Costa Rica 7 day itinerary, poas volcano, family travels
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The Best Costa Rica 7 Day Itinerary for Families

Costa Rica is one of our family’s favorite destinations and we’re happy to share a 7 day itinerary, which could easily be turned into a 5 to 10-day itinerary. We have been multiple times, and have lots of tips and tricks to share. With so much to choose from, we’ll boil it down to easy choices.

Costa Rica is, well, pura vida. It is an excellent choice for family travel, and solo/couple travel, due to the experience you get, the ease of travel, and the friendliness of the country to tourists. We went to Costa Rica most recently with our young kids. There is something magical about a landscape ever-changing from mountains, valleys, and beaches, to rainforest and cloud forest. If you have a thing for monkeys or sloths, yes, you’ll get those here! The Ticos (Costa Rican locals) are always pleasant and being in this Blue Zone is sure to give you a new or renewed lease on life.

Using the US dollar is also very straightforward and most times you don’t even do a currency exchange. That’s my favorite type of International trip! Before it gets overwhelming, let’s dig into your options for your family’s ideal Costa Rica 7 day itinerary. Pura Vida! 

Disclaimer: Some of the links in this post, like hotel links, are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you, we make a little bit of money if you click through and end up booking. That said, we would never recommend something we don’t stand behind 100%. 

Where to fly into for a Costa Rica family trip?

First, consider which airport to fly to – either San Jose (SJO) or Liberia (LIR). Either airport has great flight choices to the US and provides you access to a quality itinerary. The biggest difference is that LIR is very close to the beach area and SJO is technically in the middle of a city, but it does have access to some areas of the country that LIR does not.  

Do a price and schedule check of your home airports to SJO and also to LIR. See if one is cheaper or easier based on your ideal 7-day Costa Rica vacation dates. You’ll need this to start picking your itinerary.

  • Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) – This is the largest of the Costa Rica airports and is set in a large city.
    • Location: SJO is located in the province of Alajuela, about 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) from downtown San Jose, Costa Rica. It’s closer to the Central Pacific and the Caribbean regions.
    • Size: SJO is the largest international airport in Costa Rica, handling a high number of travelers.
    • Domestic Connections: Most domestic flights originate from SJO. If you plan to fly elsewhere in Costa Rica, SJO is your best bet.
    • Nonstop flight options: Good service from New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington D.C., Miami, Denver, Atlanta, Houston, Fort Lauderdale, Dallas, Charlotte, Baltimore, Orlando
  • Liberia Guanacaste Airport (LIR) – The smaller of the two Costa Rica airports, set close to the beach.
    • Location: LIR is located in the heart of Costa Rica’s Guanacaste province, making it ideal for travelers heading to the beaches of Guanacaste. The official Web site notes that they have “Baggage to beach in 30 minutes”, which could save you valuable time at the beach.
    • Size: LIR is the smallest international airport in Costa Rica but has seen increased service from airlines, resulting in competitive prices.
    • Beach Access: Flying into LIR allows you to start enjoying your vacation in Guanacaste almost immediately. It’s closer to popular Guanacaste beaches like Tamarindo.
    • Limited Domestic Flights: Domestic connections are not as available compared to SJO.
    • Nonstop flight options: Good service is from New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Washington D.C., Miami, Boston, Denver, Atlanta, Houston, Fort Lauderdale, Dallas, Charlotte

Consider your itinerary, interests, and budget when choosing between SJO and LIR. You can also coordinate a combination of both airports if it suits your travel plans. 

3 simple Costa Rica 7-day itinerary options

We recommend three different 7-day travel Costa Rica itinerary combinations, based on which airport you choose to fly into – either LIR or SJO. You could do a multi-city itinerary with an airline or fly in and out of the same airport. Flying in and out of the same airport is a bit more straightforward, but we like and recommend the combination. Most of the joy in experiencing Costa Rica is getting to experience different ecosystems with a short road trip. Thus, all itineraries below give variation in terms of beach and inland and require a rental car (get four-wheel drive). We fully realize that price/schedule/preferences/etc. may come into play in your decision.

