5 Best Places for Kids in Costa Rica

One of the many amazing viewpoints in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is a family friendly place all around.  The local people love children and go out of their way to assist you in any way at all.  They even have special lines at the bank and parking spots for women with children.  Family has a different meaning here, staying together as a family and caring for the youngest and oldest as a unit are of utmost importance.  Many families live together or very near one another for their entire lives.  It is one of the aspects of life in Costa Rica that is most refreshing!

Tip: Consider heading to Costa Rica in the rainy season.  It is less wet then you would think and you will get the benefits of; less tourists, cheaper food and resort stays, and even the possibility of cheap flights.

Nearly any activity, in any area of the country,  will bring friendly faces and assistance when needed.  After living in this small country in Central America, about the size of West Virginia, and touring around for five years, we've found that a few spots are just too great to be missed.  I also asked my kids which places they enjoyed the most.  So without further adieu here are mine and my children's picks for the best spots in Costa Rica for kids:

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Tranquil, secluded Punta Uva
Best beach area
All the beaches of Costa Rica are beautiful but many carry a very dangerous undertow or a questionable cleanliness level -- especially the ones on the Pacific side and closest to San Jose.  The beach area we felt was the best is the Puerto Viejo de Talamanca area on the Caribbean side of the country.  It is about a 5 hour drive from San Jose but well worth it.  The drive is amazing taking you through Brauillo Carillo national park (think something out of Jurassic Park) and finally winding down to the crystal clear waters of the Caribbean.  There are many beaches in this area but Punta Uva is by far the best.  Gorgeous, tranquil waters with almost pink sand and a level of seclusion that you will find in very few beaches on Earth.  The town has a real Caribbean vibe with many eating and lodging options to fit even the pickiest eaters or sleepers.  Also close to the Panama border crossing, Bri Bri indigenous tribe, and a wealth of adventure sporting options.

Baby sloths at the sanctuary, what a great cause to support
Don't miss....Sloth rescue sanctuary in neighboring Cahuita for an up close look at the evolution of these creatures as well as interaction with several types of sloth.   Jaguar rescue center to observe a real rehabilitation center at work (there is no guarantee that any jaguars will be present as they do re release the animals to the wild as soon as they are ready).   Cahuita national Park (need a guide) or Manzanillo beach (guides available but there is also the option to snorkel on your own) for amazing snorkeling.

Ecomusas pools
Best water park
Las musas (ecomusas) water park in San Ramon is the winner in this category.  This little known water park among tourists, is a favorite with locals.  Get there early so you can grab a picnic table and bench, otherwise bring your own chairs.  There is a restaurant on site with some local fare (think arroz con pollo, gallo pinto, empanadas).  Also for use are restrooms and changing rooms, very helpful with small children in tow.  The park offers not only 2 beautiful pools (1 large, 1 kiddie pool) complete with a huge water slide but also a beautiful 300 foot waterfall with a pool of clean water for swimming.  The pool water is pristine as it is recycled via waterfall water over 12 times per day.  No chlorine, no salt!

Hiking in ecomusas
Don't miss....The loop of hiking trails in and around the pools.  They are well marked and lead you to all sorts of wildlife discoveries, from blue morpho butterflies, to expansive Guanacaste trees, to natural water pools and frightening bridge crossings!

Eucalyptus tree in reforested Sabana Park
Best public park
La Sabana park in San Jose is beautiful and has something for everyone.  It is a great stop when you have a night or 2 in San Jose.  A huge pond (albeit a bit merky) is a fun spot to fish or just watch the ducks play.  The new National Stadium was just built on the park grounds and it is also home to baseball fields, a public pool, soccer fields, playgrounds, roller skating rink and speed course, tennis and basketball courts.  On the far end of the park is also the National Art museum, which is free on Sundays.  This park is a great spot to break up the hectic city pace.

