Basically, traveling to Costa Rica with (small) children is surprisingly easy, since the Costaricenses are very fond of children. However, some things are helpful to know in advance. We answer frequently asked questions about baby food, diapers, drinking water, child seats, mosquito repellent, vaccinations/medicine, washing clothes, power supply and internet regarding a Costa Rica trip.
1. Food, snacks and baby food
Depending on the age of your children, this point is more or less relevant. We have tried to do without ready-made baby products as much as possible, but sometimes there is no getting around it. In the standard supermarkets there is a baby section with fruit jars and squeezies, porridge and baby milk. That sounds good at first, but in the end it’s usually not quite as satisfying as you might think, especially because sugar is added to many of these products. Fortunately, there is a wide range of fresh fruit everywhere, which is usually better for kids anyway. You should never buy fruit in the supermarket – it’s fresher, cheaper and tastes better from the small stands next to the street or at the market.
Baby food, i.e. pre-milk, is relatively expensive (slightly more expensive than in Austria/Germany) and is often sold by Nestlé. You can get the baby milk in almost every supermarket, if not on the shelf, usually on request or in the drugstores and “pharmacies” next to the tills.
Costa Rican cuisine isn’t spicy or hot, so kids can eat pretty much anywhere. Rice or gallo pinto (rice with beans) is served with every meal, and there are vegetables everywhere. The bread in the local bakeries is different than what you are used to as a Central European (awful!!), but in the more touristy places you will find international-style expat bakeries (e.g. French or German bakeries) with good baked goods everywhere.
The range of organic supermarkets and organic foods is growing steadily, and the selection of child-friendly snacks (corresponding crackers, rice cakes, biscuits with no or only little sugar/salt) is much larger.
2. Drinking water
In most regions/accommodations, the tap water is safe to drink. It is best to clarify this upon arrival and get information at the reception. If you have a sensitive stomach, you can still boil the water to be on the safe side; a kettle is available in almost all accommodations.
For some areas that are a bit off the beaten track in the hinterland, however, it makes sense to use bottled water. The easiest and most sustainable way is to do this in the large 18.6 liter containers for water dispensers, because then you save yourself the daily trip to the supermarket and avoid unnecessary plastic waste. In many accommodations there is even a corresponding tapping system for it. Incidentally, it’s worth buying these giant water bottles as soon as you arrive and taking a picture of the receipt – the hefty deposit can only be returned on presentation of the receipt in the same (!) supermarket where you bought it – stupid, and also applies to beer bottles . Everywhere else you can exchange the bottles for a full one.
The selection of diapers (pañales) and wet wipes (toallitas humedas) is huge in most supermarkets. From Huggies to Pampers to Bio Baby, you will find a fairly large range in all sizes. In terms of price, the diapers cost almost the same as ours (a little cheaper). We preferred the Bio Baby, they are super skin-friendly, very absorbent and you can get them in all organic supermarkets. Swim nappies (you basically only need them for pools) are available, but we prefer our washable cloth swim nappies.
4. Mobility and child seats
If you want to book a rental car, you should not wait too long to reserve one. Since the lockdowns and travel bans caused by Covid, there have often been bottlenecks here (especially in the inexpensive 4×4 category). Is all-wheel drive really necessary? That depends on your tour. Sometimes the weather conditions – such as short-term heavy rain and the resulting crossing of smaller rivers – make it necessary. Many (or most) roads, especially inland, are now well developed, but they are often exposed to severe weather conditions. If you want to drive south, you should never set off without four-wheel drive.
The quality of child seats and baby carriers is below average, but there is usually a high additional fee for borrowing them. The fee is often so high that you can just as easily buy a new child seat on site. So if you rent a car for a longer period of time, negotiate a discount in advance or the free addition of child seats. Luckily we had brought the baby seats with us and would recommend this to anyone traveling with children under the age of one – by the way, many airlines do this for free.
5. Mosquito repellent
Basically, we didn’t have too many issues with mosquitoes. In (almost) all accommodations mosquito nets were stretched over the beds. If you attach them properly, you are safe from the little beasts at night without having to spray yourself with the chemical mace. If this is sometimes necessary, we always have the green Anti Brumm naturell with us for us and the kids. Incidentally, fans above the bed not only make hot nights more bearable, but also drive away a good number of the beasts.
On jungle tours, we prefered to protect ourselves with long clothing.
