Playa Chiquita, Costa Rica
Central America, Costa Rica

4 Highlights from 4 Days in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

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.

Rocking J’s

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.Rocking J's Mosaic Rocking J's Hostel, Puerto Viejo Mosaic at Rocking J's, Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica Rocking J's Rocking J's, Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

Punta Uva

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.Biking to Punta Uva Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica Punta Uva Punta Uva Happy at Punta Uva Beach cruising at Punta Uva Jungle road Golden orb spider, Costa Rica

Koki Beach

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.Koki Beach, Puerto Viejo Koki Beach, Puerto Viejo Portraits at Koki Beach in Puerto Viejo Koki Beach, Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica Koki Beach

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.Toucan at Puerto Viejo's Jaguar Rescue Center Puerto Viejo's Jaguar Rescue Center Sloth at Puerto Viejo's Jaguar Rescue Center Frog at Puerto Viejo's Jaguar Rescue Center

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.

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  • Reply Anna | The Blonde Banana December 9, 2014 at 6:26 am

    Sounds like a dream. Sad I missed Puerto Viejo this during my trip to Costa Rica… guess I’ll have to go back! I’ve heard lots of good things about Rocking J’s.
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    • Reply LaMochilera December 9, 2014 at 8:39 am

      I really did enjoy Puerto Viejo! I was a little nervous I’d find Costa Rica to be overrated but it actually lived up to much of the hype! Beautiful, beautiful country 🙂

  • Reply Veronika December 9, 2014 at 10:36 am

    Thanks for bringing back my memories on our stay in Puerto Viejo in 2010. We took our first surf lesson there and it started our surf passion. And we also visited the Jaguar Rescue Center and sloths have been my favourite animals since then. Loved it there!

    • Reply LaMochilera December 10, 2014 at 11:53 am

      What a great place to learn how to surf! Sloths are totally my favorite animal too, they’re so strangely adorable! 🙂

  • Reply Justine December 9, 2014 at 8:34 pm

    I’m almost embarrassed to say I never made it to the Carribean coast during my entire 7 weeks in Central America. And whenever I read posts like this I always start kicking myself for not making the effort. I assure you had I gone to Puerto Viejo I would have been one of those people who intended to stay a few days but just never left. It looks like my kind of place! Oh, and I’m with you on the sloths…they are the cutest things EVER 🙂
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    • Reply LaMochilera December 10, 2014 at 11:54 am

      Don’t beat yourself up for not hitting the Caribbean coast, we can’t do it all! I skipped the Pacific coast on this trip and I’m sure a lot of people would tell me I’m crazy. There just isn’t always time! I was just happy to finally see some sloths 🙂

  • Reply Silvia @ Heart My Backpack December 10, 2014 at 5:16 am

    I always hear such mixed things about Costa Rica, but Puerto Viejo sounds pretty perfect to me! Hopefully I will make it down there eventually…
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    • Reply LaMochilera December 10, 2014 at 11:56 am

      I actually had heard pretty negative things about Costa Rica before this trip and was really pleasantly surprised by every single place we went! San Jose was dull (and SO Americanized) but we were only there for a night so I didn’t mind. But I loved Puerto Viejo and just how beautiful and green everything was!

  • Reply Beth December 10, 2014 at 7:02 am

    Looks beautiful! I was in Costa Rica a few months ago, but sadly we skipped Puerto Viejo in favor of heading south to the Osa. I guess I’ll have to go back someday!
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    • Reply LaMochilera December 10, 2014 at 11:58 am

      I skipped a number of places I would have liked to go too (like Montezuma on the Nicoya Peninsula, for instance) but yes, we’ll both just have to go back! Plenty of time 🙂

  • Reply Polly December 10, 2014 at 9:58 am

    I HATED Puerto Viejo just for Rocking Js haha. We were there in late April and it was… overwhelming… to say the least. We left after one night and busted our budget for a private room!
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    • Reply LaMochilera December 10, 2014 at 12:00 pm

      I can see how Rocking J’s would be overwhelming during high season, but luckily we didn’t have to deal with any of that. It was seriously chilled out when we were there…totally different experience, I’m sure. It’s too bad it left a bad taste in your mouth, I really enjoyed Puerto Viejo!

