Does the sight of a hammock slung between a couple of palm trees bring on the kind of longing usually reserved for post-put-the-kids-to-bed-wine-o’clock? Will your holiday only be complete with a couple of days of sand between the toes?

Whilst we recognise that families choose to travel with us when they are looking for something more adventurous than a ‘fly and flop’, we still take R&R very seriously. After all, almost every family needs a bit of downtime when travelling, a relaxing antidote to the whirlwind nature of 21st century life. As every parent knows, a bit of relaxation is an essential ingredient of family harmony. And where better to hang up the hiking boots and sling the guidebook aside than the beach. 

Here, we’ve put together what we think are the best beaches for adventurous families in the destinations we travel to, places which might not be an A-lister hangout or a perennial contender as a ‘world’s most beautiful’ but will work wonderfully if you’re wanting to balance adventure with leisure.

Make mine a mojito!

1. Best family beach for penguins:
Boulders Beach, South Africa

Cape Town has no shortage of stunning, family friendly beaches but it’s Boulders Beach, False Bay, which is extra special, being the only beach in the world where you can get up close and personal with a colony of African penguins. Your children will delight as these almost comical creatures waddle right up to you, seemingly unfazed! As well as penguins, kids can go swimming in the clear if cool waters and clamber over the eponymous boulders, which also make for great rock-pooling. See this Love Cape Town blog for more.
best family beach for penguins - child and penguin on Boulders Beach with blue sky

A great beach for all the family, the penguins at Boulders Beach are an extra draw

2. Best family beach for tropical perfection:
Samara Beach, Costa Rica

The azure warm waters and soft, sandy beaches of Costa Rica have, not surprisingly, attracted some big level development and luxury hotels in the Guanacaste region. If you and your family are looking for a more authentic experience, Samara beach still retains a local, laid-back vibe. Backed by thick, tropical forest, you may also see monkeys, iguanas and thriving birdlife, too. For pure tropical idyll perfection, this gets our vote!

Samara Beach Costa Rica

Mix gorgeous beaches with wildlife and family-friendly activities in Costa Rica

3. Best family beach for ‘untouched’ South East Asia:
Koh Rong, Cambodia

The island of Koh Rong, off the Southern coast of Cambodia, used to be home to a fishing village and a shed load of palm trees but not much else. In recent years there has been some modest development to accommodate tourism but this still feels like the South East Asia of 25 years ago. There are no roads, limited wi-fi (outside hotels) and the best way of getting around is by water taxi. It’s an island known for its coral reefs and sandy coves whilst head further inland, through the coconut palms, you’ll discover waterfalls and pools to cool off in. Get a boat to Sok San resort and you’ll enjoy 7km of idyllic beach. (Check out this Cambodia Tourist Board video of Koh Rong Island).

Photo of the sandy beach at Koh Rong - Best family beach

With its gentle waves and soft sand, Koh Rong is a contender for best family beach in South East Asia

4. Best family beach for wildlife:
Tortuga Bay, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

If wildlife is your thing then head to the beach at Tortuga Bay, on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos. Here you’ll enjoy marine iguanas sunning themselves on the rocks and beach, sea turtles whilst snorkelling and even baby sharks zipping in and out of your paddling feet.

Iguana Walking On Tortuga Bay Beach - Best family beaches number 4

You’ll have to share the sandy beach and shallow waters at Tortuga Bay with the friendly locals…

5. Best family beach for foodies:
Hoi An, Vietnam

It’s UNESCO World Heritage Listed but you’d be forgiven for thinking this status should be attributed as much for the stunning, palm fringed beaches as for the rich architecture and culture of Hoi An itself. Whether you prefer to cycle a few kilometres out of the centre to enjoy the beach or would rather walk straight out of your beach resort to sit under the hotel’s parasols and sun-loungers, when it comes to lunch or dinner, you’d be hard pressed to find more mouth-watering cuisine, just a short walk away. (Check out our Vietnam family holiday section for more.)

