only thing that could really endanger you is the fer-de-lance snake, but that is only found in very remote areas.
Malaria is restricted to a few coastal regions – mainly in Limón province in the southern Caribbean – and is more prevalent in the rainy season. Taking precautions rather than medication is usually the recommendation. Cover up as best you can in the jungle regions, and wear a DEET product, which you should apply 20 minutes after your sunscreen. The same goes for avoiding dengue fever, which is also transmitted by mosquitoes.
Amy Hope, from Activities Abroad: “It’s very safe, especially the jungle, as there are very, very few poisonous or nasty creatures native to Costa Rica.“

How tough is the journey to Costa Rica?

It is an 11-hour direct flight from the UK so it is a bit of a long one, but definitely worth the journey. Most US visitors will have a much shorter flight, of course. And whether you are going on a tailor made or small group vacation, you will have a driver waiting to meet you at San José airport, with most people choosing to spend the first night in the capital.
Daniel Pawlyn from our supplier, Intrepid Travel: “My kids absolutely loved the journey. We flew with Continental Airlines via Dallas. You can fly direct with British Airways, or you can go via Madrid too with Iberia. Generally, anything with screens on the back of the seat, and my kids love it!”

Isn’t Arenal volcano active?

This is indeed the most vibrant of Costa Rica’s volcanoes, spewing lava for over 40 years but not since 2010. It likes to make its presence known with steam and sparks from time to time, although you often can’t see those as it is shrouded in cloud a lot of the time. It’s the adventures around Arenal that are really hot, with zip lining, canopy tours and rafting all on the cards. There are several other active volcanoes in Costa Rica, such as Poás, which erupted in February 2014. If there is a risk of eruption the parks around the volcanoes will be closed, and your tour leader will always keep an eye on local updates.

Are there lots of long road journeys?

It depends on the vacation, although whether you are on a group tour or tailor made, your family experts won’t be taking you on overnight bus journeys or anything like that. The longest journeys are around five to six hours, such as San José to Tortuguero, but the last couple of hours of that are by boat, which is fun. Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve to the Central Pacific coast is a six-hour journey, but there will always be plenty of breaks along the way – and a beach at the end. If you go to the Osa Peninsula in the south, then many people opt for an internal flight from and to San José.
Amy Hope from our leading family vacation supplier, Activities Abroad:“Costa Rica is small so there are no huge journeys by road. If clients choose to extend and use the direct flights from San José then there is a longer road transfer or we can arrange for an internal flight if they prefer.”

How old do you think kids should be for a family vacation in Costa Rica?

Costa Rica really does have something for everyone, so if you have very young ones and just want to chill out in an exquisite ecolodge, then this is the place to do it. You are never too young to experience that sense of ‘pura vida’. And if you need to feel revived or rejuvenated after having a baby, this is definitely the place to be. If you want to make the most of the activities on offer, such as white water rafting or zip wiring, then you might want to wait until the kids are closer to teenage, and chat with your tour operator for advice.
Daniel Pawlyn from our leading family vacations supplier, Intrepid Travel. He vacationed there on a small group tour with his family: “I think any age is a good age for Costa Rica. We had kids in our group from age five to 17 and they all absolutely loved it. My kids were 12 and nine and they adored it because every day they were doing something that they had never done before and seeing stuff for the first time. It is a very comfortable country to travel in, very easy and not a problem at all with younger kids. Older kids are very excited about the activity side there, too.”

Amy Hope from our family vacations supplier, Activities Abroad: “Some beaches do have lifeguards and are very safe but in others, swimming is not recommended and no lifeguard is present. Our guides make this clear to guests when they have any free time.”

We will have our own driver guide. How safe are the cars there?

A responsible tourism company will always check that their local drivers adhere to the safety standards we are used to, with seat belts a minimal requirement. Car safety laws are pretty stringent in Costa Rica and, for example, according to the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation “a safety device is required for all children in a private vehicle under (and including) the age of 12.” Of course, any parent will know that car seats are never straightforward, so here are more details. You will see that Costa Ricans are more thorough than many of us are used to.
  • Infants under one year and under 13kg need to be in a rear facing car seat in the middle, rear seat.
  • Children aged 1-4 years and between 9-18kg should be in a front facing car seat in the middle rear seat. If you have more than one child, the lighter one should be in the middle rear seat, and the other behind the passenger seat.
  • If you have more than one child, the one who weighs less should be in the middle and the other behind the passenger seat.
  • Children between 4-6 years old, or 15-25 kg, must use a booster seat but one with a back.
  • Children between 6-12 years old, or 22-36 kg must be in a backless booster.

How safe is the sea?

