things to do in puerto viejo

The Best Things to do in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

Puerto Viejo de Talamanca is located on the turquoise Caribbean Sea in Costa Rica  Puerto Viejo is a laid-back beach town with a distinctly Caribbean vibe. Puerto Viejo has a unique culture that can really only be found in this part of Costa Rica, with residents of both Afro-Caribbean and indigenous descent creating this culture.  Once upon a time, only die-hard surfers and environmentalists ventured to the rugged, undeveloped Caribbean coast. Today, a well-kept paved road connects San Jose, the capital, to these Southern Caribbean towns, which are only a few hours away, providing easy access to paradise. Now is the time to discover Costa Rica’s less-touristy side.  So come on in and discover the best things to do in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica!

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Thousands of banana trees cover the horizon as the road emerges from the cloud forests and descends to sea level. The warm, moist air is perfumed by wildflowers and tropical fruit that spill onto the pavement. Howler monkeys howl, and reggae music mingles with the jungle’s layered symphony. The coast appears, a never-ending curve of golden sand that bleeds into sparkling black powder and is kissed by the turquoise sea.  This is glorious.  This is Puerto Viejo and this is why you should come here!

The Best Things To Do in Puerto Viejo

The small downtown area, which is home to many of the area’s restaurants, bars, and shops, is conveniently located near the beach.  There are marvelous beaches, a stunning national park, and wildlife sanctuaries, but I’m getting ahead of myself.  Here are the top things to do in Puerto Viejo.

How long to stay in Puerto Viejo

We chose to stay in Puerto Viejo for 3 days, it’s a good enough amount of time to get to Cahuita National Park, visit the Jaguar Sanctuary and take a bike ride around the area and see the other attractions. We then headed out to Tortuguero via Limon and the Tortuguero Canals.

Where to Stay in Puerto Viejo

Accommodation in Puerto Viejo ranges from beachfront hotels and B&B’s to some glorious escapes into the rainforest. Here are our picks for the best places to stay in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica.

Perla Negra is right on the beachfront and provides a stunning outdoor swimming pool, garden, and BBQ. There are terraces and you are literally steps from the beach. The location is fabulous and close to restaurants and cafes too. Check rates and availability of this beachfront hotel in Puerto Viejo.

The Black Bamboo B&B in Puerto Viejo is a great option, it’s less than a mile to the beach and has an outdoor swimming pool, a garden and a shared kitchen. There are balconies and a washing machine too. Rooms have A/C and are en suite. Check rates here.

The Hotel Sunshine Caribe is our top budget pick in Puerto Viejo – it’s just over half a mile to Cocles Beach and has a garden you’ll also have access to a balcony and rooms have A/C. It’s friendly, clean, and has everything you need. Rooms are en suite. Book a room at the Hotel Sunshine Caribe here.

Map of things to do in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

map of things to do in puerto viejo costa rica

You can also view our Puerto Viejo things to do map here.

Breakfast Overlooking the Ocean at One of the Beachside Cafes in Puerto Viejo

Start your day with a healthy breakfast before heading to the beautiful beaches near Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. Honestly, you should start your day overlooking the ocean.  It’s magnificent.  And don’t forget to refuel with some good coffee or other chocolate-based beverages. We found some great breakfast restaurants and cafes in Puerto Viejo to help you out.

Port Vell. Port Vell is a small cafe that serves delicious pancakes and smoothies. There isn’t much in the way of decor or view, but the food and drink are excellent. While sipping your delicious mango smoothie and devouring a hearty breakfast, take in the view of the deserted streets.

DreadNut Coffee. This teeny-tiny eatery is conveniently located near the town of Puerto Viejo’s main bus stop. The space is quite small, with only one sit-down table and a few stools overlooking the sit-out balcony from the railing. But, hey, size isn’t always a factor. Because DreadNut Coffee serves delicious coffee and hot chocolate made from scratch. Order one to go with your Dreadnut special omelet and sit back and watch the locals (and tourists) go about their business while gazing out at the Caribbean Sea in the distance.

CariBeans. This was my favorite spot for breakfast.  All of Puerto Viejo revolves around this cafe. With relaxed ambiance, rustic décor, delectable coffee and chocolate, guided tours, and the allure of global spiritual living CariBeans is just before the beach at Cocles. If you want to learn more about how chocolate is made, take their Chocolate Tour, which has been highly recommended by other travelers.

