People often ask why
I always return
to Puerto Viejo.
How despite 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 again
in Puerto Viejo.
How despite bug infestations
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
mingle with fine black powder
by the sprawling jungle
the splendor of the sea.
forms natural pools
for colorful fish
Barreling swells bring surfers
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.
Locals speak in Caribbean flavored Spanish
or thick Creole
then quickly switch
to accented English
Italian, French, or German
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
cheap acts in bed
for those 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, or just want to get away from it all, I recommend staying in Playa Cocles or Playa Chiquita.
Just north of Puerto Viejo en route towards Cahuita is Playa Negra, one of the least crowded and most affordable areas for housing rentals. The black sand beach spans for miles and it’s easy to find spots all to yourself, however it can be unbearably hot. I’ve never stayed here because I prefer the beaches further south, but it’s a good option if you want quiet beach time close to town.
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. A majority of the Afro Caribbean locals live in town and you’ll experience more local culture on the small streets in Puerto Viejo than in the remote beach towns. Accommodations tend to be less expensive but can be noisy as Puerto Viejo hosts several parties every night of the week. I recommend staying in town if you plan to go out at night often.
1-3 miles from town
Those looking for tranquility and proximity to town will love staying 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. My favorite yoga studio, Om Yoga, is in Cocles and it’s where many expat events are held. 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 as Punta Uva has very few.
7-10 miles from town
The quiet Caribbean fishing village of Manzanillo rests along a rugged wildlife refuge with stunning wilderness beaches. It reminds me of what Puerto Viejo must have been like before the tourists came in. 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. Though on weekends Manzanillo is packed with tour buses and locals having BBQs on the beach. I avoid it on those days completely.
Where to Stay in Puerto Viejo
Rooms start at $89 and go up to $144 for private apartments and suites
While I don’t typically recommend staying in Playa Negra, I make an exception when it comes to Banana Azul. This lovely oceanfront hotel and restaurant is one of the only establishments that has a beach lounge, with chairs and umbrellas right on the sand. The rooms are elegant yet blend beautifully with the natural surroundings and offer comforts like wifi and hot water. My favorite aspect of Banana Azul is the gorgeous grounds with tropical gardens, a koi fish pond, and a swimming pool. Even if you don’t stay here, come and have lunch right on the beach, a true luxury in Puerto Viejo.
$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.
$10 for dorm, $30 for private with shared bathroom
If you want to be close to town but not in town and easily befriend other travelers and locals, stay at La Ruka. This hostel is owned by a friendly young American couple and is right between town and the main surf beach. It’s a great alternative to the most famous hostel Rocking J’s, which I only recommend staying in if you’re 18 and don’t mind sleeping at the party, since it’s right across the street and is way cleaner. One of the owners is a fire dancer and hula hooper, the staff tends to be young locals, and the vibe is very pura vida.
$30-60 for private rooms
With its lovely gardens and peaceful atmosphere it’s hard to believe that Jacaranda is smack dab in the middle of town. The rooms are clean and quiet and the onsite yoga and massage studio, One Love (see more below), makes it the perfect little hideaway. They also have apartments if you plan to stay longer term and want kitchen access.
$12 dorm, $35 for private with shared bathroom
Includes unlimited purified water, free bicycle use, and yoga discount
Beach Break, Playa Cocles
I recommend Om for those looking for a healthy community close to the beach. Staying here you’ll not only meet other travelers, but locals and expats who frequent the studio and the café. 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 decadent treats, coffee, and chocolate. If you want to stay long term they have a work trade program offering free housing for volunteers.
Villas del Caribe
$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 which overlook one of the most beautiful beaches in Costa Rica. Most rooms have an ocean view which is a rare commodity in Puerto Viejo which has mostly undeveloped beaches.
Starting 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 key on hot days when the currents are too strong for swimming.
Tierra de Suenos Ecolodge
$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 some of my favorite beaches, restaurants, cafes. The onsite wellness center (more below) offers yoga, health retreats, massage, and health cleanses.
