10 Day Costa Rica Itinerary with Kids
We recently got back from one of the best vacations I’ve ever been on. Like, seriously. This place is beautiful. Like straight out of the most breathtaking scenes of Jurassic Park, beautiful. And this 10 day Costa Rica itinerary with kids will make sure you see some of the best sites this beautiful country has to offer.
Costa Rica is one of those places you could spend weeks touring and still not come close to experiencing it all. There are so many parts that I would have loved to see. But alas, we are not made of money and I have not yet learned how to multiply time.
So in our 10 day visit we were able to squeeze in a little bit of beach, a little bit of rainforest, a zip-lining adventure, some chocolate, some coffee and a whole lot of pinto gallo. It was the perfect mix for our family. I hope you’ll find this itinerary helpful as you plan your own Costa Rican adventure. Read all about how we funded this entire trip with Chase Ultimate Rewards points and Southwest Rapid Rewards!
(For those of you following our travel journey with credit card points I have included point values for each hotel stay and excursion.)
Day 1: Fly into San Jose and check into a nearby hotel.
We took an early afternoon flight that got us into San Jose around 8:00 pm local time. We picked up our rental car at National and drove about 20 minutes to Villa San Ignacio in Alajuela province.
The location is close enough to the airport that even if you arrive late like we did, you don’t have to drive far (which we were grateful for after a long day of travel and for our first experience driving in a foreign country).
We reserved the Superior Suite which had 2 bedrooms and 3 queen beds, plenty of space for our family of 5. The room was set apart from the main building and had its own outdoor sitting area and a campfire site right outside your door (which we took advantage of on night 2. They even provided complimentary roasting sticks and marshmallows!).
The next morning we had a delicious traditional and complimentary breakfast before we set off on our day.
Point redemption: 27,844 for 2 nights
Day 2: La Paz Waterfall Gardens and Starbucks Coffee Farm
The location of our hotel put us within an hour’s drive of several attractions we were hoping to see; La Paz Waterfall Garden, Poas Volcano, and the Starbucks coffee farm. We could have easily seen all 3 but chose to skip Poas Volcano because of the chance of not being able to see through the morning clouds.
Tip: If you do choose to visit, be sure to get your tickets ahead of time. You must reserve a time slot and there are no refunds for visibility issues.
We began our day with La Paz Waterfall Garden. We purchased our tickets ahead of time with Chase Ultimate Rewards points so we went for free. But regularly admission is $44 for adults and $28 for children 3-12.
We did experience some rain, which I was afraid would put a damper on our day, but in the end we hardly even noticed it. Be sure to bring rain jackets, umbrellas, and water friendly shoes. They made all the difference.
Honestly, I was prepared to be underwhelmed by La Paz, knowing that it is a popular tourist destination. But I was so wrong! If you’re visiting Costa Rica with kids, this should really be on your list.
My husband and I were both so impressed with the way they maintain the property and with the top-notch wildlife exhibits. And that was before we even saw a waterfall!
The guides were all very knowledgeable and friendly, often letting us experience what felt like something “a little extra” that maybe not every visitor got to experience. It wasn’t very crowded that morning, so we were able to get an up close look at a sloth and even hold a tarantula! Yikes!
The butterfly house was our absolute favorite. My kids could have spent hours in there watching the butterflies hatch from their cocoons and letting them land on their jackets. It was by far the best butterfly exhibit we’ve ever visited.
After visiting all of the animal exhibits we walked/hiked the waterfall trails. Be prepared for some stairs. It was not overly difficult but we definitely broke a sweat.
When you reach the end of the trail there is a shuttle bus that takes you back to the main entrance, which we were very grateful for.
We chose to eat at the lunch buffet which offers both traditional and American options. The cost is $14 for adults and $8 per child.
Starbucks Coffee Farm
Our next stop was Hacienda Alsacia, the only coffee farm actually owned and operated by Starbucks. While they do offer a tour, which I hear is excellent, we chose to just sit and enjoy the view with coffee and hot chocolates in hand.
