Complete Guide to Visiting Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica
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This is the ultimate guide to visiting Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica including how to get there, where to stay, and of course, the 13 absolute best things to do in Puerto Viejo and nearby!
Costa Rica is, without a doubt, the most popular tourist destination in Central America – and with good reason! With beautiful beaches, volcanoes, rainforests, mountains, and a cosmopolitan capital there is so much to experience.
But here’s a secret. If you want to see a part of Costa Rica, then you need to head to the Caribbean coast!
Specifically, make Puerto Viejo your destination. This beachside town is the best place in Costa Rica to experience laid back vibes, enjoy a unique Caribbean culture, and take in the crystal blue water. Not only that, but it is surrounded by gorgeous jungles full of wildlife that just beg you to visit.
Whether you just want to sit on a sandy beach and watch the palm trees sway, or, you want to hike to a remote waterfall or learn about the permaculture of the area – Puerto Viejo and the villages of Southeastern Costa Rica won’t disappoint.
With such a range of amazing things to do and see in Puerto Viejo, it can be hard to know where to best spend your time. That’s why in this blog, I’ve narrowed it down to the 13 absolute best things to do in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica to help you plan your trip! I’ve also included lots of info that will come in handy for visiting Puerto Viejo.
How to get to Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica
There is no airport in Puerto Viejo, so car or bus is your only option for reaching Puerto Viejo.
San Jose to Puerto Viejo
Buses to Puerto Viejo leave from Terminal Atlantico Norte in San Jose and drop you on Avenida 73 in Puerto Viejo, this is the same the opposite way.
The bus costs around $10 USD and takes about 4 hours. Buses leave every 2 hours starting at 7 am and finishing in the late afternoon.
Alternatively, you can also book a direct shuttle which is faster than the public bus.
Panama to Puerto Viejo
From the Sixaola-Guabito border (the border you’ll cross if you’re coming from Bocas del Toro) there are regular direct buses to Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica. The bus costs $3 USD and takes 1.5 hours.
For more detailed information, check our blog that is a complete guide to crossing the border between Panama and Costa Rica!
If that all sounds like too much effort, there is also a direct shuttle available from Bocas del Toro to Puerto Viejo.
13 BEST Things to do in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica
1. Hike and swim in Cahuita National Park
If the magnificent waters of the Caribbean and the Reggae beats aren’t enough to lure you to the East side of paradise, maybe a visit to one of the world’s most gorgeous national parks will!
Cahuita National Park, just north of Puerto Viejo, is one of the most visited spots on the Caribbean coast. It also easily one of the best places to visit in all of Costa Rica!
The park was established in 1970 to protect both a large area of land and a beautiful stretch of coastline and reef. If you are a snorkeler, hire a guide and visit one of Costa Rica’s most important underwater ecosystems.
Even if you’re not into snorkeling, you’ll want to visit Cahuita National Park. The trail, which runs along the coast, provides you with the opportunity to see a huge number of Costa Rica’s native animals in their natural habitat. Monkeys, sloths, coatis, crabs, tree frogs, and SO MANY BIRDS are in abundance and easy to spot with the naked eye.
If you access the park from the entrance closest to Puerto Viejo – in the town of Cahuita – the entrance fee is simply a donation to the park. Park hours are every day from 6 am to 5 pm. If you’re going to see the animals, go as early as you can!
From Puerto Veijo, you can either take a 45-minute public bus ride to the town of Cahuita or jump on a guided tour. The benefit of a guided tour is the expertise of the guide at spotting wildlife as well as going snorkeling (which is only allowed within the national park when accompanied by a guide.)
No matter how you plan to visit, don’t miss Cahuita as it is easily one of the top attractions in Puerto Viejo – and all of Costa Rica! Also, be sure to read our blog that is a complete guide to visiting Cahuita National Park for more details on getting there and helpful tips!
2. Go on a chocolate tour
If you like chocolate – who doesn’t like chocolate? – then I highly recommend that you go on a chocolate tour! There are a number of companies in and around Puerto Viejo to choose from, but our favorite experience is offered by Caribeans Coffee & Chocolate right in Puerto Viejo!
