A Quick summary

Beaches – The main attraction of the region is the beaches – there’s plenty to choose from.

Caribbean – The less visited part of Costa Rica is the Caribbean side which boasts laidback tiki bars and sandy beach bars.

Culture – The Bribri are an indigenous tribe inhabiting this region. There are several opportunities to learn more about them whilst you’re in the region.

Wild – There are many areas around Puerto Viejo that are untouched and waiting to be discovered.

Vibe – There’s a very distinct vibe from the rest of the country; it’s unique, enriching and worth experiencing.

The cute town of Puerto Viejo is full of colour and life

Top Things to Do

1. Explore the main town centre by bike

    Puerto Viejo offers a very different vibe – Caribe South or South Caribbean is known for its Afro Caribbean culture, Creole cuisine and easy going lifestyle. The streets are a testament to the lively and colourful nature of the locals – pretty wall art, colourful signage and bohemian inspired shops are very much commonplace.

    The best way to explore this little town is by hiring a bike or simply walking. The town is quite small but has so many little corners and nooks that you could easily spend hours taking photos. Bike rentals can be as low $10 for a day.

    2. Learn about wildlife rescue at the Jaguar Rescue Centre

      In Costa Rica, the welfare of its wildlife is a top priority, and the Jaguar Rescue Centre stands as a testament to this commitment. This sanctuary serves as a haven for animals that have fallen victim to illness, injury, or abandonment. The centre hosts daily tours taking you around the centre with dedicated volunteers sharing stories of the animals’ past struggles, from electrocution and car accidents to mistreatment by humans and rare diseases. Along the way, you’ll encounter a diverse array of creatures including snakes, sloths, crocodiles, macaws, and monkeys.

      Visiting the Jaguar Rescue Centre is not just an excursion; it’s a deeply moving and humbling experience that offers insight into Costa Rica’s dedication to wildlife preservation. Don’t miss this enriching opportunity when you’re in Puerto Viejo.

      Cost: Public tour – $28; Private Tour – $80

      Timings:  Monday to Sunday – first slot at 09:30 and second slot at 11:30; Private tours start at 14:00.

      The Jaguar Rescue Centre is a must visit when you’re in Puerto Viejo

      3. Visit the town and beach of Manzanillo

        Just a short drive of around 10-15 minutes from Puerto Viejo lies the charming beach town of Manzanillo. Unlike its more commercialised neighbour, Manzanillo maintains an authentic, local atmosphere that draws visitors seeking an off-the-beaten-path experience.

        The town’s main beach stretches for miles along the coastline, offering a tranquil retreat away from the crowds. During low tide, you can even wander out to explore the shipwreck nestled along the shore. There’s also a wildlife refuge called Gandoca- Manzanillo here if you’re keen to hike and observe wildlife.

        The popular shipwreck at Manzanillo’s beach

        4. Relax at a black sand beach

          Among the stunning beaches lining Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, Playa Negra stands out for its distinctive feature: black sand. Unlike traditional golden shores, Playa Negra’s sands are a strikingly dark grey with a diamond like shimmer. This beach offers a perfect spot for relaxation, where you can enjoy a leisurely picnic and a refreshing dip in the water. Personally, it was my favourite beach in Costa Rica, and for good reason!

          Conveniently located close to the town center, Playa Negra is easily accessible by bike, car, or even on foot.

          The strikingly beautiful sands at Playa Negra

          5. Explore Cahuita National Park

            Cahuita National Park is possibly the most popular national park in the South Caribbean. The park offers several hiking trails and a chance at spotting local wildlife. You are likely to see sloths, iguanas, monkeys, coatis and several snake species. The trail is about 8km on well maintained paths. The park also has two beaches which are popular for snorkelling. There are two entrances to the park, some visitors commence their hike at one entrance in a linear path ending at the second entrance. Some choose to go to Punta Cahuita which is around halfway and then trace their steps back to the entrance.

            Cost: Entrance is $10

            Timings:  8am to 4pm

            Tip: Costa Rica’s abundant wildlife is a major draw, but it’s important to note that spotting animals may not be guaranteed everywhere you go. Wildlife observation requires knowledge and experience, and it’s often best left to experts who understand the specific habitats and behaviours of different species. To enhance your chances of spotting wildlife, many attractions offer guided tours led by experienced professionals. I highly recommend opting for these guided tours, especially if observing wildlife is a priority during your visit to Costa Rica.