You are more than welcome to split this up and spend time all of your time inland or all of your time at the beach. We encourage you to get creative if you want to.  

Itinerary Option 1: Flying in and out of LIR

  • 3 days in Arenal/La Fortuna 
  • 1 day in Bijagua (skip this day to form a 6-day itinerary)
  • 3 days in Guanacaste  
  • Optional +1-2: Monteverde Cloud Forest

Itinerary Option 2: Flying in and out of SJO

  • 1 day in San Jose 
  • 3 days in Arenal/La Fortuna 
  • 3 days in Manual Antonio National Park 
  • Optional +1-2: La Paz/Poas Volcano, or Monteverde Cloud Forest 

Itinerary Option 3: Flying in SJO and out of LIR

  • 3 days in Arenal/La Fortuna 
  • 1 day in Bijagua  (skip this day to form a 6-day itinerary)
  • 3 days in Guanacaste 
  • Optional +1-2: La Paz/Poas Volcano, or Monteverde Cloud Forest 

Utilize the itineraries above and start having fun with combinations. The in-depth section below gives a more detailed look by day of how you should plan. Enjoy the magic of Costa Rica!

In-Depth Look at Costa Rica Itinerary Options by Day

Using Itinerary Options 1, 2, or 3, review the plans at each stop below for things to do, places to stay, and more on each stop.

3 days in Arenal/La Fortuna

This is a must-do stop if you’re anywhere near the area and it is worth at least a 3-day stay. If you mention that you went to Costa Rica, you’ll often be asked if you went to this area.

Top attractions in Arenal

  • Arenal Volcano – This beauty is best explored on a hike but is visible on your drive in from LIR as you get to Lake Arenal. For the best hiking tips, visit AllTrails for trail-by-trail options.
  • Hot springs – Treat yourself right. Even if you’re not staying at the Tabacan Thermal Resort, buy a day pass and it will be well worth your visit. The grounds, which are well laid out to ensure guests’ space, are remarkable and you won’t forget the experience of hearing the jungle around you in a comfortable spring. Open 10 am-10 pm.
  • Zip lining – Please go zip lining on your visit. If there is one place to do it, it’s here. One option we like is Sky Adventures in Arenal. This 2-hour tour will be unforgettable.
  • La Fortuna Waterfall – We recommend going early for this popular site. There are about 500 steps, and just one main view at the end, so if you’ll tire yourself out for the day you could skip this one. You can swim in the water after you arrive at the waterfall! It is quite spectacular to hear the water crashing down as you swim from the rocks.
  • Hanging BridgesMistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park is our favorite option. You can book a highly-rated guided tour, but if your kids are like ours you may be best just exploring on your own! These are the bridges you want your photos on. Note, that there is an entry fee either way.

Where to stay in Arenal

High End: 

  • Tabacon Thermal Resort & Spa – Many of the King Suite rooms have a sofa bed plenty big for two smaller children to share if you don’t want to split two queen beds.  
  • Arenal Manoa & Hot Springs Resort – We stayed here as a couple on our first trip to Costa Rica and loved it! The buffet breakfast and beautiful grounds are highlights. The location is perfect for getting to all nearby sights easily (another reason to get a rental car). You can find rooms with 2x queens. If you get lucky, you can snag the Chato Suite with a Private Pool.  

Unique, middle budget: 

  • Finca Luna Nuevo Lodge – Breakfast included. The location is an oasis through the jungle, but also near Arenal/Fortuna. You can get two queens, based on the room you select. Love these memorable stays! 

Unique, budget Experience  

  • La Finca Lodge – A “finca” is a working farm, and we highly recommend these types of experiences. There is more than enough room in the Family Room with Terrace! Breakfast included. Reviewers note the top-notch service. 

1 day in Bijagua

Spending time in Bijagua is a day well spent. If you have an extra day, we recommend you stay a night or two here. See our complete Rio Celeste Costa Rica plan for more details.

