First off, you should know that there are two towns called Puerto Viejo in Costa Rica. If you’re an avid bird watcher, you’re probably looking for Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí in the Heredia province. If you’re looking for a beach, a cocktail and some reggae jams, you’re most likely looking for Puerto Viejo de Talamanca in the Limón province. I don’t think there’s a need to explain which one we chose. And just for the record, I specifically try not to watch birds. They’re rude.
Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica
Knowing we had to take two long bus rides to get there from our town of Playas Del Coco, we set off at 8:00am for San José, the much larger, more densely populated capital city of Costa Rica. The bus takes around 5 hours and costs $8 per person. There is no air conditioning on most of the buses (this same route had air conditioning on the way back), but if it gets me halfway across the country for the cost of a box of tampons, I’ll take it. If you’re a stickler for comfort and speed, there are two better options that will get you there for $35-$45 per person. I feel the need to let you know that the $8 bus did break down on the way there, but we were picked up by another bus thirty minutes later and got there just fine. Hey, all buses can’t be winners. I blame science.
Here’s a look at our route:
We met up with one of our neighbor’s friends, Mike, who moved to Costa Rica twenty years ago from Wisconsin and was nice enough to give us some beers, chili dogs and a room for the night. San José is nice for two reasons: more stuff and better weather. It’s easily twenty degrees cooler there, and Mike says he never turns on his air conditioning. It’s also easily the worst city in Costa Rica for traffic. On our cab ride to the bus station the next morning, we noticed we were driving on the wrong side of the road. They open up all lanes of particular streets so that more people are moving on the road, at least in one direction. Road congestion is apparently so bad that people are restricted from driving at certain times on certain days based on the last number of their license plate. Yikes.
After hopping on our second bus to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, which takes around 4 hours and costs $10 per person, we enjoyed our partly chilly ride through the winding hills of Central Costa Rica followed by our mainly sweaty ride into the flat, coastal towns of Southern Costa Rica.
Originally we were scheduled to Couchsurf with a guy that owns a house in the area, but we had trouble finding internet when we arrived and didn’t want to lug our stuff around waiting to hear back, so we chose a hostel instead. I had read online about a place called Rocking J’s, so we rented a double tent with a bed for the night for $8 per person. They also have hammocks, dorm style rooms and private rooms for rent.
I won’t saying anything bad about hostels, because I think most of the time they’re perfectly fine for how cheap they are. That’s pretty much the point, after all. However, our tent definitely smelled like old pee and there were giant, questionable stains on our sheets. Also, a couple that were on our bus earlier in the day were “wrestling” pretty hard in the tent directly next to us. At some point things just get weird and gross, you know?
Anyway, we decided it was time to explore the town, which is pretty damn cool and completely different than Coco. If you like eating out, clear water, white sand and surfing waves in a Caribbean beach town, you’ll like Puerto Viejo. Lots of young people riding bikes, older hippies doing yoga, and Rastas smoking weed. There are easily ten times more young people and three times the amount of restaurants and bars here than where we live.
After taking a swim in the ocean and having an adult beverage, we decided to ditch our tent and splurge on a hotel room, which only cost $35 per night at the cozy Lizard King Resort right on the main road. Well worth the money for two nice beds, a private bathroom, wifi, a ceiling fan and a pool. Score.
The next day we visited the highly recommended Sloth Sanctuary and came back to grab a quick bite and relax. Puerto Viejo has way more food options than I’ve seen anywhere else in the country, including vegan and vegetarian options, French cuisine, Caribbean food, and even Indian and German dishes. You simply can’t find that in most places of Costa Rica. Lonely Planet does a great job reviewing the specific restaurants here. We also happened to be in town for the Costa Rica v. U.S. soccer game, which we watched at a hoppin’, open air beach bar right in the center of town. Remember, when in Costa Rica, root for Costa Rica. They probably care way more than you do.
The shopping in Puerto Viejo is nothing special, but it’ll do if you’re looking for the usual tourist goods like dresses, hammocks, pipes, flip flops and tank tops, and even some not so usual, like artwork, surf boards and freshly made, local food products.
It’s a beautiful place, and one I now feel good about recommending a friend to move to for a year. We heard it can be sketchy, but honestly, just like everywhere else I’ve ever been, watch your stuff and don’t be stupid and you’ll be fine. People are people, there are good and bad ones everywhere.
Whatever you do, please don’t drink at a place called Outback Jack’s. Not to hate on Jack, who happens to be a nice, older guy from (you guessed it!) Australia, but as a bartender, you shouldn’t trust anyone who puts a cherry in a bloody mary or orange juice in a mojito. Just… no.
I should also note that on the bus ride back to San José, two dudes totally smoked weed out of the back window. When you’re on a moving form of transportation containing two dozen European white kids and teenage Ticos, that’s bound to happen. If that’s not your thing, pay more for the shuttle bus.