While most visitors to Costa Rica will head west to the Pacific, the laidback lifestyle and Afro-Caribbean culture and cuisine of Puerto Viejo beckon you to experience life on the country's eastern coast. This guide will introduce you to the playas, towns, wilderness areas, and signature excursions that make Puerto Viejo the incredible destination it is, plus offer tips on where to stay and what to eat.

Incredible Puerto Viejo

If you're looking to escape the throngs of travelers that typically make a beeline for Costa Rica's Pacific beaches, consider spending your holiday on the Caribbean coast. With a variety of accommodation options, flavorful Caribbean-inspired cuisine, dense jungles full of wildlife, a gorgeous coral reef, close proximity to Panama, and some of the best surf breaks and beaches in the country, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca is a fun and vibrant base for exploring the east coast of Costa Rica.

Planning Your Visit

The idyllic beaches of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca

Puerto Viejo de Talamanca may just be one coastline, but there are plenty of excursions and activities to enjoy. Getting there will take a little effort, so it's best to combine a visit to Puerto Viejo with other regions in Costa Rica and plan for at least one week. For a little itinerary inspiration, check out this 7-day itinerary of Puerto Viejo & Tortuguero or this 10-day itinerary of Arenal and Costa Rica's Caribbean highlights. And for a multi-country adventure, remember that the Panama border is less than an hour south of Puerto Viejo, so you could easily combine the two.

When to Go

When planning your trip to Puerto Viejo, keep in mind that the weather in the Caribbean region is vastly different from the Pacific. The Caribbean receives a significant amount of rain, particularly from December through February. All that moisture certainly makes for gorgeous green jungles perfect for wildlife viewing, but it could also make your stay a soggy one. Shoot for September and October, when it's typically dry and sunny on the Caribbean coast.

Regardless of the season or weather, keep in mind that ocean currents here tend to be strong and the waves powerful, so be sure to check local conditions before diving in. Unless you're a strong swimmer or experienced surfer, it's best to stay close to shore.  

Getting There & Around

To get to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, you have a few options. If you're arriving in Costa Rica by way of San José, you can take a domestic flight to Limón and then drive about an hour south to Puerto Viejo. Alternatively, you can rent a car in San José and self-drive the four-hour journey, combining it with an optional stop in Tortuguero. Or, if you prefer to leave the driving up to the locals, book a shuttle or private car and driver.

What to See & Do

Puerto de Viejo is a beautiful stretch of the Caribbean coastline, lined with rocky cliffs, mysterious caves, and dense rainforest. Explore the coast with our ultimate guide to Puerto Viejo beaches and opt for excursions like kayaking, hiking, snorkeling, and surfing, or stay inland to search for wildlife in the jungles and preserves. Get a taste of local culture by exploring Puerto Viejo Town and learning a bit about the region's prized cocoa beans.

Enjoy Cultural Excursions

Colorful streets of Puerto Viejo 

Although Puerto Viejo de Talamanca is known for its outdoor experiences, there are plenty of cultural adventures to enjoy, too. Start with exploring Puerto Viejo Town: lively, colorful, and a bit rough around the edges. You can opt for a walking tour or consider perusing Puerto Viejo Town by bike for a more active experience! Shop for souvenirs, grab a bite to eat at one of the beachfront restaurants or a cocktail at a local watering hole, or relax on the sand or play in the surf at world-famous beaches like Salsa Brava.

After getting to know the locals in town, head out to explore one of Costa Rica's most prized products: chocolate. Just 11 miles (17.75 kilometers) west of town is the nearby community of Uatsi, home to an organic chocolate factory. You could search the world over and not find a more authentic bean-to-bar chocolate experience

Discover Local Wildlife

A baby jaguar at the Jaguar Research Center in Puerto Viejo.

One of the best things to do in Puerto Viejo is to encounter the local wildlife, of which there is plenty. Start with a visit to the Jaguar Rescue Center, home to ill, injured, and orphaned animals. You can enjoy a guided tour through the facilities and meet residents like monkeys, three-toed sloths, anteaters, and more. After rehabilitating the animals, the center releases them in the nearby La Ceiba primary forest reserve.

For a slightly more wild experience, consider hiking through the dense forests of the Gandoca-Manzanillo Refuge or Cahuita National Park. Both are perfect for exploring both land and sea, as they combine rainforest and white-sand beaches. 

