Costa Rica Itinerary 10 Days In Paradise with Family

Looking for an amazing adventure in Costa Rica with kids? Costa Rica is a jewel in Central America and a perfect place for a family vacation. You can see so much on your Costa Rica itinerary 10 days with family. There’s something for everyone of all ages: beaches, rain forests, volcanoes, sloths, cloud forests and more. The hard part will be narrowing down where to go.

Not to worry, I have some amazing suggestions to get your planning started, based on my own amazing Costa Rica experiences. Plus tips, and guide to getting around, and where to stay.

Costa Rica is heavily invested in preserving its nature, and with over 500,000 species of wildlife it’s the most biodiverse country in the world. It’s also one of the best places for animal lovers to discover wildlife up close like macaws, howler monkeys,  sea turtles, and adorable sloths.

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Prioritize travel goals: 10 day family vacation in Costa Rica

To make the most of your time, it will be important to prioritize what’s important for you and your family on your Costa Rica family travel.

  • Is it a relaxing beach resort type vacation, where you don’t have to organize or worry about a thing?
  • Do you want to see sloths, volcanoes and the beach, and don’t mind driving?
  • What ages and activity levels are your fellow travelers? 

Figuring out your Costa Rica Bucket List items, will help narrow down your choices. 


For me, the last time I was in Costa Rica I wanted to experience more of the people, culture and rainforests of Costa Rica, plus practice my spanish. 

So I chose to stay at smaller AirBnB’s and cabins. Plus spent time in the Osa Peninsula and Drake Bay, Montezuma & Santa Theresa for beaches and Monteverde for cloud forests, and skipped Arenal.

Now that I am planning 10 days in Costa Rica with family for our trip, there are other things, and people to consider. 

Man walking across a hangin bridge in cloudforest Costa Rica
Hanging Bridge in Costa Rica

10 DAYS IN COSTA RICA ITINERARY

Costa Rica Family Itinerary At-A-Glance

DAY 1 – Arrive in Costa Rica
DAY 2 – Drive to La Fortuna
Explore around Arenal Lodge & Observatory, hike & hotsprings
DAY 3 Explore La Fortuna
La Fortuna Waterfall, Arenal Volcano National Park, and the Hanging Bridges.
DAY 4 – Rest Day or Choose Your Own Adventure
Sloth Tour, Chocolate Tour, or Ziplining
DAY 5 – Drive to Monteverde
Take the boat across Lake Arenal & van ride to Monteverde. Explore Santa Elena.
DAY 6 – Explore Monteverde
Hike through cloud forests, and visit the Butterfly Gardens or go Ziplining
DAY 7 – Drive to the Beach Playa Samara
Stop at Palo Verde National Park along the way. Check in, and wander the town & beach
DAY 8 & 9 – Where’s the Beach…. Days
DAY 10Drive back to Liberia or San Jose

COSTA RICA WITH KIDS

While Costa Rica with Kids is a great adventure for spring break, or a family beach vacation, there are a few things you’ll want to consider. Including the best ways to get around, and fun things to do in Costa RIca with kids.

Costa Rica Family Itinerary Tips

Driving & getting around 

While Costa Rica is a small country, the roads are often small, and bumpy, with one way bridges, and few lights. You’ll want to choose 1 to 2 places within a 2-3 hour drive of each other to avoid spending your whole vacation in a car.

For example,  if on vacation you are looking at flying into Liberia then:

  • Driving to Playa Samara for a little beach time will take approx. 2.5 hours
  • Then playing in the cloud forests of Monteverde (~3hrs 10min drive from Samara) before
  • Jumping in hot springs and visiting volcanoes in Arenal (~ 3 hrs drive from Monteverde) 
  • Heading back to Liberia to fly home (~2 hrs 40min from Monteverde ).  

You are looking at a minimum 12 hours driving, but should factor in at least half a day for each trip for road conditions, and unexpected delays.

So visiting 3 destinations will require a  minimum of 2 days of travel time, plus factor in likely an overnight stay in Liberia before traveling home.  

From San Jose to Arenal,  then to Monteverde and Playa Samara and then back to San Jose it’s a minimum of 14 hours driving, a little longer trip. 

Either option leaves you with  7 / 7.5  days of vacation time. If you don’t mind the driving, and are ok with shorter time in each place, then 3 destinations will work.

Hiring a Driver vs Renting a Car in Costa Rica

Many people choose to hire a driver to take you from destination to destination. Hey, splurge a little and avoid the stress of driving in an unfamiliar country.

