The Best Costa Rica Family Vacation – Two Week Itinerary
This itinerary gives you a couple of weeks of the best there is to see and do in Costa Rica. What you can do in these 14 days is laid out in order with tips and suggestions for how to get around and where to stay. This guide includes forests, waterfalls, volcanos, beaches and plenty of wildlife sightings but you can easily customize it to for your own needs and priorities.
Costa Rica Itinerary - 14 Days
Costa Rica is an absolute gem of a country to travel with your family. We had never visited Central America and didn't quite know what to expect, but having been to Costa Rica now, we feel more confident and curious to see more of this region in the future. We would recommend Costa Rica as a good "first country" if you have never been to any Latin American country before, but it is also a great place for those who may not travel much outside of the United States.
It's no wonder that a lot of people (at least that we know personally) have vacationed in Costa Rica. It's a popular place to go for a honeymooning, family vacations, and even living there as a full or part time expat or part time nomad (we met a bunch of those people, too)!
The two week itinerary below can be customized easily if you only happen to have a week or 10 days. We started our journey from San Jose because that is the airport we flew into (Juan Santamaría International Airport) but since our route took us by Liberia you can start at Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport as well and do the loop from there.
Here is the 14 day itinerary in a nutshell:
San Jose - 1 day
Peace Lodge & Gardens - 2 days
La Fortuna- 3 days
Tamarindo - 4 days
Monteverde - 3 days
Alajuela - 1 day
Day 1 - San Jose Costa Rica
Our flight arrived into San Jose in the afternoon and by the time we picked up our rental car and arrived at the hotel there was not much time for any sightseeing. Fortunately our hotel was in a great location which allowed us some time to walk around the city center and see some of the architecture and culture of the people in the big city.
We stayed at the Gran Hotel Costa Rica and really loved the location, staff, and breakfast that was included with our room. The hotel is right next to the National Theater and our room even had a great view of it along with the pedestrian streets around the square. Even without leaving our room we could people watch and get a sense of the vibe down below.
There are lots of parks around this area of the city and it is easy to walk around. We took Petra out on the stroller and just walked the pedestrian streets around the hotel. A lot of shops were closed at the time so we grabbed some snacks from the bakery and mini market on our way and snapped some pictures.
Day 2 & 3- stay at peace lodge & Visit The Waterfall Gardens
You will definitely want to stay at least a night if not two at the Peace Lodge. We made the mistake of just driving here and hiking down to the waterfalls for a couple of hours. Don't get me wrong, it was still one of the biggest highlights of our time in Costa Rica. However, we would have really enjoyed it a lot more if we could have rested the night and gone out to explore all of the animal sanctuaries, not to mention taking advantage of the amenities provided at the lodge.
Stay 2 nights to take it all in and relax. We thought that after driving less than an hour and half (even less if you go straight from the airport) we would be fine to drive to La Fortuna after seeing the waterfalls and gardens, but in retrospect, the place deserves more time than that.
Top Things Not To Miss At La Paz Waterfall Gardens
- 5 Waterfalls
- Butterfly Observatory
While here, hiking down to the five waterfalls is an absolute must. The hike is not difficult and there are stable paths and stairs to guide you down. The trails take you along the La Paz River and some paths will deliver you up close to the waterfalls, too! We were able to do it with our toddler (she came down on her own!). Make sure to grab a map of the property, but the gardens are easy to navigate around if you forget.
We loved taking Petra to the butterfly observatory and the aviary, as well as showing her the monkeys, but we didn't have any time to visit the hummingbird garden, Serpentarium, or the Ranarium. There is even a jungle cat sanctuary! These are not to be missed, which is why we recommend staying a couple of nights here.
La Paz Waterfall is the highlight and the last waterfall that you'll reach going down the trail. Some people drive up to this one without going through the trail because it is accessible by the road. If this is all you see, you are definitely missing out!
