Packing for your vacation can be stressful in itself but adding a baby to the picture takes it to a whole new level. Luckily, Costa Rica is a very baby-friendly country and with the help of a few essential items, you can rest easy and enjoy it with your family. We have been traveling around Costa Rica with our little one since he was three months old and have learned some important lessons about what to have on hand. We wrote a separate post that covers general issues about traveling with a baby to Costa Rica, but in this one, we’ll share our specific tips on what to pack.
Costa Rica is in the tropics so much of the country is hot and humid. We live at the beach where temperatures are in the 80s every day, and our baby is in onesies almost all the time. When we go out for dinner, we might throw on a pair of shorts to dress him up, but anything more than that is too heavy. If you’re visiting the cloud forests of Monteverde or San Gerardo de Dota where it is damp and cooler, also pack a few long-sleeve shirts, pants, socks, and pajamas. And remember to keep a few extra sets of clothes in your diaper bag because your baby is likely to get sweaty and need a change.
Most hotels have laundry service that is very affordable. On our last road trip, we kept our dirty clothes in a reusable diaper bag and it worked out great. We also brought along a small container of laundry soap. In Costa Rica, people tend to use really fragrant detergents so bring your own if you prefer something unscented.
International travel with a baby can be an adventure. We recently visited the US and the trip to Boston took basically the entire day because there were no direct flights. It wasn’t as bad as we expected though and our first-time traveler, who was only three months old at the time, did a great job.
Baby Carrier: A few key things made the trip a lot easier. Jenn used a baby carrier to get around the airport, which was great when we had to do a lot of walking between terminals. They did make her take it off to go through security in Boston, but she wore him the rest of the time.
Toys: A friend gave us some Chewbeads before we left, and these turned out to be one of the best “toys” we had. Jenn wore them with Sam in the carrier, letting him have something to play with while we were waiting in line. On the plane, we had a lot of different toys to keep him entertained. A few favorites that aren’t too loud for other passengers are Sophie the Giraffe, who he adores, and some books. Indestructibles are awesome for travel because they’re super lightweight, and babies love them because they can chew them up and they make a crinkle noise. If your baby is on solids, moms and dads always recommend bringing lots of snacks too.
Portable Changing Station: For changing time, keep in mind that not all airlines have changing tables in the bathroom. If they don’t, you can close the toilet cover and use that with a changing pad on top. Either way, we all know how cramped plane lavatories are so be well prepared with a portable changing kit that has everything you need to get in and out of there fast. Large zip lock bags or a roll of odor-eliminating bags are good to have on hand as well.
Disinfecting Wipes and Hand Sanitizer: We like to wipe down all surfaces around our seats, especially tray tables, with disinfecting wipes to help with germs. Also keep some hand sanitizer with you. We love the Babyganics foam sanitizer because it’s not too heavy and alcohol free.
Disposables: You can find disposable diapers in Costa Rica at grocery stores and big box stores like Maxi-Pali. They have local brands and some of the kinds sold in North America like Pampers and Huggies. Keep in mind that diapers here more expensive, especially the name brands. If you’re spending a while in Costa Rica, it might be worth it to stock up at one of the Wal-Marts around San Jose where prices are much better.
We recommend bringing at least a couple of days’ worth supply from home to get you started and then buying more when you get here.
Cloth Diaper Alternative: We cloth diaper, but when we travel, it is too hard so we usually use disposables. Recently, though, we discovered a cool product (sold at stores in the US or online) that is sort of a cloth-disposable hybrid. gDiapers makes a disposable insert that you can use in cloth covers. It is almost like a pad and we found it to be really absorbent and effective. They are biodegradable too so more ecofriendly than traditional disposables. You can use them in gDiapers, but they worked great in the Flip and Thirsties covers that we already had. Our covers stayed clean for the most part, but if something gets on them, you can just wash it out at your hotel and let it dry overnight.
Formula: If your baby is on formula, you can find a few different kinds in Costa Rica, including Similac and Enfamil. Costa Rica does not, however, have as much variety as many places, so if you’re not sure if stores will carry the type you use, it is best to bring your own.
Baby Food: If your baby is on solids, jarred food and pouches are available. Most stores have only regular Gerber and Heinz, though, so if you use organic, bring it. Cereals are also readily available.