They’re reasonably priced and pick you up and drop you off wherever you want to go.

If you don’t want to go off and explore Costa Rica’s back roads, then it’s the quickest and easiest way to travel.

Car Rentals in Costa Rica

It is possible to rent a car and drive safely around Costa Rica if that’s your preference.

  • The main roads are fairly good during the day, but smaller roads are not as well maintained and often full of potholes.
  • Extra insurance is a good idea.
  • Many roads don’t have adequate lighting, so driving at night is not recommended.
  • Also make sure you lock up your cars, and don’t leave anything in the car, as theft does happen.
Two pages of the free beach vacation checklist. Young kids holding hands running down the beach.

Buses in Costa Rica

I found the buses in Costa Rica  to be an affordable and comfortable way to travel the country. If you go this route, choose ones that have air conditioning. 

However, they do take longer, and if you are traveling as a larger family it likely makes more to rent a car or hire a driver to take you around.

Airports in Costa Rica

There are two main airports in Costa Rica, easily accessible through connections in the USA:

  • Liberia (Daniel Oduber International Airport)
  • San Jose (Juan Santamaria International Airport). San Jose is busier, so you’ll find more flights into this city.

If you are spending time in the Guanacaste area or Nicoya Peninsula the Liberia International airport is closest.

If you are vacationing in Manuel Antonio, visiting the Osa Peninsula or heading to the Caribbean Coast, San Jose is closer.

The below driving times are estimates. I’ve found it usually takes longer to get to your destinations.

Here are a few examples of approximate driving times:

Driving times to Arenal:

  • San Jose Airport to Arenal Volcano is 134 km, and approximately a 2.5 hour drive.
  • Liberia airport to Arenal is 140.3km and approx. 2 hours 40 min.

Driving times to Monteverde:

  • San Jose to Monteverde is 127km and 2 hrs and 15 min
  • Liberia to Monteverde is 124km and 2hrs and 15 min

Driving times to Manuel Antonio:

  • San Jose to Manuel Antonio is 156 kilometers  and 3 hours
  • Liberia to Manuel Antonio is 267 km and 4 hour 40 min drive.

PRO TIP: Don’t make the mistake I did on originally booking to San Jose California (because it was a cheaper flight)…whoops!

Mom and baby white face capichin monkey sitting in a tree branch.
White Face Capuchin Monkey, Costa Rica

10 DAYS IN COSTA RICA – 5 AMAZING THINGS TO DO

Volcanoes, Waterfalls & Hot Springs – La Fortuna Area

Costa Rica has many volcanoes spread around the country. Which leads to amazing opportunities to view active (and non-active) volcanoes and soak in natural mineral waters in lush rainforest settings.

It’s part of the Pacific Ring Fire Circle and has over 200 volcanic formations, over 65 million years of age. 

From luxury resorts built around the thermal springs, close to Arenal Volcano, to more natural hike-in settings,  you can experience them numerous ways.

There are so many fun things to do with your family with 10 days in Costa Rica and in the Arenal area, you won’t have time to fit them all in:

  • Hike or horseback ride at Arenal Volcano National Park

  • Walk in the trees at Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park – 2 mile trail  with 6 hanging bridges. Tip: take a tour with a naturalist guide – you’ll see so much more; sloths, snakes, birds etc.  

  • Ease your aches and pains in a thermal hot spring. Tabacon, and Baldi Hot Springs are among the most popular. 

  • Hike the 500 stairs to La Fortuna Waterfall, and cool off with a swim in the river.  

PRO TIP: Stay at a hotel that offers a hot spring, so it is easily accessible, no extra fees and more a relaxing activity after a long day. 
Arenal Volcano in distance with lake in front. Costa Rica itinerary
Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica

Cloud Forests in Monteverde

Monteverde or “Green Mountain” as it is well named for its vast reserves of lush cloud forests. Described it as “the jewel in the crown of cloud forests.” by National Geographic.

Having visited this area I concur. It is such a special place to visit, and one I was so glad to experience.

The most popular way to discover this unique area is by exploring  walkways built in the forest canopy – or gliding over the forest while zip-lining 

There are four main cloud forests in the Monteverde Region to explore

  • Curi Cancha – The Curi Cancha Reserve is a bird watcher’s paradise with over 200 species. Also keep your eye out for oati, agouti, kinkajou, ocelot, two-toed sloths and monkeys. Its 83 acres protect old and new growth rainforest and pastureland and 7km of trails. Curi Cancha is a birdwatcher’s paradise.
  • Santa Elena Cloud Forest Preserve – Santa Elena neighbours Monteverde, and is generally less crowded, and smaller than Monteverde Preserve. Thirteen kms (8 miles) of trails to explore.  
  • Bosque Eterno de los Ninos –  The Children’s Eternal Rainforest is the largest private reserve in Costa Rica created with donations by children from 44 countries. Open  8:00 AM to 4:30 PM daily. The unique forest of the Reserva Bajo del Tigre is drier, so the plant and animal species are 40% different than the cloud forest. 