Puerto Viejo Costa Rica cafe on the beach

Visit Cahuita National Park from Puerto Viejo

Cahuita National Park is a popular stop for many travelers an hour north of Puerto Viejo on the southern Caribbean coast, and it’s nowhere near as crowded as other spots along the coast. The majority of visitors go to the national park and don’t stop in the town of the same name. The town is small (population under 10,000) and mostly consists of small restaurants and guesthouses, rather than the tour shops and bars found in Puerto Viejo.

The park is amazing.

With a land area of over 2,600 acres and a marine area of 55,000 acres, it’s no surprise that the park is home to a diverse range of nature and wildlife. The park’s reefs (which span about 4km) have over 35 different types of coral and around 135 different types of fish, which you can see if you go snorkeling in the area. Sea turtles lay their eggs on the beaches.

Puerto Viejo Costa Rica cahuita National Park

It’s truly a national park dream come true. Cahuita National Park is one of Costa Rica’s best national parks, thanks to its beautiful white sand beaches, lush jungle, and diverse wildlife. It’s not far from Puerto Viejo, making it one of the Caribbean’s must-see destinations.  Yeah.  And it’s free to enter.   The park was established in 1970 and was designated as a national park in 1978. It is still Costa Rica’s ONLY national park that does not charge admission (although donations are welcome).

Rent a Bike and Explore the Area around Puerto Viejo – Head to Manzanillo

One of the best ways to see the area around PuertoViejois from the handlebars of a bike as you ride from Puerto Viejo to Playa Manzanillo.  Bike rentals start at around US$6 per day in this area.  It’s an easy ride down to Manzanillo, and while we didn’t video our ride, these folks did.  Here’s what it’s like

You’ll pass through the jungle and several small hotels/hostels on your way to Cocles Beach after leaving downtown Puerto Viejo. This beach is popular with locals and is known for surfing, but if you head into the water please be aware of rip currents.

The Jaguar Rescue Center will be on your right shortly. You can take a tour of the facility and help them rehabilitate and release injured animals that are brought in every day. This is an incredible place to visit – most especially if you want to see sloths!  Every cent you pay and donate goes to supporting their efforts. 

Along the road, once you arrive in Manzanillo, you’ll find a few restaurants with beach views, including the well-known Salsa Brava surf break.

Visit the Jaguar Rescue Sanctuary from Puerto Viejo

The Jaguar Rescue Center is a must-see for animal lovers and those interested in learning more about Costa Rica’s wildlife. Since 2008, they’ve been rescuing and rehabilitating animals in Puerto Viejo, and they’ve been working hard to help the injured animals.

Puerto Viejo Costa Rica sloths

You’ll learn more about the center’s mission and philosophy by taking a tour. Open tours are held Monday through Saturday at 9:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. at the Jaguar Rescue Center. It takes about two hours, and the cost of the rescue center is US$22 per person. Children under the age of ten are admitted for free. You must arrive 15 minutes before the start of the tour to pay and check in.  When we went, there were only about 20 on our tour, and the tours are divided by language (French, Dutch, and German available by request).

Puerto Viejo Costa Rica jaguar research centre

If you want to spend more time with the animals without being in a large group, the center also offers private tours, which I recommend. The private tour costs $60 per person and requires a minimum of two people to be booked in advance. At their second location, La Ceiba, they also offer night tours. This is where they release rehabilitated animals into the Punta Uva rain forests near the Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge.  If you want to volunteer your time to help injured animals then you can help out at the center. You must apply and be able to commit to a four-week commitment.

Here’s more on the Jaguar Research Centre and what you can expect.

Visit Manzanillo National Park

The Refugio Nacional Gandoca-Manzanillo, which stretches from Manzanillo to the Sixaola River on the Panamanian border, is located along the southern Caribbean coast’s breathtaking landscape in the province of Limon.  It’s about 4 hours from San Jose’s capital and offers a variety of jungle bungalows and seaside accommodations to help you forget about your to-do lists and get back into the flow of nature. Manzanillo, Punta Uva, and Punta Mona are just a few of the small towns that surround the reserve.  It’s an easy trip from Puerto Viejo.

The Manzanillo refuge covers just over 5,000 hectares and protects nearly 70% of the southern Caribbean coast and is a beautiful combination of several different ecosystems and environments. You’ll find jungle wetland and lowland rainforests, mangrove swamps, reefs, flooded forests and lagoons, oceanfront, and sand beaches.

This is an exciting and rich location for wildlife and exploration of Costa Rica’s diverse landscapes, with such a wide variety and vast land of ecological habitats. This makes the Refugio Nacional Gandoca-Manzanillo a must-see on your itinerary, as well as one of the many reasons to visit the Caribbean Coast.