  • Reply Mikaela December 15, 2014 at 5:52 pm

    I LOVE Costa Rica. I say, with only a slight hesitation, that Costa Rca might be one of my favorite countries I have visited. I didn’t make it Puerto Viejo, however. I studied Spanish up near Playa Flamingo, and didn’t get to travel within the country as I would have liked. Obviously I must go back! I’ll add Puerto Viejo to the list.
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    • Reply LaMochilera December 15, 2014 at 7:51 pm

      Ah that’s a shame you didn’t make it to Puerto Viejo! You’ll definitely have to go back. I didn’t see as much of Costa Rica as I would have liked, but I loved what I did see, PV included. Such a chilled out countr, and just gorgeous.
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  • Reply Esther December 16, 2014 at 1:20 am

    SLOTH!! 🙂 It’s very cold and rainy here and I have a huge head cold. Three guesses how much I want to be IN your post, haha! Great pics.

    • Reply LaMochilera December 16, 2014 at 11:40 am

      Aw that’s no fun! Being in Costa Rica would definitely make you feel better 😉

  • Reply Heidi Wagoner December 16, 2014 at 4:11 am

    This looks like so much fun. I think we may need to add Costa Rica to our long-term travels. I was there about 20 years ago and it still looks like it has charm.
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    • Reply LaMochilera December 16, 2014 at 11:41 am

      People tell me it has changed a lot over the last several years…it is definitely still charming but it may be completely different to the Costa Rica you knew back then!

  • Reply Megsy December 16, 2014 at 4:33 am

    Wow what an amazing place – I would love to see a sloth in real life, very cute. That restaurant on Kiki beach looks amazing too. It’s been so long since I’ve ben to Costa Rica, I will have to make plans to return.
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    • Reply LaMochilera December 16, 2014 at 11:42 am

      I was so happy we got to see the sloths, not only in person but SO close up! You can see them in trees on occasion but this was way better. They are so adorable in a weird way!

  • Reply Sky February 1, 2015 at 10:48 pm

    Heading here tomorrow! Well, first to Cahuita for a night then to Puerto Viejo. I actually booked my room at Rocking J’s too! Everyone says it’s a fun place.

    I’m heading to the Jaguar Rescue as well – but also the Sloth Sanctuary located outside of Cahuita.
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    • Reply La Mochilera February 3, 2015 at 8:46 am

      Rocking J’s is awesome! You’ll have fun there 🙂 The Jaguar Rescue Center was really great too, I wish I had known about that sloth sanctuary (and/or had the time to go there) because that sounds like my JAM! Enjoy, Sky!

  • Reply Leighanne October 9, 2015 at 2:59 pm

    great pics and info! My friend and I are going in Jan and I’m just curious if you felt safe there on any buses you took as well as when you just went biking around the area. Thanks!

    • Reply Leah Davis October 9, 2015 at 11:06 pm

      Hey Leighanne! I did feel pretty safe in Puerto Viejo on buses and biking during the day, but I would be a little more cautious at night. Enjoy!

  • Reply Michael Webb June 8, 2017 at 8:32 pm

    Great article. Thanks for sharing. Pura Vida

    • Reply Leah Davis June 9, 2017 at 10:34 am

      Cheers Michael, glad you enjoyed it!

  • Reply Heather Maffeo July 18, 2017 at 9:51 am

    Great article! so much cool infomation. I’m looking to plan a trip to Costa Rica and Puerto Viejo is on the list! I have a couple questions, you said you went in the off season, what month did you go? and I’m deathly afraid of spiders, are they really like all over the place in your face, or is it maybe tolerable for someone as afraid as I am? :0

    • Reply Leah Davis July 18, 2017 at 8:33 pm

      Thanks Heather! I think we were there in September?! And no, the spiders aren’t in your face, they are high up in the trees in their webs (a very safe distance from you most of the time). I’m an arachnophobe myself so if they were all up in my shit I’d lose it, too, haha!

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