Costa Rica Family Vacation Tips
Travel with Kids to Costa Rica – Our Tips
Travel with kids to Costa Rica—or anywhere—can be tough. There’s a lot of planning and strategizing to do and the planning phase is never complete without some crossed fingers and whispered promises to be a better person, if all goes well.
Beginning to end, the logistics of family travel are not easy. Flights are long, ears pop painfully, and active kids are expected to stay still. Car rides go hand-in-hand with stir-craziness, too. You may have to share a room, often with kids who have different bedtimes. Not to mention, you must plan your adventures around snack time, bedtime, nap time, and wake-up time. Nothing is familiar and your kids always seem to bounce off the walls.
Even the most angelic and laidback children have bad travel days. Feisty kids can pose an even greater challenge. And when you have more than one child, suddenly your arms are outnumbered and the airport or beach can resemble an obstacle course.
We get it. We have kids of our own, so we’ve walked in your shoes. (All throughout Costa Rica, to boot!) The thought of air travel and car travel and paper-thin hotel walls has you feeling a little stressed. (No? Fine, a lot stressed.) Because let’s be honest: It would probably be easier to get a herd of African elephants to dance the Christmas Nutcracker than it is to travel with kids (especially young ones).
That’s where we come in. With a bit of preparation—plus a dose of good cheer and some luck—our tips on traveling with kids will take you round-trip from home to Costa Rica and back again. And what an amazing trip it will be!
1. Book in Advance
Spontaneity is an exciting way to travel, but it’s best left to solo or adults-only vacations. After a long day on the road, you don’t want to arrive to a town with no hotel vacancies. If you promise your kids the turtle-watching tour of a lifetime, don’t discover that you’re visiting during the off-season. When it comes to kids and happy traveling, it’s better to book and plan well ahead of time.
2. Take Your Time
We don’t have control over every aspect of traveling—delays, traffic and missed connections happen. But in our experience, the absolute best gift you can give your traveling family is time. Don’t choose flights with a 45-minute layover or takeoffs so early, you’ll never get out the door in time. If possible, fly out of the closest airport—not the cheapest one that’s five hours (and many possible traffic jams) away.
Once you’ve made it to Costa Rica, don’t pack so many tours and attractions onto the itinerary that you can’t enjoy the moment. Kids, especially younger ones, are all about the journey, not the destination. They want to touch every rock and inspect every inch of fungus. Make sure you have the time to let kids travel like kids.
3. Pack Important (I’ll-scream-if-I-don’t-have-them) Items
I know, the traditional packing advice is to pack lightly. That still holds true, except for those important and oh-so-necessary inclusions. Parents, you know what I’m talking about—all those items that, if absent, will cause an absolute fit. This could be a special blankie, but also includes a favorite book, a preferred snack food, or the only song that will get your child to sleep.
This guideline also extends to brand-name goods. Many areas of Costa Rica are very modern, with stores and supermarkets that carry imported goods. Even so, you won’t find the same variety or quantity that you probably would back home. So if there’s only one diaper brand that prevents your child’s rash, or your toddler will only eat one specific kind of cheesy cracker, bring enough for the whole trip. (Or verify with your Travel Consultant, in advance, that a particular brand is available here.)
4. Buy What You Can Locally
On the flip side, you can leave most non-essentials at home. For example, there are dozens of new cookies, crackers and other snacks to discover in any supermarket. Diapers, even swim diapers and pull-ups, can be found almost everywhere. Baby wipes, antibacterial gel, sippy cups, coloring books—these things are all readily available throughout Costa Rica, so save yourself the packing space.
5. Don’t Forget the Meds
If your children (or you) are on any type of medication—prescription or over-the-counter—pack it. Even with OTC medications, you may not be able to find your preferred brand locally.
6. Ready an Activity Bag
Create an activity bag that your children can take on the airplane, on the shuttle bus, or in the backseat of your rental car. We’ve found that it helps to mix in standby favorites—say, a busy book for toddlers or handheld game system for the older set—with new diversions. (Pinterest is an incredible wealth of busy bag/activity bag ideas, if you’re stuck.) Bonus points for throwing in Costa Rica-themed activities, like a rainforest search-and-find, a beachy tablet app, or anything that will connect your kids to the sights and sounds around them.
7. Pack the Tablet
Even if you avoid extended screen time at home, traveling can be the perfect time to bend the rules. Download some age-appropriate apps, load up the tablet with a few movies/videos, and let your children veg out during a long car ride or airport layover. Your sanity will thank you.
8. Take the Car/Booster Seat
Due to car seat safety, your children’s heights and weights, and other factors, it’s best to take your own car seats and booster seats. You can install them in shared shuttles, private transport, rental cars and even taxis. Public buses and small airplanes do not require car seats.
9. Be Prepared for Costa Rican Weather
I know this sounds obvious, but pack weather-appropriate clothes. (Being too cold or too hot can cause serious crankiness.) If you’ll be traveling to higher elevations, like the Monteverde Cloud Forest, be sure to bring warm layers and cozy pajamas.
10. Choose the Right Hotels
There are hundreds of kid-friendly Costa Rican hotels, B&Bs and boutique inns that could make your family happy, but the right few will feel like the perfect match. Talk to your Travel Consultant about your individual needs and preferences: Do you need a crib or extra twin in the room? Or perhaps you require a hotel restaurant with a dynamite kid’s menu? Or maybe you’d like to bunk somewhere that has a shallow children’s pool? Costa Rica has all that; all you have to do is ask.