After going through the gift shop at the end of the trail, you will reach the shuttle pickup station. It's nice to have this service when you have children with you that are not in the mood to walk all the way back up the trail! Petra had fallen asleep so this worked out perfect for us!
The Calibries Restaurant on the premises makes it convenient to enjoy a great buffet lunch to fuel you for the adventures and sights. We devoured some delicious Costa Rican fare while enjoying the rainforest views and listening to the sounds of nature.
Day 4 to 7 - La Fortuna
If I had to put it in one sentence it would be: Stay one night downtown and two nights at a resort with thermal pools. The town center In La Fortuna is a cute place with loads of great restaurants. It also has a picturesque church in the middle and small park and which is great for taking photos and relaxing in with some ice cream!
You may want to just spend all three nights at the resort with thermal pools and just visit downtown. The resorts are all a bit outside the town area and not really within walking distance. This is the reason we suggest staying one night in the town. It will be more convenient to explore a bit of the area and walk to great restaurants. There are also some great places to grab yummy snacks like chocolate and ice cream! After staying one night and getting a good feel of the town, you will be ready to head over to the spa resorts to relax.
We stayed at Baldi Hot Springs Resort Hotel & Spa because it was the best family friendly hotel with thermal pools. They have over twenty pools each with different temperatures including a very large kids pool with a waterslide and splash feature that is very entertaining for the little ones. Check out this package for a great combo deal! For the adults who want to be like kids, there is a VERY fast waterslide that is sure to thrill!
Another great resort for thermal baths from the volcano is Tabacón Thermal Resort. This one is also very popular with couples. The good thing about most of these resorts is that they usually offer day passes so you don't even need to reserve a room to stay in. If you want to just use the thermal waters to soak in for the day, this is a great option. You can then spend the rest of your time doing more action adventure activities like hiking the volcano, zip-lining, horseback riding, and going to the nearby waterfalls. See below for the best activities:
While at the spa resorts, you don't have to feel that you are "stuck" there the whole time. You may want to dip in the thermal pools in the afternoons and use the time before lunch to go on some tours.
Our two favorite activities/tours:
- Coffee and chocolate tour
- Sloth Tour
We did both in one day because they are not that long. On the Coffee and Chocolate tour we walked through a coffee plantation and learned about coffee processing, everything from picking the coffee cherries to fermenting and roasting along with grinding. We even got to taste it! It was pretty much the same with the chocolate part. We loved learning and getting first hand experience with the processing of these products. The information was super interesting and it was fun to see and try out the process. This is a great activity for kids of all ages. Even thought Petra was a bit young to understand what was happening, she loved running around and exploring while we learned.
The sloth tour was one of the best activities we did in Costa Rica. It was fun trekking in the jungle with the tour guide spotting sloths in the treetops along the way. The trail around was not very long or difficult and Petra enjoyed being in such beautiful nature. Our guide was truly knowledgeable and shared a lot of facts with us about sloths. He spotted quite a few of them for us and even helped us with taking some amazing photos of the sloths. Don't be surprised if sloths are not the only animals you spot!
Day 7 to 10 - Tamarindo
Some time at the beach in Costa Rica is never wasted. It's not essential to stay at the coast if you're not a beach person, but we do recommend a night or two, at least. We ARE beach people so we decided to spend the most nights hanging out at a beach resort in Tamarindo and having fun on the sand and in the waves. Speaking of waves, it's great for surfers!
Our itinerary included 4 nights at the Capitán Suizo Beachfront Boutique Hotel. We have zero complaints about this place! Not only was the location great (away from the crowds but still within walking distance to the town center), but the beach and services (amazing breakfast) were absolutely perfect! We had an ocean view room with a balcony which gave us the option to stay close while baby napped and a few steps out of door was the sand under our toes!
Our three days ion Tamarindo included a lot of time at the beach, but we did explore the town center a few times as well. There are great restaurants and places for smoothies and ice cream so staying at the resort the whole time didn't seem like a great idea for us.
