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Why You Should Visit Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

Why You Should Visit Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

While planning my trip to Costa Rica, I of course turned to the internet.

There is a plethora of guides on what to do, see, and eat in this beautiful country. Blogs and guides rave about the beauty of Manuel Antonio, the mystical Cloud Forrest, and the majestic Arenal Volcano. Of course I didn’t want to miss out on any of the major sights! However, all of these places are situated on the west coast or the inland part of Costa Rica.

puerto viejo costa rica

It wasn’t until Christmas day, 4 days before the end of my trip, that I even considered going to the east coast. I knew nothing about this area, and when I looked up resources online, I didn’t find much. The family that I was staying with for the holiday said I absolutely HAD to go. And due to some drama over the holidays, I now faced a decision….

Should I stay in-land in a city that had now grown familiar to me?

Or should I take the 7 hour bus ride to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, to be on my own for the very first time?

I decided to take a risk.

With very little information and no set plan, I arrived in Puerto Viejo the day after Christmas with not even a hostel reservation to my name.

What I discovered was a completely unique culture from the rest of Costa Rica. Throw in the beautiful beaches and tasty cuisine, Puerto Viejo quickly became my favorite place in Costa Rica.

Here are a few of the many reasons why you should visit Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica!

 

1. The Exquisite Beaches

puerto viejo costa rica

Puerto Viejo consists of mainly five highly diverse beaches: Playa Negra, Playa Cocles, Playa Chiquita, Playa Punta Uva, and Playa Grande.

Each beach carries its own unique charm and scenery. There is something for everyone!

The Caribbean Coast is great for surfing, swimming, and catching some rays. Most of the beaches are just a short distance away from the town center. You can make a perfect day of renting a bike, bringing some snacks, and exploring each one! And, you will be sure to see a variety of flora and fauna along the way!

Read all about the exquisite beaches of Puerto Viejo in this post!

2. The Contrast of Cultures

puerto viejo costa rica

Costa Rica, like Central America in general, is known for it’s Spanish influences, language, and food. Although diversity can be seen across the country, the difference between the Pacific coast and the rest of Costa Rica is obvious. While most of Costa Rica is populated by Spanish-speaking people known as “Titos”, Puerto Viejo has more indigenous Indian and Afro-Caribbean influences.

The native peoples, known as the Bribri and Cabecar, predominantly speak Spanish. They carry with them traditional customs that are quite different from customs brought to Costa Rica from Spain. The influx of North American and European travelers has caused many of the indigenous people to become more “Westernized”, leading to a unique mix of beliefs, languages, and cuisine.

In the 1800’s, there was an emergence of Afro-Caribbean settlers in this area. From African heritage, these people were most often from Jamaica, Panama, and the West Indies. This presence has caused Puerto Viejo to have more of a Caribbean feel than a Latin one. This population mostly speaks Caribbean English, French, and Spanish. Reggae music fills the night air, as does the smell of ganja and delicious Caribbean food.  Many expats are drawn to this laid-back, bohemian lifestyle.

3.The Diversity of Flavorful Cuisine

puerto viejo costa rica

As mentioned above, this unique mix of cultures has resulted in diverse and tasty cuisine. Afro-Caribbean culture carries with it the fresh tastes of Jamaican seafood, french delights, and African flavors. At the same time, you can find the traditional dishes of Costa Rica with Latin spices, fresh fruit, and starchy favorites. Fried platanos with crema can be a delicious start to your morning. Have a solid plate of seasoned black beans and rice for lunch, and seafood for dinner. You won’t be lacking any choices here!

Of course, with the many expats that have settled in this area, you can always find Western fare as well. Quaint coffee shops and chocolate delicatessens line the main strip, as do cocktail bars where you can grab a fruity drink!

4. Affordable and Eclectic Accommodation

puerto viejo costa rica
Rocking J’s Hostel in Puerto Viejo

Since I made a last minute decision to go to Puerto Viejo, I made no reservation in advance. I arrived in town by bus and walked to various hostels and hotels until I found one that suited me. Accommodation in Puerto Viejo definitely caters to the bohemian traveler. You can find anything from outdoor hammocks to private bungalows, but at no higher cost than the rest of Costa Rica. Being the hippy traveler that I am, I decided to stay in a hammock for two nights. Not the most comfortable choice!