11. Embrace a Routine
Children thrive on routine. When you’re traveling, that routine is often thrown out-of-whack, and kids often get cranky and irritable as a result. Try to plan around your children’s regular bedtimes, meal times, nap times, and other important routines from home.
Most planned tours have morning and afternoon departures, so it’s usually easy to pick a time that works for your whole family. If hotel check-in and check-out times could cause problems, ask your travel agent to request early check-in or late check-out when you make your reservations. Scout special restaurants in advance, as many have fixed schedules that open late or close early.
12. Involve Your Kids in Planning
One of the best parts of kid-friendly travel is the pre-planning. Take some time to tell your kids about where you’re going. Set the scene: let them know that they’ll see monkeys or that the beach will be right outside their hotel room door. Get them excited about everything you’ll see and experience.
Then, it’s time to get planning. Give your kids the chance to pick at least one activity—totally their choice. (If this is a little too intimidating, let them choose from a parent-approved list.) There are so many choices for family fun, including hanging bridges, safari river floats, kayaking, canopy zip lines, waterfall horseback rides, sailboat and catamaran boat tours, volcano walks, thermal hot springs, snorkeling, dolphin watching, and wildlife sightings at Costa Rica’s diverse national parks and wildlife refuges.
My Number One tip when trip planning: Make sure to pick tours that will wear them out. Whether it’s exhilarating zip-lines or whitewater rafting, a full day of please-touch activities or long (but interesting) hikes, choose tours they’ll love until they beg for bedtime.
Costa Rica is kid-friendly. No, really. Costa Ricans have seemingly infinite patience with screaming, mayhem and other kiddie antics. Instead of sidelong (and grumpy) glances, your fussy child will garner understanding smiles and the occasional offering of help. Breastfeeding is generally accepted in public spaces. (And bottle-feeding won’t get you a judgmental glare, either.) Every town in Costa Rica has a large central park, where children run and laugh, kick balls and climb trees.
Remember, you’re in paradise—a kid-friendly and adventurous paradise. Costa Rica is the perfect choice for traveling with kids, from the youngest infants to surly teenagers and beyond. So take a deep breath, relax and enjoy your vacation.
An Itinerary for Any Occasion
Family Celebrations in Costa Rica
Gone are the days when family vacations meant long car rides or standing in line at a mega-theme park. Today, families are traveling further afar than ever before.
The dynamics of family groups are also changing. Destinations like Costa Rica no longer only serve the nuclear family of years past. Today grandparents, cousins, and even multiple families are increasingly planning epic journeys together. Every day we help families plan adventures in Costa Rica that inspire, invigorate and educate. Here are a few Costa Rica family vacation tips on organizing celebrations and group adventures.
How About a Graduation Celebration in Costa Rica?
Often, family groups are traveling together to celebrate a monumental occasion or event. For example, a high school or college graduations is an important milestone to celebrate together as a family. This great accomplishment is typically followed by a life change that may mean the graduate won’t be able to travel as freely.
Many of our clients gather extended families for one last big trip before the graduate embarks on the next stage of his or her life.
For these groups, balancing sightseeing with relaxing together as a family is important. Oftentimes graduation celebration trips are more about celebrating and spending time together with extended family than hitting every landmark or point of interest in Costa Rica. With adventure, wildlife and sightseeing activities placed at the beginning of these itineraries, we like to end graduation celebration trips in Costa Rica with several days in a vacation home rental on one of our magnificent coasts.
Costa Rica has a wide range of private villas that can accommodate even the largest group, complete with staff to ensure your group is well looked after so you can make the most of the special time with your family.
A Remote and Exotic Girls Getaway is Easier Than You May Think
In recent years, a number of world-class yoga studios and health-focused hotels have opened across Costa Rica. The yogic principles are simple to learn and ascribe to when surrounded by the calm and natural beauty found in Costa Rica.
With ample opportunity to practice yoga, ladies of the family gather in Costa Rica to enjoy healthy, fresh food, and days relaxing at the spa. Costa Rica is the perfect destination for a healthy, invigorating and pampering girl’s getaway.
The Family Who Adventures Together…
Did you know that Costa Rica is the birthplace of the zip line? With adventure in our DNA, Costa Rica offers plenty of opportunities for adrenaline-seeking families to play and explore together.
From remote, jungle lodges to beach-front resorts, families celebrate milestone events together by zip lining through the forest, hiking up volcanoes, taking surf lessons and trekking to find exotic monkeys, among other adventures.
Working Together as a Family to Support Conservation
Though Costa Rica totals only 0.3% of the planet’s landmass, it holds 5% of the total biodiversity. This is unmatched anywhere else on Earth. There are a number of ways travelers can get their hands dirty helping scientists and biologists preserve Costa Rica’s wildlife and the environment.
Is your child embarking on one of the numerous conservation-oriented internship or volunteer programs in Costa Rica? Consider joining your young conservationist here before or after the program.
We can plan a conservation experience for the entire family, including things like working with the Tortuguero Sea Turtle project, assisting in the protection of the endangered Jaguar, or helping and accepting the hospitality of a local farming family.
Whatever the dynamic of your family group or reason for traveling together, we love planning extraordinary family vacations and look forward to helping you create cherished memories in Costa Rica together!