People often ask
I always return
to Puerto Viejo.
the many beautiful beaches
the many fascinating places
I have seen these spectacular sixteen months
my wanderlust spirit
takes a break
and gives me permission
to rest my feet
in Puerto Viejo.
thieves wielding machetes
and deceitful man whores
I choose to come back
I choose to stay.
And if I must answer
what I can say
is that here
everything is magic.
Everything is possible.
Six tiny towns
in a lush green jungle
lie on one flat road
along a turquoise ocean
where bicyclists dodge
rattling fruit trucks
and ambitious sloths
bags of groceries
or newborn babies
on their bars.
of sweet hibiscus
and pure ocean
enters your lungs
weaves into your breath
then becomes your soul.
butterflies flap their technicolor wings
creating a symphony
of jungle tuned strings.
Coarse golden granules
with fine black powder
by the sprawling jungle
the splendor of the sea.
forms natural pools
for colorful fish
from far corners of the Earth
hoping to enter the green
and win the battle
against an unruly wave
called Salsa Brava.
Caribbean boats named after beautiful women
rock sleepily on a coral crested harbor
colorblocked houses play reggae in the street
vendors braid hair
sell jewelry and Bob Marley shirts
fishermen haul their fresh catch onto the shore.
in Caribbean flavored Spanish
or thick Creole
then quickly switch
to accented English
all who hear.
stand at street carts
selling coconut scented rice and beans
and tender stewed chicken
with perfectly fried plantains
beside Italians baking fresh foccacia
French perfecting their pate
Israelis stuffing handmade pita
sushi-masters shaping kaleidoscope rolls.
beg sinners to indulge
in cheap shots
for those who are ready
to look inside instead.
In this town that binds
an unlikely crew of misfits
Casanova Caribbean surfers
yuppie turned hippies
pierced, dyed, unshaven fire dancers
former frat boys
naïve unknowing backpackers
no matter who they are
no matter what they do
is not only tolerated
is not only accepted
but is celebrated.
Some cure their cancer
others break their hearts
but everyone finds
all that they seek.
And any intention
will always come true
if you simply release it
into the magical
The Neighborhoods of Puerto Viejo
With ten miles of pristine jungle backed beach and six distinct neighborhoods it can be difficult to know where to base yourself.
Beaches become more natural and animals are more plentiful the further you venture outside of town. However, the road runs through dark jungle, which is not walkable at night, and comforts like pharmacies and ATMs are only in town.
My recommendation for those without a car is to stay in Playa Cocles where you are in front of the beach but close enough to town. If you have a car I recommend staying in Playa Cocles or Playa Chiquita.
Don’t stay here. It may be close to Puerto Viejo but it is far from the loveliest areas, which are outside of town. The beach itself is the least beautiful in the area.
The town of Puerto Viejo is famous (or infamous) for its seedy authenticity. In town you will find the only banks and ATMs in the entire area as well as most of the bars and restaurants. Accommodations tend to be less expensive but can be noisy as Puerto Viejo hosts several parties every night of the week.
1-3 miles from town
Expats and vacationers looking for tranquility and proximity to town stay in Cocles. These beaches are best for sunning and surfing rather than swimming as the currents are strong. Beach Break is the most populated beach in the area and the only beach with lifeguards.
The one grocery store, Pirripli, has a good wine selection, special imports, and fresh produce and there are many restaurants to choose from. The beachfront bar Tasty Waves hosts a big party on Tuesday nights and some smaller events throughout the week, otherwise this neighborhood is quiet.
3-5 miles from town
The moment you step foot in Playa Chiquita the community vibe becomes apparent. Expats from all over the world carry their children and groceries down the street, sit and sip coffee in darling open air organic cafes, and swim in the natural pools created by coral reef. There is one grocery store, El Duende Gourmet, with specialty items like local homemade bread, quinoa, and sriracha, and there are a few restaurants and cafes.
5-7 miles from town
Beautiful beaches, elegant cabins, and incredible cuisine all grace the quiet jungle neighborhood of Punta Uva. This neighborhood is popular with long-term vacationers and families. The beaches are calm for swimming and snorkeling and are famed as some of the most beautiful in all of Costa Rica. Playa Chiquita nearby is a necessary stop for markets and cafes.
7-10 miles from town
The quiet Caribbean fishing village of Manzanillo rests along a rugged wildlife refuge with stunning wilderness beaches. Accommodations and restaurants are somewhat sparse in this area so having a car is essential. If you are looking for proximity to animals, peace and quiet, and do not mind the 10 mile trek to town, Manzanillo is right up your alley.