Gandoca-Manzanillo is a nesting area for several species of turtles, manatees, crocodiles, caimans, dolphins, and tarpons, plus where you can see the endangered green macaw. Enjoy a trek up to Manzanillo Viewpoint for a lookout with sea views and check out the Ara Project, a local Manzanillo endeavor dedicated to the protection, reproduction, and reinsertion of the great green macaw. 

Cahuita National Park is just 15 minutes north of Puerto Viejo and where you can see toucans, monkeys, and turtles in the forests. But most visitors also grab their snorkel gear to explore the local coral reef, home to more than 500 fish. (Note that you'll need a guide to snorkel in the park, as it's a protected area.)

Explore the Coast

Tandem kayaking at Punta Uva.

Of course, you can't visit Puerto Viejo without enjoying its stretch of gorgeous coastline, and there are plenty of ways to take advantage of the surf. You can kayak at Punta Uva, an area lined with cliffs, caves, and rainforest, and protected by a large coral reef, so you don't have to worry about the waves knocking you over. You can swap the sea for inland kayaking if you wish and paddle along Rio Punta Uva, where you can spot monkeys, sloths, colorful birds, river turtles, bats, and iguanas.

For an even more iconic and active adventure, consider heading to the world-famous waves at Salsa Brava for a surfing lesson in Puerto Viejo. Professional surf instructors will give you tips and help you build upon your skills, whether you're a beginner or a surfing enthusiast. Salsa Brava is one of the Caribbean's most famous surf breaks, so you'll be learning how to balance on your board while world-class surfers conquer the waves.

For a more laid-back adventure, you can go horseback riding along the coast of Puerto Viejo

Where to Stay

Cabins at Shawandha Lodge (Photo Courtesy of Shawandha Lodge)

If you want to be at the center of the action, you'll enjoy being closer to the buzz of Puerto Viejo Town or Punta Uva, but if you're looking for a quiet place to rest your head, it's best to book your hotel somewhere between the two villages. (Keep in mind that Puerto Viejo does have its share of crime, so do take proper precautions: Don't walk at night on the beach or the roads connecting the beaches—take a taxi instead. Don't carry large sums of cash, and do keep valuables locked up in your hotel safe.)

Recommended lodgings closer to Puerto Viejo Town include Cariblue Beach and Jungle Resort, and Azania Bungalows. Both are mid-range boutique accommodations just across the street from Playa Cocles, though Cariblue is more like a lodge, whereas Azania has private thatched-roof bungalows. If you'd like to stay closer to Punta Uva, we recommend Shawandha Lodge and Namuwoki Lodge, which are also near Playa Chiquita, the best swimming beach in the area. Both lodges are luxury properties with private bungalows or wooden huts surrounded by the jungle.

Other options include Relax Natural Village, an adults-only luxury property with beautiful individual cabins, and Villas del Caribe, a simple and standard beachfront hotel near the Jaguar Rescue Center. If you prefer to spend the night deeper in the jungle, book a stay at Selva Banito Lodge, located on a private reserve near Cahuita.

What to Eat

The hip and delicious De Gustibus Bakery (Photo Courtesy of De Gustibus Bakery)

If wondering where to eat in Puerto Viejo, you'll find that the town has a surprisingly delicious foodie scene that will take from breakfast to late-night snacks. Start your day at Bread & Chocolate, which serves up one of the tastiest breakfasts in town prepared with locally-sourced ingredients, or go for De Gustibus Bakery—also an excellent place for lunch. For a sense of nostalgia, check out Restaurant Tamara, once the only restaurant in town and now the perfect place to get a taste of authentic local cuisine, such as Afro-Caribbean-inspired dishes like coconut rice and beans.

Another great spot for traditional Caribbean food is La Nena, a small place just off the side of the road serving simple yet delicious meals. If you're looking for seafood, we recommend Marisqueria Mopri, a locals' joint without any tourist flare, so you get the real deal. For a beachfront experience with a cool ambiance, head to Koki Beach Restaurant & Bar, but be prepared to pay tourist prices—although they do a daily happy hour.

Map

Map of Ultimate Guide to Puerto Viejo: Costa Rica's Southern Caribbean Coast
Map of Ultimate Guide to Puerto Viejo: Costa Rica's Southern Caribbean Coast