Southern Caribbean – Puerto Viejo Travel Guide
Use our Puerto Viejo travel guide to find out why we’re so in love with Puerto Viejo and the surrounding communities! Known for being one of the best-kept-secrets in Costa Rica, Puerto Viejo is a dream to travelers and locals alike.
Dive Into Difference
Both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts of Costa Rica are visually stunning. The Caribbean radiates a vibe that is eclectic, unique, and welcoming to those of all walks of life. Costa Rica’s Southern Caribbean, or “El Caribe,” is the colorful tapestry that appeals to all senses.
Home to both the country’s Afro-Caribbean roots as well as many indigenous groups such as the Bri Bri, food is paramount in Puerto Viejo. The Southern Caribbean contributes some of the tastiest food and most unique cultural experiences that Costa Rica has to offer. You won’t find a chain restaurant in sight, and the local cuisine will make you never want to leave.
Rice and beans (not to be confused with Gallo Pinto) is one of the traditional dishes of this area that cannot be missed. Most local “sodas” offer their own recipe of rice and beans, so you won’t have to look far to find this dish. Additionally, the seafood in this area is so fresh and often cooked with coconut for an authentic Caribbean flavor. After enjoying a delicious dinner of rice and beans, don’t forget to check out the live music scene for which this area is famous. There are various types of live music here, but don’t miss out on the Reggae! It will cure your soul and fill you with the good vibes and positivity needed to recharge your batteries.
When you’re looking for an adventure off the beaten path or yearning to escape the monotony of “9 to 5” office life, the Caribbean has got you covered! Here you can discover a wealth of activities for all tastes. If adventure is what you seek, this area boasts incredible jungle hikes, wildlife watching, horseback riding, ziplines, snorkeling, kayaking and more.
Another favorite activity for both locals and travelers alike is to rent a bicycle and enjoy a leisurely ride on the main road that passes along the pristine beaches of the Southern Caribbean. El Caribe is also known for its vast cacao farms, which creates an excellent opportunity for chocolate lovers to see how this delicious treat is made from bean to bar. Are you obsessed with chocolate? You can also sample several chocolate flavors that you have never imagined before. Oh, and did we mention that you’ll learn the true history behind Caribbean chocolate production?
If relaxing is what you came for, there is no better place than the Caribe! Luckily, the Caribbean’s climate runs on a slightly different cycle than the rest of Costa Rica, so when the rest of country experiences consistent rain in September, the Caribbean is clear, sunny and perfect for a getaway! The beaches and jungles in this area are largely untouched by major developments, so you can truly enjoy the beauty with which Mother Nature has blessed Costa Rica. This area is home to some of the clearest, most tranquil waters and white sand beaches in the country.
Whether you would like to take a dip in the warm Caribbean waters or take a siesta in a hammock, the Caribe is the medicine that the doctor ordered. Get in touch with your spiritual side and slow down.
The heart and main hub of the Southern Caribbean is located in the small beach town of Puerto Viejo, or “Old Port/Old Harbour.” No trip to the Southern Caribbean is complete without a visit to Puerto Viejo. Featured in music videos and movies, Puerto Viejo embodies the magic that is the Caribbean. Although the town is quite small, Puerto Viejo features an abundance of international cuisine, music, and activities to satisfy any taste. Within the vibrant town of Puerto Viejo, you can find succulent seafood, authentic Caribbean dishes, fresh sushi, mouth-watering Italian food, and much more.
In the town of Puerto Viejo, you can find a wide variety of accommodations from eclectic hostels in which you can sleep in a hammock or tent, to luxury hotels with access to relax right on the beach. After you’ve found a place to stay, be sure to take a leisurely stroll around this charming town.
Along the beach road in Puerto Viejo, you will notice no shortage of Bob Marley apparel! Stands with hand-made jewelry, trinkets and souvenirs are all on display from various street vendors. In the center of town, you can’t miss the vibrant Casa Cultural, which is not only a great meeting point, but also home to various cultural activities located in the area. Don’t forget to stop by Lazy Mon and enjoy a tropical drink as you watch the waves roll into the shore.
