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.
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 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
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
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
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 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!
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.