Aside from beautiful beaches and lush jungles, visitors to this unique Caribbean community should expect a unique cultural experience. The culture of Puerto Viejo is influenced by a mixture of Afro-Caribbean, Costa Rican, BriBri Native American, ex-pats, and Europeans! There is also a very diverse visitor sector with people coming for beautiful beaches and snorkeling, others for surfing, some for wildlife and others for the late night parties. This creates a colorful and vibrant community spirit which shines through in all directions.
Accommodations in this area are generally basic, but everything you would expect from a wild jungle-beach destination. The vast majority of hotels in Puerto Viejo and the beaches to the south consist of less than twenty rooms and nearly all are bungalow style. Don’t come to this area with high expectations for luxurious resorts! You will find more rooms with mosquito nets than air conditioners and only a handful offer modern amenities such as as televisions or hair dryers…
Wildlife observation is excellent near Puerto Viejo. Cahuita National Park is located just 15 minutes north of town and the Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge is only 20 minutes south of town. Of course, there is plenty of wildlife just off the main roads. One could easily spend the time walking down the road spotting wildlife in the trees such as monkeys, sloths, toucans and much more.
For those that are seeking the other type of wildlife, Puerto Viejo will not let you down! If you are looking for a party, you have found the right place. Puerto Viejo is the spot to be for nightlife in a country which generally turns the lights out at 10 pm. Of course, this goes hand in hand with the surfing and Rasta cultures.
The beaches around the Puerto Viejo area are simply gorgeous and quite diverse. Playa Negra, to the north of town, is good for both swimming and surfing but is better known for the dark brown and black sand. The beaches in front of the town are mostly yellow sand and protected by coral reefs. South of town, Playa Cocles and Playa Chiquita are well-known for their postcard perfect yellowish white sand beaches that are backed by shady palm trees.
Those that are visiting the area for snorkeling will not be disappointed. Nearby beaches such as Playa Cahuita, Punta Uva and Playa Manzanillo provide excellent snorkeling opportunities. Visitors should be aware that the best snorkeling is during the months of March, April, May, June, August, September and October. Other months are not quite as predictable.
Surfers come from all over for a shot at the world-famous Salsa Brava break which is located off the reef in front of Stanfords Restaurant Caribe. This is one of the best surf spots in Costa Rica and certainly el numero uno on the Caribbean side. The Salsa Brava is not for beginners though. If you wipe out here, you will likely not only lose your board but probably a few teeth as well to the reef!
Playa Cocles is a safer option in comparison to the Salsa Brava, though the waves are nearly as good. The beach has both left and right breaks. Conditions are best here in the morning before the winds pick up. Surfing in the Caribbean is best during the months of December through March and also June and July. The sea is at its calmest during the other months.
Planning a vacation to Puerto Viejo
When planning a vacation to Puerto Viejo, we recommend staying 3 -4 days. This will allow you sufficient time to enjoy the best attractions and beaches in the area without over-extending your stay. We do not recommend staying less than 3 days as it requires a significant drive to get there.
There are many small hotels in Puerto Viejo. For mid-range accommodations we recommend Shawandha Lodge, Korrigan Lodge, and Hotel Cariblue. There is only one luxury hotel in Puerto Viejo, Hotel Le Cameleon. For budget friendly accommodations, we recommend Azania Bungalows and La Costa de Papito.
While there are plenty of activities and tours in Puerto Viejo, we highly recommend a visit to Cahuita National Park or Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge. The Jaguar Rescue Center is a great stop for anybody that wants to get up close and personal with animals that are being rehabilitated.
You do not need a rental car to visit Puerto Viejo. There are plenty of taxis available. Many visitors rent bicycles to get around (though we do not necessarily recommend biking it).
Reasons to visit
Great surf on Playa Cocles
Good snorkeling at certain times of the year
Great combination of jungle and beach
There is a lot of wildlife
Unique cultural experience
Reasons NOT to visit
It requires a long drive to get there – no matter where you are coming from
There are no all inclusive or large resorts
Petty theft is a real issue (though the community is working hard on this)
It rains a lot
It is a hot and humid area
How to get there
From San Jose, take Rt. 32 all the way to Limon. In Limon, turn right on Rt. 36 and follow it all the way down the coast until you reach Puerto Viejo. Though this sounds like an easy drive, it is not. If you are driving, be sure to use a GPS and lower it out of sight as you drive through the city of Limon. You can contact us for private or shuttle transportation options as a safer alternative.
All in all, Puerto Viejo is one of the most unique beach destinations in Costa Rica! It’s not for everybody, but just right for many…
Puerto Viejo weather and packing list
The Southern Caribbean is a region of vast contrasts in weather. Temperatures remain the same nearly year round with average day time highs in the low 90s and night time lows in the upper 70s. Precipitation varies by month with the months of February, March, September and October being the driest.
Visitors should pack a bathing suit, towel, shorts, tee shirts, appropriate shoes, rain gear, sun block, and insect repellent.
Fun Fact: Puerto Viejo means Old Port in English. There is another Puerto Viejo in the Sarapiqui region which is often confused by tourists.