Puerto Viejo with kids is definitely a fun destination to visit while touring Costa Rica. In this resort town in eastern Costa Rica near the border with Panama, you have a nice combination of beaches and national parks where you can spot wildlife. We stayed there for a total of 6 days with a one-week stopover in Bocas del Toro in Panama in between. In this blog, we list all the fun children’s activities of Puerto Viejo.
Table of contents
#1 Cahuita national park
One of the best places in Puerto Viejo where you can spot animals is Cahuita National Park, which is about a 25-minute drive from downtown Puerto Viejo. You can also take the local bus to the park and it takes a little longer (not super much longer). You have two different entrances at this national park where you can enter the park.
The first entrance is in the village of Cahuita and is called Kelly Creek Station. Here you can make a donation at the entrance, which they kind of insist that you do. At the other entrance in the south of the park (Puerto Vargas), you do pay a flat fee (a few euros per person as entrance). Pretty strange, of course, that you pay admission at one entrance and not the other. We have no idea what the thinking behind this is.
We started at the entrance to Puerto Vargas (this is also where the bus stops and this is the entrance where you pay a fixed amount as entrance fee. We knew this beforehand too, but we didn’t mind) and walked from this entrance to the other entrance. You walk the route in a kind of angle along the beach and the total distance is eight kilometers.
We walked the entire route with our daughter, but it was quite exhausting with the hot and muggy weather. We walked for a total of about 3 hours.
The first part of the route we saw quite little and most of the animals we saw in the last part near the entrance to Kelly Creek station. If we were to do it again, we would start at the Kelly Creek Station and then walk part of the route up to Punta Cahuita and then back again.
If you are with a rental car, you also don’t have to take the bus or cab back to the car. Here you walk less in the heat and are most likely to see animals. We saw several monkeys, raccoons, crabs and various birds and butterflies in the park. You walk along the beach and you can also swim the fine for a while. As a result, it is advisable to bring swimwear.
Be sure to keep an eye on your belongings here, as the raccoons still like to snoop in your bag looking for food. From the center of Cahuita, we had a drink and then took the bus from the bus station back to the center of Puerto Viejo.
#2 Cycling to Manzanillo
Another activity you can do in Puerto Viejo with kids is to rent a bike (or a scooter) and then cycle towards Mazanillo. You have several bike rental companies in the city center, but unfortunately they don’t have super many options for families with kids. We finally found a rental company a little outside the center of Puerto Viejo on the road toward Playa Cocles that had two different tandem bikes. Here we rented a tandem.
You can visit several beaches on the way to Manzanillo. You will encounter the beaches Playa Cocles, Playa Chiquita, Playa Punta Uva and Playa Grande on the route. You can then bike on to Manzanillo (we did), but we wouldn’t do that next time. The last part of this route has quite a bit of elevation change in it and that can be tough with kids. In addition, outside the national park, there is not much to do in Manzanillo itself.
We didn’t find the road itself super special for cycling and we expected to cycle more along the beach. However, you can actually spot quite a few animals along the way. For example, around our hotel where we were staying (Lanna Ban Hotel) there were already a few sloths sitting in the tree and you could regularly see toucans (they eat the berries from the trees opposite the reception). We also encountered several monkeys along the way. So be sure to look carefully into the trees even while cycling.
Our daughter loved the tandem because they didn’t have to pedal much themselves. On a child’s bike, I don’t think she would have made it to Manzanillo. In total, with the necessary stops, we did spend a whole day on the bike.
#3 Refugio Manzanillo
A second national park you can visit with the family in Puerto Viejo is Refugio Manzanillo. Of course, if you have rented bikes, you could drive to this national park, but we drove there another day from Puerto Viejo by bus. This bus stops a few minutes’ walk from the entrance in downtown Manzanillo.
You don’t pay an entrance fee at this national park, but you can make a voluntary contribution for park maintenance. We had heard from other tourists who had visited the park before that they had not spotted many animals and we too did not actually see any animals in this park.
We had the misfortune that it had rained a lot the days beforehand and it started raining on the day itself. Because of this, the trails were very muddy and in some sections were almost not passable. We did have shoes on, but turned around at one point because our entire shoes were completely covered in mud. Flip-flops are not really recommended in this park on rainy days anyway.
If you have little time in Puerto Viejo then we would rather go to Cahuita National Park, rather than this park, If you want to spot animals, then better look in other places.
#4 Kayaking Punta Uva
Another children’s activity in Puerto Viejo is to rent a kayak at Punta Uva beach. We had read online that this was a top experience, so we wanted to experience that. On Punta Uva beach you have several tents where you can rent a kayak. Actually, prices are the same everywhere, but you can try to haggle.
We only made the mistake of renting the kayak at the farthest tent from the river and taking the kayak to the river a bit by sea. This we should not have done, as the waves of the sea caused the kayak to topple over with our daughter underneath. We would have been better off carrying the kayak from the beach to the river or just 1 person in the kayak through the sea to the river and then only in the river with two people in the kayak.
We liked the trip through the stream, but when we were there the water (despite the heavy rainfall) was very low. As a result, we had to pull the kayak through the river for entire stretches. Then it is helpful if you have water shoes on with all the rocks in the river.
We also didn’t know exactly where the end of the trail was, so we might have gone a little too far. When at one point we really saw a tree across the water and could barely pass under it with the kayak we turned around. In some places there is also quite a bit of countercurrent which makes rowing difficult.
Along the way on the route you can spot monkeys, sloths, raccoons, turtles and birds. We mostly spotted many turtles and one raccoon. It’s fun to do, but to spot animals there are better places. On Punta Uva beach, for example, we already encountered four sloths in the trees. So be sure to look into the trees here as well. All in all, a great activity to do in Puerto Viejo with kids.
Family-friendly hotel Puerto Viejo
We stayed at the Lanna Ban hotel twice and slept in two different rooms here. We did not find the deluxe double room super, as we found the cottages very noisy and also quite warm. The second time we slept in the double room with patio and it was really much better. So if you have to choose, we would choose the double room with patio.
What we really liked about the Lanna Ban hotel is that it came with a nice swimming pool with sun beds. Here we were actually relaxing by the pool every afternoon. In addition, you could really see a lot of animals around the hotel. Opposite the hotel in the trees we saw sloths every day (we even rescued one with a branch from the ditch. Check out our Instagram channel for the video) and also lots of toucans (across from the reception in the trees).
In the beautiful garden from the hotel there were green frogs everywhere, and we also saw many capybaras roaming the garden. We also saw two parrots fly over once more. In short, you can spot plenty of animals just from the pool of this hotel (maybe even more animals than in the national park ;)). For more information on the Lanna Ban Hotel, take a look here.