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5 Days in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is the perfect country to visit for those who are interested in seeing the beauty that nature has to offer. From the multiple volcanoes, tropical rain forests, waterfalls, and beaches, to the unlimited number of unique plants and animals, there is truly something for everyone who vacations in Costa Rica, including kids.

The hardest thing about planning a trip here is determining which area(s) and activities you want to explore in your allotted time.

Twin boys enjoying their 5 Days in Costa Rica at the Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges.
Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges

Are 5 Days enough in Costa Rica?

Our Costa Rica family vacation was composed of 6 days and 5 nights exploring Guanacaste, Arenal, and La Fortuna. Unfortunately, our Costa Rica itinerary had us arriving in Guanacaste on the first day during the evening and flying out of San Jose Airport rather early on the sixth day. Therefore, we only had 4 full days in Costa Rica.

With the two to four-hour driving time between destinations, 4 full days were not enough. Thus, if you plan to explore more than one destination, I recommend a minimum of a 5-day Costa Rica itinerary.

When planning your Costa Rica itinerary, you should also take the time of year that you’ll be visiting into consideration as the weather varies by region and season.

Costa Rica in March

We took our Costa Rica family vacation to celebrate my twin’s second birthday, which is in early March. Therefore, when planning our Costa Rica itinerary, we took the weather into consideration because we wanted a warm experience with little to no rain.

Luckily, March is one of the driest months in Costa Rica, with little to no rain, especially on the Pacific Coast side. The high temperature can range from 86 to 96 degrees Fahrenheit, and the low temperature from 76 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit. While the Costa Rica weather in March on the Caribbean side can be around the same temperature, rain will occur.

Since we had limited time on our Costa Rica family vacation, we planned our itinerary around Tamarindo, a popular beach town in the Guanacaste region. We wanted to go to the Costa Rica region with the warmest and driest weather in March.

How many places can you visit in Costa Rica in 5 Days?

During our Costa Rica family vacation, which included 4 full days, we visited three destinations, Guanacaste, Arenal, and La Fortuna. That was a bit too much.

With 5 days in Costa Rica, I would recommend including only two destinations in your itinerary if there’s more than a two-hour drive between each destination.

Costa Rica 5-Day Itinerary: San Jose, Guanacaste, Arenal, La Fortuna

*Below is our Costa Rica family vacation itinerary. Day 5 is based on running out of time to complete an excursion on our initial Costa Rica itinerary.

Day 1
Early morning flight to San Jose International Airport from the United States (SJO)
Arrive at SJO around noon
Drive to lodging in Tamarindo, Guanacaste, a 4-hour drive (via car service)
*with getting through the airport and stopping to eat and groceries, we didn’t arrive at our lodging until 7 PM or so
Day 2
Drive to Rincon de la Vieja National Park, 2 hours drive each way (via rental car)
Day 3
Explore Tamarindo beaches & take a Sunset Catamaran Tour
Day 4
Explore Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges, a 4-hour drive (via car service)
Drive 30 minutes to La Fortuna (via car service)
Attempted La Fortuna Waterfall, but missed it due to last entrance being 1 hour before close time
Drive to San Jose for a flight the next day, a 2.5-hour drive (via car service)
Day 5 *recommendation based on what I wish we would’ve done
La Fortuna Waterfall
Explore La Fortuna
Drive to San Jose for a flight the next day

Day 1- Arrive in San Jose and Drive to Tamarindo, Guanacaste

A family enjoying their 5 days in Costa Rica at their vacation rental .

Getting to Costa Rica From The United States

Initially, when planning our Costa Rica itinerary, we were aiming at visiting Manuel Antonio which is a two-and-a-half-hour drive from San Jose airport (SJO). Therefore, when we found a flight deal for under $400 roundtrip to SJO with Scott’s Cheap Flights we jumped on the deal.

In retrospect, we potentially should’ve flown into Liberia as our vacation rental was in the Tamarindo, Guanacaste area. Libera airport is a 90 min drive to Tamarindo and a four-hour drive to SJO.

Since we included Arenal and La Fortuna in our Costa Rica itinerary, I may just be splitting hairs as we would’ve still had to drive three and a half hours each way.

This why it’s so important to map out the driving distance between locations when planning your 5-day Costa Rica itinerary as driving can eat up a lot of your vacation time.

Day 2- Rincon de la Vieja National Park

Rincon de la Vieja, one of the seven active volcanoes in Costa Rica, is full of adventure- volcanoes, waterfalls, hot springs, and mud baths.