Where to Stay
$12 for a dorm bed, $24 for a private
Hostal Pagalu, behind the main road in town is one of my favorite hostels in the world. It is spotlessly clean and has a big open communal space with couches, hammocks, tables, and a nice kitchen. The hot water shower has great pressure, linens and towels are changed daily, and the vibe is fun but laid back and mature. It is about a ten-minute bike ride to the main surf beach, but for convenience you can’t beat its proximity to restaurants, grocery stores, and bars.
$15 for a shared triple, $24 for a private
Includes unlimited purified water, free bicycle use, and yoga discounts for extended stays
Beach Break, Playa Cocles
For peace and tranquility stay at Om in Playa Cocles. The location is ideal overlooking the jungle and beach, yet is a short bike ride to town. You really can’t beat the price, which includes bicycle rentals, necessary no matter where you stay, and free purified water, the tap is not safe to drink from in Puerto Viejo.
Onsite yoga is world class (see more below) and Caribbeans café (see more below) downstairs has incredible treats, coffee, and chocolate.
The rooms are very clean and cozy and come with free towels, blankets, and shelving to put your belongings. The shared kitchen is the most well equipped I’ve seen in any hostel with every utensil you could ever need and complementary tea, coffee, and spices.
The small, intimate space and community vibe connects travelers with one another and locals who love to hang out and the yoga studio and café.
$75 for a standard room, $135 for a villa
Punta Cocles, Playa Cocles
Opt for a villa with your own private balcony, full kitchen, BBQ, and three bedrooms. The location is ideal on one of the most beautiful beaches in the entire country. Most rooms have an ocean view which is a rare commodity in Puerto Viejo which has mostly undeveloped beaches.
Start at $89/night for a standard room
Beach Break, Playa Cocles
A lovely hotel conveniently located across from the main surf beach in Playa Cocles. The rooms are clean and comfortable and the onsite pool with a swim up bar is amazing after a hot day at the beach.
Start at $210/night
The only “luxury” hotel in Puerto Viejo. Enjoy the onsite restaurant, pool, and beachfront bar with big daybeds and beachfront food and beverage service.
$75/night for a standard room, $135 for a casita including breakfast
Beautiful bungalows and equipped casitas tucked in the jungle in my favorite part of Playa Chiquita. These bungalows are close to stunning beaches and lovely cafes. The onsite wellness center (more below) offers yoga, health retreats, massage, and health cleanses.
Private Beach Bungalows
If you are looking for your own short or long term house rental, there are many options in all of the neighborhoods in Puerto Viejo.
Look on VRBO, ask around, or contact Evie at Habitat PM Services or Thomas Anderson and let them find the perfect house for you. Rentals rates are nightly to monthly.
Where to Eat
There is an excess of incredible restaurants in Puerto Viejo, and truthfully I have never eaten bad food here. You will likely be pleasantly surprised with any restaurant you choose, but these are my personal favorites. Prices listed are for entrees only.
$5-8 Breakfast, Lunch
With homemade bread, bagels, biscuits, muffins, brownies, cookies, truffles, cake, waffles, and jam, Bread and Chocolate is a breakfast lover’s dream. It is easily the most popular breakfast and lunch spot in town.
For breakfast try the waffles with whipped cream and chocolate sauce, which are probably the best waffles I have ever tasted, sorry Mom, with lots of vanilla in them. The fried egg and cheese sandwich on a homemade everything bagel is to die for with well seasoned skillet potatoes and the crispiest bacon I’ve ever tasted. The homemade chocolates are not to be missed and my favorite is the peanut butter cup.
$2-8 Light Breakfast, Lunch, Coffee
Caribbeans makes the best chocolate I have ever tasted in my life. It is flavorful, complex, and incredibly pure. The family who owns this operation sources local raw cacao from farmers in the Talamanca region and crafts pure chocolate bars and inventive flavors using natural incredients like mint, ginger, espresso, and cayenne. You can sample all of their chocolates in the tasting room and take a tour of the chocolate farm (more below).
The best part? They melt down the flavor of your choice into pure liquid drinking chocolate and infuse your cappuccinos and lattes with it. They also sell locally made treats like brownies, cinnamon rolls, and cake.
$6-10 Breakfast, Lunch
This was the first café I went to in Puerto Viejo more than a year ago. Since then it has become a sanctuary for me. The owners are positively lovely, the food is delicious and completely organic, and they have a small store selling essential oils, natural food and toiletries, and locally made jewelry.
For breakfast the chocolate and coconut whole wheat pancakes are delicious and the fruit with granola is some of the best around. Try the power smoothie with raw farm yogurt, papaya, banana, bee pollen, and spirulina.
