Puerto Viejo - Not for Everyone

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Puerto Viejo isn't for everyone. There's no McDonald's or any other international chain. Yoga teachers outnumber office workers. Local kids learn to surf right after they walk. You'll hear twenty different languages before breakfast. If you're looking for luxury resorts with poolside drinks and golf courses you'll find that's not the vibe here. Instead think of a fresh coconut on the beach under an almendro tree while reggae plays at a neighboring bar.

There are a lot of myths and mistruths spoken about Puerto Viejo, things that tourists are often told about the Caribbean in San José or the Pacific Coast hotels. I'll discuss those below. Or, if you're looking for specific information on these topics just click to go to that page: Weather, Money Matters, Health & Safety, Tours & Activities, Volunteering, Sustainable Tourism or, of course, Getting Here.

Old attitudes die hard, the Caribbean has changed faster than anywhere else in Costa Rica

Not so long ago, Costa Ricans from San Jose and the central valley cities rarely visited the Caribbean and Puerto Viejo was just a small village reached by dirt roads connected by small bridges over rivers which occasionally washed out the bridges and made them impassable. Rumors abounded of crime and a lack of decent tourist facilities. Well much has changed over the last twenty years while some things have stayed the same.

On my first visit here in the mid-90s, English with a Caribbean twang was the main language heard on the streets spoken by the residents who had been here longest: the black workers brought over from Jamaica about a century ago. The south Caribbean coast felt a world apart from the rest of Costa Rica and tourism facilities were minimal in Puerto Viejo with a little more in Cahuita which was the largest town on the coast.

While the indigenous (the Bribri and others) and black populations have stayed more or less stable, the area has grown immensely with Puerto Viejo along with the beach towns to the southeast of Cocles, Chiquita and Punta Uva. Manzanillo, at the end of the road, feels the least changed. First, counter-culture tourists discovered the place along with backpackers and those seeking an alternative vibe. While many of the businesses on the Pacific beaches are often American owned, here you'll find tons of Italians, Dutch, Swiss, Canadians and Spanish who all fell in love with the area and opened hotels and restaurants.

The alternative vibe is now why people come here

Costa Ricans discovered the coast after that and now come regularly for the wide variety of beaches and also for the counter-culture vibe. In years past the black population here may have been the source of many Costa Ricans' skeptical views of this coast but now they are recognized as part of its diverse culture and one of the ways this area is unique. As of 2018, Costa Rica had a black woman, Etsy Campbell, from the Caribbean as one of the vice-presidents of the coubntry which tells you how far attitudes have shifted!

A number of boutique luxury accommodations have also opened so now the choices are more varied. You still won't find big corporate resorts but luxury, air conditioning and pools are no longer rare. The hammock hotels and basic bungalows still exist along with a wide variety in the middle so there's something for everyone. Development is a big topic on the local message boards and every new proposal is argued about vociferously by those against change and those who believe new businesses equal more jobs and money for the local population, many of whom, especially the indigenous population who are actually by far the largest part of the population in the canton, remain quite poor.

The greenest part of a green country

In a country known for it's green initiatives and protection of nature and the environment, Puerto Viejo is probably the "greenest" of them all and is a leader in recycling, preserving habitat for wildlife, vegetarian and vegan food options, and eco and sustainable development.

But hey, maybe you don't like pot smoking hippies? Because there's a fair bit of that too! (That said, marijuana smoking is not always tolerated by the police so please don't flaunt it).

Doesn't it rain all the time?

But what about all that rain you say? That's something we used to hear a lot as a reason for not visiting. But the truth is more nuanced. Like many parts of Costa Rica this is a rainforest! But the annual rainfall here is similar to or even lower than many popular areas on the Pacific coast. But while the Pacific and the Central Valley have fairly well defined rainy and dry seasons, the Caribbean Coast is more variable. This map shows a comparison of the different areas of Costa Rica at different times of year.

So the Caribbean tourism has exploded at certain times of year when it will rain everyday on the Pacific but the weather could be completely different here. There's more info on our weather page.

What about getting here? Are the roads bad?

