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3 Toddler Travel Tips for Costa Rica

Welcome to the jungle, little one!

Traveling to any third-world country with a toddler can be nerve-wracking. However, preparing and being well-packed can make the journey an adventure the whole family enjoys.

My husband and I got rid of everything to travel the world with our toddler.

Our first stop was a three-month stay in beautiful Costa Rica. We rented a VRBO near Golfito, close to the Panamanian border. Our host told us to rent a car, preferably a 4x4 for clearance, and that wifi would be available. Additional research was necessary.

Our adventures in the remote jungle quickly taught us what we lacked in preparation.

Back in the United States, I created an organic and holistically healthy home for my family. I used products for myself and my child that eliminated chemicals and fragrances and imitated nature to the best of our ability. Anything was possible with Amazon Prime and local grocery stores.

Many items are either unavailable or difficult to find in a third-world country. Anything imported from the States will be more expensive as well.

Read on to be fully prepared for your toddler vacation to Costa Rica or remotely any other distant lands.


Knowing the most about where you'll be, allows you to relax and enjoy once you've arrived.

I had spent three months in Costa Rica before. I was a wee 22 years old, living at a nature retreat resort in the middle of the jungle. Since I had already done this, I felt prepared for what was to come.

The joke was on me. I no longer was to stay at a retreat that provided all of my meals, lodging, and transportation. This time, we were responsible for all aspects of our trip and the added challenge of creating a baby-friendly environment wherever we went.

Our flight from Florida to Costa Rica was incredibly smooth. Customs wasn't a problem, and getting our rental car was a breeze.

We set out on our 7-hour drive south feeling good and ready to go. Then reality set in.

We had just gotten new phone plans that were not set up correctly for Costa Rica, meaning we lacked the service needed for proper navigation guidance.

Driving with the mere hope of arriving with the pre-plugged-in Waze directions and a screenshot of the VRBO host's emailed instructions was an example of being unprepared.

After 2 hours of driving, we hit a traffic jam. Creeping along for two more hours, we realized that the roads ahead had been washed out. And there are no backup roads.

Since we couldn't use our phones to figure out what was around us, we backtracked two hours toward civilization and stopped to eat and use wifi. It was late, and our toddler was over it, so we found a place to stay the night.

Long story short, several weeks later we finally headed towards our planned destination. We made it flawlessly up until the host’s instructions became the guide. We were advised to not drive at night as the roads were bad. However, after getting horribly lost for two and a half hours, we miraculously found our new home, in the dark nevertheless.

The moral of the story here is to be prepared. Close your eyes and envision your entire trip.

The packing process, your ride to the airport, your flight, and your departure from the new airport to where you'll be staying. Make sure you know exactly how to get from point A to point B. See the route on your downloaded or printed map.

Now, create a second plan, just in case. Don't look at this over-planning as overkill. It’s so much better to be prepared and not need it than to find out that you're unprepared and stuck without snacks in the middle of nowhere!

Here's a list to get the juices flowing.


  • Who:

    • Know about the culture and country you're visiting.

    • Find a book, do a google, or watch YouTube videos to learn about the ways of life for the indigenous people.

    • Knowing more about the customs, the etiquette, the language, the food, and the overall structure of the country will make you feel less like an invader and more like an explorer.

    • And be prepared to learn more once you arrive!

    • Study the exchange rate of the currency you'll be using, and know how to say basic numbers in the country's language.

    • Take notes that you can refer to easily.

  • What:

    • Know what other towns are along your route and what is available.

    • Know where gas stations, hotels, restaurants, cafes, internet access, and hospitals are along the way.

    • Know what activities you want to do and the places you want to visit. Ensure they'll be available during your time there or if the rainy season washes them away.

    • Know what beaches or landmarks are around and which ones are appropriate for you and your family.

    • Know what to do at a road checkpoint and what you'll need to show law enforcement. Have your passports readily available.

    • Know what mom groups are available. Check out social media to see if there are any get-togethers with other moms, both local and ex-pats.

  • Where:

    • Know where you are staying, the places you want to visit, the resources you'll use (grocery stores, restaurants, pharmacies, etc.), and where they are all located.

    • Have the maps downloaded (try app) or printed and ready to go.

    • Know your routes!

    • Be sure not to rely on wifi because you never know what kind of service you will have.

    • Know where to find ATMs.

