I went round and round researching the best beaches in Costa Rica for families. We were limiting our search to the Western coast because we were flying into Liberia. I found a handful of beaches that said that they were kid friendly, but Samara Beach Costa Rica was mentioned time after time as one of the best beaches in Costa Rica for families. BINGO. Something clicked and I knew that we had to come here.
While doing my research about where the best places in Costa Rica for families with babies and toddlers, I absolutely fell head over heels in love with Samara Costa Rica and its kitschy, laid back beach vibe. The beach itself is adorned with small hotels and beach side bars. It is free from any mega resorts, giving it a very “off the beaten path” feeling.
When we finally got there, I had this “aha” moment where I really felt like Samara beach was heaven on earth. It was a perfect place to start our exploration of Costa Rica with children.
Why Should You Visit Samara Beach Costa Rica (especially if you have kids!)
Are you heading to Costa Rica with your kids? These are our favorite Travel/Destination Activity packets. They are great for the airplane or for getting your kids involved in your trip before you leave!
Here is a short list of some of the many reason that we LOVED visiting Samara Costa Rica with our kids:
- Safe food and drinking water. The tap water is fine to drink. We drank it the whole time we were in Samara and had zero issues (a moment of honesty – the hubby let me drink it for three days first before he or the kids tried it.)
- Eating. The food in Costa Rica in general is pretty kid friendly. The kids liked the rice and beans (technically, one likes only rice and the other only beans, but who is counting). Also the bebidas or smoothies were a great way to help them stay hydrated!
- The Costa Rican people are very warm and really welcoming towards kids. Folks seemed to go out of their way to accommodate the kids and take extra special care of them.
- Playa Samara is a small town. Everything is located within a couple of blocks, making it easy to get around.
- Samara beach is perfect for kids. The waves are small and the water gets deeper very gradually. In the morning, the tide is WAY out leaving plenty of room to run around!
(btw: If your hubby is OCD about sand at the beach like mine is, you have to get one of these sand free beach towels. Amazing!)
- Samara beach is perfect for adults. There are no big mega resorts and lots of restaurants to eat (and drink) at along the beach.
- Samara Beach Costa Rica is a perfect mix of locals and foreigners. It is still “Costa Rican” enough to give you a healthy taste of local culture. In addition you get the the unique flavors of the cultures of the many expats that make this their home.
Getting from Liberia to Samara Beach Costa Rica
Samara Beach Costa Rica is approximately two hours south of Liberia airport. It is on the Nicoya Peninsula on the western side of Costa Rica.
You have a couple of different options for getting from Liberia to Samara Costa Rica. The road between Liberia and Samara is easy to drive and well marked. It would not be difficult to rent a car and drive yourself.
There was really no practical way that I found to get from Liberia to Samara Beach by bus. It CAN be done, but seemed time intensive and particularly burdensome. I get the impression that most folks drive or hire a shuttle for this reason.
There were many reasons that we chose not to rent a car and drive in Costa Rica. The biggest of these was there is a mandatory car insurance necessary t rent a car in Costa Rica. When factoring this in, the cost for our rental car was MORE than we paid to have someone drive us. It turned out that for our family, paying someone else to do the driving was absolutely the right decision.
We organized all of our transportation through one company. This made our trip easy and stress free. The Samara Adventure Company is one of the main tour companies located in Samara. We have nothing but good things to say about the Samara Adventure Company and their service, and loved having someone else do the driving!
They were always quick to respond to my e-mails, able to rearrange our transportation at the last minute when our flight plans changed. They were even able to arrange a last minute shuttle to pick two of us up a day later after a standby travel adventure.
Samara Costa Rica Restaurants
Samara Beach Costa Rica is pleasantly dotted with a wide variety of restaurants. Some are more “touristy” than others. Eating out at any of the touristy restaurants can quickly break your budget.
