Puerto Viejo - Not for Everyone

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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.

Or, if you're looking for specific information on these topics just click to go to that page: The Weather, Money Matters, Health & Safety, Tours & Activities, Volunteering, or Sustainable Tourism

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.

Colin on his way to the market


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!

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

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What are people saying about us?


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,

July 10, 2019

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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A regular car is fine i

August 20, 2017

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