My birthday fell on one of the days that we were in Tamarindo and as a treat, I went horseback riding on the beach! While riding down the length of the beach, I did notice a lot of restaurants and bars on the beach in the more crowded section. While we would not recommend staying in that area with a small child, it seems like a fun place to hang out and enjoy the sunsets with a cold beverage.
One of the mornings, we decided to skip the breakfast at the resort and try out the famous waffles at Waffle Monkey. There is a reason people rave about this place! There isn't anything not to love about delicious waffles on the beach!
Day 10 to 13 - Monteverde
We booked 3 nights at the Monteverde Lodge for our time in Monteverde. I have to give the credit to Rob for reserving such great accommodations for us throughout our Costa Rica vacation. Our favorite thing about Monteverde Lodge was the outdoor facilities.
The heated pool set in the lush gardens was fantastic to dip in even with the temperatures in these mountains being a lot lower that the beach area. It was nice to come back to such a relaxing environment after a day out full of activities and adventure. They also have some fun short hikes around the hotel property which make it nice if you don't have a lot of time in between activities and want to be outdoors but close by to your room.
In addition to the relaxing pool and gardens they offer a delicious and filling breakfast with top-notch service. The staff there was professional and kind as well as helpful in getting tours booked for us.
What to do in Monteverde? See The Cloud Forest
Speaking of the best tours to take, we highly suggest the guided nature tour on the Cloud Forest. You can go to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve on your own. It's less than 15 minutes from the Lodge and the entrance fee is about $25 a person.
We felt that having a professional nature guide would make the experience more beneficial for us and it did! Having a toddler makes it hard to read the pamhlets and do research on a place so it was nice to just have someone explain everything to us. The guide took us around a part of the forest (just small fraction of this huge place) and told us all about the flora and fauna that call it home. He even had a scope so we could see animals in the distant canopy like birds and monkeys which made it a lot more interesting.
For the second day of adventure we added Sky Adventure Park to our itinerary as soon as we got to Monteverde. There seems to be a few different areas of the Cloud Forest where you can go on hanging bridges through the forest canopy and the one our hotel staff like the most was Sky Adventure Park so we trusted their opinion.
I have to admit, we had out doubts on whether we could be THIS adventurous with a toddler in tow but it all worked out pretty smoothly for us. Getting there in the afternoon worked best with Petra's nap schedule and seemed to give us a perfect gap to be able to do this and get back in time for her bedtime.
Upon getting to Sky Adventures, we immediately got tickets for the Skytrek (tram) and we were the only ones on it! Riding up on the the tram was a magical experience and one of the best ways to experience the cloud forest. It really gave us a sense of the magnificence of this natural paradise. The ride was about 15 minutes each way and we only spent about 10 minutes up at the lookout point (the ride is just more fun).
After getting our introduction to the forest from the tram, we set off to trek over the hanging bridges. The trail is not difficult and we feel that we could have even brought up Petra's small trike stroller but we had her in the carrier (Rob carried her the whole time). There are 6 bridges to cross with bridge number 5 being the longest and highest one.
We went backwards because we thought there might not be enough time for us to make it to all of the and we didn't want to miss the best bridge. Starting at bridge 6 gave us the ability to take a shortcut back from bridge 3 (6,4,3,5 and back to the start). After doing that loop, we still had some time to spare (and some energy as well) so we went on the trail towards bridge 1 and crossed it but came back the same way after that without ever getting to bridge 2.
Crossing the bridges and walking the trails was fun and not difficult, but the best part was how rewarding it was to experience this area of the country and really get immersed in the nature of the mystical forest.
Day 14 - Alajuela
We Spent our last day in Alajuela instead of back in San Jose. Alajuela gave us quick access to the airport for our flight the following day but was also a beautiful area to see for our final hours in Costa Rica.
Our one night stay was at Buena Vista Chic Hotel which is perfectly perched atop the mountain overlooking San Jose in the far distance. The property is located on a coffee plantation which means there is already something to do there without having to go anywhere!
