Momlife / April 12, 2024

Why a Costa Rica Family Vacation is Pure Magic!*contains affiliate links

I was married in the Tamarindo area of Costa Rica, and I knew one day we would be back for a Costa Rica family vacation. We had a destination wedding with 75 guests that were able to attend and most would tell you it was the best wedding they ever attended. I can assure you it wasn’t because we are the most fun couple in the world or because we had the most expensive, extravagant wedding anyone had ever been to. It was because Costa Rica is one of the most magical places in the world.

Monkeys, toucans, macaws, cows in the road, dirt roads, sloths, weird insects, different star constellations, pigs feet, fried bananas and some of the most friendly hospitable people you can ever want to meet. This is why my husband and I wanted to take our 2 girls back for a Costa Rica family vacation and show them this safe and incredible untouched country.

monkeys on our costa rica family vacation

Manuel Antonio is known for the national park and hosts the most robust wildlife in the country.  Although my family really loves the beach, I explained to them that we can go to the beach anywhere in the world, or on our yearly family vacay to Florida. BUT when can we see monkey’s? It was agreed we would stay at La Mariposa, a boutique hotel located right inside the Manuel Antonio park and a 10 min walk or 3 min shuttle ride down to the beach. Our Costa Rica family vacation began the moment we touched down!


Once you land in San Jose, most hotels will send a shuttle or you can pay extra for a private car to take you to the Manuel Antonio area.  It takes about 3.5 hours to get down to the park and you can stop at an alligator bridge to see some of the biggest alligators I have even seen in my life. There was a very small gap on the bridge and cars are whizzing by on this bridge so if you have children under 5 years of age I would skip this. My daughter was 6 at the time, and I held her shirt the entire time we viewed the alligators below. I was very nervous the whole time, but it was ok and I was glad we did it. Once we were exiting the bridge the cars barely stopped for pedestrians so watch your kids close here.

Insider tip: the local fruit smoothies are a must! Get them everywhere you go on your Costa Rica family vacation!

alligator bridge on our costa rica family vacation


La Mariposa (means butterfly) might not be a 5-star hotel but with its 5-star reviews that was good enough for my family. We arrived late at the resort and the next morning went down to a breakfast buffet that overlooked the turquoise waters of the blue sea. It’s the exact view I imaged I would have on our Costa Rica family vacation.

While waiting for the fresh made omelets a troop of squirrel monkeys decided to visit and ransack the hotel bar fruit that was left for them. The staff leaves them food in hopes they don’t mess with the drinks and condiments left in the bar. After all that I am pretty sure that “trouble” is every monkey’s middle name.

These monkeys were the cutest things I have ever seen! There were tiny babies that took rides on the moms back while they jumped from tree to tree around the resort. The resort is clean and the rooms are spacious with incredible views of the park, wildlife and the ocean. Staff is very friendly and accommodating. Once you arrive on Costa Rica family vacation all your troubles just fade away. Pura Vida!


If you are wildlife lovers, then a Costa Rica family vacation is definitely for you family! Once we were stationed by the pool, large iguanas that lived in the pool filters would come out and look for food amongst the people’s plates and drinks left on the ground. When you looked up, Scarlet Macaws would fly by and land right in the trees above us and sing us a tune. One day a toucan came by, and we watched him in the tree for half an hour while sitting in the pool with a cocktail. La Mariposa was alive with all sorts of wildlife. Just walking to your room, the pool or to dinner on your Costa Rica family vacation you never knew what type of wildlife was waiting for you on the other side of a wall or door. 

swimming on our costa rica family vacation

Every morning at sunrise we could hear the howler monkey’s screaming across the valley.  We never saw them, but we could hear them. 

White Faced Capuchin monkeys came to our resort a few of the days. They were super mean. Once they were in the area, the squirrel monkeys would run away terrified. No one dared to feed the capuchin monkeys. One person basically had to fight the monkey off to get into their room. They would show us their teeth, and honestly, it was all part of the incredible experience. That said, just never forget these are wild and dangerous animals.