Explore a full-day tour of Rincon de la Vieja including the volcanoes, waterfall swim, and hot springs.

Getting to Rincon de la Vieja from Tamarindo, Guanacaste

After a relatively smooth two-hour car journey from Tamarindo, we entered the park through the Las Pailas entrance with a $1.50 toll /car. A few minutes up the road, you’ll find a pretty modern building where you can purchase your tickets to the various attractions.

Exploring Rincon de la Vieja

We decided to do a guided tour through the volcano trail so we could have help identifying unique animals and plants, as well as learn about the volcanoes. The guided tour costs $25 per person vs. $15 per person for the unguided tour. The trail normally takes about two to two-and-a-half hours, but with twin two-year-olds in tow, it took us closer to three hours.

The landscape, various animals, and plethora of volcanic features were absolutely mindblowing. We loved hearing the howler monkeys and the popping sounds of the mud baths. The look on my boys’ faces was pure joy! If a guided tour is possible, get one as the guides are very knowledgeable.

I was hoping to be able to see a waterfall and enjoy the hot spring while at Rincon de la Vieja, but after three hours of walking the trail, my crew (mainly my mom) was ready to get back to our vacation home.

Rincon de la Vieja, Costa Rica with Kids

Yes, it’s possible to explore Rincon de la Vieja with kids. Is it easy, not necessarily. But is it worth it, yes!

If your kids need a stroller, know the path is uneven and contains sets of various amounts of stairs; therefore, strollers won’t work well. Let’s just say, not only did I get my steps in but I also got a weighted workout in with carrying a 30-lb toddler for a decent amount of the journey.

Fortunately, our saving grace was Dum Dum lollipops. They gave them the “energy” to walk some of the journey themselves. Although we had extra “luggage” in tow, I’d recommend visiting Rincon de la Vieja, even with your kids in tow.

It is a great learning experience for the entire family, especially about volcanoes, animals, and trees. The look on my kids’ faces as they explored the national park and learned about nature made the extra effort worth it.

Day 3- Explore the Beach & Catamaran

Since Tamarindo is a beach town, it’s only natural that it is well known for its plethora of beautiful beaches and excellent surfing. Some of the best beaches in Tamarindo include Tamarindo beach, Playa Langosta, Playa Negra, Playa Grande, Playa Conchal, and Playa Avellanas.

Best Beaches in (and near) Tamarindo, Costa Rica

  • Tamarindo Beach– Tamarindo beach is one of the most popular beaches in Costa Rica and is well known for its beautiful sunsets. You’ll find a variety of restaurants, beach chairs, and activities available at Tamarindo Beach.
  • Playa Langosta– Slightly outside Tamarindo, Playa Langosta is a relaxed beach atmosphere perfect for surfing. The currents can be rather high so not necessarily be best for swimming.
  • Playa Negra– A low-key beach close to Tamarindo known for good surfing and a local vibe and food.
  • Playa Grande– Secluded beach, about 20 minutes north of Tamarindo. Great for beginner and intermediate surfing. Be prepared for unpaved, bumpy roads on your route there.
  • Playa Conchal– If you’re looking for a unique beach, Playa Conchal is the beach for you as it’s filled with white seashells. Please note there isn’t direct driving access. You will have to walk across playa Brasilito for about 20 minutes.
  • Playa Avellanas– White sand, local beach home to Avellanas Surf School and Lola’s restaurant. If you’re lucky, you may see the 2 swimming pigs. Located directly behind Hacienda Pinilla.

Playa Avellanas

A family enjoying their Costa Ricafamily vacation at Playa Avellanas, in Guanacaste.
Enjoying the beautiful sunset

Our Costa Rica vacation rental was located in Hacienda Pinilla, about 20 minutes outside of Tamarindo. The Beach Club was beautiful with an amazing pool, restaurant, and gym. From the beach club, you can quickly walk to Playa Avellanas.

Initially, we were going to do surf lessons, but they didn’t have life jackets for my boys. Therefore, we just walked the beach and enjoyed the beautiful sunset.

Honestly, I could’ve spent the entire vacation within the subdivision. The true icing on the cake was their concierge service. They helped plan the rental car, private chef, and catamaran.

Catamaran Sunset Tour

A catamaran sunset tour should be a must-add to your 5-Day Costa Rica itinerary. It was so much fun and a great opportunity to sit back, relax, and enjoy the beauty of the infamous Tamarindo sunset over the beach.