Walking around the plantation and admiring the nature and other fruit and vegetable plants was a relaxing activity for us to let all the fun of our vacation settle in. Admiring the views from our room as well as the gardens made it impossible for us to want to leave the hotel.
One thing we couldn't miss was going out for dinner at one of the restaurants in town with the same gorgeous views. Restaurante El Mirador de Alajuela was the spot! We enjoyed some yummy steak while watching the clouds drift by over the landscape below. It was gorgeous and peaceful and the perfect ending to our family Costa Rica trip!
Trip To Costa Rica - Know Before You Go
Here is just some quick info to get you familiar with Costa Rica as you prepare to go on your trip:
How Many Days Do You Need In Costa Rica?
Some may wonder if 10 days are enough in Costa Rica and what could you see in that amount of time? You can still check off a lot of your Costa Rica bucket list items in just 10 days. I would recommend skipping any time spent in San Jose and spending one night at The Peace Lodge, two nights in La Fortuna and three nights each in Tamarindo and Monteverde, leaving you one night in Alajuela. This way you can still see everything we mentioned above.
How to Make This A 7 Day Costa Rica Itinerary
As we mentioned before, some folks may only have a week vacation time available. If you are traveling from The United States, Costa Rica is not that far away and the flight is short enough to make 7 days work well. Just take the above itinerary for 10 days and subtract one day each from La Fortuna, Tamarindo and Monteverde to ensure you don't miss anything.
Best Way To Travel In Costa Rica
To get to the rental car pickup we arranged for Sixt to pick us up from the airport upon arrival.
We found driving around in Costa Rica to be easy and safe, as well as fun! It was a lot like (maybe even easier) than driving around on our vacation in Playa Del Carmen. The only area where parking may be a slight issue is in San Jose. San Jose was also a bit more challenging to drive in only because there are a lot of one way streets and it's a big, busy city.
Generally, drivers there are courteous and freeways are not too crazy unless there is construction going on.
Benefits of driving yourself:
- see more of the countryside
- find hidden gems
- customize your trip
- go at your own pace
Some things to keep in mind if you plan to drive:
- windy roads
- unpaved roads(rent a 4x4)
- be aware of toll roads and have cash handy
- don't leave valuables in the car
Costa Rica With Kids
If you are thinking about vacationing in Costa Rica with toddlers or kids in general, we would say that it is a great idea! Based on taking our own toddler, we feel that the way everything is set up in Costa Rica, it is very convenient and easy to go around with kids. The whole place seems to be super family friendly and wholesome. From the mountains and forests to the beaches, there was so much nature to enjoy both for us adults and our baby daughter. She seemed to enjoy it very much and felt comfortable (minimal toddler tantrums) wherever we stayed or dined at.
What to Budget For Your Two Week Itinerary in Costa Rica
The most expensive things are accommodations (nice places average around $200/night) and tours ($100+ for some nature tours). It is easy to find budget accommodations that are around $100 a night without sacrificing too much in comfort and cleanliness as well as location.
Fuel and food are fairly priced. If you rent a car the daily rate is not too bad but the insurance that you have to purchase will certainly add up and make it more expensive. Overall, it's not as "cheap" as vacationing in Thailand but the quality of places to stay and what you can get for meals makes it more than reasonable as compared to a getaway in Northern California.
About the Author
Hi! I'm just a California girl addicted to travel and adventure with a passion for art and dance on the side. Born in Iran, but I consider myself a citizen of Earth, adhering to the belief that "The world is but one country and mankind its citizen." I strive to make a positive impact on everyone I meet and learn as much as possible from them. My degree out of college is in Marketing. However, I entered the hospitality business at an early age and worked my way up to hotel management. After about 13 years in that industry (5 of which I was a hotel assistant manager), I made the decision to move to Thailand and leave the 9 to 5 grind behind. My husband and I set off for a life of living abroad and hopes to continue traveling the world, just 3 months after our wedding. It all started with the two of us, along with our cat, together in Thailand. Can't wait to see where life takes us next!