Family Travel: Costa Rica

Our family trip to Costa Rica was back in the beginning of 2015, roughly when “A” was 19 months old. We love traveling and wanted to go on a family adventure before “A” was required to have his own seat on a plane.

My wife and I have been to Costa Rica before; actually this trip would mark the 3rd time my wife has been to Costa Rica and this my 2nd. It’s a place we love and would go to over and over again. On our first trip together to Costa Rica, before having children, we went to the east coast to a small town called Puerto Viejo. We fell in love with it! Both black and white sand beaches, lots of wildlife and a really relaxed vibe. I also loved how it is not as built up as the west coast of Costa Rica seems to be, though with time I am sure that will change, and on our most recent visit, I noticed a change or two.

We booked a 2 week stay and invited Ama (wife’s mother) along with us.

Flights

Houston, Texas - Arrival for 1 night

We thought it would be a good idea to break up our flights down to Costa Rica a bit; in hopes to make the journey easy on us and on “A”. The flight times would be shorter, 5 hours one day and 4 hours the next as opposed to up to 10 hrs in one day (including waits at the gates etc). We booked out flights from Vancouver to Houston, Texas with a 1 night stay close to the airport. Then another flight from Houston to San Jose, Costa Rica in the morning. The drive from San Jose to the east coast takes roughly 4 hours so that’s not bad right?

Now, we did the similar thing on the way back. We flew from San Jose, CR (after a 6-hour drive to the airport) to Houston, Texas for a 1 night stay. We learned never to split up our flights over multiple-days if we can. Why? Well it didn’t really help with breaking up the trip and our sleep in those 1-night stays in Houston weren’t the most relaxing.

Though the bigger issue for me was the cost. Well aside from the hotel fees, the charges for checked bagged was horrid. Because “A” was flying on our lap, they did charge us an admin fee for him, I am okay with that. The part that sucked was that his checked baggage was considered my second checked baggage so it cost us an additional $35 USD PER flight. Yup, along side our checked baggage (my wife and I had one each) which cost us $50 USD on each flight (there are 4 flights in total here) there was an extra $140 USD for “A”‘s checked luggage too. This was at least for United for whom we flew with on all legs of our journey. I guess I just didn’t account for the additional checked luggage or something.

We have decided that for future travel, if there are multiple legs, we will try and get them all done first. So in the case of Vancouver to Costa Rica (as we plan on going back soon), we would fly Vancouver > Houston > San Jose and spend the night in San Jose as we did on our first trip there. That way we only paid for checked luggage at the beginning instead of the beginning and then again on the next stop.

Flight Entertainment for a Toddler

So how do you keep a toddler entertained on a flight? We haven’t let “A” watch TV at this point in his life but he has played a couple if education games on Ama’s iPad. We we made use of that when we could. He would sit on someone’s lap and play for a little bit.

My wife bought a little bag filled with small toys that he could find and play with. At the age of 19 months, not much holds their attention for too long.

The flight crews surprised me actually, some of them were more than happy to entertain him at the back in the galley during two of our four flights. Though there was one moment when A ran into business class and was almost yelled at to get out. None of the business class passengers seemed to mind him running to the front and back, the flight steward on the other hand was not too happy about it.

At the end of each flight, people praised us with how well “A” did on the plane. That too was surprising, but appreciated.

Anyway, let’s get to the fun parts, the actual family vacation in Costa Rica with our little guy.

Cahuita, Costa Rica

We arrived in San Jose by on a Friday at about noon their time I think. We had our accommodation, Playa Negra Guesthouse, have a driver meet us at the airport. From what we remembered it was about a 4-hour drive to the coast. We asked for a car seat for our little guy and they had one. Supposedly Costa Rica has similar car seat laws like we do here in Canada. I didn’t even think about that, my wife though was a bit worried but was relieved when she saw the car seat. “A” fell asleep during most of the drive, or at least that’s how I’d like to remember it.