There really is something for everyone at this place. You can buy gifts and have a chocolate tasting in the shop, or, learn all about how chocolate is produced and what different types there are – all in what the owners like to call their “Bean to Bar” experience.
But the real star here is their Chocolate Tour! This tour lasts from 2.5 to 3 hours and covers a distance of about a mile or 1.6 kilometers. During this short walk, you’ll learn all about the cacao forest and how chocolate is made. You will be awed by the beauty and, if you’re like me, totally surprised at all you didn’t know about chocolate.
No reservations are required for the tour but be sure to know the hours of the tours and arrive a bit early. Tours are offered Monday 10 am, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday 10 am & 2 pm, and Saturday 2 pm. The price of the tour is $28USD. The location of Caribeans Coffee & Chocolate is found on Google Maps.
3. Take a Salsa Lesson at Hot Rocks
There are a lot of bars to choose from for a beach town of this size, so you may have trouble picking one. But, if you like to dance that choice is pretty easy. Hot Rocks is impossible to miss! It sits at probably the busiest intersection in town, and the beach is right there! Talk about a view!
But you came to dance! Wednesday through Sunday during Happy Hour (5-7 pm) Hot Rocks offers free Salsa lessons. Sunday there is a live band and lots of people dancing Salsa.
Learn a bit, people watch a bit, and before you know it you’ll be burning up the dance floor like a pro! What better souvenir could you take home than the art of the Salsa?
Dancing Salsa at Hot Rocks is definitely one of the most popular things to do in Puerto Viejo, and as a tourist, it’s something you need to experience for yourself. The vibrant atmosphere is electric, and even if you’re not particularly keen on dancing, you’ll still have a great time!
4. Relax at Punta Uva
When I think of a tropical beach, I want soft sand, palm trees, and turquoise water with just a little bit of surf. There are few other beaches in all of Costa Rica that can compete with Punta Uva to hit all the right notes. This place is postcard perfect!
Punta Uva is actually two beaches separated by a point. You get to either by walking down a beautiful jungle path. Pay close attention as you walk either path – these trees are known for being full of monkeys and sloths. Have your camera ready!
A day spent lounging on these beaches is something you will remember for years to come. You’ll try to describe it to your friends, but no one will believe it is that perfect! Trust me, it is.
You can find a few restaurants in Punta Uva, but if I was you I’d just go ahead and bring a snack or two with you.
To get to Punta Uva just head south on 256 out of Puerto Viejo until you see Restaurante Selvin. It is about 5 miles (8 km) from downtown Puerto Viejo and easily reached by car, taxi, or bike.
Once at the beach, you can walk around and explore, swim in the calm waters, or even go kayaking! It is the perfect place to spend a day while you’re visiting Puerto Viejo.
5. Eat and drink at Salsa Brava Rasta Bar
Do you like Caribbean food? Reggae music? The ocean? How about all three? Toss in some great drinks and you have a bit of paradise.
Our favorite hangout in Puerto Viejo is Salsa Brava. The vibe is as laid back as you would expect from a Reggae bar. Regardless if you are eating, the drinks are great and you cannot beat this location. Sitting beachfront, enjoying a cool Caribbean breeze and a great drink is the definition of Pura Vida.
Honestly, this is why you came to the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. Soak it up!
You can find Salsa Brava’s location on Google Maps and they are open every day from noon until midnight.
6. Rent a bike and explore
Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica is a small town, and as such, it can easily be explored on a bicycle! In fact, with a bike, you can easily reach most of the places mentioned in this blog!
The best part? Renting a bike in Puerto Viejo costs as little as $7 USD for 24 hours! There are tons of different shops in downtown Puerto Viejo that offer bike rentals.
We actually rented bikes for the duration of our stay in Puerto Viejo. It made getting around really easy, plus it was fun!
