Puerto Viejo is the sort of place where I could have accidentally stayed forever. The blend of jungle, endless beach, bicycles as the main mode of transport, and coconuts for sale on basically every damn corner.
I found myself lounging in a hammock on the balcony of our jungle cottage most mornings with a cup of coffee and thinking about how I could totally live here. I could sit on the little bench over there and do my work every day, maybe buy a bike and ride to the beach in the evenings.
A Guide to Puerto Viejo
How to Get to Puerto Viejo
It’s really easy to get to Puerto Viejo from San Jose. I took a bus from the city center and although it took five hours, it was straightforward and pretty comfortable.
Buses from San Jose to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca (also called Puerto Viejo de Limon) leave from the Terminal Atlantico Norte. It is right next to the much larger Terminal 7-10 and is easily mapped on the app Maps.me (I really prefer this to other map apps because you don’t need signal or data on your phone).
Bus tickets to and from Puerto Viejo cost 5,525 Colones, or just under $10 USD each. Neither of the bus stations accept card, so be sure to have enough cash.
Buses leave from San Jose every two hours from 6 am to 6 pm. On the way back from Puerto Viejo to San Jose at 7:30, 9, 11, 1, and 4 pm. I highly recommend booking your ticket from PV back to San Jose a day beforehand. The early buses sell out quickly.
This website was really helpful with planning times and finding out more information about traveling to Puerto Viejo.
Where to Stay in Puerto Viejo
The Airbnb that I rented for a week in Puerto Viejo was literally the most magical cabin I’ve ever stayed in. It was a dream jungle escape and I wish I could live there. I even joked with the Airbnb host about getting the blueprints from here so that I could replicate the cabin somewhere else.
If you’re looking for a little escape where you can self-cater, walk to everywhere in the town, and sleep in utter silence, I highly recommend staying at Casita Verde. If you love outdoor showers, being completely open to the elements, and staring up at the bright stars every night, you’ll love it here. If you don’t like nature all that much, I wouldn’t recommend staying here.
If you’re looking for a social hostel to meet other travelers and enjoy the nightlife, everyone recommends Rocking J’s. It’s right on the beach, but a bit of a walk from the center of town. You’ll definitely want to hire a bike or take a taxi to get from the bus to the hostel if you have a lot of luggage.
I almost booked this Airbnb place for our trip, but it got booked out before I was able to solidify the dates we were going. I highly recommend booking in advance. While you can find places once you get there, many of the nicer and quieter rentals get booked up quickly.
If you’ve never used Airbnb before, you can sign up with this link and get up to $40 off your first booking.
What to Do in Puerto Viejo
It’s the lack of doing that makes Puerto Viejo so magical. It’s the sort of place where you sit on the beach, swim in the ocean, lounge in a hammock, and then head out to a seafood restaurant. There are, however, a few activities to keep you busy if you’re looking for some fun.
Take a Yoga Class
Yoga is everywhere in Puerto Viejo. There are hostels that run classes and individual yoga centers where you can take classes, too. You can check out what yoga classes are on Yoga Finder or simply ask a local what their favorite place is.
See some Sloths
If you haven’t seen any sloths yet, head to the Jaguar Rescue Center. It’s an absolutely amazing place that dedicates iteself to helping native animals rehabilitate and get released back into the wild. Besides sloths, there are monkeys, turtles, snakes, pumas, and tons of different types of birds. You can volunteer, or simply give a small donation to help the center with the incredible work they’re doing.
Head to the National Park
Cahuita National Park is an easy day trip from Puerto Viejo. It’s about a half an hour on the local bus and walking about the park takes about two-three hours. There’s a really beautiful beach there and some great local seafood restaurants. Be sure to check the bus times on the way back so you don’t end up having to pay for an overpriced taxi.
Take a Chocolate Tour
Caribeans Coffee and Chocolate shop is a really cool little place where you can stop in to have a cup of coffee, buy a bag of freshly roasted beans, a bar of chocolate, or go on a chocolate tour to learn more about chocolate production in Costa Rica.
They actually grow the cacao on their premises, so the tour will not only show you how it’s made but where it’s grown and how it goes from bean to melt-in-your-mouth goodness.
