Puerto Viejo – natural wonders and relaxed Caribbean vibes
What makes Puerto Viejo so popular especially among younger people is its relaxed atmosphere and – of course – surfing and the beaches. However, if you’re not a surfer or the biggest fan of reggae music, Puerto Viejo still has a lot to offer. For me, this little town was a perfect spot to enjoy the amazing nature and wildlife of Costa Rica in nearby destinations. I wasn’t too amazed by the beaches, though, so wouldn’t recommend this place if you’re only seeking beautiful beaches.
If you ever visit Costa Rica I would definitely recommend this place if you’re either interested in seeing exceptional wildlife, trying surfing or just having a relaxed holiday including some partying. Everything here is fully Pura Vida. No other words needed.
To find some interesting places to see, you can buy trips from any tour agency in town. However, we’re travelling on a budget so that’s why we decided to make the day tours near Puerto Viejo on ourselves. You can find more info of the top day tours we made below. It’s easy and a lot cheaper to do these tours on your own!
Cahuita National Park
Cahuita is a tiny village 16 km from Puerto Viejo. The village itself doesn’t have a lot to offer but the best part here is the national park. To reach Cahuita you can either take a bus from Puerto Viejo or rent a bike. We decided to take a bus because the road between Puerto Viejo and Cahuita is the main road between Manzanillo and Puerto Limon and that’s why the traffic could be a serious problem and there is not too much to see along the way. Additionally, the bus only costs about $1,50 one-way so it’s also a cheaper option than renting a bike.
There are 2 different entrances to the Cahuita national park. The other one is inside the village of Cahuita and the other one about 10 km before Cahuita. Using the Cahuita village entrance is a lot easier if you arrive by bus (5min walk from the bus station) and cheaper as well. The entrance fee in the village is based on donations so you can basically give whatever you want; if you use the other entrance, the cost is $10.
The park itself has a good approximately 8 km long trail. The only downside is that if you want to catch the bus back to Puerto Viejo from Cahuita or you don’t want to walk the whole trail until the end you have to come back the same way. For us it wasn’t a problem, though. You can see a lot of animals along the way so there is always something to look for. The forest itself skirts sandy beaches so it is possible to swim in different beaches along the way as well.
We walked the trail about 5 km and came back. Although the trail is really easy to access and attracts a lot of visitors, it wasn’t a problem at all. We saw many different animals along the way: a yellow viper, a white-faced monkey, small lizards, big spiders, raccoons, squirrels, coatis, butterflies and more and we really enjoyed our time there. So if you want to do some easy hike in a jungle and see amazing Costa Rican wildlife, this is your place!
Manzanillo by bike
This is a tour that is one of the most popular when you come to Puerto Viejo. Just rent a bike and pedal your way out to Manzanillo! Manzanillo is located 13 km from Puerto Viejo and the route slips past some beach villages, a Cacao farm and Jaguar Rescue Center (the best part of this day tour, see more details below!). Before this trip I read that the highlights of this route would be nice beaches along the way as well as wildlife spotting. After making this trip, I wasn’t too convinced, though. We didn’t see any wildlife during this trip. Additionally, the beaches are not right next to the road so you have to find your way to different beaches yourself – and there are no signs so you just have to try out some smaller paths/roads on the side of the main road. We tried one smaller road close to Punta Uva and found a pretty nice and relaxed beach from there. Unfortunately it was raining most of the day so we didn’t want to stay at this beach for too long. In Manzanillo the beach wasn’t nice at all: it was a black sand beach with a lot of garbage around. The town of Manzanillo didn’t had too much to see except this dirty beach so we didn’t stop by for too long.
The best part of this day trip for us was definitely the visit at Jaguar Rescue Center. More information about the center below.
Jaguar Rescue Center
Visiting this center was an amazing experience! Jaguar Rescue Center is located near Playa Chiquita, only 4km from Puerto Viejo (Manzanillo road). Although the name of the center is “jaguar” this center focuses nowadays mostly on sloths and monkeys. However, you can see many other species here as well. The center rehabilitates rescued, injured and orphaned animals and the main focus is reintroductioning these animals into the wild as soon as possible. Unfortunately this is not always possible so there are also many permanent animal residents at the center.
We took a tour which costs $20 pp. The center has these 1,5-hour tours twice a day (9.30am and 11.30am). During this tour we saw almost all the animals living in the center and we heard all the stories behind these individual animals from our guide. The stories were extremely touching and interesting. The highlight of this tour were the baby sloths and monkeys; they were so adorable and you can easily see that they are in good hands. All the people working at the center seem to be extremely dedicated to these animals so it was so awesome to see it. Don’t miss the opportunity to visit here if you’re around!