Many of the catamaran tours offer transportation, as well as water activities including snorkeling and standup paddle board. My husband was brave and tried standup paddle boarding. He NAILED IT!

Although this trip to Costa Rica was a family vacation, our aunt decided to stay at the Airbnb with the boys. Can you say “adult time!” This was the perfect adult excursion on our Costa Rica itinerary.

Day 4- Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park

The Highlight of Our

Costa Rica Family Trip

After our four-hour drive from Guanacaste, we finally made it to the highlight of our Costa Rica Family Vacation, Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges!

Not only does it offer nature tours across hanging bridges but adventures like horseback riding and canyoning. We opted for the guided hanging bridge tour. Our tour guide was very informative about the various birds and trees located throughout the tropical forest.

And the best part, our toddlers could easily enjoy the experience as we were able to take the strollers.

The strollers worked “relatively” well but the wheels did get stuck and became hard to maneuver several times along the trail. Our guide brought to our attention the last shortcut to bypass some of the trails as he thought it would be challenging, or not possible, to use the strollers for some of the remaining trails.

Even with the shortcut, we were still able to complete three hanging bridges!! The last bridge was over 75 feet high and 300 feet long.

Oh, did I mention that I’m afraid of bridges? To be able to conquer my fear like this was amazing.

Learn more about Mistico Arenal Park Adventures:

👉🏽 Mistico Park Hanging Bridges Guided Tour 👈🏽

👉🏽 Mistico Park Hanging Bridges Self-Guided Tour 👈🏽

👉🏽 Mistico Park Hanging Bridges Nocturnal Walk 👈🏽

👉🏽 Arenal Volcano Horseback Ride 👈🏽

Additional Things to do in Arenal, Costa Rica

If you plan to spend the entire day in Arenal, and time permits, below are additional things you can do while in the area:

Arenal ATV Tour– Explore the beauty of the rainforest via ATV.

Arenal Volcano Hike– Hike throughout the Arenal Volcano National Park.

Arenal Canopy Adventure– An experience of a lifetime! Zipline below the rainforest canopy.

Kayak Arenal Lake– Enjoy Arenal Lake via a guided 3-hour tour.

Day 5- La Fortuna

A family enjoying their Costa Rica family vacation in La Fortuna.

We attempted to do Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges and La Fortuna Waterfall on the same day. Major fail!

Despite La Fortuna only being 30 minutes from Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges, it’s very challenging to fit both into one day, especially if you’re driving from Guanacaste, which is about a four-hour drive.

We drove directly to La Fortuna waterfall from Arenal as the closing time was 5 PM. We arrived at 4:30 PM, ready to take on the challenge, only to learn that the last entrance is at 4 PM.

Please do not be like us, and plan accordingly to fit La Fortuna waterfall into your 5-day Costa Rica itinerary. Based on the people who were exiting, they said it was one of the highlights of their Costa Rica vacation.

Also, note that there are 500 steps each way to the waterfall. Those who were completing the excursion when we arrived stated the stairs weren’t necessarily hard, but there were a lot of them and took time to do.

So how were we going to do this with toddlers in tow? Slowly. And with Dum Dum lollipops 😉

Additional Things to do in La Fortuna

Pure Trek Canyoning and Waterfall Rappelling– This is for the super adventurous! This Costa Rica excursion includes riding a 4X4, rock climbing, ziplining, waterfall repelling, and so much more! Suitable for kids 5 and older.

Sloth Watching– Love Sloths? This is for you. Hike through the reserve and experience sloths in their natural habitat.

Coffee and Chocolate Tour– Experience some of Costa Rica’s most well-known exports: coffee, sugar, and chocolate. You’ll learn about it firsthand at a family-owned farm.

Cooking and Salsa Dance Lesson– The best of both worlds: cooking and salsa dancing. Get a hands-on Costa Rica cooking experience while learning to dance Salsa. This is the making of a wonderful cultural experience.

Where to Stay in Tamarindo, Guanacaste

Our Costa Rica Vacation Rental

Costa Rica offers some beautiful lodging options. We decided to go the Airbnb route since our Costa Rica family vacation included (5) adults and (2) toddlers. Plenty of space was essential!

The Airbnb options were beautiful; however, it was a bit of a challenge to find one that is toddler friendly. In fact, we had one Airbnb tell us to look elsewhere as it wasn’t necessarily “toddler friendly” as it was on a hill and had a pool. Similarly, some of the Airbnbs are not within walking distance of restaurants or things to do.