If you are lucky enough to visit Puerto Viejo at the end of October, you can enjoy the annual Puerto Viejo Chocolate Festival. This 2-day festival which is a thing of chocolate lovers dreams. You can embark on a tour of on a local cacao farm, such as the gorgeous Caribeans farm, to see the process of converting cacao into the delectable chocolate bars we all know and love. You can also experience many events, workshops, and tastings that are sure to create an unforgettable experience.
Treat Your Body Right
Should you decide to visit to the Caribbean ready for a surfing experiences, the Reef break at Salsa Brava is in prime form from December to April. If you’ve been anxious to experience the high-adrenaline experience of Costa Rican zipline, this is an excellent area to fly through the canopy of the rainforest.
If relaxation is what you crave, look no further than than Puerto Viejo’s Pure Jungle Spa. This beautiful bamboo spa offers excellent services such as relaxation massages and treatments for when you’ve had a bit too much sun. You can also enjoy the benefits of being massaged with locally grown organic chocolate paste which will exfoliate your skin and leave it silky smooth. After your massage treatment, rinse of the chocolate paste within the exotic jungle showers located behind the spa.
At night, the sleepy Caribbean town truly comes to life. Nighttime in Puerto Viejo will stimulate your senses with the heavenly scent of local street food and uplifting vibes of Reggae. Revel in the enticing sight of fire dancers as you feel the comfort of Caribbean sand on your toes. Be careful when walking/biking around, especially at night, as you wouldn’t want to step on one of the many crabs quickly trying to cross the streets before the next vehicle makes it way down the road. If you are night owl and stay awake until the early morning, you must catch the stunning Caribbean sunrise before heading to bed.
Cocles / Playa Chiquita / Punta Uva
Situated in between the towns of Puerto Viejo and Manzanillo, you will find 3 untouched and idyllic beaches. With ample room and little company, these beaches boast fine sand, clear waters and natural beauty. One great way to visit this area is to rent a bike in Puerto Viejo and enjoy a scenic ride along the Caribbean road.
Jaguar Rescue Center
Located just south of the Puerto Viejo town is Cocles beach. Here you will find golden sand, surfing and volleyball. This can be a great place to try your luck at surfing, or just relax on the beach.
Located on the other side of the road from Cocles beach is the famous Jaguar Rescue Center. The center is a wonderful place to visit and learn about how various types of animals with injuries are brought to the center, cared for, and hopefully rehabilitated into the wild. This is a great place to see baby monkeys, sloths, deer, owls, frogs, toucans (and other birds), snakes and much more!
A great way to visit the center is by joining our Animal Rescue Center, Chocolate Lady and Waterfall. This tour is a great value and will first take you to visit the Jaguar Rescue Center. Afterward, this tour allows you to visit a local indigenous family that will demonstrate the process in which the cacao fruit is made into chocolate. After visiting the Chocolate Lady, you will take a short hike to a beautiful waterfall and can enjoy a dip in the cool, fresh water.
Located after Cocles while traveling south, you will find the beautiful Chiquita Beach. The water is incredible at this tranquil beach that consists of several small bays. This area is not accessible by the road but can be accessed by walking trail. A good point of entry would be be near Shawanda Lodge. This beach is almost never crowded and is a great spot to meditate and listen to the sounds of nature.
In between Chiquita and Manzanilla is the gorgeous Punta Uva, or “Grape Point.” This area is excellent for snorkeling, kayaking, and swimming. Embark on an unforgettable experience with the River and Sea Kayaking Tour. During this tour, you will be able to appreciate nature at its finest with a kayaking trip down the Ernesto River and then into Punta Uva. Afterwards, explore the jungle of the Caribbean while you hike through the Punta Uva area.
If you seek to escape the fast-paced lifestyle of the modern world, Manzanillo is the place to unwind and get in touch with nature. Manzanillo is a village located inside the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife and Marine Refuge, not far from the border with Panama. The paved road of the Southern Caribbean did not reach the southernmost town of Manzanillo until 2003.
