Puerto Viejo, also known as Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, is a laidback sun-kissed hippie town on the edge of Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast. It’s filled with beachside bars, restaurants, and local markets with a lively and colorful vibe.
Attracting many surfers and backpackers crossing the border from Panama, Puerto Viejo is one of the best places to visit in Costa Rica. Sit back and enjoy beach days and wildlife among the lush, green jungle backdrop.
In this ultimate guide to Puerto Viejo Costa Rica, we share all you’ll need to know to plan your trip, including the best things to do in Puerto Viejo, great day trips, and where to stay.
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Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Despite being a small town, Puerto Viejo has a lot to offer. With a hip party scene, stunning wildlife areas, plenty of opportunity to connect with locals, and nearby day trip destinations, you’re bound to enjoy your visit, whether you stay for a few days or a few months.
As the town itself is rather small, you’ll get the most out of your visit by spending time enjoying the activities in town as well as exploring the surrounding villages, beaches, and national parks.
Is Puerto Viejo Worth Visiting?
Puerto Viejo is certainly worth a visit! While Puerto Viejo de Talamanca is best known as a haven for surfers and backpackers, it has so much to offer other types of travelers as well. Whether you love nature, lazy beach days, ecotourism, or are looking for a vibrant party scene, you’re going to love Puerto Viejo.
What is Puerto Viejo Known For?
Puerto Viejo is known for its friendly community, excellent surf conditions, vibrant party scene, some of Costa Rica’s best chocolate production, proximity to national parks, and breathtaking wildlife. As Costa Rica is one of the top ecotourism destinations in the world, you’ll find plenty of eco-friendly activities in and around Puerto Viejo.
16 Best Things To Do in Puerto Viejo
Puerto Viejo and the surrounding areas are full of so many opportunities to experience some of Costa Rica’s best attractions that you don’t have to be a backpacker to enjoy this little slice of Caribbean heaven. With countless activities for families, couples, and solo travelers alike, there is something for everyone here. These are among the top things to do in Puerto Viejo.
1. Go Beach-Hopping
From Puerto Viejo, you can enjoy sunny beach days at several gorgeous spots all along the Caribbean coast. From the town’s smallest beach, Playa Chino, to its sparkling black volcanic sand beach Playa Negra just north of town, you’ll have plenty of options.
Just outside of the town to the south, there’s Playa Chiquita which is perfect for a secluded beach day, while Playa Cocles is the biggest and most popular, with the best waves for surfing.
Read More: 12 Best Beaches in Costa Rica
2. Watch The Surfing Pros Taking On Salsa Brava
Head to the Salsa Brava Restaurante Caribeño and you’ll have the best views of Puerto Viejo’s iconic surf break. It’s known for having the best waves in Costa Rica, attracting surfers from all over the world who visit to ride its epic break.
This is not a wave you should be surfing unless you’re a pro, but sitting and watching the professionals while taking in the sunset is definitely a highlight of any trip to Puerto Viejo. Make sure to try the fish tacos!
3. Take A Surf Lesson
After watching the surfers go after big waves, gear up to try surfing for yourself! Head to Playa Cocles where you’ll find endless rows of surfer shacks offering lessons to the more novice and beginner surfers at affordable rates. Surfing is hugely popular in this area of Costa Rica and Panama, so if you’re feeling brave, there’s no safer way to learn than with a local instructor.
4. Bike To Punta Uva
Punta Uva is the next town south of Puerto Viejo and is a short, scenic bike ride between the ocean and lush green jungles. It makes for an impressive journey and is a very popular activity.
If you’re going beach hopping then renting a bike to get around is an affordable ($8 for 24 hours) and sustainable way to do it! Once you reach Punta Uva you will have two beautiful beaches to choose from: Playa Punta Uva and Playa Punta Uva Arrecife.
5. Enjoy Watersports at Punta Uva
Once you’ve reached Punta Uva there are some fun water-based activities you can do such as kayaking, snorkeling, SUP, and even scuba diving! Head to Punta Uva Adventures on the main road to enter the beach where you’ll find equipment for rent.
Between the two beaches, there’s a short trail that leads you up to a gorgeous viewpoint overlooking Arrecife beach. Punta Uva Adventures is also known as Sloth Point and is also the entrance to the beach where the trail can be easily accessed; ask a local if you’re not sure.
6. Bike To Manzanillo & Playa Grande
If you’re feeling extra adventurous, continuing your eco-friendly bike ride down to Manzanillo should be next on your itinerary. Manzanillo is the end of the road; this small, peaceful fishing village is much more “local” and makes for a unique destination.
