9 Must Visit Places Ideal For A Family Wildlife Holiday In Costa Rica

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They say variety is the spice of life, right? And with so much of that life spent chained to the office desk, those precious 28 days of annual leave need to be spent embracing the broadest range of destinations and activities possible.

Perhaps nowhere on the planet encapsulates life’s rich tapestry, of adventure, activity, landscape and leisure like Costa Rica, the jewel in Central America’s crown. If you’re intent on making the Rich Coast your next holiday, then we’ve got just the idea for the most varied and exciting itinerary imaginable. This is it; our 9 must visit places in Costa Rica, IDEAL for your next family wildlife holiday.

Jaco Beach

Given its proximity to the capital, San Jose (more on that later), Jaco has recently become a hot-spot for tourist and property buyers alike, with a booming retail market and a hospitality sector that’s simply thriving. With a dreamy beach town vibe and plenty of well-appointed resorts in Jaco Beach itself, as well as waterfalls, national parks and natural attractions just minutes away from the town’s centre, you could focus a whole holiday here quite comfortably.

Indeed, Costa Rica boasts over 300 beaches, divided between its Caribbean and Pacific sides, and Jaco Beach on the Pacific coast is one of very finest stretches of sand in a country full of them. 

Jaco is an exposed beach; in other words, there’s always a wave to catch, making it a great spot surfing. Beginners will find the conditions particularly agreeable, as the breaks are relatively small and soft. As such, there are lots of surfing schools offering lessons here, making Jaco the ideal spot for family wildlife holidays with an adventurous spirit at their core. 

Jaco Beach also boasts a buoyant dining scene. Seafood is the star in the local eateries here, with some of the best places to eat in Jaco including El Barco de los mariscos, Soda Jaco Rustico, Soda Garabito and Pachi’s Pan. We’re hungry just thinking about it.

Tortuguero National Park

For a truly unique wildlife experience, Tortuguero National Park is a must-visit. Accessible only by boat or plane, this remote park is a sanctuary for nesting sea turtles. The name Tortuguero means ‘Land of Turtles’, and it lives up to its name with the beaches here being key nesting sites for four different species of sea turtle. The park also offers a network of scenic canals, teeming with diverse wildlife such as monkeys, sloths, and numerous bird species. Exploring these waterways by boat provides an intimate glimpse into the lives of the creatures that inhabit this lush rainforest.

Corcovado National Park

Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula is often referred to as the crown jewel of Costa Rica’s national parks. It’s one of the most biodiverse places on earth, offering families the chance to see an incredible array of wildlife in their natural habitat. From the elusive jaguar and tapirs to scarlet macaws and squirrel monkeys, the park’s rich ecosystems are a treasure trove for nature enthusiasts. Guided hikes are the best way to explore, with knowledgeable guides who can help spot and educate about the park’s inhabitants.

Read: 10 of the world’s most diverse national parks for wildlife spotting

Samara

Choosing the best beach in Costa Rica is one tall ask; the country is blessed with nearly a thousand miles of coastline and a stunning variety of beaches to boot. So instead, we’ll point you in the direction of Samara, a super groovy village ideal for kicking back, hanging out and enjoying that Costa Rican low and languid way of doing things. It just so happens to boast an incredible beach, too.  

Less touched by tourism than much of the Northern Pacific Coast of the country, Samara has a more ‘authentic’ feel, with the downtown offering hip restaurants and bars whilst still maintaining its Tico soul. The main beach, Playa Samara and the nearby Playa Carillo are as idyllic as they come, with palm trees abundant, calm waters and a coral reef just offshore catering to snorkelling enthusiasts. Take us back.

where to visit in Costa Rica

Arenal

Beach? Check. Now, it’s time to explore the country’s amazing landscapes a little further. 90km northwest of capital city San Jose lies the active Arenal Volcano and its surrounding national park, complete with a jungle, hot springs, a waterfall, lake and all the adventure activities you’d expect from such a diversity of landscape. 

You’ll want to head for the town of La Fortuna first, which acts as the gateway to the National Park. Even though it primarily caters to tourists, the backdrop of Arenal Volcano towering over the town is jaw-dropping, to say the least, and worth the visit alone.

