San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

From beaches to treetops, Costa Rica offers plenty of sights for parents and the kids

Whether you’re looking for rain forest, beach, educational or adventure trips, Costa Rica offers something for all ages. Here’s a selection of attractions around the country to get you started in planning your family vacation.

Central Valley 

The capital of Costa Rica has grown up quite a bit in the past decade. While many tourists only have San José on their itineraries as a hub between the airport and the country’s jungles and beaches, there’s plenty of culture and history to enjoy in the capital. 

Children’s Museum

Why go: This prison-turned-museum designed for kids but enjoyable for adults offers all sorts of hands-on exhibits, such as an earthquake simulator and a radio studio.

Location: North end of Calle 4

Hours: Tuesday-Friday, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. 

Price: 15 and under, $1.60; over 15, $2.20

Contact: 2258-4929, ext. 123,

National Museum

Why go: Recently remodeled, the museum showcases the region’s ancient history, from pre-Columbian works of stone and gold up to modern times, with classes on traditional dance and Costa Rican customs – plus throw in a brilliant Butterfly Garden.

Location: Calle 17, between Avenidas Central and 2, east side of Plaza de la Democracia

Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. 

Price: Nationals, $3, free on Sundays and every day for kids up to 12 and students; foreigners, $8, or $4 for students

Contact: 2257-1433,

Gold Museum

Why go: The building consists of three in-depth exhibits, the Gold Museum (1,600 handcrafted gold pieces from A.D. 500-1500), the Numismatic Museum (5,000 money-related objects) and the temporary exhibit room (rotating exhibits by local and international artists).

Location: Calles 3 and 5, between Avenidas Central and 2, underneath Plaza de la Cultura.

Hours: Monday-Sunday, 9:15 a.m.-5 p.m.

Price: Nationals, $3, $1 on Sundays; foreigners, $11, or $8 for students

Contact: 2243-4202,

Parque de Diversiones

Why go: It’s no Disney World, but this theme park contains waterslides, roller coasters, go-karts, train rides and a re-creation of Costa Rica at the beginning of the 20th century.

Hours: Friday-Sunday, 9 a.m.-7 p.m. 

Price: Pass, $12.80; parking, $5.60, $2.80 after 2:30 p.m. 

Location: Northwestern district of La Uruca, 2 km west of Hospital México

Contact: 2242-9200,


Why go: The National Biodiversity Institute’s theme park highlights the country’s ecological diversity with interactive displays of frogs, tarantulas, exotic flowers and fierce bullet ants, among others.

Location: Santo Domingo de Heredia, 500 m south and 250 m east of the Red Cross

Hours: Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. 

Price: Nationals, guided tour $8.70; foreigners, half-day tour (includes lunch, transport and guided tour) $44, ticket and guided tour $24

Contact: 2507-8107,

La Paz Waterfalls

Why go: Three years ago, the area near Poás Volcano was hit by a major earthquake, but at last all is back together at this park with gorgeous waterfalls and views and a wildlife park featuring a hummingbird garden, butterfly farm, monkey house, orchid garden and a rescued jaguar.

Lodging: The park has its own on-site lodging, the Peace Lodge. Each room comes with its own waterfall.

Location: Vara Blanca, an hour and 20 minutes northwest of San José

Hours: Monday-Sunday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. 

Price: Adults, $35; kids 3-12, $20 

Contact: 2225-0643,

Poás Volcano National Park

Why go: The popular and beautiful volcano is located not far from the country’s primary airport.

Location: An hour and 20 minutes northwest of San José 

Hours: Monday-Sunday, 8 a.m.-3:30 p.m.

Price: $10

Contact: 2482-2424


The classic colonial capital, east of San José, has old ruins, national parks, botanical gardens, historic churches and archeological sites. 

Irazú Volcano National Park

Why go: This volcano presents a view of both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans on clear days, and of an awesome crater. 

Location: 30 km north of Cartago

Hours: Monday-Sunday, 8 a.m.-3:30 p.m.

