Set along the turquoise Caribbean Sea in southeastern Costa Rica, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca is a laid back beach town with a distinctly Caribbean feel. With residents of both Afro-Caribbean 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 some of the country’s most beautiful beaches, lush jungle, and an array of restaurants and nightlife, it is no surprise that Puerto Viejo is now a popular destination. Below are the essentials for planning your visit to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca.
Puerto Viejo de Talamanca 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 next to the beach. The road out of town paralleling the coast leads to several smaller communities like Playa Cocles, Playa Chiquita, Playa Punta Uva, and Manzanillo. These towns each have their own restaurants, beaches, and other amenities but are more spread out.
Getting There and Around
The drive from the capital city of San José to Puerto Viejo is about four hours. The nicely paved highway passes through mountains covered in thick greenery. Once you reach the port city of Limon, the road follows the coast south, passing many banana plantations. Though the drive is beautiful, it does involve crossing a mountain range on a curvy road that is frequented by tractor trailers. If you’re nervous to drive, consider taking a shuttle or the public bus.
Once you arrive, you have a few options for getting around. One of the most popular is to rent a bicycle. The road that runs between Puerto Viejo and Manzanillo is often a bike superhighway, with more bicycles than cars. If you’re staying outside of Puerto Viejo, though, a rental car is nice to have. There’s also a public bus that runs regularly between Puerto Viejo and Manzanillo.
Activities and Attractions in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Puerto Viejo de Talamanca has something for everyone. Wildlife watching, horseback riding, turtle watching, night hikes, waterfalls, fishing, yoga, and Caribbean cooking or dance lessons are just a sample of the many area activities. Below are some of our favorites.
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 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, be careful not to leave your belongings unattended as petty theft does occur. It is also a good idea to leave your valuables (passport, money, cell phone) locked up in your hotel safe.
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 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.
The warm Caribbean Sea is the perfect place to toss a line. Small-boat charters leave from the calm cove in Puerto Viejo to explore reefs and river outlets to the south. A popular combo tour allows you to troll for sport fish like wahoo or tuna but also fits in some dolphin-watching and snorkeling. A more authentic option lets you tag along in a local skiff to help reel in snapper and grouper, species commonly sold to local restaurants.
Horseback riding tours are popular in Puerto Viejo and for good reason. From atop a horse, you can explore the surrounding rainforest and find hidden beaches. A good guide will point out wildlife along the way and teach you about the forest. Tours vary in length from a short two-hour ride to a full day adventure.
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. Be sure to visit the tasting room before you leave to sample the many flavors of chocolate produced. Tours can be arranged directly through CariBeans’ website.
Visit an Indigenous Community
Dig deeper into the southern Caribbean’s culture with a visit to one of the several BriBri indigenous communities. Learn about their local customs, language, traditions, and methods of farming. Some tours have a chocolate-making component where you might get to try some of their sacred cacao drink, while others take you to hidden waterfalls.
Jaguar Rescue Center
Visit the Jaguar Rescue Center, a wildlife rehabilitation center in Playa Chiquita doing amazing work for injured 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 creatures. On a tour, you’ll learn how the animals ended up in the Center and their plans for release, while getting up close and personal. Night walks of the release site are also possible.
Cahuita National Park
The village of Cahuita, about 16 km north of Puerto Viejo, is worth visiting on a day trip. In addition to soaking up the small town feel, the national park in Cahuita is one of our favorites. This stunning 2,711 acres (1,097 hectares) of jungle is set along the sea. On the flat, sandy trail, you can spot eyelash pit viper snakes, sloths, howler monkeys, white-nosed coatis, and many types of birds. The park also hosts several beaches and a protected coral reef just offshore, which can be snorkeled with a guide.
The Ara Project
The Ara Project is a small organization in Costa Rica working to help reestablish the population of macaw parrots. Their site in Manzanillo works with Great Green Macaws. These birds were once in abundance in the southern Caribbean, but due to habitat loss and a lack of food, they have nearly become extinct. On a tour of their rustic facility, you will be able to get close to these amazing birds. Tours help to support this important organization and can be arranged by contacting the Ara Project through their website.
For insight about the project as a whole, see our post: Macaws Flying Free: A Visit to the Ara Project.
Bocas del Toro, Panama
If you have an extra few nights in your itinerary and want to see another country, we recommend Panama’s Bocas del Toro islands. The Bocas have an even more laid back Caribbean feel than Puerto Viejo. They offer many white sand beaches with clear water that is great for snorkeling and swimming. Those looking for a party scene will find it in Bocas Town. Shuttles run daily from the Puerto Viejo area.
Restaurants in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Puerto Viejo has a huge restaurant scene with almost 100 establishments to choose from. Because people come to live here from all around the world, you will find a range of international cuisine.
La Pecora Nera
One of our best meals in Puerto Viejo recently was at La Pecora Nera. This candlelit Italian restaurant outside town is the perfect spot for a nice dinner out. The dinner menu offers classics like homemade ravioli and spaghetti carbonara as well as innovative dishes like starfruit and shrimp carpaccio. We ordered off the specials’ menu and loved our linguine with chipirones (baby squid) and bruschetta with prosciutto.
Stashu’s Con Fusion
Stashu’s Con Fusion is one of Puerto Viejo’s best known restaurants. As the name implies, they offer fusion cuisine. Dishes come with delicious sauces (a lot of curries but they have other things too). This is a particularly good place for vegetarians and vegans, though meat and seafood choices are also plentiful.
