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Traveling with children from Samara Beach to Arenal and La Fortuna, Costa Rica
Our Big Family at Lake Arenal, Costa Rica
When our big family needed to book travel from the Playa Samara area all the way over to La Fortuna in Costa Rica, we...

...found good information a little hard to find. The Samara Beach area (Playa Samara) and Arenal Volcano with the town of La Fortuna just under it, are two of the most popular destinations in Costa Rica.

Traveling with young children from Samara to La Fortuna
As far as paradise-type beaches go, Playa Carillo is a pretty good one
But when researching our travels, we found that it was surprisingly difficult to find explanations about how exactly to best make this trip. In this post we'll share with you our tips for making a fun overland journey between the beach town of Playa Samara (or in our case, gorgeous, next-door, not-so-touristed Playa Carillo) and the volcano town of La Fortuna.

This is not a day-trip, by any means. It's a change of destinations and cross-country journey which will take the better part of a day. Travel times in Costa Rica generally take much longer than would seem necessary. Just because they look kind of close on a map, doesn't mean it's going to be a quick trip. Plus, we love to make stops. We have a certain way of reliably making a 4-hour trip take 7 hours, every time. But you can also get through in about 4 hours with a straight shot without stops.

So here are our tips:

#6:  Book a Private Minivan
Although Samara and La Fortuna both make it onto the short list of destinations for a great many travelers to Costa Rica, we found it a little difficult to figure out the logistics between these two popular stops. Nearly all the travel advice that we read before the trip advised that it was best to rent a car. For several reasons (explained in this post), we decided not to rent a car for any long overland journeys. We instead booked all of our city-to-city transfers with a single company, arranged online in advance.

We could have saved a little (perhaps 10%) by booking in person, in-country, but I liked having the arrangements all worked out in advance, and not worrying about whether the driver was going to show. Picking a service with thousands of 5-star ratings helped me feel confident that our reservations would be honored and the service would be reliable. We're not being paid to promote their services, and you should choose whichever one you like, but our choice was Odyssey Tours. They were friendly and efficient, and what we liked most about them was that every journey was a custom trip. We were free to stop wherever we wanted, for as long as we wanted, and as often as we wanted. Basically it was the same freedom as driving a car, but without the stress and risks of driving it ourselves.

How to travel around Costa Rica with a big family
Private Minivan Transfer
from Samara to La Fortuna, Costa Rica

#5:  Be Ready for a Long and Twisting Ride
The 204 km trip will take about 3 hours and 45 minutes, plus stops. Like all overland trips we took in Costa Rica, this journey was a little uncomfortable. The entire route was paved, but when taking twisty, turning mountain roads at high speeds, you find yourself slopped from left to right within your seat, occasionally reaching out to steady yourself by grabbing on to a door-frame or nearby seat. None of us suffered from motion sickness, but I could easily see someone experiencing that, since riding in a tall van across the country felt a lot like sailing in a small boat.

#4:  Pack Water and Snacks
Everywhere you go in Costa Rica, we recommend packing your own water, and packing extra. The driver provided a cooler with a few individual bottles of water in it, but in my opinion it wasn't of a sufficient quantity to last a family of 6 for an entire day. I'm just always more comfortable if we have a couple of extra liters of water with us, at all times. You never know what could happen and what might make a 4-hour journey turn in to a 12-hour journey. For the same reason, we always bring some good protein-based snacks with us on any long cross-country journeys, no matter which country we're visiting.

How to travel from Vulcan Arenal to Playa Samara, Costa Rica, with kids
Enjoying the Scenery between Samara and La Fortuna
#3:  Where to Eat
If you're like me, you may be wondering about a good place to eat somewhere between Samara and the Arenal/La Fortuna area. A good stopping point, almost exactly halfway between Playa Samara and La Fortuna, is the town of Cañas. We chose to eat something fast and cheap, so we made our way to Pollos Kris, a fried chicken hole-in-the-wall restaurant just behind the church. Pollos Kris is located at the corner of Avenida 1 and Calle 1. There's not a ton of room inside - just one 6-top table and one 2-top table, so, if you're arriving at lunch hour, there's little hope of a seat for a big family. We happened to get there at an auspicious hour, and lucked out with finding seating for all of us. This place does a jamming business at the walk-up window, and many people arrived hoping to find a seat inside while we were there. A few bucks got the whole family all the fried chicken and sides we could want.

#2: What Else to See in Cañas
The Iglesia de Cañas, right next door to Pollos Kris, is worth a stop. It has an unusual sculpture out front and faces a plaza where locals go to relax and chat.  There may be fruit sellers along the side streets, and there are several shops in town of various types. The church was designed by Costa Rican artist-author Otto Apuy, who grew up nearby. The exterior is covered in wonderful and colorful mosaic tiles.

Traveling with a big family from Playa Carillo to La Fortuna
Iglesia de Cañas in Cañas, Costa Rica

#1: Where to See Wildlife between Samara and La Fortuna
On your travels in Costa Rica, you'll probably have a short list of animals you're hoping to see some time while you're in-country. You can check several cool ones off your list, and support an operation with good intentions, by visiting Centro de Rescate de las Pumas (Puma Rescue Center), located just 8 to 10 minutes away from the town of Cañas.

We paid the steep entry fee but got to see three kinds of monkeys, two kinds of big cats, one little feline breed, a deer, and a few other species. Overall I'd say we spent 45 minutes there - it's a small place - but we saw such a variety of animals that it was worth it.

Where to stop for sightseeing between Samara Beach and Arenal with kids
White-Faced Capuchin Monkey in Costa Rica
As the name implies, this outfit is a rescue operation. They take animals that people had initially acquired as (currently illegal) pets, and then either abandoned or turned in to the authorities after the laws changed. Some of the animals were badly mistreated, and have permanent scars or deformations resulting from the cruel care they received from their former owners.

This place gives them a safe place to live out the rest of their days. Unfortunately, rehabilitation to the point of release back into the wild is highly unlikely for any creature that was ever kept as a pet. A monkey kept for years in a bar as entertainment for clients just never will learn to be a natural monkey in the wild again. These animals are for the most part just too habituated to humans, and would end up walking back into town, approaching people, and then would be very likely either shot or captured again, or killed by other animals or by road traffic. But if you visit as a paying guest at Centro de Rescate de las Pumas, your entry fee helps fund an organization with good intentions.

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