Sunday in the park

Don't miss....Sundays in the park.  There are pony rides, kites to fly, soccer and baseball games to watch and numerous vendors of culinary delight and bootleg DVD's!  What more could you want:)

Crater at Volcan Irazu National Park
Best driving/touring trip
Orosi valley from the Central Valley is possibly one of the most beautiful and entertaining drives you can take in Costa Rica.  We did this trip with an overnight in Orosi before returning home but it could easily be done as just a day trip.  Leave nice and early in the morning because your first stop should be Irazu volcano.  The earlier you get there the better the views will be.  As the tallest volcano in the country at over 9,000 feet, you can see both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans from the top.  That is on a perfectly clear day (so 1-2 times a year).  The volcano is about 1 1/2 hours from San Jose to the summit.  When you come down the volcano you will be brought directly into the old capital of Cartago.   There you can visit the Santiago Apostol Parish ruins (destroyed by strong earthquakes that leveled the whole town) the Basilica de Los Angeles (beautiful architecture with a square in front to run around on), and some local botanical gardens.

Ruins of Ujurras

Next you can head down through some beautiful countryside to the town of Ujurras where there are also some beautiful ruins alongside a small river.  If you are so inclined you can also stop at one of the numerous hot spring pools.

Cachi dam

From here head over to the small town of Cachi to marvel at the huge dam (over 90% of the electric in Costa Rica is generated from renewable sources such as hydroelectric and geothermal) and finally head over to the town of Orosi.  Perched on the Reventazon river and complete with stunning vistas and walking bridges over the river, this is a town worth visiting and exploring.

Orosi church
Don't miss...Iglesia de San Jose de Orosi, the oldest catholic church in the country, dating back to 1743.

Under a giant fern in Monteverde
Best ecotourism destination
First settled by Quakers in the 1950's, Monteverde is hands down one of our favorite spots in Costa Rica.  In the past couple of years the roads have been greatly improved although still not paved all the way.  From San Jose it is roughly a 4 hour drive and upon arrival you will find options galore for lodging either in town or just outside.  If you are lucky, you can even get a beautiful sunset view of the Nicoya peninsula.  As one of the most beautiful places in Costa Rica, recently voted one of the 7 wonders of the country, this cloud forest is rich in biodiversity and there are no shortages of parks to fill any hiker's level.

It may rain a lot in the cloud forest but that is all part of the fun

We hiked in the mornings before the clouds settled in, and explored one of the many museums in the afternoon.  Santa Elena and Monteverde both have excellent nature preserves with well marked paths.  Aside from all the hiking and exploring there is also a frog museum, a bug museum, the cheese factory that can be toured, and much more.  Children will not be able to say they are bored ever as there are activities to suit toddlers to teens.
Frog pond is loads of fun!

Don't miss....The frog pond in town.  Go during the day for a tour of the many frog species in Costa Rica and for the same price you can return in the evening.  They keep the room dark so the frogs are all very active and noisy.  You will get a flashlight and can walk around tracking them down one by one.  It was a highlight for my boys.

Well there you have it, our top 5 best family destinations in Costa Rica!  Feel free to ask any questions in the comment section below!

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Curious about the best spots in the world to visit with kids?  Read on.....

Asia
Chiang Mai, northern Thailand - Barbara - The Drop Out Diaries
http://www.thedropoutdiaries.com/2012/01/chiang-mai-for-toddlers/

Australia

Brisbane, Australia - Tracy - OurTravelLifestyle
http://www.ourtravellifestyle.com/travel-diary/5-things-to-do-with-kids-in-brisbane

Central Australia - Jarrad Page - Wandering Photographer
http://wandering-photographer.com/2012/five-must-see-places-in-central-australia-for-families/

South Australia - Amy Page - Livin On The Road
http://www.livinontheroad.com.au/blog/south-australia-for-families/

North America

Vancouver, B.C. Canada-Jess Farrugia - With 2 Kids In Tow
http://with2kidsintow.blogspot.com/2012/01/our-5-favourite-winter-activities-for-families-in-vancouver.html

Kingston, Ontario, Canada-Jennifer Miller- EdventureProject.com
http://edventureproject.com/five-favourite-places-kingston-ontario-canada-my-home-town/


Seattle, WA, USA- Keryn Means- Walkingon Travels
http://walkingontravels.wordpress.com/2012/01/09/five-favorite-places-for-kids-in-seattle/

Sunset Coast, Michigan, USA - Jessie Voigts - WanderingEducators.com
http://www.wanderingeducators.com/best/traveling/five-favorite-places-kids-sunset-coast-michigan.html


