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Puerto Viejo is a small town in the southeast of Costa Rica with its own unique vibe that makes it stand out from the rest of the country. I love Puerto Viejo because you have the laid back Pura Vida lifestyle combined with Caribbean roots, so it makes for a chill yet fun atmosphere. At times walking around it felt reminiscent of Jamaica. Here are the best things to do in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica including tips on where to eat and stay.
Getting to Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica
The closest airport to Puerto Viejo is in Limon, about an hour away. If you are flying internationally you’ll either fly into San Jose or Liberia. For the Caribbean coast, San Jose is better. From there, you can either catch a regional flight to Limon or a bus from San Jose.
I came from Manual Antonia National Park on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, so had to first catch a bus from there to San Jose. There are many bus stations in San Jose so you might have to transfer stations depending on where you the first bus drops you off. The easiest way to do this is in a taxi as San Jose can be confusing to get around. The bus terminal you need to go to for Puerto Viejo is Terminal MEPE located on Calle 12, San José, Costa Rica. The bus costs $10.16 and runs every two hours starting at 6 am and ending at 6 pm (info accurate as of March 2018).
You can buy tickets for the bus 24 hours in advance which is actually a good idea as the busses are often full and you will only be left with standing room, which no one wants. They claim the bus ride takes 4 1/2 hours but it took us almost 7. The bus stops once at Limon where you can buy food and use the washroom. Alternatively, you could take a private transfer to Puerto Viejo but these can be pricey.
What to do in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica
Puerto Viejo has a lively nightlife scene, especially on the weekends. My favorite bar is Lazy Mon, which has live music every day at sunset. Both Friday and Saturday the party goes late into the evening with live fire dancers and DJ’s playing upbeat reggae music afterward. Ladies drink free from 10-12 on Friday night!
Another lively bar up the street from Lazy Mon is Salsa Brava. On Sundays they have ladies night with free drinks from 10-12. The location is awesome as it is right on the beach, you catch watch surfers catch waves during the days or star gaze at night.
Puerto Viejo is not the best place for beginner surfers. Unlike Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast you won’t find dozens of surf schools here, and the waves looked much rougher. But for the advanced surfer, it looks great. The beach closest to town is Playa Negro, known for its beautiful black sand.
Explore by bike
There are bike rental places all over town and it is a great way to explore Puerto Viejo, as the roads are flat and easy to bike. There are several beaches along the main road you can bike too. From the main town, we rode our bikes to Playa Cocles (4KM) and then to Playa Punta Uva (8KM).
At Playa Punta Uva, you can rent kayaks or stand up paddle boards and explore the river next to the beach. The water is super calm and filled with wildlife. While kayaking, we saw sloths in the trees, a toucan, howler monkeys and many little turtles in the water! Kayaking through the river was so peaceful, I definitely recommend doing this if you visit Puerto Viejo.
Jaguar Rescue Center
One of the best things to do in Puerto Viejo is to visit the Jaguar Rescue Center. This place is incredible. The center takes in wildlife that are injured or causing problems (going into farms, causing threats to humans, etc.) and will try and rehabilitate them back into the wild. It is nonprofit organizing and provides an amazing setting to get up close with the animals while helping them. As with all wildlife, there is never a guarantee of what you will see, but when I visited we saw many sloths, baby monkeys, an ocelot, snakes, a pelican, an anteater, owls, parrots, and toucans.
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Chili Rojo is a Thai and Asian fusion restaurant in the main town. If you need a break from rice and beans, this is a nice option to treat yourself. A meal will cost you between $10-15 USD but on Monday evenings they have all you eat sushi for $14 (backpackers dream). They also have delicious cocktails and always have a 2-for-1 happy hour special on.
Sel et Sucre is a hostel, but underneath they have a small restaurant which sells amazing crepes in the morning and delicious Italian food at night, with fresh pasta made in front of you!
If you just want a cheap and quick eat the food stands on the street sell yummy skewers of meat and empanadas for $2 each. There is always someone outside the bars at night selling these and I did not get sick from eating them 🙂
Hotels in Puerto Viejo
Budget: Sel & Sucre. I had shown up in Puerto Viejo with no accommodation booked and quickly ran into the owner of this hostel who happily hosted us. This hostel has a good social atmosphere, the rooms are clean, showers are hot, and the location is great. It’s right next to the ATM, bus station, and supermarket. Plus, the restaurant underneath sells delicious food!
Mid-range: Pagalue Hostel. This hostel has such a nice jungle vibe about it and offers private rooms for just $40/a night which is not much more than the average dorm bed if split between two!
Luxury: Umami Hotel. This adult only hotel has such a dreamy ambiance to it. And that outdoor pool is perfect for escaping the heat!
Getting to experience the Caribbean side of Costa Rica was so much fun. I’ve always loved the country and seeing a whole new side of it just made me love it more.
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