Once you become you parent, you don’t so much take vacations anymore – you take trips. It’s an all-hands-on-deck, “does everybody have everything?” and “are we ready to go?” situation. Each has its own ups and downs, but there is no denying that they are two completely different beasts – from planning to packing to budgets – taking a family trip is nothing like a solo or couples vacation. While Costa Rica might be known for some of its more romantic spots and scenery – like beach sunsets and waterfalls – there are definitely a ton of kid-friendly places that will keep the young ones entertained (and in awe!) and will keep the old ones sane. In fact, Costa Rica is probably the most kid-friendly destination in Central America, so you should definitely consider heading there. Here are five ways to survive a trip to Costa Rica with kids.

Toddler Running on Beach in Costa Rica
Toddler Running on Beach in Costa Rica

1.) Psyche Them Up

Kids are experts at being trouble if they have decided that they don’t want to do something. While you could just threaten to leave them behind with a babysitter if they don’t behave, you might have more luck if you try to change their mindset about the trip. In the weeks before your family heads out, find ways to bring up all the awesome things that they can do and see in Costa Rica. If they have a favorite superhero that flies, tell them that they can be just like that superhero when they can zip lining. I mean, that is basically flying. Trust me, they won’t be disappointed.

2.) Choose the Right Time of Year

This one is pretty important. Costa Rica has a dry season and a rainy season, so if your kids hate being wet, don’t go during the rainy season. Cranky wet kids won’t make a great trip for anyone.

If your kids are fine wet or dry, then you should research which activities are available in each season, and base your decision off of that. So, what do you do if one kid hates being wet, but the other kid wants to do something that is only available in the wet season? I don’t have the answer…but if you do, please leave it in our comments section. Thanks.

Saying "Hi" from the Monteverde Cloud Forest

3.) Choose the Right Activities

”But honey, you’re going to LOVE white water rafting. I’m sure your motion sickness won’t be an issue.” If you, as the parent, aren’t responsible enough to book the right activities for your family, you kind of deserve the nightmare that you’ll end up in. There is so much to do in Costa Rica, on land and in the water, that it should be impossible to pick the wrong things. If there are two parents traveling on the trip with multiple kids, consider splitting up into two groups to do separate activities if you can’t all agree on one thing to do. Just because it is a family trip, doesn’t mean you have to (or want to) be together 24 hours a day.

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4.) Have a (Realistic) Itinerary…

Yes, I’m sure that your family is a super family and they can totally handle going at 110% for 5 or more days in a row. But back here in what I call ‘reality,’ kids need a break sometimes. Don’t pack every minute of every day with extreme activities and schedules. If you are planning day activities, try to leave the night open; it is likely that your kids are going to be ready to pass out pretty early. Feed them, then BAM!, out for the night. If you are planning a night activity, like watching sea turtles lay their eggs, then you should allow for plenty of rest time during the day. If you just can’t parse down that to-do list, then you need to plan to stay longer. You can choose just one location in Costa Rica to visit, so that you can soak up everything there, or you can just plan to stay at each location for at least three days. It is better to do and see more then to go to the most places.

If you have toddlers that are still using a stroller, you need to keep in mind that not all places will accommodate you. Most National Parks have trails that you’ll be able to use, but you should check it out first. There is nothing more annoying than getting to a great hiking spot only to realize you can’t get on the trail.

Toddler wondering whats on the other side, at SelvaTura Park
Toddler wondering whats on the other side, at SelvaTura Park

5.) …But Allow Flexibility

Nobody wants to travel with an itinerary warden. While it is great, and important, to have a general schedule and to-do list, you have to allow for flexibility when traveling with kids. You may get delayed (but really, why DOES it take them so long to get dressed?) and miss an activity, so you’d have to improvise something else to keep everyone busy and entertained. You also want to consider that if your kids just loved an activity, you may want to consider doing it again at that same spot, or in your next location. Zip lining is never going to be the same twice, and if you let the kids do what makes them happy – well, everyone is likely to be happier because of it.