Colourful Creole houses, laid-back Caribbean vibes and coconut rice and beans make Puerto Viejo in Costa Rica right where I want to be.
One of the small handful of towns on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, Puerto Viejo is overflowing with vegan cafes, young rasta guys on bicycles trying to sell you weed and lazy stretches of yellow sand beaches. After almost three weeks of lazing around – I mean, travelling – eating and sleeping in the Puerto Viejo area, I’ve definitely got some favourites.
Things to Do in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica
There’s no need to rush around the Talamanca area – and you certainly won’t find anyone else doing so. The Caribbean side of Costa Rica is all about taking it easy.
Cycle along the Coast
The road from Puerto Viejo runs all the way down the coast past plenty of yellow sand beaches. Grab a bicycle in town for around $5 per day and start cycling. You’ll pass Playa Cocles where the beach is really quite large, the pretty little Playa Chiquita where the cafes are all delicious, Playa Punta Uva where you can stop for a pipa fria, and Manzanillo which is a favourite weekend spot for the locals.
With coastline on one side and jungle on the other, there is plenty of wildlife around the Puerto Viejo area. While travelling we came across sloths, howler monkeys, agoutis, toucans, red-eye tree frogs, dart frogs, and an olingo, amongst others. We definitely found Playa Chiquita and the jungle surrounding La Kukula Lodge to be the area most rich in wildlife.
I absolutely love to cook and always jump at the chance to take a vegetarian or vegan cooking class. We took our first vegan cooking class in Vietnam and this was our second. Suffice to say, they were completely different but equally delicious. You can take a vegetarian, vegan or even raw cooking class with Veronica for $35 per person. Not only is Veronica an incredible Caribbean cook, but her family is among the friendliest you will ever meet.
Puerto Viejo Farmer’s Market
Puerto Viejo hosts a very small but well stocked farmer’s market on Saturday mornings. The market can be found tucked into a side lot en-route to Como en mi Casa Art Cafe. I strolled over at 7 or 8am, though the market continues until around midday. Local chocolate, cacao nibs, basil pesto, organic veggies, and natural soaps can all be found here. Everything looks so delicious.
Where to Eat in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica
When it comes to destinations for foodies in Costa Rica, Puerto Viejo definitely wins the prize. The coconuty, warming spicy flavours of the Caribbean food are completely different from the usual Tico cuisine. Puerto Viejo is also big on organic, vegetarian and vegan foods with plenty of quirky cafes around to fill the hole.
Where to Eat in Puerto Viejo Town
In Puerto Viejo town, you’ll want to check out Cafe Rico for an early breakfast, the only place in town open at 5:30am. You can get a pasta bowl sized portion of fruit and granola and a good coffee while being watched by a portrait of the Queen. The cafe also has a great book exchange (trade in 2 for 1) which gives it the appearance of a dusty castle constructed of books.
My personal favourite of the cafes in Puerto Viejo was Como en mi Casa Art Cafe. This vegetarian/vegan gem is sitting bang on top of the local butchers (what an antithesis!) and has a heap of gluten-free options too. The chickpea wraps are a great lunch snack and you have to try out the raw vegan tropical fruit cake. Oh and without a doubt: best coffee in town.
DreadNut Coffee was another great cafe that we stopped by a few times. Some crazy cool coffee options like black vanilla americanos and iced baileys lattes, homemade bagels at a cheaper price than everywhere else and an outside balcony with a sea view, what more could you want?
By far our favourite soda in the whole of Costa Rica, let alone Puerto Viejo, is Soda Guetto Girl One Love. The woman who owns it cooks up all the food fresh – this isn’t a fast food rice and beans joint. In her words, “it’s all my style” – and her style is sooo good. Vegetarians (and vegans) can get a big portion of coconut rice and beans with a Caribbean veggie stew, fried plantains and salad for 3000 colones.