If only every Starbucks had this view!
We ended our day with dinner back at our hotel, games in the lobby, and a campfire complete with s’mores. Not a bad day.
Point redemption (Waterfall Tour): 11,800 points
Day 3: Travel to Esterillos Este
After another traditional breakfast we began the 2 hour drive to our beach hotel. Along the way we stopped at the Crocodile Bridge over the River Tarcoles. Here you can walk along the bridge and look down at the dozens of crocodiles hanging out on the banks of the river below. You’ll know you’re there when you see gift shops, a restaurant and several parked cars before the bridge.
You’ll park at the gift shop and walk along the bridge railing. Personally, I could have done without this because the combination of the height, the whizzing traffic, and the rain made me a nervous wreck. But to be fair, that’s not very hard to do.
My kids thought it was awesome and they begged for one of the crocodile necklaces being hawked by the street vendors on the way to our car. I believe they were around $12 a piece or $20 for 2. I was reluctant to buy them but they are my boys’ favorite souvenir.
Tip: There will be people offering to “watch your car” for a dollar after you park. We gave it to the guy just in case, but your car should be perfectly safe if you don’t. Budget about 10-15 minutes for this stop.
In another 45 minutes we arrived at our hotel for the next 6 nights. Encantada Ocean Cottages are nestled along the coast of Esterillos Este, a laid back and quiet beach town on the central pacific coast of Costa Rica. The resort itself has 8 cottages, a restaurant, a yoga pavilion, and a beautiful pool. We thought it was the perfect homebase for the activities we had planned for the next few days.
We tried out the restaurant at the Alma Pacifica resort next door. We found it a bit expensive but we enjoyed our meal and appreciated the view of the ocean.
Tip: The food is excellent at Encantada. Be sure to ask about food and drink specials when you arrive. While we were there we took advantage of BOGO drink specials, taco night, and a special brunch menu.
Point Redemption (Encantada Ocean Cottages): 86,112 points for 6 nights
Day 4: Relax
This day was spent hopping from the pool to the beach. While the oceans on this part of the coast are known for surfing and riptides, we felt confident playing in the water during high tide up until where the waves broke. The rest of the time my boys (husband included) occupied themselves for hours playing in the sand and digging for sand snails.
Tip: There is an excellent restaurant in the Esterillos Town Center called El Chiringuito that you should absolutely check out for dinner. The owner is an Italian chef so the food is high quality and delicious. Dining is outdoors so we felt comfortable being there with our kids and I believe they have live music most nights.
Day 5: Manuel Antonio National Park
About 45 minutes away near the town of Quepos, is Manuel Antonio National Park. The cost for admission is $16 per adult and children 12 and under are free (bring American dollars to pay for admission!).
Nature guides are available for hire at the entrance but we chose not to hire a guide based on advice we read before our visit. Many people find them to be really beneficial so do your research and decide what is best for you.
Knowing the attention span of our kids we thought it would be best to go at our own pace. And even without a guide we still saw monkeys, iguanas, sloths, crabs, and more.
We walked along the main trail to Playa Manuel Antonio. Once we were here the kids didn’t want to leave. I hung out on the sand protecting our lunch from this guy…
You WILL see monkeys on this beach (and possibly raccoons and iguanas too) and they will try to take any food they can get their hands on. We kept our lunch inside a dry bag (similar to this one on Amazon) to try and keep them from smelling the food.
Day 6: Relax
When you’re visiting Costa Rica with kids its important to take breaks. We used day 6 to enjoy the beach and the pool. With all of the activities we planned these rest days were a welcome break.
On this day we rented boogie boards from the hotel for $10 each.
Tip: Take a break mid-day to visit Soda Margaritas in Esterillos Oeste. Sodas are open air restaurants that only serve traditional Costa Rican food. The prices are often far less than a hotel restaurant and you can’t beat the homemade food. If you visit this one be sure to try a selection of fresh juices. My kids LOVED them.