The highlight to see near Bijagua is the brilliantly blue Rio Celeste Waterfall. It is part of the Tenorio Volcano National Park, which has wonderful hiking and a variety of sights along the trail. Nearby are many additional activities, including rafting and sloth tours.

3 days in Guanacaste (coastal beach area)

There are three main beach areas you should choose from that are easy to get to from Arenal, but that offer a great experience: Playa Tamarindo/Playa Grande, Playa Flamingo, and Playa Conchal.

Costa Rica family 7 day itinerary beach jump kids
  1. Playa Conchal:
    • Unique Feature: Once famous for its shells instead of sand, Conchal now offers crystal-clear turquoise waters and white sand.
    • Activities: Swimming, snorkeling near the rocks, and beachcombing.
    • Access: Hotel guests can use the Westin Conchal/W Conchal entrances, while non-hotel guests can walk from adjacent Playa Brasilito.
    • Tip: Be cautious of strong waves.
  2. Playa Flamingo:
    • Features: White sand, epic sunsets, and a laid-back atmosphere.
    • Activities: Swimming, building sandcastles, and enjoying the chill vibe.
    • Nearby Amenities: Luxury condos, fine dining restaurants, and resorts.
    • Tip: Perfect for families seeking relaxation.
  3. Playa Tamarindo & Playa Grande:
    • Highlights: A popular beach town with beginner-friendly surfing waves.
    • Activities: Surfing lessons, beach lounging, and exploring nearby areas.
    • Accommodations: El Mangroove Hotel and Casa Conde.
    • Tip: Plenty of shady spots for a family beach day.

3 days in Manual Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio National Park is unique in its location being rainforest and beach at the same time. Your family will have much to do with plentiful tours and lodging accommodations available.

We recommend this as the last part of your family’s itinerary as the kids never want to leave the beach and then go to a non-beach location. Also, any sunburns are best kept for the end of the trip!

Playa Manuel Antonio is often considered the best beach in Manuel Antonio National Park. It is renowned for its pristine white sands, crystal-clear turquoise waters, and stunning natural beauty. The beach is framed by lush rainforest, creating a picturesque and tranquil environment. Seeing wildlife right from the beach makes Costa Rica truly unique.

Top tour options at Manual Antonio National Park:

  • Guided nature walk
  • Mangrove tour
  • Cruise and snorkeling
  • Night jungle tour
  • Dolphin or whale-watching
  • Canopy zip line

Hiking is also a must-do at the Manual Antonio National Park features several well-marked trails that offer a chance to explore the park’s diverse ecosystems at your family’s own pace:

  • Sendero Principal (Main Trail): This is the easiest trail in the park, making it perfect for families with children. It takes you through the heart of the park and offers a great chance to spot various wildlife, including monkeys, sloths, and birds.
  • Punta Catedral Trail: This trail offers stunning views of the ocean and the park’s coastline. While slightly more challenging than the Main Trail and Sloth Trail, it is still manageable for families with older children.
  • Sendero Perezoso (Sloth Trail): Another easy and family-friendly trail, the Sloth Trail is fantastic for spotting sloths, monkeys, and other wildlife. It’s a short trail, so it’s great for families with young children who may tire easily.
  • Sendero Mirador (Viewpoint Trail): We recommend this one if your kids are good hikers. This trail is moderately difficult and leads to a viewpoint offering breathtaking panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and surrounding areas. It involves some uphill walking, so it’s better suited for families with older children or those used to hiking.

1 day in San Jose

If your flight arrives late at night, take a quick and easy shuttle to a hotel near the airport to stay the night. We stayed at Hampton Inn San Jose Airport and had a nice and easy stay with a free breakfast in the morning.

Family-friendly things to do near San Jose

If you have an early morning flight, take a quick trip to the Rescate Wildlife Rescue Center, a rescue zoo and the perfect place to start feeling the vibe of Costa Rica before you embark on the drive to Arenal. Large Iguanas are sunbathing all around the property and the cafe inside the zoo is worth a stop. The fresh watermelon juice at their restaurant on the property, Kiva, makes this a must-do stop.