If you’re a hiking fan and want to explore more of Costa Rica’s National Reserves, then head to Monteverde, its amazing. Our full guide to Monteverde is here.

Explore the Beaches Around Puerto Viejo

Did you know that the Caribbean side of Costa Rica has some of the best beaches? Many tourists bypass Puerto Viejo in Costa Rica in favor of visiting Jaco (find out the best thing to do in Jaco here) or the Nicoya Peninsula. Big mistake; Puerto Viejo has some of Costa Rica’s best beaches.  Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast is known for its laid-back reggae vibes, salsa dancing, and beautiful beaches. The beaches in this area are without a doubt some of the most stunning I’ve ever seen. Soft sand, salty waves, and tropical jungle vibes are all present. Allow me to demonstrate what you’re missing out on! Here are some of the beaches you might want to check out:

Puerto Viejo Costa Rica beaches

Playa Chiquita

Playa Chiquita is one of my favorite beaches because it has numerous small trails that lead to secluded beach spots. Though the currents and coral make many of the secluded spots unsuitable for swimming, they are still beautiful to look at and experience. The trail follows the beach closely, providing a unique combination of jungle and beach. Look up to see if any monkeys are jumping from one tree to the next.  Swimming is also possible in other parts of Playa Chiquita. The currents can be strong in some areas, but it’s a beautiful and peaceful beach overall.

Playa Cocles

Playa Cocles is one of the most popular beaches and hangout spots for locals and tourists alike. Playa Cocles, just outside of Puerto Viejo’s main town, attracts surfers, volleyball players, and slackliners. The beach is large, with both sunny and shady areas for those who prefer to avoid the hot sun of Puerto Viejo.  A small trail leads up to a cliff at the end of Playa Cocles, heading towards Puerto Viejo, for a fantastic view of the beach and Cocle’s tiny island.

Playa Punta Uva

Because of the surrounding coral and interesting fish, Punta Uva is an excellent spot for snorkeling and water activities. Bring your own snorkeling gear or rent it from one of the shops on the beach to enjoy the sea at Punta Uva. If you have free time during the week, it’s best to visit Punta Uva during the weekdays because it’s less crowded.

Chino Beach

Playa Chino is a popular beach in Puerto Viejo that is surrounded by bars, restaurants, and shops. It’s a nice little beach with a small shore for a quick swim without having to leave town. There are nice views of the town, and you can jump into the water from the boats for added fun.

Ready for the last one?

Playa Grande

It is, as the name implies, a large beach. Playa Grande, on the other hand, is much more. It’s undoubtedly one of Puerto Viejo’s most beautiful beaches. The water is clear and inviting, the sand is bright and soft, and the jungle looms in the distance.  Come here to enjoy some nice waves at Playa Grande, which is also a popular surfing spot.

Eat the Food Specialties from the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica

When it comes to finding their paradise in Costa Rica, most visitors focus solely on the west coast. And that’s such a pity because there are many delights to be found on the country’s eastern shores as well. The pristine environment, brilliant waves, and a small number of visitors are just a few of the reasons why a trip to the underappreciated ‘other side’ is worthwhile.

One of the great options you have here in Puerto Viejo is to take a cooking class and then you’ll really get to learn about the Caribbean flavor of Costa Rican food here. This option using Eatwith actually gets to cook with locals, it’s a great experience here and you’ll learn all about chocolate and how it’s used here.

With a kitchen as wild and spectacular as its surroundings, finishing your day with some traditional, local dishes is a must if you want to get the full Caribbean experience. The region is a cultural melting pot, and their ‘coconut’ kitchen exemplifies that.  Here are just some of the best things to eat in Caribbean Costa Rica (there’s more on Costa Rican food here)

Rondón is a Caribbean stew that has been passed down through generations. Fresh seafood, coconut milk, tubers like sweet potato, plantains, peppers, and other vegetables are all used in this delicious and hearty stew. The soup is cooked slowly to ensure that all of the flavors are fully integrated. A bowl of this stew will give you all the energy you need to get back out on the water and surf, snorkel, or hike through the rainforest.

Caribbean Rice and beans are two staples found throughout the country, but Caribbean rice and beans are quite different. Red kidney beans are more popular on this side of the country than black beans. The dish includes Panamanian peppers, curry powder, thyme, garlic, red onion, red bell pepper, sugar, soy sauce, salt, pepper, and coconut oil, as well as rice made with coconut milk. Imagine the aroma wafting through the air while this traditional dish is being prepared!

