You like colorful villages, lobster and reggae music? Puerto Viejo and Cahuita are perfect to be in contact with nature and the authenticity of its inhabitants: friendly villages, beautiful beaches within natural parks, a luxuriant fauna and flora, and a very "Pura Vida" way of life, that is to say, relaxed. The population, essentially made up of Jamaican descendants, speaks a mixture of Spanish and English (patois). The pace of life is decidedly slow and you should not be in a hurry! You will hear reggae music everywhere and Bob Marley is revered as a god.
Puerto Viejo and Cahuita are accessible by bus, or you can simply take your rental car.
Puerto Viejo, located in the Province of Limón, on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, is a great place for a little adventure and relaxation. Surfing, hiking in the parks, biking, tours of indigenous reserves... it's all here! Here's what you can do in Puerto Viejo:
1. Visit the Cahuita National Park
One of the most beautiful spots in the area is this Natural Park which protects the rainforest (very wet), like Monteverde, the coral reef and wild beaches. It is one of the only parks in Costa Rica that is free (by donation only). Convenient if you have a low budget. You can take a walk along the long path that runs along the coast, you will see all kinds of insects, birds and wild animals (monkeys, agouti, sloths, snakes, raccoons, oropéndola...) and you can have a picnic and spend the day there by diving from time to time in the azure sea.
It is impossible to visit Costa Rica and not go underwater. Snorkeling and scuba diving are some of the best activities to do. The best time to go snorkeling is in September and October when the sun is shining and the weather is nice. We advise you to check the weather conditions beforehand, as it is not always possible to venture into the coral reefs (one of the largest in Costa Rica). It is also possible to scuba dive; just ask the locals for the best plans.
With your mask and snorkel, you will see all kinds of colorful fish, lobsters and even small white tip sharks (harmless). You can easily spend hours there.
3. Riding a bike
You already have done a lot of hiking in Costa Rica, and that’s normal. But here, do as the locals do: get around by bike!
Bicycles are the main means of transportation in Puerto Viejo and Cahuita. You can easily cycle from one beach to the other and discover the area as if you were a local.
Bikes are available for rent at almost every hotel and hostel. A beach bike rental costs about 6 dollars for the day.
4. Visit the Gandoca-Manzanillo Refuge
If you are a nature lover, you will not be disappointed by the refuge of Gandoca-Manzanillo. This one protects an important mangrove and numerous animal and plant species: turtles, caimans, crocodiles, toucans, and many other species are the permanent inhabitants of this magnificent refuge. Not to be missed! You can get there on your bike or with your rental car.
5. Take a surfing lesson
The surfing beaches are Playa Cocles, Playa Grande Manzanillo and Playa Negra. We recommend taking lessons at Playa Cocles where there are waves for all levels.
For the more expert, January through March are the best months for surfing, as the swell can be quite strong. You will see surfboards lined up on Cocles beach all year round and many locals offer surf lessons. Lessons cost about $60 USD for 2 people.
6. Meet the indigenous people
One of the most fascinating tours is to visit the Bri Bri Indian people, one of the largest indigenous groups in the country. The Bri Bri live in the mountains, in reserves dedicated to them, and they proudly preserve their culture, traditions and way of life. You'll feel like you're traveling back in time!
The BriBri tour also includes a small chocolate tour, as they have a very close relationship with cocoa (only women can make chocolate) and you will be able to buy some handicrafts.
It is recommended to book through a tour operator as you will need transportation and a bilingual guide Bri.Bri- Spanish.
One of the most interesting tours to do in the area, without a doubt!
7. Visiting the Jaguar Rescue Center
In Playa Chiquita, 5 km from Puerto Viejo, you will find the Jaguar Rescue Center, a foundation dedicated to the care of injured wild animals. During the tour they explain how each animal was found and under what conditions. Their goal is to release the animals back into the wild as soon as they are healthy. You will see sloths, toucans, howler monkeys among others. The sloths have a separate section dedicated to them. So, if you love animals, don't miss this wonderful rehabilitation center for local wildlife. And if you feel like it, you can even make a donation. They need it!
8. Sunbathing on the beach!
The southern Caribbean has some of the most beautiful beaches in Costa Rica.
Everywhere you look you have palm trees swaying on the sand (white, golden or even black).
Nearby, you have white sand beaches like Playa Cocles, Playa Chiquita, Playa Blanca and Playa Vargas in the Cahuita National Park. You also have a black sand beach (yes, yes), Playa Negra. Playa Punta Uva and Playa Arrecife are also very beautiful beaches. For those who like to relax, this is one of the best places in Costa Rica to relax. You can spend each day on a different beach and moreover it is free!
How to get to Puerto Viejo?
Be careful, there are two Puerto Viejo in Costa Rica. Puerto Viejo is located on the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica (not to be confused with Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui). From San José, it takes about 4h30 by car. You will cross the Braulio Carrillo Park, easily recognizable by its lush and humid nature and its tunnel, the Zurquí. Alternatively, you can take a small plane and in less than 45 minutes you will be in Limon and from there you can take a shuttle to Puerto Viejo or Cahuita. Finally, for the more economical, you can take the MEPE bus. The station is located on Calle 12 between Avenidas 7 and 9 and the ticket costs about 10.00 dollars.
Where to stay?
There is no shortage of hotels in Puerto Viejo and Cahuita, and there are hotels for all tastes and budgets. If you like comfort and nature, go to the Chameleon hotel, if you prefer small and nice hotels, go to Jacarandas.
We have a slight preference for Cahuita, smaller than Puerto Viejo, cuter and less busy with tourists.
If you don't want to go to a hotel, you can find bed and breakfasts or Airbnb without difficulty. In any case, it is better to spend at least one or two nights there to do all the activities. You will then go to Tortuguero, to see the turtles laying eggs and to walk on the lush canals.