Friday, December 7, 2012

Costa Rica with Kids Travel Tips

Planning a trip with kids to Costa Rica can be time consuming and I was not able to find a lot of info in the cyber-world so here is what we found in our experience:

  • Ticos (Costa Rican people) love kids and kids are generally welcome everywhere including restaurants, stores, attractions, etc. They want make sure that your kids are having a good time
  • Restaurants do not usually have facilities such as high chairs for little kids or Kids Menus
  • Food is pretty bland and you can find things suitable for kids 2+ in any restaurant. Typical Tico food is white rice, beans and some kind of grilled meat/fish so kids can usually find something to eat. Lots of fruit such as bananas, pineapple and mango is cheap and abundant.
  • Water is clean and OK to drink. We were told even tap water is fine to drink though we did not try. However, we drank juices, cocktails, ate lots of fruit washed with water and even drank water from public fountains in the parks and none of us got sick. Costa Rica is the exception compared to Mexico and other Central american countries where local water has to be avoided at all costs.
  • We saw a number of hospitals in the tourist areas, some open 24 hours. Luckily we did not have to try one of them but they seemed abundant if you have an emergency though they were all small so don't expect US style hospitals
  • Costa Rica is expensive! For a meal for a family of 3 in a restaurant in Manuel Antonio we paid between $40 and $80 (nothing too fancy). In Arenal and on the road, we still paid around $30-$40 for a meal for three. 
  • Supermarkets are much smaller than in the US but they usually have a good variety of items, however, are still expensive and would equal to prices in a smaller US city
  • Strong sunscreen is crucial if you will be spending any time at the beach. The sun there is the strongest I have ever seen and we all burned to varying degrees after a day spent at the beach in Manual Antonio even though we used SPF20 sunscreen and the weather was overcast
  • Roads in the more touristy areas are better that we expected and a rental car is a great option for families unless you are hiring a private guide to drive you everywhere. Majority of inter-city roads are paved and even though they are smaller than US highways, they are perfectly fine to drive. Just don't expect to go fast - average speed would be 30-40 mphBring a car seat or rent one. I'm not sure what the law is but the roads are very windy and some are bumpy so it's a good idea to have a car or booster seat even for the older kids- Renting a house is a much better option for those with more than one child. There are some great houses available in most touristy areas that can be found through sites such as and Prices are decent and you get two or three rooms and your own kitchen instead of being crammed in one hotel room
  • You are more likely to see monkeys and other wildlife outside the national parks if you have kids for multiple reasons: kids so not have the patience to sit and look around with binoculars for long periods of time, kids can be loud and scare the animals and kids get tired easily. However, many times you see animals from your house's porch or walking down the street or on the beach. Ask the locals and they would be more than happy to help you. At the beach one day the guy who worked at the restaurant called us over because there was a sloth asleep in the tree above which we would have never spotted ourselves.
  • English is spoken in some areas but overall it is a good idea to know a few words of Spanish. Locals are very nice and appreciate it if you try. Our kids learned to say muchas gracias (thanks much), por favor (please) and mi nombre is (my name is) and used it at every occasion and the locals really appreciated it
  • If you have space in your luggage, bring a bunch of small items (crayons, stickers, notepads, etc) to donate to a local school. We saw lots of local kids walking on the side of the road to school, and the schools seemed rather small and unassuming. Next time we definitely will bring items to donate plus it will be a great experience for your kids to meet the locals.

And finally, don't try to cram up too much stuff in your vacation with kids. Give them some time and space to run and explore. This will minimize tantrums and whining and will make them appreciate the other stuff more. Just have fun, take it slow and enjoy!

1 comment:

  1. Looking forward to our first international trip with our 2 year old in March, and your blog is helping us wrap our heads around what it might be like and what to look out for. Thanks for writing about your experience. Now I'm hoping to get some friends with kids to join us, but it will probably be just the three of us. (I'm sure it will be great either way.)