$110-$145 for private bungalows
Eco friendly, yet ultra comfortable, bungalows in Playa Chiquita across from my favorite beach entrance. Each bungalow has a terrace with a hammock for relaxing and is built out of beautiful natural woods. The bungalows sit on five acres with tropical gardens, a swimming pool, and an excellent French/Caribbean inspired menu.
$300 – $600 for beach cabins and treehouses
These luxury eco houses are a truly special place to stay alone, with a partner, or with a group. They sit in the jungle a short walk from the beach in Punta Uva and come fully equipped with big gourmet kitchens, amazing bathrooms, comfortable beds, patios, BBQs, and even have eco outdoor jacuzzi tubs! I highly recommend these houses for anyone looking for a more upscale experience since they operate in harmony with the nature that surrounds them. Don’t expect air con or TV, but do expect the sounds of monkeys, birds, and crashing waves.
When I come to Puerto Viejo, I typically rent a house. I love being able to cook my own meals and relax in my own hammock. 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. If you stay at least one month you will get a significantly lower rate. In the past I’ve worked with Habitat Puerto Viejo who manages well maintained homes in the area. Here are some of the houses where I’ve stayed:
Starts at $80/night, $480 per week, sleeps 1-4 adults
Because of the big wrap around deck and the easy beach access, this is probably my favorite house I’ve ever stayed at in Puerto Viejo. It has two bedrooms, tons of outdoor seating for parties, a big yard full of fruit trees, feels very safe, and is a short walk to a quiet beach.
Starts at $80/night, $480 per week, sleeps 1-4 adults
Casa Santi sits up in the trees on a quiet street near the main surf beach. The deck is my favorite part with a big outdoor kitchen, wrap around bench, and communal table surrounded by an amazing jungle canopy full of wildlife. It has two bedrooms, one downstairs, wifi, and hot water.
Starts at $55/night, $330 per week, sleeps 1-2 adults
This darling little house is perfect for a single person or a couple. It feels very safe, guarded by a fence with two houses right next door, and has a lovely Spanish inspired design. The finishes are all new, so it’s super clean. There is one double bed, a small sitting area, a bathroom with hot water, and a small kitchen.
Starts at $200 per night, $1200 per week, sleeps 1-6 adults
Hands down the most luxurious place I’ve stayed at in Puerto Viejo, this house has its own private swimming pool, a fully equipped kitchen, three bedrooms, and is built like a first world home which means way less bugs and dirt (if those things bother you). If you have a big group it’s an amazing deal.
Casa de la Musa
$155/night, $930/week, sleeps 1-4 adults
I never wanted to leave Casa de la Musa. There’s something special about this place that you feel the moment you arrive. It’s one of the few places where you can actually walk from your front door to the beach and it’s on my favorite street in Punta Uva, where I stayed the first time I ever came to Puerto Viejo. The style is rustic Caribbean with some nice upgrades.
If you plan to stay at least one month and are looking for less expensive housing rentals, check out Craigslist (search the name of the beach town where you want to stay) or the Puerto Viejo Buy/Rent Facebook Group where you can even post your own wanted ad.
Where to Eat in Puerto Viejo
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.
Como en mi Casa
$5-10 for breakfast, lunch, treats
I’m completely smitten with Como en mi Casa and the sweet Italian couple who owns it. They’re in a cute little upstairs space where they occasionally have live music and rotating art galleries. I go for the gluten free wrap made from garbanzo bean flour stuffed with grilled veggies and the raw sugar free desserts.
Bread and Chocolate
$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. When you want to be glutenous, try the fried egg and cheese sandwich on a homemade everything bagel with well seasoned skillet potatoes and crispy bacon. Or stick with something healthy and have the gazpacho which is as good as the stuff I had in Spain. The homemade chocolates are not to be missed and my favorite is the peanut butter cup and the Queen of Sheba flourless chocolate cake.
