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Volcanoes, Zip Lines, and a Real-Life Jungle Cruise: What to Do with Kids in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is a small country—West Virginia, as a point of comparison, is 5,000 square miles larger. And yet it manages to fit a lot of adventure and nature within its borders; around a quarter of its territory is protected as part of the national park system. On an Adventures by Disney week-long Costa Rica itinerary, you’ll see the country in all its natural diversity, from volcanic peaks to coral reefs.  

Along this Costa Rican odyssey, Adventures by Disney will immerse you in the region’s beauty and culture with active, hands-on authentic experiences, like zip-lining through a rainforest and visiting a working cacao farm.  You’ll also have opportunities to spot toucans flying overhead and relax on the golden beaches of the Pacific Coast. 

The itineraries are suitable for travelers of most ages—from kids to grandparents. If there’s an activity that might be a little overwhelming for some (like whitewater rafting or zip-lining), Disney provides gentler alternatives (a low-key float trip, hanging bridges). Each day, as you set out to explore Costa Rica, you’ll find that every logistic has been handled by your two Adventure Guides. They’re not only knowledgeable but also entertaining storytellers, eager to share insights about Costa Rica’s natural highlights.
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    Photo By Ronald Aguilar
    Day 1
    Arrive in San José
    After you pass through customs in San José, Costa Rica’s capital, you’ll be met by an Adventures of Disney representative who will take you to a car and driver for the short trip to the Costa Rica Marriott Hotel Hacienda Belen. 

    This colonial-style resort is located outside the city on a 30-acre coffee estate with two pools, a large spa and fitness center, and tennis courts. You can spend the afternoon resting after your flight (or flights), or if you want to head into town and explore San José, your Adventure Guide can help with arrangements.   

    Avenida Central is San José’s main street, with a mix of restaurants and shops. The city’s most important museums are either on the avenue or nearby. The National Museum covers the entire span of Costa Rica’s history, starting with its pre-Columbian indigenous peoples. They’re also the focus of the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum, which reopened in 2019. The main attraction remains the more than 1,600 gold objects—amulets, jewelry, figurines—but the renovated museum emphasizes putting them in the context of the histories and lives of the indigenous peoples who created the pieces on display. You may also want to visit San José’s Central Market, the city’s largest. You’ll find stands selling produce and souvenirs—from T-shirts to handicrafts. At its food courts, you can sample traditional dishes like empanadas and tamales, or enjoy a cup of coffee brewed from local beans.  

    Return to the hotel in time for a welcome dinner, where you’ll meet your Adventure Guides and fellow travelers—and learn more about the week ahead.
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    Day 2
    Arenal Volcano National Park
    Costa Rica is a land of volcanoes, with seven major ones looming over different parts of the country. Arenal, where you’ll head this morning, is about 55 miles northwest of San José, and rises to a height of 5,358 feet. It has been dormant since 2010.  

    You’ll start your morning in Arenal Volcano National Park in thrilling fashion—with a rafting trip down the Sarapiquí River. The rapids range from class I to class III (III being intermediate rapids). You’ll be accompanied by guides ready to navigate you through any difficult stretches. If you’d rather opt for an easier morning, choose to join a gentle float trip instead (advanced notice is required).  

    The river is of historical significance, having been used in the Filibuster War of 1856, between Nicaragua and its neighbors, to transport supplies and troops. Today it is a route through the low-lying rain forest along its banks. You may spot monkeys, sloths, and turtles while hummingbirds, woodpeckers, toucans, and other birds fly overhead.  

    You’ll then dry off before a lunch in a stunning setting in the Sarapiquí river valley.  

    Afterwards, continue on to your hotel for the night, either the Arenal Kioro Suites & Spa or the Tilajari Hotel Resort. The Arenal Kioro has 53 suites on 27 acres of land, crossed by two mountain streams. Suites here boast panoramic views of Arenal, sitting majestically nearby.  

    Both have restaurants with views of Arenal, which you’ll be able to admire over dinner tonight.
  • Day 3
    Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge
    After breakfast, you’ll board a motor coach for a short drive to the Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge.  

    Caño Negro, a large lagoon not far from the Nicaraguan border, is considered one of the most important wetlands in the country, thanks to its remarkable biodiversity. You’ll board a boat for a ride down the Rio Frio, with your guide helping you spot animals on shore. Keep your eyes open to look for caimans, sloths, monkeys, deer, tapirs and more. It’s an unforgettable safari adventure, Central American style. 

    The lagoon and river are perhaps most famous, however, as a stop on the flyway of birds migrating between North America and South America. Look for cormorants, ibises, ducks, herons, storks, and more. While more than 200 bird species have been identified in Caño Negro, the exact ones that you’ll find when you visit the refuge change with each month and season, depending on the timing of their migrations.  

    Lunch today will be at a local hacienda overlooking the Río Frío, where you’ll be able to enjoy the beautiful setting and some typical Costa Rican dishes.  