Cloud Forest is a fun addition to your family Costa Rica itinerary.

Best Costa Rica Beaches for Families 

Costa Rica is definitely a beach destination, and the perfect place to relax, and soak up some salty air and rays of sunshine before your trip home.

There are so many amazing beaches around Costa Rica to check out.

We’ve chosen the top 3 family friendly beaches to explore, close to Monteverde and Arenal but you really can’t go wrong, no matter where you go. 

  • Playa Samara – Best family friendly small town, with affordable resorts, waves for good surfing and one of the safer areas in Costa Rica. 
  • Playa Hermosa (Guanacaste Province) – This award winning beach is known for its high environmental & safety standards. Enjoy this pristine 2 km beach nestled among rainforest and volcanic rocks. Outdoor activities focus more on water sports; scuba diving, snorkeling, windsurfing.
  • Playa Flamingo – Looking to go fishing? This is a prime spot to catch tune, mahi-mahi & snapper.  Swimming, scuba diving, surfing and sailing are also all possibilities here.

Playa Flamingo & Playa Hermosa are fairly close to the Santa Rosa National Park (a 1-1.5 hour drive), so are better places to stay if you’d like to go there as well. 

Don’t forget to pack some small beach vacation activities.

Playa Flamingo Guanacaste Costa Rica, Bay Side. Boats and buildings on hill in distance.
Playa Flamingo, Bay view

Family friendly beaches in other areas of Costa Rica include:

  • Looking to see turtles? Playa Tortuga is the place to go, as the primary nesting grounds of Olive Ridley turtles. Not the place to go swimming, as it’s not safe due to riptides, but its unique volcanic sand and turtles make it a popular destination at certain times of year. Tortuguero National Park has other family-friendly activities, including hiking and boat tours.

  • Playa Tamarindo – well developed area, with waves perfect for beginner surfers, plus great fishing, sailing and kayaking.

  • Playa Santa Teresa – Relaxed small beach town on the tip of Nicoya Peninsula. Activities focus on canopy tours, horseback riding, and various water sports.The Cabo Blanco Nature Preserve is close by.

  • Playa Manuel Antonio – Half way down the Pacific Coast you’ll find this quaint town of luxury condos  and small hotels. This is a top destination to visit in Costa Rica with kids. Playa Espadilla beach area has lifeguards on duty, one of the few beaches in Costa RIca that does. The diverse Manuel Antonio National Park has diverse animals including  monkeys and  sloths, and 180 species of birds.

10 DAY COSTA RICA ITINERARY

Day 1  – Arrival in Costa Rica

This Costa Rica family itinerary assumes you are flying into Liberia airport (Daniel Oduber International Airport), however you could  arrive at the San Jose airport as well. 

If you arrive early enough, have a driver take you directly to La Fortuna. The drive will take about 3 hours, and not one you’d want to do in the dark yourself. Think dark, windy, dirt roads in places.

You may need to stay over near the Liberia (or San Jose airport) depending on when you arrive.

Steaming Arenal Volcano Costa Rica, on a sunny day
Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica

Days 2 – 4 Arenal Volcano – Guanacaste Region

Day Two – Explore Arenal – Costa Rica Itinerary 10 Days with Family

Start your day exploring Arenal.  A stay at Arenal Observatory Lodge is high on the list of best family friendly places to stay in Costa Rica. 

The Arenal Observatory Lodge has amazing views of the volcano and sits on 860 acres of tropical rainforest, with 11 kms (9 miles) of trails to explore, and an on-site bird sanctuary.

Start with a guided (or non-guided) morning hike to look for animals that make Costa Rica so magical, visit waterfalls and of course admire the best volcano views. It’s about a 30 minute drive to La Fortuna itself. 

In the afternoon visiting thermal hot springs, to soak out the aches and pains of travel should be top of your list. You have a few options:

  • Splurge on Tabacon Hot Springs luxurious property with one of the only all natural pool areas. 
  • Fun & budget friendly for the day Baldi Hot Springs is one of the most popular, with plenty of pools (25) to try at different temperatures and shapes. 
  • Free – Try Rio Agua Caliente near the Arenal Observatory Lodge, no resorts or concrete around.  Head upstream from the bridge and just before the lodge.