Because of the high expat population, Samara is one of the more expensive places to visit in Costa Rica. Some of the prices were just about the same as US restaurant prices! Here are three local restaurants that offer good food at a good price:
Restaurant Sheriff Rustic: This amazing little restaurant is located at a quiet spot on one end of Playa Samara, directly on the beach. The food is typical Costa Rican fare. The views are amazing. We had a simple breakfast here one morning – pancakes and sausages and french toast for the kids and gallo pinto for the adults. I am sure that the lunch or dinner fare would also be great. Great prices and neat local vibe!
Marisqueria Colochos: This restaurant is located in the center of town (it was just a block from where we were staying at Oasis). The restaurant’s specialty is seafood – it would be a satisfying place to go if you were looking for an authentic seafood dinner. We ordered the standard Costa Rican casado and had no complaints. The food was good. The prices were good and it definitely seemed to be a favorite of locals.
Soda El Jardin Marino: I found this place while doing research for our trip, and we walked past it a few times but never when it was time to eat. What initially attracted me was the fact that the restaurant had kid friendly fare like chicken nuggets, etc (it turned out that it was not necessary, as the kids LOVED the rice and beans served with most Costa Rican meals).
We will definitely eat here next time we return – Tripadvisor reviews confirm what I suspected. A great local restaurant with authentic food at good prices. Add this to your short list of Samara Costa Rica restaurants!
Samara Costa Rica Hotels
This is where we stayed during our time visiting Samara beach and we were happy with our accommodations and thought that they were a great value. Oasis Samara is a collection of individual cabins, tucked away about a block from the beach right off of the main drag.
Philipe owns the cabins and he lives onsite in the green cabin. He also owns the Lo Que Hay Restaurant (and there were some nice coupons for free tacos included with our room.)
Our cabin was simple but clean and provided everything that we needed. It was not air conditioned, but the fans were adequate and the design of the cabin helped funnel the hot air up and out. We opened the windows at night and it cooled down every night for comfortable sleeping.
The cabins share a sort of odd courtyard space carpeted in fake turf, but other than it being sort of odd, it was a nice place for the kids to be able to run around a little bit.
If you are looking for high class digs, this might not be your cup of tea. If you are looking for clean, safe and SUPER cheap, this is your spot.
I went round and round trying to decide if spending more money to get a room right on the beach would be worth it, and in the end, we decided to stay here. While being on the beach would have been nice, the one block walk was not far at all and I am happy that we saved the money for taking some extra tours.
This was my next choice for accommdations in Samara Beach, and if they hadn’t been full for the dates that we had wanted, we likely would have stayed here. This hotel is right on Samara beach. It offers family friendly beach side bungalows as well as suites and an apartment in the main building that look beautiful.
The restaurant at this hotel is on the beach, and at night the trees are lit up with twinkly looking lights. If Oasis Samara sounds too simple for your tastes, book a room at Locanda Samara. The prices here are still pretty darned good for what you are getting, and I can almost certainly guarantee that you will LOVE your time here.
This was another budget friendly spot that was on my short list when planning our trip to Samara Beach Costa Rica. They have a family room with a double bed and a set of bunk beds WITH air conditioning that is a great deal. I liked the covered courtyard and the shared kitchen facilities at this hostel. Tripadvisor reviews overwhelmingly say that the hostel is clean and safe, and doesn’t SEEM to be a big party mecca. Definitely a place to consider if you are on a budget visiting Samra Costa Rica.
There are a wide variety of family friendly tours that you can take right from Samara! Some of the best tours for kids that we saw or took include:
- Zip lining (check with the tour operator for minimum ages. A family member took this tour and told us that we probably could have taken our four year old!)
- Waterfall hiking tour with Mystical Tours
- Whale/dolphin/snorkeling tour (the tour operator will provide life jackets for life still too small to snorkel, you can enjoy watching for wildlife on the boat for that portion)
- Surfing lessons (for older kids, I saw Tico’s surf school giving lessons to a family and they were great with the kids)
Any of these tours can be booked directly through a tour operator. We also had great experiences booking through Natural Center Tours. The are centrally located near the beach in Samara and coordinated booking a number of tours for us. We had no issues nothing but a great experience!
Mystical Tours Waterfall Hiking Tour – The BEST SAMARA Tour with Kids!