    After your meal, you’ll return to your hotel on the motor coach and then have the afternoon free to rest and enjoy the pools, spa, and other amenities at your property.
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    Day 4
    Soar Above Arenal
    After breakfast at your hotel, your day will start with a scenic drive through the countryside around Arenal, followed by an even more scenic gondola ride. The Sky Tram soars about 4,000 feet above the rain forest canopy, with views of Arenal. The views are breathtaking, but the journey is also educational; it takes you through several different microclimates, and you’ll have a bird’s-eye view of the different vegetation in each. You’ll come away with a better understanding of the ecology of Arenal.  

    Afterwards, you’ll experience one of Costa Rica’s most popular activities, zip-lining. After you’re strapped into a harness, you’ll soar along lines above the canopy below, to the envy of monkeys watching as you sail by. Anyone who would rather skip the thrills can admire the canopy by making their way along a series of hanging bridges.  

    Next, you’ll continue on to the town of La Fortuna, where you’ll be free to get lunch on your own. This was once a sleepy farm town, but as Arenal emerged as a popular destination, La Fortuna has become a popular gateway to the park. Through its success, the town has still managed to retain an appealing low-key charm.  

    Later in the day, you’ll continue on to the Eco Termales Fortuna Hot Springs. The springs here are heated naturally by the volcanic activity of Arenal, and the water is high in minerals—especially magnesium. You’re almost guaranteed to emerge from your soak feeling more relaxed. Some believe the mineral composition also reduces anxiety, fatigue, and can help with a number of other ailments.  

    Rejuvenated from your visit to the pools, you’ll dine tonight next to springs at Eco Termales’ charmingly rustic restaurant.
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    Photo By Devon Hawkins
    Day 5
    Travel to Guanacaste
    Today you’ll go west—specifically to Guanacaste on the country’s Pacific coast. Along the way, you’ll stop at a cacao farm to learn about the beans grown there that are used to make some of the world’s finest chocolate.  

    Cacao was, for centuries and predating the arrival of Europeans, an important crop in Costa Rica. The emergence of cheaper cacao beans grown in Africa, as well as a devastating fungus in the 1970s, almost eliminated cacao cultivation completely. But thanks to a renewed interested in sustainable and small-production beans, the crop is once again being farmed. On a visit to this estate, which sits in the shadow of the Arenal Volcano, you’ll learn all about the beans—how they’re grown and the process of drying and roasting them before they’re turned into chocolate.  

    After your tour, you’ll stop for a lunch of traditional Costa Rican dishes and continue on to Guanacaste, known for its beaches, dry tropical forest, and diversity of birdlife, with more than 250 species common here.  

    In the afternoon, you’ll arrive at El Mangroove, a cool and contemporary hotel located in, yes, a mangrove, with the Pacific Ocean just steps from the property. You won’t want to miss the guaro sour-making class this afternoon. Guaro is a Costa Rican liqueur made from sugarcane, and guaro sours—made with sugar, limes, and club soda—are ubiquitous in Costa Rica, as they offer cool relief on warm days. You’ll learn how to make them, which will be a handy skill to have for pool parties back home.  

    Tonight, the adults will enjoy a dinner with some grown-up conversation while Junior Adventurers head to a dinner-and-movie night, featuring a Disney film.
  • Day 6
    Explore Guanacaste’s Seaside
    A catamaran tour today will depart after breakfast and allow you to see this part of Costa Rica from the sea. Your boat will explore hidden coves and quiet stretches of the coast, where you can drop anchor and snorkel to see reefs teeming with marine life. The crew will provide snacks and cold drinks so you can refuel before you return to sunbathing or napping on the deck of the catamaran.  

    After your tour, you’ll eat lunch at El Mangroove, then have the rest of the afternoon free to enjoy the resort. Choose to go to the beach, claim a chaise poolside, or take advantage of the resort’s extensive watersports program. Kayaks, Jet Skis, and paddleboards are all available for rent, and half-day fishing trips can also be arranged for an additional fee, as charges for these activities are not included in the vacation package. 

    In the evening, you’ll rejoin your group for a final farewell dinner, complete with traditional music and a folk-dance performance.
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    Day 7
    Depart
    After breakfast this morning at El Mangroove, you’ll check out and be transferred to Liberia International Airport, with the Adventures by Disney staff assisting until you’re on your flight and headed home. If you’ve enjoyed the mix of culture and natural beauty on this Adventures by Disney itinerary, you might be in the mood for another—like a trip to Ecuador, including a visit to the Amazon and the Galápagos, the Canadian Rockies, or a South African odyssey that includes a three-day safari.  

    If instead you want to mix it up and explore the cultural highlights of a more city-based tour like one in Europe, an Adventures by Disney trip to England and France, or their Italy itinerary—with stays in Rome and Venice—might sound more appealing. (You can find more details about them here on AFAR Journeys.) If you feel any sadness that your trip has come to an end, just keep in mind that there are some 50 other itineraries to choose from for your next vacation.