Where to Eat at Playa Cocles
I wasn’t wowed by the food in Playa Cocles, but it is a small place. You can get cheap tacos and beer from Tasty Waves if you’re in need of a quick bite. If you’ve got a little more to spend and can brave the unfriendly waitress, then Caribeans, under Om Yoga, has a good sandwich and chocolate selection.
Where to Eat at Playa Chiquita
If you’re cycling along the coastline or having a beach day at Playa Chiquita, you have to stop by Alice Ice Cream Bar. A meticulously updated chalkboard outside tells you what flavours are available that day. We actually gorged ourselves on ice cream there three times and would put coconut almond, vegan coconut and strawberry, and chocolate chip at the top of the must-try list.
Out of everywhere we ate in the Puerto Viejo area, La Botanica Organica provided the best veggie food. Lentil burgers with veggie stew and brown rice, salads with carrot and ginger dressing, wholemeal pitta bread with local cheese and avocado… Everything was delicious, except the coffee, which was a real let down to such an excellent food menu.
As slow travellers and self-confessed healthy eaters, we were eager to try out Pura Gula, a slow food restaurant where the food is all cooked up from scratch. Luke loved the vegetarian option of curried, stacked vegetables and mashed potato, though I was a little less impressed and actually suspect that the meat and fish options were better thought out.
Where to Stay in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica
We were really fortunate to get stay in a whole host of really good, though very different, places in the Puerto Viejo area. There is every kind of accommodation you could want, from backpackers’ hostel beds to off-the-grid luxury nature retreats.
Places to Stay in Puerto Viejo
Veronica’s Place, $25 for private room
When we first arrived in Puerto Viejo we headed to Veronica’s Place, the local vegetarian hostel (yes, this is also where we had our cooking class). Veronica has both a hostel with dorms in town and cabins attached to her house on the edge of town. We stayed in her cabins, which were brightly painted, clean and with a shared kitchen (that had a blender and coffee sock!) attached.
Cabina’s Lika, $20 for private room
Just like the sign says, this place was clean and cheap. There was also a weird guy who wouldn’t leave the hammock outside of our room – everyone’s room had a hammock outside, but he wanted ours. Nevertheless, it was an excellent budget option.
Samasati, $100+ with 3 meals included*
Samasati is an off-the-grid yoga retreat set in the jungle-clad mountains that surround Puerto Viejo. If you’re a solo female traveller looking for a place to escape all of the stresses of the daily grind, this is the place for you. With a focus on nature and wellness, Samasati has morning and evening yoga sessions, three vegetarian meal per day, and nature walks on the grounds.
Places to Stay at Playa Cocles
The next beach along from Puerto Viejo town is Playa Cocles, which is probably the biggest beach on the strip. There are only a few options for food and accommodation here.
Cariblue, $96 for double room*
Breakfast buffets, swimming pools galore and just a stone’s throw from the beach, Cariblue has it all when it comes to finding a completely stress free place to stay. Everything you could possibly need or want is all under one palm-thatched roof. I have to say, this is definitely the most safe and secure place we have stayed in Costa Rica to date with 24 hour security guards keeping watch.
Places to Stay at Playa Chiquita
Playa Chiquita boasts the best eating places along with the most incredible eco-lodge we’ve ever had the pleasure to stay at.
La Kukula Lodge, $85 for double room*
At this thoughtfully designed eco-lodge, the jungle really is on your doorstep. The lodge is home to a diverse array of wildlife, the homemade toast and jam breakfast is yummy, and the owner, Pepo, is the friendliest guy you’ll meet on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast.
If you’re in Puerto Viejo you can also, like us, take a shuttle across to the Panamanian island of Bocas del Toro. Shuttles are around $26 one way and can be booked at any tour place in Puerto Viejo. From there, we travelled back to Costa Rica to our house sit in the mountains around San Jose, but many other travellers continue on to mainland Panama.
Want even more info about travelling to Puerto Viejo? For a definitive guide, I recommend checking out Puerto Viejo Satellite.
How do you like the thought of laid-back life in Puerto Viejo?