  • When:

    • Know when to drink the water or when to find filtered sources.

    • Know when the seasons are:

      • The rainy versus "less wet" season

      • The busy versus slow season

      • Hot and humid versus warm and rainy

    • Know when to use credit cards, dollars or the local currency (colones).

  • Why:

  • Know why you're there. When stress seeps in due to stepping out of your comfort zone or worry hits for your toddler's safety in a foreign land, remember why you traveled there in the first place.

  • Know why the indigenous people eat what they do and how they do it. Understand the nutritional components of different cuisine.

  • Know that extra farts may come from the daily meals of rice and beans. You will all get used to it!

  • How:

    • Know how you'll be getting around.

    • If you rent a car, get excellent insurance or coverage. The roads in Costa Rica can be rough and full of exciting obstacles. Feel better knowing that if you return the vehicle in less than optimal condition you won’t be charged a fortune for it!

    • Know how to change a tire and where to get a tire patched up. Make sure your rental agency reimburses you for these costs.

    • Know how to tip if you rely on public or private transportation. Learn what is appropriate.

    • Know that it's perfectly normal for toddlers to ride on motorbikes, ATVs, horses, or cars without a car seat.

Tip #2: SAFETY

Prepare for the worst scenario, and enjoy the best.

We never want to think about the terrible things that could happen while on vacation. Preparation will allow you to relax more.

Knowing your environment and arsenal of tools will make any emergency go smoother with less stress or chaos.

Being in a foreign country can increase a mom's anxiety levels. Everything is new, creepy crawlies are everywhere, and you're far away from the convenience of your favorite pediatrician.

To take in the beauty of paradise, you'll want to be fully educated and equipped for what could go wrong.

Here are my recommendations, but apply anything else appropriate for your family.

  • Emergency Protocols:

    • Be prepared mentally for anything and have a game plan ready. Discuss this with your family members.

    • Before you leave the comfort of your fast internet home, find out where the doctors live. Save their contact information.

    • Know the closest hospital to where you'll be staying. What are their hours, and are they equipped for emergencies? Can they treat children?

    • Know local clinics nearby and when you can visit.

    • Would you need anything translated (medications, medical conditions, personal information) for doctors who don't speak English?

    • Know what to do in the case of natural disasters. Are you close to the coast where hurricanes happen? Are there any active volcanos? Are earthquakes common? Are you in a flood zone?

  • First Aid Kits

    • Be sure to have everything you'd need for basic first aid.

    • Know your location, weather conditions, wildlife, and activities, and consider what needs to be in your kit.

    • Bring all the medications your family needs, as pharmacies may not supply what you’re used to.

  • Sun Protection

  • Costa Rica is close to the equator, meaning the sun is more potent, and there is a higher risk of skin cancer than in the states.

    • Stock up on your favorite organic sunscreen and aloe (included in the Bring list below)

    • Invest in toddler bathing suits with UV protection so you won't have to slather your little ones from head to toe.

    • Have at least two sun hats for your babe. The kind with a string to keep them on is ideal, especially if you'll be traveling with them on your back.

    • For long days at the beach, consider a beach tent. We love this one

    • Don't forget sunglasses! Our toddler loves his stylish shades.

  • Critter Alert

    • Investigate what kind of wildlife will be living nearby.

    • Creepy crawlies bite and can venture indoors. Be prepared to recognize which ones can be harmful to your loved ones and which help by eating the other bugs.

    • Bring your anti-itch cream and DEET-free bug spray (included in the Bring list below)

    • Know what to do if you or your family get bitten. Know who to call, where to go, or what to use for home care.

    • Be aware of local healing plants that can aid in the recovery from a bite (such as dandelion leaves for a spider bite).

    • Practice critter Karma; avoid the shoe smoosh if it's safe to relocate. Nature will thank you for this!

  • Back-Up Plans

    • For every plan, be sure to have a backup.

    • What if you find out a clinic is closed for a cultural holiday? Where else would you go?

    • What if a road is closed due to construction, cow traffic, or a washout? Are there alternative routes?

    • What if you get a flat tire or your car doesn't start? Who can you call for a ride?

Tip #3: BRING

Don't overpack. Don't under-pack. Pack smart.

My husband and I had a whirlwind of time preparing for this trip. For us, we were uprooting and ultimately changing our lives.