The road from Limón to Manzanillo is now completely paved and in good shape but you'll still find some big potholes and rough roads on the back routes. There are also still lots of one lane bridges where you'll need to wait for the traffic already on the bridge but they tend to be more solid than in years past!

It's also mostly flat once you get here so a bicycle is the best way to get around so if you're driving please watch for bikes, pedestrians and animals sharing the road! The driving instructions page has detailed information on driving and road conditions or leave the car and take the bus or a shuttle here.

Police patrols are now a regular sight in Puerto Viejo wheras in years past they mostly had stayed in their barracks until called. You'll see both regular and tourist police.

Is it dangerous? What about crime?

Crime was often also a reason many were told in the past to avoid the Caribbean. But while the capital Limón can be quite rough, Puerto Viejo's crime is comparable to other beach towns in Costa Rica and tends to be of the petty variety. If you take reasonable precautions like not taking valuables to the beach or leaving them in a car, you are likely to have a problem-free vacation. Please read our health and safety page for tips on staying safe, both from crime and when in the water.

Is it Paradise?

So is it paradise then? Some people who have come for days are still here years later so I guess they'd say it's the closest they've found! But it all depends on your outlook. If this is the place for you, you'll probably know it within a few hours of arriving!

Additional comments from our visitors about Puerto Viejo, the Vibe & Myths

Write a comment/review

What are people saying about us?

Marielle

Hi!We are going to Puerto Viejo in august with our family (2 adults and 2 kids). We want to go to Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife refuge. I've read that I can get information and maps about the park at the Office from the Ministry of Environment in Manzanillo. But I can't find an address of that office in Manzanillo. Does it still exist and what's the adress? Or, where can I get some information and maps?
With kind regards,
Marielle

July 10, 2019

What are people saying about us?

Puerto Viejo Satellite

There may be a environment ministry office in Manzanillo but I'm not aware of any services they provide to tourists unfortunately, it's more of an office for enforcing regulations etc. I strongly recommend you get the services of a local guide to see the reserve. You'll see so much more and he will point out wildlife you'd have never have seen otherwise. There's some more info on our Manzanillo page and on our nature tours page.

July 13, 2019

What are people saying about us?

Michael Fry

My life partner and I are educators, activists and TV series creators and writers. We had been visiting the Pacific side. Montezuma. Manuel Antonio. Since 1989. We finally took a trip to Puerto Viejo. Literally. 6 days there. Three months later. Like today. We just purchased land in Cocles. Right up the beach from Puerto. There simply was no doubt in our hearts that this stretch of beach towns was the Truth. This is HOME. We will begin Airbb hospitality. Tents. August 2019

June 09, 2019

What are people saying about us?

Puerto Viejo Satellite

Welcome Michael! Feel free to add your accommodation option listing on Puerto Viejo Satellite as well, you just need to fill out the new listing form.

June 09, 2019

What are people saying about us?

Amanda Crawshaw

My husband and I just returned from a 2 week trip honeymoon travelling round the Pacific coast, Monteverde, La Fortuna and finally Puerto Viejo. PV and Punta Uva was by far our favorite places. They are AMAZING. I agree, it is the closest you will get to paradise. I love the fact it is laid back, underdeveloped, friendly. Everyone in PV says hello to you on the street, and everyone is so happy. Well, wouldn't you be if you lived in paradise?! I cannot recommend it enough...as a couple, a solo traveler, or as a family. Hippy vibes and snobbishness aside; whatever background you come from, if you can appreciate living as close to nature as possible, then this is the place for you. Enjoy :)

February 20, 2019

What are people saying about us?

kahlil

I'm considering retiring in Costa Rica and planning to start visiting different cities next summer. Puerto Viejo sounds like me/looks like me and that's just fine by me. Any suggestions will be appreciated. I'm focusing on beach cities but without the tourist hype.

December 09, 2018

What are people saying about us?

Tonya

Hi Kahlil, I'm curious about your summer trip and research into retiring in this area. Were there any aha moments that sealed the deal for you? I'm considering the same but have not made up my mind between Costa Rica and Panama. I'm taking a trip down in April 2020 to hopefully narrow the field. Would be interested in hearing about what you have learned.

October 30, 2019

What are people saying about us?

