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Life in Puerto Viejo isn't the vibe everyone will love but if it's you, then you may fall in love with it!
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.
Why would you live there? There is nothing down there.
This was a comment from an American expat that lives in central valley of Costa Rica where most expats that decide to live in Costa Rica live. In some sense, he is right. Puerto Viejo has no golf courses, marinas, country clubs, tennis courts, and almost no swimming pools and very few hotels even with A/C.
There are many rumors and half-truths like this about the Caribbean side of Costa Rica so I decided that I would share my own observations after living down here for a few years.
Personally I like it the way it is as it has kept the development down to a minimum and the "Disney set" out and tends to cater to a more "down to earth traveler" I think the rumors and myths have served many of us who have chosen to live here very well.
It's all blacks down there.
Actually a recent survey by the Ministry of Health showed that about 80% of the local inhabitants are indigenous Bri Bri. But they tend to live out of town and not be very visible. Maybe about 30-40% of the remaining local population are African Caribbean who are descendants from Jamaican workers that arrived here just over a century ago. Their presence adds a very interesting vibe to the local culture. The Caribbean would in no way be what it is without their presence. The rest of the population is Tico and a huge smattering of expats that are mainly from Europe, South America and Canada. Almost all from the USA are real lefties. Last census in early 2002, there were 49 different countries represented out of just over 2000 people.
They are all god damn pot smoking, "tree hugging" hippies down there.
Yes, there are many "bohemian types". Their presence over the years has been invaluable to keeping the place real laid back and always interesting. If you look at almost any place that is desirable to live in US, Canada and many parts of Europe (i.e. San Francisco and NYC versus Oklahoma or Arkansas) you will see they have a huge alternative culture that many people find comfort in living with. As for the tree huggers: thank (what ever you believe in) that they are here. There are still many first growth trees to appreciate.
It rains all the time.
Yes, this is a rain forest, and guess what? You get rain. But if you look at annual inches per year you will see that it rains more in many popular places on the Pacific than the Caribbean, this chart shows a comparison of the different areas of Costa Rica. You'll note that the South Caribbean coast is actually one of the driest parts of the country!
The main difference being is that rain on Caribbean is usually spread more out over the year. Also most don't realize that the majority of the rain here comes at night and usually is very welcome. Click here for more on local weather.
The roads are bad and it is really dangerous.
After being all over Costa Rica, I can assure you the roads here are in just as bad condition here as anywhere else. In fact much of it is better because Limon is a port city and it is the main truck route from Limon to San Jose. So the roads on that stretch are quite good which accounts for over 2/3rds of the trip (no, it is not the California Interstate 5).
However, yes, some of the area roads are in bad shape and full of potholes. But if you take care, it is totally passable with any vehicle. On top of that, the trip here is broken down to 3 sections you will pass through. You will go through the mountains (very high up) then through the many banana and pineapple plantations and then follow the coast all the way down to Puerto Viejo from Limon. Most find the drive or bus ride very enjoyable. But if you are one who is only after a destination in life and does not enjoy the journey, Jaco on the Pacific might be better for you. There are regular flights to there from San Jose airport.
The driving instructions page has detailed information on driving and road conditions.
There is so much crime down there.
This is one the myths that I get the biggest kick out of. How anyone could think that Puerto Viejo is more dangerous than places like Quepos, Jaco or even Tamarindo is beyond me. Hell we won't even discuss comparing it to San Jose. Yes, there is a drug element. But what city does not have that. Unless you choose otherwise, you can use the only thing that Nancy Reagan was famous for and "Just Say No". It has always worked for my years of living here.
I think the other reason there is a perception that crime is worse is because of the African Caribbean population. Petty theft is a real problem, but violent crimes against tourists are not the norm.
It's hot and humid down there.
Yes, it is humid, but I find the Pacific much hotter. In fact the temperature here is way more consistent and is very rarely so hot that you feel incapacitated. Most find the temperatures quite comfortable.
Is it Paradise?
Well, it is as close as I have come this far in my life. But while living here is not always easy, although, I can assure you, it always interesting.
Article by Colin Brownlee. Colin packed up his life in Canada more than a decade ago with a vision to start a new life in Costa Rica and Puerto Viejo was where he ended up and where he started Hotel Banana Azul. Since then he hasn't slowed down and has always got a new project on the go!