Costa Rica is the perfect family destination! Why you ask? It has everything! It is the safest Central American nation and consistently listed as one of the happiest places in the world!
It even possesses one of only five Blue Zones in the world. A Blue Zone is an area of the world where residents often live to be over 100 years. Clearly, Costa Rica possesses the secret to longevity, and I know I want to find out!
If you are planning a trip to Costa Rica with a baby or toddler, know that it is a safe location for families. In addition, it has all the things you want from a destination: great weather, lots of varied activities to do, accessibility and affordability. Costa Rica is one of the best countries to visit with a baby, and our favourite family winter destination for this reason.
We first visited Costa Rica before we got married and fell in love with the Pura Vida lifestyle. When we had our baby, we started to want to relive that relaxing, happy vibe that we remembered from Costa Rica. Costa Rica travel with a baby seemed like an excellent idea!
We decided to take our baby to Costa Rica for his first birthday and first Christmas. We even met my parents there for a family vacation.
We booked a direct overnight flight from Calgary, our home city in Canada direct to Liberia in Costa Rica.
Read more on visiting Calgary with a baby or toddler.
Costa Rica with a Toddler – Table of Contents
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Getting from the Airport to your Accommodation in Costa Rica
We booked a lovely home through AirBnb called Vista Bahia in Playa del Coco. They used a travel company to organize our stay with a personal concierge that we were able to organize details through, like taxis, airport shuttles, tours, restaurants, etc.
Getting from the airport to our Airbnb in Costa Rica was simple! We just told them our flight information and they arranged a shuttle to pick us right up at the airport.
Pre-arranging an airport transfer in Costa Rica is a must and especially for anyone traveling to Costa Rica with a baby or toddler! The laid-back lifestyle can mean waiting for a while if you try to order a taxi, and when traveling to Costa Rica (or anywhere really!) with an infant you don’t want to wait any longer than necessary!
Our shuttle was there upon arrival, they had a sign with our name, and we were able to install our baby car seat in the mini-bus. We loved having a travel concierge, one less thing to worry about when traveling with a baby!
We chose to visit Playa del Coco because of the proximity to the airport, only an hour’s drive from the Liberia airport.
Car Seats in Costa Rica
Are car seats required in Costa Rica required? Yes, you should travel with a car seat in Costa Rica. We opted to bring our own, because we have a travel system with a car seat that snaps into our travel stroller. You can rent a car seat in Costa Rica if you choose not to bring your own, though the history of it can be unknown making it potentially unsafe.
I’m always of the opinion to pack as light as possible. We rented our pack and play and highchair at the hotel and it was very easy. You can definitely choose to rent a car seat and the shuttle will have it ready for you upon arrival.
There are many companies in Costa Rica that offer baby items to rent, which would allow you more streamlined travel, less to pack, less to carry, less to stress.
Look into renting baby gear in Costa Rica.
You can Google these companies (always check reviews when safety is involved) and order directly from them or you can contact your accommodation for support with this.
Many places in Costa Rica are run by property management companies that offer booking services and support, so you can count on a high level of service.
The area we stayed in, Playa del Coco, it was really easy to get around as it only took 30 minutes to walk clear across town. We used our stroller and car seat travel system if we needed to go anywhere, or we just carried him. He was walking on our trip, so sometimes we would let him walk short distances holding our hand.
Baby Food and Formula in Costa Rica
Costa Rica has many large grocery stores that have a good selection of baby food, formula, diapers and wipes. Diapers are heavy and take up lots of room, so we always try to pack enough to get us to our destination (plus a couple of days) and then buy locally.
After getting settled in the first couple days of our trip, we headed to a grocery store and picked up some diapers and baby pouches. We saw the aisles well stocked with several different types of formula in Costa Rica.
Managing baby food while traveling in Costa Rica was pretty easy. If you do purées, you could see if your accommodation has a blender and prepare them yourself. There’s certainly lots of fresh food to buy.
The grocery stores in Costa Rica also had jarred baby food. The stores even had bottles and baby accessories but the prices for anything non-food related were steep, due to import costs.
We looked at buying a blow up pool toy and balked at the prices, then picked up a ball for cheap from a sidewalk seller on the way back to our accommodation.
Eating in Restaurants with a Baby in Costa Rica
Costa Rican dining is not super cheap, but everything is very fresh and delicious so we ate out daily. Every restaurant we went to had a high-chair and so that made things easy.
Here are a few tips on eating out in Costa Rica with a baby or toddler:
We always pack a baby food suction plate with a lid so that we can serve the restaurant food on our baby-throwing safe plate and then easily take home any leftovers that our son doesn’t eat.
We also pack his 360 sippy cup, one of the best sippy cups for travel, so that we can make sure that he has bottled water only. Costa Rican water is very safe to drink, but we consulted a travel pharmacist before travel and they said to serve bottled water only for a child under 5 and to thoroughly wash all fruits and vegetables. The pharmacist said that a child’s digestive system is more sensitive to traveler’s diarrhea. We personally have had no issues with our son getting sick on any of our trips, but we followed the directions of the travel pharmacist.
