Stunning Puerto Viejo. On the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, close to Panama, this beautiful little town is a great place to chill out for a few days, explore amazing beaches and eat good food... which is exactly what we did!
Where to sleep
We stayed at two different places in our 8 days in Puerto Viejo, both through Airbnb. The first placewas the Capuchin Monkey Foundation in Cocles Beach. Cocles Beach is a stunning beach about a 25 minute walk out of the main town centre of Puerto Viejo. It was a great location for exploring the beaches which seem to get better and better to the south of the town and also walking distance the excellent Jaguar Rescue Centre. It was hard to decide what the best part of this place was between the amazing room looking out into the actual jungle (we watched a sloth climbing through the trees one morning and every day hummingbirds were whizzing around outside the window) or the truly lovely hosts Ole and Max. They made us feel so welcome and even invited us back for food one evening after we had moved on to our second accommodation.
We then stayed at Tami's Black Beach Chill Room in Puerto Viejo. The room was lovely and exactly what we needed for the second half of our stay. It was about a 10 minute walk from the centre of town along the famous black beach (or Playa Negra) of Puerto Viejo. Although it was a quieter time of year when we were there we have heard the town can be noisy in the peak season with bars and restaurants staying open late so Tami's was the perfect place to enjoy some peace and quiet. We also ended up going out for drinks with Tami and her friend on the last night which was an added bonus! They managed to last much later into the night than we did but that isn't saying much!
Where to eat
Puerto Viejo de Gustibus Bakery - Just outside of town, towards Cocles beach is a lovely bakery with amazing food including vegan pancakes, and regular one, as well as sandwiches and delicious breads and sweets. The prices are very reasonable at about $5 per dish from the menu and as little as $1 for some of the breads and pizza slices which were enough for lunch.
Bread & Chocolate - This is a great lunch or breakfast spot. The food is amazing and the dishes were something different from the usual offerings you find around Costa Rica. They also have a whole chocolate and dessert menu which took some serious self discipline to stop ourselves ordering one of everything and having to roll ourselves home.
Capuchin Monkey Foundation (Ole's Place) - The owner of our Airbnb is also a chef who has lived and cooked in restaurants around the world. We opted to have dinner at his place most nights that we stayed there as food was amazing and great value at 3 course (and big courses) for $12 each. My favorite was the ginger and basil curry, served with lentils and rice. It's still one of the best meals that I've had on this trip. It's worth checking on Google to see if he is accepting dinner guests as they were hoping to set up as a restaurant as well. You won't be disappointed! If you can't find anything online you can always try heading there and asking in person, just make sure to say Cassie and Tom sent you!
Chile Rojo - We only ate at Chile Rojo once. We thought that the food was very good but we weren't so impressed with the portion size and price. Out of all the places we ate on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica we this as definitely one of the most expensive relative to what you got. For the record I had a tiny salad and Tom had 3 fish tacos and we shared a bottle of water and the total came to $24.
Farmer's Market - Every Saturday there is a small farmer's market in the hall in the middle of town. The market is cheap and great for picking up organic produce. They also have breads, and some tasty empanadas for cheap!
A lot of the time we also cooked our own meals, usually one pot pastas and tacos which was another great thing about staying at Tami's.
What to see
Jaguar Rescue Centre - The Jaguar Rescue Centre was the best and most worthwhile experience that we had in Puerto Viejo. It is opposite Playa Cocles & Chiquita and was an easy walk from our first Airbnb. The Jaguar rescue centre takes in any animals that have been injured or abandoned in the area, rehabilitates them and then releases them into the wild. The animals that you see depends on the animals that they are currently rehabilitating, which can seem disappointing but really is the point of any animal rescue centre. We got to see sloths (my absolute fave), snakes, baby monkeys, two species of jungle cat (but not a Jaguar as these cannot have any visitor contact if they are to be released to the wild) and many other animals.
Beaches - Beaches dot the coast of Puerto Viejo and boy are there some beautiful ones! It's worth it to rent a bike if you want to explore the more beautiful beaches of the south of Puerto Viejo, Playa Cocle, Chiquita and Punta Uva. Apparently the snorkeling in Punta Uva is world class but we didn't quite make it that far down during our stay.
Luluberlu Art Gallery - We spotted signs for this around the town and decided to go and check it out on one of our lazy afternoons. It was a really lovely gallery displaying a range of amazing art and furnishings from Costa Rican artists. We picked up a few small souvenirs and had a great time wandering the shop and beautiful garden area for half an hour or so.
Over night trip to Bocas (Panama) - We didn't do this as we found out about it a little too late, but Bocas looks amazing and for about $55 USD return you get to see another country and be back in time for the parties in Puerto Viejo (if that;s your scene!)
In general we thought the food in Puerto Viejo was expensive but there are a lot of options and you can always find something to match your budget. When we ate out we tended to eat what we wanted rather than going for the best value but it did mean we got to try some great food.
Bike rental was usually between $5 - $10 per person per day, and is pretty good if you want to ride around the beaches. We did the public tour of the Jaguar Rescue Centre and it cost us $20 each.