7. Take Yoga classes
Most people know that Costa Rica is a huge surfing destination. But did you know that it is also a yoga destination? People flock to Costa Rica to find their center and get bendy. Whether you do yoga daily or you’ve never done yoga before, the yoga studio in Puerto Viejo called Om at Cashew Hill is an amazing place!
I mean… it’s in a treehouse in a tropical jungle! Just being there is relaxing but doing yoga in this space is so beautiful. Om at Cashew Hill lets anyone drop in who just wants to take a class. Of course, they also offer retreats, but if you are just looking for the experience – this is well worth checking out.
Before you go, check their daily calendar to see what is on.
8. Tour Finca La Isla
I know what you’re thinking. Who goes on vacation and decides to tour a working farm? I promise that you won’t regret this.
Finca La Isla is an organic farm that has been in operation for 30+ years. They have over 150 different types of trees and plants that they grow here. Once you walk in, you will definitely want to take the self-guided tour.
This place is incredible! Take a walk while you learn about all of the edible things in this forest and then head back to reception to samples some of the fresh fruit and juice! If you are interested in learning more they even offer classes.
They also have a shop where you can take home a bit of the jungle in the form of soap or candy.
The Botanical Garden is open Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, from 10 am to 4 pm. It costs $6 USD and you can expect to spend 1 to 3 hours.
To get to Finca La Isla, head about 500 meters north of Puerto Viejo, turn left at the Black Beach bus stop and follow the signs.
9. Visit Kekoldi Indigenous Reserve
The indigenous people of the Caribbean coast in Costa Rica are the Bribri. These beautiful people have maintained their culture and traditions despite the changes the land has seen in the last 400 years.
Just outside of Puerto Viejo is Kekoldi Indigenous Reserve, an environmental and cultural preserve that you won’t want to miss.
Book a tour with any number of agencies or guides to see this incredibly preserved forest and to meet and learn more about the Bribri people.
Highlights? Waterfalls, bird watching from a famous tower, and learning about the relationship of the Bribri to their sacred drink – our old friend, chocolate. This is definitely one of the most unique things to do in Puerto Viejo and one that everybody will enjoy!
10. Relax at Playa Cocles
You can’t say you’ve been to Puerto Viejo if you haven’t spent some sun time on one of the most beautiful beaches in Costa Rica! Playa Cocles is everybody’s favorite and you will definitely see why.
This is the spot for surfing on this side of Costa Rica. And if you’ve come here to learn, this is where you want to do it. Easy waves and over 2 kilometers of beautiful soft, sandy beach.
Maybe you want to snorkel or just sunbathe… or try your hand at Stand Up Paddle Boarding. Cocles is the place to do it all – and the place to do absolutely nothing.
And if you want to really say you’ve been to Cocles, be sure to pop into Tasty Waves. This bar is iconic to the area and who doesn’t want to sing karaoke on the beach?
Playa Cocles is just south of Puerto Viejo. You can’t miss it.
11. Tour the Jaguar Rescue Center
If you are an animal lover, simply do not miss this gem. The work they do is inspiring and the opportunity to be so close to the animals is something special. All the animals for which Costa Rica is so famous are usually represented among their temporary and permanent rescues.
You may decide to visit the Jaguar Rescue Center in hopes of seeing a jaguar. Thankfully, the chances of that are pretty slim. The goal of the JRC is to have as many of the animals they work with returned to the jungle – and so far, all the jaguars have been able to go back!
My personal favorite animals we saw at the Jaguar Rescue Center were baby sloths! They were so cute and fun to just watch for a while. If you’ve ever wanted to see a baby sloth, this is the place to do so.
Be sure to plan accordingly. Tours are Monday through Saturday and they leave at 9:30 and 11:30. The price for the public tour is $22USD. You can only enter the center on a guided tour, so it is important to arrive at least 20 minutes early to secure your spot on one of the scheduled public tours. Otherwise, you can organize a private tour but it will cost significantly more.
