How to Travel with a Baby in Costa Rica
When my son was a baby, we wanted to visit somewhere safe with him that we would also enjoy. Costa Rica seemed like a good choice since it was pretty close to home. It turned out to be an easy and safe experience, with a bit of planning and prep.
Costa Rica is very family-oriented, and the locals will take notice of your baby. Expect people to stop and say hello, attempting in Spanish to make them smile or laugh.
Everywhere we went felt like one giant outdoor playground, so our son had plenty to explore and play in. Splashing around in the water was his absolute favorite thing, and there’s a lot of it in Costa Rica.
You can get around Costa Rica a few different ways, but not all of them are kid-friendly.
There’s no national bus system, and I can assure you they won’t have car seats for your little one. Buses also take a long time to get from place to place, and my kids don’t like sitting still that long.
Another option is a taxi or shared car, but you’ll need to call ahead to have any hope of a baby seat, or bring and install your own. Most companies should have what you need if you plan ahead, but will usually charge a fee.
We opted to take transportation into our own hands and rented a car. By booking in advance online, we got what we needed to get around the country and made sure a car seat was part of the deal. There’s a slight surcharge for requesting a child seat, but for us it was well worth not having to lug our own through the airport.
Costa Rica isn’t a big country, but getting around isn’t always a piece of cake. The winding roads had my wife in a tizzy but didn’t seem to bother my son in the least.
None of our drives were longer than three hours by design, so we weren’t crammed in a car all day. Since we did rent, we could stop to see cool views or stretch our legs whenever we wanted. If our son fell asleep, we could power through and get to our next destination quickly.
Most roads in the country were really nice, except for the jaunt up to Monteverde. We knew the roads were unpaved on the way up (and down the other side), so we took this section carefully.
Where to Stay
There aren’t many large hotels around Costa Rica with amenities for kiddos. Instead, you’re likely to find cute little family-owned places. We prefer those, anyway.
Before leaving the States, we planned out our stops. Landing in San Jose, we immediately left the city and traveled north to Arenal for three days. This gave us time to see the area at a slower pace, including the volcano, rainforests, and waterfalls. The cute little town was a treat to walk around, and my son even hit it off with some of the local kids.
We ended up staying at the Hotel Tangara Arenal B&B just outside of town. It was serene, had lots of open space to run around in, and served breakfast every morning. They also had a crib for our infant to sleep in.
After our time in Arenal, we headed south and up into the mountains of Monteverde. Seeing the cloud forest was at the top of our list for this region, but we also wanted to visit a cacao plantation. Three days here was the right amount of time for what we ended up doing.
There weren’t as many places to choose from, but we settled on the Historias Lodge. It too was a bit away from the town itself, and our room was a bit cramped with a crib. They did have an amazing breakfast, and this was one of the places that really doted on our son. Kind of made us feel like family.
Finally, we drove back down the mountain and south to the area around Manuel Antonio beach. The last four days of our trip were all about enjoying sandy beaches.
We stayed at the Karahe Hotel right on the beach so we didn’t have to do much of anything during our time there. It was a bit far from restaurants, but nothing beat having the Pacific at our doorstep. The hotel blessed us with a big room and a pack n’ play for the baby to sleep in, so we were set.
I used Booking.com to make all our reservations. The site works well because you can see if a hotel allows children and whether they have things like cribs or pack ‘n plays available. This helped narrow down the options that would work for our family.
If you’re having trouble finding amenities in the hotels you’re checking out, you could buy a pack ‘n play in-country. Be aware that depending on where you’re at, a store with baby supplies may not be close by.
We opted not to deal with the hassle of bringing a portable bed from home, but that’s certainly another option. Just juggling a stroller and our backpacks is enough for me in stressful airport situations, but airlines tend to let you check kid items for free.
Costa Rica is all about natural landscapes and beautiful scenery. We wanted to get close to waterfalls, hike through cloud forests, and check out a volcano or two.
When we traveled to Costa Rica, my son was able to walk a bit on his own. Still, there was no way he’d be able to handle these kinds of hikes with his little legs.
To compensate, I brought along am older version of the Deuter Comfort Active child carrier with an aluminum frame that sits on my back. It fits like a backpack, so I could use the straps to spread out his weight on my shoulders, back, and hips.
We used this thing just about everywhere we went and took out the kiddo from time to time for him to explore and me to get a rest. I gotta say, it worked wonders.
The inconvenience of getting the carrier through security was nothing compared to having it at our disposal. We got to do all the hikes we wanted and then some, and my son had a great time seeing the world from up there.
This includes a steep set of hundreds of stairs leading down to a popular waterfall near Arenal Volcano. I’ll never forget the old ladies commenting on how strong my legs were going to be after climbing back up to the top.
If your child’s even smaller, using a baby wrap like the one Solly offers would work much the same way.
Many Costa Rican beaches along the Pacific are incredible and some of the best in the world. Most are clean, safe, and very inviting for lounging, a swim, or a snooze. We let our son explore with supervision, and the waters were calm and warm enough for him to splash around.
I was never worried about either one of us stepping on something unsanitary or sharp. After stepping on a sea urchin in the Dominican Republic, I’m always on the lookout for natural concerns as well. I didn’t see anything on the beaches here.