Jennifer C Blohn

Hi all. My husband and I are going to Puerto Viejo in March of 2018. Our son is already a missionary there and will be there another 2 years. We are looking to build an orphanage not far from Puerto Viejo. We have the land and it is about 40 minutes away by car from Puerto Viejo.
Can anyone tell me how many orphans are in Puerto Viejo? Or how many orphans are in Costa Rica? I keep trying to google to get information but am not coming up with concrete answers. Thanks for any information!!! Have a great day!!!

November 06, 2018

What are people saying about us?

Jeffrey baker

I was living in the south pacific. I was visiting Puerto for the first time to visit a friend who owns a popular hostel (rocking j's) I met in San Jose.
I was there for only a week when I said I have to go get the rest of my clothing and come back. and since I did that and have found that I am as close to heaven as I can get without dieing and intend to stay their until I die.
I couldn't agree more with every thing you said and the only thing I could add are some good pictures that back up what you have said.

October 26, 2018

What are people saying about us?

Gabriela Castillo

My family is from Limon and my mom was raised in Cahuita. Reading "It's all blacks down there" enrages me. Anybody who says (or thinks) this doesn't belong in such a beautiful place and should not be welcome. They can stay out of the Caribbean as far as I'm concerned.

August 14, 2018

What are people saying about us?

chris

honestly this is what ive heard from some americans as well. prejudice is real but we have to acknowledge it not pretend it doesnt exist.

September 18, 2018

What are people saying about us?

Cathryn

Hi! I am so sorry that prejudice still exists. If people could only see that it’s not the color of skin but who the person is. Opportunity or lack there of form who a person is. As a single white NY woman that regularly travels alone to beautiful, natural, vibrant, nearly 100% black Tobago West Indies in the southern Caribbean I wish people would open their minds and just get over it. TALK to the next person that you may feel prejudice against from your own sheltered background, hear who they are, see them as a person and GROW.

March 09, 2019

What are people saying about us?

Yanny

Hello I’m very excited to be planning a trip to PV Limon in August. We’re looking for property there but I keep hearing drugs, theft and more drugs. I’m from LA, Lol So the thing that scares me is that it would be so bad that you can’t even walk at night or break ins. As far as buying something would you recommend buying a lot then building or buying something with a small House already in place? Please any recommendations greatly appreciated.

July 24, 2018

What are people saying about us?

Alexa

IMPORTANT: Anyone who has experience dealing with women’s issues in Latin America, specifically Costa Rica, we urgently need your help. My friend and travel companion Sonia Guimil are in a small town on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica called Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, known for its relaxed vibe and Jamaican influence. But last night we saw the underbelly of this place, which is not unique to this town but a sad reality for countless women worldwide that we just happened to witness.

We were walking back to our hotel around 11pm last night when we heard screams of sheer terror coming from a house down the street. We stopped to figure out what was happening and saw the shape of a man holding a large 2x4 wooden board over his head. He then brought it down full force onto a woman cowering on the ground. Her young son was standing nearby screaming for the man to stop while both mom and child screamed and sobbed. We yelled at the man to stop and when he raised the board again, without a second thought we were running over there. Of course the thought crossed my mind about the danger of the situation, but you can’t stand by and watch a man beat the shit out of a woman (and while her child looks on to boot).

He ran into his house by the time we had approached, and the woman was crumpled in a puddle on the street while her boy ran off sobbing into the night. Sonia stayed to help the woman while I ran after the kid, who turned a corner and promptly curled up into a ball on the curb and sobbed violently, shoulders shaking. I did my best to comfort and hold him and tell him lies like everything will be ok. Finally he calmed down enough to tell me at my prompting that they had no family here; they live an hour away, and that the man wasn’t his dad but the boyfriend of his mom. I finally picked up the boy- probably around 8 years old- and carried him around the corner where Sonia had gotten the woman up and started walking her away from the house. Apparently the man had come out again but did not threaten the woman again with Sonia there.

We took mom and son, still sobbing and mom going into shock — the top of her hand swollen to the size of an apple due to the pulverization of her hand or wrist; her son’s crying renewed when he looked up at his mom — to a friend’s house and urged them to call the police and get ready to take the woman to a hospital. She was hyperventilating and said the pain in her hand was extreme. She also had a rectangular board-sized red/swollen mark on her upper arm and a cut under a forming black eye.

