WATCH: Fun things to do in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica
In the lively beachside town of Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica, pura vida isn’t just a saying–it’s a way of life, and one that travellers will find themselves easily slipping into. Located about a one hour drive from Limon along the Caribbean coast, this easygoing, laid-back spot totally lives up to the ‘Pure Life’ vibe: there are far more bicycles than cars, the health-conscious eateries use fresh, locally-sourced ingredients, and most days consist solely of soaking up the sun on a stretch of secluded, golden sand.
In this tiny slice of paradise, rustic, thatched-roof villas are tucked into thick groves of trees just steps from the beach, and streams wind lazily through the rainforest where towering palms conceal the likes of sloths, toucans and howler monkeys. Bushels of bright Chiquita bananas and ripe pineapples line the narrow, recently-paved roadways, and surfers glide through the large waves lapping at the coastline, timing the swell to catch a thrilling ride back to shore. Puerto Viejo is also beloved for its streetscapes which are a kaleidoscope of colour, where a cluster of cool boutiques, restaurants and bars line the lively strip framed by the sparkling sea.
It’s easy to lose track of time in a place that’s this idyllic, where the pace is either as upbeat or leisurely as you decide to make it. From bronzing your bod on the best beaches to exploring national parks teeming with wildlife, here are some of the top Costa Rica adventures in and around Puerto Viejo.
Explore Cahuita National Park
Parque Nacional Cahuita is one of the most popular national parks along Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, and conveniently located only 20 minutes from Puerto Viejo. The protected area boasts beautiful, soft white sand beaches perfect for lazing around on, vibrant coral reefs, and a rich diversity of plants and animals including monkeys, stingrays and reef sharks.
There are two entrances to the park: one run by the government that has a fee to enter, and the Cahuita entrance near Puerto Vargas which is operated by a local organization only requesting donations. It’s best to enter through Cahuita, not only to save money but because the best beaches are on this end and animal sightings tend to be better. A flat, 8.3 kilometre trail winds through the park’s rainforest canopy and along the coastline, making for a great day hike that encourages plenty of stops for wildlife viewing, swimming, tucking into a picnic lunch at one of the seaside tables, and beach time. Allow about four hours to walk the entire trail, but if you’re short on time start from the other side where there’s a parking lot right next to a beach, and a raised, 2.5 km walkway made out of recycled plastic winding through the rainforest where you might be able to spot cheeky monkeys and exotic birds like green macaws in the thick brush.
See cute critters at the Jaguar Rescue Center
The name of this place is a tad misleading seeing as how there aren’t actually any jaguars here–but frankly, it’s a good thing none of the critically endangered cats have ended up here. After all, the Jaguar Rescue Center is a haven for animals needing a second chance at life, with about 500 different creatures being dropped off at the volunteer-run facility every single year.
Founded by a couple of biologists from Spain who once worked at the Barcelona Zoo and eventually settled in Puerto Viejo, the center was started in memory of a jaguar cub that was dropped off on their doorstep which they were sadly unable to save. Since 2007, the refuge has helped rehabilitate and release thousands of monkeys, birds and reptiles thanks to around-the-clock veterinary care from volunteers, relying on donations from visitors to keep it running.
During a visit of the Jaguar Rescue Center, guests can expect to see excitable spider and howler monkeys swinging around, owls, toucans, parrots, crocodiles, various snakes and even exotic wild cats like ocelots curled up in their dens. However, the most popular stop on the tour tends to be the sloth sanctuary, where visitors can get up close with a crew of adorable, furry sloths. Hour-long tours of the facility cost $20 per person, and are offered throughout the day in multiple languages.
Relax on the amazing Costa Rica beaches
Thanks to its enviable perch along the Caribbean coastline, Puerto Viejo is the perfect place for beach hopping. With a seemingly endless series of beaches both in and around town, it’s easy to find your own stretch of sand, and chances are there won’t be a single soul in sight.
Some of the best ones to check out are:
- Playa Cocles: This blonde beach is perfect for sun-seekers, and particularly popular with the surf crowd (especially from January through March)
- Playa Punta Uva: Uva is one of the most popular beaches in the area, being a base for snorkeling, diving and watersports including surfing, kayaking and SUP. Spend the day frolicking in the waves, tucking into a BBQ lunch and lazing around in a hammock, and be sure to stick around for the gorgeous sunset.
- Playa Punta Uva Arrecife: Arrecife is particularly enchanting during the golden hour when the light hits the palm-fringed beach just right, and is easy to access on a short nature walk from Punta Uva around the peninsula.
