What's it like to parent in Costa Rica? Pura Vida Mom weighs in
Ever wonder what it's like to be a parent in Costa Rica? To find out, we chatted with Christa Jimenez, the founder of Pura Vida Moms
. Christa's connection to Costa Rica began in 2001, when she embarked on a study abroad trip to San Ramon, Costa Rica. "I fell head over heels in love with the language and culture — I felt more at home there than I had anywhere in my life," she says. She also met her husband, studied at the University of Costa Rica for two years, led student tours and taught English to elementary school students in the rainforest. "Now I am raising two Costa Rican-American daughters to be rooted in their language and cultural identity. I also run a successful website, Pura Vida Moms, that promotes Costa Rican food and travel and culture throughout the world."
Keep reading for more on Costa Rica parenting with Christa!
Parennial Travel: How much time do you typically spend in Costa Rica with your family?
Christa Jimenez: We spend most every summer in Costa Rica. My daughters are 5 and 8, and they started going when they were 3 months old. We also spent 2019 living full time in Costa Rica.
PT: Do you think Costa Rica is a family-friendly place? Why or why not?
CJ: So. Much. So. Latin American culture is centered on family, and Costa Rica is no exception. Ticos love kids — and because the country is small and families tend to stick close to where they were born, almost everyone has direct experience with children of all ages.
It's a cultural expectation that kids will be everywhere, and ticos value safety and education in equal measure. Costa Ricans generally believe that it takes a village to raise a child, and it's not uncommon for children to be taken care of by many different caregivers. This extends to visiting children as well.
PT: How do people treat children in Costa Rica?
CJ: Children are loved and taken care of and revered. Costa Rican values of peace and hard work are instilled at a young age, and kids are very respectful to others.
I have rarely met a Costa Rican who didn't absolutely light up at the sight of a child, and who doesn't love to engage the child in games, conversation and more. It's refreshing!
PT: Are there challenges to having kids in Costa Rica? Things you wish were different?
CJ: There are. I think there is such a focus on security that sometimes people want kids to be safe at all costs and do not let kids be independent. For example, many people would tell me I shouldn't let my kids play at the park because they could get kidnapped.
There are also a lot of old wive's tales that are still alive and well today. For example, if it is cold outside a child should not go outside because they will get sick. For me, growing up with Midwestern parents, it was absurd that people thought my kids shouldn't be outside in 65 degree weather because they would get sick.
Ultimately though, every country has its pros and cons for raising kids and I would say that overall I would just as soon raise my kids in Costa Rica as in the United States.
PT: What are some things that have surprised you about parenting in Costa Rica?
CJ: One big one is the presence of television. I am pretty stringent about screen time and technology even by U.S. standards, but screen time in Costa Rica is out of control in my opinion. I witnessed television, cell phones and tablets parenting kids for hours on end while the parents socialized or were on their own devices. Since we didn't even own a TV in Costa Rica, the presence was even more marked for us. We even had some friends that stopped bringing their kids over to our house because we didn't have TV and they felt they couldn't have fun without their kids in front of the TV while the adults talked.
Something else was the role of school. Parents expect the school to provide a solid education for their kids, but not to "parent" their kids. School has a function within society, but it isn't expected to fix everything. Teachers earn an excellent living wage and are respected and revered as experts. I think sometimes in the States we tend to want the role of school to be everything — cafeteria, child care, education and parenting. I appreciated the schools in Costa Rica for staying in their lane and allowing the culture to fill in some of the gaps.
PT: What are some of your favorite things to do with your kids in Costa Rica?
CJ: My very favorite thing to do is to have my kids play with our close family and friends' kids. It is so astounding to me to see them interact in two languages.
PT: For family travelers, what areas of Costa Rica do you recommend?
CJ: I think the entire country is extremely family-friendly. It is a cultural norm/expectation that families will travel in large groups — grandparents, uncles, cousins, parents and kids. There are definitely adult-only resorts and hotels, but in general, you can expect everyone and every place to be extremely accommodating.
My favorite towns for kids to play in public parks and to get to know local children are Grecia, San Ramon, Naranjo, Sarchi and Palmares. My favorite beaches for kids are Samara, Puerto Viejo, Nacazcolo, Junquillal, Jaco, Hermosa (Guanacaste) and Danta. My favorite hikes are Bajos del Toro near Sarchi, from Cafeteria Flory near La Paz de San Ramon, and Llanos de Cortez waterfall. For hot springs, we love Baldi and Volcano Lodge and Springs. Side note: I'd love to help families with children plan their trips
PT: Top 3 things on your Costa Rica to-do list for visiting families?
3. Hire a guide in one of the National Parks and do an animal and plant tour. A night tour is also awesome for spotting frogs.