We had so many people ask about our itinerary and trip so I decided to write about it here. We traveled in May which is the beginning of their rainy season. We had beautiful weather with short rain storms in the evenings, but it was touristy and an amazing trip.
I recommend a travel book to keep in the car incase plans change. There are a lot of things to do but it isn’t advertised. We used Foders from our local library. Between a book and help from a good friend we planned our trip and it was pretty successful!
We began our trip in Playa Dominicalito which is 4 hrs south of the airport. We ended in Poas which is 45 minutes from the SJO airport which worked great to fly home. Our flights were early so I would book a location closer to the airport near your return to home. We used AirBnb for our stay in both locations.
Costa Rica has two main roads and many towns within an hour from each other but it’s easier to plan it out versus winging it as there are many people trying to sell you tours and sell you a deal in the cities.
We took a direct flight with Southwest into SJO. We stayed one week (direct flights run Saturday to Saturday on Southwest). We use our southwest credit cards for shopping so we fly free one trip every year. We rented a car and then drove three hours south to Dominical. There is an option to travel to a smaller airport for a cheap fare to fly to Queopos versus the long drive.
We drove along the coast both ways but took a more mountainous route on the way to Poas our second location. If we were not with a toddler the rainforest route was an extra hour, making it 4 hours and looked beautiful. We had plenty of mountainous driving though with Waze taking us through mountains and towns versus the main highways. It was beautiful but I would have a 4×4 drive vehicle if you decide to do this.
Our rental company provided a hotspot for an additional $50 for the week which allowed us to have wifi in the car and while out traveling. Alternatively you can get internet via Verizons travel pass for $10 a day with Verizon by texting TRAVEL to 4004. You are only charged once you turn on cellular data and we primarily used the hotspot.
*Tip: Costa Rician’s do not use addresses but location or landmark names. Plan to use Google Maps or Waze for your travels and double check the towns prior as many things have multiple locations or similar names.
Below are the AirBnbs we used. I recommend both as the views were great with enough room and cooking accommodations for our family.
- AirBnb in Playa Dominicalito inside of Dominical which is next to Uvita another beach town.
- Air Bnb in Poas in Poas 45 minutes from San Jose the major city.
Dominical: located between Uvita and Quepos
We were in this AirBnb location Saturday-Thursday (5 nights). This location had a private pool, outdoor shower and an amazing view of the beach. It is in driving distance to a hipster town and many great restaurants.
There is an organic grocery called Mama Toucans ten minutes away, but it was very expensive. I would hit a supermarket on the we way to your location or plan to visit a farmers market. There is one near this location on Tuesday and Friday.
The Farmers market is a great place to try local produce and goods. On Tuesday one can be found by looking up Feria organica tinamastes. On Friday there is one in the town Dominical where all the restaurants are. Uvita also has an area for a farmer’s market Saturday mornings.
You do have a short drive to the beach 10mins-1hr depending on what beach you are going too. The beaches are public and most of them you can drive off road and park and see your car while on the beach. Some charged a small fee to park but it was cheap around $1-$2 US Dollars or 500-1000 Colones.
Uvita is the neighboring town which has great seafood and a whales during the correct season. The National Park: Parque Nacional Marino Ballena is located in this town.
If you want a beachfront option Jaco or Uvita is the town for you. We wanted something more secluded for safety and quiet at night. There are many guarded neighborhoods on the beach also. Both of our locations were guarded or had a private gate and we felt safe.
Our first beach: Playa Hermosa
We visited Playa Hermosa our full first day here (Mother’s Day for me) and pulled our vehicle up a dirt path and hung out under the palms. There was someone selling coconuts and a food truck with ceviche and smoothies at this location. We saw Iguanas and small rodents while here.
The sand is darker here due to the rocks but we watched people surf the smaller waves but it was not to rough for us in the morning. The tides do change fast but you have plenty of time to swim in the morning, the afternoon it is rougher and higher tides.
We did bring beach toys but a towel, life jacket for your little, a speaker if you love music like me and water and snacks is all you really need.
Being gluten free I was nervous to eat in a primarily Spanish speaking country, but the food is fresh and less processed and we didn’t struggle at all. Sodas are cheap home made stores but we primarily ate at nicer outdoor places averaging $50 per meal for our family of three.
*Tip: Costa Rica has very clean water. Save money and chose the tap water option while out.
Our favorite places near Domicial to eat:
- Fuegos Brewery: a cool tree house experience in the hipster town
- Phat Noodle: a fast and easy to eat gluten free meal with spicy options if you chose.
- NFusion: connected to a small animal sanctuary but one of the best meals we had and not too pricey!
- La Palcela: Waterfront option with pricier food but it was delicious and the drinks were beautiful.
