A trip to Costa Rica wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Caribbean side and the town of Puerto Viejo, well known for it surfing, stunning beaches and turquoise Caribbean waters. The Caribbean side of Costa Rica is vastly different than the Pacific Side (Punta Arenas; Nicoya Peninsula; Guanacaste; La Fortuna), you can feel the change in culture in the way people talk, the food that people eat (hello Cajun creole food!), and the music that pumps through the towns.
From San José there are two main ways to get to Puerto Viejo - the hub of the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. Both ways start in San José so you will first have to get to San José.
Direct bus from the capital city of San José to Puerto Viejo (4 hours):
- You will need to use the bus company Transaporte Mepe that leaves from Terminal Atlántico Norte in San José. There is some confusion around this since Puerto Viejo is in the South Atlantic and taxi drivers will try to scam you and take you to the wrong terminal, so that you have to pay them twice to then take you to the correct terminal (it happened to me!) so just make sure you say Transaporte Mepe in Terminal Atlántico Norte.
- Here buses leave every 2 hours and it’s a direct ride to Puerto Viejo with a stop at Cahuita National Park if you’d like to get off there.
- Seats do fill up and you do need to buy your tickets in advance - one day or even a few hours in advance should be fine.
- Schedule: 6am, 8am, 10am, 12pm, 2pm, 4pm, 6pm.
Connecting via Limon (3 hours):
If there’s no space on the direct bus, or the taxi driver takea you to the wrong station and you don’t want to pay to drive to the Mepe terminal, or you’d just like to check out the town of Limon - have no fear! The other way you can get to Puerto Viejo is by first going through Limon.
- You’ll need to go to the Terminal del Caribe. Here buses depart every hour to Limon and takes about 3 hours.
- Once in Limón you will need to transfer to the Mepe Terminal to get to Puerto Viejo. It is only a block away and very easy to get to.
- The trip from Limón to Puerto Viejo is about 1 hour.
- Schedule: Every hour starting at 5.30am to 6.30pm. Then there is also a 7pm bus and a final bus at 8pm.
Once in the town of Puerto Viejo, the most popular way to get around is by bicycle or walking.
- You can easily rent a bike from local vendors and the road between Puerto Viejo and Manzanillo is extremely popular with cyclists.
- There is a local bus that runs through cahuita- puerto viejo- Manzanillo every hour. There’s only one main road that runs through these towns, so just stand on the road and flag it down!
Puerto Viejo is a bustling beach town and hub for artisans and musicians with lots of Caribbean culture! Still, the biggest draw is definitely its beaches.
- Playa Negra is a popular black sand beach and relatively calm waters to allow for a little paddle.
Playa Punta Uva:
- If you aren’t so keen on black sand, head to Playa Punta Uva, a pristine beach with white sand, idyllic palm trees and beautiful turquoise waters.
- Playa Cocles is a popular surf spot and and an amazing long stretching beach perfect for a beach run!
Go Travel and Talk top tip: Always keep an eye on your belongings when on the beach and leave as many of your valuables as possible back at your accommodation.
OM at Cashew Hill is a beautiful yoga sanctuary and jungle lodge founded by yoga teacher, Avani Gilbert. Their yoga studio is a breezy covered outdoor platform offering a stunning ocean view of Puerto Viejo and the jungle beyond. OM at Cashew Hill offers a regular daily schedule of public yoga classes, along with wellness retreats, a full service spa for therapeutic body and energy work, an organic farm and vegetarian catering on-site, as well as yoga teacher training with the Caribe Yoga Academy: the Caribbean side's first and original Yoga Alliance approved program. For the greatest selection in yoga class times, styles and training with professional and licensed teachers check them out!
Referred locally as "Manzanillo National Park" and located close to the Panama border, this wildlife refuge protects some of the regions most endangered animals and plants. It is also one of the only free national parks in all of Central America and definitely worth a visit. Make a day trip out of it and bike there! You can rent a bike easily all over Puerto Viejo for $7/day and then you can stop for Caribbean style street food on the way back from Manzanillo, the little village within the refuge. The park sits at the end of the main road. Once you arrive, you will cross a little bridge into a lush, green jungle. There are many little paths to explore that will take you to little beach coves, or travel inland and enjoy the amazing jungle fauna. Check out the reviews on tripadvisor for more info.
Cahuita is a beautiful donation-based National Park just north of Puerto Viejo. It is a little bit bigger than Manzanillo offers many more hiking trails, amazing coral reef snorkeling, and a huge white sand beach. You can easily hop on the local bus from any part of the main road in Puerto Viejo to go directly to the park. The bus leaves every hour.
If you visit Puerto Viejo, you can't miss out on The Lazy Mon Bar and Restaurant.
Lazy Mon’s Sunday night open jam is a not-to-miss in Puerto Viejo! It brings together so many local and traveling musicians and creates all around happy vibes, not to mention a great view and friendly staff!
Aside from Sunday open jam night, the Lazy Mon has great food and live music most nights. Definitely do not miss this place on your Puerto Viejo itinerary!
You can also find them on Instagram: @thelazymon
Lazy Mon Loft is a super cozy hostel situated in the centre of Puerto Viejo above the Lazy Mon bar, right along the beachfront. It gives you a real taste of the Caribbean beach life style. With unbeatable views of the ocean from their balcony, where you will hear nightly live music while watching the sun set. I LOVED this hostel and spent most of my nights listening to their live music with other hostel goers.
For a bed in their 8 bed economic dorm, expect to pay around $10 (€9) a night and it is well worth it. The Lazy Mon loft doesn't just offer beds for the night, it offers a true Puerto Viejo experience.
Getting there: The Lazy Mon Loft is situated at Standford's, close to the surf break, "Salsa Brava" ~ if you are asking for directions ask for "Lazy Loft". They are on the edge of town and if you ask for the Lazy Mon, people will be sure to point you in the right direction
The Lion Fish Hostel is another hostel with good vibes that is really popular with backpackers. Again centrally located, the hostel is 100 meters from the bus station in Puerto Viejo. The staff are super friendly and knowledgeable and the communal garden space is ideal for grabbing a quick drink.
Lion Fish Hostel offers private rooms and small dormitories (3-5 beds). Expect to pay around $11 (€7) for a bed in a basic mix bed dormitory.
THIS IS THE BEST STREET FOOD IN ALL OF COSTA RICA.
Located just after Cocles Beach on the way to Manzanillo National Park, you can't miss the yellow and orange food truck
But, if you are in any doubt, I am inserting a picture so you can find it more easily ~ seriously ~ GO HERE!
If you have some time on your hands, volunteer with the Jaguar Rescue Centre. An incredible foundation that cares for and rehabilitates ill, injured or orphaned animals with a focus on birds, reptiles and small primates.
Please note that I did not personally volunteer here and Go Travel and Talk is usually weary of rescue centers and sanctuaries, especially for exotic or endangered animals, because they often can be unethical in a number of ways. However, Jaguar Rescue Centre follows a strict code of ethics and after connecting with other ethical travel bloggers who have volunteered here and hearing first hand their positive reviews, Go Travel and Talk feels comfortable recommending this center.
A minimum of 4 weeks is required. Check out their website for more details.
Follow them on Instagram and support their cause: @jaguarrescuecentercr.