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Essential Tips for Family Travel in Costa Rica

Updated: Nov 1, 2019

Simple tricks to ensure your trip to Costan Rican paradise doesn't take a wrong turn and drop you in the seventh gate of parenting hell.

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Warm, sparkling water, otherworldly sunsets, giant plates of nachos, and sassy monkeys that don't steal your stuff... heaven awaits in Costa Rica.

Although it took us seventeen hours of travel - on questionable buses, airplanes and cars - to get there, I would happily repeat the process, as the magic of this balmy oasis made every ounce of anxiety-ridden travel worth it. We even plan to eventually follow in my wanderlusting cousins' footsteps and move to this eco-friendly paradise for six-ish months... or maybe just forever.

If you have the desire to explore this gem of Central America (and why not?) with your littles in tow, here are a few tips from one parent to another.

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1. Invest in direct flights

A child's hand holding a paper airplane in the window of a commercial jet on the way to Costa Rica

If you need to pony up extra moolah to obtain the most direct flights and minimize the joy of schlepping a child through airports, we recommend going for it. We flew overnight from Los Angeles, to Panama City, then into San Jose, Costa Rica (the most direct flight we could get.) We had to pay extra to avoid being shipped to Florida, then down to Costa Rica, and it was worth every last Benjamin.

2. Stay on a beach with a gentle shore break

Blonde baby with a sandy bottom standing on a yellow boogie board on a beach in Costa Rica's Osa Peninsula

Vacation is not as vacation-y when you're worried about your children being consumed by a monster shorebreak, or rip tide. If you want to stay near the beach, ask potential accommodations about conditions at the nearest beach, ensuring you select an area with a gentle break and minimal rip tides. If surfing is your jam, you can find beaches (like Dominical) that provide safe swimming, and surfable swell.

3. Bring multiple bottles of sunscreen and bug spray

Costa Rica has mosquitos that are sneaky and incessant, and need to be combated with an ample supply of bug spray. We didn't find a need to pull out the chemical big-guns (Deet), but made sure we always had a solid layer of bug repellent on all visible skin.

Because the sun is also sneaky and incessant (and it's a b*tch to apply goop on children who would rather eat broccoli than let you screen them up) we brought four bottles of Badger Anti-Bug Sunscreen Spray - you can spray them before they know what's happening.

For extra sun protection on the face, colorful zinc oxide (although goopy) is awesome. Get a few colors, like green, blue, and yellow, and let your kids go to town painting their face with sun protection. To be a legend in the eyes of your children, let them paint your face as well.

4. Bring a baby carrier and life jacket

Family of three standing on a golden deserted beach in Costa Rica

If you plan on doing any form of exploring with your small humans, we recommend bringing a lightweight baby carrier to leave your hands free to scale the side of a waterfall, or drink out of an alcohol-laden coconut. Even if you only use the carrier while slogging through airports, it's worth it.

And then there's all the water in Costa Rica. Keep the kiddos safe, and your sanity intact, by bringing life jackets, or some form of floaty device your child can't easily remove.

5. Stay somewhere with a kitchen, and do a Mega shopping trip before you leave San Jose

Small child reaching for a strawberry on a kitchen counter in Costa Rica

Food in Costa Rica is fairly affordable, but eating out for every meal takes time, and can be tricky/a nightmare with kids - so balance restaurant meals with home cooked food. Rent a place with a private or communal kitchen, and stock up on goods at a Mega Super (or similar mega-establishment) in San Jose before traveling into the less-inhabited and often more-expensive areas of the country.

6. If you're renting a house, hire the cook and driver/tour guide many homes offer for an additional (usually very reasonable) fee

Outdoor dining room table in Costa Rica's Osa Peninsula set with dishes, eggs and fresh fruit

Luis, our cook/driver/tour guide was a blast, taking us to secret beaches and filling our thighs with homemade bread, brownies and cocktails - he made the mass consumption of carbs totally worth it. And, homes offering chef services often come with housekeepers who will do all your dishes, and clean the house daily. So essentially, these houses are filled with angels.

7. Prep your kids for the monkeys

Two baby monkeys on a tree branch in a Costa Rica jungle

Finding monkeys in Costa Rica is like spotting a needle in a pincushion. While the spider monkeys and white-headed capuchin look and sound like nimble, furry babies, the call of the howler monkeys can be startling. Ensure your children don't think demons lurk in the jungle by playing them a few recordings of the sounds of howler monkeys before your trip, coupled with photos of the monkeys - they're much cuter than they sound.

8. Pray for bioluminescence

Bioluminescence on a beach in Costa Rica

Bioluminescence, the biochemical emission of light by living organisms, is one of the most magical phenomenon you'll ever see. And floating through it feels akin to being dipped in a psychedelic mermaid movie. It's mind blowing. The Osa Peninsula is a prime location to score a sighting, and boating through the glow is one of the safest methods for exploring it with kids. Many adventure companies, like Golfo Dulce, offer nighttime kayak tours in the Osa Peninsula.

9. Caution: It might be painful to say goodbye

A baby in a blue sunsuit and hat crying on a beach in Costa Rica's Osa Peninsula

The thriving ecosystem, locals that are genuinely happy you're there, and the therapeutic effects of floating in warm (glowing!) water easily foster a soul-deep transformation in all members of the family. We always feel like the best versions of ourselves when we're exploring Costa Rica... and always get a nasty case of post-travel blues as we fly away. Click here to learn tips for not mourning the end of your vacation.

If possible, fit a few of these highlights into your trip:

I could wax poetic about Costa Rica all day, but words and photos can't do justice to the wonders of this captivating little country. You need to discover the miracles of pura vida for yourself.


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