We knew very little about what we were getting into when we booked this tour for the two of us and our two toddlers. A little hiking…some waterfalls? It sounded like a good family adventure.
This tour ended up being so much more than we were expecting. Manny and Rafa at Mystical Tours Samara took us on a really special adventure. A big part of what made it so special was the true passion that our guides have for the land that they so graciously shared with us, which is owned by Rafa’s family.
The tour started with a gentle hike towards a jungle waterfall. While we hiked, Rafa found a huge variety of fruits for us to try and he shared tidbits about the healing properties of many of the plants that we saw.
Just as we were starting to get hot, the trail dove into the forest. It wasn’t too much further before the trees opened up upon the most picture perfect jungle waterfall and swimming hole.
The most special thing about it was that we were the only ones there. Because it is on private land, it was not crowded with hordes of other tourists. We splashed and swam happily for quite some time while our guides waited patiently.
When we were done, we walked back out and they took us to another waterfall site. This one was busier, but also larger. There were opportunities to jump off of a cliff into the water from a height of approximately 20 feet. While the second waterfall was beautiful, it was not as kid friendly for little ones. We spent much more time at the first waterfall.
We wrapped up our amazing day by having lunch at Rafa’s family’s restaurant. It was a real, “off the beaten” path gem in the hills outside of Samara, with no other tourists in sight. Our waterfall tour with Mystical Tours was incredible. I highly recommend going on this tour if you are visiting Samara.
Some Insider Tips about Planning Your Stay in Samara Costa Rica
- The grocery store that is away from the beach and tourist hotels is much cheaper than the one down by the beach (across from the Tree House Hotel).
- When you wander down the central street in Samara Costa Rica, you will naturally gravitate towards the Lo Que Hay Restaurant. It holds a central spot at the end of the street. Because of its central location, it is one of the busier places on the beach. The food is good and the drink specials were decent and strong, so we ended up eating here a few times during our stay.
- The sun is HOT in the middle of the day. Structure your beach time so you get up in the morning, play for a bit then rest during the hottest part of the day. Come back out once the sun is past its peak and it stars to cool down.
- If you are going to be out in the middle of the day at the beach, bring some shade. If you want to rent an umbrella and chairs, you can do so for about $16 for the day in front of Tico’s Surf School (next to Lo Que Hay restaurant)
- Most places in Samara list prices both in Colones and dollars and will accept either. Most places will also just double the Colones to get to dollars. This is not quite correct, and you will lose a little this way. If you have colones it is usually better to pay this way.
- There are cash machines in Samara, which we used without any issues. There are also two banks. You can exchange money at the banks, but you will need your passport.
- Bring some dramamine with for the kiddos, and keep some plastic bags on hand while driving/riding in case of vomit. The roads are windy and bumpy. Getting from the airport or taking ANY excursions will necessitate driving/riding.
- If you get the chance to experience a sunrise on the beach, it is beautiful and the beach is quiet and peaceful at that time. Also of note, it is worth coming down late at night if you are up as the stars on the beach here were brighter than I had seen in a long time. The milky way was super bright.
- The Natural Center Samara is right in the center of town, across from the Lo Que Hay Restaurant. It is is a nice place to stop with the kids in the center of town. It is shaded, and they have a nice variety of kid friendly grab and go foods here as well as bathrooms.
- We visited in February, during dry season. While we did not get too many mosquito bites, we still got a few. I think that most of these happened at night while we were eating, as the majority of them were around our legs and ankles. We saw ZERO mosquitos at the beach. Lesson learned. Put bug spray on your legs when you eat.
- If you are looking for a different beach experience that is really close to Samara, head for Playa Carillo. It is a beautiful, much less developed beach lined by palm trees just a few miles from Playa Samara.
I could go on and on with good things to say about Samara Costa Rica. We really fell in love with it and it has a special place in our hearts. It is truly one of the best beaches in Costa Rica for families with babies and toddlers. This amazing, friendly place to begin your exploration of Costa Rica with children. Go. You will love it, too!