Lazlo’s Catch of the Day
$14 for a fish plate
I’m not sure if this restaurant even has a name, but you’ll know you’ve arrived when a tall blonde surfer dude yells “fresh fish” at you. Be prepared to wait a while for a table, to receive subpar service, and to eat the freshest fish in Puerto Viejo. They only have one item on the menu, which is a big portion of the fresh catch that day (usually several options including yellowfin tuna, whole snapper, mahi mahi, and seabass) smothered in garlic herb sauce served with french fries and grilled veggies. It’s simple, delicious, satisfying, and decidely one of the best restaurants in town.
Stashu’s con Fusion *TOP PICK*
$10-15 for entrees
Come here for the best drinks and fusion food 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. The food has inventive flavors like Indian spiced lentils with black sesame beet salad and grilled fish in white chocolate sauce. The coconut cake is one of the best desserts I’ve ever had in my life.
$5-7 for local plates
My favorite local food in town is Soda Riquissimo, a little hole in the wall with yummy Caribbean plates. My favorite is the grilled fish in Caribbean sauce with salad, rice and beans, and fried plantains.
$7-10 for lunch
There’s two reasons why Puerto Pirata is my favorite place to get lunch in town: it has arguably the healthiest food in Costa Rica and it has a killer location right on the beach. They serve fresh organic salads, sandwiches, raw platters, and desserts crafted an Ayurvedic chef with tons of flavor. My favorite dish is the raw salad that comes with tahini dressing and avocado. It tastes devine while gazing out at the tuquoise Caribbean ocean.
Fresh Italian style gelato across from the bus stop in town. They have many inventive and delicious flavors but my favorite is peanut butter, which is incredible on top of an Arte y Alma brownie from El Duende Gourmet, the grocery store in Playa Chiquita.
Koki Beach *TOP PICK*
$15-30 entrees, 2 for 1 cocktails at happy hour
When I want a special night out with the girls, I head to Koki Beach which has the best atmosphere of any bar or restaurant in Puerto Viejo. The brightly colored Adirondack chairs, sexy lighting, and extremely attractive staff will quickly transport you to a trendy beachfront bar in South Beach. It’s the perfect place to get a cocktail at happy hour and watch the sunset. For nibbles I’m a big fan of the fresh fish ceviche and the fried calamari.
$15-30 for entrees
You can usually expect a lively scene here most nights of the week. Perch up at the bar to soak in some local flavor and make new friends, or sit down for a yummy Italian meal. The antipasto platters are divine and great for sharing.
$7-20 for entrees
The first time I came to Puerto Viejo nearly every night out involved happy hour at Chile Rojo. It has an awesome balcony for people watching and a big selection of fusion food. They tend to be “the spot” for celebrations among expats, so you can count on gringo-style Thanksgiving dinner and weekly specials like sushi buffet on Mondays and “hangover” pho soup on Sundays.
Caribbeans *TOP PICK*
$2-8 for light snacks and treats
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 cafe makes all sorts of drinks infused with chocolate and sells locally made treats like salted caramel truffles, chocolate chunk brownies, and my favorite blackberry chocolate chip muffins.
La Pecora Nera *TOP PICK*
$18-30 for entrees
La Pecora Nera is comparable to the best restaurants in Italy and is consistenly named one of the best restaurants in Costa Rica. The owner Ilario will make you feel at home with his boyish charm and thick Italian accent. 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. Most 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. Wash it all down with a bottle of imported wine from Italy and some complementary shots of limoncello and grappa.
La Botanica Organica
$6-10 Breakfast, Lunch
This was the first café I went to in Puerto Viejo more than a year ago. Over the years it offered a sanctuary for me and became a place where I connected with expats and other long term tourists. Try the power smoothie with raw farm yogurt, papaya, banana, bee pollen, and spirulina and for lunch the vegan Caribbean plate is so flavorful and satisfying. They also have a small store selling essential oils, natural food and toiletries, and locally made jewelry.
