Itinerary: 14 Days in Costa Rica

We just got back from 2 weeks in Costa Rica! It was relaxing, thrilling, invigorating, stunning and FULL of adventure! I’ve had lots of inquiries based on some of my instagram posts on where we stayed and how we planned… so, here it is! Our 14-day itinerary and tips for Costa Rica with kids. 

We travel extensively with our 6 & 7 year old boys. Our travel style is slightly unique as we tend to stay off-grid, off the beaten path, inexpensive, non-touristy… you get the idea. So, if you are looking for all-inclusive resorts- please stop reading here! 

The details:

-14 Days

-First trip to Costa Rica

-We speak very little Spanish

-Kids, Ages 6 & 7

-Fly in Liberia, Fly out San Jose

-4×4 Car Rental booked via Vamos Rental

-6 AirBNB stays (originally planned for 5, but I’ll get to why we added the 6th below)

-2 Guided Tours 

-20 Hours of Driving

-Carry-ons Only *no checked luggage

-60+ Animal Species encountered

A few extra tidbits:

We mostly fly with Southwest Airlines. We find that smaller airports fit our family travel style with small kids. We live near Dallas, TX and feel choosing an airline makes a huge difference in your travel experience with kids. A smaller airport is easier to navigate and the accommodations Southwest offers for families can’t be beat. 

Traveling cheap is exciting for us. After all was said and done, for the 4 of us, this trip was around 8k. That includes all of our food, groceries, anything we spent money on while we were there. AirBNBS, rental car, tours…. All of it. We find that staying in expensive places creates certain expectations and allows more room for disappointment. Traveling cheap – if we hate the place, we can find a new one because we aren’t out a ton! It turned out we loved all of our spots.

We also pack LIGHT. Like, super light. We did 2 weeks with carry-on luggage only. This helps with switching places often as there isn’t a bunch of stuff to unpack/repack as you move around. We had more than we needed on this trip. We did laundry where we could (although getting things to dry was interesting…haha!). If you can, I recommend packing as light as you can. 

So, how did it go?!…. find out below!

Fly in Liberia

We flew DAL to HOU and then to LIR. Liberia airport was small and very easy to navigate. Our rental car company had a driver waiting for us to take us to pick up our car. Super easy. Took about 30 minutes to iron out rental car stuff, our kids played with their cat on site, and we were off! 

Days 1-3  Playa Hermosa

We absolutely LOVED our AirBNB in Playa. Oh my gosh, the groundskeepers were absolutely wonderful. Jose and Ana. They did not speak any English, and we don’t speak very good Spanish. Communicating with them was the sweetest! Their spot is right on the beach. There is a gate/fence around the property so we always felt super safe. 

Our kids are early risers, like, they were up at 5am every single day we were in Costa Rica. Again, this fits our travel style completely because we can get to hot spots before anyone else! We were on the beach exploring with coffee in hand at 5:30am with NOBODY else out there. We spent 2 full days enjoying this spot. I highly recommend Soda Hermosa (Soda = small restaurant/cafe in Costa Rica) for a quick bite, cup of coffee, or smoothie. They had toys for the kids, too!

Playa Hermosa AirBNB

Soda Hermosa

Having a blast at Playa Hermosa

Days 3-6 La Fortuna 

We left Playa early in the morning for our first guided tour – the La Leona waterfall hike. If there is anything you do in Guanacaste… do this. I highly, highly recommend this hike. We booked it through AirBNB experiences. Our 6 & 7 year olds did it no problem. 

La Leona AirBNB Experience Link

In La Fortuna we did the Mirador El Silencia trail around the base of Arenal (cheaper than the national park and absolutely stunning). We did not get a guide for this hike as we wanted to see what our kids could spot on their own. We saw an eyelash viper, poison dart frog, and tons of cool bugs & spiders. The views of Arenal on this hike were stunning. It also had a lava flow scramble.

Mirador El Silencia

In La Fortuna, we also did the free hot springs river. There were quite a few people in the river, but with it being free it was awesome. 

Free Hot Springs River

La Fortuna was beautiful, but not our most favorite spot. This area is full of all-inclusive hotels, lavish hot spring resorts, and tourist traps galore. We chose this area to experience the volcano, and super glad we did but, the most exciting part of our trip was just around the corner! 

La Fortuna AirBNB Link

Hiking the base of Arenal Volcano

Days 6-8 Quepos

This was our first really long drive. We broke it up and stopped at the Tarcoles bridge to see the crocodiles on the way to Quepos. Tarcoles happened to be one of our favorite stops. Many reviews say the road is dangerous and the area isn’t safe… we never felt this way, even with kids. We saw several huge crocodiles… our kids were in heaven! There is an ice cream shop there called POPS – it was delicious! Stop here for crocodiles and ice cream. 

Tarcoles Bridge

POPS Ice Cream

To get to our house in Quepos we met one of the keepers at the local grocery store (where we loaded up on water/food for a few days). He led us to the house via dirt/rocky road in the pouring rain – ON HIS MOTO. Honestly, we were completely impressed with his driving skills to even notice the drive. It was pouring. We drove up rocky/unpaved hills, through rivers, past waterfalls, alongside the river… it was our first thrilling drive of the trip! Seeing him drive through rivers on his moto though… we just couldn’t believe it! Incredible to say the least. The drive was totally worth it. 

