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Traveling with Kids to Costa Rica

Considering traveling with kids to Costa Rica? Ever left the country with your children in tow before? Wondering how to pull it off and survive? Here’s my take!

little-girl-big-ocean-costa-rica

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Little girl, big ocean. A day at the beach on the Osa Peninsula while dad was taking surf lessons. Matapalo Beach

I used to say that since having kids, the girl inside me that traveled around Europe and the Middle East and spent a summer in Africa left the premises. It’s not that having kids killed the fun inside my soul, it’s that having kids made me realize how important it is to be safe and with the ones you love (and how tired it makes you trying to keep everyone in one piece when you travel).  It also made me realize how crazy I must have made my own mother with my wanderings around the world.

Nothing sounded less appealing than jetting off to some adventurous place, and letting the mother inside of me worry that I’d be orphaning my babies. Because that’s how the mother inside of me thinks. I like to call her “Safety Sue”.

We got the opportunity to go to Costa Rica through the Costa Rica Tourism Board and after doing a little bit of homework I found that it was a safe, family friendly country, so for the first time in 12 years, the girl inside me got up and left the country with kids in tow.

As a matter of fact, as I type this, I’m sitting in bed covered in mosquito netting. To my right, there is a howler monkey crawling around in the trees. Straight ahead, is a glorious view of the ocean, a 5 foot iguana hanging out in one tree, and in the tree behind it is a sloth. About 10 minutes ago 2 scarlet macaws. Flew over head.  I’m pretty sure Diego and his Rescue Pack are out there in the jungle somewhere. I can’t even make this stuff up. I’m clearly in the middle of the jungle, but someone has got to be queuing this all up for me! We spent today hiking around waterfalls, I’ve been napping on the hammock with my toddler and my husband currently has the others at the beach.  Sometimes I think someone’s car alarm has gone off, and then I just realize it’s jungle birds. For reals.

Getting There

  • Your little crew will need to get passports (no visa’s required for U.S. citizens)
  • We traveled through the San Jose airport. It’s clean, modern and has been undergoing recent renovations. It’s nicer than SLC International airport and makes JFK look like a Sub-Saharan wasteland.
  • We did not need to get any shots or vaccinations to travel there. I asked a friend who goes there every year if I needed to get shots for malaria. He laughed.
  • Costa Rica is in the same time zone as where we live (MST) which was great that the kids didn’t have to make any time zone adjustments.

Money

  • Currency Exchange: You can definitely stretch your dollar a little further here
  • They accepted credit cards wherever we went and we did not run into any problems using our credit cards. We also saw several ATM’s in our travels.
  • Prices were often also listed in U.S. dollars.  Easy stuff!

Getting Around

  • The mother inside me is not a wing it on your own type of a person when it comes to traveling with kids. From a transportation perspective I was to know what to expect, when to expect them, what the pricing is etc. I’m not into hoofing it around the city with my kids.
  • Car seats and booster seats were available, shuttles clean and relatively new, bottled water on board, and best of all our drivers were patient with our kids (had to make a few pit stops)
  • We spread out across the country, and my kids put up with a lot of on the road without complaint. I will say it’s the best behaved they have been on any vacation we have taken. I think it has to do with the vibe of the country, the beautiful scenery, and the kindness of the people who helped us get around.

Food/Drink

  • The water was safe to drink where we traveled. I’ve heard that in some of the coastal cities you should drink bottled water though.
  • Speaking of water, drink LOTS of it. You are sweating lots, but I think my kids were sweating more. I had to make sure that they were drinking enough.
  • The food was great, I have a picky eater and she didn’t have any issues at all.

Environmental Hype

  • It’s not hype – they are for reals.
  • The Costa Rica Tourism Institute (ICT) developed the Sustainability Certification program (CST) rate Costa Rican hotels that demonstrate sustainability within their operations, and the management of natural, cultural, and social resources. You can see a list of hotels that meet their criteria here.

Where to Stay

Here’s where we stayed on our trip. I’d go back in a heartbeat to any of them.

When to Go:

  • High Season is from November – April (busiest travel season)
  • Green Season is May – October (rainy season, less tourists)
  • We went in transition, it’s the beginning of their rainy or “Green”season. We had perfect weather, we had resorts to ourselves, never had any crowds. It was an amazing time of year to go. I’ve heard it can be a little bit of a gamble and that you can end up with quite a bit of rain, but we couldn’t have asked for better weather. (and in general you should expect some rain in Costa Rica anyway).
  • I have a friend who leads adventure tours in Costa Rica. He says he always goes in rainy or “green” season. It’s his opinion that it’s more beautiful, and he likes the weather better.

What to Wear

  • We packed light (less than 20 pounds per person)
  • Quick drying fabrics, but don’t’ worry, you don’t need to go overboard. I had all cotton t-shirts and I was fine
  • Keens for the kids
  • I bought the quick drying Merrell Minimalist shoes for the trip (in orange). They were perfect!

Unplugging

  • The energy in Costa Rica is completely mellow. I think my children were intoxicated with mellowness.
  • There was no manic energy or “rush”  to be anywhere or do anything
  • None of our hotels had T.V.’s. I’ll admit that we did have an iPad and that we let the 3-year-old watch a few movies (well, we had 2 movies, Sword and the Stone and Scooby Doo), but we didn’t even bust out the iPad much.
  • You can truly have an unplugged vacation.

Family Adventures

You can check out the different activities and adventures we went on in each of areas we stayed in:

Language

  • We picked up a little bit of Spanish. But we were perfectly fine to get around with limited Spanish. All of our drivers and hotel staff were super helpful, and knew both English and Spanish
  • My kids can now count to twenty, ask and answer their name, please and thank you’s,
  • Spanish is such a fun language. I love that my kids are coming home wanting to take lessons.

Emergencies

  • If you get your arm bitten off by a howler monkey, you can call 911. You won’t get your arm bitten off by a howler monkey, but I wanted to illustrate that in case of an emergency you can still dial the good ol’ 911.
  • I talked to several American ex-pats down there about the health care system and quality of care and they all had wonderful things to say.

Overall Take

  • At every turn I was floored by what a clean, peaceful happy place Costa Rica is. I felt safe with my kids, had great experiences, and the whole time my husband and I talked about moving there.

I now sign off as a mother who’s responsibly woken up the girl adventurer within.  I have officially dusted off the old map to add a few more stickers to places I’ve been, and added a few more places I want to see with my family to the list.  I missed that girl.

Costa Rica Resort Reviews:

Hotel Belmar Review

Lapa Rios Hotel Review

Hotel La Quinta de Sarapiqui

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  8. Lindsey (Cafe Johnsonia0 10/19/2012 at 4:33 pm

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  11. Bastian 10/18/2012 at 11:02 pm

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