Costa Rica’s rich biodiversity and natural beauty puts it at the top of the list of inspiring family travel destinations. With cities and cloud forests – not to mention your pick of Caribbean or Pacific coastlines – the Central American country’s signature pura vida (“pure life”) way of life creates a welcoming and laid-back atmosphere for visiting families.
It’s brimming with things to do, and it provides a model of thoughtful, sustainable living that’s a better souvenir than anything you could take home and frame. Here are tips for planning an unforgettable family trip to Costa Rica:
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What to know before you go
COVID-19 travel restrictions: According to its tourism site, Costa Rica no longer requires a negative coronavirus test for entry, and it doesn’t have a quarantine policy. But visitors must complete a Digital Health Pass 48 hours before boarding their inbound flight and purchase travel health insurance that covers at least $50,000 worth of medical expenses and $2,000 in lodging expenses.
What’s the COVID situation in Costa Rica? According to the World Health Organization, cases of COVID-19 are trending downward again in Costa Rica after spikes in late November and early December. During the week of Feb. 8, the last week for which WHO has complete data, there were just over 2,700 cases, a 13% drop from the previous week.
Pack your car seat: Car seats are uncommon in private transportation and shuttles. When traveling within Costa Rica with children or infants, make sure safety seats are on your baby-packing list.
Communication: Most cellphones work in Costa Rica’s cities, but service is often spotty in remote or mountainous regions. Be sure to check with your service provider before going abroad for coverage and rates.
Adjust your watch: Costa Rica is in the Central Time Zone, so it is one hour behind Eastern time.
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Getting to Costa Rica
Most major U.S. airlines offer direct flights to Costa Rica from their hub airports to Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) in San Jose and Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport (LIR) in Liberia. Both airports are close to popular destinations and offer connecting flights to other destinations in Costa Rica.
Traveling within Costa Rica
Most of the tourist destinations in Costa Rica are a few hours apart by car, but many of these areas are also serviced by small airports, and domestic flights are a convenient way to travel quickly from place to place.
Driving can be a rewarding adventure: The roads are lined with beautiful views, and roadside “sodas” are a fun way to break up a drive while sampling the signature snacks and tropical fruits of Costa Rica.
The country does not require an international driver’s license (only a valid one from your home state and your passport), which makes renting a car fairly straightforward. Or, if you don’t feel comfortable driving abroad, you can arrange private transportation or book a shuttle. Private transportation and shuttles offer a convenient way to travel, and once you arrive at a destination, most hotels and tours offer free local shuttles.
If you’re going to rent a car, keep in mind that while most of the main highways in Costa Rica lead to the popular tourist destinations, it’s a good idea to opt for a four-wheel drive vehicle if you are looking to venture farther afield, especially during the rainy season. Also, remember it gets dark around 6 p.m., and in some places, it is not advised to drive after dark.
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Popular destinations in Costa Rica
Planning your vacation to Costa Rica can be the adventure before your adventure: a chance to try on the options and decide what’s right for your traveling group.
According to its embassy, Costa Rica is home to nearly 6% of the world’s biodiversity and has created a system of national parks and reserves that cover more than 25% of its land area. So, unsurprisingly, many of the star spots put nature front and center. Here’s a quick look at some of Costa Rica’s most popular destinations:
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