Five ways to ease your arrival in Costa Rica with kids

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While planning our trip to Costa Rica, I kept coming across tourism sites reminding Americans that it’s only a 3-hour flight away from Miami. That would have been fantastic. But for us, using primarily frequent flyer miles to accommodate six people traveling from San Francisco… we left the house in the dark of morning and arrived in Costa Rica three flights later, past the children’s bed times (it actually took us 18 hours to get home, but I’ll save that story for another day).

Granted, we are an adventurous bunch, and the Rivoli family philosophy of travel still holds: “The vacation begins the moment you lock the door!” We whooped and hollered all the way down the hill as neighbors slept on in anticipation of another day at the office. But I knew that with two weeks of road tripping in Costa Rica ahead of us, we’d want to land as softly as we could in the country.

Here are five smart choices I made in our planning that I highly recommend to any of you planning travel to Costa Rica with young children.

1. I chose a hotel in Alajuela rather than bustling San Jose.
Many travelers with flights arriving late (like ours) or departing very early (like ours) assume they’ll have to spend at least one night in the city of San Jose, even if it’s not on their list of sites to see or even in the right direction. Calmer, friendlier Alajuela is not only closer to the International Airport, but it’s on the path to popular Poas Volcano National Park, La Fortuna and Arenal Volcano, and many hotels located there are a mere 10-minute taxi or shuttle ride from the airport.

2. I chose a hotel that includes a complimentary shuttle service.
Knowing that someone from the hotel would be there waiting for us with a van that would seat all six of us—rather than splitting our six between taxis upon arrival in a strange land—was a tremendous relief and felt like pure luxury (especially after some of the adventures this family’s had using public transportation to and from airports). Though we would need our own rental car for our trip, I saved that detail for the following day (see below). To get this service, you don’t have to stay with a multi-national chain “airport hotel,” either. We were greeted with a sign by the locally owned Buena Vista Hotel (see my detailed review here).

3. I arranged to have food waiting for us in our hotel room.
Our hotel had a restaurant serving three meals a day, but we would be arriving too late to place a dinner order. When I asked, the hotel was happy to arrange to have our requests kept warm to greet us upon arrival. Though we would have dinner on the flight, it would still be some hours until we reached our destination, and there were no guarantees how much the children would eat during our travels—or when. With a plate of fresh fruit and their assorted plate of chips, guacamole, chicken fingers, chicharrones, and fish, I not only knew that we wouldn’t go to bed hungry but that our arrival after the long day of travel would feel all the more festive.

4. I chose a hotel that serves breakfast.
For travel with young kids especially, I am always a fan of hotels that include breakfast. In this case, arriving late and arising somewhat disoriented in another country, it was a relief to know the six of us wouldn’t have to start out hungry on our first full day, looking for a place to eat that we might all agree on. It was all right there at the hotel, ready when we were (and in this case was included with our room).

Having your rental car delivered to you at your hotel? Priceless.

5. I chose a car rental agency that delivers to your hotel—and picks up.
After losing countless hours of our lives and vacations waiting in lines at airport car rental desks for cars we’ve already reserved and in some cases paid for, this was a true delight and worth every penny (in this case about $7 U.S. for drop off and the same for pick up with locally owned Vamos 4 x 4)! We could enjoy breakfast at the hotel and let the kids swim until the car arrived and I was finished with the paperwork. Genius!

Safe journeys,

Shelly Rivoli
Author of Travels with Baby and the new Take-Along Travels with Baby
Travels with Baby on Facebook  

PS To be clear, nobody paid to appear in this post. See editorial disclaimer for more info.

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