Things to do in Puerto Viejo
There are not so many things to do in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, but that’s the beauty of this destination. It’s about taking a step back, relaxing, and soaking up the vibe of Caribbean Costa Rica.
1. Jaguar Rescue Center
The Jaguar Rescue Center is a temporary or permanent home for ill, injured, and orphaned animals. Most animals brought here have been electrocuted by power lines, attacked by cats or dogs, or hit by cars. It’s a park where you can see sloths, many birds, monkeys, and even a margay cat! There are also many wild animals around up in the trees.
The story behind the center is fascinating! The owner and her partner (both vets) arrived in Puerto Viejo as European travelers when there were only 4 restaurants in town. A local knew about their jobs and brought in what he thought was a baby jaguar but was actually an ocelot! The locals got the news about the ‘Jaguar Rescuers’ (hence the name), and others started bringing in animals. So, fortunately, there are no injured jaguars in the center.
Jaguar Rescue Center Tours
The center offers excellent educational tours every morning (there are two timeslots) where they tell you everything about the animals, their progress, and the mistakes they made and learned from along the way. They had to grow and develop, but nowadays, they are one of the best animal centers in the world. In the afternoon (after the tours), most animals can go out and roam around.
The revenue of your entrance ticket will provide for food for the animals and general costs for the park. Everything else is done by great volunteers from all over the world.
On a tour, be aware that you cannot hold or touch any animals – especially those in rehab who need to avoid human contact. You are not allowed to take any photos/selfies with the animals. And, finally, you are not allowed to interact with them. For example, by making sounds to get their attention.
2. Discover Puerto Viejo by Bicycle
Take a few steps back from the busy city life and soak up the relaxed atmosphere of this Caribbean town. The most relaxed way to discover the village is by bicycle or electric bike, and that’s really the best thing to do in Puerto Viejo. Cruise along the stunning, palm-tree-lined streets and beaches or spot animals on the side of the road like sloths, toucans, or monkies. The roads are brand-new and bike-friendly as the maximum speed for cars is only 50 km/h.
Inside the small town of Puerto Viejo, you will find many lovely boutique shops, restaurants, and options to rent (electric) bicycles. The Caribbean vibe is really noticeable with a change in food, the smell of weed (even though it’s not legal), and vibrant Rastafarian culture. There’s a wonderful vibe at the beach shacks in town just after sunset.
Wildlife in Puerto Viejo: It might be possible that you find a sloth on the road. It is important not to touch the sloth because it can have a heart attack from any human interaction. Please ask all cars to stop and wait for it to move or take a big branch so that it can grab onto this and you can move it. For any animal problems, please call the Jaguar Rescue Centre.
3. Cahuita National Park
A great thing to do in Puerto Viejo is to visit the nearby Cahuita National Park. It’s a protected area containing a stunning rain forest, beach, and coral reef. Walk the easy trail through the park that runs along the beaches and see a lot of wildlife like raccoons, sloths, and monkeys. Make sure to come prepared with water in your refillable bottle because the trail is about 8 kilometers long. (Also read our sustainable travel tips)
Getting to the park can be done by car or bus in 20 minutes or by bicycle in 45 minutes. Spend the entire day at the park and have a dip in the sea whenever you like.
The entrance is free, but a donation of 3000 Colones (~ 5 USD) is kindly requested to maintain the park. Please note that this is one of the only free parks in Costa Rica, so donating is essential. A guided hike is a good idea to spot wildlife more easily.
Manzanillo is a tiny fishing village inside the Gandoca-Manzanillo National Refuge. It is the last town of the Limon province where the road literally doesn’t go further. From here, it transforms into a national reserve followed by the border with Panama.
In Manzanillo, wander down the never-ending beach, Playa Grande, with its famous shipwreck, and spot the enormous flocks of pelicans passing by once in a while.
The village is located about 13 kilometers from Puerto Viejo town and is the ideal location to stay if you want to be away from the crowds and go to some excellent restaurants. (see the accommodations at Manzanillo)
On the way to Manzanillo town, make a stop at Ara Manzanillo. It’s a breeding project for the Green Macaw, which is typical for the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. On the other hand, the Scarlet Macaw is typical for the Pacific side of the country. Unfortunately, the Green Macaws are very hard to find in the wild, and it’s Ara Manzanillo’s goal to change this through the breeding program. Just like the Jaguar Rescue Center, this program depends entirely on volunteers.
5. Go on a Chocolate Experience
Puerto Viejo is famous for its cacao as it grows well on the Caribbean side of the country. Join a tour and learn how they grow the cacao, let the beans dry, and eventually make chocolate. Did you know the cacao fruit around the bean is actually really sweet and tasty?
Of course, a chocolate tour is not complete without a tasting experience. Grind the cacao into chocolate flakes and mix it with whatever you like. Put your tastebuds to the test and try pure chocolate with fruits like mango, banana, ginger, or nutmeg. A flavorsome experience!
There are two interesting tours in Puerto Viejo: the Cacao Trails and Caribbeans Chocolate Tour. We did the Cacao Trails tour and even saw wild Capuchin monkies and sloths while wandering through the cacao trees.