We had to plan several trips. How do we pack our entire life into three suitcases and two carry-ons?

We left a trail of items as we said goodbye to our home, hopped between several VRBOs, hunkered down in a hotel close to the airport, then onwards to Costa Rica.

While traveling with a toddler or infant, you'll want to ensure they feel comfortable and secure in new environments.

Our little guy was always a great sleeper; we got lucky. We began our adventure right around when he learned to escape his pack-n-play. Considering how difficult a pack-n-play would be to travel with anyway, I needed to investigate a better alternative.

We purchased this KidCo Peapod Portable Toddler Travel Tent for our baby. It folds into a compact circle that fits nicely in a medium size suitcase. It pops up instantly without additional assembly, which is essential for a sleepy child in a late-night situation.

Now, our son has the same ritual and a familiar place to lay his head everywhere we go. This tent is also great for airport naps, camping, or even at the beach.

The tent-bed also acts as protection in the jungle, keeping any mosquitos and creepy crawlies out.

There's nothing worse than arriving someplace distant and new only to discover that you can't use your favorite healthy products on your babies.

Be prepared and stock up. Souvenirs or gifts can use the space you gain from your finished products.

Here is my list of the essential organic items to bring regarding travel with a toddler to Costa Rica:

  • Diapers: if you have a favorite brand of diapers or pull-ups, bring enough to last you the trip.

    • The grocery stores we found only have one or two brands of diapers (and we have yet to see any pull-ups) that are not organic or natural.

    • Bring your nighttime diapers. I haven't seen any here. If your kiddo sleeps through the night, the regular diapers may not cut it.

    • Swim diapers for the pool are hard to find here. A reusable or washable swimmer is great, too, especially if you're staying for extended periods.

  • Wipes: avoiding fragrance and added chemicals in your wipes is a challenge—pack enough to last the whole trip, plus extra to wipe down public surfaces.

    • My favorite wipes are WaterWipes. I miss them dearly!

  • Sunscreen: I love the brand Earth Mama for both face and body.

  • Bug Spray & Stickers: The bugs in the jungle are ruthless. Seeing your sweet babe covered in uncomfortable bites is heart-wrenching.

  • I use these mosquito stickers for quick, convenient protection without applying a substance to the whole body.

  • For more coverage, I prefer this natural bug repellent

  • Anti-Itch Cream or Zapper: for the bugs that find their way past all barriers, be sure to have an antidote. I spent my whole trip looking for anti-itch cream and couldn't find it. Granted, we are out in the middle of nowhere, but it's best to prepare with your organic or natural preference.

    • Here's the anti-itch cream I prefer.

    • Bug bite zappers are great devices to have on hand if you're one of those lucky people that bugs find delicious. Safe to use on the entire family, the zapper will apply heat to a bite, pulling the itchy poisons to the surface and making the sanity return.

  • Toiletries: don't forget your favorite organic items for hygiene.

  • Aloe Vera: this ingredient is found in nature in its purest form. Be sure to purchase a product that has Aloe Vera as its prime ingredient. There shouldn't be much else in there; 3-4 natural elements, other than aloe vera, are more than enough. Otherwise, you're just adding synthetic ingredients to your skin instead of healing the burn.

  • Hand Sanitizer: I keep one small spray bottle in my purse and another in the diaper bag. While on the go, a quick and easy spray works great for everyone's hands and surfaces.

  • Cold Remedies: Hopefully, everyone stays well on your trip, but it may be hard to find an organic remedy for your kiddo if a cold hits.

  • Immune Support: travel means being introduced to new germs and bacteria. Keep your toddler's immune system alert and robust.

Don't forget your tents!

  • Sleeping Tent

    • Be sure to check the size. There are small and large tents depending on the age of your child.

  • Beach Tent: a great way to spend an entire day at the beach without overheating. You and your family can stay safe from the sun, your toddler can nap, and your items can remain clean.

    • We use this one for the convenience of assembly and lightness for travel.

Prepare a little, take a little, handle it all.

To guarantee the best trip, research and preparedness go a long way.

Third-world countries, jungle life, and the unexpected can disrupt your vacation while causing stress and concern for your family.

Do your research and know what you can expect, and your travels will go smoothly. There will always be surprises and barriers so remember that a backup plan helps.

Have a great adventure, and show your baby the world!

If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to contact me. I'm happy to help!

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