One of the biggest safety issues in Costa Rica is riptides and deaths do happen every year. Few beaches have life guards, so do take time to swot up on rips and how to recognise them. Here are some good tips from RNLI. The main tip is not to try and fight it, but swim parallel to the beach or just float on your back until the current has passed. Drowning occurs when swimmers exhaust themselves by struggling against the current. Most importantly, just don’t bathe at beaches where there are riptides with your kids.
Daniel Pawlyn from our supplier Intrepid Travel: "There were two beaches on the Pacific coast that we visited where it was really safe to swim. Manuel Antonia is the main one as it is in the national park and therefore quite a busy beach. But also Playa Blanca which was right next to our hotel.”

Do we need to be fit?

Stamina rather than fitness is the key to a Costa Rica family vacation because you are going to cover quite a lot of ground. But not necessarily steep ground. Or difficult ground. So the emphasis is definitely on awesome rather than tiresome. Hiking trails are often flat, and some of them way up in the canopy, so they are always exciting. However, these are definitely vacations for families who enjoy a bit of outdoors time.
Daniel Pawlyn from Intrepid Travel: “This vacation is for families who want to move on each day. We had two weeks there and we probably went to six or seven different places. So you do want to be active really. Although you don’t have to be hikers or anything. The walks you do are quite low level and mostly walking through national parks wildlife spotting. But certainly, you would want to be active and curious about all aspects of being there.”

Are there any health risks such as malaria?

Some basic vaccines may be required for Costa Rica, depending on the regions you are visiting. Visit your GP or travel clinic six to eight weeks before departure to ensure you are up to date. However, this really is a very risk free country to travel in. The water is safe to drink in most of the country, so tummy troubles aren’t usually an issue. As well as that, it has a fine reputation for medical facilities; however you will be charged for non emergency treatment. Make sure you have comprehensive travel insurance which includes any adventure activities which you are planning to participate in, as well as emergency repatriation.

How accessible or inclusive is Costa Rica for families with special needs?

A lot better than many other parts of the world, for sure. This is a country that prioritises environmental and social issues so it is not surprising to learn that it is definitely working on becoming an inclusive destination too. Several of Costa Rica’s national parks and tour attractions have fully accessible designs. Part of Monteverde Skywalk is accessible for wheelchair users, Carara National Park has a “universal access” trail in the rainforest and Poás Volcano National Park, in the Central Valley, is also completely accessible with paved walkways, ramps and information aids, all the way up to the crater. You can even take some of the country’s famous zip line tours in a wheelchair. So in terms of accessibility, Costa Rica is flying.
If you book a tailor made trip, you can discuss your family’s special needs in advance with your tour operator, who will ensure that everything that can possibly be done to help, will be done. From ensuring the best type of vehicle, to making sure you have refrigeration for medication wherever you go, and selecting the best hotels for travelers with autism or a visual impairment. It is also worth noting that Costa Rica has an amazing medical set up, which is reassuring in terms of support for anyone with special medical needs.

What is family accommodation like in Costa Rica?

Costa Rica has a reputation for eco-chic lodges, and there certainly are lots of those beauties out there. You can sleep on a rainforest riverside in Tortuguero National Park, in lush forest at Sarapiquí or on the Caribbean coast with the backdrop of the tropically gorgeous Cahuita National Park. It also comes with a fair smattering of stunning hotels, with pools, dazzling views and state of the art facilities, while also adhering to responsible tourism practices. You definitely get what you pay for here and Costa Rica is not cheap. So rest assured that you will get comfort and class.

I’m a single parent. Do I need a letter of consent from the other parent if I’m traveling to Costa Rica with my children?

It is always advisable to carry documentation if traveling solo with your child, particularly if you don’t share the same family name. The same applies to, for example, a grandparent taking a minor on a trip without his or her parents. Although not compulsory, it may save time at immigration if you have documents ready. These include long form birth certificates and a letter of consent from the parent who is not traveling. Read more about this on the UK Home Office website. There is an example of a letter of consent here, also from UK Home Office.

How are Costa Ricans with hosting nontraditional nuclear families, such as same sex couples or single parents?

Costa Rica is one of the most socially progressive countries in the region and, since 2017, is the only country in Central America to recognise any form of same sex relationship by law. Although gay marriage is not legally recognised, the law has now been extended to include “the right to recognition without discrimination contrary to human dignity.” Baby steps, but if you are visiting Costa Rica with your own babies as same sex parents, you shouldn’t have a problem. In fact LGBT tourism is very much on the increase in Costa Rica.
The same goes for single parents, and of course the joys of traveling with a family expert tour operator is that they will help organise accommodation and activities that suits your family needs along the way.
Photo credits: [Intro: Roy Luck] [Creepy crawlies: CzechBar] [Volcano: mark_whatmough] [How old: Roy Luck] [How safe is the sea: Vikramjeet Singh] [Fitness: Fred Hsu] [Special needs: CzechBar] [Accommodation: Michiel Van Balen] [LGBT: MadriCR]
Written by Catherine Mack
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