Finally the police came and said the only way they could take any action would be if she renounced the guy and filed a report. Sadly as is the case with many battered women, they are reticent to take action against their abuser for a variety of reasons- they may have no way to support themselves; they may have nowhere to go; they may in fact actually love the man (who likely had beat her before but promised never to do it again, as often happens). Her friends encouraged her to make a report as did we, but when we left she was still in the police truck and we don’t know what she decided.

We finally left the woman when it was clear there was nothing more we could do — it has been about an hour and a half at that point. When we got back to our hotel we felt the crash from the earlier adrenaline; we were sickened and saddened and infuriated. I immediately felt like I wanted to leave this place, but the reality is that this kind of thing happens everywhere- most of the time we just don’t see or hear it. The other sad part was the fact that not ONE person came to the aid of this woman and her child despite the fact that every single neighbor would have heard the abuse happening. Even the local people and police didn’t seem terribly surprised or even concerned.

So finally, this is what we need help with: we are going to dedicate today, our last day in this town, to pulling together resources for this woman that we will give to her friend to hopefully pass along. CR has some programs to support women in this situation from what we’ve seen online, but we don’t know much about navigating this system especially in this remote place. We desperately need ANY recommendations people might have, even if it’s just that you take advantage of a reliable internet connection and research for us but especially if you or someone you know has worked here or in other parts of Central America and has ideas.

Because that man could have easily killed this woman last night (who couldn’t have been older than 22), or may do so still, and if there’s anything we can do to give her the strength and support to avoid going back to him, we need to try. And possibly we will educate a few of the local people here in the process that violence against woman should not/does not have to be tolerated. Because again, two gringas are the only ones who came to their aid —which says something about the acceptance level of violence against women in this culture.

Sorry to post something so awful here, but please SHARE with anyone who can help us pull together resources and ideas that we can pass on today — please leave comments with any suggestions. This will be our main task before we leave and is our last chance to help in an immediate way. Thank you so much for reading this and for any support you can offer.

-Kimber & Sonia

February 23, 2018

What are people saying about us?

Tess unger

Alexa, if possible, please provide a way for folks to get in touch- I would like to share this with folks i know who might be able to help. Can you comment with your email?

February 24, 2018

What are people saying about us?

Pee Jay

We stayed in Playa Negra 8 days and Cocles 8 days. We didn't like the first place, but since it was so close to Banana Azul, we ate there a lot! They had the best service, great grounds and great food! We found several other nice dining places too.
We enjoyed the tiny Town, beaches and learning Spanish.
No one bothered us. Everyone is realtor and Tour Guide, ????????. We plan to return next year!!

November 27, 2017

What are people saying about us?

susie

Great article! I'm a single mum and my daughters (age 21 and 10)and I rented a car in San Jose and drove to Puerto Viejo. The roads were fantastic. We stayed in PV for 10 days before moving on to Manuel Antonio and Nicoya and I regret that we didn't stay longer. It was by far the most beautiful area with safe coves for my little one to swim compared to the punishing surf on the Pacific Side. Snorkeling was a favorite past time and you could even do it off the town beach, which is a testament to the strong eco-preservation movement prevalent in the entire country. I've never seen such clean beaches, and no garbage roadside either. There was animal life EVERYWHERE. Literally bands of monkeys and sloths hanging right outside your door. Animal rescue center was incredible. Next time we will do some tours. amaamamaa

September 11, 2017

What are people saying about us?

Guzman

Hi, me and three friends are heading to PV in a few days planning to check different beaches around the coast. We are planning to rent a car, it's a common car enough or should we rent a truck/4x4 ? I checked the driving instructions page but didn't mention road qualities outside of the road between limón and pv.

August 16, 2017

What are people saying about us?

Puerto Viejo Satellite

The getting around locally page has more info. You won't need a 4x4 unless you go well off the beaten path. More at local transport page.

August 17, 2017

What are people saying about us?

Sobrien

A regular car is fine i

August 20, 2017

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