Is Costa Rica Kid Friendly?

Whenever I mentioned that we were taking the kids to Costa Rica, everyone, and I mean, everyone had amazing things to say about it.

Up until this point, our adventures with the kids had consisted of the Bahamas and Disney World. We wanted a place that was adventurous (without being scary) and it sounded like Costa Rica with all the lizards, monkeys and volcanos, would fit the bill.

The first thing I did was contact a travel service.

I cannot tell you how much easier this makes my life. I told them my budget, how many days we were staying, etc. then they came back with some suggestions and worked out an entire itinerary based on my feedback. This included all ground transportation, tours and hotels. There’s a fee but considering all the headaches you avoid, I feel like it’s totally worth it. I used Ciao Bambino but Momaboard is also good – take a look at their sites to see if they specialize in the city or country you want to go to.

The Springs Resort & Spa – Yeah, it was pretty damn nice.

Accommodations

I didn’t want to screw around with this trip so we stayed in NICE hotels. Like Beyoncé nice. The first three days we stayed at the Springs then for the remaining five nights we stayed at Arenas del Mar. Both of these hotels are beyond gorgeous and I highly recommend either of them if you can afford it, however, there were plenty of budget-friendly accommodations in both areas and I didn’t see any reason you couldn’t do a more affordable trip. I would say the majority of the travelers we saw in the airport were either eco-conscience students or the mature literary bunch (they are going for the birds and the culture and tend to discuss ‘film’ and Margaret Atwood books) so there is quite the cross section of hostels, house rentals and boutique hotels.

Arenas del Mar Beach & Nature Resort – Equally awesome.

 

Where each resort was (approximately). The Springs is about a 3hr drive from the airport. It’s about a 5hr drive between the two resorts. (Lots of pit stops but surprisingly doable.)

Getting Around

Costa Rica is a wee bit hilly. I found I was either walking up or down a San Fran incline at any given time. It makes for incredible views but it’s a bit of a workout. Thankfully, both hotels we were at had golf carts at the ready to scoot you around the property and the mountain goat trek return from the beach always translated into good sleeps.

Bridge in Tarcoles

As for roads, the highways are lovely and beautifully marked, however, this all goes out the window when you get into a town or off the beaten path. The side roads aren’t well marked and the roads to the hotels are often horrible – like Jeep commercial bad – so I don’t think I’d want to drive there. (Side note: I found out one of the reasons the roads are so bad is that the hotels want to keep them shitty so no one will buy the surrounding property which maintains the naturally stunning views.) That said, the driving in Costa Rica is very logical – if you are faster or first, you just go. No bird flipping or impatience, just getting from A to B so I think you’d be fine if you want to rent a car. We could not have driven there. My husband and I are both tense travelers and would murder each other before we pulled out of a parking space – we are not Amazing Race material.

Food

Breakfast buffet at The Springs – I think both boys consumed about a pound of bacon.

The food was really good. Costa Rica grows a LOT of stuff so you have wonderful access to amazing fruit and high-quality seafood, beef, chicken, etc. The whole trip we had ample access to chicken fingers for our picky kids but the traditional food there isn’t so exotic that they wouldn’t try it – you can get chicken with rice and beans everywhere. The food was pretty reasonably priced – even in the upscale hotels – so I was pleasantly surprised not to have the sticker shock you get in island countries that have to import a considerable amount of their food.

Lunch after horseback riding.

An interesting point to add is that both hotels we stayed at were insanely accommodating to food restrictions. It almost stumped them when they’d ask, “does anyone have an allergy or sensitivity?” and we’d say, “no’. This may have been unique to the two hotels we were in, though – I don’t know if the street vendors are going to give a shit about a gluten intolerance.

Things to Do

Skywalk with very safe (but swingy) suspension bridges. (Can you tell I don’t like heights?)

Costa Rica is built for kids. You couldn’t walk two feet without seeing a lizard, bird or monkey. We did zip lining (my 8-year old loved it whereas I think it is the dumbest fucking horror you’d ever put yourself through), a nature hike, horseback riding, and a catamaran snorkeling trip (I found this to be a little too booze cruise for me but it was well done and the kids liked it even though I felt it was too old for them). There is truly something for everyone whether you’re looking heart-pounding adventure or parking it on a beach with the best pina colada on the planet.

The people that run this tour love and care for their horses. They turned away a guy that was over the 230lb weight limit and use a rope system instead of bits so inexperienced riders don’t hurt the horses. They weren’t screwing around.

When to Go

We took this trip in mid-March and I thought it was perfect. It only rained for about 20 minutes one day and the temperature hovered in the low 80s (high 20s for my fellow Celsius peeps). Everyone had me all paranoid about bugs but I didn’t see many – it’s probably because of the gazillion things that will eat bugs all over the place. Frankly, I have more mosquitos in my backyard, however, Zika is there so keep that in mind if you’re pregnant or in baby makin’ mode. The sun is pretty strong so I would load up on the SPF 9,000 but that’s coming from a redhead.

We went through a TON of sunscreen there and my two faves were the Neutrogena Ultra Sheer 45, L’Oreal Silky Sheer for faces, and the Babyganics Mineral Spray 50.

 

I was in full bird nerd mode and could have sat here for hours.

 

It’s about a 5-hour flight from Toronto which was totally bearable for my 8 and 11-year old (thank you iPads). We found most of the people traveling there were either from Texas or California where the flight isn’t as long (or expensive).

