Costa Rica is a famously great surfing destination and you’ll see many lists of the best surfing beaches. But great surfing = not so great for children swimming.
So now that I am nearing the end of my research and I have visited most of Costa Rica’s best beaches – or at least the most popular ones – I can make my own list. Here’s my take on the best beaches for kids in Costa Rica.
Of course Carrillo is at the top of my list, because this is where we stayed. Stretching between two picturesque rocky headlands, this white sandy crescent is fringed by palm trees and jungle covered hillsides. There is absolutely no development on the beach – just guys hawking ceviche from coolers and hammocks to string between the palms. The surf is relatively small (though it still frightened the twins at high tide). The rocks at either end of the beach create enticing tidal pools that are perfect for watching fish and collecting shells.
About 7km south of the famous surf break at Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, lies this gorgeous beach that embodies peaceful and pristine. It’s in the midst of tiny Manzanillo village, which is – in turn – in the midst of the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge. It’s dense with rain forest life like howler monkeys, sloths and birds. The beach is supposed to be a decent snorkeling spot, but conditions vary with the weather and in three visits I’ve not had much luck.
This is the only beach on the list that is also the centerpiece of a beach town. Samara is a real, touristy town, but it’s a sweet, smallish, safe place with nice restaurants and fun beach bars – the good kind of touristy town. It’s a popular spot for Ticos, so you’re likely to see locals running their horses or playing futbol on the beach. There is a little bit of a surf scene, but the waves are inconsistent – far better for swimming or body surfing than the real thing.
Playa Negra, Cahuita
Heading north from Cahuita village, Playa Negra is a long, black sandy stretch facing the Caribbean sea. The beach is never crowded and the surf is usually manageable. A road parallels the beach, but it’s sheltered by palms and other jungle greenery. Some small-scale resorts and restaurants are on the opposite side of the road, but they do nothing to impede the beach’s wild beauty.
A gray-sand beach that’s about 5km south of Playa del Coco, easily accessible by paved road. The beach is set in a sheltered cove, hemmed in by rocky cliffs, which makes for calm waters and scenic surroundings. Unlike Coco, there is not much of a town here – just a few small resorts and a beachfront restaurant or two – and development on the beach is minimal. But it is well known as the best swimming beach in the area, so it does draw crowds on weekends and holidays.