To keep things simple, I booked all the excursions through the hotel for our Costa Rica family vacation. Here’s what we did and what we highly recommend:

Surfing at the local beach my kids loved this part of our Costa Rica family vacation. We got a surf instructor for each kid, and they had a blast. They got up on a ton of waves, and the instructors were super chill and patient with them. My oldest got stung by a jellyfish. Right away, her guys rushed her up to a chair and put some salve on it. She was back in the water 5 mins later. At the end of the lesson, we had butter cookies and fresh pineapple. No joke, it was the best snack I have ever had!

Ziplining through the jungle I booked this through the resort, and the company they use is very reasonable. The guides are so kind and fun. My 6 year old could do most of it on her own, but she was not heavy enough for a few of the lines. So either her dad took her or she went with a guide.  It was totally safe, and so fun for the whole family. Such a great experience to add in as part of our Costa Rica family vacation! Make sure to take dry clothes to change for the ride home. Also, go hungry because they fed us lunch before we started. 


Beach Cabanas We took the shuttle down one day, and walked to the beach the other day. You can rent lounge chairs and an umbrella for a small amount and shop with the local vendors for trinkets or buy from a beach vendor. We ordered food right to our lounge chairs or you can walk up to the local restaurants for lunch and ice cream to cool off. Beach cabana days are a must during your Costa Rica family vacation!

Private guided tour through Manuel Antonio park (3 min shuttle ride to entrance). To be honest, this was our least favorite excursion we did. The guide was nice, but didn’t speak much English and sort of stuck to the script of what he wanted to say and didn’t really answer any questions. We basically saw a troop of capuchin monkeys, which we had already seen at the hotel, and a sloth through a telescope lens only. Honestly IF you are staying at La Mariposa the wildlife is way better at the resort then the park so just skip the tour guide and go on your own and spend your Costa Rica family vacation at the beach swimming with the sea turtles. 


One of the reasons I loved Manuel Antonio was because we could walk right out of the hotel and into the town full of restaurants. Because the sidewalks are fairly cracked, you mostly walk on this road. We found that even this is part of the Costa Rica family vacation experience.

Le Papillion is located in La Mariposa overlooking the ocean in the open air restaurant. The food is solid but a little on the pricier side for what it is. The view is incredible so make a reservation to watch sunset if you dine here during your Costa Rica family vacation.

Emilios Cafe was our favorite restaurant in this area. Everything we ate there was delicious, and they have a huge display of cakes and pies. The Oreo cheesecake was my favorite and the fried chicken was incredible here. Some nights they have live bands which was so fun and entertaining. It is best to make a reservation so you can get a table with fan and breeze. It can get super hot and stuffy in certain areas of the restaurant.

Samui Thai was delicious thai food. Since we had the kids, we couldn’t go too wild with spicy food here. However, the pad thai and Lychee martinis here are perfection. So overall this place is worth a try during your Costa Rica family vacation.

Agua Azula you must make a reservation here. Even with the reservation, we waited a while to be seated. This place is super small and crowded. It was our least favorite meal. The food is basic for what you can get on a Costa Rica family vacation. Like a lot of fish or fried things. Just isn’t our speed when it comes to food, but other rave about it!

Karolas restaurant is located in a beautiful hotel next to La Mariposa. It is more expensive to eat here, but in my opinion worth it. Open air dining and the menu selection is fresh and the cocktails were blended to perfection. If you like more upscale dining, this is your place!

evening time on our costa rica family vacation


The overall vibe for your Costa Rica family vacation is very casual. People would just wear t-shirts and shorts to dinner at the restaurants in town, especially in Manual Antonio. People were more dressed up at our hotel and Karola’s in beachy dresses and guys were in button down shirts and linen pants.

You can still get dressed up in this area, but flat shoes only; no heels. The streets have holes, cracks, no sidewalks and are super uneven and have no lighting so you could really hurt your ankle in heels. You will feel so safe on your Costa Rica family vacation and the locals love the tourist. So wearing your wedding ring or a nice bag should be totally safe and fine. For excursion clothes, take ones that air dry quickly or have wicking properties. You get most things wet, and there are some places to change after the excursions, but you are wet during the excursion so no cotton.

Read about more travel adventures here: Punta Mita Travel Guide for First Time Visitors, Should You Take Your Family on a Summer RV Trip, January in Carmel California is the Best Time to Visit, and Amazon Travel Must Haves for Smooth Travel.