Its main beach is Playa Grande, a never-ending, soft sand beach, perfect for soaking up some rays and snorkeling. There’s even a shipwreck off the beach, which has been colorfully graffitied making for a great photo op!
The village lies inside the Gandoca-Manzanillo National Refuge, so expect to see some wonderful wildlife, especially exotic birds singing away high in the trees and graceful flocks of pelicans gliding over the water.
7. Visit Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge
The Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Reserve is home to the only intact mangrove swamp on Costa Rica’s Atlantic coast, making it an important part of Costa Rica’s biodiversity. It’s a breeding ground for several species of turtles (from March to May), manatees, crocodiles, caimans, tarpons, and dolphins.
This primary lowland rainforest is the only one of its kind in the region and is home to some of the most endangered wildlife in the country. This makes a visit to this park a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience!
You can explore the park on your own, but doing a guided hike will be much more beneficial. Local guides will be able to point out wildlife that you are more likely to miss on your own and answer any questions you might have, plus you’ll be supporting the local community.
8. Visit Ara Manzanillo
Located in Manzanillo, make sure to check out The Ara Project while visiting town. This unique eco-project exists to reintroduce the Great Green Macaw into the wild from an almost extinct population.
Interestingly, in Costa Rica the Great Green is endemic to the Caribbean Coast while the Scarlet Macaw is to the Pacific Coast. The Ara Project has since reintroduced a number of the birds which have successfully started breeding.
9. Savor Breakfast at Bread & Chocolate
Hands down one of the best breakfast (and dessert) places in Puerto Viejo is Bread & Chocolate. Their menu is full of tantalizing desserts such as an incredible coconut cream pie, but the Caribbean pancakes with slices of crispy bacon are perfect to start the day.
You’ll really enjoy the energy and atmosphere in Bread & Chocolate – it is always busy, which is always a good sign! You’ll find it hard to meet anyone who has a bad thing to say about the friendly place.
10. Shop at the Old Harbor Art & Craft Market
From Friday through Sunday the middle of Puerto Viejo welcomes a small but magical market that showcases some of the area’s more creative talents. It’s bursting with artisan crafts such as locally handmade bags and sarongs, jewelry made from sea shells and vines, local honey, and deliciously scented candles.
Make a plan to attend and don’t miss it! Whether you buy something or not, it’s worth a visit.
11. Go On A Caribbean Tasting Tour
One of the best ways to get to know a place is through its food. Puerto Viejo is known for its Caribbean flavors and so why not go on a Caribbean Tasting Tour?
Expect a fun and immersive tasting tour where you can sample food representative of the Caribbean Costa Rican culture. The food represents the diversity of their culinary heritage, and you’ll be able to meet local cooks who pride themselves in their cooking.
These tours are great for learning about local, traditional ingredients while being guided through popular dishes.
12. Go On A Chocolate Tour
Puerto Viejo and the surrounding region is famous for its chocolate production, and there’s no better way to enjoy chocolate when visiting Puerto Viejo than by heading out on a chocolate-tasting tour. These popular tours will teach you everything you could possibly want to know about cacao and the history of chocolate and chocolate making.
Of course, get ready to enjoy some delicious samples!
13. Visit The Kekoldi Indigenous Reserve
An alternative to a standard Puerto Viejo chocolate tour, consider heading into the Kekoldi Indigenous Reserve, which is home to the Bribri tribe. The Bribri are an indigenous group living in the forest in an environmental and cultural reserve.
You’ll get to take part in a chocolate tour where you’ll learn about the relationship between the tribe and chocolate, as well as have the opportunity to visit the Bribri waterfall and spot some stunning wildlife within the reserve.
14. Day Trip To Cahuita National Park
Do you want to see sloths in the wild? If so make a trip to the Cahuita National Park. It’s one of the best places to visit in Costa Rica for its diversity of flora and fauna – you’re likely to see sloths, and much more!
While Cahuita National Park doesn’t see as much tourism as the Pacific Coast’s national parks, lower tourism means you’ll have a much better chance of spotting even more wildlife. Cahuita also has some of the best unspoiled and breathtaking beaches to dawdle the day away.
While the park is free to enter, it’s suggested to leave a donation for the locals, who take pride in maintaining the paths and walkways through the park.
15. Trip To Finca La Isla
For something a little different, plan a visit to the Finca La Isla permaculture farm on the fringes of Puerto Viejo. Since 1987, this organic farm has grown a mature collection of fruit and spice trees, offering visitors the opportunity to take a self-guided tour around the gardens and rainforest.
