Puerto Viejo is a charming and chilled out beach town on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, just north of the Panamanian border.
Beach cruisers are more prevalent than cars and the reggae jams that pulse from beachside bars lend it a distinctly Rasta vibe.
Visitors come for the surf and the sun, and maybe the jerk chicken.
Vendors peddle their handmade goods along the beach in the town center and the English language is surprisingly common, unlike the Pacific coast.
As a non-surfer myself (learned that lesson the hard way in Hawaii), I was most interested in the wildlife sanctuary I’d heard so much about from friends who had been there before me.
Our hostel was pretty awesome, too–we booked dorm beds in a place just outside the town (a 10-minute walk, that is) called Rocking J’s after seeing it listed in Lonely Planet as their “top pick” for Puerto Viejo.
We arrived after a quick one-night stopover in the capital city of San Jose and got right down to business; after all, we had a very strict agenda to attend to: chill, bike, beach, repeat (we do a lot of chilling, okay?). Oh, and of course SLOTH. See one, be one–not necessarily in that order.
The following were some of my favorite highlights from our four days in Puerto Viejo.
This massive open air hostel is a work of art. Literally. The entire place is covered in elaborate mosaics and murals and we never bored of wandering around and discovering new things. Seeing as we were traveling during low season (it rained every day we were in PV) it was pretty empty, but since travelers can rent hammocks, set up their own tents, or sleep in one of their several dorm rooms, you just know it would be out of control during high season when all those hundreds of hammocks were full.
This beach is regarded as the most beautiful in town. Situated approximately 8km south of Puerto Viejo, past Playa Cocles and Playa Chiquita, Punta Uva offers a more secluded and quieter beach-going experience. With our rented beach cruisers, we pedaled out one lazy afternoon to find a long stretch of sand we had almost entirely to ourselves. We wandered through jungle past spiders as big as my face (more spiders than I could even count, it was rather incredible), soaked up the sunshine and played in the waves. It was a most beautiful day. Even the spiders.
We only wandered into this restaurant in search of happy hour drinks, but once inside I quickly fell in love with it. The decor is beachy and modern, and the walls are adorned with mesmerizing portrait photography. We sat in big wooden chairs perched on a wooden deck facing the main street so we could people watch as we sipped our Tequila Sunrises. We then chatted with an American couple we were seated next to who happened to be frequent vacationers to Puerto Viejo; after my few short days there I certainly couldn’t blame them for wanting to return over and over again. Koki Beach was practically reason enough.
The Jaguar Rescue Center
After crowd-sourcing sloth watching spots on the internet, I knew I had to see Puerto Viejo’s Jaguar Rescue Center. Our last full day in town, we taxied over in time for the 11am tour and were not disappointed. We got to see a collection of rescued and rehabilitated rainforest species and learn the stories of how some of the animals had wound up there. It was sad to hear that some animals are never quite able to be released back into the wild, but that is the center’s principle aim and they go to great lengths to ensure their survival when they are finally ready. The jaguars themselves were a bit sleepy at the time so we didn’t get to see more than a glimpse of a tail hanging out of their little wooden hut, but the real highlight for me? The SLOTH GARDEN! Have you ever heard of anything so cute? A garden of sloths. It was heaven.
Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica, was one of those places I could have stayed for weeks–in fact, we met many expats who were doing just that. They’d come to Puerto Viejo on what was supposed to be a short trip and just…never left.
Alas, we had more of Central America to see and were pretty darn excited for our first stop in Panama, Bocas del Toro, so we managed to tear ourselves away.
But I can’t say for sure I won’t be back.