For travelers who desire quiet, comfort, and privacy, there is an array of options! One can find beautiful villas tucked into the jungle, or private bungalows near the beach. It is easy to find a romantic escape from the party hostels and bars, just as long as you have a taste for that beachy, laid back style.

As for luxury resorts, you won’t find much of that here. Mine as well lay back, relax, and enjoy those bohemian vibes!

5. Earth-Friendly Attractions

puerto viejo costa rica

Puerto Viejo is a sight of its own, and you don’t have to spend much money to enjoy all that it has to offer! In addition to the many beaches, Puerto Viejo is surrounded by lovely flora and fauna. Puerto Viejo is right on the edge of the rain forest and several national parks. Enjoy a lazy trek during the day to see awesome views and wildlife. You can rent a bicycle in town and ride the road along most of the major beaches all in about an hour and a half. You may even see monkeys along the way!

The town centers is not lacking it its array for gift shops, cafes, restaurants, and bars. You can purchase a colorful sarong, or grab a cup of that famous Costa Rican coffee. If you get a chance, stop by Bread and Chocolate, a cafe that offers locally grown cacao products, from hot cocoa to pastries. So delicious!

Nearby you will find several animal sanctuaries and rescue centers. Make sure to look into the ethics of various organizations beforehand. In general, these animals are very well taken care of, and you can find jaguars, sloths, and even butterflies. Love it!

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Don’t miss out on this Caribbean paradise! Although the western side of Costa Rica has a lot to offer, Puerto Viejo has great variety and cultural diversity that make it unique.

puerto viejo costa rica

Puerto Viejo: The Caribbean Charm of Costa Rica

 

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The Exquisite Beaches of Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

The Exquisite Beaches of Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

What inspires you to visit the gorgeous country of Costa Rica?

beaches of puerto viejo

Is it the diverse wildlife? The beautiful beaches? The rich culture of people?

Costa Rica has all of these things, which is why this Central American country is such a hot spot for tourists and expats. The appeal of “Pura Vida” pulls you in, until you are immersed in this tropical paradise.

beaches of puerto viejo

If you are planning your trip to Costa Rica, it is likely that you have read about the beauty of Manuel Antonio, the bustle of San Jose, and the majestic volcanoes. Or, maybe, you just want to see some monkeys! No shame in that!

beaches of puerto viejo

While many guides rave about the in-land sights and the west coast of this country, they often overlook the appeal of the eastern Caribbean side. In my travels to Puerto Viejo, I can honestly say that these guides are missing out!

Highly underrated but even more beautiful, the beaches of Puerto Viejo are truly a sight to see!beaches of puerto viejo

The Beaches of Puerto Viejo

 

Playa Negra

beaches of puerto viejo

 

Playa Negra (Black Beach) is the small beach closest to the main town of Puerto Viejo. As the name implies, this beach consists of beautiful, black sand. This unique sand gives the illusion of walking on glass or obsidian, something that is truly a sight to see. Surfers from near and far are drawn to this beach for its full, barreled waves.

Playa Cocles

beaches of puerto viejo

 

Playa Cocles is a bit south of the center of Puerto Viejo. One can easily rent a bike in town or walk about 30 minutes to this beach. You won’t be lacking for beautiful sights along the way! This is one of the more popular of the beaches, and consists of your usual tourists, beach bums, and surf instructors. Don’t let that deter you too much, though! Playa Cocles in great for swimming and catching some rays on the smooth, warm sand!

Playa Chiquita

beaches of puerto viejo

Playa Chiquita is just south of Playa Cocles, although there is no distinct barrier between the two. Its shore can be a bit more difficult to navigate, with rocky crags and less sandy shore. However, nearby you can find the Jaguar Rescue Center, cozy accommodations, and monkeys, if you are lucky!

Playa Punta Uva

beaches of puerto viejo

Punta Uva is known for its beauty and the special features it has to offer. In this area you can visit the magnificent butterfly sanctuary, the Indigenous tribal communities, and Cahuita National Park. Due to limits on development, the beach has remained clean, peaceful, and pristine. Come to Punta Uva in the off season for an even quieter getaway.

