Travel Guide: Puerto Viejo
I don't know if I can fully put into words the loveliness that is the town of Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica. Located on the Caribbean coast, it's one of the few places in Costa Rica that hasn't been fully overrun by tourists. At first glance you might think the town is a bit rough around the edges but any true traveler knows this is the kind of thing that truly gives a place its magic. "Pura Vida" the locals will tell you, meaning 'the pure (or simple) life' and boy if it ain't the truth in a place like this. These people have figured out how to live simply, avoid stress, and enjoy life for what it is.
With one paved road separating the ocean and the local shops + restaurants, it doesn't take long after rolling into Puerto Viejo to feel as if you arrived in a Caribbean paradise. It is not super common to own a car and most people that live here bike or walk where they need to go. Take one stroll through town and you will find the locals are friendly, the food is good, and the drinks are strong - and don't forget to look up! You may see a monkey or sloth hanging out in the wild.
beautiful beaches located right in town
HOW TO GET THERE
Your best bet is to take a plane to San Jose, Costa Rica and take a shuttle or the bus to the coast. We booked our shuttle ahead of time with Caribe through their website. It cost about $50 one way but is known for being safe and reliable transportation and they have Wifi on the shuttle. They will pick you up from the local Denny's (yep, you heard me right) and drop you off at whatever place you are staying at once you arrive on the coast. It is about a 5-hour ride (give or take an hour) from San Jose to Puerto Viejo so make sure and bring a book or download some Netflix goods.
WHERE TO STAY:
The great thing about Puerto Viejo is you can book lodging for anywhere from $20 to $300 a night depending on your personal preference. This time we stayed at a hostel by the name of La Ruka and really enjoyed it. We had a private room with a shared bathroom and it cost us about $36 a night. It is a friendly place with a great shared space (hammocks, books, pool table, board games, hostel pups) and the couple that owns it is lovely. We also had some friends stay at Banana Azul and Selina, which both have air conditioning and cost a bit more (but beware, if you stay at Selina the locals will give you grief because it's a chain + we try to live by buying local when we can.) I would suggest doing your research and figuring out what kind of space (hostel, hotel, Airbnb) meets your needs and your budget
WHAT TO DO:
Both times Jeremy and I have gone to Puerto Viejo we have gone with the mindset of staying there the whole time and living the life of a beach bum. His sister has lived there for about six years so showing up and jumping into local life felt natural for us. Here is a list of favorite things we've done the past two times we've visited
BIKING: First and foremost, rent a bike. It's the easiest, most efficient way to get around and you can find rentals pretty cheap ($5-$10 a day)
BEACHES: Visit all the local beaches! I mean it when I say we become beach bums as soon as we roll into town. Your best bet on finding the calmest beach is to ask the front desk of the place you are staying. They should have a good idea of which beaches are currently the safest to swim and surf in. Our top favorites are the following, in no particular order:
Playa Negra - a black beach super close to town. The sand is black, so be prepared to look like you are covered in mud for the day.
Playa Cocles - One of the closest beaches to town. It is big with lots of shade and room to spread out.
Manzanillo - a small village located a few miles from Puerto Viejo. White sand and blue waters with plenty of places to hang a hammock.
Punta Uva - personally one of my favorite beaches we visited. It is about a 25 minute bike ride from PV but so dang worth it. Free from crowds, with the bluest waters I've seen, it feels as if you are truly in the middle of paradise
Jaguar Rescue Center: A rescue center that takes in orphaned/injured animals and nurses them back to health? Sign me up! If you are visiting Puerto Viejo this should be at the top of your list. You can pay $20-$30 to take a tour and get to see everything from howler monkeys to alligators to baby sloths. Friendly reminder that the tour guides are all volunteer-based so make sure and tip if you are able.
Cahuita National Park: Located about an hour north of Puerto Viejo, the national park is full of trails throughout the jungle along with stretches of beaches. Take the bus there a back for a nice little day trip.
Eat Local Food: Stop by one of the many restaurants in town and grab some yummy food. Favorite spots around town:
Caribeans - Coffee + Chocolate
Bread & Chocolate - Brunch
La Nena - Caribbean food
Puetro & Co - Vegan Cafe
Koki Beach - Caribbean food
De Gustubus Bakery - Brunch
Stashu's Confusio - Indian/Asian/Jamacian
Chile Rojo - Sushi
Night Life: Ask your front desk for nightly specials at the bars in town. Every night there is a special happening - free burger with the purchase of two beers, half-off Tica Ritas (try this cocktail at Lazy Mon but beware they are s t r o n g), etc. Make sure and stop by Hot Rocks for karaoke and try one of the many local salsa lessons.
THINGS TO AVOID:
- Don't drink the water
- Avoid swimming far out when the tide is high. Rip currents are real and very dangerous.
- Don't walk alone at night
- Keep your camera in your bag if you aren't using it
Overall, Puerto Viejo is one of my favorite places I've ever visited. If you love the beach and town with a ton of culture, this is the place for you.