Day Three – Arenal & La Fortuna Costa Rica Itinerary

Short on time? Take a day tour to see La Fortuna Waterfall, Volcanos and the Hanging Bridges. A small guided tour to the top three destinations is a great way to see the area. 

Otherwise you could take your time and drive to each of these destinations, splitting up the activities into two days. I would do Volcano National Park & the Hanging Bridges one day, as they are in the same area, and do the waterfall and the town of La Fortuna town the next day.

La Fortuna Waterfall is 70-meter high with huge volcanic rocks and a large pool at its base. There are 500 stairs to get down, so not ideal for super young kids or people with mobility issues.

Jumping in the water, exploring, and swimming are fun options after all those stairs. There are restaurant facilities, washrooms and an observatory to see the waterfall from the top, if you aren’t keen on so many stairs. 

Tourists in bathing suits swiming at the base of La Fortuna Waterfall. Costa Rica family itinerary.
Tourists swimming at La Fortuna Waterfall, Costa Rica

Get back to nature in Arenal Volcano National Park, where you can find most of the  850 species of birds identified in Costa Rica, plus frogs, snakes, monkeys, sloths and more. Hike around and active volcano (don’t worry it’s not shooting lava) and its lava fields.

  • It’s open daily from 8am – 4pm ish, and does cost to get in ($15 adults, $5 kids).
  • The viewpoint to the volcanic cone and views of Arenal Volcano are 1.5  km from the entrance control house. There are three other relatively flat trails you can take that range from 610 metres to 2.3km long. 

Wander the Hanging Bridges at Mistico Park (6am to 4:30 pm, last entrance 3:50pm, must book in advance).

If travelling on your own, you can take a self guided tour.  Or choose a guided birdwatching, night walk or twilight walk to see the more nocturnal animals like kinkajous, coatis, frogs, snakes and owls.

Day Four – Family’s Choice – Costa Rica Itinerary 10 Days with Family

After a full day yesterday, a little morning down time is in order, especially if you are travelling with youngsters. Take a dip in the hotel pool, explore the resort / hotel area, and eat a yummy breakfast / lunch.

Once rested you have a couple of options for the rest of your day four:

Sloth hanging upside down in tree branch.
Costa Rica is teeming with wildlife

Days 5-6 Monteverde Itinerary

Day 5: Drive to Monteverde

Get an early start to your day and add a little pizazz to your morning trip from Arenal to Monteverde. Choose an informative boat tour across Lake Arenal (30 minutes), then a van ride to Monteverde (~3 hours). 

Spectacular views of Arenal Volcano and the cloud forests of Monteverde await. 

Check in at your hotel (most likely in or near Santa Elena), then wander around, to get your bearings and feel for the area.  

Monteverde Cloud Forest, smiling woman in front of hanging bridge
Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve

Monteverde is the region that encompasses the towns and cloud forests, and isn’t just one place. Flora and fauna thrive in this high elevation, as the forests are constantly in cloud cover resulting in in higher precipitation and moisture.

Santa Elena is where most of the shops, restaurants and accommodations are located. 

Top of the list is of must-dos in is a guided Night Walk in Monteverde. Super cool to see which creatures come out at night. Most hotels can help you organize, if you don’t book in advance. They are usually 2 hours and start around 6pm. 

Where to stay in Monteverde:  

  • Arco Iris Eco Lodge for its bungalows and easy walking distance to all the town’s amenities.
  • Hotel Belmar  is one of the more luxurious accommodations in Monteverde, set in the cloud forest. Its restaurants’ farm-to-table cuisine, gorgeous views, and commitment to sustainability, make it an excellent choice. 

Day 6 Monteverde Itinerary 

Day 6 is the day of cloud forests.  

You have a few options to choose from Curi Cancha, Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve, Santa Elena Cloud Forest or the Bosque Eterno de los Ninos

I visited both the Santa Elena and Monteverde Cloud Forests, and really enjoyed my hikes through both.

Rolling hillside in Monteverde Cloud Forest, with low lying clouds.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve

Hit the park first thing in the morning (7:30/8 am) for more wildlife and a quieter experience. A guide will be able to teach you all about the plants and animals of this unique, diverse ecosystem.

Walking high in the clouds, seeing cool trees and unique birds and wildlife is amazing.