Costa Rica iguana at family itinerary stop at Zoo Rescate

A very unknown stop we found is the Hacienda La Chimba and took the most amazing photographs on a fun trail called Mantra Trail. You can take your photo standing on the extended hand, which is unforgettable. The “Hand of the Mantra” is about 4.5k from the beginning of the trail, so you will end up doing most of the trail before you get to it, sincethe trail flows in a clockwise direction.

Family Costa Rica hike near San Jose at Hacienda Chimba

There is little shade on the Mantra Trail, so beware if it’s a hot day. They have walking sticks for your use, and there is an age minimum of 7 years of age for the hike. We therefore did not do the entire hike with our kids, but it’s very doable if the day isn’t too hot. The grounds also have a restaurant we enjoyed, La Burra, and there are zipline and canopy experiences to partake in. I would wait for the rainforest to zipline (if you’re only going to do it once), but it’s still an amazing opportunity. Hacienda La Chimba feels more like a hidden gem than the well-known stops.

We would be remiss not to mention that San Jose is a stunning city to stay in if you’re looking for museums, restaurants, and culture. Our kids don’t appreciate those things as much as they should, so we did not include very much of the actual city in our family Costa Rica itinerary.

1-2 days in Monteverde Cloud Forest

When driving through or visiting the Monteverde Cloud Forest, we recommend the El Tigre Waterfall hike. You will experience many hanging bridges, a rainforest hike, and a horseback ride back up to where you can catch lunch. It was perfect for our family. There were so many waterfalls (4 large and 8 small) that we almost stopped taking pictures of them since it became so typical! The hike was just challenging enough as well at 5k. The hanging bridges aren’t as large as the parks that are known for hanging bridges, but you still get the experience.

  • Booking: Book in advance, although we did see some people signing up on the spot
  • Parking: Free vehicle parking is available near the reception office. 
  • Restrooms: Restrooms are present at the main office and at the horse stable that is after your 3k hike.
  • Restaurant: There is an onsite restaurant that serves delicious typical meals, coffee, and juice after you finish the hike. The restaurant and balcony have beautiful views of the lush mountains. 
  • 2 tour options: Hike only, or hike 5k and then horse or 4×4 the last 3k to the restaurant that is also at the start. If you have kids with you, definitely horse or 4.4 the last bit of the way.

The location is 30 Minutes from Santa Elena, which is a charming town if you’re staying the night. You will love the feel of the town.

1-2 days at La Paz/Poas Volcano

When you’re coming from or near San Jose or the SJO airport, a stop at La Paz and/or the Poas Volcano is perfect to build in. These attractions are near each other, and we did them both together on a day trip to the area. We recommend starting at the Poas Volcano as you’re more likely to have clearer weather, and you will want a great view. La Paz is a bit of a zoo/restaurant/ waterfall hiking destination. It’s very unique. If you can build in a day or two extra to come nearby, you definitely should.

Poas Volcano – Start your day here, at one of the largest craters in the world. Pack a jacket as it is at altitude so it will be cooler. It is only a 10-minute walk to the crater (the main attraction) on the Main Crater hike. We also did an ~1 hour hike on the Botos Lake Trail for a view of a lake. It was worth the walk.

La Paz Waterfall – Plan to stay a few hours. They are open 8 am-5 pm, but arrive by 3 pm so you are not rushed. We arrived around lunchtime and did their buffet option (they had pizza and fruit for the kids). You do not need a reservation, but the price for entry to La Paz was about $50 a person when we visited. You could save money if you ate prior to coming, as the buffet is an additional charge per person. Note: the buffet is in the middle of the grounds, so you may want to arrive not too starved so you can see some exhibits before you stop to eat.

Tip: Bring some cash to buy fresh strawberries on the side of the street during the drive up to the Poas Volcano. They are delicious and your purchase will support the local farmers.

