Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica
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Book your individual trip, stress-free with local travel experts
The village of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, 17km south of Cahuita, has become a byword for backpacker and surf-party culture, with a vibrant nightlife and an abundance of cheap accommodation. As always, though, the main attraction is the backdrop of pristine Costa Rican rainforest and a shoreline of enticing, palm-backed beaches. Plan your trip to Puerto Viejo with our guide to Puerto Viejo — based on the The Rough Guide to Costa Rica, your travel guide for Costa Rica.
Puerto Viejo lies between the thickly forested hills of the Talamanca Mountains and the sea, where locals bathe and kids frolic with surfboards in the waves.
The main drag through the centre is crisscrossed by a handful of side streets crammed with stores and tour operators. As in Cahuita, many foreigners have been drawn to Puerto Viejo, and have set up their own businesses. As a result, you’ll find lots of places offering health foods, yoga and New Age remedies.
Most locals are of Afro-Caribbean descent and signs of indigenous culture are more evident here than in neighbouring Cahuita. Skirting the southern end of town, the Reserva Indígena KéköLdi is inhabited by about two hundred Bribrí and Cabécar people,
It’s surfing, however, that really pulls in the crowds. The stretch at the southern end of Puerto Viejo offers some of the most challenging waves in the country, and certainly the best on Costa Rica's Caribbean coast.
Though a lazy day on the beach is the biggest draw for most visitors to Puerto Viejo, there’s no shortage of tours and activities on offer. These include surfing, diving and kayaking along the coast, yoga classes, chocolate tours, and day-trips to indigenous reserves.
You can also arrange trips to Tortuguero National Park from Puerto Viejo (two days cost from around US$1655) — one of the best places in the world to watch turtles, along with other remarkable wildlife.
Also bear in mind that Cahuita isn’t far away. From there, you can take a boat trip to snorkel Parque Nacional Cahuita’s coral reef.
Chances are, if you’re visiting Puerto Viejo, you’ll want to take to its celebrated waves.
If you’re new to surfing, lessons offered by the surf shops in the village generally cost US$25–30/hr. Half-day board rentals cost around US$25.
Already mastered the art? “La Salsa Brava", Puerto Viejo’s famous twenty-foot wave, is at its most consistent between December and March.
The same applies to surf spots all along Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast. The area can also receive some hurricane swells from about August to late-September.
If you fancy diving, the beachfront Punta Uva Dive Center has highly qualified instructors offering one-tank dives from US$7065 (2 tanks for US$9580). They also run PADI courses from US$235 and 3hr snorkelling trips for US$55.
About two hundred Bribrí and Cabécar people live in the Reserva Indígena KéköLdi. This 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.
The best way to visit is on one of the tours organized by ATEC (Asociación Talamanqueña de Ecoturismo y Conservación), a grassroots organization set up in 1990. In fact, 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 at least one day in advance.
The organisation’s main goal is to give local people a chance to demonstrate their pride in and knowledge of their home territory. It also empowers them to make a living from tourism without selling their land or entering into more exploitative business arrangements. In this spirit, ATEC has trained local people as guides, who get about ninety percent of the individual tour price.
Tours start near the road to Puerto Viejo, where Bribrí crafts are on sale, and usually last about four hours, traversing dense rainforest and the Talamanca Mountains.
After passing cleared areas, cocoa plantings and small homesteads, you’ll head into secondary and primary cover. In this ancient forest, the guide may take you along the same trails that have been used by Bribrís for centuries.
A tour may also involve discussions about the permanent reforestation programme, or a visit to the iguana-breeding farm established by the local community.
Love epic walks? Read up on the best hikes in Costa Rica.
Prancing Pony on Playa Chiquita offer a range of horse-based trips that offer fresh ways to see Puerto Viejo in exhilarating style.
Never ridden before? Book a fun and gentle 1.5 hour “learn to ride” taster session that’ll take you through the jungle to the beach, with guides on-hand to point out local wildlife, including sloths.
Longer (2-3 hours) tours also include both the forest and beach, with deeper exploration of the jungle. You can add-on a “swim with horses” experience to round off your trek. Travelling with kids? Ask about their bespoke trip for children.
The fabulous Caribeans Coffee and Chocolate on Playa Cocles offer excellent chocolate tours. The tour includes a 1km hike through their sustainable cacao forest. While this involves some hilly terrain, it’s not a hardcore hike.
Along the way, your guide will point out local fauna, and you’ll get to taste fruit from the farm's cacao trees. In addition, you’ll see the bean-to-bar process at the chocolate workshop, and can sample delicious finished chocolate products while enjoying epic ocean views.
Tours last 2-3 hour, cost US$28, and run at 10am on Monday, at 10am and 2pm on Tuesday and Thursday, and at 2pm on Friday and Saturday.
