5 Tips for Planning a Family Vacation to Costa Rica

 April 23rd, 2015 |    bobby@bobbywork

If you are planning a family vacation to Costa Rica, you’ve come to the right place.

Most parents are short on time and wish they could just snap their fingers and have the perfect plan in place. I’ve got the next best thing – the experience and wisdom of living and traveling with my wife and kids throughout Costa Rica for the last 15 years.

First, congratulations on choosing Costa Rica for your upcoming family vacation – you will have a great time, especially if you take my advice. Over the years I’ve made and seen so many mistakes that other families make, that cost them time, money and enjoyment. I want to help you avoid these mistakes.

Slow Down to Enjoy Your Costa Rica Family Vacation

Slow Down, Don’t Try to Do Too Much – Try not to spend your vacation in the car or on the bus. When you look at Costa Rica on a map it looks small, like you could comfortably drive from the Pacific Coast to the Atlantic Coast in a day. This is not the case. Road conditions and traffic in Costa Rica are very unpredictable. The terrain is mountainous with lots of winding roads. Making matters more difficult, there are virtually no visible street signs or numbers, and except for on the freeways, you may not see any road signs on your whole trip!

Don’t Pack Too Much – If you’re like most of us, you’ll pack your suitcase with the best of intentions, and then not use half of what you bring with you – there are better ways to get exercise than lugging around 50lbs of junk that you’re not going to use. Focus on the kids first, make sure you pack everything they need: (2) bathing suits, tennis shoes, sandals, medicines, vitamins, a small toy or two, the Gameboy, (1) pair of jeans, t-shirts and tank tops, a light jacket, and that’s about it.

For the grown-ups, it’s about the same. Unless you know you’re going to a wedding or other formal affair, leave your nice clothes at home. Leave nonessential valuables like jewelry, watches, shoes and clothing at home, you likely won’t be using them, they may get ruined at the beach, in the rain or crushed in your luggage during travel. Perhaps most important, you’re on vacation to relax, not worry about material possessions when you should be enjoying the beauty that is all around you in Costa Rica.

banking considerations during your Costa Rica family vacation

Money & Banking – Let your bank know the dates you’ll be in Costa Rica so that you don’t have problems using your ATM and/or credit cards. As for money in Costa Rica, they use the Costa Rican Colone. As a rough idea, 1,000 Colones = $2 Dollars.

When in touristy places, you’ll usually be able to spend your U.S. dollars without issue. However, it’s a good idea to have Colones on you, plus it’s fun, especially for the kids, to use a different kind of money. Your debit card will likely work at most ATMs and most have an option for English.

(insert banking.jpg here with caption “Despacio means “slow” or “slow down” in Spanish… A vacation in Costa Rica gives families plenty of reasons to slow down)

Renting A Car – We recommend NOT renting a car. Letting someone else do the driving, leaves you with more time to spend enjoying the sites with your family. Plus, you can use the money you’ll save on actually doing things.

There are tons of shuttle services like Grayline, Interbus and beyond, plus Costa Rica’s public transportation is very inexpensive and efficient. The red taxis are also a good inexpensive option. If you must rent a car, be forewarned, the deposits on rental cars in Costa Rica are high – usually $1,000 to $1,500. It is STRONGLY recommended that you get the GPS rental, as again, there are no street numbers and street signs.

What To Do With Your Family – Costa Rica truly has something for everyone, which is why it’s great for families. Most of what draws people to this tiny Central American country is nature. Obviously, a lot has to do with your family’s own personality, but here’s a list of some of the more obvious things we’ve done as a family: whitewater rafting, zip lining, parasailing, jungle tours, boat tours, sport fishing, bird watching, coffee plantation tours, mangrove tours, surfing, boogie boarding, surfing lessons, Spanish classes, ATV tours, water-skiing, jet-skiing, mountain biking, river tours, canyoning, and more.

Toucan in Manuel Antonio

Little Frog in Manuel Antonio

Costa Rica Familiy Vacation in Nature

Bobby Workman

Sunset in Manuel Antonio

Some of the less obvious and perhaps more fun: Checkout what’s happening in Costa Rica when you’ll be there and try to attend local events and cultural happenings. For example, Costa Rican culture has something called the “Tope” which is basically a rodeo, if you get invited or otherwise find out about one, go! You can thank me by sending pictures 😉

Another great thing to do – nothing! – simply hanging out together, eating and talking. Chances are, where you’re staying, you are surrounded by all kinds of wildlife including monkeys, iguanas, sloths, tropical birds, butterflies, and more. It’s much easier to notice these things if you are not running around.