OH! And make sure you bring colones to pay for your meal.
Day 7: La Iguana Chocolate Tour
Looking for a one of a kind experience that includes a drive into the Costa Rican jungle and homemade organic chocolate? The La Iguana Chocolate Tour was more of an adventure than I imagined and an awesome way to spend one of our vacation days.
La Iguana is a family owned farm that offers 2.5 hour tours Monday-Saturday where you will get to make your own chocolate from start to finish. Our private tour included grinding cocoa beans by hand, drinking a traditional hot chocolate drink, tempering the chocolate and pouring it into molds. We took home truffles we made ourselves (included) and even purchased more chocolate bars to take home.
And if you choose, they will provide a homemade traditional Costa Rican lunch for an additional $10 per person (Do this! It was delicious!).
You should schedule your tour at least 2 days in advance by phone or email. Contact information can be found on their website.
Tip: The drive out to the farm is more than a little bumpy, but the scenery is beautiful. I was worried for miles that we were driving to nowhere, but trust Waze! If I had known the farm was so far off the beaten path going into the drive, I would have enjoyed it a lot more!
Oh! And fill up your gas tank before leaving the main road. We may or may not have coasted into town on fumes later that day.
Day 8: Ziplining
Now that we are home I can safely say that we saved our biggest adventure for last. You’ll want to read more about about to expect in this post, but if you’re looking to splurge on one thing during your trip to Costa Rica with kids, it should be this. The cost is $85 per person and includes transportation and lunch.
When anyone asks my boys about our trip this is the thing they talk about most. We chose to go with a company called Canopy Safari out of Quepos (same area as Manuel Antonio) and I would highly recommend them. The guides were professional, friendly, and treated my kids like family.
One of our guides even offered to carry my sleeping 5 year old to the shuttle bus at the end of our tour.
This was a definite win for all of us. Even for me! And I HATE heights!
Tip: Bring cash if you want to purchase the professional photos at the end. All helmets have a GoPro attachment on them but we don’t own one so we would have missed out on capturing any pictures. The cost is based on the size of your party ($20 per adult and $10 per child). We paid $70 for ours and I don’t regret it.
Point Redemption: 28,330 for 2 adults and 3 children (including lunch)
Day 9: Check out of hotel and head to Sarchi
After checking out of Encantada we drove back towards San Jose to a town called Sarchi. Sarchi is known especially for its production of traditional oxcarts, but also for its woodworking factories that produce beautiful handmade items, making it a great place to stop on your last day of vacation.
We found this to be the perfect time to buy all of our last minute souvenirs and gifts for family.
Be sure to lookup Fabrica de Carretas Eloy Alfaro (you should be able to find it easily on Waze). Not only can you find plenty of well priced souvenirs, but it is a chance to see an oxcart factory run by a working waterwheel.
Tip: Don’t wait until you get to the airport to buy your souvenirs. We saw many of the same items for sale for almost double at the San Jose Airport.
Point Redemption: 6,695 points for 1 night at the Country Inn & Suites by Raddisson, San Jose Aeropuerto. We booked the 2 Bedroom 2 Bathroom suite with 1 King Bed and 2 Double Beds. Our room was 2 floors and provided us with plenty of space, even though we were only there for about 8 hours!
They have an airport shuttle if you need it, and provided us with a to-go breakfast for our 4 am departure.
Day 10: Head home
And that’s a wrap! I won’t bore you with the remainder of our 14 hour travel day, but I will leave you with this picture of my boys and a giant sloth at the airport.
If you want to read more about how we paid for our trip to Costa Rica with kids almost entirely with points and miles, you need to read THIS POST. I still can’t believe we pulled it off.
And YOU can too! Seriously, I’m not that special. Check it out for yourself, you won’t be sorry.
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