We stayed in a secluded river yurt with access to hot springs, a waterfall, and the river. No electricity, cell service, or wifi, it had a gas refrigerator. It was in the middle of the rainforest. We couldn’t believe our eyes when we got there. We planned to night hike at this spot for poison dart frogs. A main theme of our trip was animals. We moved around Costa Rica so much to see ALL of the animals. We saw dozens of poison dart frogs here. Several species. 

The next morning we spent 4 hours in the hot springs. We had the whole place to ourselves. In the middle of the rainforest. We just still couldn’t believe how secluded we were. We spent a lot of time watching a huge basilisk on the river. One of our kids bucket list animals. And this guy was HUGE. He ruled the roost! We hiked to the waterfall, our kids swam in a pool they have on site, we walked along the river while our kids chased lizards… magical is really the only way to describe it. 

One tip at this spot – we had the keepers make us breakfast and dinner. It gave us the full day to explore without cooking and cleaning up. It. Was. AMAZING. Our kids voted this their favorite spot and their favorite food of the whole trip. 

We also brought headlamps and blacklight flashlights to do our own night walks. We saw spiders, scorpions, bats and TONS of frogs. We night walked both nights here. It was preparation for our next off-grid spot… we were headed to the OSA Peninsula.

Quepos AirBNB 

Obsessed with the pool at our house in Quepos

Days 8-10 Golfo Dulce, Rincon

On the way to Rincon from Quepos we stopped at Biesanz Beach. Again, early risers… we made it there by 8am! We paid a lady $2k colones to watch our car while we were there. We skipped Manuel Antonio and honestly, was probably the best decision. This beach was an absolute gem! We saw 2 sloths, tons of huge crabs, and capuchin monkeys while we were there. Our kids played with fish in the low tide while we watched a sloth climb around a tree above them. It really was incredible! Being there so early it was pretty empty. Chairs had not been set up yet. By 10:30 it was filling up fast so we decided it was time to move to our next spot.

Biesanz Beach Link

Our AirBNB in Rincon was only accessible by boat and on 65 acres of secluded jungle. I think its important to know what you’re getting into booking this spot… full, total seclusion. No restaurants. No real walls on the house. No refrigerator – cooler only. Limited electricity. It did have wifi for emergencies. We chose it for animal sightings and it did not disappoint. In any way. In fact, we created some of the most wonderful family memories we will ever have right here. 

We had a banana bait hanging form the house where coatis would come up daily to eat. We saw agoutis running by, howlers woke us up, currasou strutting through, hummingbirds flying through the house, bats living IN the house, and more. Kayaks were provided where we taught our kids how to kayak right there in the Golfo Dulce. We saw dolphins, turtles, jumping sting rays, and more. It was a dream. We kayaked at night to experience the bioluminescence and it was a highlight of our trip. We got out on the water as the sun was going down waiting for the show to start… it got darker and darker. We put our paddles in and fireworks! It was something we will never forget.

It did rain while we were there. In fact, some of the craziest, most intense rain we’ve ever experienced. So, things never dried. In fact, everything we had was wet by the end of this stay haha! During the rains we taught our kids how to play chess. They learned how to play dominos. And to kayak. All at this one house. 

We also kayaked across the Golfo Dulce to the mangroves. The calm water, lack of people anywhere, and full nature immersion was just what we needed! 

We had planned a trip out of Puerto Jimenez from this spot to tour Corcovado National Park, but it was changed to leave out of Drake Bay which is quite a bit further drive. So, we decided to leave this house a little early and add a stop in Drake Bay to make our tour day easier. We really wanted another night of bioluminescence, but Drake Bay was another phenomenal spot on our trip. 

Corcovado National Park was the reason we chose to travel to Costa Rica. Our kids are completely animal obsessed, so we wanted to take them to one of the most biologically diverse places on earth. This tour was the Mecca tour of the trip – so to speak. So, to Drake Bay we went! (On the boat, out of the AirBNB in the pouring rain, our stuff was already wet… it just got soaked! Haha!)

Rincon AirBNB

Right before their first kayak in the Golfo Dulce

Days 10-12 Drake Bay

First, the drive. We thought the Quepos drive was an adventure… we were in for a real treat! Again, at night in the pouring rain we did this drive! Oh the luck! Everyone says to not drive at night, but sometimes things just don’t work out the way you want them to (especially when you have to boat out of your last spot and the tide is low). Really though…. I would 100% do it all over again in a heartbeat! The drive was more than worth it. The views from this AirBNB…. it just took our breath away. AGAIN. 