Breastfeeding in public can be a hot topic in certain countries, but Costa Rica isn’t one of them. It’s common to see women breastfeeding in public. You’re going to see it everywhere, and it’s not the cultural norm to even cover up.
If it doesn’t bother you, you can be as open and free as you want. People won’t look away from you, and don’t be surprised if you get smiles and nods from both sexes.
There’s not a lot of crime in the country, especially once you’re out of the capital. Just like in any American city, pay attention to where you go at night. The most common instances of crime with travelers involve theft.
Food and Water
The food in Costa Rica is delicious. Fresh fruits and juices are everywhere, and the locals love eating dishes with meat, rice, beans, and plantains.
For the best food safety, I opt for places I see the locals go. If it’s packed with locals and especially their kids, you can bet the food there is going to be good.
Whether you pick a street vendor or a sit-down restaurant, the food is generally safe to eat anywhere in the country. I never felt leery about giving anything we ordered to my son, and he loved eating all of it.
Tap water is typically safe to drink in more established areas. We picked up a container of 2-liter bottled water more for convenience than anything. More than once we filled it up from the tap to save on waste.
This meant my wife and I had no issue letting our kid drink water or juice, and fruit was also fair game. If someone in your family has a particularly sensitive stomach or if you’re mixing up formula, just stick with bottled water as a precaution.
Child Seats in Restaurants
Every restaurant we walked into always had some form of child seat available for our kiddo to sit in while dining. The most common were wooden ones, but we did find a plastic one along the way. He was always safe and secure.
We were already past the formula stage when we visited Costa Rica, and we had no trouble finding milk for our little one to drink. Costa Ricans pasteurize their milk, so I was never worried about our son drinking it.
If you’re still using formula or need to pick up some baby food, there are a number of locations in the capital. Walmart and Maxi Pali are the big-box stores – you can find diapers, wipes, and the like as well.
Things get a lot harder outside of San Jose, as these chains are a lot more sparse. You may have to ask the locals about mom-and-pop shops carrying items you need in the town you’re in.
Baby supplies in Costa Rica may not be brands you’re familiar with, and they tend to be pricier than what you’d pay in the States. Without overstuffing your suitcase, pack the essentials you’ll need to save time scouring for them while on vacation.
We brought a stroller with us down to Costa Rica, since every airline I’m aware of lets you check them for free. We opted for one with smaller wheels to reduce weight for moving around while in town.
I can honestly say it didn’t seem worth it, as the sidewalks in some areas were uneven. I think we would have been fine if we had brought a bigger stroller.
Looking back, I probably would have just stuck with the child carrier even in town. It only weighed a few pounds and was much easier to lug around. In the end, the stroller didn’t get a ton of use.
Holding Your Baby
Ticas (an endearing term for Costa Rican women) love babies. I can’t tell you how many times we had someone come over and ask to hold our son. Being from the States, this totally caught us off guard. This just isn’t something we do!
These women can be quite insistent about it, putting out their arms and speaking fast Spanish that makes your head spin. We never felt threatened by these gestures, and in some cases the ladies were just trying to give us a break so we could eat.
It’s okay to say no to these requests, although you may have to say it a few times. We ended up taking advantage of it from time to time, but always made sure our kiddo was within our line of sight.
Watch the Heat
The temperature rarely changes in Costa Rica. It’s in the 80s year-round, with only the amount of rain differing from month to month. Most vacationers visit in the dry season (December through April), which means a lot of sun.
Our baby carrier had a cute canopy to keep the sun off my son while we were adventuring. I’d strongly suggest something similar, or at least make sure to bring along a hat to protect your child’s head.
Otherwise, we made sure to always have lots of water on hand and made frequent stops for fresh juice and popsicles. We also spent a lot of time playing by the water, whether it was at the bottom of a waterfall or at the ocean.
It surprised us that the temperature remained pretty constant even after driving up into Monteverde and the cloud forest. The tree cover was a nice reprieve while searching for a rare Quetzal bird.
Washing Stuff Along the Way
Kids plus stuff means things are going to get dirty. If you’re traveling for a while or have a mishap with clothes, it’s easy to get items clean.
The hotels we stayed in had services on-site and would wash clothes for us for a set fee. We’d try to cram as much as we could into the bag in the morning and would have freshly laundered clothes by evening.
If this service isn’t available where you’re staying, you’re bound to find a laundry service somewhere nearby. You probably won’t find a self-service area, since those are quite rare.
We brought some sippy cups from home that my son was used to using. He can get picky about what he drinks out of, and we didn’t want him fussing the entire trip.
Upon arriving in Costa Rica, we picked up a small bottle of dish soap to use as needed. Whenever we used a cup, we’d just wash it with tap water and the soap. If you’re concerned about upset tummies, you can do the same with bottled water.
Traveling with a little one may not be the easiest thing, but it is so rewarding. It melts my heart seeing my son enjoy experiences around the world, even if he won’t remember all of them. We take our kids everywhere we go, and I personally wouldn’t have it any other way.
This post was written by guest author Noah Zelvis.