Ride Bikes to Manzanillo
There are so many beaches in the Puerto Viejo area. The best thing to do to explore the different beaches is rent a bicycle and get pedaling. It’s about 13 miles from Puerto Viejo to the end of the road in Manzanillo, but there are tons of beaches in between there – Playa Cocles, Playa Chiquita, and Playa Punta Uva. Playa Cocles is a great place to go
Playa Cocles is a great place to go if you want to learn to surf – there are tons of people there offering lessons with boards for every level of surfer. I like Playa Punta Uva because it was nice and small and the water was really calm.
There are plenty of places to rent bikes around town. I never paid more than 4,000 Colones for a day. Some places do it for as little as 3,000.
Where to Eat in Puerto Viejo
I really loved the Caribbean flare in the food all over Puerto Viejo. Whether you’re looking for a decadent seafood meal or a plate of casado at a local soda, Puerto Viejo has a little bit of everything.
I’d read a lot about how vegetarian-friendly and organic-minded Puerto Viejo was before arriving. That’s sort of true and sort of not. If you want to have healthy, oil-free, vegan/vegetarian cooking while in Puerto Viejo, you’ll pay a lot for it. Even buying fresh produce in the grocery store was more expensive than anywhere else I’d been in Costa Rica.
This was a great place for both breakfast and lunch. It’s on Calle 215 and there is a big blue sign that says Soda Elizabeth. It only has about 6 or 7 tables, but the food is spectacular and the portion sizes are enormous. It’s also one of the cheapest spots for food. They make delicious Gallo Pinto and their pork casado was one of my favorites. The coffee is strong and served in a gigantic mug.
If you only eat out at one place in Puerto Viejo, it should be Ghetto Girl. There’s no menu, so you should have a little bit of an understanding of the local foods. They mostly have either rice and beans (literally called rice and beans there) or casado. Then you choose your meat – chicken, pork, beef, or fish. I went for the chicken and I kid you not it was the best meal I ate during the entire two weeks I was in Costa Rica.
They also make enormous fresh juices. Both the mango and the strawberry are life giving. Expect to pay about $5-$6 a head for a meal and drink. It doesn’t have opening hours, but is mostly open for breakfast and lunch during the later part of the week and on weekends.
Pescaderia y Marisqueria Mopri
The whole snapper, tuna fillets, coconut rice, shrimp, and ice cold beer brought me back to this restaurant three times over five days. It is that good. It’s open late and the staff are really friendly. It’s also relatively inexpensive for the quality and quantity that you get. A whole fish costs about $10 and is one of the most expensive things on the menu.
Where to Drink in Puerto Viejo
There is one really great craft beer bar in Puerto Viejo. It’s slightly outside of the town, less than five minutes by bike in the direction of Cahuita, and totally worth the trip.
The brewery is BriBri Springs and the brewer is actually a German guy – at least at the time I visited in July 2017. The beer selection is vast and there’s even a wheat free cider!
I opted for the sampler paddle so I could taste all of the different beers. As always, the IPA came out on top – it was fruity, hoppy, and yet still light enough to cool me down in that oppressive Puerto Viejo humidity.
For live music and a bar that seems to be heaving every night of the week, head to Hot Rocks. It’s on one of the main corners of town and is blasting music all day long, you can’t miss it.
Things to Know About Visiting Puerto Viejo
- The mosquitos don’t quit. Maybe it’s because I was there during the wet season, maybe I have delicious blood, or maybe they are just that bad for everyone, but I was literally eaten alive. I used bug spray from morning until night and still managed to get so many it looked like I had a rash on the back of my legs. Pack the strong stuff and travel with someone who has big, plump veins.
- Things Close Early-ish. Sometimes I would get carried away with working and sipping cans of Imperial at my cabin and wouldn’t go out to eat until 9:30 or 10 o’clock at night. Most sodas were closed by then and only a few restaurants were still serving food.
- Buses Aren’t Very Frequent. Not just the buses to Limon and San Jose, but the local buses to Cahuita and Manzanillo. Always check bus times at least a day before you want to take it and if it’s to San Jose – book the day before, especially during peak periods.
- Get Travel Insurance. Puerto Viejo has a small hospital and clinic in case of emergency, but the closest main hospital is in Limon. If something happens to you or your stuff, you want to have peace of mind that everything is covered. I always use World Nomads when I travel. They’re reasonably priced, have great coverage, and allow you to choose your plan based on where you’re traveling and what activities you’ll be taking part in. Get a quote for your trip here.
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