Why Visiting Costa Rica Is More Fun With a Ten-Year-Old

Costa Rica was one of the places we have talked about going to, but kept postponing for a very long time. When we finally made it a few years ago, only one of our children was free to go with us. She was ten, the older ones were out of school, busy with college and jobs. Taking our ten-year-old proved to be the best thing for that rip.  She’s a nature lover and Costa Rica is a  nature lover’s paradise.

costa rica - la paz butterfly garden

Late Arrival
When we walked into the small, local restaurant at ten o’clock at night, the lingering teens turned their heads in our directions. Besides their group, no one seemed to be in the tiny establishment. The restaurant had only two tables, one taken by the above-mentioned teens. We sat down at the other one and hoped for the best.
 
We were in a local neighborhood of San Jose, Costa Rica. The tiny hotel we got our room in was close to the airport.  We picked it because our plane landed late at night. In another lifetime, without kids, we would have skipped dinner, opting for a few snacks. But, I could not let my child go to bed without a proper meal. So there we were, at an almost deserted restaurant, in the middle of a local neighborhood.
 
A middle-aged waitress came out and tried telling us in Spanish that they were closed. Then she noticed our daughter and smiled.
“Never mind, I can serve you anyway”, she added. I guessed that she was not only the waitress, but the owner as well.
She brought out a few tiny hand-written menus, and offered to bring us fresh fruit juices. We ordered three different flavors, pineapple, coconut, and strawberries.
 
As we watched, she put the fresh fruit in a blender, and whipped up some of the best, freshest smoothies we’ve ever tasted.
 
It was tricky to order since she did not speak a word of English and our Spanish was rudimentary. She had no children’s menu, no easy, fast food, only local fare. Still, she tried to find out what our daughter liked and work around her taste buds.
We ended up ordering three different meals, hoping that one of them would please her, and we’d eat the other ones. We expected our picky eater to be… well, picky, her usual self. To my surprise, she sampled everything and liked it all. She ended up eating the most unusual local dish, with nothing familiar in it. You never know with kids.
Traveling without a Plan
After that first night, we had no hotel reservations, only a vague idea of what we wanted to see and do. It was one of our regular “go with the flow, see what you can find” type of trip. No one I know does this with kids. I probably don’t know the right people. Our friends might think that we torture our kids when we take them on trips with no reservations and no plans. But, our kids are used to this and love it (or so they say). They have done it since the day they were born. Kids are much more flexible and resilient than we give them credit for.
 
On the first morning of our trip we got in our rental car and set off. We stopped at a local grocery store, bought plenty of water and snacks for the road, then started driving. Leaving the area proved harder than we anticipated. We drove around in circles for a while, feeling lost. I noticed the raised eyebrows and questioning looks of some locals watching us.  When we passed them the fourth time, we stopped by them. Without even waiting for us to ask, they came over and offered advice on how to make it out of the neighborhood.  We finally made it to the highway towards Poas Volcano.
Kids Make You Slow Down and Smell the Roses
Things were slower since we stopped more often with our daughter. After a “short” stop at the volcano, it was past lunch time. The snacks were not enough to hold her over longer. When we saw something that resembled a restaurant on the side of the road, we stopped.
 
 As we were exploring the premises, we realized that the restaurant was also a small hotel.  Yes, they did have one room left available for the night. By then our daughter already made friends with one of the dogs, and she begged us to stay for the night. Of course, we stayed.  We were in no rush, we had no set destination.
 
After our (very) late lunch, we got acquainted with all the other animals on the premises. The hotel seemed to be also a farm, with goats, sheep, cows, and more dogs.
 
Kids find everything, in this case, including a trail into the jungle right in our back yard. I followed my daughter into the dense forest. We live in the desert, so being in a tropical jungle was an especially great treat for both of us. She got excited about anything, a tree, a bush, a bug, even a broken bridge that we traversed.
breathe the fresh air. costa rica
bridge in the jungle. costa rica
We Spend a Day at La Paz Waterfall and Butterfly Garden

Costa Rica - La Paz Waterfall and Butterfly Garden

The happened to be close to the Waterfalls and Butterfly Gardens, so we decided to visit it the next day.  We spent a full day there, from opening till closing time and we had a great time, in spite of the surrounding tourists.

While the waterfalls are undoubtedly the major attraction in the park, the animal sanctuary/zoo is also worth the visit.

The animals and birds that live there were rescued when they got hurt, or confiscated from people who tried keeping them as pets. Wild animals don’t make good pets. You can read their story as you enter the sanctuary, and always hope that they can be returned to the wild some day.

Costa Rica - Toucan in La Paz Gardens

Costa Rica - Jaguar in La Paz Gardens

The butterfly garden is another great stop in the park.  Thousands of butterflies, of all different species, some of which I’ve never seen before, fluttered around us, sometimes settling on a flower close by.

Butterfly in La Paz Gardens Costa Rica

The major draw to the park are the waterfalls.  Years ago visitors used to be able to see nine waterfalls.  Although an earthquake buried a few, the remaining five are still spectacular and worth the hikes through the jungle.

Costa Rica - La Paz Waterfall and Butterfly Garden

At the end of the trail a shuttle bus is available to take you back to the visitor center.  By the time we got there, we had spent a full day in the park, and enjoyed every minute of it.

We Help A Family of Agoutis Cross the Road

On the road to another destination, she noticed a bunch of little animals. We stopped to watch a family of agoutis walk by the side of the road. We spent what seemed like hours on the side of the road, following them around.

Then, they decided to cross the road. My daughter asked me if we could help them. We walked out in the middle to make sure other cars would stop to let the little creatures cross. Would we have done it without her? I’m not so sure. Even if we stopped, we would have been long gone before they decided to cross.

Grazing Deer Lead Us to A Two-Day Stay in a Resort
Later on, we passed an area where a bunch of deer were grazing. Again, our ten-year old she asked us to stop. We pulled into the parking lot of what ended up being a hotel and restaurant. Since it was close to lunch time, we ate, then took a walk on the premises.
 
We ended up staying two nights there, and it was some of the best part of our trip. We found the pool deserted after we checked in, so we enjoyed a soak/swim/playtime. While swimming, we noticed a few howler monkeys in the surrounding trees.
howler monkeys in costa rica
 
Later in the day, they got very vocal, and we were able to follow them jumping from one tree to the next. A few families of howlers lived on the premises. They woke us up in the morning, since they sat up camp in the tree by our window.
 
We watched them for hours, following them as they moved from one tree to the next. While they were fun to watch on the treetops, the agoutis were hard to miss, walking around us.  We also noticed some other small animals that we only found out their local name (and forgot), and the deer that led us to stop there in the first place. Walking around the hotel grounds turned out to be a lot of fun itself.  We didn’t need to drive anywhere to enjoy nature and see plenty of wildlife. 

Without our daughter, we might have seen “more”. We would have rushed through things, trying to get to as many destinations as possible in a short time. She forced us to slow down, to enjoy time in another country, make friends with locals and local fauna. Taking our daughter on that trip made it slower paced, and much more enjoyable.