Jungle Love *TOP PICK*
$10-20 Lunch, Dinner
Situated in a wooden Caribbean style house, this restaurant feels like dining in someone’s home. To be fair, it’s also because the owners are so charming and friendly. They serve some of the best food in Puerto Viejo, beautifully blending flavors from all over the world. My favorite dish is the seared ahi tuna on top of a big green salad with a bright delicious wasabi sauce.
Selvin’s Restaurant *TOP PICK*
$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
Most of the time I’m really not a fan of the food at Arrecife. However on Saturdays they dish up classic rondon coconut stew with lots of spices and whole lobster. I like to order some patacones and ceviche to start and share a platter with a friend right on the beach.
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.
Cool and Calm Cafe
$7-20 for entrees
I adore this beachfront Caribbean restaurant in ultra laid back Manzanillo which truly lives up to its name: cool and calm. They’re always playing great reggae and it’s an enclave for locals. Come in after hiking in the national park and get a Caribbean plate with a fresh filet of fish, rice and beans, and patacones.
Where to Party in Puerto Viejo
Nightlife in Puerto Viejo is seriously lacking in the atmosphere department, but the seediness is just part of the charm. Let your hair down and get low to some reggae. It’s liberating. There’s a party every night of the week somewhere, but try not to stay out past 2, that’s usually when things start to get dicey.
In the last year Lazy Mon seems to have become a monopoly for nightly entertainment in Puerto Viejo. Most nights of the week you can expect the party here, especially Friday and Saturday nights. Thursdays they have Ladies Night with free drinks for women and an all reggae set. At sunset every night you can enjoy two for one drink specials, American style bar food, and live music right on the beach. Sunday nights, my favorite night, the stage opens around 10pm for live music, open mic for brave souls, and a fire dance show.
In my world, Salsa Brava is far and away the best dance club in Puerto Viejo. Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday nights are Reggae Night with Roots Reggae and positive vibrations. On Saturday nights they play a nice mix with lots of 90s throwbacks. While it doesn’t typically get cracking until very late, I love to come to Salsa Brava early and enjoy the dancefloor without crowds and watch the stars beside the bonfire outside. While some of the other bars can feel seedy and “meat markety” Salsa Brava always feels uplifting.
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, Tuesday nights they host the biggest party in town with a live DJ and dancing, Thursdays they host an American style trivia night, and Friday night is Karaoke. A word of warning: it’s very fratty in there and they’ve famous for pouring blue shots down people’s throats. Be prepared.
Where to Shop in Puerto Viejo
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. Beautiful handmade soaps, almond butter, and raw cacao chocolate are other goodies to be found. If you are a foodie, prepare to overindulge! My favorite stalls include Jungle Goddess (homemade greek yoga, chutneys, kefir, and other ferments) and Talamanca Chocolate/Garden Botanicals (local chocolate, honey, handmade soap, natural health and beauty products).
The owner of this very special shop was once a famous designer in France. She is one of the most creative people I’ve ever met and crafts inventive jewelry, lighting, and clothing from found objects and imported fabrics. Pick up one of their handmade reversible bikinis, leather necklaces, or splurge on a mosaic mirror made from seashells and beach glass.
I’ve traveled all over the world with the clothes I purchased at Luna May and receive compliments on them wherever I go, which shows how versatile they are. Handmade jumpsuits, rompers, dresses, skirts, and tops are made from brightly colored Balinese lightweight fabric that packs up tiny and unwrinkles easily and are elegant enough for Manhatten in the summer and comfy enough for the beach in Thailand.
What to Do in Puerto Viejo
Wildlife Hike in Manzanillo
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. I’ve heard rumors that the government is in the process of building pathways and stairs and will soon charge an admission. When I last walked into the refuge there October 2014 it was still very much wild.