Boston, USA - Justin Mussler - Great Family Escape
http://www.greatfamilyescape.com/my-top-5-things-to-do-in-boston-with-kids/

New York City, USA - Diya Luke - A Minor Diversion
http://minordiversion.com/2012/01/our-new-york-city-family-favorites


Washington, D.C. U.S.A. -Susan Verbeeck- Grow In Grace Life
http://growingracelife.wordpress.com/2012/01/07/five-favorite-places-to-visit-with-kids-in-washington-d-c-usa/

Lake Chapala, Mexico - Alisa - Living Outside of the Box
http://livingoutsideofthebox.com/2012/01/09/5-great-activities-for-kids-in-lake-chapala-mexico/


Antigua, Guatemala -Lainie Liberti - Raising Miro
http://www.raisingmiro.com/2012/01/09/fun_kid_outings_antigua_guate/

Ambergris Caye, Belize - A King's Life
http://www.akingslife.com/2012/01/activities-for-kids-on-ambergris-caye-belize


Europe

London, UK -- Theodora Sutcliffe -- Travels with a Nine Year Old
http://travelswithanineyearold.com/2012/01/09/5-things-to-do-with-kids-in-london

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64 comments:

  1. I love that you have a "Don't Miss" listing for each sight. I always feel like I miss something that a local would have told me about if I had only known to ask. And now I know. Thanks for adding to my never ending bucket list ;-)

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    1. I agree and feel the same way. I think ill add that to all my must see posts:)

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  2. Looks absolutely beautiful - I always imagine it as quite pristine. The photos are beautiful.

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  3. Thank you. Yes Costa Rica is really pristine in a lot of areas but not all! I found that surprising when I first arrived. I think they do the best with what they have. I didn't regret a second in Costa Rica, it's a wonderful place to visit or even live for a while!

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  4. oh, WOW. it all looks so good! i especially want to go to the waterpark. thanks for these great tips!

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  5. Awesome! Baby sloths?! For real!

    I also love the idea of the natural water pools fed by a waterfall! So great!

    Thank the kids for the ideas!!

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  6. Have always wanted to visit Costa Rica and now you have definitely given us reason to add it to the 'bucket list'. Love having a guide to the local's perspective of 'what not to miss'--thanks!

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  7. This water park is looking nice. Water park always attracts people specially children. Children specially love these type of park where thy can make lot of fun.

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  8. The baby sloths were amazing. I think the kids and I could have stayed for days just watching them. It is such a nice place to spend money as all of it goes into rescuing and rehabilitating these beautiful creatures!

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  9. The water park is very nice. I love that it is all locals. the path to the pools is out of the way and you would be sure you are lost right up until you are there! The no chlorine is a big seller for me too! I miss it!

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  10. The west coast of Costa Rica was the first trip abroad for my daughter. She was 3 years old at the time. The west coast beaches were nice, but from your description of Punta Uva makes me want to go back and do the Caribbean side of the country. We also made it to Monteverde for some hiking and found it to be a lovely spot. I do remember the roads has a good number of potholes. Has that changed much?

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  11. Mark, yes the road has greatly improved but it sure isn't perfect! The Pacific has some amazing spots as well but I couldn't fit everything. We lived closer to those beaches so the Caribbean was visited only a couple times. Long drive makes it tough if you are only on vacation for a short period!

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  12. Separate lines for women and kids? I'm there! That's a stark contrast to juggling two toddlers standing up on crowded Asian buses. I liked how you picked "best of" to showcase different things to do. And great pictures, as usual!

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  13. I am so sure Costa Rica is a perfect destination for family travelers, certainly after this post..I love the baby sloths as well! I believe that rainforest is always a wonder of Mother Nature!

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  14. Those baby sloths look so cute! Love the 'Dont Miss' tips. Costa Rica is one country that I've always wanted to go to but I'm a little afraid to as I don't think I'll ever want to leave again ... your list of things to do isn't helping that fear.

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    1. The sloths were one of the coolest things we did there!

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  15. I know, we stayed for 5 years! It was so great there that it was easy to just sit tight and explore. Such a small country but loads of amazing things to do.