Top tip: Want to get another passport stamp while you’re at it? Then take a day trip to Bocas Del Toro, Panama, which is easily accessed by shuttle or boat from Puerto Viejo and can easily be arranged by one of the tour operators in town. The chain of islands (which has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site) is stunningly beautiful, and known for its crystal clear water, coral reefs, colourful stilt houses and dazzling, white sand beaches.
Explore the town of Puerto Viejo
Puerto Viejo is the quintessential beach town, where the uniform of choice is a bathing suit and flip-flops, no one is in a hurry to go anywhere, vacationers down cold beers at seaside bars, and young families build sandcastles or frolic in the waves. The facades of the restaurants, souvenir shops and cafes lining the main strip are painted just about every colour of the rainbow, and swings and hammocks are suspended from leaning palm trees that shelter abandoned row boats.
The village centre is where all the action happens around these parts, and can get particularly busy once the sun begins to set and happy hour kicks off. While exploring Puerto Viejo’s natural surroundings is how you’ll want to spend most of your time in the area, it’s well worth meandering through town for some window shopping, dining, and to admire the fabulous murals that seem to pop off the storefronts.
For a change of pace from the beach bar scene, head to Cho.co which was founded in 2017 by a couple from Montreal, Canada, who started it as a way to represent the area’s artisanal chocolate makers whose products tourists might not otherwise have access to. The cozy space showcases the sweet treats, and expertly pairs wine, Costa Rican rum and local draft beers with hand-crafted chocolates made in the area (think watermelon pale ale paired with basil-infused chocolate, and a smooth Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon served alongside a vanilla chocolate bar). Cho.co is the perfect place to go for a dose of culture, and a fantastic night out that’s sure to leave your taste buds tingling.
Get active with some fun Costa Rica adventures
There’s no shortage of things to do in Puerto Viejo for active types, from canopy tours gliding above the flora and fauna in a rainforest about half an hour from town, to cooling off in the pretty waterfalls in nearby Bribri. Those heading to Playa Punta Uva can grab a board and hit the world-class surf, go SUPing, or hop in a kayak for a leisurely paddle down Eduardo Creek to spot river turtles, iguanas, sloths, bats and monkeys. And of course there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy a bike ride around these parts, whether it’s to get into town or explore the sandy, beachfront trails.
Practicalities for visiting Puerto Viejo:
How to get to Puerto Viejo
There are many options for getting to Puerto Viejo from the capital San Jose, including private transfers, public buses, or taking a scenic flight to Limon then arranging a ride into town. Alternatively, let a company like GreenSpot Travel handle all the logistics. Their highly-organized team is known for creating seamless experiences all around the country, which means you can simply relax and enjoy your vacation knowing everything is taken care of. This excellent tour operator puts together fantastic, fully-customized Costa Rica holidays for groups of all sizes, and can arrange every single detail including transfers with a professional guide, boutique hotel stays, fun day excursions and meals. GreenSpot Travel also focuses on sustainability, which means picking eco-friendly properties, partnering with indigenous communities, and making donations to local organizations like the Jaguar Rescue Center that their guests visit.
The best time to visit Puerto Viejo
While the weather is hot year round making it a great place for a winter escape, locals suggest visiting the Caribbean side in August or September. The slower tourist season usually means lower rates at hotels, and the sea is typically flat so there are more opportunities to head out on the water.
Where to stay in Puerto Viejo: Hotel Aguas Claras
The gorgeous Hotel Aguas Claras opened in late 2018, becoming one of the first luxury options in Puerto Viejo and opening the area up to more discerning travellers. Founded by artist Elizabeth Steinvorth and her daughter Elena, the duo individually decorated each of the gorgeous casitas, bungalows and suites with pieces made by themselves or their creative friends. The result is Instagram heaven, from the Moroccan-inspired terraces and sun-soaked open-air ensuites, to the turquoise pool outfitted with flamingo and watermelon-shaped floaties.
The intimate, boutique property has a 36 person capacity and only allows those age 12 and up, making it a haven of tranquility just steps from the beach. Guests wake up to a soothing chorus of birds chirping just outside their windows from somewhere in a nearby grove of leafy palm trees, and can start the day off right with a fantastic, healthy breakfast at Papaya Restaurant which is included in the nightly rate.
Hotel Aguas Claras is a great base for exploring Puerto Viejo, as the Jaguar Rescue Centre is just across the street and there are cute cruiser bikes available for guests to borrow. The friendly hotel staff are also available to lead guided tours or arrange excursions around the area, and guests opting for relaxation can enjoy a yoga class in the Casa Gandhi wellness pavilion or indulge in a treatment at the nearby Pure Jungle Spa (whose natural products are also stocked in guest rooms). Click here to book
Globe Guide explored Costa Rica as a guest of GreenSpot Travel and Hotel Aguas Claras. As always, hosts have no editorial influence on articles
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