Patis is a type of local snack that is similar to an empanada, meat pie, or turnover. Typically stuffed with beef or chicken and infused with turmeric, the flaky and savory pats are served. It’s not uncommon to see street vendors selling various varieties of this local favorite, as well as bakeries and soda fountains all along the coast.

The ultimate salsa to serve with seafood dishes is Salsa Caribena. Coconut milk, tomatoes, butter, sugar, pepper, onions, chili peppers, and thyme are used to make this regional salsa. This salsa will be available almost everywhere along the Caribbean coast. Jamaican jerk is the most popular marinade for fish, chicken, beef, pork, and vegetables. This spicy rub will give your meal a lot of heat and flavor.

Pan Bon is a dense, sweet bread-like cake made with vanilla, honey, sugar, coconut, dried fruit, and walnuts. You can even find chocolate-covered pan bon on occasion. Every family has its own secret ingredients, as with many of the local dishes. This delicious bread pairs perfectly with a cup of hot Caribbean coffee in the morning.

Agua de Sapo, or “water of toad,” is a traditional beverage that is both refreshing and energizing. It’s basically a brown sugar lemonade with a lot of ginger. This drink is absolutely divine on a hot Caribbean day.

Take Surfing Lessons in Puerto Viejo

Many Costa Ricans consider Puerto Viejo to be one of their favorite vacation spots because of the sun, surf, and reggae. Something about the Caribbean relaxes you and makes you feel at ease. The people are extremely friendly, and the food is delicious. You’ll also find a variety of surf spots for all skill levels, and if you’re lucky, you might be able to surf all day.

Surfing in Puerto Viejo is unlike surfing in any other Costa Rican beach town. In fact, most surfers who travel to Costa Rica for a surf trip are unaware of this beach. The reason for this is that the majority of the country’s surf spots are on the Pacific coast, whereas Puerto Viejo is on the Caribbean facing the Atlantic Ocean.

You can explore Puerto Viejo’s surf scene as part of a surf camp if you are a beginner or even brand new to surfing. It makes little difference which of the camps you choose; the concept remains the same. They pick you up from the airport and take you to the hotel, where you will meet people who are just like you. You will be provided with lodging, breakfast, and daily surf lessons, as well as unlimited access to surfboards to practice your new skills.  The best surf camp in Puerto Viejo is called “Surf the Jungle”, you can find more info at surfthejunglecostarica.com

Surfing in Puerto Viejo

Salsa Brava, one of the world’s most famous surf breaks, is located on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast. Surfers from all over the world travel to Costa Rica solely for the purpose of surfing.  The dry season, from November to April, is said to be the best for Salsa Brava. Due to the shallow surf, it is also said to be a challenging surf break, even for experienced surfers.  Instead, try Playa Cocles if you’re a beginner or less experienced surfer. Salsa Brava is only a 10-minute walk away.

Go Snorkelling in Puerto Viejo

Some of the beaches south of Puerto Viejo can be spectacular for snorkeling when the conditions are right. You can snorkel right off the beach at Punta Uva Arrecife (Grape Point Reef). Further south, Manzanillo has a beautiful shallow reef for snorkeling and diving. There are a few places in town that rent snorkeling equipment, but bringing your own is the best option.

Cahuita, a small town 15 minutes north of Puerto Viejo, is where most snorkeling tours with a guide depart. A large coral reef can be found in Cahuita National Park, which can be reached by boat. The reef is home to 35 different coral species and over 120 different fish. You’ll need a guide to visit because it’s part of the national park’s marine section.  The cost of a 6-hour guided tour with transportation from Puerto Viejo is around $60 per person.

Head to Kekoldi Indigenous Reserve to See Endangered Iguanas

This reserve isn’t far from Puerto Viejo and is where you’ll find the Bribri people and the green iguana.  It’s pretty far off the beaten track for most foreign visitors but it’s well worth a visit.  The Green Iguana was an endangered species a few years ago, and the indigenous people, the Bribri elected to save it by breeding it in captivity.  The Bribri are repopulating the forest with this endangered species so that when the iguanas have reached their optimal size, they are released into nature. The iguana is also part of the population’s diet.  Heading this way is an excellent way to understand more about the environment and ecosystem of the area – and you can come here as part of an organized trip, where you’ll also learn about the indigenous culture here, their philosophy, and beliefs. It’s also possible to learn about medicinal plants on the property, because one of the project’s founders, Juanita, is the daughter of a shaman and knows a lot about how to use plants medicinally. You can also help the family by purchasing souvenirs.

Relax with a Beer at the Beachside Bars in Puerto Viejo

Puerto Viejo and the surrounding area have a diverse international restaurant scene with something to suit everyone’s taste. Take a look at some of our picks to see what’s available.