Easiest Costa Rica itinerary for families

We pride ourselves on easy planning for you, the trip planner, so if jumping between destinations in Costa Rica feels overwhelming, you can easily simplify the trip. With kids, they’ll most love the beach. Head to a beach resort in Guanacaste and settle there for 5-7 days. Easy. Done. Fly into LIR for this plan and rent a car for the short drive or hire a driver.

4-7 days in Samara

If you’re not coming from Arenal on our Costa Rica 7 day itinerary, it’s worth the extra drive from LIR down to Samara and Playa Carrillo.


  • Where to stay: Large family groups of 8-10 would love Villas Kalimba. For families of 3-4 wanting to sleep on the beach in a bungalow, book Locanda Samara Beach.
  • Highlights: Samara, located on the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica, offers a mix of natural beauty, serene beaches, and secluded resorts.

Playa Carillo:

  • Where to stay: Hotel Peace & Lodge has amazing views and a tranquil experience. This is our top pick in the area, and they do have family bungalows.
  • Highlights: Relax on Playa Carrillo (swimming, sunbathing, and sandcastle building) and consider a luxury sailboat excursion for downtime and ocean views.

Why choose Costa Rica to spend a week with your kids

If we haven’t convinced you yet, we really do think Costa Rica is a wonderful destination for a family vacation. While no place is perfect, Costa Rica is generally safe for travelers. Just practice common sense and stay informed. Your entire family will be captivated by the fascinating wildlife and exploration you can do while you’re here. It’s a blend of relaxation and heart-pumping adventure that gives something for everyone!

Private Shuttle vs. Renting a Car in Costa Rica

Renting a car in Costa Rica offers flexibility and allows you to explore at your own pace. You’ll have the freedom to stop whenever the kids need breaks or if you spot something interesting along the way. However, keep in mind that some roads can be curvy and challenging. On the other hand, private shuttles provide convenience and are driven by experienced local drivers who know the routes well. They’re great for relaxing and enjoying the scenery without worrying about navigation. Consider your budget, preferences, and road conditions when making your choice.

All of that said, you probably couldn’t pay me to get on a shuttle with our kids and a bunch of others. Getting through the plane ride is enough. It’s nice to have the privacy for the kids to meltdown or need an unforeseen potty break without a large group involved!

costa rica 7 day family itinerary white faced monkey


What is the best time to visit Costa Rica with kids?

Costa Rica is an ideal tropical location for a family vacation, especially with kids. Let’s explore the best time to visit:

  • Dry Season (December to April):
    • Sunny days and mild temperatures make this period perfect for family travel.
    • Less rainfall means more outdoor adventures, however always pack a raincoat just in case.
    • Peak travel season, so plan ahead for accommodations.
    • Wildlife watching: Spot humpback whales and sea turtles on the Pacific coast.
  • Green Season (May to November):
    • Sunny mornings and afternoon rain showers.
    • Discounted hotel rates, fewer crowds, and active wildlife.
    • Great for morning excursions and rejuvenating afternoons.
    • Consider exploring during this lush, vibrant time.

Would I change anything about our one-week, family Costa Rica trip itinerary?

The one thing I wouldn’t wish for is less time. You would rather spend a day too long than a day too few when in Costa Rica — you could easily turn your Costa Rica 7 day itinerary into 10 or more! Having time to go with the flow, is more Pura Vida than rushing through your itinerary. Pad your days as much as you can for your visit.

We like the local feel, so really enjoy the variability of days across the ecosystems in Costa Rica. If driving around and exploring makes you uncomfortable, you can easily spend most of your days at the beach.

Summary: Costa Rica 7 Day Itinerary with Kids

Costa Rica truly offers a blend of adventure, wildlife, and natural beauty that will create lasting memories for your family. Over a 7 day itinerary, based on where you want to fly into, you can have an easy plan that will give you memories for years to come. Either fly in/out of LIR, in/out of SJO, or in SJO and out of LIR. Check prices then pick a plan above.

Happy, breezy travels!

For more family-friendly traveling, check out our most recent family guides and our car seat travel tips.

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