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 reputable local. You can pop into Om Yoga and ask the receptionist to book you an appointment with Alex or Dexter or go to the beach stand closest to town on Beach Break right across from Om Yoga and take a lesson with Jerry. They’re all locals who know the waves well, will ensure your safety, and are all around good people.
Jaguar Rescue Center
$11 for 2 hour tour, 9am and 11am
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.
Caribbeans Chocolate Tour
$26 for a tour of the chocolate forest and chocolate tasting
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. You will experience a chocolate tasting similar to a wine tasting, learning how to identify different flavor and texture notes in chocolate to truly appreciate the complexity of cacao. This is a unique experience not to be missed.
Caribe Horse Riding Club
$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
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.
Traveling solo and looking for someone to show you the way? I highly recommend taking a trip through Tu Camino, a company started by one of my best friends in Puerto Viejo. Nena knows Puerto Viejo inside and out and leads trips that include the best of the best. Her all inclusive experience includes lodging, airport transfer, yoga, surf lessons, guided hikes, and more. The best part is that you’re guaranteed to meet great people from other travelers to foreign transplants to Caribe locals. Her next trip is 24-30 September 2015 and starts at $1299.
Dare to bare it all? Feel empowered, love your body, and connect with nature on a whole new level by booking a nude, semi nude, or bikini photoshoot with Sarah Landolt. The experience itself is worth it, I felt such freedom and noticed a lasting sense of body acceptance afterwards, and the photos are stunning and very tasteful. I highly recommend a nude shoot with the Skin Deep Nomad even to the camera shy. Read all about my experience and see the photos here.
$26 for a farm tour and lunch
Playa Cocles (up the hill)
One of my favorite places to spend the day in Puerto Viejo is up at Finca Tierra. An American/Costa Rican couple run a sustainable permaculture farm where you can take a course, tour the farm, or stay in one of their bungalows. Everything about this place is ingeniously eco without sacrificing comforts like hot water shower or chic design. They also have delicious meals that come straight from their food forest.
Punta Mona Permaculture
$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.
Get Healthy in Puerto Viejo
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. Here are my recommended spas, yoga studios, and cleansing centers.
Om Yoga and Massage
$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. Be sure to take a class with Avani, the owner. 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.
$15 for a 2 hour group session
Also at Om Yoga is a unique form of healing called Clarity Breathwork. For two hours Avani, the owner of Om, guides you through a form of breathing that allows you to go deep into your consciousness and release stuff you didn’t even realize was in you. If you have an open mind, an open heart, and true desire to explore yourself, you must try this.
One Love Spa
At Jacaranda Hotel in Puerto Viejo, American surfer, yogi, and massage therapist Julie teaches daily yoga classes and gives some of the best massages I’ve ever had. This woman knows the human body better than anyone who has every touched me. She offers Thai Massage (she studied in Chiang Mai), Reiki, Cranio Sacral, and Deep Tissue. I received a combination of all three and it was phenomenal. Make an appointment with her at One Love Spa at Jacaranda, or book at her massage table at her house, or have her come to you.
Samasati Retreat Center
Outside of Puerto Viejo
Up in the hills overlooking the South Caribbean, Samasati offers high quality yoga retreats, beautiful lodging, healthy meals, and stellar views. Since it’s so far from town I recommend coming here for one of their retreats or yoga teacher training programs.
Tierra de Suenos Wellness Center
$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. However, do take it all with a grain of salt and remember that balance is key to a healthy life.
Hidden Garden Jungle Spa
On a small jungle road just outside of town you’ll find the lovely Hidden Garden Jungle Spa with quiet lodging, yoga classes, holistic consulting, bodywork, and all kinds of workshops and events. I went for a Temescal (Indian Sweatlodge) which was a deeply spiritual experience that I highly recommend.
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. You can order your goodies at firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, you can buy most organic produce you need at the Farmer’s Market on Saturdays, just be sure to get there early.
