This was our test-trip with both kids. We wanted to see what it is like to travel with 2 youngins, and we knew it would be hard, but we were still excited about the adventure.
Our trip included a package (with a rental car – perfect for traveling with kids because you can leave/come back at your own pace and schedule) of 3 destinations: Arenal Volcano – Guanacaste Beach – San Jose City. We were warned that 3 different hotels might be too much for kids, but we went ahead with it anyway because our kids adjust to new environments pretty well. Or so we thought. The main thing our kids had a hard time adjusting to was the 2-hour time difference. So, instead of waking up around 6-7 am as we usually do at home, we were now ready for breakfast at 4-5 am (first in line!).
On the bright side – the flight went as good as it could. The kids took naps during half of the flight, and the other half we had things for them to do – I bought my 2-yr old play packs from Target, which included stickers, a coloring booklet and crayons, so that definitely helped with keeping her occupied (see picture below). And my 6-month old was easily entertained by his toy monkey.
As soon as we got to Costa Rica, the extra 20 degrees of heat hit us in the face. But the friendliness and smiles of the people distracted us from the unpleasant heat. Immediately, we found the guy that took us to the rental car office, and our adventure began.
The first 3 days we stayed at Arenal Kokoro hotel. Tripadvisor has it listed as a 4.5 star hotel, but personally I would give them a 3.5 rating. The staff was exceptionally friendly and accommodating with all our requests, however the rooms lacked some basic items that hotels usually carry, such as: tissue paper, a coffee maker and iron+ironing board. The first two are quite important for those who are staying with kids. Another downside: the hotel restaurant was only open for breakfast, which left us driving to the nearest town (10-min away, but with getting 2 kids ready and strapped in the car seats….make that a 30-min ordeal) to look for places to eat.
The hotel did have a beautiful natural green surrounding, with a lot of exotic flowers planted throughout the hotel area, and an amazing view of the (active) volcano. When we were outside, it truly felt like we were in Hawaii.
There were plenty of adventurous tours and things to do around the volcano, such as – kayaking, zip-lining, horseback riding, and many more, but unfortunately we were not able to do any of it, as we had 2 little kids in tow. While there, we realized that this area is perfect for honeymooners and backpackers, but not too accommodating for those with children.
The next 3 days we stayed at an all-inclusive resort – hotel Riu Guanacaste. This place had everything we were missing at Kokoro, and more. We stayed at Riu before, while visiting Panama City, and we loved it, but the one in Costa Rica actually exceeded our expectations. The fact that we didn’t have to drive around looking for places to have lunch and dinner was awesome (as we had to do that the first three days), this resort also had an emergency room and a doctor available at all times, which was great because with kids – you never know when you’ll need medical assistance. The room was very spacious, with a beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean.
One thing I was surprised about was the pool area; it wasn’t as big as I thought it would be (no slides, for example), but all the other amenities (such as photo services, 3 restaurants, child watch, 24/7 emergency room) made up for the no-slide complaint.
We loved the resort’s child watch room. We could leave our oldest for 1-2 hours, where she would play at the playground or the kids’ pool, or go on an excursion to feed the iguanas (which she still talks about every day), so we made sure we utilized that service!
The Guanacaste beach was surprisingly not crowded. Most people stayed in the pool area, which personally I disagree with; while the pool is nice to relax in, I would think that after paying money and spending time to travel somewhere, people would try to enjoy a not-so-common activity such as swimming in the Pacific Ocean instead of bathing in chlorine water all day. But, to each his own!
Thanks to the benefits of renting a car, we also visited another nearby beach – Coco Beach, which was quite lively with more tourists…which means more sellers trying to annoy you with souvenirs and cigars, so upon return, we definitely enjoyed the quietness of the Guanacaste beach by our resort.
The last day of our trip we explored San Jose city, visiting its parks and driving through the open air market. It seemed more advanced than other Latin American cities we have visited before. The Pan-American highway definitely makes it easy to navigate through the city and its surrounding area.
By the end of the trip we decided that with kids it is best to go to an all-inclusive resort with different activities that are family-friendly. And, next time…we’ll make sure we get the right directions, as my husband got the wrong address by accident, which made us drive around an extra 2 hours the first day, as it was raining and the kids whining in their car seats, but at least we have “family moments” to remember.