The big difference that we noticed in Costa Rica when compared to home or other destinations when dining was it can take a very long time receive your meal after ordering. So, keeping that in mind as your baby may want to leave before you even get your meal!
We brought lots of snacks or his own meal to appease our son while we waited for the food to arrive and this made eating out way easier!
Bigger towns in Costa Rica cater well to tourists and have the kind of food that you’re used to eating, including restaurants with burgers and fries and milkshakes, Mexican food, BBQ, Chinese, sushi, pizza and pasta, as well as local food. This makes it easier if you travel with a toddler who is pick.
I personally love to try local food, which is often Casado, seafood or roasted chicken, coleslaw or salad, rice and beans, and fried plantains. It is really tasty and I recommend giving it a try!
We did find changing tables in some of the bathrooms, but we bought a portable travel changing pad and it’s been a lifesaver for changing on the go. I even use the bag to store extra diapers and wipes to make my diaper bag more organized.
Managing Time Difference and Baby Jet Lag
The time difference likely won’t be a big issue for younger babies, but managing toddler jet lag can be more difficult.
We’ve found that if travel makes them extra sleepy or they have a short nap, then go with it and try to push them to time zone right away if it’s only a few hours. We’ve found success if that’s done the first day.
Otherwise, push in increments per day, like 15-30 minutes. For example, if bedtime is normally 7pm and you’ve travelled to a time zone that 2 hours ahead, then try to put them to bed half an hour earlier the first day and keep going earlier. Or you can always keep them to your original time zone and not worry about it, depending on how far you’ve travelled.
Naps on the go were key for us to get our baby to sleep on vacation, his schedule is messed up due to travel and he sometimes napped more than usual. Go with it! During travel, we always say that rules go out the window and things go back to normal when at home. Make the best of your trip and make memories and don’t worry about wake windows!
Costa Rica Itinerary
Our Costa Rica itinerary with a baby was very different to the action-packed trip that we had done pre-baby. I will mention some of the activities that we did pre-baby, as some of them are definitely baby-friendly and you may have older kids as well who could be interested in some of the other ones.
We took a trip across Costa Rica in 2018, so pre-baby. On that trip, we were able to fit in a coffee plantation tour, the La Paz Waterfall Gardens, La Fortuna, horseback riding, Monteverde, and Tamarindo. It was much easier for us to move around from place to place and do more adventurous activities.
The Doka Coffee Plantation has a coffee tasting with local coffee and afterwards walked around learning the different stages of the coffee-making process. They grow, pick, roast and brew coffee and the process was really neat to see. You could easily do this activity with a baby who’s in a baby carrier.
The La Paz Waterfall Gardens is something you can do with a baby or kids! It is a massive complex with a gorgeous waterfall and a lovely walking trail on wooden bridges that you can walk along (not stroller friendly, check your stroller at the desk, leave it in the car and bring a baby carrier for travel or baby hiking backpack).
There is also a big animal sanctuary with local animals that have been rescued from illegal animal trading and habitat loss. You’ll see colorful birds like toucans and macaws, sloths, jaguars and other wild cats, and wild hummingbirds in the beautiful gardens.
La Fortuna has hiking around the volcano Arenal and then relaxing in a nearby hot spring. The area is full of natural hot springs and also has water parks for kids too. Hot springs are said to have healing properties so it’s a nice way to relax and I know swimming in pools is something we do a lot more post-kids.
Some of our favorite parts of that trip were unfortunately not possible to do with babies or toddlers, but you can keep it in mind for when you have older kids! We took a boat ride on Lake Arenal with our luggage and then arrived on shore to horses and guides waiting for us.
Our boat continued on to meet our shuttle carrying our luggage, as we horseback rode through the rainforest on the way to our on to our destination.
In Monteverde, a very windy, rainforest town, Sky Adventures Monteverde offers ziplining and a rainforest guided tour. The guided tour is through the rainforest, crossing hanging bridges and is family friendly (though kids need to be 5 years old for ziplining). You even get a chance to spot local animals, like howler monkeys, sloths, parrots, and we even saw a tarantula hiding in a small cave!
Tamarindo is really touristy so it’s a bit pricier and often attracts surfers and partiers, so it may not be the best place for families. We stayed at the Wyndham Tamarindo, which was a fancy spot but we’re usually budget travellers so it was quite the treat for us! Infinity pool and infinity views!
We loved staying here. The best part was that you get the secluded hotel up in the hills for the best views, but also access to the beach club on the ocean with great amenities and lots of howler monkeys.
In Tamarindo, we did some scuba diving. Scuba diving in Costa Rica has an amazing abundance of underwater sea life, but the drawback is the waters aren’t as crystal clear as the waters of the Caribbean.
Costa Rica Itinerary with a Baby
Playa del Coco with a Baby
We chose Playa del Coco with a baby because it is a beautiful spot with a nice climate all year round, very short rainy season (October) and it is only one hour from the Liberia airport.
