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Travelling in C.A. with a toddler?

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Greetings all,

My wife and I are used to travelling, and did pretty well after getting married. We always traveled on a shoestring staying in Hostels and providing our own wandering tours of cities by using guide books. We have been to Mexico (Oaxaca in '04) and in S. America, Argentina, Chile, Peru and Uruguay, but we haven't been to Central America. Now that we're older and since we've a kid, we haven't had the chance to get out of the country. Now that we're planning a new adventure, we're at a bit of a loss about how to go about it. We're planning on bringing the boy and hope to expose his little 3 year old mind to a bit more of the world. Obviously our style of travel is going to have to change. He doesn't yet have the endurance to keep up with my wife's walk all day and see/do everything we possibly can. He might do ok in museums as long as there aren't a whole lot of them. I worry a little about him getting sick. I doubt we would be happy with a resort style vacation, but that is what it might come down to. Right now, we're taking him on local weekend mini-trips to see how he would do, but we still rely on our car to get around. Something that might or might not be practical depending on where in Central America we end up going, I guess. We've only gone on buses and taxis on our trips, never bothering to rent a car. I'm only good for about half a day carrying him around on my shoulders. My wife definitely wants to practice her Spanish and maybe pick up some local art to share with the Spanish classes she teaches. I don't have very many needs, but I do enjoy technical museums or Engineering / Architecture attractions. I haven't found anything in C.A. that trips those interests other than the Panama Canal.

So, with that long winded introduction, does anyone have advice for us? I guess we're not your usual travelers, but I'm not sure what kind of travelers we are now. I think we need to plan conservative and, if things go well, build from there. We are planning 2 weeks in late May with not much luggage. We considering Guatamala, Costa Rica, or Panama currently, but we're not gaining much traction on planning the trip.

Thanks in advance for any and all advice.

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    Suggestion: Read what has already been written in answer to similar questions on this forum. There are lots of similar question. The answers tend to be the same answers from the same people suggesting the things they are most familiar with.

    Think through what you hope to accomplish and focus on that.

    Look up CONCISE in the dictionary and write a 15-word essay on it.

    I don't think you need travel advice yet. You need goals and knowledge. When you have those, you will be ready for advice. :)

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    Thanks for the reply, you seem to be very knowledgeable about the forums. I've done some searches on my own, but it would be helpful to link to the thread or threads that contain questions that most closely relate to my situation.

    I agree that our goals are ill-defined. It has been tough to come up with a framework for this trip. I hoped to give the impression that we were well traveled but having trouble travelling as a family, not just wandering bums looking for the adventure of existing and getting around a new country.

    My 15 word essay:
    Adjective: Giving a lot of information clearly and in a few words; brief but comprehensive.

    Hope that helps.

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    I have 7 year old twins and my advice for travelling and being HAPPY is whenever possible RENT A PRIVATE HOUSE or rent a place with a kitchen. What made travel difficult for us when our kids were little was having to eat out all the time (so we promptly learned to nix that direction because we are not the all inclusive resort type). When kids are tired, they are tired and don't want to sit and wait for nice food. Being able to eat breakfast and lunch and some dinners at home saved ALL of our sanity. In addition, look for a house or a place that has nice property. That way, you can enjoy watching birds or reading during nap time and aren't at a swim up bar (unless you like that kind of thing!). This is our first time to Costa Rica with kids (and I am looking at a house as we speak actually); but we have gone elsewhere and have had great luck with VRBO and other home rental services.
    Is he too heavy for one of you to carry him on a backpack carrier? I know my friends each used those when bringing their twins to Costa Rica and were able to hike on the trails.

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    (I am assuming that you have focused on Costa Rica.)
    Your biggest concern seems to be the toddler. You need assurances that Costa Rica works for toddler, and there are people here who will assure you that it does.

