The landscape is etched in shades of forest green and everywhere you turn, you are surrounded by rolling hills or mountains, remnants of volcanoes past jutting up from the rugged terrain. You can barely take a step without hearing the chirping of birds or the sounds of the animals hidden in the trees making their presence known to friend and foe.
Costa Rica is a beautiful country rich in history, culture, nature and adventure. It’s an easy flight from the United States, and open to visitors from around the world. Costa Ricans are friendly, quick to give a smile and fast to help, if they understand what you are asking.
Costa Rica’s economy thrives on the service and tourism industries. From the restaurants to the hotels to the many tours available, the locals aim to show off all their country has to offer and teach visitors a little more about the country that is sandwiched between Nicaragua and Panama. So far, this might all sound very appealing, nudging us all to add Costa Rica to our must-see travel list.
But, is Costa Rica kid-friendly? If searching for the ultimate getaway for your family, should Costa Rica be on your list? If you are seeking an out-of-the-country travel experience that will expose your kids to differences in culture, people, language and food, Costa Rica may be a great option for family travel. But, it is important to prepare yourself so you can adequately manage the expectations of your kids.
Traditional Costa Rican rice and beans can’t be beat and similarly, the chicken and rice combos are some of the best food you’ll find anywhere. But, the Costa Rican fare may not win over the picky eaters seeking chicken nuggets or fish sticks, although many restaurants do their best to accommodate foreign travelers. Whole milk is also very hard to find, so if your child only drinks whole milk, think about alternatives during travel. Costa Rica is flush with fruit, so if your child is a fan of fruit, the dining options will become a little easier. Consider bringing pre-packaged snacks that you can have in your bag as you are out and about.
If your kids like adventure or favor adrenaline-high excursions, Costa Rica is a must-see. From rafting to zip lining to rappelling, you’ll be hard-pressed to find as many outdoor activities in such close proximity to one another. For those not seeking elevated heart rates, many of the nature walks, including the night walks, afford a wonderful way to see the landscape and the animals often found in the rainforest—sloths, monkeys, birds, snakes and bugs. In the tourist cities of Arenal/La Fortuna and Monteverde, most hotels will have at least one staff member who can help you book tours upon arrival or you can use the Internet to find tour options through Expedia, Ecoterra, Selventura, 100% Adventura and others. There’s no shortage of things to do throughout Costa Rica. Look online, plan ahead and check out blogs or websites with current information about half-day, full-day or multi-day trips offered throughout the country, often ones combining a variety of activities. When looking online, most tour companies will indicate if the activity is kid friendly.
If your child has a fear of bugs, you might want to move Costa Rica down your list of must-see places. To put it in perspective, more than 70 percent of the country is a part of one of more than 25 national parks. Higher in the mountains, you are literally in a rainforest or cloud forest. Bugs are just going to be a part of it, and yes, you’ll have bugs in your rooms. Try using bug spray near doors and windows, in limited quantities, to at least prevent more bugs from coming in. Always spray your kids with bug spray before heading out, but prepare those with a fear of them that it will be almost impossible to avoid.
In order to visit some of the country’s most beautiful areas, you’ll have to travel along some fairly rugged roads to get there. Winding dirt roads can not be avoided if visiting Monteverde. Travel to Arenal will keep you on pavement but the roads are very windy. If you child (or you) gets car-sick, Dramamine is a must-have. Costa Rica Shuttle will offer service from the San Jose International Airport throughout the country. The ride is air-conditioned, and the drivers do what they can to minimize the rough ride.
Uber is illegal in Costa Rica, even though Uber can be found and used in San Jose. Cabs are more readily available but fairly expensive just about anywhere. Expect to walk. A lot. Remember that the areas higher in the mountains are situated on a mountain, so not only will you be walking, you’ll be walking up steep sidewalks or no sidewalks to get around. This could be a challenge for very young kids. Some hotels offer a shuttle service to the main area that is cost-effective if your kids are over the walking after the first climb to the hotel room. Visits to national parks require walking, as do most activities throughout the country. Younger children may struggle with the longer walks required of most tours.
In the tourist areas, most Costa Ricans can speak a little English if not fluent English. You might have a cab driver who doesn’t speak English or if you venture a little further off the beaten path, you might not find English speakers. Learn a few basics before you go, and don’t forget to say, “Pura vVida,” whenever you meet someone.
You’ll pay for your flight, your hotel and the transfer to your hotel, but expect to pay for everything else as well. Any excursions you want to do will be extra. Excursions can range from $25 for a cacao tour to more than $100 for more of the adventure, adrenaline-seeking thrills. Excursions should include transportation from your hotel and sometimes a snack or a meal. Review the tour inclusions before booking and expect to have to pay for every activity you do. Also, plan on having cash with you. Some tours can be booked online with a credit card, but you won’t be able to swipe your credit or debit card everywhere you go.
If you are looking for adventure or just for a travel experience that is very different from what you’ll find in the United States, Costa Rica should definitely be considered. You’ll be hard-pressed to find any place more green, the people more friendly, and the opportunities to see and do things you wouldn’t see or do otherwise. If traveling with kids, try to learn as much as you can before you leave so you can manage their expectations adequately.