Delicious and inventive organic sandwiches and salads in front of the beach right in town.
Fresh Italian style gelato across from the bus stop in town. My favorite flavor is peanut butter, which is incredible on top of an Arte y Alma brownie from El Duende Gourmet grocery store in Playa Chiquita.
$10-20 Lunch, Dinner
Truth be told, I have never eaten at Jungle Love. However, it had to make the list as I’ve heard rave reviews about the place for more than a year. Many locals call it the best restaurant in Puerto Viejo. The space is more like eating in someone’s home than a restaurant and the menu is inspired. I hear the seared tuna is amazing.
$7-20 Lunch, Dinner
Hands down the best Caribbean food in the area. The service can be slow, but it is so worth it. My favorite dish is the Caribbean chicken, which is stewed slowly in an incredibly flavorful Caribbean sauce making the meat fall right off the bone. It is served with rice and beans steamed in coconut milk, a refreshing salad with pickled beets, perfectly fried potatoes, crispy plantain chips, and hot and crispy patacones, which are boiled, smashed, deep fried plantains and pretty much the best thing I’ve ever tasted. Also be sure to try the rondon which is a stew of fish and veggies swimming in coconut milk broth.
$8-15 Lunch, Dinner
The Israeli owner crafts mindbogglingly soft and fluffy pita daily and sells it to many grocers and restaurants in town. For a real treat go to Pita Bonita with a group and share the many small Middle Eastern salads, hummus, hot crispy falafel, and other delicacies. My favorite dish is the chicken shwarma, which is tender and well spiced, stuffed in one of their perfect pitas and smothered in creamy tahini sauce with herbed cucumber salad.
$8-15 Lunch, Dinner
Come here on Saturday for the classic rondon coconut stew with a whole lobster and order some patacones and ceviche to start.
Come here for the best drinks in Puerto Viejo. I die over the blended pina colada, which could not be thicker nor creamier and comes topped with a sprinkle of cinnamon. Other wonders include the watermelon cooler with white wine and the tamarind margarita.
La Pecora Nera is comparable to the best restaurants in Italy, let alone Costa Rica. The owner Ilario will make you feel at home with his boyish charm and thick Italian accent and Sianny who runs the front of the house provides some of the best service in Puerto Viejo. The space itself is stunning, reminiscent of a Tuscan villa tucked deep into the jungle. Ingredients are imported from Italy or grown in Ilario’s garden. Fish comes from local fishermen and chicken comes from Ilario’s backyard.
This is not a meal to be done quickly nor on a budget. Complementary homemade rosemary crackers come with a garlicky tapenade as well as a basket filled with homemade foccacia, rolls, and sliced baguette. Begin the meal with a platter of bruschetta topped with prosciutto, homemade ricotta, and Ilario’s own preserved peppers. All of the carpaccios are excellent but my favorites are the beef drizzled in truffle oil with shaved pecorino and the yellowfin tuna with tomato and arugula. Many of the pastas are handmade including the gnocchi, which is light as air and comes smothered in bright garlicky tomato basil sauce or baked in the oven with creamy gorgonzola, radicchio, and walnuts. All of the fish and steak dishes are excellent and served with potato gratin, salad, and vegetables. Save room for the profiteroles or the panna cotta, both made in house.
Koki Beach offers the best atmosphere of any restaurant in Puerto Viejo. Owned by a gay couple from Miami, you may feel like you were suddenly transported to a trendy beachfront bar in South Beach. The design is positively inspired and the bright colorful Adirondack chairs in front make for great people or sunset watching.
Come early in the night for two for one cocktails and enjoy an order of crispy fried calamari and one of the best burgers I have ever tasted.
Easily the most popular restaurant in town among locals and tourists, you can usually expect a lively scene here. Perch up at the bar to soak in some local flavor, or sit down for a yummy Italian meal. The antipasto platters are divine as is the gorgonzola steak.
Deep in the jungle in Punta Uva is the tiny restaurant of El Refugio. Many consider this the best restaurant in the area, with a tiny menu changing nightly of fresh seafood and steak. The atmosphere is intimate and the food is made with care.
Nightlife in Puerto Viejo is seriously lacking in the atmosphere department, but the seediness is just part of the charm. The later the sketchier, so keep it on the early side when most places offer happy hour drink specials.
Enjoy two for one drink specials, American style bar food, and live music right on the beach at sunset nightly. Sunday nights starting at ten the stage opens to the public for hours of live music, open mic, and a fire dance show.