            Beautiful coconut palms lining the coast

            6. Sway to live music at Puerto Pirata Tiki Bar

              One of my favourite spots in town was the Puerto Pirata tiki bar. Every evening, around sundown, we would head to this lively bar, order a cocktail or two and sway and dance to the live music. The scenery is magical – the sky painted in hues of magenta and fiery orange with silhouettes of palm trees dancing to the music.

              The best time to visit the bar is early to late evening. The cocktails are delicious and they also serve great nibbles.

              The view from Puerto Pirata bar

              7. Learn about the bribri indigenous culture

                Nestled in the Talamanca region of Costa Rica, the Bribri indigenous community beckons with its rich heritage and unique way of life. Distinguished by their distinct culture, traditions, language, and customs, the Bribri offer visitors a glimpse into a world unlike any other in Costa Rica.

                Local guided tours provide immersive experiences, allowing you to connect with Bribri families and delve into their daily lives. Some tours offer hands-on cooking experiences, while others lead you through the lush forests that the community calls home.

                Central to Bribri culture is their deep relationship with cocoa, revered for its medicinal properties and healing powers. Explore cocoa production first-hand and discover the secrets of this sacred plant as you meet with the community. Along the way, you’ll have the opportunity to hike to breathtaking waterfalls, further immersing yourself in the natural beauty and cultural richness of the Bribri people.

                Cost: Tours start at around $80

                8. Learn to surf

                There’s no denying that there are plenty of surfing opportunities in the Pacific side of Costa Rica. The Caribbean side also has its fair share of surf beaches like Playa Cocles and Salsa Brava. If you’re interested in spending some time to learn surfing, there are plenty of surf camps available.

                Cost: Surf lessons start at $60 for a group lesson and around $80 for a private lesson.

                9. Glamping in the Rainforests

                My most surreal experience in Puerto Viejo was undoubtedly luxury glamping amidst the lush jungles of the Caribbean at Colina Secreta. True to its name, this hidden gem offers an unparalleled retreat in the jungle.

                Themed glamping tents boast 360-degree views of verdant greenery, immersing guests in nature’s lap. Waking up each morning to the haunting cries of howler monkeys, which sound as if they’re perched right above your tent, is an unforgettable experience that truly connects you with the jungle’s pulse. The feeling of being one with nature is nothing short of extraordinary.

                Cost: Starting at around £200 per night.

                Luxury Glamping at Colina Secreta was nothing short of extraordinary

                Day Trips from Puerto Viejo

                Bocas Del Toro, Panama

                If you fancy hopping over to neighbouring Panama, Puerto Viejo holds plenty of opportunities to do so. You could choose to get a taxi, ferry, shuttle van or a public bus or go through an organised tour to the picturesque Bocas del Toro. The quickest and easiest way is through an organised tour.

                Once you’re at Bocas del Toro, you could go beach hopping, explore the various villages and islands or go scuba diving or snorkelling.

                Cost: Organised tours cost around $200. If you’re getting the shuttle van, it’s around $35. There will be additional requirements and charges when crossing the border.

                How to Get to and Around Puerto Viejo

                The drive from San Jose to Puerto Viejo takes roughly 5 hours. However, the route to the Caribbean side is notorious for landslides, bad weather and frequent closures. There are detours available, but these may take longer. Cautious driving and great visibility are required to manoeuvre through this route. I recommend doing some research before heading out.

                There’s also the option of getting a bus from San Jose, as there are frequent services. These take roughly 4.5 hours and are a relatively convenient and economical option as tickets are priced around $11.

                Once you’re in Puerto Viejo, you could either drive around in a rental, hire a bike or even walk (depending on where your accommodation is based).

                A fruteria in the town of Puerto Viejo

                Best Time to Visit

                The best time to visit Costa Rica is from December to April. However, it is worth noting that the Caribbean side has a slightly different weather pattern and receives rainfall throughout the year. Certain months like September have lesser rainfall than other months.  

                Sample Itineraries for Puerto Viejo

                Puerto Viejo is unlike the rest of the country and has a very distinct vibe. I would recommend spending at least 3 days to soak in the Caribbean ambience and spirit.

                2 days – Start your day with a humbling visit to Jaguar Rescue Centre followed by a hike and swim at Cahuita National Park. End your day at one of the many beach bars along the coastline.

                For your second day, visit the indigenous bribri tribe and chase waterfalls at Kekoldi indigenous reserve. Hire a bike and go up to Manzanillo to explore the ship wreck and the town.  

                3 days – Follow the 2 day itinerary above and the third day include a visit to Bocas del Toro or sign up for a surf lesson and go beach hopping!

                Colourful Puerto Viejo

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