Price: $10

Contact: 2200-5025

Turrialba Volcano National Park

Why go: The country’s most active volcano since Arenal went dormant, Turrialba last erupted in 2010 and often can be seen spewing ash and smoke. 

Location: 10 km north of Turrialba

Price: Free

Contact: 2268-8091

Guayabo National Monument

Why go: This archeological site dating back to 1000 B.C. features mounds, tombs and still-functioning aqueducts. 

Location: 17 km northeast of Turrialba

Hours: 8 a.m.-4 p.m.

Price: Adults, $6; children, $1

Contact: 2559-1220

Ujarrás Ruins National Monument and Orosi Church

Why go: These ruins date back to the mid-1500s, and are enclosed by an impressive park.

Location: Northeast of Orosi, near Cachí Lake

Orosi Valley

Why go: The country’s oldest church can be found here, right in the middle of some magnificent scenery.

Location: Less than an hour east of San José

Contact: 2552-4823 for Tapantí National Park (admission $10, open 8 a.m.-4 p.m. daily)

Northern Zone 

The focus of this region is La Fortuna and Arenal Volcano. With everything from thermal springs to zip lining and whitewater rafting, this is one of  Costa Rica’s most popular destinations. 

Arenal Volcano National Park

Why go: Sure, it’s inactive now, but hiking this impressive volcano is still an excellent feat.

Location: 3.5-hour drive from San José

Hours: Day tours are available at 8 a.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m.

Contact: 2479-8811,

Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge

Why go: A huge wetlands for migratory birds, fish, reptiles and plants. 

Location: 120 km northwest of San José

Hours: Monday-Friday. 8 a.m.-4 p.m.

Price: Free

Desafío Adventure Company

Why go: This La Fortuna-based adventure company also has offices in Monteverde and Sámara. Options include canyoneering, rafting, hiking, spelunking, kayaking, fishing tours, zip lining and more. 

Location: Offices in La Fortuna, Monteverde and Sámara

Contact: 2479-9464,


Canopy Family Vacations

Zip line through the canopy at Selvatura Park in the cloud forests of Monteverde, in north-central Costa Rica.

Ronald Reyes

Welcome to the cool climate and famous cloud forests of this popular tourist destination. The area, settled by Quakers, includes rural tourism and various zip-lining courses through the misty mountains. 

Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

Why go: A fantastic chance to hike into a cloud forest and possibly see a resplendent quetzal. Guided tours are available and recommended, as are night tours.

Location: 6 km southeast of the town of Santa Elena

Hours: 7 a.m.-4 p.m. 

Price: Nationals, $5, $4 for students, $3 for kids 6-12; foreigners, $17, $9 for students and kids 6-12

Contact: 2645-5122, 2645-5564,

Selvatura Park

Why go: Check out the hanging bridges and ride the zip lines through the misty forest.

Location: Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

Hours: Depends on tour schedules

Price: Quarter-day, half-day and full-day packages available

Contact: 2645-5929,

Costa Rica Sky Adventures

Why go: Take a Sky Tram to the top of the forest and zip line around it, or walk over some hanging bridges.

Location: Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

Hours: Depends on tour schedules

Price: Several tours available

Contact: 2645-5238,

Creepy Crawlers

Why go: Bugs and stuff are cool, especially around Monteverde.

Options: Monteverde Butterfly Garden (2645-5512,, Frog Pond (2645-6320), Serpentarium (2645-6002), Monteverde Insect World (2645-6859, www.monteverde, Bat Jungle (2645-7701)


The largest province in the country has it all, from beaches to tropical dry forest to national parks to volcanoes. Sportfishing, canopy tours, bird-watching, surfing and scuba diving are all popular activities in this region. 

National Parks and Protected Areas

Why go: Four national parks dominate the landscape: Santa Rosa (sanctuary for sea turtles), Barra Honda (spelunking site), Palo Verde (wetlands home to 20,000 water and migratory birds).


