Just a short time ago, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, (Puerto Viejo), on the Southeastern side of Costa Rica, remained relatively off the beaten tourist path. Just a few surfers roamed the small seaside town on their way to surf Salsa Brava—the legendary majestic wave.

Today, Puerto Viejo tells a different story. This small beachside village now bustles with tourist activity, from stylish restaurants serving global fusion and dance halls pumping out reggaetón to street vendors peddling Rasta trinkets and Bob Marley t-shirts. It can attract all sorts of types intent on indulging in ganja and guaro.

Surfing in Puerto Viejo

Rated among the top surfing destinations in the world, surfing Puerto Viejo is no joke. It really is for those who know exactly what they’re doing. The waters have a strong rip current, rendering swimming a bad idea.

While the Salsa Brava is only to be dared by locals and professionals, there are other surf beaches for intermediate and beginner surfers to cut their teeth on.

Playa Cocles, a stunning white sand beach a 2km walk from the center of Puerto Viejo, is great for intermediate surfers. Closer in town, as you enter Puerto Viejo is Playa Negra, also called Black Beach, where the wave coming off of ‘The Barge’ is ideal for beginner surfers.

A Backpacker’s Nightlife

The last stop-off before crossing over to the Panamanian border, Puerto Viejo is a haven for backpackers and short term travellers. Providing chill vibes and a good time, Puerto Viejo’s nightlife takes no day off. Every night is ladies night and each of the most popular bars marks itself with a different genre of music.

On Tuesdays it’s Tasty Waves with R&B, on Thursdays it’s pure reggae at The Lazy Mon, and on Sunday it’s Calypso night at Hot Rocks Bar & Restaurant. Throughout the rest of the week there are bars like Mango Sunset and Salsa Brava that play a mixture of pop, house and all the above.

Pura Vida, Mon!

Despite its tourist bustle, Puerto Viejo still boasts an easy charm.

The unique blend of Latino, Afro-Caribbean, indigenous Bribri, European and North Americans give this little beachside town a much different vibe than the rest of Costa Rica.

If ‘Pura Vida’ encapsulates the relaxed and friendly countenance of Costa Rica, then ‘Pura Vida, Mon’ would summarize the Puerto Viejo lifestyle . With the ‘Yeah, mon’ of Jamaican accents and roots rock reggae, Puerto Viejo puts a Caribbean spin on Costa Rica life.

The distinct Caribbean influence perfuses the food, the music and the language. Just a couple of blocks off the main strip you may find yourself enjoying the riches of a spicy Caribbean stew among local families. Most notable is the Caribbean restaurant, Soda Lidia’s, which serves the region’s popular coconut rice and beans.

Into the jungle

Rainforest fruit and cacao farms lie nearby, offset by a symphony of singing birds and croaking frogs. Drawn to the lushness and consistent moisture of the rainforest, many Europeans find themselves setting up jungle hostels and permaculture farms.

Working alongside the horticultural way of life that the indigenous BriBri have enjoyed for centuries, the Afro-Caribbean population has also successfully lived off the land. The authenticity and freeness of this lifestyle is what brought those seeking a beachy, earthy existence to Puerto Viejo.

The warm and verdant rainforests surrounding Puerto Viejo is home to some of the coolest of Costa Rica’s mammalian wildlife. Howler monkeys are more likely to be your alarm clock than a neighbor’s rooster would be. Nor is it surprising to catch a smiling, slow moving sloth hanging from a tree outside your window or making its way across a telephone line.

Exploration by bike

The best way to explore this beachside lush rainforest is to rent a beach cruiser for $10 a day and go explore the 8 miles between Puerto Viejo and the beautiful Playa Manzanillo.

With little convenience stores, rustic restaurants and cafes along the way, you will be fuelled up to enjoy the jaunt out to the wide open beaches south of Puerto Viejo.

The first stop is the Jaguar Rescue Center about 3km south of the Puerto Viejo main street. Hooked on baby monkey hugs and sloth cuddles, many a volunteer at the the rescue center have extended their 2-3 week long visits to 6 and 8 week sabbaticals.

Whether on your way to Bocas del Toro in Panama or just exploring the south Atlantic side of Costa Rica, come and chill out, party a little, and enjoy some delicious food. This is what Puerto Viejo is all about.

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