    You can address that concern by using the advanced search box and the word "toddler". Search both the title and body. I would search for the whole region, not just Costa Rica. (This forum really needs instructions.) Even better, go to Google and enter "travel with toddler in costa rica" or whatever country you settle on. This turns up a load of stuff from many sources. Most of it should put your mind at ease.

    If I were doing this, I would find a list of places that provide a good vacation and then ask questions here about suitability for toddlers. Unless he has special needs, he will probably be happy with anything that doesn't burn or bite. Read widely in this forum, especially the trip reports--to get a flavor of the place. Use a guidebook. Use the internet. There are lots of good general Costa Rica info sites.

    The most productive questions are specific, i.e.,

    1. What are the hazards for a toddler in Costa Rica?
    2. Do car rental agencies supply car seats?
    3. Do I have to drag a stroller along, or can I buy a cheap one locally?
    4. Is the water safe?
    5. Are there babysitters available through the hotels?
    6. Do all hotels, resorts, and rental houses accept toddlers?

    And so forth.

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    We really like the Arenal area in Costa Rica. Check out Los Lagos, Arenal Observatory Lodge, and Silencio del Campo and see if those properties interest you at all. They're popular with young families. There's an active volcano, hiking, Hanging Bridges, a beautiful waterfall where you can swim, and natural hot springs like Eco Termales and Tabacon. Monteverde, Tortuguero, Manuel Antonio, the Osa, and the Guanacaste areas are also popular.

    If you like architecture, you might consider Belize or Guatemala for their ruins.

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    I'll preface my reply with I am not a parent myself. But I think there is a lot of wiggle room between staying in hostels and walking the streets all day, to going on a typical resort-styled vacation.

    I think you can keep your pre-kid travel style with a few modifications. Staying in a bit nicer local hotels, ones that have a kitchen, maybe a pool. Choosing areas where you could use a stroller some of the time for your walking tours. Small modifications like that.

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    I second the notion of renting an apartment/house. We have been travelling abroad with our two kids from birth and, when possible, we always rent. The kitchen/dining area is invaluable.

    I always say this to parents who ask about travelling with their little ones - if you rent, it's just like being at home and doing day outings, with the exception of the plane ride!
    It's really no big deal - pack light, buy what you need at your destination, and have fun!

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    I can see why someone would have a lot of questions and look for personal experience when circumstances change. Traveling with a child was a big change for us, but despite advice to the contrary, *not* a reason not to travel. Just making new priorities and being ok seeing less - but maybe experiencing more.

    I was a little bit less than concise in planning and seeking advice when we faced the same change.

    Disclaimer: We've traveled with our 3 year old on more "challenging" trips. And we've traveled to CA. Well, Nicaragua. But not together. She's gone with us around Peru and Indonesia. And we'd take her to many of the places we've gone in the past, including Nicaragua (Granada, specifically)

    So just thinking about the question more generally, one thing I think you HAVE to get over, especially with a toddler, is the hard driving sightseeing schedule with both of you along. I can't imagine a little one not getting bored with museums quickly. And not physically up for trekking in nature spots for more than an hour before being "done" for a bit.

    Using Granada as a template though... I could see us walking the old colonial city. Climbing the clock tower. Going through the shops - especially with people making things. Going through the huge daily street market with all the ruckus and locals shopping. Riding in a horse cart. Watching a little league game. Taking the boats out to see the islets (we took some girls, and an nun who cares for them, out from the orphanage for a treat to do this and they loved it). One of the nicest things is just sitting in the park in the early evenings when all the families come out for ice cream from the vendors and lettign her play with the local kids (close by, of course). I think we learn at least as much about the places we go doing things like this than we've ever learned looking through glass cases at old things.

    These are all things that she's enjoyed on the other trips. And they're things we did in Nicaragua. Admittedly, we can be sort of 'low impact, unambitious travelers at times... But I think with a toddler, you kind of have to be. It's easier if you base in fewer places for longer periods, rather than bouncing around. Not impossible though, either way.