We chose an Airbnb in Hacienda Pinilla, about 20 minutes outside of Tamarindo. I would suggest staying in this area as it’s well kept and the community includes several amenities, including a concierge service. They helped plan the rental car, private chef, and catamaran.

Tamarindo, Guanacaste Hotel Options

Hacienda Pinilla- JW Marriott

If you want to stay in Hacienda Pinilla but prefer hotels, The JW Marriott is a great option. We had a nice breakfast in their restaurant directly in front of the pool. The food was delicious and the pool and beach were beautiful.

👉🏽 Check the rates for the JW Marriott, Hacienda Pinilla 👈🏽

Tamarindo Beach- Hotel Tamarindo Diria Beach Resort

If you’re looking to be on Tamarindo Beach, Hotel Tamarindo Diria Beach Resort is an excellent option. Not only do you have direct beach access but it has 3 pools, multiple restaurants, bars, and a casino. There’s literally something for everyone.

👉🏽 Check the rates for the Hotel Tamarindo Diria Beach Resort 👈🏽

How to get around Costa Rica?

During our 5 days in Costa Rica, we did a combination of renting a car, for exploring the Guanacaste region, and hiring a car service, for driving from one region to the next.

The reason we chose a car service to drive us from one region to the next is that there was a lot of driving within our 5 days in Costa Rica. We wanted everyone to have the opportunity to sit back and enjoy the trip as much as possible. Plus, we were in Costa Rica with kids, toddlers specifically, so all hands were required at times.

We used Jeffrey Cash Tours for our car service, and he was not only knowledgeable about the region, gave us a local’s perspective, but also reasonably priced.

Costa Rica is known for having reliabile public transportation. If your 5 Day Costa Rica itinerary is relatievly flexible and time permits, public transportaion will be the most inexpensive way to get around Costa Rica.

Other Costa Rica Regions to Explore

It’s extremely easy to fill a 5-day itinerary while in Costa Rica. However, if you find yourself having additional time, consider exploring Manuel Antonio and/or Puerto Viejo de la Talamanca.

Manuel Antonio– We so wanted to do this region as every single person that has been to Costa Rica said it is a MUST VISIT! Unfortunately, it’s on the other side of the country and we decided on the Guanacaste area as it has the best weather in Costa Rica in March.

Puerto Viejo de la Talamanca– this area is filled with African influence- from its culture, food, and vibe, even to its black sand beaches. This is also the closest city to the Panamanian border.

5 Days in Costa Rica with Kids

Costa Rica Family Vacation- toddlers view of Arenal River

Is Costa Rica a good vacation destination for kids? YES!

Did having twin, two-year-old toddlers in tow present some challenges during our Costa Rica family vacation?  YES!

Would I bring my twin toddlers back on a vacation to Costa Rica? INDEED. Tomorrow if possible.

As previously stated, there is so much adventure and things to do in Costa Rica that each night our two-year-old twins basically fell asleep as soon as they hit their beds. They spent most of the day either running on the beach, playing in the pool or attempting to hike a trail.

When planning a Costa Rica family vacation with kids, especially babies, and toddlers, be sure to take into consideration the car time and that most activities are NOT stroller-accessible.

During our time in Costa Rica, our family spent two to four hours in the car between each destination. To keep our toddlers entertained, we had our Amazon Fire Tablets with pre-downloaded shows. Mini Voyager also offers curated travel entertainment kits for kids. Discover more kid’s travel essentials.

Luckily, we didn’t have to worry about keeping our kids entertained once we got to our destinations as nature itself was enough. The issue was all of the walking for their little legs and feet. I mean, how often does nature have nice, smooth paths for a stroller?

In order to encourage our kids to continue the journey, we would offer them breaks, while trying to make it as fun as possible. And when all else failed, we gave them Dum Dums lollipops. If your kid is small enough, consider a baby carrier.

Summary: 5 Days in Costa Rica

5 days in Costa Rica is enough time to experience the beauty and culture of the country. Optimally you would stick to one or two destinations. Since Arenal and La Fortuna are within a thirty-minute drive from each other, you could fit in third, since you’re in the vicinity.

But honestly, there are so many things to do in Costa Rica. In fact, our tour guide at Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges told us there are enough activities in the Arenal area alone that you could spend two weeks there, doing an activity a day, and not run out of options.

There is something for everyone to enjoy on your Costa Rica family vacation, even the kids.

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