Many of Costa Rica’s beaches are backed by thick palms trees, but many are not, so you will want to be prepared for the sun. Since Costa Rica is near the equator, the sun is extremely strong and your baby will burn in minutes. We are always trying so hard to protect Sam from the sun and think we have a pretty good routine. Here is our list of must-haves:
Swim Shirts, Hats, and Sunglasses: Swim shirt and sunglasses if you can get your baby to keep them on. Sam has Babiators and they are really durable and so adorable. For sun hats, we have a couple that we love. This one is a good, all-around hat with UV protection and a lot of coverage. For the pool, we prefer one that’s waterproof like this.
Bathing Suits: You will also want swim trunks, a bathing suit, or we especially love swim diapers because they snap on and off easily. We haven’t had any major accidents in them yet, but have heard that they are much easier to get off than a wet swimsuit. There are lots to choose from. We have a couple from Alva Baby that are a good value and have really cute designs.
Sunscreen: Even with all the sun-protective clothing, you’ll want to use sunscreen on areas that are still exposed. The American Academy of Pediatrics considers sunscreen safe for babies six months and up. They recommend a broad spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher. We have been spending a lot of time at the beach lately and started using Babyganics on Sam. We really like it. It’s mineral-based so goes on thick, but blends in pretty well and we haven’t had any burns yet.
Beach Towels/Blanket and Umbrella: Microfiber towels work really well for the beach because they’re lightweight, dry quickly, and roll-up small. Beach umbrellas can be found in most popular tourist destinations in grocery stores or souvenir shops.
We love hiking and haven’t slowed down much since having Sam. We bring him everywhere in the baby carrier and have done hikes as long as four hours with him. Whatever carrier you have is probably fine, but if you’re in the market for one, we love our Ergo Performance because it is lightweight and breathable.
Sun Protection: To keep baby protected from the sun, we have found that a hat coupled with us carrying an umbrella works the best out on the trails. For extra protection, get an umbrella with UV protection. And for especially hot days, we carry along wet face cloths to put on Sam’s head to cool him down. You can just use a zip-lock bag filled with ice, but what we’ve found works best is a dry bag. Dry bags can be used as wet bags and are insulated so keep things cooler. Just throw a couple of towels in with the ice and rotate when necessary.
Insect Repellant: We usually don’t need to use repellent on our baby (perhaps having it on ourselves helps), but it is a good idea to bring some in case the bugs are really bad. No one wants their baby to be bothered by annoying bites, plus Costa Rica does have some mosquito-borne illnesses like Dengue and Zika.
Current guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics say repellents with 10-30% DEET are safe and effective for babies two months and up. Products containing Picaridin or essential oils are also considered safe, but long-term studies have not yet been done. Here is a link to some good choices. If you’re looking for more information on choosing an insect repellent for your child, check out HealthyChildren.org.
Stroller: Most sidewalks in Costa Rica are uneven and difficult to navigate with a stroller. Although some parks and nature reserves have nice smooth walkways, others are rugged, with tree roots, rocks, mud, steps, and other hazards. If you are really attached to your stroller, it’s fine to bring it. You will find places where it is useful. But if you’re not sure you want to lug it around, definitely just bring a baby carrier. We find it so much easier to just throw our son in the carrier and go!
Car Seat: We have a lot of info in our Traveling with a Baby post about if you should bring your own car seat or not. If you do decide to bring it, don’t forget a bag for the plane or you can just use an extra large Space Bag like we did.
Medical Kit: You can find a lot of these things at pharmacies in Costa Rica, but the brands will be different and the people working might only speak Spanish. For peace of mind, bring along the essentials like a thermometer, Children’s Tylenol, a nasal aspirator, and antiseptic wipes.
Travel Chair: This is a great little chair for sticking your kid in at the hotel when you need to take a shower or get dressed. We use ours all the time. It is good for travel too because it folds up flat and can fit in luggage.
Night Light: Lights in hotel rooms are usually a little too bright to leave on all night so be sure to pack a night light if your family uses one at home.
Waterproof Camera: You will probably want to bring your regular camera with you to capture all of the great family memories, but we also recommend a waterproof camera. They’re great for the beach and pool and we have gotten a ton of use out of ours.
Those are our tips for what to pack when traveling to Costa Rica with a baby. We try to be as minimalist as possible, but have found these to be the essentials for having a fun, stress-free, and safe vacation.
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Looking for more info to plan your family vacation? Check out these posts:
- Traveling with a Baby in Costa Rica – Getting priority at the airport, crib and tub availability at hotels, changing stations, and what the culture thinks about babies (they LOVE them!).
- Packing for Costa Rica: The Essentials – Now that you have your baby figured out, check out this list for what to bring for yourself.
- Safety Tips for Costa Rica – Precautions to take when renting a car, staying in a vacation rental, taking a taxi, etc.