If you’re in the mood for exhilerating activities, Puerto Viejo has plenty to keep you satisfied. The easiest way to enjoy some of the area's best adventure pursuits is with Exploradores Outdoors.
Located just north of central Puerto Viejo, this excellent outfit runs several tours of the local area, including a kayaking and hiking trip to Punta Uva (US$4955).
They also lead one of the best day-trips in the country — whitewater rafting on the Río Pacuare. This includes four hours of rafting on Class III and IV sections of the river — a total of 38 rapids — and lunch (US$99).
Tours depart from their rafting centre in Siquirres, with pick-ups from Puerto Viejo, Cahuita or San José.
They can drop you off at a different location than pick-up, which is handy if you’re moving on to San José or Cahuita.
You shouldn’t have any problem finding accommodation in Puerto Viejo, although it’s still best to reserve a room in advance during high season and surfing-season weekends (June, July and Dec–March).
The majority of places in the village are simple cabinas, some without hot water, while more upmarket establishments line the coast south of the village towards Playa Cocles.
Quieter options face Playa Negra, the black volcanic sand beach northwest of the village on the road back to Limón (not to be confused with the beach near Cahuita).
You can camp on the beaches, but budget travellers should forsake their tents for the excellent Pagalù Hostel.
Browse places to stay in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica.
As you might expect in such a popular, international resort, Puerto Viejo offers a cosmopolitan range of places to eat, from excellent European-style eateries owned by foreign residents, to local sodas serving tasty Caribbean cuisine.
Puerto Viejo isn’t short of quality cafés, coffee shops and bakeries serving everything from US favourites (cinnamon-oatmeal pancakes, bagels, even biscuits and gravy) to fresh Italian gelato.
Note that prices are relatively high and the quality not always good – don’t assume everything is caught locally. For a splurge, the restaurants in Cocles and further along the coast are better value.
Find out more about eating and drinking in Costa Rica.
The best way to negotiate the coast road beyond Puerto Viejo is by bike. You’ll find several bicycle rental shops in town and many of the local hotels and cabinas also rent out bikes for around ₡3000/day.
To rent a car, visit the Adobe Car Rental (Mon–Sun 8am–5pm; T2750 0715) office on the main street in Puerto Viejo.
Dedicated surfers and divers will be rewarded by spending at least a 4-5 days in Puerto Viejo.
The same can be said of travellers looking for a chilled-out beach break with the likes of yoga classes and horse-riding trips on hand to fill your days with rejuvenating fun.
Add to that spending a day in the Reserva Indígena KéköLdi, a half-day on a chocolate tour, and another day rafting or kayaking, and a week will pass by in a flash.
Looking for inspiration for your trip? Check our Costa Rica itineraries, or talk to our Costa Rica experts.
Top tip: if you want to explore more of Costa Rica's Caribbean coast, our self-drive Caribbean adventure trip has your name all over it.
Surfers wondering when’s the best time to visit Puerto Viejo will want to know that waves are most consistent between December and March, and from June to July.
If you’re looking for a bit of peace (and cheaper prices) September and October are the quietest months of the year. But bear in mind that La Salsa Brava completely disappears during these months.
On the other hand, if you’ve come for culture, the Puerto Viejo Chocolate Festival is held in October to celebrate local cacao farmers and chocolate makers.
For more on the best time to visit different destinations in Costa Rica, read our guide to when to go to Costa Rica.
Autotransportes MEPE buses to/from San José stop at La Parada on Av 73, at C 213. The ticket office is just across the street.
Companies such as Interbus serve Puerto Viejo daily from La Fortuna (6hr), San José (5hr) and Cahuita (30–40min), with door-to-door service.
Note that rates are much more expensive than public buses — at least US$52 one-way from San José, for example. You can buy shuttle bus tickets at the main ticket office.
It’s an easy drive along Hwy-36 (in very good condition) then Hwy-256 (surfaced, but slightly less maintained) to Puerto Viejo from Cahuita (16km), Puerto Limón (60km) and points north.
The road is in reasonably good condition (barring the odd pothole) all the way to Manzanillo, where it reverts to dirt track.
From San José it’s advisable to leave before 2pm to avoid driving at night. To rent a car, visit the Adobe Car Rental office on the main street in Puerto Viejo.
For more transportation tips, read our guide to getting around Costa Rica.
Looking for more inspiration? Read up on the best things to do in Costa Rica, and get yourself a copy of The Rough Guide to Costa Rica.
Our Costa Rica travel tips will also help you plan your trip. Not keen on planning? You'll love our customisable Costa Rica itineraries.
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Header image: Reserva Indígena KéköLdi, near Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica © Shutterstock