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  16. Oh you had me at baby sloths. I am trying to decide if we should bring our 31/2 year olds on a trip to Costa Rica or if we should wait till they're older. I was thinking of staying in Manuel Antonio, but after reading your article- Monteverde? Would love any advice;) Thanks!

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  17. Costa Rica, I lived there for 7 years. My oldest was born there. It seems to have an endless amount of stuff to do for kids there.

    We could just be sitting outside our house on the porch and see sloths and all kinds of birds.

    It's a great place!

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  18. Terumi, I love both Manuel Antonio (it was just shy of making the list) and Monteverde. They are both quite different. Monteverde is a bit of a drive further and you may not see so much wildlife. Lots of birds but I didn't see much else. Small kids LOVE animals and Manuel Antonio is the place to see them. Monkeys, sloths, iguanas, and so much more. It is a lot more touristy than Monteverde but I still love it. The national park is wonderful with animals and beautiful, calm beaches. I would definitely take the kiddos and probably MA is a better bet. Lots of beautiful hiking in Monteverde though. Feel free to find us on facebook and ask any questions at all. Take the kiddos , they will love it!

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  19. What an enticing array of photos and descriptions ! So great to get all of these first hand insider tips on the best places to go with kids in Costa Rica. I know that my kids would thrive there with all of the nature and exotic wildlife. Thanks for sharing !

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  20. It really is a great spot! A good jumping point to get rid of your fears and become comfortable in a new culture. My kids loved our time there and we did too! Feel free to like us on facebook, where you can ask me any questions anytime!

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  21. Great post. One little discovery our family made was the La Paz waterfalls. There is an admission price, but if you're only in San Jose for a day or two and want to get a feel of the rainforest and some of Costa Rica's beauty, a quick trip to the La Paz Waterfalls is well worth it. Is there a drive in Costa Rica that isn't beautiful?

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  22. Yes La Paz waterfall garden is wonderful. It is especially nice coupled with a trip to Poas Volcano. I was trying to hit on lesser known places but I agree it is wonderful. Sort of pricey though. I haven't been since it was damaged in the big earthquake. Pretty much all of CR is amazing! But then again so is most of the world I am finding:)

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  23. I teach school so our family will have to travel in the summer. Will that be an ok time? The trip will include me, my husband, son, wife, and 2 grandkids ages 7 &13. We would like to see as many different areas as possible in a week to 10 days without being exhasted. Suggestions please on areas and places to stay. Any help would be appreciated.

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    1. Yes the summer time will be wonderful actually. It is the rainy season there so everything will be less expensive but July and August don't even get that much rain. The only thing I would caution about is that on a map the distances look very doable but with only a week, criss crossing the country will be too much, and you won't get a nice feel for any area. I would choose 2 spots, possibly 3 and stick with that. The Caribbean beaches are wonderful, but far away from everything else, so if you are set on them I would do only them and maybe a day or 2 in San Jose. Feel free to contact me via email bohemiantravelers@gmail.com for any specific route questions. Also vrbo.com is a great spot to find houses, that will be more cost effective with that many people, give you more space, and the owners are often times quite negotiable on the rate as it will be the low season. Last thing, keep in mind that Costa Ricans have their winter holiday for 3 weeks in July. I would try early August in order to avoid some of the crowds of July!

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  24. I have planned to take ma kinds out for the vacation as they have got good grading for the exams. This is a great suggestion.

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  25. Very useful post for my Costa Rica planning!

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    1. Thanks it's a great little country. I know you'll love it!

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  26. Wow… this is a great suggestion. I was just thinking to take my kids somewhere out for a change.

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  27. Costa Rica is a perennial favorite for travelers visiting Central America, and expats looking to settle down there.

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  28. Wonderful information, thank you! We are traveling to CR this summer with our 4, 6 and 8 year olds and your post has such great suggestions. I also appreciate the follow-up response to just focus on 3 maybe 3 areas with a short period of time (we are meeting grandparents in Panama City so only have 6 days in CR). I assume we should really head for Arenal/Monteverde area and Manuel Antonio area and maybe kick around San Jose for a day?