Salsa Brava, Puerto Viejo

This popular spot, which specializes in tacos, Caribbean bowls, and sweet plantain fries, is the ideal end-of-day cocktail stop – during happy hour, from 4 pm to 6 pm, you can get two-for-one mojitos to enjoy while watching the sunset over the Salsa Brava surf break. On Fridays and Sundays, the bar hosts popular reggae nights with DJs. Cocktails start at $5.

Lazy Mon, Puerto Viejo

The most dependable spot for live music in Puerto Viejo, run by brothers Khalil and Abasi and their friend Rocky, draws large crowds, plays reggae, and serves two-for-one cocktails (4 pm to 7 pm); there’s even a ‘crappy hour’ on occasion (10 pm to midnight). Jamakin’ Me Crzy is a powerful cocktail made with vanilla vodka, orange liquor, mango, and coconut cream.

Johnny’s Place, Puerto Viejo

The restaurant closed for a short time before reopening under new ownership as a high-end attempt to sell ceviche, salads, mixed rice, and grilled fish (meals range from $5 to US$18). There is a bar that serves upscale cocktails. On Wednesdays, there are still DJs, dancing, and the occasional revelry: it’s an ex-pat must-stop.

The Point Sports Bar and Grill, Puerto Viejo

The Point is a filthy and glorious dive bar with video games and a few TVs showing sports from all over the world. Just keep an eye out for the pirate flag. In late 2019, the new owner’s intentions were unclear; predictions included a cockfighting ring or a brothel.  You’ll find a lot of ex-pats congregate at Tasty Waves, a less gritty option, for American football and other sporting events.

How to Get to Puerto Viejo

Puerto Viejo isn’t difficult to get to.  You can head to Puerto Viejo from San Jose, or from Limon.

Buses to Puerto Viejo

Buses run frequently between Limon and Puerto Viejo, with stops at Hone Creek, Bri Bri, and Sixaola along the way. The bus service between Puerto Viejo and Manzanillo, which is useful for getting to Playa Chiquita and Punta Uva, is somewhat less frequent.  Local bus company Transportes MEPE operates local buses on the Caribbean Coast in addition to the express bus from San José to Puerto Viejo.

You can book buses (and shuttles) to Puerto Viejo here

Here’s how to get from San Jose to Puerto Viejo

Here’s how to go from La Fortuna to Puerto Viejo

Here’s how to go from Tortuguero to Puerto Viejo

Here’s how to go from Monteverde to Puerto Viejo

In Costa Rica, use bookaway for private and shared shuttles – and to check bus schedules and prebook where possible – you can see all the routes and schedules, and prices for Costa Rica buses here.

The route that runs between Limon and Manzanillo via Puerto Viejo and towns along the beach road, as well as the routes from Limon to Puerto Viejo and Limon to Sixaola, are the main routes of interest for visitors (the Panama border).

Rent a Car and Drive to Puerto Viejo

The community of Puerto Viejo is located in the Talamanca canton, on the coast of the Caribbean Sea, 59 kilometers south of Limón and 17 kilometers north of Cahuita, on the road that connects Limón and the border community of Sixaola.  The road here is easy to follow and renting a car in Costa Rica is easy. 

If you need to rent a car in Costa Rica we recommend Discover Cars for car hire.  You can search, compare and save up to 70%, with no hidden fees and free cancellation, it’s the perfect option! Get a price for a rental car in Costa Rica here.

Flying to Limon, near Puerto Viejo

The closest local airport to Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica is Limon. Sansa flies to Limon, from where you must take a bus or shuttle to Puerto Viejo. It’s a 40-minute flight that costs around US$85 one way, with a 1.5-hour shuttle ride from Limon to Puerto Viejo.

Here’s how to go from Limon to Puerto Viejo

We left Puerto Viejo on a shuttle bus that took us to Moin and then we picked up a boat along the canals to Tortuguero and our guide to the best things to do in Tortuguero is here.

Travel Tips for Exploring Costa Rica

Final Words on The Best Things to do in Puerto Viejo

The town of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca is very different from the “other side” of  Costa Rica. There are pristine beaches, lush rainforests, and abundant wildlife complete with a vibrant, laid-back culture.  The town of Puerto Viejo is not for everyone. There are no McDonald’s or other international franchises here. If you’re looking for opulent resorts with poolside drinks and golf courses, this isn’t the place for you. Instead, imagine a fresh coconut on the beach under a tree on a beach listening to reggae at a nearby bar.

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