Playa Grande

beaches of puerto viejo

 

Playa Grande, as the name suggests, is a long expanse of beach on the southernmost Pacific coast of Costa Rica. This beach is a haven for surfers and eco-friendly travelers. From October to March, access to the beach is limited in the evening and early morning due to the hatching of sea turtles in the sand. Come here for a relaxing break from the usual crowds and noisy nightlife. This area also has a diverse selection of restaurants and accommodation.

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Puerto Viejo offers a variety of sights a beaches for any traveler. Whether you are looking for a peaceful getaway, or a lively array of culture, you will find it on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast. Don’t miss out on this eastern paradise!

beaches of puerto viejo

 

The Exquisite Beaches of Puerto Viejo Costa Rica
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5 Lessons I Learned While Traveling in Costa Rica

5 Lessons I Learned While Traveling in Costa Rica

Before going to Costa Rica, my friend and I spent an evening mapping out and planning the entire two weeks. We made reservations, looked into bus schedules, and bought Spanish language books.

Once the plane tickets were bought, it all became real.

I had high expectations. High nervousness. High excitement.

But, as “prepared” as I felt before boarding that plane, I was quickly thrown into cold water. In many ways my expectations were met and exceeded. Some were let down. I learned things I never imagined encountering.

Was it an amazing, fulfilling, and beautiful experience? Of course. But not all lessons are learned the easy way.

Here are the 5 lessons I learned in Costa Rica…

1. Being lost in translation is an annoying, difficult, wonderful thing

lessons

I had never taken any Spanish lessons before my trip to Costa Rica. Instead,  I downloaded a cheesy app to learn common Spanish phrases, scribbled some notes in a journal, and listened to a CD for about 20 minutes.

Naively, I imagined that most of the people in Costa Rica would speak enough English for me to hold a conversation with them. I assumed this because of the high amount of tourism in the area, and also just my own American ego.

What I encountered was that many (maybe even most) people did speak some English… but not everyone. By “most” one may think that these are pretty good odds. But while trying to figure out what bus to take from a person who only speaks Spanish, those stats don’t seem to matter as much.

I had to adapt quickly. I couldn’t ignorantly expect local people to cater to the fact that I did not speak their language. So I had to learn Spanish. Which is not possible in two weeks. So, I had to learn ENOUGH Spanish. I was so thankful for our Spanish phrase books, as I tried to memorize common questions, answers, directions, and more. I said “lo siento” a lot. I said “gracias” even more.

lessons

By the grace of some higher power, getting lost in translation did not lead to any major mix ups and our safety was never compromised in that regard. But I quickly developed a new found appreciation for language. And my ego was knocked down a few rungs.

It was pivotal for me to see that me being a visitor to another country in no way made me entitled to their understanding. It was difficult for me to navigate, but it was a necessary labor. To be an ethical traveler, I needed to recognize myself as the foreigner. It was uncomfortable for sure, but incredibly humbling. However, language is a part of culture, and cultures vary across the globe.

This is one lesson I am sure I will have to learn over and over again.

2. I feel most beautiful when I’m not thinking about how I look

lessons

I didn’t bring any makeup with me to Costa Rica. No flat iron, brush, or shampoo. I did this partially as a challenge to simply see if I could go without these *necessities*, and because I didn’t want to carry all that shit around with me in my pack. What I had was one travel-sized bottle of Dr. Bronner’s soap, a crystal stick of deodorant that did not work, and a toothbrush.

But, spending so much time in the humidity and in the ocean turned my usually wavy hair into kinks, which were stubborn against my partner’s conditioner.

So I let it be. I could not tame the wild.

Yes, there were unforeseen times when we were out in public when a swipe of mascara could have woken my face from the dead. Times where a regular bra would have come in handy….

But sitting on the beach by myself in the scorching sun… hair in a mess and skin toasted brown, I didn’t really care about those things. I felt so free. I didn’t compare myself to anyone that looked my way.

lessons

I was the person that could trek through the jungle in a sundress and New Balance running shoes. I was the person who could dance with a stranger on a boat while wearing a bikini and a sarong. I didn’t feel that I had to look a certain way. I didn’t feel like anyone else cared how I looked either.

If anything, I wanted to get more dirty. Run barefoot across the sand. Paint my face with mud. Get salsa verde on my dress. Being comfortable in this way allowed me to enjoy my surroundings much more. I less time I spent getting ready in the morning, the more time I had to boogie board in the ocean. Bike riding through Puerto Viejo. Swimming in the hostel pool.