No visit to Puerto Viejo is complete without some authentic Caribbean cuisine. La Nena is a simple restaurant on the main road in Playa Cocles that serves up Costa Rican classics with Caribbean flare. Passion fruit salad dressing, rice and beans with coconut milk, and spicy tomato sauces make for an authentic taste.
If you find yourself craving pizza, we highly recommend Restaurante Amimodo. This staple in Puerto Viejo has been around since 1994. We were attracted by its location right on the beach, but the food was solid as well. We loved our thin crust pizza, but they also have many other dishes with pasta, organic chicken, and local fish. If you are traveling with kids, be sure to grab one of the tables out back on the sand.
KOKi Beach Restaurant
This hip restaurant and lounge is in a great location, directly across from the beach in Puerto Viejo. KOKi Beach is usually one of the busiest places in town. The artsy décor and cool vibe draw a diverse crowd looking for a fun spot to kick back. Grab a cocktail in one of the comfy rocking chairs, or enjoy a full meal in the dining room. The menu here is big, with steaks, burgers, pastas, fish dishes, and more.
Tasty Waves Cantina
If you’re checking out Playa Cocles, Tasty Waves is a fun spot to grab a beer and casual food. This chill bar is run by a group of guys from the US and tends to draw a younger crowd. They do happy hour specials daily and have events like trivia night, karaoke night, and movie night. Tuesdays are big with 2-for-1 tacos, and they often have live music.
Bread and Chocolate
Bread and Chocolate is a well-known café with awesome breakfasts and lunches. They do breakfast all day or you can get one of their delicious sandwiches made with fresh-baked bread. The roast beef and jerk chicken BBQ sandwiches were memorable. Be sure to save room for dessert. The locals running this place make their own chocolate truffles and cakes with locally grown cacao.
Hotels in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
With more and more hotels opening in Puerto Viejo, it can be difficult to decide where to stay. Here is some guidance and recommendations.
Hotels in Puerto Viejo tend to be smaller, many with four rooms or less. There are no chains and most accommodations are tucked neatly away in the jungle. Many options are typical Caribbean-style bungalows made of wood. These often have window shutters and are open air (no A/C). Those prone to insect bites should make sure that their room is sealed or has mosquito nets over the beds. If you want to be close to amenities, stay in Puerto Viejo center, where everything is within walking distance. If you like a quieter setting, you will probably prefer the peaceful jungle of Cocles, Chiquita, Punta Uva, or Manzanillo.
Security Tip: While open-air accommodations are a great way to enjoy the tropics, they are not always secure. Be sure that your hotel room or vacation rental can be locked up and has a safe to protect your belongings for when you leave. Break-ins do sometimes happen in the Puerto Viejo area, unfortunately. For more information on how to stay safe, read our post Safety Tips for Your Next Trip to Costa Rica.
Budget to Mid-range Hotels
One of the best hostels in town is Kalunai. Located in downtown Puerto Viejo, it offers a few affordable private rooms and some dorms. The spaces are clean and have comfortable beds. There’s also an outdoor kitchen and hammocks. Travelers love its friendly owner. Private rooms, around $35/night. Dorm rooms, around $15/night. Check Rates and Availability Here.
Hotel Boutique Indalo
Hotel Boutique Indalo is a newer hotel in the downtown, but far enough out so that noise isn’t a problem. This hotel is a good value for the area, especially if you prefer air conditioning. It has modern, comfortable rooms. $65-95/night double occupancy. Check Rates and Availability Here.
Villa Finca Chica
The cute wooden cabins at Finca Chica will give you a taste of Caribbean living. The villas are nicely spread out around the rainforest-covered property. Although they are located outside town in Playa Cocles, Puerto Viejo is only a quick taxi or bike ride away. Each has its own kitchen for cooking in. $90 for 2 person villa; larger 2 bedroom villas start at $100. Check Rates and Availability Here.
Mid-range to High-end Hotels
We loved our stay at Caribe Town in Playa Cocles. This small hotel has a handful of charming palm-thatched bungalows surrounded by gardens as well as a few larger houses nearby. The hosts were very friendly and served one of the best breakfasts we have ever had. Options varied daily and included pancakes with house-made syrup, omelets with fresh sausage, and even homemade cinnamon rolls. $100-120. Check Rates and Availability Here.
La Kukula Lodge
La Kukula Lodge is a small eco-lodge set in the rainforest in quiet Playa Chiquita. It offers modern, industrial-style rooms as well as a whole house for larger groups. Because the property is situated off the main road and is thickly vegetated, wildlife is often seen. $90-130 double occupancy. Check Rates and Availability Here.
Hotel Banana Azul
Banana Azul is one of the nicer hotels in Puerto Viejo, but it stays true to the area with a laid back feel. Accommodations vary widely, from wooden ocean-view rooms above the restaurant to separate bungalows and new villas with plunge pools. Most rooms don’t have A/C, but the ocean breeze is enough for most people. Banana Azul is located north of town and is adults only. $70-200 double occupancy. Check Rates and Availability Here.
Le Cameleon Boutique Hotel
The only high-end option in the area is Le Cameleon Boutique Hotel. This 23 room hotel in Playa Cocles offers spacious rooms with minimalist décor. The white-washed rooms surround a gorgeous pool with tall palm trees. A major draw is the beach club across the street, where you can have food and drinks delivered to your chair. $175-250 double occupancy. Check Rates and Availability Here.
Puerto Viejo de Talamanca is unlike any other destination in Costa Rica. It combines beauty and culture in a way that no other place has for us. From the pristine beaches, lush rainforest, and plentiful wildlife, to the vibrant, laid back culture, Puerto Viejo always leaves us wanting more.
Post Updated: September 19, 2017