Puerto Viejo is a small Caribbean surf town on the east coast of Costa Rica. A place where tropical rainforests meet beautiful beaches, houses are decorated with colorful murals, reggae is playing up and down the streets, people are chilling in hammocks on lazy afternoons and ecstatically dancing during full moon nights. Where locally crafted art pieces and jewelry from all over the world are sold, where it’s ok to rise at sunrise to meditate as well as sleeping in until the afternoon after a long night of partying. Where heavy rain is pouring down just to clear up to the brightest sunny day. Where howler monkeys greet the early morning and sloths are hanging out in lush green trees.
A place where it doesn’t matter where you came from, what your religion is, what your profession is, it just matters that you ARE. It is the most diverse place I know, with all its up- and downsides, with all contrasts of life.
Puerto Viejo is one of my favorite places on earth. And here is why…
Top 5 things to do in Puerto Viejo
Rent a bike and cycle to Punta Uva
There are a lot of places where you can rent bikes from and they are around five dollars per day. Cycling around town is a pleasure itself but biking all the way to Punta Uva you come across stunning beaches, finding yourself surrounded by rainforest and you get to see small shops along the way like Mandala, where you can not only buy locally made art pieces but also delicious homemade chocolate pralinés. Once you are at Playa Grande I recommend walking all the way to its end where you will find a small path onto a hill that is overgrown by rainforest. It leads to a viewpoint on the tiny peninsula and ends at the beach on the other side. The further you walk along the beach, the fewer people there are. Blue water, sand, palm trees. As simple as that. Playa Grande is one of my all-time favorite beaches.
Have the best Vegan Ice Cream at Heladeria Ocho Nani
I don´t know what to say other than this is the BEST ice cream ever. No matter if you try passion fruit which will make your taste buds go wild or you decide to go to a vegan chocolate heaven. Don´t let the butcher shop sign fool you, ironically enough the vegan ice cream shop is right next to it! If you don´t make it there but still want ice cream, try the trits ice cream sandwich which you will find in the regular grocery store instead. It´s delicious!
Never tried the fruit of a cacao tree? No?! Go and taste it on a chocolate tour! You will learn about the whole process from harvesting the cacao beans to the production of a chocolate bar. Hiking through the jungle, ocean views and chocolate tasting included! Tours are for example offered by Caribeans Coffee and Chocolate.
Take a Surf Lesson
Whether you are a beginner or an experienced surfer, you will find your spot to surf in Puerto Viejo. For beginners, I recommend renting a board and taking a surf lesson in Playa Negra or Playa Cocles; being a good swimmer is vital though because the beaches are known for its strong riptides. If it is your first time ever, I would rather suggest starting on the Pacific coast.
And then, there is SALSA BRAVA. Known as the biggest break in all of Costa Rica, and one of the most challenging surf spots in the world, every day the best surfers line up to catch the wave of their life. A dream of every surfer but the break also takes its toll in broken boards and bones. Once again, Puerto Viejo is full of contrasts.
Take a Tour in the Jaguar Rescue Center
The Jaguar Rescue Center is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the area. You can book a tour for 20 dollars and you will see sloths, monkeys, anteaters, snakes and even wild cats. A must-see for animal and wildlife enthusiasts!
Best Places to eat in Puerto Viejo
Puerto Viejo offers a variety of restaurants, you can find everything from the typical dish Casado (a dish of meat or fish served with rice, black beans, plantains and salad) to Italian pasta as well as burgers and tacos. Vegan options are also available.
For breakfast or brunch, I highly recommend Bread & Chocolate and Café Rico. The nice ambiance and relaxed atmosphere of both places are perfect for enjoying the high-quality food they serve. If you are looking for a place to have lunch or dinner at, Stashu´s Con Fusion has the best service and as the name suggests, offers delicious fused meals à Caribbean, Indian and Costa-Rican style. For typical Costa-Rican food recommend and for the best tacos in town go to Tasty Waves Cantina.
I recommend strolling through the artsy town center and to have a look at the beautiful artworks and jewelry sold on the stands during weekends. On Saturdays, an organic food market takes place in the town center, where fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as cheese (something very expensive and rare in Costa Rica!) and organic chocolate, are sold. My favorite spots to dance and party are Lazy Mon at Stanford´s, a place which often features live music and fire shows, and Tasty Waves Cantina on Tasty Tuesdays when there is Lady´s night!
Safety and travel tips
– In Puerto Viejo bikes are the number one means of transport – just make sure you use a lock anywhere you leave it.
– Language skills: You’ll be fine with speaking English. It helps to connect with the locals though if you speak a little Spanish.
– Don´t walk by yourself late at night or early in the morning. You also shouldn’t bring any valuables with you.
– Use sunscreen, especially when biking! You might not feel the heat while cycling but it will show in natural white pants on red skin once you get off your bike!
– Beware of riptides, they can be very strong and drag you into the ocean. Stay safe and close to the shore!
– Bring mosquito repellent, you are in the tropical jungle! 😉