Reflections On Costa Rica – Backpacking With a Three Year Old

DSC01996Well, we have been back from our travels for just over a week now. Things are starting to feel more settled and I have finally found the time (and energy!) to write up my reflections of our month long trip. I have a lot to say so this may be a little jumbled!


Costa Rica was just what we were hoping for and a great place to have our first backpacking trip as a family of three. We saw a lot of families travelling with young children, and the locals tend to go out as a big family group to the beach on the evenings and weekends in a celebratory style, enjoying one another’s company and sharing food and drink. The children wander and explore freely, but during the whole trip I failed to spot a single person – tourist or local – either breastfeeding or baby-wearing. Newborn babies are carried wrapped tightly in a blanket, (despite the soaring temperatures) cradled in the mothers arms, and older babies upwards are either in a buggy or seated on a bicycle or motorbike, squashed between adults.

DSC01863One thing I absolutely loved is how the Costa Rican adults were always so pleased to see Little Cat. They would greet him, pat him on the head and acknowledge his presence consistently. This is such a change from England. Although there are some very lovely staff at our local shops who talk directly to him, this is a rarity and he often gets ignored by adults we come into contact with. In Costa Rica, they asked him directly what he would like to drink, they talked respectfully and they seemed genuinely happy to be talking to him.

DSC02558Travelling – especially backpacking – with a three year old is entirely different from travelling as a couple. It’s a whole new ball game. On the one hand it is amazing and beautiful to see things through his eyes. We are forced to slow down to his pace, and in doing so we see and appreciate the little things we would otherwise miss. We see the wonder in his eyes and hear the questions he is pondering – ones which we may never have thought to ask.

DSC02161On the other hand (and I am speaking entirely from our personal experience as every child is different) it is not necessarily the easiest thing to do. We changed accommodations six times in five weeks, and as a child who thrives on familiarity and routine – all be it a very loose one – this was not always easy for him. Combined with long bus journeys, long haul flights and high temperatures, this led to some less than fun moments, especially in the early weeks, with him making a frantic push for control which displayed itself in some behaviours such as hitting out, pushing boundaries and generally driving his travel weary parents just a little bit crazy.

DSC02038All this being said though, overall he coped remarkably well and we all got so much out of the trip that we definitely have no regrets! His confidence with adults bloomed and we spent the vast majority of each day outside exploring and playing in nature. We trekked through the rainforest, splashed in the sea, sat under palm trees and dug in the sand for hours at a time. We watched the sunset day after day and spend so much quality time together as a family.

DSC01579Costa Rica was a wonderful destination for our first independent travels with our son. It feels safe, it is stunningly beautiful and the people are warm and friendly. Oh, and the sunshine didn’t go unnoticed either! It’s not perfect, there are areas where we were warned not to go out after dark, and other places we were told not to go out at all. And the biggest concern to us as parents was the notoriously unreliable ambulance service. Up to 30% of calls go unanswered and for the rest it can be a wait of several hours before they reach you. When they do arrive, they can be as simple as a driver with a table in the back – no fancy equipment and quite often, no paramedic. We were advised, if you are in trouble and in need of medical care, don’t waste time waiting for an ambulance – drive yourself or get a taxi!

DSC01865Anyone with toddlers knows that accidents are somewhat inevitable and we had our fair share during our trip, luckily nothing that required medical attention, though there was one particularly nasty splat onto concrete which resulted in a very squashed and bloody nose.

DSC01904At home we are very relaxed with Little Cat, happy for him to climb, cook with us, take risks and explore freely. However, with the knowledge that there was no reliable and safe medical service nearby, I must admit to being far more cautious and hovering far more than I would like. This led to frustration on his part and nerves on mine, which no doubt increased the likelihood of him having an accident anyway! I hate to dwell on the negative aspects so I will leave it at that, but I wanted to share in case anyone reading this is thinking about travelling or making a move to Costa Rica. It is definitely something to be aware of.

DSC01982During our trip we visited Monteverde to trek the cloud forest and the Santa Elena rainforest, Samara where we spent long lazy days under the shade of the palm trees, drinking fresh coconuts and building sandcastles. Montezuma, the hippy town full of cafés selling fresh fruit juice and howler monkeys bouncing from tree to tree. Here we did a nail biting trip to the waterfall, over some terrain that was somewhat nerve-wracking with a three year old to keep hold of. The waterfall was beautiful and is a popular spot for people to climb and jump from! Then a boat trip across to the mainland from which we spotted a lot of dolphins, landing at Jaco to take a short journey to Playa Hermosa, the most peaceful little spot of our whole trip. It is a popular surf beach and the sea can get busy at the times when the surf is good, but the beach seemed to belong to us. Its dark sand coated our skin, and we felt as if we had washed up on a secret paradise island. The sunsets were beyond incredible, and as the tide washed out the whole beach became a mirror. That was a hard place to leave. Then full circle back to a little place just outside San Jose, close to San Luis. We loved the local charm and the hilly walk to get fresh coconuts from the friendly greengrocer.


There is not a place on that list I didn’t enjoy, and if you are heading that way I can recommend a stop at each of them.

Pura Vida.







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2 thoughts on “Reflections On Costa Rica – Backpacking With a Three Year Old”

  1. Cool-glad you enjoyed the trip. I’ve only ever been to Montezuma, but I liked it (despite the humid temperatures). Did you find any of the small commuter flights scary?

    1. We didn’t do any internal flights – we did it all by bus, but the flights to and from New York (Where we had our stopover on route to England) were another story! I vowed never to fly again after the landing on the way home!

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