In the National Park itself, you can go on several trails and hikes which pass through lava fields, and those brave enough to get a little closer will, at night, still see lava flowing down the volcano’s sides. Fear not, the park is well patrolled and the volcano monitored by expert wardens; should an eruption be imminent, the National Park will be closed for everyone’s safety. An absolute must-visit on anyone’s Costa Rican itinerary, this one.

where to visit in Costa Rica

Manuel Antonio

We’re heading south now, and to the Central Pacific coast, to another national park with a whole different soul. Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio boasts some of the world’s richest and most varied (there’s that word again) biodiversity, with three stunning beaches, a rainforest and abundant, exotic wildlife, flora and fauna. White faced monkeys and sloths are perhaps the park’s most famous residents, though you’ll also see pacas, anteaters, parrots, crocodiles, iguanas and many more creatures besides. 

Though entry to the park will only set you back around £10, a guided tour of Manuel Antonio is highly recommended if you’re to catch a glimpse of all those animals. Overnight accommodation isn’t available within the park, but nearby town Quepos is just a ten-minute drive. The coast also boasts plenty of resorts.

where to visit in Costa Rica

San Jose

The city of San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital, is one so often overlooked. With a reputation for the hectic, loud and sometimes lawless, trepid travellers tend to be in and out as quickly as possible, fixated on reaching the Central American country’s famed jungles and beaches in record time. But to do so is to miss out on a vibrant, hip city with an undeniable energy, warm, hospitable people and fantastic food. 

While here, make sure you check out the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum, which contains artefacts harking back over 1500 years, including the country’s first ever coin. The National Theatre is also well worth a visit, particularly for its lavish ceiling murals and Beethoven statue.

And it’s in the capital that you’ll find some of the finest food in the country, too. Number one on that list is most certainly La Sorbetera, in the city’s Central Market, which produces some of the world’s best vanilla ice cream, using local vanilla beans. Oh yes. The Barrio Escalante neighbourhood has got you covered on the savoury stuff, housing some superb restaurants doing contemporary takes on traditional Tico cuisine. 

But you’re here for the family wildlife angle, right? While San Jose may seem like an unlikely place to connect with wildlife, but it offers some hidden gems for nature lovers. The Spirogyra Butterfly Garden is an oasis in the heart of the city, providing a peaceful environment to observe butterflies in a beautiful garden setting.

Additionally, the Simon Bolivar Zoo and Botanical Garden offers a chance to see more of Costa Rica’s native species, including rescued wildlife. While the city pulses with culture and history, these pockets of nature offer a tranquil retreat and a chance to appreciate the country’s diverse fauna before venturing into the wilder parts of Costa Rica.

where to visit in Costa Rica

Monteverde

Next up, Monteverde. Again, this one’s a little different; the Cloud Forest Reserve has an ever present, mystical mist (must resist the urge to combine those words) hanging over it, and the cloud forest itself is one of the world’s rarest habitats. Well, we did say this country was pretty astounding, right? 

Ecotourism is the name of the game here, and visitors flock to these 26’000 acres to check out the lush, ever changing landscape. Particularly well trodden are the Selvatura treetop suspension bridges, which take you above the forests and clouds, granting perspective on the majesty of the reserve. From above you’ll enjoy bird watching on a scale almost impossible to describe; this one needs to be seen to be believed. And if that’s not enough, the Monteverde Butterfly Gardens and Orchid House are also essential visits. 

Cahuita National Park

If you’ve still got the energy for one last place, then it’s got to be Cahuita National Park, located on the Caribbean coast and a paradise for those who love both marine and terrestrial wildlife. The park is home to one of the most beautiful and accessible coral reefs in Costa Rica, where snorkelling alongside tropical fish and colourful coral is a magical experience. On land, the park’s trails allow visitors to encounter a variety of animals such as raccoons, coatis, capuchin monkeys, and a plethora of bird species, all within the stunning backdrop of white sandy beaches and coconut palms.

We promised variety, right? It’s safe to say that Costa Rica has it all.

Travel Team
Travel Team
Just like you, we love to get out there and discover the world. To help inspire your next adventure, we create travel guides and share tips so you can dream up your ideal getaway.

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