In Costa Rica, close to the Panama border on the Caribbean coast, you will find Puerto Viejo. This laid back town with Caribbean feel is still overlooked by most tourists, but make sure you visit it now before it becomes “too” popular in the future. Puerto Viejo still offers some of Costa Rica’s best beaches, reggae beats and a unique culture of both Afro-Caribbean and indigenous people. There are surf breaks for beginners and more experienced wave catchers. Even animal shelters where you can volunteer or simply pay a guided visit have been started. Nice restaurants, good street food and fun party places, it has it all. Even diving is an activity you can do here certain months a year. Are you up for some reggae time in Puerto Viejo?
A travel guide to Puerto Viejo
Getting to Puerto Viejo
From Costa Rica
If you’re already in Costa Rica you simply take a local bus to Limon and continue from there with another bus to Puerto Viejo. If you want more service and comfort you can book the Caribe Shuttle. This shuttle takes you straight to Puerto Viejo in a comfortable minivan (with WiFi) for a decent price. You can either order the shuttle service from the airport area of San Jose, Arenal/La Fortuna, Cahuita, Tortuguero or even from San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua or Bocas del Toro in Panama.
If you’re in Panama and you want to use public transport to get to Puerto Viejo you will first need to get to the Caribbean side and cross the border from Bocas del Toro/Changuinola into Costa Rica’s Sixaola. You can do so with public transport or book the Caribe Shuttle for a more comfortable trip. Take one of the early morning buses in case of public transport.
The border of Panama/Costa Rica
To leave Panama and enter Costa Rica (as also vice versa) you might get asked to show your onward ticket at the immigration. We know that this sucks if you’re a backpacker without steady plans, so to help you I can highly recommend you try out what I did. There is a website where you can buy a real ticket for in the future, but they will cancel it within 24 or 48 hours and get their money back. In exchange for their service you will only need to pay 10 USD or a bit more if you want extra ticket “rental” hours. It is called Fly Onward.
What can you expect of Puerto Viejo
Jamaican influences, coconuts falling down on the roof tops and many reggae vibes on the beach and in town. The prices are rising in town for food at restaurants and rooms in hotels, but you can stay cheap by eating street food and buying coconuts and other fruits on the beach. People move around on bicycles and on weekends the beaches tend to fill up by locals having barbecues and playing soccer.
There is a bit of a drug culture going on in Puerto Viejo, so don’t worry when people on the streets start asking you if you’re interested in buying some. They might whisper the words Ganja, Charlie, I’ve got it as you pass by and you can simply reply with a ‘no thanks’.
On the main road you can find one surf shop where you can book surf lessons. You can also go to the beach and rent a board on the spot. Diving is only done from late April to the beginning of March and some days in November when the water has a good visibility. You can find the dive center on playa punta uva.
The shops in Puerto Viejo are not the cheapest in Central America as the local clothing stores tend to only sell items above $40 USD. The supermarkets are not cheap yet reasonable. Puerto Viejo has some good shops for organic food and also restaurants with organic food or even only vegan items on the menu are quite popular. It’s fun to rent a bike and cycle to playa punta uva and explore the vegan restaurants along the way there.
At which accommodation should you stay
The Lazy Loft at Stanford’s beach is located right on the beach and is suitable for most people. They have shared accommodation through dorms and they have private rooms. All with a shared bathroom, kitchen and communal area. The locals like to party below the hostel in a place called “Lazy Mon”, so do expect to hear music at night. This makes it a great place for music lovers especially if you like to see some live reggae bands playing on the beach.
*Let us know which accommodation you enjoyed in Puerto Viejo!*
What to bring to Puerto Viejo
In Puerto Viejo you’ll need the following things:
- a beach towel
- a camera
- mosquito repellent in the evenings
- summer clothes
- your passport
- an onward (flight) ticket to show the Costa Rica customs that you’re not intending to spend the rest of your life in the country illegally.
- cash in local currency CR Colones – or US Dollars (there are 2 cash machines in town though)
What does it cost to spend a few days in Puerto Viejo?
This calculation is based on a 3-night stay with meals (prices per person) in Puerto Viejo:
- Private transfer from San Jose to Puerto Viejo for $50 (there is also a shuttle service from Bocas del Toro or local buses coming from both directions)
- Private double room at the Lazy Loft hostel (above Lazy Mon) with fan $25 USD per room, so when shared per person $12,50 USD times three is $37,50 USD
- Bike Rental per day anywhere in town for $5 USD times two days is $10 USD
- to save some money it’s worth it to buy some cereals and milk from the local supermarket (free coffee all day at the Lazy Loft hostel) $3 USD
- a tasty sandwich at “La Parada” for more or less $6 USD, so for 3 days (excl. drinks) $18 USD
- streetfood, like yuca balls stuffed with patatoes and beef for (without drink) $2 USD
(every cooked food item being sold on the streets of Puerto Viejo costs $1000 CRC)
- All You Can Eat Curry and Sushi diner at Chile Rojo (excl. drinks) – for $15 USD
- pizza at the Italian pizza place called Mama Mia (excl. drinks) $10 USD
TOTAL: $ 145,50 USD