The kids are out of school (on yet another school break), it’s cold where you live, maybe you’ve already been to Mexico and/or Hawaii and are looking for a place that’s warm, new (to you), exotic, beautiful, easy for North Americans (or English speakers) and fairly easy to get to. The problem? You’ve only got a week. Where do you go? COSTA RICA!

Can you really do Costa Rica (or at least part of it) in a week? Yes! Perhaps it won’t be immersive travel, but it’s definitely enough time to visit this gorgeous country and knock a few of the typical tourist highlights off your list so that you can come back another time and do a deeper dive. And it’s an awesome place to go with kids!

Quick facts about Costa Rica:

  • Language: The government provides free education to all Costa Rican citizens from preschool through college, so most Costa Ricans speak wonderful English. There are also tons of English-speaking ex-pats who’ve moved here. Great if you’re a tad hesitant to travel to Central America because your Spanish skills are a little lackluster. If you’re like me, and wanted to practice Spanish more, the locals will kindly oblige you in Spanish conversation as well.
  • Environmentalism: Costa Rica is a world leader in environmental efforts as well. The country plans to be carbon neutral by 2021 and was named the greenest country in the world (2009). It did Central America a solid by abolishing its military in the 1940s and began providing energy (solar, wind) to its neighbors (Nicaragua and Panama) to keep up peaceful relations (what a concept!!). As such, you won’t see a lot of garbage or waste in Costa Rica and there are recycling/waste sorting bins everywhere (garbage/aluminum/plastic/compostables).
  • Food: Traditional Costa Rican dishes are typically Gallo Pinto or Casado (iterations of rice + beans with a protein). Admittedly a little uninspired, the abundance of tropical produce and fresh vegetables combined with the inventive + resourceful restauranteurs means you’ll never be lacking in awesome food choices.

An 8-day itinerary for Costa Rica

Day 1: Fly into Liberia (LIR) airport
There are plenty of American carriers that have direct flights from Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Atlanta and Dallas. We flew Alaska from LAX-LIR arriving in Costa Rica at 4pm, picked up our rental car and hit the highway for the 1.5 hour drive to the Rio Celeste area.

Lodging recommendations: Rio Celeste Hideaway Hotel or La Carolina Lodge. Click here for our first impressions of this lovely jungle hideaway!

If you’re looking for lodging in a lush, jungle locale, both of these hotels fit the bill. We chose the Rio Celeste Hideaway because we would be traveling all day with 2 in tow, would be arriving after dark and wanted to land in comfortable beds with electricity, wifi and easy/close access to the Rio Celeste falls + hike. Rio Celeste Hideaway includes breakfast and we opted for a suite with jungle views (and I mean, really in the jungle with Capuchin monkey visiting our patio and toucans galore!) Plus, Rio Celeste Hideaway Hotel has their own short (>1km) hike/walk to the river and with our littles, that was definitely a bonus. La Carolina Lodge came highly recommended (by locals and bloggers) and I would definitely consider it for our next trip! Book here if you want something off-the-grid {read: no wifi} — this property includes rustic cabins in the jungle with paths between lit by candlelight and thermally-heated spas right along the river!

Day 2: Breakfast at Rio Celeste Hideaway Hotel, lounge + play at the pool (with swim-up bar) and then indulge in a leisurely, easy hike to the gorgeous Rio Celeste.

With a less than 1 kilometer walk/hike to the river’s edge, this is totally do-able for the young and young-at-heart. Here’s a peek at the easy hike to the Rio Celeste. The hotel has cleared a nice walking path (i.e., you don’t need to rent wellies for deep mud like you do on the national park version of this hike) that’s free for hotel guests and gives you a similar bang for your buck. (a compromise traveling parents often have to make!) Since the Rio Celeste area is up a tricky road (unpaved for part of the time and pretty darn bumpy for about 5 kms), you probably won’t want to travel too far away until you’re heading out of the area. So, enjoy a lovely dinner at the hotel, use the hotel’s completely-outfitted game room for an evening with the family (+ wine for the adults). And if you get a chance, the hot tubs (all 3!) are open till 10pm.

Tip: If you want to venture off property for a more local, simple and cheaper meal, drive down the road to Soda y Rancho Dona Irma’s. This family-run, rustic restaurant will cook up meat + fish with standard Costa Rican sides for a song, and the food is fresh and delish. (Take Highway 6 towards the Highway 1 about 5 kms, just turn right out of the Rio Celeste Hideaway property to stay on paved roads)

Day 3: Tabacon Hot Springs + travel to hotel near Arenal Volcano

I cannot recommend the Tabacon Hot Springs enough! DO IT. You won’t regret it. Click here for a peek at what you can expect — lush jungles, thermally-heated, natural hot springs and water falls, a Shangri-La experience for all ages with a (bonus!) water slide for the kids (and crazy adults like yours truly). Outside drinks + food are not permitted, but on-property prices aren’t too bad ($8-10 USD for drinks). We opted for the day use package that included dinner, which I also highly recommend. Both for the food choices (awesome produce, good meat selection if you’re an omnivore) and because you’ll be hungry, tired and relaxed after a day of lounging + playing in the thermal pools.

After a relaxing + fun day at the hot springs, we hopped in the car for a short drive through La Fortuna to our hotel.  La Fortuna is also home to plenty of hotels and restaurants and is your last chance to pick up any necessities/touristy items you may have lost/forgotten along the way — sunnies, sunscreen, towels, souvenirs and gifts before heading out to Lost Iguana.

Lodging Recommendation: The Lost Iguana Resort. About 20 minutes from La Fortuna, this lovely hotel is another jungle oasis! The property is built in the hills overlooking Arenal Volcano and the views are stunning! Lost Iguana has good wifi, includes breakfast, has a lovely pool + bar area and a great hike around the entire property. They also have a spa on-site if you’ve got time.