Our Corcovado tour began at Drake Bay at 6am. We boated from the bay down the coast to Sirena Ranger Station – accessible only via boat. The ocean was rough that day according to the guides… ha! I think my husband and I looked at each other for a minute thinking how crazy we were for bringing our kids there. We didn’t see any other kids their ages. They absolutely loved the boat ride by the way. And the park was another dream! We saw several animals we hadn’t checked on our bucket list including spider monkeys, squirrel monkeys, a tapir, peccaries, boat billed heron, 2 more sloths, a racer (snake) and more. We booked this tour through Osa Wild, our guide was Jorge. He was outstanding. Our kids were engaged the entire hike – it was 4 or 5 hours long. We then boated back to Drake Bay, our kids were stoked for another insane boat ride, and enjoyed a delicious lunch covered by our tour. 

Osa Wild Tour Link

We spent the afternoon at the AirBNB soaking in the views and talking about everything we saw at Corcovado. The next morning we went down to the beach accessible by a path on the property and had the entire spot to ourselves. We watched flocks of scarlet macaws, caracaras, and our kids searched for hermit crabs for multiple hours. The house had a washer, the sun was out so our clothes all dried, the owner was incredible. We absolutely loved this spot. It was meant to be part of our story! 

We left that afternoon for the mountains. 

Drake Bay AirBNB Link

Our private beach in Drake Bay

Days 12-14 San Gerardo De Dota

This was a long drive but we needed to make our way back to San Jose, so it was going to be long no matter what. It was a very easy mountain drive. We were glad to see paved roads! 

This town took our breath away. Every turn was absolutely stunning. The weather was like crisp, fall weather. (Pack accordingly if you do the cloud forest!) We came for the resplendent quetzal. We did not see the famous quetzal but we saw a close second, the orange bellied trogon. The excitement of thinking it was the one though… worth it!

We saw coyotes on our drive in. We hiked a waterfall on the property of our AirBNB (one of the dreamiest hikes we’ve ever been on), walked the streets admiring the plants, ate at a couple of the restaurants. Time slowed down. The cool air with the smell of the fire… one of my absolute most favorite things. Our kids drank hot cocoa and wore pants and jackets. A huge change from the rest of the trip! 

San Gerardo De Dota AirBNB link

Waterfall Hike in San Gerardo De Dota

On our way to the airport – flight left at 8:55. We had a 2.5 hour drive down the mountain. Had to return the rental car, get gas, pick up breakfast for the kids… and, we added a flat tire to that mix! I was expecting the airport to be busy and crazy, but I guess at that time it is not. We walked right up to customs, went right through security, and made it to the gate with 15 minutes to spare. (I wasn’t going to be mad if we had to stay another night though… haha!)

Fly out San Jose

That’s it! Our 2 incredible weeks in the beautiful country of Costa Rica! Our kids loved every second of it… even driving through rivers hanging out their window shouting GO GO GO GO!! The animals, THE PEOPLE, the food… we came back refreshed and renewed. 

Helpful tips:

-Nothing dries! Quick dry clothes are a must. We traveled around with a pile of wet stuff because we just could not get it to dry anywhere. We finally found some sun in Drake Bay and dried out!

-Save money by cooking your own meals. We cooked a lot and ate out rarely. It also helped with time and getting out to see things as we felt eating at restaurants took up a lot of time. Not a bad thing – it was nice to be served a wonderful meal every so often! If you do a restaurant, the tiny sodas are WONDERFUL. I’m not sure we had a bad meal anywhere. Our kids loved the food too!

-If you can, go off the beaten path. Get out of your comfort zone. Stay somewhere crazy. It might just change your life!

-If you have time to experience a cloud forest, do it! It was one of our favorite adventures as the temperature changed on the drive up. It went from 31c to 9c on one drive! Not to mention how incredibly beautiful it is. 

-We drank the water and ate all the foods with no issues. I think its a personal thing. We were skeptical! 

We realize our trip was fast paced. For us, it was the perfect mix of relax and adventure. We easily saw 60+ animal species. We checked off almost all of our bucket list animals (with the exception of an ocelet or jaguar… but not a lot of people see those anyway!) We saw all 4 monkey species, tapir, and most of the large mammals. We wouldn’t change any of the stops we made.

If you’ve read this far, thanks for reading! I have some packing tips posted below!

Must Haves for Off-Grid (in my opinion):

-Dry Bag

-Bug Repellent Wipes (the national park was not a fan of spray style bug repellent)

-At least 2 pairs of shoes

-Warm socks if you go to the cloud forest


-Blacklight Flashlights – we saw some really cool scorpions!

-A backup battery for your phone

-Quick-Dry towel

-Quick Dry clothing

-Benadryl itch cream

-Imodium, Pepto, Tylenol, Advil, Ibuprofen (have a small arsenal of things for the off-grid places – this made a world of difference if someone wasn’t feeling 100%!) 

-Collapsible bucket for laundry, quick cleaning (found on amazon)

-Reusable bags to be used to sort things while traveling

-Extra batteries

-Offline maps

-Life Jackets for kids


-Deck of cards for rainy days

-Beach blanket – one of my favorite staples. It can double as a blanket if you’re cold, be a towel if you need to dry, a blanket to sit on… I bring mine everywhere!

A few more pictures:

La Leona Waterfall Hike
Biesanz Beach
Learning dominos and chess deep in the jungle
Us at Corcovado National Park
The view from our house in Drake Bay