The drive to Cahuita, which is situated about 30 minutes before Puerto Viejo, took us longer than expected and we didn’t arrive at the Playa Negra Guesthouse until after dark. We made one stop halfway in the trip to stretch our legs and have some dinner. This is where I saw a Burger King and a Taco Bell. We didn’t stop there, but it was sort of sad to see, but I guess you cant really stop that. To arrive at night was sort of a bummer because once you hit the coastal city of LimΓ³n and turn to head along the coast south, there are various portions of the ocean you can see. Sort of like a peak-a-boo tease along the way. Also it was a bit weird to get to a place in the dark, sort of ushered into a gated area. Either way, when we arrived at our destination, we were greeted by the hostess and shown to our 2-bedroom cabin. The next morning we were extremely happy with our choice in accommodation.

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The pool in the middle of the grounds with a nice big blue palm tree.

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The 2 larger cabin have patios like this – helps keep him in.

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The pool was great – ankle shallow to being about 5.5ft deep.

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Notice his small booster chair that is strapped to keep him in one spot!

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Things To Do

Playa Negra (Black Beach)

Playa Negra was right outside the front gate of the property (the property being fully enclosed with high walls). The surf was a bit rough for us to go play in the water as there was a storm as few days before, but we managed to wade in it and have “A” experience the warm Caribbean waters for the first time. My wife did pack a life-jacket for him which was good because the undertow was fairly strong.

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Cahuita National Park (Parque Nacional Cahuita)

The Cahuita National Park is about a 20-30min walk from the Playa Negra Guesthouse, or you can have the hosts hire a local, respected driver for you which takes about 8 minutes at most. The park entrance does require a donation but any amount will do and you also have to sign in and sign out. We went multiple times and each time we saw a variety of wildlife from sloths, howler monkeys, white-face monkeys, variety of birds, eye-lash vipers to even Cayman. From the park entrance to the local swimming area, Playa Blanca, was about 20 minutes of walking on a maintained trail through the jungle alongside the ocean. Don’t forget to pack food, snacks and definitely water!

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When you get to the end of the main trail you arrive at Playa Blanca, a nice swimming location that is fed from a small creek/river (Rio Suarez). You can easily keep going through the park down the path and see other beaches though 20 minute walk for the little ones is about right.

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“Dadda, I am looking for Cayman” – Cayman are known to frequent the river, though they are more scared of us

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Digging in the sand as the tide comes in

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The Rio Suarez feeds into the Caribbean waters

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Bus Trip to Manzanillo

Another thing we did was took the local bus to Manzanillo. When my wife and I were last in Costa Rica, the road between Puerto Viejo and Manzanillo was not paved and the bus was cheaper too, or at least it seemed cheaper. We were dropped off at the Cahuita bus station and waited for the bus. Now if you’ve even been on a bus with a under 2-year old, perhaps you understand how much of a non-relaxing trip it could be. We were looking forward to showing “A” and Ama the beaches down at Manzanillo.

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Notice my belt holding him to the chair – Makeshift highchair FTW!

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The trip back to Cahuita was tiring as “A” was overtired and climbing all over us on a pretty crowded bus. It seemed to take us forever to get back but we did get back to Cahuita, it took a while to find a driver to drive us back to the guesthouse. We decided that no more buses with kids, we would rent a car for a few days instead.

Punta Uva

Another one of our favourite beaches is Punta Uva. It’s located south of Puerto Viejo on the way to Manzanillo.

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There are a few other places we’d like to take out kids when they are older, one place for sure would be the Jaguar Rescue Centre, “A” would love that place for sure. It’s grown so much since the last time we were there.

The overall experience of taking “A” to Costa Rica was very memorable and a lot easier thanks to my wife’s mother (Ama) joining us. Alastair seemed to be unphased by anything and enjoyed all the beach time he had. One thing that I learned was that traveling with a toddler through airports can make your journey a little easier. Each airport stop we had (to and from) had either a Family line up or the airport workers pointed us to a family-friendly line up. This means we got through security a lot quicker than we expected to. Another thing that I found was that at the airport, I carried “A” in our Tula carrier. Due to the material the Tulas are made out of, I did not have to remove him from the carrier and I got to by pass all of the body scanners. I still had to go through metal detectors and such but we got to bypass a lot of really long lineups. That sure does help when you have a toddler (or two) who could melt down at any moment.

We’re looking forward to planning our next trip to Costa Rica in 2017 when “W” not quite 2-years old. “A” will get his own seat this time but I think we can easily entertain him next time. He always asks me when the next time he’ll get to fly is. He really enjoyed the air travel.

Have you traveled with young ones? If so, where did you go?

-T-

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