Welcome to Pura Vida!
Puerto Viejo; or Old Port, as it mundanely translates into English, is a small slice of Caribbean heaven on this earth. I never knew, but when I used to picture paradise, I was actually picturing Punta Uva beach. The sea was a clear, glorious turquoise, the sand was an indulgent white; the sort you only see in beautiful well photoshopped pictures, and to add to the beauty of these elements alone, the beach was lined with palm trees, which culminated in a small craggy peninsula of rock covered in forest. A small hike through the forest, out onto the craggy outcrop of rock revealed a sudden drop off; the breathtaking endless view of the sea and sky was broken only by the sea spray, which broke and rose up in a manner reminiscent of the Little Mermaid, in that iconic scene where she sings her heart out, lying on a rock with the sea crashing wildly behind her. I can literally feel my heart strings tugging to return.
Even better than the scenery were the little hidden delights within the forest. Howler monkeys lethargically draped themselves across tree branches in the heat of the day, and roared with lusty growls in the cool of the late afternoon. Sloths snoozed, and if you were a very observant sloth spotter, you would just be able to see their little hairy bottoms only just visible drooping from the branches. The huge variety of birds was astounding; vultures were a common sight, picking through the rubbish bags as if they were a tasty carcass or just chilling out and observing the passersby from the branches of a tree. Not for the fainthearted, spiders as big as a human fist sat in their webs which were woven through the trees, spindly legs splayed out in a manner more threatening than whorish, as they sat waiting for a tasty morsel to land unsuspectingly in their web.
I stayed at a hostel called Kaya’s Place; my roommate and I had a tree stump and vibrant graffiti in our little room, others had bunk beds which appeared to be growing out of the wooden walls; and although not in the centre of town; a far bigger perk was that the hostel was basically on the beach. We arrived at night, so the next morning was a treat for the eyes and the stomach as we ate our traditional Pinto Gallo breakfast whilst looking through a parting in the thin line of Palm Trees, at the pure brilliant turquoise sea, the clear blue sky, and the black sand glinting in the sun. At night, the ten minute walk back from town to Kaya’s Place usually saw giant fierce looking beach crabs waking up and scuttling across the road. Sadly, a lot of squashed crabs were also found – clearly waving one giant claw at motor vehicles was not a valid safety method when crossing the road.
We were able to have bonfires on the beach to the front of the hostel. This was wildly romantic, and even more so due to the fact that this section of beach was utterly deserted other than myself and my friends. The Palm Trees shielded us from the road and the rest of civilisation, and on the beach, in the firelight, it was easy to imagine yourself on a deserted island, wanting for nothing, and having the absolute time of your life. The only mild interference to this idyllic scenario, was that the black sand would cling to you; it was like metal towards a magnet, both persons and clothes required a shower after spending any longer than ten minutes in the sand. So, if this is a source of potential botheration for you, the only remedy clearly would be to never get up and simply become one with the sand.
The town itself was a chilled, hippie surf hub of relaxed activity. If you weren’t into reggae before your trip here, the recurring reggae rendition of Adele’s ‘Hello’ which was played in every bar would certainly make you want to explore the genre further. Myself and my travel buddies became so intoxicated with the vibes the town gave off, that we came away with colourful hair braids. They were woven into our hair by a cheerful tica, in a ramshackle hut next to the beach; thus making us feel like we had integrated ourselves into this delicious place and it’s chilled lifestyle. Instead, we probably achieved wannabe rasta white girl status. Luckily, we were so high on life that we were immune to anything other than our intoxication with Puerto Viejo.
To get around from place to place, and beach to beach in an eco friendly and a beach body friendly manner, you could rent bikes from a few places in town. The bikes of Puerto Viejo were very different to any I have ever used before, there were no brakes upon first inspection; however, as you pushed the pedals to start cycling you realised that back-pedalling was the way to activate them. This took a lot of getting used to,and I found out midway through shouting, ‘WHEEEEEE!’ going down a hill, and seeing an oncoming lorry that they may not be the most effective brakes ever! Superb fun was had by all though, and the bike seats were incredibly squishy. This made the unpredictable ride anything but uncomfortable.
For any ladies that enjoy a good evening tipple, you would be pleased to know that each night there is a ‘Ladies Night’. One bar in the town per night will provide free drinks for females, whilst the poor males are either charged full price, or snuck free drinks from their lady friends who have bamboozled the bar staff. The bar ‘Mangoes’ provides giant Jenga, a DJ and a beerpong table to mix it up for their patrons; they are also located on the beach front and should the confines of the club become too sweaty and intense, the sound of waves gently lapping at the beach makes a nice alternative to the loud music inside, and will bring you immediately back to the realisation that you are still in paradise.
There were an abundance of food places to eat, specifically Flip Flop which was located centrally in the town. The food was epic and the portions were ginormous. A delicious complimentary watermelon shot was handed out after dinner by the owner, a lovely German lady. She was so lovely that when a friend of mine realised he only had card to pay (the restaurant only takes cash) she let him owe her for dinner. Caribbean food was a favourite here, which is no surprise given that Puerto Viejo is situated on the Caribbean coast. I had my first taste of Patacones – smashed and fried Plantain. Them, combined with meat in Caribbean sauce and the obligatory beans and rice was just the best dinner. Lidia’s Place, was another good restaurant located towards the back end of town, this family run restaurant had a delectable chilli sauce which was exactly the right amount of heat and flavour to keep you going back for more. If the rest of Puerto Viejo wasn’t enough to tempt you back, the tingling in your tastebuds will certainly be enough to make your stomach want to return to Costa Rica!
Puerto Viejo is stiff competition for anywhere else that claims to be THE BEST PLACE EVER! I for one, certainly can’t wait to go back.