Tasty Waves is the local watering hole for surfers and beach bums with burgers, tacos, beers, and tropical cocktails. Play pool in the day or enjoy one of their many nightly events. Monday night they play a movie on the big screen, a rare commodity in Puerto Viejo, Tuesday nights they host the biggest party in town with a live DJ and dancing, and Thursdays they host an American style trivia night.
The scene is seedy, but that’s what makes it fun. Bump shoulders with the less savory characters in Puerto Viejo while enjoying free mojitos on Thursdays and margaritas on Fridays, free for women only sorry guys, and listen to a blend of Roots, Reggae, and throwback R&B.
Salsa Brava Reggae bar overlooks the beach. Watch surfers ride the epic wave that made Puerto Viejo famous in the day, sunset in the afternoon, and a bonfire under the full moon at night. Friday and Sunday nights they host Reggae Night with a DJ and dancing.
Where to Shop
Like many beach tourist towns, Puerto Viejo is littered in sarong and jewelry stands and souvenir shops. For a more authentic experience, check out my recommendations for truly special gifts to bring back home.
If you are in Puerto Viejo on a Saturday, be sure to join the early risers at the farmer’s market for organic produce and so much more. Italian bakers tempt shoppers with homemade fococcia bread, creamy custard tarts, and flaky pastries. A ninety-year-old yogi sells his healthy raw pizza pies. Beautiful handmade soaps, almond butter, and raw cacao chocolate are other goodies to be found. If you are a foodie, prepare to overindulge!
Beautiful handmade artisanal clothing and souvenirs.
What to Do
There are endless activities in Puerto Viejo no matter the weather, the surf, or the season. Here are a few of my favorites.
Wildlife Hike in Manzanillo
$40 for a 3-4 hour tour with Om
or bike the 10 miles from town and explore on your own
Puerto Viejo is where the jungle meets the sea, and Manzanillo’s wildlife refuge is the perfect place to explore both.
Walk into the jungle along trails to gorgeous hidden beach coves, climb the cliffs for incredible views, and hike the muddy jungle trails, spotting howler monkeys, sloths, and tucans. For some real adventure climb into the coral caves.
You can probably do the hike on your own, but for your first time I recommend taking a tour. Getting into the caves can be a bit daunting and a guide will ensure you see plenty of animals.
$50 for a two hour private lesson, $35 for a group lesson with Om
Surfing is practically a religion in Costa Rica, and no trip here is complete without at least giving it a try. Surf “instructors” and board rentals are everywhere soliciting your patronage, but go with a professional instead. Ask for Dexter or Alex at Om. Both are locals who know the waves well, will ensure your safety, have a great sense of humor, and most importantly won’t hit on you during your lesson!
$10 for a tour
If you want to see some animals up close and personal, go to the Jaguar Rescue Center. The center was created to rehabilitate injured animals in the area and your entry fee helps support that cause. Guides will teach you all about the many animals in Costa Rica and Puerto Viejo. For many people the highlight is going into the monkey room where you can play with baby howler and spider monkeys.
$26 for a tour of the chocolate forest and chocolate tasting
This is an incredibly delicious tour unique to Puerto Viejo. Take a guided hike through the chocolate forest and learn about the history and science of chocolate while tasting all sorts of incredible chocolate along the way. The hike pinnacles at the Chocolate Creation Lab which overlooks the ocean. In the lab you will learn about the process of chocolate creation and taste chocolate in all stages. This is an experience not to be missed and many consider it one of the best tours they have ever taken… anywhere!
Horsebackriding tours start at $50 for a one-hour beach ride
Explore beautiful wilderness beaches atop a horse. Check out the full moon night tour where you ride horses along the beach under the full moon spotting all kinds of wildlife like possums, raccoons, and night owls.
Snorkeling, Kayaking, Paddleboarding
Location depends on conditions
When the ocean is flat rent kayaks or paddleboards to explore many of the rocky cliffs or the beautiful Isle of Cocles, which (if you bring shoes) can be climbed and jumped from. Rent snorkels in Punta Uva at Arrecife and explore the surrounding reef.
$20 for lunch a tour, $65 per night for three organic vegetarian meals, kayak rental, and tour
Take a visit to the Punta Mona Permaculture deep in the jungle between Manzanillo and Gandoca. The beaches are stunning and can be explored by kayak to see whale sharks, dolphins, and other wildlife. The sustainable farm offers tours, yoga teacher trainings, permaculture design courses, and various workshops and retreats.
There are no roads to Punta Mona so it much be reached by chartered boat or a 2.5 hour hike through the jungle from Manzanillo.
Surrounded by nature and at the ocean, Puerto Viejo is a great place to rest, relax, and restore. Many health conscious individuals have chosen to root themselves in Puerto Viejo for this very reason.