You’ll learn all about the edible plants which grow naturally within the forest and how they are used locally to treat ailments and turned into medicines. It’s also the only place that guarantees you’ll be able to see the red poison dart frog in the wild. You’ll also have the chance to see other varieties of poison frogs, reptiles, toucans, sloths, and native birds.
At the end of the tour, the shop offers the tasting of fresh fruit grown within the farm and a selection of juices too.
16. Whitewater Rafting At Pacuare River
If you’re into adventure sports, whitewater rafting could be exactly what you’re searching for! One of the most popular activities in Puerto Viejo, rafting on the Pacuare River means navigating through more than 50 rapids of varying degrees of difficulty. This is one of the best ways to see the natural beauty around the area.
Where to Stay in Puerto Viejo
There are so many amazing places to stay during your holiday to Puerto Viejo depending on your budget and style – more than you might expect for a small town. These are some of the most popular and well-reviewed spots in town.
Mar Caribe ($)
A favorite budget hostel in town, Mar Caribe offers a variety of room types and layouts. With private rooms, dorms, and even unique “huts,” it has plenty of options for travelers, even longer-term rentals. It also offers a communal kitchen and an outside communal area you’ll love. Though basic, it’s a great choice for a budget stay.
Selina Puerto Viejo ($ – $$)
Selina Puerto Viejo is part of the Selina chain of hostels and coworking/coliving spaces found across Latin America. Offering a great social atmosphere, tons of fun group activities, and nice dorms and private rooms, it’s a perfect choice if you’re looking to meet people.
El Tucan Jungle Lodge ($$)
Looking for an eco-friendly escape outside of town? El Tucan Jungle Lodge is a perfect choice. Though a bit rustic, this jungle stay will have you feeling as if you’ve ventured far into the rainforest, though you’ll be just a 15-minute walk from popular Cocles Beach.
Olinca Boutique Hotel ($$$)
Located in the heart of Puerto Viejo, Olinca Boutique Hotel is a lovely, friendly boutique hotel worth traveling for. With a large covered dining room, a large pool, and plenty of accommodation options – including apartment-style rooms for long-term travelers – this is easily one of the best places to stay in Puerto Viejo.
How To Get To Puerto Viejo
Getting to Puerto Viejo from Other Costa Rican Cities
For many travelers, Puerto Viejo seems slightly out of the way. Located at the bottom of the southern end of Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, it can be awkward to get to.
Most tourists will fly into Costa Rica’s International Airport in San José and make their way to Puerto Viejo from there. From San José, there are many ways to reach the town: local bus, coach, or even hiring a private driver or arranging a taxi.
If you are coming from San José it might be an idea to include some other top Costa Rican destinations into your itinerary to break up the journey. Consider Tortuguero, which is loved for its turtle population, and Orosi Valley for its sweeping mountain views!
Rent A Car
Renting a car in Costa Rica is a popular way to explore the country. The roads are quite good, especially if you’re sticking to popular destinations, though even off the beaten path they aren’t too bad. Both as a way to reach Puerto Viejo and as a way to explore the rest of the country, renting a car would be the easiest way to travel, though not the most budget-friendly.
Take a Shuttle Service / Hire a Private Driver
Another popular way to reach Puerto Viejo is to arrange an airport transfer. These generally include shuttles (mini-buses) that will run between popular destinations or you can arrange for your own private driver. On Viator, you’ll find options to pre-book private and shared transfers to Puerto Viejo.
Take a Bus
You’ll find plenty of coach-style regional and local buses to Puerto Viejo, both from San José and other nearby cities. Some bus routes require changing buses in Limón, though you’ll also find direct options to San José and beyond.
Getting To Puerto Viejo From Panama
With its proximity to the international border, Puerto Viejo is a popular destination with travelers coming overland from Panama. A popular option is to take the public bus from Boquete, Panama to Puerto Viejo crossing the border at Guabito. This can be quite a long travel day, but it is budget-friendly and worth the effort!
Most backpackers coming from Panama will leave from Bocas del Toro, another popular spot on the backpacking route through Panama, similar to the nearby San Blas Islands. You can also catch a shuttle bus from Bocas del Toro to Puerto Viejo for another convenient option. While this direct shuttle will cost around $50, it is a direct journey to town and makes crossing the border a breeze.
Visiting Puerto Viejo Costa Rica
While it might be a bit challenging to reach Puerto Viejo, this hidden gem is well worth a visit! Spend a few days exploring and getting to know this unique and lively coastal town, and even use it as a base for exploring surrounding areas for an unforgettable addition to your Costa Rica itinerary. We would go back in a flash!