This woman attached her Ergobaby to the tray table and kept the bottom strapped to her so her baby could lay in a sling position. There is no way Ergobaby would tell you to do this because of the fall hazard, but I know you’re smart and would make sure you don’t drop your baby on its head. I just thought it was a brilliant way create another position if you’ve opted to hold your baby on your lap rather than purchase a separate seat.

Safety

I always judge safety on what the women and kids are doing in a country. We left for the airport at 5:00am and there were women walking down dark alleys on their way to work in business attire. When driving through a town we’d see a young girl walking by herself on the way to school.  Every town we went into had a very welcoming vibe and nothing felt too touristy or sketchy. I’m sure bad shit happens there, but overall, I found it to be an incredibly safe, friendly country so you should be more than fine if you’re practicing common sense.

Everywhere we went the water was potable so you could brush your teeth and drink from the tap – even on our hike in the middle of the rainforest. (This is totally your call though. I know lots of people don’t like to risk it.)

This is the only non-fuzzy monkey picture I got because it wasn’t looking at me. Monkeys stare straight at you and look like they are seriously going to fuck you up so I took my pictures too quickly. I have mad monkey respect.

Language

If you speak Spanish you’re golden. I only bumped into one woman who didn’t speak a word of English and even then she was very friendly about it and humored my Sesame Street Spanish. You can get around quite easily with English as your only language and most signs were in both languages.

Piña colada por favor!

In conclusion

There is nothing I didn’t like about Costa Rica. The people are friendly, the food is great, the scenery is stunning and the country puts the rest of us to shame with many of their eco-friendly initiatives. I felt like my kids were the perfect age for (8 and 11) it because they could handle the flight and truly appreciate the scenery but if you live closer I would take smaller kids in a heartbeat.

Let me know if you have any questions, though!

Sadly, I was not compensated for this glorious trip but, as always, all of these opinions are my own. Feel free to send me somewhere though – Lord knows I don’t get out much.
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Topics:Reviews, Travel
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19 Comments

  • We are planning a trip to Costa Rica in March of 2019….haha I know that sounds like an eternity away but it would be for my husbands 50th Birthday. And or kiddos (monsters) will be 3.5 and 5.5 years old!! I was so excited to watch your IG story of your trip there and even more excited to find this article, I am going to print it out and save it and save it in a safe place for future use!

    Thank you

  • We’re planning a trip to Costa Rica with our 1.5-year-old twins this fall. We’ll be roughing it a lot more than you did – staying in vacation rentals, cooking our own food and driving our own car. I’ve been a bit worried about it because of safety issues, but your review totally eased my mind. The only thing I’m worried about now is surviving the long flight from Germany – sometimes I do miss living in the States. 😉
    Thank you for sharing your adventures. Your unique way of story-telling always makes me laugh and come back for more. I can’t believe no one sponsored your trip! They sure as heck should have! XO!

    • You are going to have the best time!! That is a hefty flight but, hey, it is what it is. Bring a ton of snacks and books and toys they’ve never seen before and you should be golden. (I agree, I have no idea why someone hasn’t snapped me up as a family travel correspondent – I’m delightful!!!) Thank you 😉

  • I went to Costa Rica a few years ago (pre-baby) but on a family trip and it was amazing! I can’t wait to go back again with kids. It looks like we did a lot of the same things actually. We did a beautiful boat tour on the Tarcoles river to check out the crocodiles. We also did ziplining at an adventure resort in Monteverde. This post makes me have major travel urges!

  • Ahhhhhh this makes me so happy!!! I’m on course to win a free trip to CR with the company I work for, slated for January 2018. Here’s the thing though… I’m due to deliver my third and absolutely FINAL child this October. I debated leaving the baby at home with my mom and it’s older siblings, but after reading this, I’m thinking I could absolutely bring my newb! The trip we’re going to win will be at an all inclusive resort, not sure which. Do you think a mama, daddy, and breastfeeding 3 month old could have fun for 4 days in CR?

  • This article makes me want to go to Costa Rica now more than I already do! It’s my dream vacation destination! Thank you for the great article! I have to ask when you were bird watching did you see a lot of macaws?

    • I didn’t see any macaws (although, I had to be a pretty passive bird watcher while there with the family) but there were tons of toucans, tanagers and Crimson-fronted Parakeets right outside my hotel window!

  • Thanks for the great review and reminder! I went to Costa Rica with my mom about 7 years ago. We stayed on the Pacific Coast at a small Bed & Breakfast. I would love to go back and take LO – but he’s only 2 right now. The roads are terrible – despite that, my mom drove the 4-wheel drive like a boss – including down a dried riverbed to find the zip-line place (where they clipped me on like Superman and I flew over the canopy screaming like a maniac the whole time).

  • I absolutely LOVE Costa Rica!!! Haven’t been there since grad school, but I’d love to go back with the kids sometime. Best coffee in the world!!

  • This is the best travel review I’ve ever read. I am cracking up the entire time. We’ve hung out and done some trekking in Guatemala and Belize but Costa Rica sounds lovely… especially compared to Winterpeg in Feb/March.
    Cheers.

    • LOL. Thank you! I’ve been to Guatemala and Belize too. If you dug Belize you would really dig Costa Rica. Same kind of vibe and ever-so-slightly better winters than Canada. 😉

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