$10 for a drop in yoga class, $60 for an hour long massage
Om Yoga offers some of the best yoga in Costa Rica in a beautiful open terrace overlooking the jungle and the ocean. Classes are offered at least twice daily in a wide range of styles including Vinyasa Flow, Yin, Kundalini, and Integrative. Yoga here is more than just physical, with classes regularly incorporating specific intentions and yoga philosophy.
Massage sessions are also available and are a wonderful way to further relax after some beach time. Styles of massage available are Swedish, Thai, and Deep Tissue, and can include Reiki and Cranio-Sacral Opening as well.
$100 for a full body scan and treatment plan, $2900 for a week long wellness retreat
This wellness center in a beautiful tranquil space in the jungle is doing incredible work helping people all over the world suffering from chronic illness. Their process works not only with pain management but total wellness identifying the underlying causes of illness and working to restore health in the body rather than simply fight the disease. Depending on your needs this may involve cleanses, fasts, infrared sauna therapy, massage, and yoga.
For those looking for a less immersive experience, Dr Greg Damato will analyze your body and mind’s overall wellness using the world’s most advanced energetic medicine device. After identifying areas of concern, for instance mine were immune system function (big surprise after a lifetime of antibiotics and a year of third world backpacking!!) and inflammation (too many hours at a computer and on airplanes) and nutritional deficiencies, Greg sends you an extremely actionable treatment plan suggesting foods to integrate into your diet as well as natural herbs and supplements, cleanses, and activities (like barefoot walking to decharge inflammation from computer usage) to aid in your process towards healthier living. My experience was incredibly enlightening if for no other reason than to show me that chronic infection and subjectivity towards illness are not things I have to live with, they are things I can heal on my own.
Organic produce from Carlos
Pick up at Caribbeans on Saturday mornings
American expat Carlos makes local organic produce accessible by working with local farmers, and growing some of his own produce, to bring boxes of goodness to Puerto Viejo residents every week. If you are staying in the area and self-catering, you may want to order a box from him. Please contact me to be put on the weekly email list where you will be sent a menu with pricing.
My Favorite Beaches
The beaches in Puerto Viejo are some of the most stunning in the entire world. If you’re up for it, I recommend attempting to walk every bit of this 10 mile stretch of sand to see it all for yourself. If that’s a little ambitious, which let’s face it, it is, be sure not to miss my favorite beaches.
This may be the most beautiful spot in all of Costa Rica. Wild grass grows rampant, palm trees sway, and the ocean glows turquoise in coral pools covering the shore. It is not a particularly nice beach to spend the day, but it is my favorite place to take a walk or sit and have a glass of wine.
To reach the point walk from Beach Break for about thirty minutes along the beach, or use the entrance at Villas del Caribe to put you right there.
All of the beaches in Playa Chiquita are stunning, deserted, and perfect for swimming, but my favorite is on the far end near Punta Uva. Take the small beach access road after Playa Chiquita Lodge on the left.
Arrecife is my favorite beach to spend the day, especially when the sea is flat. The beach reminds me of being in Hawaii and has a beautiful reef filled with colorful fish for snorkeling. The restaurant in front, Arrecife, rents snorkel equipment.
The beach coves inside the Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge are other worldly and worthy of hours of exploration.
When to Come
It is always the best time to come to Puerto Viejo, but depending what your interests are there may be a time better suited to your needs. Weather and swells on the Caribbean Coast are much less predictable than the rest of the country so expect weeks of huge waves followed by flatness for snorkeling and days of monsoon rain followed by weeks of blazing sun.
December – March
Swells tend to be largest and best for surfing during these months, which coincide with the dry season the Pacific Coast. Consequently this time is the most populated and expensive in Puerto Viejo, tends to be relatively dry, and is quite lively. All restaurants are open, parties and events occur often, the streets of town are filled with locals and tourists, and beaches are crowded on weekends. On weekdays the many beaches outside of town remain completely deserted.
February – April, August – October
These months are the driest of the year with occasional rain usually occurring at night or early in the morning. February and March have big swells while the ocean becomes calm for swimming and snorkeling in April. August and September are ideal for snorkeling and sailing, and the swells begin to pick up again in October.
May – July, November
During the months of May and November many businesses close for low season. This is also the rainiest time of year in Puerto Viejo. In fact, it is not unusual to experience weeks of nonstop rain. June and July often have plenty of sun and calm water for swimming. If you are an experienced surfer you will be unimpressed with the waves during this time.
How to Get Here
From San Jose
$50, 4 hours
$11, 4.5 hours