The twelve-kilometre coastal stretch between the languorous village of PUERTO VIEJO DE TALAMANCA, 18km southeast of Cahuita, and Manzanillo is among the loveliest in Costa Rica. Though not great for swimming, its beaches – Playa Chiquita, Playa Cocles, Punta Uva and Manzanillo – are some of the most picturesque on the Caribbean coast. Puerto Viejo itself is one of the most popular backpacker towns in Central America, with plenty of accommodation, plus a lively social scene, and the entire place sells out at weekends, so prepare accordingly.
It’s surfing, however, that really pulls in the crowds; the stretch south of Stanford’s restaurant at the southern end of Puerto Viejo offers some of the most challenging waves in the country and certainly the best on the Caribbean coast. Puerto Viejo’s famous twenty-foot wave “La Salsa Brava” crashes ashore between December and March and from June to July; September and October, when La Salsa Brava disappears, are the quietest months of the year. Then there’s the South Caribbean Music and Arts Festival (t 2750-0062, e [email protected]) held every year for the four weekends leading up to Easter, and featuring Costa Rican musicians playing a variety of music including ska, jazz, reggae, calypso and more.Read More
South to Manzanillo
South to Manzanillo
The fifteen-kilometre stretch of coast south of Puerto Viejo features some of the most appealing beaches on the entire Caribbean coast. All the trappings of a pristine tropical paradise are here, with palm trees leaning over calm sands, purples, mauves, oranges and reds fading into the sea at sunset and a milky twilight mist wafting in from the Talamancas. The first two hamlets heading south from Puerto Viejo, are Playa Cocles (2km south) and Playa Chiquita (4km south) which, owing to the amount of recent development, now more or less blend into one another. Patrolled by lifeguards, Playa Cocles offers perhaps the best surfing in the entire region and is also home to the jungle bookstore Echo Books, with excellent coffee and chocolates, and an impressive selection of reading matter. Playa Chiquita has a couple of interesting attractions nearby, plus a good selection of bars and cafés.
Punta Uva, 5km beyond Playa Chiquita, has a pristine white-sand beach set in a protected cove making it particularly good for swimming. Manzanillo, another 2km further on, almost at the end of the coastal road, has a large shelf of coral reef just offshore that teems with marine life and offers some of the best snorkelling in Costa Rica. The village itself is small and charming, with laidback locals and a couple of great places to eat and hang out.
The Reserva Indígena KéköLdi and ATEC
The Reserva Indígena KéköLdi and ATEC
About two hundred Bribrí and Cabécar peoples live in the Reserva Indígena KéköLdi, which begins just south of Puerto Viejo and extends inland into the Talamanca Mountains. The reserve was established in 1976 to protect the indigenous culture and ecological resources of the area, but the communities and land remain under constant threat from logging, squatters, tourism and banana plantations. The worst problems arise from lax government checks on construction in the area which, inhabitants claim, have led to several hotels being built illegally on their land. The main obstacle between the indigenous peoples and their neighbours has been, historically, their irreconcilable views of land. The Bribrí and Cabécar see the forest as an interrelated system of cohabitants all created by and belonging to Sibö, their god of creation, while the typical campesino view is that of a pioneer – the forest is an obstacle to cultivation, to be tamed, conquered and effectively destroyed.
The best way to visit the reserve is on one of the tours ($20 for a half day, $36 for a full day with meal, or $80 for overnight tour to Yorkin reserve by motorboat) organized by the Asociación Talamanqueña de Ecoturismo y Conservación, or ATEC (t 2750-0191, w http://www.ateccr.org), a grassroots organization set up by members of the local community – Afro-Caribbeans, Bribrí indigenous peoples and Spanish-descended inhabitants. If you’re spending even just a couple of days in the Talamanca region, an ATEC-sponsored trip is a must; to reserve a tour, go to their Puerto Viejo office on the main road at least one day in advance. The organization’s main goal is to give local people a chance to demonstrate their pride in and knowledge of their home territory, and to teach them how to make a living from tourism without selling their land or entering into more exploitative business arrangements. In this spirit, ATEC has trained about fifteen local people as guides, who get about ninety percent of the individual tour price. Whereas many of the hotel-organized excursions use cars, ATEC promotes horseback and hiking tours. They also visit places on a rotating roster, so that local hamlets don’t deteriorate from foreigners traipsing through daily.
The tour does not take you, as you might expect, to villages where indigenous peoples live in “primitive” conditions. The Bribrí speak Spanish (as well as Bribrí) and wear Western clothes. But underneath this layer of assimilation lie the vital remains of their culture and traditional way of life. Although the area has seen some strife between the reserve dwellers, their neighbours and foreign hotel developments, these altercations remain largely on the level of policy. As a visitor, you won’t see any overt ill-feeling between the groups. Treks usually last about four hours, traversing dense rainforest and the Talamanca Mountains. They start near the road to Puerto Viejo – where Bribrí crafts, including woven baskets and coconut shell carvings, are on sale – and pass cleared areas, cocoa plantings and small homesteads, and then into secondary, and finally primary, cover. In this ancient forest the guide may take you along the same trails that have been used for centuries by Bribrís on trips from their mountain homes down to the sea, pointing out the traditional medicinal plants that cure everything from malaria to skin irritations. A tour may also involve discussions about the permanent reforestation programme or a visit to the iguana breeding farm established by the local community. However, they conveniently neglect to mention one of the reasons they breed the iguanas is to eat them – especially when the females are pregnant – a major reason they are on the verge of extinction.