Why go: The Guanacaste mountain range is home to Orosi (the most diverse), Rincón de la Vieja (the most active), Miravalles (known for its geothermal energy) and Tenorio (home to the sky-blue Río Celeste) volcanoes. 


Why go: Who doesn’t love the beach? Top spots include Papagayo, Hermosa, Coco, Conchal, Tamarindo, Flamingo, Avellanas, Brasilito, Nosara, Sámara and Carrillo.

Central Pacific

Costa Rica’s most accessible beaches can be found here, along with the extremely popular Manuel Antonio National Park.

Manuel Antonio National Park

Why go: Perhaps the country’s best-known national park, it has superb beaches, nature trails and abundant wildlife such as monkeys and sloths.

Location: 10 minutes north of Quepos

Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 7 a.m.-4 p.m. 

Price: $10 

Contact: 2777-5185

Rain Forest Aerial Tram

Why go: The beach town of Jacó might be overrun with development, but the nearby tram provides an up-close look at the area’s wildlife by allowing visitors to glide silently through it on 18 gondolas. 

Location: Just outside Jacó

Hours: Depends on tour

Price: Adults, $55; kids and students, $27.50

Contact: 2257-5961,

South Pacific

Home to some of the most diverse ecosystems in the country, this region offers visitors the chance to see crocodiles, tapirs, whales and dolphins up close. 

Hacienda Barú National Wildlife Refuge

Why go: Hire a guide, take a zip line or go it alone in this top-notch spot for bird-watching, hiking and canopy exploration.

Location: North of Dominical

Hours: Sunrise to sunset 

Price: $6

Contact: 2787-0003,

Ballena National Marine Park

Why go: One of the best places in 

the country for camping on the 

beach, watching whales offshore, 

diving and observing sea turtle 

nesting grounds.

Location: 16 km southeast of Dominical, near Uvita

Contact: 2786-5392,

Corcovado National Park

Why go: Flora and fauna not found anywhere else on earth can be seen in this isolated national park that’s perfect for hikers and nature lovers.

Location: Osa Peninsula

Price: $10 ($3 per night camping)

Contact: 2735-5036


Head to the Caribbean for a completely different feel. Groove to the Afro-Caribbean beats and enjoy some delicious coconut rice and beans and other traditional foods. The coastline features some of the country’s most beautiful beaches. 

Rain Forest Aerial Tram

Why go: Take a 2.6-km tram tour in an open-air gondola through the rain forest canopy.

Location: About 50 minutes from San José on the highway to Limón, in Braulio Carrillo National Park

Hours: Depends on tour

Price: Adults, $55; children and students, $27.50

Contact: 2257-5961,

Tortuguero National Park

Why go: This system of canals teems with all sorts of animals, most famously turtles, with species – leatherbacks first and then green turtles – nesting between March and October. 

Location: 90 km north of Limón

Price: $10

Contact: 2709-8086

Cahuita National Park

Why go: Check out the largest coral reef in Costa Rica, or bask on white-sand beaches.

Location: 40 km south of Limón

Hours: Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-4 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 7 a.m.-5 p.m.

Price: $10, or voluntary donation

Contact: 2750-0398

Sloth Sanctuary

Why go: Get up close and personal with lovable two- and three-toed sloths, including babies. 

Location: 35 km south of Limón

Hours: Monday-Sunday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.

Price: $25, $15 for kids 5-11

Contact: 2750-0775,

Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge

Why go: This refuge near the 

southeastern border with Panama 

is famous for having the best-

preserved coral in the country, 

as well as ancient rock 

formations and turtle nesting sites.

Location: 73 km south of Limón

Contact: 2750-0398


Why go: Some of the country’s most beautiful beaches can be found on the southern Caribbean coast. Check out Cahuita, Puerto Vargas, Cocles, 

Playa Chiquita, Punta Uva and Manzanillo, with the towns of Cahuita and Puerto Viejo serving as the hubs for visitors to these beaches.

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