Hoi An beach, Vietnam, at dusk

At Hoi An, it’s just a short step from the sun loungers to some delicious nosh…

6. Best family beach for snorkelling:
Caye Caulker, Belize

Belize is a world-famous diving and snorkelling hot-spot but we feel that Caye Caulker, accessible only by water taxi from the mainland, is one of the best family beaches in this area of the Caribbean. Boasting a laid-back vibe, where better to swing on the hammock in between snorkelling excursions to the surrounding reefs. There are no cars on the island, and it’s so compact you can easily walk around or rent a bike to explore.
Snorkelling in Belize - child with instructor - Best family beaches number 7

Caye Caulker offers some of the best family beaches in Belize for snorkelling with children of all ages

7. Best family beach for surfing:
Jimbaran and Balangan, Bali, Indonesia

Just say the word ‘Bali’ and it evokes images of a paradise isle. It’s true that this Indonesian island has more than its fair share of gorgeous beaches to cater for every family wish-list but it’s the waters off Balangan beach, just southwest of Jimbaran, where surfers flock to catch the wave (if you don’t have teens, then it does make for a fabulous spectator sport). If you plan to surf at Balangan Beach, you can find out more information here. Jimbaran Bay, itself a best family beach because of its long sands and calm waters, is a great alternative if you’ve little ones.

Surfing in Indonesia - Bali - Best family beaches number 7

Bali is known as a surfers paradise with perfect beaches for beginners as well as old hands (or feet!)

8. Best family beach for uber-family-friendly luxe:
Shangri-La, Muscat, Oman

We vote this our favourite luxury child-friendly beach experience in the Middle East, so blown away were we by Shangri-La’s offering. Overlooking 500 metres of coastline, with water sports including kayaking and windsurfing, 6 swimming pools (with an outdoor lazy river) and an ‘adventure zone’ with slides and soft play. The 460-room resort is spread over two wings, the ‘Al Waha’ aka ‘Oasis’ wing particularly suited for families. The staff could literally not do enough for our MD’s children whilst staying here, and if mum and dad want some time off, there’s a babysitting or childminding service, too. Time your visit right and you may also catch the turtles which hatch along the beach near Muscat.

Best family beach for luxury - Shangri-la Oman

The kids will love the water sports as well as the pools and lazy river – put your feet up and enjoy the luxury

9. Best family beach for post-safari island paradise:
Zanzibar, Tanzania

Located just off the coastline of Tanzania, the ‘Spice Isle’ of Zanzibar has been welcoming tourists (and families) in search of post-safari R&R for decades. The island is defined by its pristine white, sandy beaches, lush rainforest and incredibly rich culture and heritage but you’ll find something to suit your family here whether you’re wanting out-and-out luxury or prefer more ‘barefoot chic’ beachside retreats. One thing’s for sure – you and your family will be welcomed with open arms. Check out this gorgeous Zanzibar video to get you in the mood!

If you’ve had a Kenya safari adventure, then we recommend the best family beach of Diani, 30 kilometres south of Mombasa.

Best family beaches - young girl jumping into azure waters from a boat

With fabulous swimming, snorkelling and diving… and sandy beaches, Zanzibar is ideal for family R&R

10. Best family beach for people-watching:
Ipanema and Copacabana, Rio, Brazil

If a country could win an award for the sheer number of outstanding beaches on offer then Brazil would have it in the bag: Paraty on the Emerald coast, Bahia in the Caribbean tropics, the virgin, ‘hippy hangout’ beach at Jericoacoara on the Atlantic coast sound like roll call of Brazilian beach royalty when it comes to best family beaches. Even Rio, unlike many ‘city’ beaches, works hard to ensure that the iconic Ipanema and Copacabana beaches, a magnet for people watching and beach volleyball, are no less gorgeous for their urban locale. Caipirinha, anyone?

(If Brazil appeals, check out our Brazil with children blog which is full of family-friendly activities, many beside, on or in the ocean…)

Ipanema Beach, Rio

Iconic Copacabana is the perfect setting for people watching and a spot of beach volleyball

Ask us about the best family beaches across all our destinations

We couldn’t possibly list every family friendly beach here, so if you’d like to know more about other locations, destinations and what’s on offer when it comes to R&R, do get in touch – ring us on 01728 752751 or email us here.

Liddy Pleasants, MD Stubborn Mule Travel
I’m always interested to hear about your travels so do email me with your votes for the best family beaches at [email protected].