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Costa Rica: Limon Province – Puerto Viejo de Talamanca

It was fair to say that Puerto Viejo de Talamanca was not quite what I had expected, despite having read quite a lot about it before travelling to Costa Rica. That isn’t to say I didn’t like the place it was just different. If you are looking for a chilled out place with a bit of character, then Puerto Viejo de Talamanca might be just the place for you.

You will not find the big, swanky resorts of Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. This is a much more modest and understated place. The Caribbean influences here are clear to see with Rastafarian flags fluttering in the wind and the pulsating sound of reggae music filling the air. Even the people look more ‘Caribbean’ and there are dreadlocks aplenty to see. Puerto Viejo has a reputation for being a hippie town, and it is easy to see why.

There are plenty of bars and restaurants to choose from. We didn’t find too many vegan-friendly ones unless you wanted to live on rice and beans! There is a definite party feel to the town, but it is just a lively place and we didn’t see any outrageous or raucous behaviour. 

The streets are narrow and pot-holed, which fill with water when it rains (which is often). There are no sidewalks so you need to be cautious as you navigate the streets. 

The beaches close to the town are not the best, but it is worth checking out the black sands of Playa Negra

If you are looking for some adventure, Puerto Viejo offers so much: white water rafting the famous Pacuare river, off-road ATV driving, canopy zip lining through the rainforest, horseback riding on the beach or into the jungle, cycling, fishing, surfing, boogie boarding, stand-up paddling. You really won’t find it hard to make your time in Puerto Viejo full of excitement!

There are many animal and jungle tours in the area. If you are up to having up-close experience of the jungle at night, your local guide can take you into the forest after sunset, where you can experience the wildlife and noises of the jungle at dark! Or you may wish to spot Leatherback turtles nesting when visiting the local Gandoca National Park.

Here are some ideas of things to do during your stay in Puerto Viejo.

1. ARA MANZANILLO

Ara Manzanillo is a sanctuary for the endangered Great Green Macaw, which was once prevalent in the Caribbean coastal regions of Panama and Costa Rica. It is estimated that only 2500 now live in the wild.

The Ara Manzanillo project is one of the programmes aiming to reverse the decline of these beautiful birds. The birds are free-flying and not bound by any enclosures. They could leave if they wished. The sanctuary offers tours 2 times a day. This was definitely our favourite activity in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca.

2. JAGUAR RESCUE CENTER

The Jaguar Rescue Centre covers an area of approximately 22,000 square meters and is capable of housing up to around 160 animals temporarily. Tours are run daily at 9:30 am and 11:00 and last for about 90-minutes. You are unlikely to see a Jaguar but there will be plenty of other indigenous wildlife on display; including sloths, spider monkeys, small cats, snakes and birds.

3. SLOTH SANCTUARY

The Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica is the original rescue center for injured, orphaned and abandoned sloths. Founders Judy Avey-Arroyo and Luis Arroyo purchased the property to offer birding tours on the Estrella River. Originally known as Aviarios del Caribe, this 320-acre lush tropical lowland rainforest was formerly inhabited by banana plantations. The government of Costa Rica officially declared the property a privately-owned biological reserve in 1975.

4. WHITE WATER RAFTING ON THE PACUARE RIVER

Looking for a thrilling day out then, you must go on a Pacuare River rafting.

The Pacuare River is known as one of the best places in the world for white water rafting because of the number of rapids so close together. In fact, on this rafting tour from Puerto Viejo, you will actually go through around 50 rapids of a 29 kilometre (18 miles) section of the river. The rapids range from class II to IV, meaning you’ll have some really relaxing parts as well as a few more extreme sections.

Not only is it exciting, the Pacuare River is known as one of Costa Rica’s most beautiful rivers. You’ll even see waterfalls!

