Set along the turquoise Caribbean Sea in southeast Costa Rica, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca is a laid back beach town with a distinctly Caribbean feel. With residents of both Afro-Caribbean descent and indigenous descent, Puerto Viejo offers a unique culture that can be found only in this part of Costa Rica. Here, coconut rice, Reggaeton beats, colorful homes, and a laid back attitude dominate. And with beautiful beaches, lush jungle, great surf, and an array of restaurants and nightlife, it is no surprise that Puerto Viejo is becoming a popular tourist destination.
Below are the essentials for planning your visit to Puerto Viejo.
Orientation & Surrounding Towns
Puerto Viejo is located in southeastern Costa Rica, close to the Panama border. The small downtown, where many of the area restaurants, bars, and shops are concentrated, is conveniently located right next to the beach. The road out of town paralleling the beach leads to several smaller communities, including Cocles, Chiquita, and Manzanillo. These towns each have their own restaurants, beaches, and other amenities but are more spread out so tend to be quieter than Puerto Viejo.
Getting There & Around
The drive from the capital city of San José to Puerto Viejo is about four hours along nicely paved highway that passes through the mountains and banana plantations. Though the drive is beautiful, it does involve crossing a mountain range on a curvy road that is frequented by tractor trailers, so if you’re nervous to drive, consider taking a shuttle or the bus. There is no local airport near Puerto Viejo for domestic small planes.
Once you arrive, the easiest way to get around is by bike. The road that runs between Puerto Viejo and Manzanillo is often a bicycle superhighway, with more bikes than cars. There’s also a public bus that runs regularly between Puerto Viejo and Manzanillo. If you really want to keep things simple, stay in Puerto Viejo center, where everything is within walking distance.
Activities & Attractions
Puerto Viejo has something for everyone. Bird watching, turtle watching, dolphin watching, kayaking, night hiking, waterfalls, fishing, horseback riding along the beach, yoga classes, and Caribbean cooking or dance lessons are just a sample of the many area activities. Below are some of our favorite attractions.
The biggest draw in Puerto Viejo is its beautiful beaches. Along the road that runs to Manzanillo are smaller dirt roads that lead to secluded beaches, each with their own distinct feel. Playa Negra in Puerto Viejo is a lovely black sand beach right in town that is usually calm enough for swimming. Playa Cocles to the south is a surfing beach that, while not the best for swimming due to rip currents, is a great place to relax on the sand and people watch. Playa Punta Uva is by far our favorite. Its clean ivory sand, aquamarine water, and tall palms make this cove the perfect place to waste away the day.
Tip: When beach bumming, do be careful not to leave your belongings unattended as petty theft does sometimes occur.
Puerto Viejo has long attracted the surfer crowd with its famous swells. Salsa Brava, Costa Rica’s most powerful wave, breaks off the shallow reef right in Puerto Viejo. For beginner and intermediate surfers, check out the beach break at Playa Cocles for consistent swells.
When conditions are right, some of the beaches south of Puerto Viejo can be spectacular for snorkeling. At Punta Uva Arrecife (Grape Point Reef), you can snorkel right off the beach. Manzanillo farther south also has an impressive shallow reef for snorkeling and diving.
Hiking in Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge
Located about 12 km south of Puerto Viejo, close to the Panama border, this park offers hiking for all levels. Fairly flat but sometimes muddy trails take you through secondary forest, along beach, and into lowland swamps. You will be sure to see birds and other wildlife along the trails. The most popular trail to Punta Mona takes around five hours round trip for the experienced hiker. Hiking with a guide is highly recommended due to isolated incidents of crime.
CariBeans Chocolate Tour
A visit to CariBeans will surely get your mouth watering. Here, you can walk the cacao forest and learn how this artisan chocolatier makes bean-to-bar chocolate using locally sourced, fair trade cacao. Don’t forget to visit the chocolate tasting room before you leave to sample the many flavors of chocolate produced.
Dig deeper into the southern Caribbean’s culture with a visit to one of the several BriBri indigenous communities found nearby. Learn about their local customs, language, traditions, and methods of farming. If you’re lucky, you might even get to try some of their sacred cacao drink.
Jaguar Rescue Center
Visit the Jaguar Rescue Center, a wildlife rehabilitation center in Playa Chiquita doing amazing work for injured area animals. Guides who work directly with the animals will teach you all about the residents, which may include monkeys, sloths, margay (pictured below), parrots, toucans, and other jungle animals. You’ll learn how the animals ended up in the Center and their plans for release, while getting up close and personal.
Cahuita National Park
It’s worth taking a day trip up to the village of Cahuita, about 16 kilometers north of Puerto Viejo. The national park in Cahuita is a stunning 2,711 acres (1,097 hectares) of jungle set along the sea. Here you can spot bright yellow eyelash pitviper snakes, sloths, howler monkeys, white-nosed coatis, and many types of birds. The park also hosts a protected coral reef just offshore that can be visited with a guide.
Bocas del Toro, Panama
Want to check another country off your list? Panama’s Bocas del Toro islands are a quick hop, skip, and jump away from the Puerto Viejo area. Shuttles run daily to the Bocas, where you can explore secluded islands, snorkel until sunburned, or party the night away in Bocas Town.
We really enjoyed our one-month stay in Puerto Viejo. Have you been there? What was your favorite beach or attraction?
Post by: Jennifer Turnbull-Houde & Matthew Houde