6. Punta Uva
Some of the best beaches in Costa Rica are situated in Puerto Viejo. Punta Uva, however, has to be the best beach of them all! The stunning white sand beach has palm trees that dangle over the clear blue waters. Punta Uva is about 8 kilometers away from town in the same direction as Manzanillo. Please note that the beach is split into two parts, with this place being the absolute best.
The beauty of Costa Rican beaches is that it’s difficult to build property on the beach because of strict laws. In addition to this, it’s prohibited by law to have private beaches. This means no hotel or resort is allowed to own a beach, so the beach is for everyone!
Kayak at Punta Uva
If the sea is calm enough, rent a kayak at the beach and paddle down the river in Punta Uva. The river goes into the jungle, where you will be all alone on the water spotting animals from your kayak.
7. Playa Puerto Viejo
If you don’t feel like traveling to one of the beautiful white or black sand beaches outside of town, there is Playa Puerto Viejo (Chino Beach). It’s a small but lovely soft sand beach with palm trees right in front of some great beach shacks like Pirata Tike Bar and Grow Restaurant. Natural rock pools break the waves in the water, so it’s great for relaxing and for those traveling with kids. Additionally, there’s a boat for playing and jumping into the water.
8. Visit the BriBri Waterfalls
The BriBri is an indigenous tribe in Costa Rica that lives close to the border of Panama. They have their own language and strive to preserve their culture. Visit the BriBri village and the multiple waterfalls by driving down to this location and taking a guided trip to the falls. It’s about 25 minutes driving by car from town, and in the dry season, you won’t need a 4×4 to get there.
9. Surfing in Puerto Viejo
With the sunny days and reggae music, there’s one thing that you cannot miss: surfing! Unlike Santa Teresa on the Pacific side, there is no year-round surf at Puerto Viejo in the Caribbean. Instead, the surf season in Puerto Viejo runs from December to March with fairly big swells. Playa Cocles is the most popular for taking lessons, but there are several surf spots for different levels. However, most waves at Puerto Viejo are definitely for advanced surfers.
Best Restaurants in Puerto Viejo
Even the local food on the Caribbean side is slightly different from other parts of Costa Rica. There are some fantastic Jamaican-influenced shacks to get cheap eats and trendy food spots. These were our favorites:
- Grow (Right along the beach)
- Pizzeria Pulcinella (Best pizzas in town)
- Soul surfer (Burgers, veggie options!)
- Bread & Chocolate (Lovely bakery)
- Port Vell
- Jammin (Vegan, Jamaican)
- Soda Shekina (famous place)
- The Gustibus (Bakery)
- Como en mi Casa – Art Cafe
Where to Stay in Puerto Viejo
Spend at least 2 nights enjoying all the things to do in Puerto Viejo. If you prefer to have everything close by and don’t mind some street noise, look for accommodation in the main town.
Alternatively, stay closer to the beaches and nature anywhere near the road between Playa Cocles and Manzanillo. All the to-do’s and restaurants are spread out, so you can’t really go wrong as long as you rent a bicycle.
Campsites in Puerto Viejo
Planning on camping in Costa Rica? There are quite a few good campsites around.
- Camping Arrecife
- Olguita’s Place
- Rocking J’s Camping on site
How to visit Puerto Viejo
Getting to Puerto Viejo takes a little longer than most of the other destinations in Costa Rica. It’s about 40 minutes from the Panama border and 4.5 hours from San Jose.
When arriving on a flight to San Jose, it’s about 4.5 hour drive by car to Puerto Viejo. It’s good to know that there’s a brand-new well-paved road. Plus, during our visit, the roads were widened to four lanes. Closer to Puerto Viejo, you’ll find some potholes in the road, and there’s one specific bridge you need to cross very slowly to avoid damage. You do not need a 4×4, but a car with some clearance from the ground can be useful to prevent damage.
By Public Transport/Shuttle Bus
There’s a bus company named MEPE driving multiple times a day between San Jose and Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. The bus takes about 5 to 6 hours. You need to make sure the bus goes to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca because there are places with similar names.
Alternatively, you can opt for a minivan with Interbus or one of the other companies. Have a look at your options here.
Getting around Puerto Viejo
Puerto Viejo is one of the easiest villages to get around on a Costa Rica route. The main transportation in town is bicycles or electric scooters, which are also the most convenient. E-scooters are available for rent at ± 40 USD a day. All the things to do in Puerto Viejo are located on one long street with a maximum biking time of 45 minutes.
Your Budget for Puerto Viejo
Puerto Viejo is a little more affordable than busier places like Uvita or Santa Teresa. Expect to pay anywhere from 20 – 250 USD a night for a room and 6 – 30 USD for a meal. Most tours have a small entrance fee or donation. Note that tap water is safe to drink in Puerto Viejo town.
Best Time to visit Puerto Viejo
Costa Rica’s Caribbean side has a different season. The best months to visit Puerto Viejo are February to April and August to October. However, we visited in early January and had beautiful sunny days with a few rainy afternoons. The year-round temperature is about 30 degrees Celsius, with temperatures in the 20s at night.