    One thing we've noticed. In some developing countries, and if you're receptive (and sometimes, even if you aren't!) a child along breaks down barriers! I'd describe many Latin American countries as "warm" places, in more ways than one. I remember airport security chasing after her to give her crayons and a page to color for the flight in Lima. Waitresses in Bali walking her around the restaurant and taking us after dinner back to their house to introduce our daughter - and less importantly, us - to their families! (this happened twice). Shopkeepers in Machu Picchu town all coming out to squat down and say hello. This, btw, is also the flip side. Making sure a toddler isn't overwhelmed with the attentions of strangers.

    As far as safety.. there's the usual. Bottled water, no fresh fruit you didn't peel yourself. Thoroughly cooked food from places that seem busy so the food is cooked recently. No buffets. No ice. Actually some areas do have potable water. I'm less willing to risk it with her and don't feel guilty about that. And of course, watch them. Same as if you were out and about in your own nearest big city park.

    I think that's about it. Oh, and bring a few cheap diversions for the plane for him to do. Small stuff you don't mind losing. You'll find more along the way, he'll like the new stuff just as much because it's new and you'll probably have fun finding it for the trip back.

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    "...1. What are the hazards for a toddler in Costa Rica?
    2. Do car rental agencies supply car seats?
    3. Do I have to drag a stroller along, or can I buy a cheap one locally?
    4. Is the water safe?
    5. Are there babysitters available through the hotels?
    6. Do all hotels, resorts, and rental houses accept toddlers?/

    For Costa Rica:

    1. Hazards for a toddler would be the same as for an adult, whatever they are -- the usual traveling hazards. What does this mean anyhow? Costa Ricans love children and your only problem will be being stopped on the street by grannies wanting to say hello.

    2. Car rental agencies supply child car seats. It's the law.

    3. You can buy a cheap stroller locally but it may not prove useful, depending on where you are going. The town of La Fortuna (near Arenal Volcano) has good sidewalks, for instance, but if you are doing any activities outside of town, you would need a backpack for the toddler.

    4. The water is safe to drink all over Costa Rica - thus no problem with certain foods or fruit drinks.

    5. There are babysitters available through hotels.

    6. All lodging accepts toddlers - except a very few who may specifically say adults only. You would have to really search for these.

    Costa Rica is very kid-friendly, safe and with good water and lodging of all types. When you go to dinner, your waitress might just scoop up your toddler and take the baby to visit the ladies in the kitchen! They will stop cooking to ooh and ahh and play with your toddler.

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    we have been to costa rica 3 times now with kids. Most recently with our 5 year old, 2 year old and a 2 month old. It is fabulous for kids. Get a house through VRBO at one location for a week, put down some roots and explore the little things. We usually go during rainy season as it's cheaper and who cares if it rains in the afternoon because that's nap time. We do 1 thing per day (hike, beach, exploring, etc.) The wildlife in CR is amazing. We stay down by Ojochal and there are monkeys, sloths, blue morphos, etc. right at the house. We go for morning walks and find tree frogs. Our kids talk about the time the monkey swiped their cheese at Manuel Antonio, or seeing the sloth from the swimming pool like it's nothing to them. Such a fabulous family vacation spot. Our only problem now, not wanting to go somewhere else because it might not meet up to our expectations now LOL! The drinkable water is a HUGE plus for kids. We went to Mexico with them and we all got stomach bugs which was NOT at all fun. We took our own babysitter with us last time so cannot speak to that. We took a backpack for our babies, but made the kiddos do all the hiking. Strollers do not work on the hikes, but last trip our 2 year old wore rubber boots and hiked right through the mud with us in two different parks. All part of the experience, and the private guides have all been fabulous with engaging the kids and patiently helping them to spot the animals. Have we gotten to do the same type of trip that we did the first time as two singles? No, but that's the way of it with kids. And I love it that much more to see the world through their eyes.

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