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  29. Thanks for this great information! We'll be traveling with our 4, 6 and 8 year old this summer and just have 7 days -- I gather from all the posts we might want to focus on Manuel Anotonio, Monteverde/Arenal area and San Jose?

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    1. Thank you. Yes I think that is probably the best path with such a limited amount of time. Feel free to contact me with any questions:)

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  30. That's really an interesting idea to schedule a trip for kids to visit Costa Rica.

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  31. Hello All:

    We lived in Costa Rica for two years outside San Jose. I taught at an international school. My wife and two boys and I had a marvelous time. We rented a house on an actual working avocado and coffee plantation. Our favorite place in all of Costa Rica is La Paz Waterfall Gardens. It is about an hour outside San Jose. It is well worth the trip! Manuel Antonio National Park on the Pacific side is also very cool. The water is better on the Atlantic, but there is more to do on the Pacific coast. I greatly miss the 1973 Land Rover I had there. We went all over the country in it!

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    1. So glad you enjoyed it here. We really enjoyed La Pa too but it was so touristy and expensive so it didn;t make my list:) It is awesome though. Ahh the Land Rivers...never had one but loved seeing them all:)

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    2. We went to Manuel Antonio and had a blast. I second that recommendation!

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    3. Yes, it is a great spot! We have the best memories of monkey viewing in that place. A good spot for beginning surfers as well.

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  32. I'd be interested if at any time you or others with children took anti malaria medications when traveling in Limon Province. We will spend 1 week between Tortuguero and Punta Uva. Thank you. Rosalie in Seattle.

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    1. Hi thanks for your question. We never took anti malarials and ho estly I don't know anyone who has to travel in Costa Rica. I know the CDC talks about it but I honestly do not see the need. But I think knowing we were living there also helped me as I knew I did not want to take them all the time. We never had a problem:) I do love Punta Uva...enjoy!

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  33. My kids would love the water park in San Ramon, i'd go for the hot springs. Thanks for sharing, I plan to visit Costa Rica again this year.

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    1. Its a perfect day trip to make. Lots for everyone but beware the water is FREEZING!

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  34. What a wonderful piece of information Admiring the time and effort you put into your blog and detailed information you offer! I will bookmark your blog and have my children check up here often.

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  35. Really Costa Rica is quickly becoming one of the most popular destinations in Central America. It is safe and peaceful. I already visited costa rica last month for 9 days/8 nights it is unforgettable my trip. Thanks to south america tourism guide who gave me a lots of information about costa rica tourism.

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  36. Please tell me that youre going to keep this up! Its so good and so important. I cant wait to read more from you. I just feel like you know so much and know how to make people listen to what you have to say. This blog is just too cool to be missed. Great stuff, really. Please, PLEASE keep it up!

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    1. Thanks so much Paul, I plan to keep it up as long as I am traveling:) So most likely forever!

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  37. This was so helpful! I think we are going to do every.single.thing. you suggested!!

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  38. This was so helpful! I thin we are going to do every.single.thing. you suggested.

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  39. I am pleased to see this all pics, kids was enjoyed a lot this trip. According to me Costa Rica is also best place for the honeymooner. Thanks for sharing this delightful pics with us.

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  40. Any advice for a family of 6? Our kids are between 10 months and 9 years. The older ones would love all kinds of adventure activities but we would also really like a quiet beach spot with warm water for our little one. We are planning to be gone for 5 weeks and will stay in one spot (do trips around the area but not really move from one place to the next). Caribbean or Pacific side?

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    1. I love the Caribbean beaches, best in the country in my opinion but they are pretty secluded. You won't be able to see much of the country if you head there. I think your best bet may be to split your time. Do 2 1/2 weeks in the Caribbean and then 2 1/2 weeks on the pacific (manuel antonio maybe) or the cloud forest in Monteverde...my favorite spot in the whole country:) Feel free to email me with any questions:)

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  41. It has been a while since somebody spoke on this chat - but hope you can help me with a little advice - we are going to Costa Rica in april with our 3-year old son - we have about 8 days in Costa Rica before heading to Panama for a week. So for this short time in Costa Rica what would you recommend to see? Also what is your experience of renting a car and driving yourself - does it feel safe? My husband is a little hesitant to drive by ourselves and want to take the bus, but I feel more freedom with a car! Hope to hear from you.
    BR/ Heredia, Spain

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    1. I would definitely drive, no danger at all really. I always had a car and agree there is so much more freedom. My favorite area in Monteverde, a lush rainforest or cloufd forest to be exact. It really depends on what you like to do though. Hiking would be great up there but no beaches. If you want beached Manuel Antonio or Dominical is really nice as is Samara and Nosara. Are you driving into Panama?