Eco Chontales: This is a smaller waterfall next to the well known Nauyaca falls, but was a private and beautiful experience. This location is a part of a reservation that is restoring farmed land and ecosystems. We were cooked an amazing organic meal at the foot of the waterfall and it was a quick 20 minute hike totally Toddler approved. There are still hills and you can use a carrier but my wild child wanted to walk. We saw an abundance of fruit trees and were literally the only ones there on a Monday.
We booked the tour through AirBnb with Eco Chontales. We met the guide on the road which was nice because we were not expecting the drive up the mountain. It is marked well but there are many bridges and turns that I would have not felt sure about back home.
Alturas Wildlife Reserve: There is a much nicer one called Rescate in Aljauea near San Jose but it is a close drive and attached to an amazing hotel with a view and food. This is a release rescue so it was nice to support the association. The animals you see are not able to be released. It is a small 45min tour but it is guided where self paced is better with a small child.
Manuel Antonio: This is an hour north from where we stayed but a great place to see wild life. You should buy your tickets ahead and I am linking a blog which was helpful as many people are trying to have you park in their locations that can lead you to walking farther than needed. There are also many people trying to sell you a tour but you can definitely do it on your own and see where people have their scopes and cameras out and follow along. Manuel Antonio beach was told to us to be the nicest and it was the only one of the four we visited due to nap time and needing food. Be sure not to camp out under a coconut tree but grab a palm tree for some shade. A towel or two is all you need and water. We had a great time and saw two species of monkeys and a sloth super high up on our way here.
*Tip: Photocopy your passport. I did not need it but it is recommended to have it. Also the food area was closed and they were allowing cooked food and fruit where the website said no outside food. You cannot re enter the park so double check this as we had to leave early to get food.
Tourist Locations near Manuel Antonio:
- El Avion: a americanized restaurant inside an airplane.
- Restaurant portion of art hostel Costa linda outside manuel Antonio: Frequent sightings of monkeys and toucans!
- Zip Line tours (we did not do with our Toddler)
Heading to Poas
Poas is a town in the mountains and near a popular Volcano 45mins near San José, the capital of Costa Rica. This is a 3hr trek from where we were on the coast and we stopped at Jaco beach. This was about halfway and we ate at a seafood restaurant El Hicaco. This was more pricey, but they had a small playground and we could go to the beach if we chose. We watched surfers and had fresh Papaya Juice and Fish. Forrest enjoyed icecream and watched an Iguana eat bread.
We arrived to our cute tiny home in Poas! After having a swimming pool I was nervous about entertaining a toddler but Forrest had a blast. We had a washer at the previous house so we didn’t have to unpack much. Here we had a private hot tub and grass hills to roll down and blow bubbles. Forrest also enjoyed the hosts cats that came to visit. This was a peaceful relaxing end to our vacation. We drove through a the cutest towns and only ate at one place while in Poas, but they had many options. It was cheaper and tastier than the coast. If you are in this area I highly recommend eating at Freddos. They had english menus and it was authentic and sourced locally which is important to me.
Things to do in Poas:
- Rescate Animal Rescue: about an hour away near San Jose
- Waterfall gardens and hot springs
- Poas Volcano
We did not do any attractions while here but I will linked some local things above. This was a perfect relaxing end to a week long vacation with a lot of traveling.
Airplane with a Toddler airplane ✈️
We introduced an Amazon Tablet this trip which was great for the car thanks to the hotspot. We used the game’s more than tv, but that is mainly because Forrest doesn’t watch much tv.
*Tip: try all games and videos on airplane mode prior. Netflix downloads did not work for us and we used Disney mainly. Some Amazon shows are not streamable out of the country and PBS is not viewable which is our primary source at home 😬.
We bought cheap toys that were new for the trip:
- Reusable Sticker books were a hit for the airplane window and car ride
- A slinky for cars or snacks to travel through
- A squishy sensory ball that is washable because it got gross
- A reusable water pen coloring book
- A busy board and string beads from his birthday was great and used many times including the airport
- New snacks and gummies he doesn’t get from mama 😉
*Tip: buy your kiddo their own book bag for their toys and diapers when out versus carrying your larger one. I tossed my wallet card holder in it when we went to eat and it worked great.
We used a juice box for the take off but our ears were fine. I also brought homeopathy meds for any illness (we needed for Daddy) and bee pollen immune throat spray for the plane.
⁃ We used colones at the markets and non restaurant stores but Visa is accepted with no fees at all places that take a card
⁃ Bring $50 or so in $5 for tipping as they prefer you to tip in cash as they are taxed 13% in Costa Rica.
⁃ Find a place that has a washer which cuts down on travel bags tremendously and pack laundry pods (eco friendly ones 🤪)
⁃ Gate Check your Stroller/Carseat
⁃ Pack reusable water bottles as the water is drinkable in Costa Rica.
⁃ Sun suits were easier than sunscreen on the beach with my Toddler.
⁃ Pack a roll of trash bags, our airbnb didn’t have any and we used them in the airplane and car.