Tip: Lost Iguana is only 750 meters away from the entrance to the Mistical Hanging Bridges. Save yourself some money at Sky Adventures (below) and do the hanging bridges tour here the next day. Be sure to book a guided nature tour for early as the bridges can only accommodate 15 people at a time and they can get pretty busy when the big tour buses start rolling in around 9-10 am.

Day 4: Ziplining with Sky Adventures in Arenal

You came for adventure, right? This is it! Sky Adventures does an amazing job providing something for everyone: Sky Tram for non-zippers, a hanging bridges walk, guided nature trail tour. They also think of everything (forgot to bring your GoPro? No problem! You can rent one. Want some awesome pics of your entire tribe zipping? They’ve got professional photogs and the pics are worth the money–you’ll come home with at least 40-100 pics on a USB stick). Want a sneak peek at what you can expect? Click here to see our ziplining adventure!

Day 5: Mistical Hanging Bridges walk (or simply hike the jungle trail around Lost Iguana) + travel to Tamarindo by way of Nuevo Arenal

We originally planned to partake in a guided nature walk in the renowned Mistical Hanging Bridges park, which is a stone’s throw from the Lost Iguana. But weather and bad kid temperaments that day meant a last-minute change in plans. So we did the easy, 1-hour hike along the path cleared by the Lost Iguana Resort which was surprisingly informative and fun! The trail takes you along a gorgeous path near the river, with amazing flora and informative signage along the way that helps you identify what you’re looking at. We were on the hunt to spot a sloth, but sadly never found one.

Tip: If you encounter a recent tropical rain before your hike, wear closed-toe shoes! It can get a bit muddy if you go off-trail at all, and the trail goes up before it winds back down to the hotel property–which can mean you’ll be slippin’ and slidin’ if you wear flip flops (like me).

Tamarindo is a 3.5 hour drive from Lost Iguana (and the Lake Arenal area generally) so it’s a good idea to head out a little before lunch and stop for lunch in Nuevo Arenal en route. Nuevo Arenal is a very cool, laid-back community (full of ex-pats it seems!) very nearLake Arenal (as one would guess). Stop for lunch at Casa Paniagua restaurant. It’s owned by Jill (a fellow Northern Californian!) and her native hubby Johnny, the food is fresh, inventive, uber-local and delish! Her wine selection is top-notch, which is a nice surprise when you’re way out here. Of course, Jill speaks English and there’s a really cute natural foods store (La Farmacia Organica) across the street if you have time to peruse and/or are needing some essential oils, locally-sourced goodies, whatnot.

Tip: If you’re staying in a condo/apartment/AirBnB in Tamarindo or the surrounding areas, you can easily stop for groceries at the Walmart in Liberia on your way.  After stretching your legs and filling up your cart, you’ll only be another 30 minutes to town.

Day 6: Beach play at Playa Tamarindo + Playa Langosta

After adventures inland, we were ready for beach + chill time in Tamarindo. We found a great apartment/villa in Tamarindo away from the main strip but also easy walking distance (800m) to town and the beaches. Win!

Playa Tamarindo + Playa Langosta:  I won’t re-hash the beach scene in Tamarindo + the surrounding Guanacaste region, there are a plethora of other bloggers (here, here and here) who can provide insight on that. I will, however, mention that while Playa Tamarindo is great for families — big, long, wide with plenty of little nooks for safe swimming, body surfing and surfing — we’d highly recommend checking whether your travel dates coincide with the “windy season” here. Because we didn’t do that, we ended up having our beach day feel a bit like sitting in a mini sandstorm. Had I done a quick Google search, and found that kite surfers loove coming to Guanacaste in Jan/Feb/March, I would’ve known *something* was up. 🙂 Nonetheless, we gave it a go, but after about an hour, we gave up and headed into town for cervezas and snacks.

Dining Recommendation: If I have one recommendation for food in Tamarindo, it’d be Green Papaya, Tamarindo’s famous taco bar (they have way more than just tacos!) Even after indulging in hand-tossed, brick-fired pizza at La Esquina and La Baula, we still found ourselves craving the uber-fresh, filling, healthy and tasty choices at Green Papaya. Good for omnivores, vegetarians + vegans with swings for seats on the outdoor patio and a super chill vibe, what’s not to like?!

Day 7: Pool play, shop in Tamarindo

After getting blown off the beach the day before, the kids decided that we’d be better off having a pool day at our villa. We agreed. It allowed us to have a lazy morning, breakfast at home and then hang with the shorties at the pool. We meandered into town to pick up some gifts for folks back home and then went back out again for our last night out–this time choosing La Baula Pizzeria. Highly recommend for those traveling with kids! In addition to delicious wood-oven fired pizzas, great drinks and a cozy location with lush jungle surrounds, they have an outdoor play structure and hammock-like swings for the kids with tables nearby so you can wine + dine and let the kids go wild. It’s lovely!

Day 8: Travel home

I couldn’t leave Costa Rica without sampling + gifting its most famous export — coffee! I had read about Tamarindo Coffee Roasters, but unfortunately when we left town they were closed. I did, however go to Shaka Food next door and had the best coffee of my trip!  Whether you’re coming into or out of Tamarindo, I’d recommend stopping by for their take on arepas (a traditional Latin American goodie often served with coffee). The food, service and ambiance is lovely! You won’t be disappointed.

If you like it or love it, drop us a line! We love hearing your feedback. Better yet, join us on our next adventure on Facebook or Instagram!

#sharingiscaring #likeifyoulove #weloveyourfeedback