The short proximity to the airport is a big thing for us when traveling a long distance, such as taking an 11-month-old to Costa Rica. The overnight flight is enough travel to do with a baby, without having to add a long drive on the other end of the trip.
Don’t miss all our tips on flying with toddlers!
Playa del Coco also has beautiful views and is touristy enough that it has good restaurants, things to do like boat rides, snorkel rentals, scuba diving, massage therapy on the beach, shopping, or whatever you’re interested in. But it is also not too touristy that it feels overrun and tacky.
It really helps to have some of those main things planned out before arrival, as it’s much harder to ‘go with the flow’ when you’re traveling with a baby or toddler. We still like to keep things open and do what we want day to day, but having the major things planned ahead of time can help you avoid toddler and adult meltdowns too!
Here’s how we spent our time in Costa Rica with a Baby
We arrived in the morning of Christmas Eve, and we spent the first day getting settled. After we dropped off our luggage, we went straight for a breakfast of English muffin egg sandwiches, fresh fruit and lattes. If you like coffee, you’ll love Costa Rica!
Costa Rica Tip: Since visiting, we order bags of whole coffee beans in bulk directly from Britt in Costa Rica. Believe it or not, it’s cheaper than buying good beans from a coffee shop. Check it out for yourself if you’re a coffee lover!
Our accommodation had a pool and we spent a lot of time swimming there with our son. Nothing like a pool to keep kids busy! Many of the accommodations in Costa Rica have a pool, so that should be easy to find.
We visited Diamante Eco Adventure Park, which is basically a mix of the two places that we visited on our first trip to Costa Rica, La Paz Waterfall Gardens and Monteverde Sky Adventures. Diamante Eco Park has the option to pay extra to book a shuttle to get there. We took the shuttle with our own car seat and then brought our travel system stroller.
Diamante Eco Park has an animal sanctuary, a garden and ziplines. This particular zipline is the longest dual zipline in the country. The animal sanctuary was great, we saw large cats like jaguars, colourful birds and butterflies, crocodiles, sloths and lots of monkeys.
We didn’t do any ziplines this time as we were with our toddler, but we did attend a food presentation, with explanations and tastings of sugar cane, coffee, and chocolate.
We got to taste them all and we gave our one-year-old his very first taste of sugar. And what a way to taste it for the first time: freshly ground cocoa beans with powdered milk and sugar to make dark chocolate. He of course loved it! We loved it too, but I’m such a chocoholic. The presentation was extremely well done.
We went scuba diving again, this time I was a certified diver. My parents watched our son, as they travelled with us. It was our anniversary day out and it was such a treat. If you can travel with family to babysit, it’s a game changer.
Our favourite places to eat in Playa del Coco were The Look Out and Café De Playa.
The Look Out is a restaurant perched on the hill with amazing views in Playa del Coco. The restaurant was featured on Netflix’s Restaurants on the Edge. It serves mostly seafood, but you can request other items. You must make a reservation and you need to drive to get to the location as it is high on a hill.
We booked a taxi through our accommodation and paid cash. The same taxi picked us up and we brought our car seat with us.
All the other restaurants we visited were in walking distance from our Airbnb.
Café De Playa is a beachfront restaurant with the most amazing beach views and great variety of meals to eat. Since it’s right on the beach, you can get a great sunset view for dinner. They even have hammocks if you want to grab a fruity drink and chill for a moment and ask your partner to watch the kids. I got my relaxing moment by leaving my son with my husband and got the most relaxing beach massage.
Pacifico Beach Club is an honorable mention, They are a private beach club but you can eat dinner at the restaurant there. The actual Beach Club is amazing, but you cannot visit if you are not staying at one of their rentals. They also had an amazing playground for kids to play.
There aren’t a lot of playgrounds in Coco, so if your children want to play on one while visiting, make sure to check this one out!
These places were baby friendly and all offered high chairs, which meant we didn’t need to pack a portable travel highchair. They don’t have kids meals like at home, but we just ordered some food that we could share with him. He loved trying the different food we ate!
Final Thoughts on Costa Rica Travel with a Baby /Toddler
As you can see, visiting pre-baby and visiting with a baby, there is a dramatic difference in the activities that we did. You can definitely do so much with a baby, we bring our son absolutely everywhere with us, but when planning a trip with a baby for the first time it’s hard to wrap your mind around what to do.
We took things a lot slower and you know what, it was great! Bringing a travel backpack is a good way to be able to continue to do activities that you love. We love going on long walks or hiking with a baby with him in the backpack. We use the Poco Plus and have had no issues flying with a hiking carrier (it can be used as carry on)!
We loved bringing our son with us to Costa Rica! We are planning to take him back again in October for Canadian Thanksgiving. We love the slow lifestyle, reminding us to take a break and enjoy what nature has to offer. If you’re looking for an affordable, family friendly place with good food, good vibes, great weather and nature, then Costa Rica is for you!