Traveling with a toddler – Costa Rica edition

Tagged as: baby, travel

Our this year’s resolution is to travel whenever we have an opportunity to. Our big trip was going to be Hawaii. But one day Z came and asked me what did I think about going to Costa Rica instead. My reaction – ‘huh? what?’ A friend of ours was getting married in Costa Rica. But long story short, I was definitely interested! (make that all caps!!) Now that we had the where, then began the planning, and the packing. And when you are traveling with a toddler that’s always interesting! Here’s a list of stuff that worked well and stuff that we didn’t get it quite right.

Destination & Planning:

Since the wedding was in Alajuela, the central part, we decided to pick 2-3 destinations around that. After pouring through all the TripAdvisor and google search results, it quickly became clear that we needed help with getting to the various destinations since the roads and directions are quite different than what we are used to here in the US. And with a toddler in tow, getting lost in a foreign country, where we don’t speak the language was definitely not something that we wanted to risk. We looked at the different tour operators and decided to go with Costa Rica Vacations. We ended up with a 8 day trip plan starting in La Fortuna, then going to San Ramon and then end the trip in Alajuela to attend the wedding.

The boring stuff aka Documents/Visa etc:

If you are a US citizen or have a valid work visa, traveling to Costa Rica is easy. You don’t need any special documents.

Flying:

After our previous blunder of taking the longest flight to India, we made sure, we chose the shortest one this time around. We had a 8.5 hr flight from San Jose, CA with a stopover at LAX. If you book your flights 30 days before your trip, tickets are much cheaper. Something we learned the more expensive way. Also, even though technically this was an international flight, but not so in terms of baggage policy. We were charged the regular $25/bag, which added up quickly. Luckily we only had to check in 2 bags.

We are huge fans of flying red eye with the sprout. She sleeps throughout the flight, and is ready to start the day once we land. And we decided to buy a ticket for her even though she wasn’t 2 during the trip. It’s just more convenient and comfortable that way.

Things we got for this trip:

– Sunscreen – We got the Blue Lizard (Sport version) since it’s waterproof. The adults ended up using the Neutrogena one since we’d already gotten it from Costco.
– Kid carrier – Z did a lot of research when it came to carriers. We’d signed up for a few hikes and getting a carrier seemed like an obvious choice. We were down to 2 choices: Deuter Kid Comfort 3 and Osprey Packs Poco. We ended up choosing the Deuter since it has better support for taller kids. The total weight capacity for this is 50lbs (counting the 7lbs for the pack itself). We can still get a few more months of use from this thing, so were ok.
– and the regular hats, rashguard swimsuits + swim diaper, crocs for the kid etc.

Accommodation:

La Fortuna – We stayed at the El Silencio Del Campo. It was amazing! We had a view of the Arenal volcano from our room/cabin. The cabin itself was pretty big. It had 2 queen beds, a large bathroom. The hotel has multiple mini hot spring pools; which were fantastic!

They also have a mini farm where they have cows, chickens and sheep. Between that, the pool and the mini playground, it was kid heaven!

The second day we went to Mistico Arenal Hanging bridges for a guided rainforest hike. It was great! It was a 3hr hike. The toddler carrier was super helpful. She fell asleep in it after a while. And it had a comfy headrest for her. We saw all kinds of animals and reptiles there. Snakes, vipers, tarantulas, monkeys. the snakes and spiders I could’ve done without. But our guide was really great and he made it interesting. The thing that struck us the most was how untouched the rainforest seemed even though they had so many people coming through every 15 minutes. The authorities have put in a lot of effort towards making sure of just that.

The third day we decided to venture out in the town. We got a cab and then walked in the town. The locals are super friendly. Getting around without knowing any spanish wasn’t too bad either. Food is a bit expensive compared to US standards. The American fast food spots more so. Try local if you have the option. We were really excited about trying the local ceviche and it didn’t disappoint.

San Ramon – The next day we went to Villa Blanca which is a part of the cloud forest. It was one of the most amazing places we’ve ever seen! In the mornings and the evenings, the clouds seem to descend on the ground and it’s as if you are walking through them. This place has a 100% humidity. It didn’t rain while we were there but the leaves and trees were wet when we woke up in the morning. Everything is covered in moss.

The property is about 7km away from the main road. But when you are surrounding with sweeping views of the mountains and can see the Arenal volcano far away, you forget about being far away from the city center. The views are absolutely breathtaking! To make sure the guests don’t feel isolated, they have self guided trails as well as ones with the guides. They provide the option of night guided wildlife tours. They have a Lecheria (dairy farm) where guests get a chance to milk the cows twice a day. We did that and it was super fun! There’s a chapel on the property, which is a destination for quite a few weddings. Apparently the previous owner, who also happened to the President of Costa Rica, had that built as a gift to his wife for their 50th wedding anniversary. The roof is covered with painted ceramic tiles.

We were sad to leave the place. But we had a wedding to look forward to. We came to Alajuela which is a 1 hour drive from San Ramon. It is quite different from the touristy places we were at. We’d rented a condo via AirBnB. The next day was packed with the wedding festivities, dancing and all kinds of shenanigans.

The best part of this trip were how great everyone around was. When the sprout started crying while we were waiting for our lunch at Villa Blanca, the host drew a Mickey Mouse on a paper and got colored pencils for her. This wasn’t a resort that would pencils stocked, but they still made every effort to make sure everyone was happy. And that seemed to be a constant theme on our trip. Instead of raising a stink eye when a kid started crying, they asked if they could help in some way. And that goes a long way for families traveling with kids. We’ll be back for sure. Next time maybe the coastal regions.

~Preeti