Dreaming of Travel: Costa Rica

Published on April 01, 2022 - Updated on April 01, 2022

Costa Rica is the perfect destination for an adventure-loving family.

On a single vacation to this Central American country, you can experience rainforests, volcanoes and beaches, plus you are likely to get up close and personal with the most incredible wildlife. It’s a bucket-list trip that your entire family will be talking about for years to come.

The terrain in Costa Rica is incredibly diverse and it has coastlines on both the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean. For this reason, many tourists visit several different places in the country and opt to stay two or three nights in each location during a single trip.


After exhaustive research, though, we decided to stay in one coastal village that would offer beaches, rainforests and hiking: Manuel Antonio. We loved it and would highly recommend this tropical paradise to anyone and everyone (unless you aren’t especially fond of wildlife)! But prepare yourself for a long travel day because Manuel Antonio is three-hour car ride from the San Jose airport. We booked private transportation to pick us up from the airport and bring us to the hotel.

Where to stay


We had an all-around amazing experience at the Arenas Del Mar Beachfront & Rainforest Resort. You are quite literally staying in a jungle with views of the Pacific Ocean. The hotel property was home to Capuchin monkeys, sloths, iguanas and other lizards. The hotel staff warns you when you arrive (in all seriousness) to always lock your hotel door so the monkeys don’t break into your room. Arenas Del Mar is unique in that it has its own private beach, whereas most of the hotels in Manuel Antonio are not situated on a beach. The 38-room Arenas Del Mar has two pools, two restaurants, a very welcoming staff and it is kid-friendly. You can book all your excursions through the hotel concierge, which made adventuring outside the hotel a breeze. One thing of note: Arenas Del Mar and many of the hotels in Manuel Hotel are situated on bluffs overlooking the ocean, so the hotel grounds are quite hilly. There were always hotel staff available to drive us around in golf carts, but we ended up doing a lot of walking up and down steep hills.

Other popular hotels in Manuel Antonio include Tulemar Resort, Gaia Hotel & Reserve and Oceans Two Resort.

What to do

Manuel Antonio National Park


The Manuel Antonio National Park is the crown jewel in the area and one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions. People will tell you Manuel Antonio has the most beautiful beaches in the country, with good snorkeling and an abundant diversity of wildlife. We booked a guided tour through our hotel, and I would absolutely recommend going that route. Our tour guide had a degree in eco-tourism, endless passion for wildlife, and he had a powerful telescope to help us spot dozens of different animals. We saw Capuchin monkeys, howler monkeys, sloths, frogs, snakes, toucans and much more. After exploring the trails and spotting animals, you can swim at one of the beautiful beaches within the park.

The park is open from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day except Tuesdays, including all holidays. The admission fee is $18.08 for adults, and $5.65 for children from 2 to 11 years old. You can also book a tour guide directly through the park’s website.


Ziplining is a super popular tourist activity in Costa Rica, and we had a great time. We booked a ziplining adventure tour through our hotel with a group called Safari Adventure, which included transportation to a remote area of the rainforest where we ziplined through the jungle and swam in a small waterfall. A highlight of the tour was the authentic Costa Rican lunch offered afterward, which included arroz con pollo (chicken and rice), plantains and a fresh salad.

The tour lasts about four hours and costs $85 per person. Children ages four and up can participate.

Nauyaca Waterfalls


One of our favorite activities was hiking to and swimming in the Nauyaca Waterfalls. These stunning falls have a deep pool at the bottom where you can swim and even jump from the falls. A tour guide took us on a roughly two-mile hike to the top of the falls and along the way we saw a family of howler monkeys, a toucan and a poisonous frog. We cooled off in the waterfall and ended the tour with an authentic Costa Rican lunch of arroz con pollo (chicken and rice) with a fresh salad.

The admission fee to the waterfalls is $10 and parking costs $4.

Where to eat


We enjoyed many meals at Arenas Del Mar, but we also ventured out a handful of times. Here are the restaurants I would recommend:

El Avion

A laid-back bar/restaurant built around a real airplane

La Luna

A nice restaurant for dinner located inside the Gaia Hotel & Reserve

El Wagon

Delicious pizza restaurant with a cool outdoor setting

Emilio’s Café

A yummy coffeehouse with good views of the ocean

Ronny’s Place

Great place for dinner with a sunset view


Have you been to Costa Rica? What were your favorite places and activities? Let us know in the comments below and don't forget to tag us in your Instagram photos @gethappyly!

Explore our blog for more inspiration such as Exploring Your City from A to Z and The Ultimate Guide to RV Travel or take a few moments to prepare with Five Healthy Homemade Snacks for On the Go to fuel your next adventure!! 

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Thoughtfully captured by:
Lizzy Alfs
Lizzy is a Michigan transplant living in the always bustling Nashville, Tenn. After graduating from the University of Michigan, she spent a decade working as a business journalist in Ann Arbor, Mich. and then Music City. She recently transitioned her journalism career to freelance writing so she could stay home with her two little boys, Milo and Jude. Lizzy grew up in the summers on a lake in beautiful Northern Michigan and she spent the winters making the most of the state's endless snow and slush. She lives by the motto "There's no such thing as bad weather" and you'll find her outside rain or shine. These days, Lizzy and the boys like to adventure around Nashville, looking for toddler-friendly hikes, parks and swimming holes.
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