Late July held a bit of a surprise for us….we realized we had some time off and Costa Rica presented itself. We jumped at it, as we have only been to Central America once and wanted to see more of it. I worked on a family friendly Costa Rican itinerary pretty darn quickly (like 2 days!) and we were off. Costa Rica did not disappoint. I know too many people who make the mistake of staying at the beach and the beach only and that’s a major mistake, in my opinion. Costa Rica has so much more.
Starting with the beach
We flew into Liberia for the start of our trip. An easy 2.5 hour drive to Nosara. Nosara is a quaint beach town that charmed us immediately. Dirt roads, cute little houses (and a few huge ones), little shops and restaurants and a ton of yoga studios and surf shops. Surfing reigns supreme in Nosara and we joined in with a little boogie boarding. Time in Nosara asks for relaxation ….no, demands relaxation. And we eagerly partook. In Nosara, a family friendly Costa Rican itinerary should include:
- Boogie Boarding or Surfing. You can rent surf boards and boogie boards at Coconut Harry’s. Harry’s has two locations – one main one in town and one right near Playa Guiones surf break. Right on a dirt road, which the kids thought was awesome. Not only will they rent boards, they will also give lessons and even rent you a couple of chairs for those who just want to watch. I.E. my husband 😉
- A Day at the Beach. Even if you’re not surfing, a day at the beach is a must. Playa Guiones is unspoiled Costa Rican beach as far as the eye can see. No groomed sand and high rise hotels looming over Caribbean waters here – this is pure, raw beauty. Not too crowded, but just enough people for some great people watching, Guiones is a unique experience if you’re used to Caribbean beaches. We loved it and the kids had a great time picking up clams and watching them dig their way back into the sand. Bring a cooler and lunch (and some beers) and relax on this pretty Pacific beach.
- SIBU Wildlife Center. SIBU Sanctuary is a 50-acre jungle garden reserve and wildlife sanctuary. They provide care and rehabilitation to injured, orphaned, and displaced wildlife, and they specialize in golden mantled howlers. Their goal is to ultimately return them back to the wild through their Step Down Release Center. SIBU has more than just monkeys and is a thrill for kiddos.
- See a turtle nesting. This was number one on my list and it was so cool. It’s a late night to experience this (starting at 9:30pm), but definitely worth it. There’s no guarantee that you’ll see a turtle, but chances are you will if you have a little patience. We saw a mama emerge from the sea within ten minutes and watched her for two hours while she built her nest, laid over 100 eggs and returned to her ocean. It was amazing.
Wondering where to stay?
Guilded Iguana – Guilded Iguana takes the prize for being the very first hotel in Nosara, first built in 1988. Rustic meets modern is the best way to describe Iguana. And right near the beach.
Olas Verdes – An adorable little jungle lodge, Olas Verdes fits in perfectly with Nosara’s laid back vibe. Right off a dirt road and built into the jungle, Olas is the very definitely of “boutique property.”
Harmony Hotel – Harmony thinks of itself as a place for restoration and it’s so peaceful that we think they succeeded.
Off to the rainforest
After experiencing the beauty of the beach, every family should head to the rainforest. Arenal is a great place to start because it has a little bit of everything. Rainforest, ziplining, hanging bridges, monkeys, sloths, hot springs and an amazing volcano. Honestly I think I liked the jungle more than the beach and I’m normally all about beaches! Arenal is such a unique place, mainly because of the hot springs – natural thermal pools all heated by the volcano. In fact, there are several resorts in Arenal that have pools and hot springs right on their property. Things to do in Arenal include:
- A day at the hot springs. We were lucky and stayed at a resort that had thermal pools on property so it was an easy trek for us. Our resort had the most extensive network of hot springs in Arenal and even the pool with the waterslide and pool bar was heated naturally! The network of hot springs is really unique – all different levels, surrounded by huge palms and rainforest trees, complete with howler monkeys. We had a great time with the kids, looking at an amazing sunset over an infinity pool and seeing a monkey hop from branch to branch.