You can walk 5.5 km to the reserve if you are ambitious, or arrange for a taxi to and from Santa Elena. The Cheese Factory along the way is an interesting stop. 

Head back to Santa Elena for lunch. Choco Cafe & Restaurant, Sabor Tico and Taco Taco are popular places to eat. 

Afternoon you have some choices, depending on energy levels, and your kids’ desires. Here are a few places to visit: 

  • One of the other cloud forests you skipped in the morning
  • Selvatura Park Hanging Bridges or Canopy Tour (ziplining) – The only place to zipline in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. There’s 8 bridges offering incredible views of the cloud forests due to the high elevation. 
  • Monteverde Butterfly Garden
  • Jardin de Orquideas Monteverde – Orchid Garden with hundreds of beautiful plants
  • The Bat Jungle
  • Go on a Coffee Tour – Don Juan is the most popular. However the Cafe San Luis coffee tour in the small town in San Luis is a gem, focusing on small groups. 

👉 Check out our Monteverde Travel Guide – Everything you need to know.

Days 7-10 Beach Time at Playa Samara

Today is the day to head to the beach for some relaxation and beach therapy before heading back to real life.

Playa Samara sits on the western side of Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula, and is known for its gorgeous beaches, scenery and lively resorts. Bonus, there’s no chain hotels, fast food restaurants, or large multi-story buildings.

  • The drive from Monteverde to Playa Samara will take at least 3.5 hours, so leave early in the morning, or hire a private shuttle / car. You could stop at Palo Verde National Park along the way just outside the Nicoya Peninsula. 

With 2.5 days here you can just relax and hang out on the beach all day, and take in some yummy food, or choose to be more active. 

Afternoon of day seven, get settled into your rooms, and then  just head to the beach and wander about  town.  The sunset over Playa Samara is phenomenal, so don’t miss it. 

Playa Samara view with Palm trees, sandy beach and rocks in distance
Playa Samara, Costa Rica

Things to know about Playa Samara

Playa Samara is a small town, family friendly beach destination. Easily get around by bike and ATV, car or golf cart as there are many rentals in the area. 

You’ll also find banks, ATMs,  pharmacies, laundromats, small grocery stores, clinics, and tour options.

Resorts are budget friendly due to the area’s pricing policies, and popular activities include canopy tours, fishing, paddle boarding and surfing. 

Where to Stay in Playa Samara: 

Budget & Family Friendly – Hotel Belvedere – Gorgeous family run hotel, surrounded by jungle and only a 6 minute walk to the beach.  Bay views,  a snack bar, plus two outdoor pools & a hot tub. Samara Town Centre is only a 10 minute walk away.

Larger family? Villas Kalimba  is situated a 1 minute walk from the beach, with 6 independent villas surrounded by a garden and pool. Fully equipped kitchens, air conditioning and some with a private pool.  There’s also a 5 bedroom luxury house you can rent on the property.

👉 You may also like Family Beach Vacation Tips For More Fun in the Sun!

Day 8 & 9 of Your Costa Rica Family Itinerary

You’ll have two full days to hang on the beach or do a little exploring of  the area. Some fun family friendly ideas include:

  • Head to the Roots Bakery for some great coffee, and tasty sweet and savoury pastries (empanadas, scones and croissants), or breakfast items. 
  • Horseback riding on the beach or in the mountains. Trips are usually 2-3 hours long. 
  • Surfing of Stand Up Paddle Boarding – take a lesson or head out on the water
  • Fishing
  • Hike to the La Roca Waterfalls. Only a 15 minute walk to 3 waterfalls. 20 minute drive away.
  • Catamaran cruise to do a little snorkelling. 
  • Escape the crowds & take a day trip to the stunning, and clean Playa Carillo. Bright blue calm waters are great for the kidlets to swim in. It gets busy with locals on weekends and holidays.
  • Try some local cuisine at the family run Soda La Perla, only a short walk down the beach from the main beach in Sámara.

Day 10 – Head back to Liberia

Hopefully you’ll have time for a dip in the ocean, and some last beach memories before heading back to Liberia. Most hotels can help your family arrange either a private taxi or shuttle back to Liberia. 

A private shuttle to the Liberia Airport takes about 2.5 hours and will set you back about $130 for 1-6 people.  The drive to San Jose Airport  takes about 4 hours and the private shuttle will cost about $250 to $300  for 1-6 people. 

I hope you and your family have a wonderful Costa Rica Family Holiday. It really is a magical place you’ll never forget.

Costa Rica Itinerary: 10 Days with Family

Related family travel tips and destinations:


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