Central America is well known for its family oriented values and love of children. Your infant or toddler is not only welcome in this tropical country, but more likely than not will be the center of attention at every stop. A trip to Costa Rica will be the perfect early-memory moment your child’s needs, and the perfect weather and bright, colorful beaches will keep any young child stimulated and happy. Your trip with the whole family will doubtlessly be fun, but special consideration must be taken for families traveling with babies or toddlers. While your 6-year old can handle simple hikes, you may not want to venture onto the slippery jungle paths with a baby on your back.
Costa Rica offers fun for the whole family regardless of physical activity levels or interests, and even the youngest of babies can easily be included in on this fun. With a young child, it’s best to be planned and ready before setting off for a new country, and while Costa Rica has several destinations suitable for young families, there are 7 which can’t be missed.
Manuel Antonio National Park
Located near the Pacific shores, the Manuel Antonio National Park offers soft beaches, wild rainforests, and coral reefs. Located in the Puntarenas province, this national park attracts nature lovers and wildlife admirers from every corner of the world. Families and extreme adventurers alike will find suitable activities. The nearly 700 hectares of area in this protected park offer hiking trails, nature overlooks, and adventure centers. While the astonishing biodiversity brings in practiced hikers, families with young babies will still find plenty of fun and educational adventures. Many trails in this park are extremely well maintained and even paved, offering short, circular hikes for young families. You will be able to walk at any pace, let your toddler teeter along, and ensure safety for everyone. Aim for the nature overlooks, and point out any monkeys, sloths, or tropical birds to your young adventurer.
Arenal Eco Zoo
In western Alajuela province, Arenal features an eco-zoo that’s perfect for your traveling family. You may have a more difficult time spotting wildlife in their natural environment with a small child, as children often lack the patience for animal watching and may alert any animals to your presence. If that’s the case, the Arenal Eco Zoo is a must see, as the animal life in Costa Rica is too exotic to miss. This zoo offers guided, educational presentations with well trained and passionate staff. It is one of the best collections of local reptiles and amphibians in the country, and comes complete with a butterfly room and multiple free activities. Parts of this zoo will offer opportunities to touch or hold the animals, and bilingual guides can be found to help your family navigate the nearby lake and volcano.
Limon Sloth Sanctuary
In the southern part of the country, the famous Limon Sloth Sanctuary has been featured on viral internet videos for years. This sanctuary takes sick and hurt sloths from around the country and rehabilitates them in their state-of-the-art center. Some of these sloths stay for life while those who are able to be released are set free in protected areas. This is another opportunity for your family to see wildlife, hike on maintained trails, and take a short, safe boat ride in the wilderness.
Museo de los Niños
In the bustling capital city of San Jose, the Children’s Museum will not only provide stimulus for your baby and toddler, but for all members of the family. The museum is built inside an old prison from the early 1900s, and while it is now brightly decorated and filled with toys, the castle-like architecture remains. At this hands-on museum, your children can learn about health, space travel, local ecosystems, and play with other children in any of the 43 inside or outside rooms.
La Paz Waterfall Gardens
In Heredia, parents with young children get a chance to see the stunning wildlife and active ecosystem of Costa Rica. The La Paz Waterfall Gardens offer guided tours at a slow pace for families, leading them to 5 natural waterfalls. The trails are well-maintained and a guide is with you every step of the way. This trip is extremely educational and allows you to fit some adventurism into your family trip.
The majority of volcano hikes will be off-limits to parents with babies and toddlers, but the Poas Volcano offers one of the most spectacular views in the country and has short, well maintained trails near to visitors’ centers and public bathrooms. From the main visitor’s center to the top of the volcano, there is a well-maintained, paved trail of just a quarter mile. This active volcano is a must-see for any visitor to Costa Rica, but is especially well recommended for adventurous parents who don’t mind a short hike with a baby on their back.
Playa Chiquita, a small stretch of coast just South of Puerto Viejo, is hidden by a thick patch of forest separating the beach from the main road. Although this beach may be difficult to find, it offers one of the most relaxing and family friendly beach environments. White sands, shaded shores, and coconut trees are just the beginning. The calm water may make it impossible for surfers, but gives your family more liberty to swim and splash in the water without the risk of wild waves. The coral reefs and calm, shallow pools make this a common destination for snorkelers and tropical wildlife admirers. As this beach can be more difficult to locate, families often enjoy their space and privacy.
Tips for traveling with young children
- The water in Costa Rica is generally safe, but toddlers and babies have especially sensitive stomachs, so bottled water and juices are preferred.
- Restaurants welcome families, but will not supply a highchair or kids’ menu. The menu is no problem as traditional food is not spicy or heavily seasoned and you’ll be able to find something suitable for your young child anywhere. As for the highchair, it may be a good idea to bring along your stroller or baby carrier so your child doesn’t sit on your lap for the whole meal.
- In an emergency, Costa Rica has a number of 24 hour hospitals in almost every city or tourist zone. The health care system is among the best in Latin America and you can be treated for little to no cost.
- Few families follow car seat laws in Costa Rica, but the windy, poorly lit roads make it even more imperative. Bring your child’s car seat from home or have one ordered with your rental vehicle to make sure your child’s safety is ensured before you head out on the road. It may be difficult to buy a good car seat once you’re in Costa Rica, so it’s best to have this organized before your trip.
- Costa Rica has an extremely family-oriented culture and the locals generally welcome babies and small children in any establishment. Your noisy toddler won’t get you mean glances or cause a fuss in almost any restaurant, park, or hotel. Feel free to let your young children express themselves and enjoy your time together as a family!