- A morning zip line. Initially, the kids were a little trepidatious about this. How high were the lines? How long were the lines? They were filled with questions. We went with a company called Jacamar Tours and they allow children ages 5 and up. If a child is scared, a guide will hook up with them and they can ride together. By the 3rd ride, Zoe wanted to do it all by herself!
- Hike the hanging bridges. This was our favorite tour during our time in Arenal. Winding paths take you through a rainforest, all the while spotting monkeys and birds and walking across 8 suspension bridges in the forest. It was truly a thrill. And Max was beside himself that we got to see a “bullet ant” (whatever that is).
- Spot sloths during a float trip on the Peñas Blancas River. Taking a gentle float trip is the perfect family friendly activity. Along the river, you’ll probably see monkeys, sloth, iguanas, crocs and birds.
Wondering where to stay?
Tabacon Resort and Hot Springs – We stayed at Tabacon and it has the most extensive network of hot springs in Arenal. Plenty of pools and wildlife abound at this resort. The kids loved spotting Coati in the resort.
The Springs – The Springs is at a higher elevation than many of the other resorts and therefore, has an amazing view of the volcano! The resort also has several great restaurants, several pools and hot springs on property. This is where I send most of my Costa Rica clients.
Nayara Resort Spa and Gardens – 50 stand alone bungalows and gorgeous terraces with views of the volcano make up this boutique property. It also has a sister resort for adults only called Nayara Springs.
For our next trip to Costa Rica, we hope to hit the Manuel Antonio and Osa Peninsula area. The activities and things to see in Costa Rica seem to have no end. You could literally travel this country for 6 months and not see everything. It’s no wonder it’s become to popular. If you’re thinking about Costa Rica, our complete itinerary looked like the following:
Day 1 – Meet & Greet on Arrival and transfer to Nosara
This service includes the meet and assist of passengers after Immigration.
Arrival at Resort
Olas Verdes Resort Nosara
1 double room with two queen beds
Day 2 – Full day of boogie boarding
Day 3 – SIBU Wildlife Reserve
Day 4 – Day at leisure
Day 5 – Private transfer to Islita
Arrival at Resort
Punta Islita Resort
One 2-bedroom suite with private plunge pool
Day 6 – Day of leisure followed by Turtle Expedition at night
Day 7 -Transfer to Arenal
Arrival at Resort
Tabacon Resort and Hot Springs
1x double room with two queen beds
Day 8 – Zip Line Adventure
Day 9 – Hiking and Hanging Bridges Adventure
Day 10 – Day at leisure at Hot Springs.
Day 11 – Private transfer from Arenal to San Jose Airport.
My girlfriend just got back from Costa Rica, with her kids and her trip looked so great I asked her to put together her notes for me so I can turn it into a mTG post! It looked amazing and clearly there is so much to do! I went to CR a LONG time ago. Would love to go back with hubby and kids!
You’ll love it Harmony!
Great info! Thank you so much! If we wanted to swap out something from your itinerary you shared with us with Manuel Antonio, which part of the trip you summarized in your itinerary would you swap it with? We are planning a family trip as well, and we love the beach, but also want to check out the wildlife and excursions (ex. zip lining).
Hi Dee! I’m happy to help. I just replied to your email!
I was just wondering if you all drove yourselves? I was just not sure what your thoughts are on that?
We didn’t drive! Roads are pretty curvy and sometimes a little crazy with rain, dirt roads, etc. I’ve definitely booked many clients are car though!!
Who did you organize your private transfers through? Did you rent a car?
Hi Christina! We booked transportation with a company I use for all my clients in Costa Rica. Let me know if I can help!
Love your itinerary!! Would love to know which transportation company you use and also would love to know if you used public transport. Any opinions and info would be so helpful!
I did not use public transportation…..can’t imagine those twisty roads on a bus! I used a company that I work with for my travel agency. Fell free to reach out if you need help planning.
We did all private transfers.
Do you charge for your services? Our family is considering going to Costa Rica with another family from Nov 20-27 and I need help planning.
Currently I do not. Let’s talk! I’ll contact you.