Introduction to Puerto Viejo
The laidback pace of this Caribbean beach town wins many a weary traveler over and, visitors often end up staying for weeks, months or even years. It is firmly on the backpacker and surfer trail so expect tie-dye trousers and leaving with at least one pair of handmade coconut shell earrings. As well as the relatively recent addition of an international mix of residents, there is a strong Creole culture in Puerto Viejo, which can still be seen, heard and felt in the reggae music, Caribbean food and relaxed character of the old-time locals. This Creole culture stems from the Jamaican immigrants who came here to work on the construction of the railway in 1900.
The nearby Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Reserve offers great opportunities for hiking, kayaking and snorkeling in the tropical waters of the Caribbean. There are also several protected beaches where sea turtles come ashore to lay their eggs. Though the beaches in town are not the best for swimming and sunbathing, head east and you’ll find golden stretches of sand, complete with swaying palms and turquoise waters. The nicest are Playa Cocles, Playa Chiquita and Punta Uva, both just a short tuk-tuk ride away. Slightly further afield the tiny beach town of Cahuita situated right next to the stunning Cahuita National Park is a great place to relax. It´s about a one hour’s journey from Puerto Viejo and offers a great alternative for a day of hiking, animal spotting, swimming, or surfing.
What not to miss in Puerto Viejo
The Jaguar Rescue Center
Despite not having a jaguar in sight, the Rescue Center is a great place to see sloths and monkeys up close and learn about the local wildlife. The story goes that the center had a baby margay as a patient, a creature which looked very similar to a jaguar…and the name stuck.
Transparent waters, vibrant coral reefs and a myriad of multi-colored marine life make snorkeling around Puerto Viejo an absolute must.
Feast on Seafood
There are some great seafood restaurants in the area. Try Selvin’s in Punta Uva or Elena Brown in Puerto Viejo, both serve up excellent traditional Caribbean cuisine.
Cahuita National Park
At 2,711 acres (1,097 ha), Cahuita National Park is small in size compared to its counterparts, yet it is still three times the size of New York’s Central Park! The National Park is highly regarded for its animal and plant biodiversity and is one of the country’s top destinations for marine biodiversity.
BriBri Indigenous Reserve
Visit the Kekoldi Community where you’ll be able to take in an Iguana Farm. You can also visit a small finca at the indigenous community where you can enjoy a demonstration of the organic chocolate making process that has been passed on from generation to generation for nearly 300 years using pre-Columbian tools.
Take to the waves and catch some Caribbean surf off the white sandy beach of Puerto Viejo with a professional surfing instructor. Puerto Viejo is a great place to learn due to the consistent waves and by the end of the lesson you’ll have a great chance of standing up on a wave and riding it back to the shore!
What you need to know
When to go
Like much of Costa Rica, Puerto Viejo has its fair share of rain, and the weather here can be quite unpredictable. The frequent showers, however, are always followed by bright sunshine, so everything dries out quickly. Besides, it is this constant play of rain and sun that keeps things so lush, green and tropical! The best times of year to visit in terms of weather are generally between December – April and, August – October. In March there is a month long Caribbean music festival in the area, which is always a lot of fun.
Although Puerto Viejo doesn’t have an airport, you can fly to Limon which is about 75 minutes north of the town.
Public buses arrive and depart from the bus stop along the beach road in the center of Puerto Viejo. It takes around 5 hours t get to Puerto Viejo from San Jose
Where to stay
Accommodation options in Puerto Viejo range from the most basic B&Bs with hammock beds to luxurious resorts, and everything in-between.
You can easily find your way around town by walking but you may wish to rent a bicycle which will allow you to pedal out to beaches east of Puerto Viejo instead of walking there.