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  42. Hello
    We are traveling to Costa Rica with our 4 girls this June. They will be 18, 7, 4 and 1. Your post is wonderful and great to see pics of kids who look like they are about the same age as ours. My husband and I have traveled to Costa Rica and visited Quepos and Arenal. We are looking for suggestions for our 12 days in Costa Rica. We are looking for a beach that is kid friendly - smaller surf, nice sand and not too crowded. My husband would like to fish while we are there. Monteverde sounds amazing. We were thinking of doing the Guanacaste area - Playa Hermosa, Samara, Nosara. But you seem to like the Carribean side more. We are flying in to San Jose and will have a car to drive to the beaches. We'd like to stay in two places during the 12 days. I'd love to get your opinion.

    Thanks

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    1. Hi Victoria, I think Samara would be great. I do like the Caribbean side but if you stay in the Guanacaste area you can see more of the country, like Monteverde, which is my very favorite part of Costa Rica. If going to Guanacaste though I would fly into Liberia instead, much closer so less driving! Good luck. Feel free to contact me with more questions.

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  43. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  44. Hi Victoria/Bohemian - I am currently planning a CR trip with the family next March. Kids will be 4 and 2 then. Any idea or suggestions for the flying into and out of CR and how kids will do? We are leaving out of DFW into SJO, then have about 2.5-3 hr drive to Manuel Antonio. Returning flight will be 8.5 hrs long (includes a layover). I'm a little terrified of all the traveling time and toting around two little ones, not sure how they will do. Please send any tips or advice.Our first time traveling abroad with the little ones.

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    1. Hi guys, my name is Mary, not sure about Victoria:) Anyway, I am sure the kids will do fine! I would perhaps consider staying at a hotel airport for 1 night so the kids can swim ad run around before having to get in a car again to head to the beach. That is a really short flight though so it may be no issue at all. I think typically kids do far better than we expect. Just bring some snacks they love, an ipad, and some toys they can play with a bit. Also try and make whatever you are lugging as streamlined as possible and don;t bother with car seats. Here is a helpful post on Costa Rica in general http://www.bohemiantravelers.com/2014/05/costa-rica-revealed.html and I also have some tips pages on travel with kids in general. Best advice is to relax and deal with things minute to minute with as much preparation as possible. If you are stressed they will be too! Feel free to email me through my contact page for more answers to questions if you want! It'll be great and Manuel Antonio is so much fun!

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  45. My kids love Costa Rica, I can't wait to go back and do more activities. The most beautiful place I can recommend is the Orosi Valley, we went on a horse tour with Pancho, hike up to Nano's waterfall and had a picnic in the natural hot springs. The hotel we stay in was really nice and comfortable, the staff was really helpful and the locals are really friendly.
    If you are planing to visit Costa Rica you should visit this area, maybe stop by the cafegrafia museum and you will discover something like no other.

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    1. I agree, not THE most beautiful in my opinion but if you have a good amount of time it can be fabulous. We did a long weekend out that way and it was so fun with so many cool stop along the way! This little country has loads to offer!

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  46. I was just wondering if you know what the best month is (financially speaking) to go to Costa Rica? I don't have a lot of money but I would really like to take my family (husband, 12 year old son and 4 year old son) to CR someday. I'd like to take them in the next year or two before my 12 year old really hits the teen years! So just gathering some information. May have more questions later, but this is all for now.

    Thanks! Liz

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    1. Hi Liz, Thanks for your question. It is definitely cheaper in the rainy season, except for July! The kids have winter break then so the proces bump back up. June or August, sept would be good months. Be sure to bargain with your accomodations and eat local! Feel free to email me with any questions, bohemiantravelers@gmail.com

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