Costa Rica is famous for its miles of coastline along both the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea. While most visitors want to experience the country’s tropical beaches, many don’t realize how diverse the choices are. Along the central and southern Pacific coast, for example, you’ll find mostly surfing beaches with bigger waves. In contrast, the very northern Pacific coast is carved into calmer coves. Finally, on the Caribbean Coast, you’ll find little development along the beach, except for a few specific towns. There’s also a lot of differences in how beach towns are set up and what activities they offer.
We live in Costa Rica with two kids. In this post, we’ll give you our recommendations for some of the best beaches in Costa Rica for families. We’ll let you know about some destinations that are safe for swimming with children and also have family-friendly activities.
Located along the Pacific coast, Samara is one of the best beach destinations in Costa Rica for families. This light gray sand beach has a wide cove with smaller waves that are perfect for swimming. Just a five-minute drive away is another tranquil beach, Playa Carrillo, a favorite spot among locals.
Samara is set up with a main town center along the sand, making it very walkable. For activities, in between the rows of tall palms are surf shops offering lessons on the small waves. You’ll also find horseback riding, boat or kayak tours to see wildlife, turtle-watching tours, a hike through the tropical dry forest, and a visit to a macaw parrot breeding center.
To learn more about Samara, read our separate post Samara: Guanacaste’s Most Overlooked Destination.
Playa Hermosa (Guanacaste)
Tamarindo is Guanacaste’s most well-known destination, but for families looking for a quiet beach escape, we recommend Playa Hermosa. This beach town on the northern Pacific coast has a gorgeous wide cove with gentle waves, making it ideal for young children. From Playa Hermosa, you can also access other beaches with calmer water like the nearby Playa Penca, Playa Panama, and Playa Ocotal.
While most people visiting Hermosa spend the majority of their time at the beach, there are also some fun things to do with kids. A nearby eco-adventure park offers zip lining, a nicely maintained animal sanctuary, and cultural tours. You can also do a boat tour of Palo Verde National Park to see wildlife like monkeys, crocodiles, and a lot of birds. Catamaran tours are available locally or you could explore the bay in a kayak or on a stand-up paddleboard.
The last beach in Guanacaste on our list is Playa Conchal. This is our favorite in this region because of its turquoise-hued water and unique sand made of shells. Another notable feature is that you can snorkel right off the shore. Along the rocks at the northern end, we’ve seen puffer fish, eel, snapper, and many other colorful fish.
Playa Conchal is isolated and harder to access. If you are a guest at the Westin Playa Conchal or one of the other resorts on the beach, you will already be right there. Otherwise, you’ll have to walk about 10 minutes along the sand from the town of Brasilito. Read our post Playa Conchal: The Allure of Shell Beach for up-to-date details on how to arrive.
For those looking for lush rainforest, there’s Manuel Antonio on the central Pacific coast. This is one of the most popular beach towns in the country. It not only has a beautiful beach, but also thick jungle filled with wildlife. In and around town, you can see three types of monkeys, sloths, deer, lizards and iguanas, and birds like toucans, trogons, and hummingbirds. It also has a huge restaurant selection and lots to do with kids. You can go zip lining, hiking, waterfall rappelling, whitewater rafting, and do boat or kayak tours, night tours, surf lessons, and much more.
Although the main beach in town, Playa Espadilla, can have rip tides, it’s still decent for wading. Those looking for calmer water will find it at Playa Biesanz. This sheltered cove has gentle waves that are great for kids. There are also some calmer beaches inside Manuel Antonio National Park.
For more information about visiting Manuel Antonio, read our post Manuel Antonio Trip Planning.
Jaco, also on the central Pacific coast, is another good spot for families. Although it has a reputation as a party town, this is mostly late at night. During the day, you’ll see a mix of people, including lots of kids. Jaco has one main street with plenty of family-friendly restaurants, some with play areas for children. There’s also a community playground, and from time-to-time, you can find activities like painting workshops and puppet shows. At only about one hour from San Jose, it’s also a good option for those not wanting to spend much time in the car.
The main beach in town isn’t the most scenic, but Jaco is close to some stunning beaches. Playa Blanca to the north is a calm cove with clean white sand and aquamarine water. To the south, there’s Playa Esterillos Oeste. This is a surfing beach, but at low tide, you can access the amazing tidepools that are perfect to explore with kids. Those looking for an off-the-beaten-path beach town would love Esterillos Oeste.
Jaco also has a lot of activities that are good for families, including zip lining, ATV tours, catamaran tours, crocodile river tours, horseback riding, and the NeoFauna wildlife center.
For all the details about visiting, read our post Jaco: Costa Rica’s Booming Beach Town.
Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Last on our list is Puerto Viejo de Talamanca on the southern Caribbean coast. The highlight of Puerto Viejo is its beaches. They are some of the most beautiful in the country, with dramatic backdrops of lush green and clear, calm water. Here, you’ll find the Jaguar Rescue Center, one of the most well-known wildlife rehabilitation centers in Costa Rica. There’s also a great chocolate tour, surfing, horseback riding, SUP and kayak tours, and hiking. Lots of wildlife like monkeys and sloths is visible around town as well.
Although we do recommend Puerto Viejo for families, the area does have some crime, making it not right for everyone. Most visitors do not have any problems, but if you are nervous about traveling with your kids, we’d recommend one of the other destinations. For tips on visiting and to learn more, read our post Puerto Viejo de Talamanca: Caribbean Cool in Costa Rica.
Over the past few years, we’ve explored many of Costa Rica’s beaches with our boys. We know how important finding the right destination is when you’re traveling with kids and hope that our recommendations have helped narrow your family’s itinerary.
Have a question about traveling to Costa Rica with kids? Ask us below.
Looking for more information to plan your trip to Costa Rica? Check out these posts:
Family Travel: Why Costa Rica is the Perfect Destination – Learn why Costa Rica is a great option for a first international family trip. Covers culture, safety, water, and more.
Traveling with a Baby in Costa Rica – We’ve had two kids here so have done this twice now. Read our post for tips on what to expect.
La Paz Waterfall Gardens: Wildlife Up Close – La Paz is a highlight for many families visiting Costa Rica. Learn all about this wildlife sanctuary near San Jose and how to plan a visit.
Rental Car Discount – Check out our discount through one of the reputable rental car companies in Costa Rica to save 10% and get free extras like car seats.