My Secret Spots in Puerto Viejo
I’m a firm believer that magic reveals itself to those who are open to receiving it. That is to say, if you’re willing to explore and push beyond your boundaries, you will find the mystery that moves you. Rather than tell you where to find the magic in Puerto Viejo, I’d rather encourage you to find it yourself. Walk every inch of sand from Playa Negra to Manzanillo like I have and you most definitely will.
When to Come to Puerto Viejo
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 – May, 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 May. September and October are ideal for snorkeling and sailing.
June – July, November – December
During the months of June 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.
How to Get to Puerto Viejo
There are many ways to get to Puerto Viejo, ranging from cheap to expensive, and all are pretty straightforward. The simplest way is to take a shuttle from the airport all the way to your hotel while the most fastest route, flying into Limon, is also the most expensive. Many travelers combine a trip to Puerto Viejo with Panama since it’s very close by.
The nearest airport to Puerto Vejo is in Limon, about an hour drive or 1.5 hour bus ride. From San Jose, Nature Air has one daily flight at 5:50am that arrives in Limon by 6:20am. This is a good option if your international flight into San Jose arrives in the middle of the night, however most flights will not arrive in time. From Limon shared shuttle vans conveniently meet passengers at the departure gate and transport them all the way to their hotel in Puerto Viejo. You can book this shuttle through Gecko Trail for $20.
The road that connects Puerto Viejo with San Jose treacherously winds through the Talamanca Mountains and should be avoided after dark if you intend to drive. The journey takes about 3.5 hours by car. A popular mode is to take a shared shuttle from San Jose direct to your hotel for around $50. Check out your shuttle options here. The least expensive way to get to Puerto Viejo is either to join a rideshare or to take the public bus. For the bus, you’ll depart from the San Carlos (Terminal Atlantico Norte) station in San Jose. It takes around 4.5 hours to reach Puerto Viejo and costs $11. See the bus schedule for details.
Travelers coming from Tortuguero on the Northern Caribbean can take a boat to Limon (departs Tortuguero at 6am and 10am, $35, 4 hours) then catch the bus (departs at least every hour, takes around 2 hours) or take a taxi from Limon down to Puerto Viejo.
Going to Puerto Viejo doesn’t just have to be a day of travel, it can also be a day of fun. One of the best ways to get down to the South Caribbean is by rafting down the Pacuare River. Tours pick up travelers in San Jose, Arenal, or Tortuguero, will take you on a day trip white water rafting, and will finally drop you and your luggage off in Puerto Viejo. Check out Exploradores Outdoors for more info.
With Bocas del Toro, Panama just across the border from Puerto Viejo, it’s popular for travelers to combine the two in one trip. The best organized method is to book a ticket with Caribe Shuttle (8am and 12pm, $32, 3.5 hours). From Bocas you can meet them at the dock where they take you in a boat to Almirante, transfer you to a minivan to the border, help you at customs to enter Costa Rica, then shuttle you to your hotel in Puerto Viejo.
How to Get Around Puerto Viejo
The flat paved road that connects the beach towns in Puerto Viejo makes riding a bicycle a breeze. There are plenty of places to rent bicycles in town, around $6/day, and a few scattered between Cocles, Playa Chiquita, and Punta Uva. If you plan to stay for more than a week it’s worth buying a used bicycle and then selling it before you go.
Walking the beach is my favorite way to get around, albeit the least efficient and practical. Unfortunately it is not safe to walk or ride your bicycle after dark (even as early as 6pm) outside of town.
There is a bus that connects Manzanillo with Limon (stopping along the way in all of the beach towns) for about $1. The first leaves Puerto Viejo at 6:45am and the last leaves at 7:15pm. In the evening your best bet is to take a taxi, which will not be cheap but is the most convenient option. From Puerto Viejo to Cocles should cost around $4, $8 to Chiquita, $10 to Punta Uva.
**For tips on how to stay safe in Puerto Viejo, read my guide Is Puerto Viejo Safe?
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