To reach the Jaguar Rescue Center, head South on 256 out of Puerto Viejo. When you come to Punta Cocles you will see the Jaguar Rescue Center on the right side of the road. We just rode our bikes here and it was a quick and easy ride. Alternatively, this tour includes a visit to the Jaguar Rescue Center and a few other attractions around Puerto Viejo!
To me, touring the Jaguar Rescue Center and seeing all of the animals was definitely one of the best activities in Puerto Viejo!
12. Shop at the Old Harbor Art & Craft Market
Just about in the dead center of town, you’ll find the Old Harbor Art & Craft Market. This market is small but lovely. What makes it so special is that the artisans are all local.
You will find jewelry made from native plants and shells, sarongs, honey, candles… and any number of surprises! Prices are great and you can feel good about taking home something made locally. I mean there’s nothing wrong with a t-shirt featuring a red-eyed tree frog, but maybe you’d like a handmade beach bag to take home as well?
The Art & Craft Market is a weekend-only affair, so be sure to plan for it. They are open Friday through Sunday during high tourist season, but Saturdays only if you happen to be there in low season. Be sure to bring cash as most of the booths won’t be able to take your credit card!
13. Visit the village and beach of Manzanillo
Ever wonder what was at the end of the road? Well on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, that’s pretty easy to find out – and you’ll be happy you did!
This little town is removed and peaceful without feeling remote. You will encounter far fewer of your fellow travelers down here. Still, it is a perfect place to go snorkeling or do some fishing. You can also go on a dolphin sightseeing tour that leaves from Manzanillo.
Manzanillo is the very last town in Costa Rica before you come to the border with Panama. In fact, beyond Manzanillo, it is mostly dirt roads. But I don’t think you’ll be all that interested in leaving anyway.
To reach Manzanillo, get on 256 and just drive south until you can’t drive anymore! From Puerto Viejo, the drive should only take about 20 minutes, which makes it the perfect day trip from Puerto Viejo!
You can also join this tour, which is a guided bike ride from Puerto Viejo to Manzanillo.
There are also lots of great hotels in Manzanillo and nearby, so you can stay for a night or two if you want some real relaxation!
Where to Stay in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica
Your options are literally endless in terms of accommodation in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica. From busy hostels to luxury hotels to comfortable Airbnb’s there really is something for every type of traveler (with all budgets!)
So, without further ado, here are the best places to stay in Puerto Viejo!
Roots Family – Low Budget Hostel
Roots family is the perfect place to stay in Puerto Viejo if you’re on a tight budget. They offer both affordable private rooms and even cheaper dorm beds! This hostel has lots of communal spaces including a kitchen and it is located right in the heart f Puerto Viejo walking distance to beaches and tons of restaurants and bars!
Sueño Grande B&B – Modest Budget Hotel
This small hotel only offers a handful of rooms, suites, and one 2-bedroom house giving it a homey feel. All rooms are equipped with air conditioning and kitchenettes. The B&B is located right in the heart of Puerto Viejo only two blocks from the ocean. It is amazing value for money with a plunge pool onsite too!
You need to book Sueño Grande B&B in advance as there is limited availability. You can book and see prices and availability on Booking.com.
Relax Natural Village – Luxury Hotel
If you are looking for a relaxing and luxurious stay in Puerto Viejo, then this is your best 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.
You can check prices and availability on Booking.com.
Terrazza Cafe Viejo – Airbnb Apartment
This Airbnb is one of the best value places to stay in Puerto Viejo (especially if you’re traveling in a group or with family!) It is an entire apartment in the heart of Puerto Viejo offering two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a full kitchen. The apartment has a balcony as well as air conditioning.
The only place to secure this gorgeous apartment is on Airbnb.
Before you go…
Puerto Viejo is one of those places that as soon as you arrive you are thinking of ways to come back. It is rare to find a place so beautiful and peaceful, yet with so much to do and explore. I hope you will enjoy Puerto Viejo, and all of its many activities, as much as we did!
Be sure to check out all of our other blogs about Costa Rica, as well as a few personal favorites below:
July 15, 2020