One of my favorite parts of our recent trip to Costa Rica was exploring the Caribbean coast. But our first taste of the area, Puerto Limon, wasn’t a great start. Puerto Limon is the hub of Costa Rica’s banana industry and serves as the country’s major commercial shipping port. Despite the importance of this area to the country’s economy, Costa Rica’s central government has long ignored the Caribbean coast, and infrastructure, education, and health services have been slow to come.
We had heard that Puerto Limon is one of the poorer areas of the country and that it wasn’t a very desirable city to visit. Unfortunately, this proved to be true. Although it abuts the beautiful, green Caribbean Sea, trash on the streets was rampant and we felt uneasy about walking around at night. Although the area has a lot of potential and many of the people were very kind and hospitable in typical Tico style, our advice is to skip this city and head to points north (Tortuguero National Park) or south (Cahuita, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca). But don’t fret if you do get stuck in Limon, as there are some good options for travelers. We made the best of our short stay at the Park Hotel overlooking the Caribbean and had a great dinner with the locals at Restaurante La Lechuza.
Cahuita, a village less than an hour south of Puerto Limon, is a great place to check out if you want a taste of the Caribbean’s laid back vibe and wild jungle. With beautiful beaches, lots of choices for accommodations, and great restaurants serving up local Afro-Caribbean specialties (try the spicy coconut curry sauces), you could easily spend a week here. Although the village hosts an impressive number of lodges, it still hasn’t lost its small town feel. The nearby Cahuita National Park offers great hiking, snorkeling, and seems to be a Mecca for sloths in Costa Rica. We’d go back to our seaside open-air cabina at BluSpirit to be woken by the bellowing roars of howler monkeys anytime…
Still farther south along the Caribbean is Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, a surfer’s dream. It attracts a younger crowd, interested in checking out the famed Salsa Brava, the most powerful wave in Costa Rica. The surfing isn’t just for experts, though, as Playa Cocles farther south offers a beach break for intermediate surfers as well. Puerto Viejo is more developed than Cahuita—a small mall has even opened up off the main strip—but the chilled out Rastafarian vibe still dominates. If you’re into snorkeling or just want a beautiful view of the Caribbean, the beach at the point has a shallow reef that you can see through the glimmering, crystal clear water. We recommend taking in this view from the patio of the Salsa Brava Caribbean Bistro over some Imperial beer, guacamole, grilled squid, and beef Carpaccio. Yum!