If you blink, you may miss the town, but that doesn’t mean there is a shortage of fun in Manzanillo. The combination of the plush white sand beach and turquoise waters that some spots appear nearly emerald green create a picture-perfect paradise. Relax in a hammock while cooling off with natural coconut water and listening to the mesmerizing sounds of the waves rolling into the shore.
Manzanillo also has a breathtaking “mirador”, or lookout point, for taking pictures and appreciating Mother Nature at her finest. For those who love wildlife watching and jungle hikes, a walk to Punta Mona (Monkey Point) will not disappoint. Here you can see several species of monkeys in their natural habitat. It is advised that you use a guide to visit Gandoca Refuge. We do offer a guided tour and this is an excellent way to safely enjoy all that the Refuge has to offer.
La Ceiba Refuge
Also located in this area is La Ceiba Refuge which is a part of the Jaguar Rescue Center. The rescue center utilizes La Ceiba to gradually reintroduce animals into the wild once they are ready. We offer both a daytime and nighttime tour of La Ceiba which provides the unique opportunity to see both animals that are out during daylight, as well as nocturnal animals.
Manzanillo boasts a wide variety of vivacious marine life, making it a hot-spot for snorkeling. This area is also great for swimming, dolphin watching, and even scuba diving. Finally, don’t forget to pay visit to Maxi’s Restaurant, the main eatery in Manzanillo. The delectable dishes at Maxi’s will leave you more than satisfied. Be ready to take a nice relaxing nap on the beach!
Just north of the Southern Caribbean’s main hub of Puerto Viejo lies the quaint yet vibrant fishing town of Cahuita. Spotted with vivid bungalows and Caribbean eateries, Cahuita has an energy like no other. Cahuita is one of the most diverse areas in Costa Rica and still maintains its Afro-Caribbean culture. Cahuita is home to Playa Negra (black sand beach) as well as Cahuita National Park.
The earliest records of Cahuita teach us that the Miskitu people once followed turtle migration to Cahuita Point. Fishing and turtle hunting were a way of life back then. The Miskitu decided to appropriately name their settlement “cawi-ta,” or “point where the sangrillo trees grow.” This name refers to the cawi trees, which are known as “sangrillo” in Spanish. The cawi or sangrillo’s characteristic feature is the red sap that appears like blood when exposed.
Rondon & Reggae
If you prefer to stay in quiet town but still but near Puerto Viejo, Cahuita is an excellent option. Here you can find not only tasty Caribbean dishes such as rice and beans, but also some of the best and freshest seafood in the country. Be sure to check out one of the many restaurants serving Caribbean Food. Enjoy the catch of the day while feeling the delicious Caribbean breeze run through your hair. Here you can taste Rondon, a coconut-based seafood stew. Make sure you try it when you can, because it’s only found in the Southern Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica.
After a delicious meal, stop in at the town’s colorfully painted bars for a drink and soulful live music. This area is not only known for its reggae music, but also for its calypso! Calypso was brought to Costa Rica by way of the many Jamaican immigrants. They settled on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica after arriving to work on the country’s railroad.
Cahuita National Park
Lastly, you should not miss an opportunity to visit Cahuita National Park. Cahuita National Park offers a multitude of opportunities for wildlife watching, swimming and snorkeling. It is a gem not only of Cahuita, but the entire nation. This is one of the only national parks in the country that only accepts donations. No entrance fee here!
It is recommended to hire a guide if it is your first visit to the park. They know how to find a plethora of animals! They can help you to spot sloths, monkeys, birds, snakes, frogs, iguanas and many other animals that call the park home. When you see the copper waters of the Suarez River meet the Caribbean sea, seize the opportunity to cool off on the white sand beaches along the park. If you love the sea, Cahuita National Park is also an ideal place for snorkeling. The park features shallow reefs near the shoreline.
Should you decide to explore Cahuita National Park, there is no better way to enjoy everything this area has to offer than with our Cahuita Boat, Snorkel and Hike Tour. This tour will take you on a picturesque boat ride and stop at two different points in the park. On a clear day, you can see many species of vividly colored tropical fish and coral. Occasionally you’ll see a reef shark or stingray. Don’t worry – they are harmless! After snorkeling, you’ll relax and snack on land before taking to the trails of this fascinating national park.