Warm water, magenta sunsets, giant plates of nachos, and monkeys (loud free-roaming monkeys that don't mess with your stuff)- me thinks I found heaven in Costa Rica.
You know this place is incredible if I can call it heaven after traveling seventeen hours, via airplanes and cars, with a baby. Yes, I had the support of my partner, parents, and brothers, but I'm the mom with the boobs full of milk.
The magic of Costa Rica made every ounce of anxiety-ridden travel worth it. I even plan to eventually follow in my wanderlust cousin's footsteps and move my family to this eco-friendly paradise for six-ish months.
If you have the desire to explore the gem of Central America (and why not?) with your baby, here are a few words of guidance from one parent to another.
1. Invest in direct flights.
If you need to pony up some extra moolah to obtain more direct flights and shorten your time in airports, then do it. We flew overnight from Los Angeles, to Panama City, then into San Jose (on of the two main airports in Costa Rica.) We had to pay extra to avoid being schlepped across the country to Florida, then down to Costa Rica, and it was worth every last Benjamin.
2. Stay on a beach with a gentle shore break.
Vacation is not as vacation-y when you're worried about your children being eaten by a monster shore break, or infamous rip tides. If you want to stay near the beach, research before hand to ensure the stretch you'll be playing on has a gentle break and minimal rip tides.
3. Bring multiple bottles of sunscreen/ bug spray.
Costa Rica has mosquitos that are sneaky and incessant and need to be combated with an ample supply of bug spray. We didn't find a need to pull out the chemical big-guns (Deet) but made sure we all had a consistent layer of bug repellent on all visible skin. Because the sun is also sneaky and inceesant (and it's a b*tch to apply goop on a pudgy squirming baby) we brought four bottles of Badger Anti-Bug Suncsreen Spray.
4. Bring a baby carrier and life jacket.
If you plan on doing any form of exploring with your small human, I recommend bringing a light weight baby carrier to leave your hands free to scale exotic cliff sides (kidding?) Even if you only use it while slogging through the airports, it's worth it.
There is a lot of water in Costa Rica- pools, oceans, rivers, lava flows (is there water in lava? No?) Keep the kid safe, and your sanity intact by bringing along a life jacket, or some form of floaty device you can strap on your child.
5. Stay somewhere with a kitchen, and do a Mega shopping trip before you leave San Jose.
Food in Costa Rica is fairly affordable but eating out for every meal takes time, and is often tricky with kids. Balance out the restaurant meals with home cooked food. Rent a place with a private or communal kitchen, and stock up on goods at a Mega Super (or similar mega-establishment) in San Jose before traveling into the less-inhabited and often more-expensive areas of the Rica.
6. If you're renting a house with a group of people, hire the cook and driver/tour guide many homes offer for an additional (usually very reasonable) fee.
Our cook/driver/tour guide was a blast, and he made homemade bread and cocktails. (We said yes to carbs.) These services often come with housekeepers who will do all your dishes, and clean the house daily. You're on vacation! You don't need to be doing the same ole' chores you're stuck with at home.
7. Pray for a bioluminescence sighting.
The scientific term for bioluminescence is, biochemical emission of light by living organisms. Swimming in bioluminescence feels like being dipped in a psycadelic Disney-mermaid movie. Yup, it's that good. To check for bioluminescence, take a night walk on the beach to see if the surf is glowing.
8. Packing List: Bathing suits (lots of bathing suits), swim diapers, flip flops, hiking shoes, and respectable airplane clothes. "Real clothes" are optional here.
9. Caution: You may not be able to leave...
Because you'll love it so much. No matter how green and lush your home is, it will feel like a desert after being in Costa Rica. And the emotional, physical, and spiritual therapeutic effects of floating in warm water cannot be underestimated. And the monkeys! You'll see tiny monkeys in the trees! Finding monkeys in Costa Rica is like trying to find a needle in a pin-cushion. The monkeys will want you to stay.
If possible, fit a few of these highlights into your trip:
Manuel Antonio National Park
Elena Cloud Forest Reserve
I could wax poetic about Costa Rica all day. But, words can't do justice to the ethereal wonder encompassing this little country. Just do it.