- Activities: Chocolate tours, indigenous reservation tours, scuba diving, surfing. Dolphin watching tours, turtle watching tours, kayaking tours
- Landscape: Beaches, rainforest
- Summary: Vibrant Caribbean culture; white and black sand beaches; many nature and cultural activities available.
- Caters to: Budget travelers, couples/honeymooners, families, independent travelers, surfers
- Attractions: Caribbean culture, secluded beaches
- Quick Facts: 72-94 degrees ; 130 miles from San Jose; 9 miles south of Cahuita ; Sea level
Puerto Viejo Snapshot
You'll know you've reached Puerto Viejo as you come around the curve of Playa Negra arching its back against the Caribbean coastline. There, near the entrance of town, an old barge sits anchored where the coal black sands of Playa Negra swirl with the ground quartz and sea shells of Playa Chino. A single tree grows from the barge. Though still a sapling, its foliage has the thick green leaves of a coastal almond. A handful of locals often sit on the barge's edge with fishing lines dipped into the Caribbean's turquoise waters, like a painting, like it's all part of some forgotten paradise sitting at the edge of the world.read more close
Puerto Viejo attracts the young and old; inspired, retired, artists, hippies and surfers from all over the world. For many, Puerto Viejo isn't a vacation, it's a lifestyle. The days are long and filled with adventures: world-class surfing, snorkeling, diving, sunbathing and hiking. But the nights are longer: happy hour becomes dinner followed by live music and DJs, beer-pong and pool, dancing and late-night strolls along the beach.
White sand beaches form the lip of Puerto Viejo's conch shell, a spiraling fusion of Spanish, Afro-Caribbean, Italian, German and American culture exuded from beachside bars, out-door cafes, thatch-roof restaurants and Rasta-dyed tapestries blowing in the breeze outside makeshift souvenir stalls.
Off-shore, barreling waves form over the shallow reef at Salsa Brava creating Costa Rica's most infamous surf. World-renowned surfers ply the waves of Salsa Brava from December to March looking for steep, powerful swells with world-class barrels. Nearby Playa Cocles offers beach breaks for more casual surfers looking for good waves without the dangers of Salsa Brava.
Puerto Viejo's barrier reef runs along the coast flourishing with more than 35 species of coral and hiding magnificent, bizarre and beloved sea life that includes sea turtles, eels, lobsters, nurse sharks, octopus and hundreds of species of tropical fish. Snorkeling and diving tours visit off-shore craters, sea walls, reefs, coves and more within warm Caribbean waters where the visibility reaches 30 to 50 feet on a clear day.
Indigenous reservations, cacao farms and coastal rainforests frame the other side of Puerto Viejo, a series of rambling hills in the lower Talamanca Mountains. Among them, you'll find chocolate tasting tours and rainforest retreats to learn about all the jungle has to offer from medicinal plants and construction materials to raging waterfalls and spectacular wildlife. Canopy tours through the Carbon Mountains propel you through the rainforest at heights of more than 200 feet in the air while whitewater rafting trips along the Pacuare River send you surging through some of Costa Rica's most pristine habitats on class II-IV rapids.
Places to stay
Puerto Viejo's a conglomeration of low- and mid-range accommodations featuring hostels, cabins and bungalows inside town and along Playa Negra. Beachfront cabins, restaurants and shops line the streets almost all the way to Manzanillo; numerous budget hostels cater to surfers and young backpackers who frequent the area, while posh resorts offer comfort and luxury as you move south outside Puerto Viejo toward Playa Cocles, Playa Chiquita and Punta Uva.
Puerto Viejo’s climate, like most of the Caribbean, is often rainy. However, when the rest of Costa Rica is rainy, the southern Caribbean is drier (or, at least tends to be). For the best weather, visit Puerto Viejo from February to April, or between September and October.
Before the Spanish arrival, the Bribri, Kekoldi and Cabecar tribes were the primary inhabitants of Costa Rica’s southern Caribbean. Later, Afro-Caribbean immigrants arrived, many from Jamaica, and settled in the coastal towns of Puerto Viejo, Punta Uva, Manzanillo and Punta Mona.
Until the late 1970’s, Puerto Viejo was relatively isolated from the rest of Costa Rica. In 1979, a new road connected the small village to San Jose and the Central Valley. In 1986, electricity arrived, supplying public light and other important conveniences to the town. Private phone lines became available in 1996, and high speed Internet became available in 2006. Today, Puerto Viejo is as modern as any beach town, though it still retains its original charm.
Puerto Viejo’s current economy is almost entirely based on tourism: hotels, upscale restaurants and tour companies dot every street, and vendors sell their wares on almost every corner.
Puerto Viejo is known as a party town. The town has seen a rise in local petty crime over the last few years. Be smart and leave your valuables at your hotel room safe whenever you go out, choose well-known and recommended nightspots and carry as little cash as possible.