5. CAHUITA NATIONAL PARK

Cahuita National Park was established in 1970 to protect a large coral reef off the Caribbean coast. Unfortunately, the reef is struggling for survival. An earthquake in 1991 lifted a large portion of the coral by about three meters (10 feet), some of it was exposed to the air and sun at low tide and rapidly perished.

The trail follows the beach line, the interior of the peninsula is thick rain forest (you would definitely need a machete in there and of course, there are the snakes to contend with. Apparently, the beach line has been changing rapidly in recent years due to rising sea levels and powerful storms.

Walking through Cahuita is a good chance to see wildlife. If you are really lucky, you might get to see an eyelash viper (we didn’t). More likely spotting are sea birds, such as cormorants and brown boobies and animals such as sloths, racoons and white-faced capuchin monkeys. The sloths are actually the hardest to spot as they don’t move very much, so it is great to have a guide along with you with a trained eye.

6. BRIBRI VILLAGE & WATERFALLS

Costa Rica is home to about eight main indigenous groups with the BriBri population being one of the largest indigenous tribes in Costa Rica. Located deep into the southern Caribbean region of Costa Rica, the BriBri indigenous people reside throughout the Talamanca Mountain range and southern islands isolated from others.

Cacao (from which chocolate is made) is very significant to the BriBri. You can experience why cacao plays an important role in BriBri culture and how they use it by visiting their village on an organised tour that will also take you to the waterfalls located on their lands.

Planning your visit to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca

Bus
There are buses from San Jose to Puerto Viejo every day at 6 am, 10 am, 3:45 pm and 4 pm. The bus leaves from Terminal Atlantico Norte.

By car
From San Jose, the quickest way is by route 32 through Braulio Carrillo National Park. This is about a 4 -5 hour drive and you can use Google Maps, a GPS device or Waze.

By plane
Limon airport is the closest local airport to Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica. Sansa flies into Limon and then you have to take the bus or shuttle to Puerto Viejo. It is a 40-minute flight. You’ll need to get a shuttle from Limon to Puerto Viejo which takes about 1.5 hours.

By shuttle
There are shared shuttles from many destinations in Costa Rica. This costs around $57 USD per adult from San Jose with Interbus, Caribe Shuttle, Ride CR and Easy Ride. You can also take private shuttles, ~$220 USD depending on the number of passengers.

Best time to visit Puerto Viejo

The area’s climate is very unpredictable, but one thing is certain: it is often said that when the rest of Costa Rica is rainy, it’s time to head out to the dry Caribbean. The best months to visit Puerto Viejo are February to April and August to October.

Where to stay in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca

1. VILLAS DEL CARIBE

Villas del Caribe is a hotel at the south end of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, near the border with Panama. The property is made up of 2 storey buildings that have rooms that look out across beautifully landscaped gardens to the sea. Our room was spacious and comfortable. It included a big kitchen area that was reasonably well equipped and a dining table. Outside we had an enormous patio. Onsite was the Spicy Coconut restaurant – which was amazing and had several options for vegans!

2. ROOTS FAMILY – BACKPACKER HOSTEL

Roots Family welcomes open-minded people from all over the world to experience the Caribbean ‘Wolaba Time’. Located at the heart of Puerto Viejo, only 100 meters from ‘Parquecitos’ beach, 5 minutes walk for bars and restaurants but removed enough to be quiet. 

The Tree House (Dormitory) has bamboo and cane features as own lockers, lamp and outlet. There is one swing and a perfect seat to read a book while it rains. The house has different common areas to enjoy and gather and have a good time while meeting new people. There’s a common kitchen for use with all the implements plus water filter tank.

3. RELAX NATURAL VILLAGE

Puerto Viejo is a laid back town and you will not find any big resorts here. If you are looking for a relaxing and luxurious stay, then Relax Natural Village is a good choice. Located just on the outskirts of town, this hotel has a resort feel being set in nature – and it’s quiet! All rooms are modern with luxury finishes you’d expect and it is right across from Playa Cocles beach. There is a large pool on site and breakfast is included in the room rate.

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