6. Vaccination and medical care
Costa Rica is a country with a comparatively high hygienic and medical standard. You can get everything you need in pharmacies and the medical infrastructure is good, which simply gives you a better feeling when traveling with small children. You can find pharmacies everywhere and even in smaller and more remote places there is a Centro de Salud within easy reach where you can quickly get medical advice. Fortunately, we personally had no need for medical care, but only heard good things from travel acquaintances. Having basic equipment such as a first-aid kit (in consultation with the pediatrician, preferably including a prescription) and a small first-aid kit is essential and should be a matter of course in every family luggage.
In principle, vaccination against tetanus, diphtheria and hepatitis A is recommended by the Tropical Institute. Hepatitis A is not usually vaccinated until the age of 12 months, which means that one has to be more careful with smaller children. The rule of thumb “Boil it, cook it, peel it or forget it” is a good guide to this (and washing your hands, of course).
7. Sun protection
Costa Rica is close to the equator and the solar radiation is correspondingly strong. Here are some simple rules to protect yourself from sunburn and sunstroke:
- Avoid midday sun
- Wear a cap or hat, possibly also UV clothing
- Always apply 50+LPF sunscreen before leaving the house, don’t forget to reapply.
- Put on sunglasses (even for the little ones, if they allow it)
- prefer the shade
- Drink plenty of water
8. Stroller or baby carrier or both?
We didn’t use a buggy on our trip, but actually we had the feeling that it would have been useful very often. Many places and some paths through (national) parks are suitable for pushchairs, a nap on the beach is more relaxed in a pushchair than sweating in the heat hanging on to mum or dad. Or you can do a little lap in the evening while the little ones are dozing away in the wagon. So if you still have capacity and don’t have a vehicle that is too heavy, pack it with you.
9. Money, money
Only cash is true, this sentence still applies in many areas of Costa Rica. We have been to many great places (e.g. Montezuma, Drake Bay, Manzanillo,…) where there are actually no banks or ATMs/cash machines. You can now pay by credit card in many accommodations, restaurants and shops, but by far not in all of them.
A good alternative if it still doesn’t work out is Paypal. We’ve had a few situations where Paypal was accepted but credit card wasn’t. The official currency is Colones and you should have this currency with you. Alternatively, almost everything (especially larger amounts) can be paid in US dollars. You can’t actually pay anywhere with euros, with the exception of accommodation for European expats, who often hoard the European currency for their next home vacation.
You should be prepared for the fact that Central American ATMs are sometimes a bit stubborn and it may well be that you have to make several attempts to get money: technical problems, no money in the machine, the EC card doesn’t taste good… Most of the time it works withdrawing cash with a credit card is better, but bear in mind the higher fees.
10. Doing laundry
Washing clothes, you can’t avoid doing that on holiday with children… We’ve often simply tried to find accommodation that also has a washing machine, but be prepared that it’s different than at home. In Costa Rica, people wash almost exclusively with cold water (so stains don’t come out that easily) and not all washing machines are created equal. From semi-manual old-school machines to modern American-style machines, everything was there. If in doubt, you can also find so-called “lavanderías” in almost all places, which wash and possibly fold the laundry for a good 1200 colones (about 2 USD) per kilo. But you shouldn’t have insanely high standards here either, but at least they are fast and the laundry is usually ready to be picked up again within 24 hours. Caution: Due to the humid climate and when it rains, it is almost impossible to air dry clothes. For this reason, either sunny days (then wash first thing in the morning so that the laundry dries) or a tumble dryer are essential.
11. Getting local Sim Cards
Although there is WiFi in almost all accommodation and restaurants, it makes sense to get a local SIM card for a few dollars. There are 3 providers in Costa Rica: Kölbi, Moviestar and Claro (we recommend Kölbi). You can buy the SIM almost everywhere, even in every mini-supermarket there is at least one of the providers, always clearly recognizable by the symbols attached outside. ATTENTION!! The card must be activated before it can be used. This is only possible online for locals – we had to go to an ICE service point (the state-owned parent company of Kölbi) in person – be sure to take your passport and some cash with you to be on the safe side.
12. Electricity, adapters and power banks
The voltage on site is mainly 110 – 120 volts and you absolutely need an adapter. Most chargers (laptops, smartphones, cameras) and shavers can handle 110V (always says so somewhere), but may charge more slowly. A power bank is also useful, as it can happen that the power supply is interrupted for a long time (e.g. due to fallen trees or heavy rain).
13. On your own or planned by experts?
We actually mostly travel on our own. Basically, Costa Rica is a country where this is easily possible. For all those who do not like to travel on their own, simply want to hand over the organization or DO NOT SPEAK SPANISH (!!!), we recommend that you seek professional advice.