I felt beautiful. I experienced more. I let go.

3. Money is an object

lessons

Costa Rica is not a cheap place to travel in.  Especially in December. My travel partner and I set a $50 per day budget for ourselves (each), and it was tight. Several days were spent in the home of a family that my grandparents had a connection with, which saved us money. We are so grateful for their assistance and hospitality. No doubt they saved us even more in the long run by making sure we got on the right bus and found the best deals.

But I was hyper aware of money while I was in Costa Rica.

I knew what 1000 colones could buy me. I had to decide when we could afford a taxi versus when we had to walk for an hour to reach a waterfall in La Fortuna. We ate empanadas at bus stops versus buying full meals at restaurants. We made our own meals at the hostels most nights.

This is not to say that one can’t travel to Costa Rica on much less. Or that money alone should prevent someone from going on such an adventure.

But I was appreciative of what money I had. I was aware of the immense privilege I had in being able to afford a plane ticket abroad. I was so thankful to simply have the opportunity.

lessons

For some people, money is no object. But for many, it very much is. As our bus wound through the city and country, we saw tiny tin houses not much bigger than my bedroom at home. Houses that homed entire families. The value of money seemed so relative then.

It has inspired to be more appreciative of my belongings. Of my financial situation. To spend my money more wisely. To see that I can have a fun time without spending a fortune.

Some of the best times I had in Costa Rica were free.

So while I yearn to continue traveling abroad, I am constantly looking for adventure wherever I am. Money is an object. It is a thing. But it doesn’t have to be everything.

4. You can feel lonely no matter where you are

lessons

I assumed that travelling would break my fear of loneliness. At home in Seattle, I often find myself incredibly lonely, feeling the need to go out, be social, and do something. I figured that being in another country, I would be overwhelmed with people and things to do and would want some solitude. This was hardly the case. Most evenings, once the day had settled down and I prepared to go to sleep, I got homesick. I missed having people to text every night. I missed the comfort of people checking on me. It was just me and my own thoughts.

I hardly slept.

Relatively soon into the trip I came face-to-face with my anxiety and insecurity. I felt so far away from home. In some places, we were a 5 hour bus ride away from any major city. No one besides my friend knew me.

When my friend went back home early, I was really on my own. I chose to go to Puerto Viejo for two nights. Solo. I laid awake in my hammock in tears, on the phone with my mom. I felt immobile and scared. Once I got off the phone, I lay in silence.

lessons

Then the girl next to me turned over.

“I get lonely when I travel solo, too. You’re not alone”.

I realized that maybe feeling lonely wasn’t such a bad thing. That it was natural even. That I shouldn’t feel ashamed of being scared.

The woman and I talked for a while. We discussed the best ways to meet new people. Or when we should take some personal time.

The illusion of all these brave, fearless independent travelers was shattered. I am sure those people exist, but it is okay to feel lonely sometimes. Or a lot. It may be a fear I will overcome. I may not.But I will not let it hinder my desire for adventure, and I won’t let it break my spirit.

5. Not everything will go according to plan

lessons

I didn’t know that my travel partner was going to fly home early on Christmas morning…

Hadn’t planned on my flight being cancelled and not being able to catch another until 15 hours later…

I didn’t expect to get to Puerto Viejo and find all the hostels to be completely booked.

But I did roll with the punches.

When my partner left, I took a 7 hour bus ride to the opposite coast on my own.

When there was three-day wait on all flights to Seattle, I was patient. I visited over 6 different airlines and with some determination and luck was able o find a flight home the next morning.

And in Puerto Viejo, I lay awake in my dingy hammock, with bats chirping overhead, and I was thankful for a place to rest.

All of those situations were pretty shitty. Actually, really shitty. Tears were shed. I was exhausted a points.

But it all worked out. The outcomes were less than ideal, but I was safe. I was alive. And I was in an amazing, beautiful country.

lessons

I wasn’t able to plan every part of my trip. Life doesn’t work like that. But I still had an enriching time. I learned a ton, about myself and travel in general.

 

One thing I would say to all travelers is be adaptable. Many of these lessons I had to learn the hard way, but they were invaluable to my experience. I felt a wide range of emotions and took risks. I recognize that every trip will be different. But life is like that.

Lessons learned.

 

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