Puerto Viejo (officially known as Puerto Viejo de Talamanca) is a laid-back beach town along Costa Rica’s Caribbean coastline. Like most of the country’s beach towns, this (somewhat) hidden gem is all about relaxation. It also has some incredible flora and fauna and, of course, a healthy dose of adventure.
Although it has all the ingredients of a tourist hot spot, Puerto Viejo has somehow remained pretty off the radar (for Costa Rica), making it all the sweeter for those who decide to visit! There are tons of great things to do in Puerto Viejo, so let’s dive in!
Things to Do in Puerto Viejo
I loved my time here, and it’s a shame many visitors ixnay this spot off their itineraries while they backpack Costa Rica. Here are my favorite spots, activities, and my best tips!
1. Wander Around Puerto Viejo Town
The best way to get a pulse for this idyllic town is by wandering through it. It’s small enough to explore on foot, but biking is one of the most popular ways to get around.
The town is surrounded by dense vegetation, and you’ll likely see some incredible wildlife even if you stick to the main areas. Some cute boutiques, tons of great restaurants, and bars lined up along the beach keep the party going well into the evening.
There’s a small beach in town plus many more on either side of the center.
2. Take a Chocolate Tour (Best Tour in Puerto Viejo!)
Cacao grows particularly well on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica, so you’ll see chocolate everywhere in Puerto Viejo. But don’t just pick some up as a souvenir and call it a day! One of the best things to do in Puerto Viejo is learn about chocolate-making.
There are a few different chocolate tours available in the town (here’s the one I did) where you’ll learn a little bit about this tasty crop and how it gets from the ground into the delicious form we all love today. Of course, you’ll also get a taste (or two or three) of the rich chocolate made on your tour.
The chocolate tour I did started outside, talking about the plants, and then we moved into the kitchen to get our hands on the chocolate! We roasted, smashed, ground, sifted, and more—We did all the methods and steps. It was so much fun to get into the process, but of course, the best part was tasting the chocolate.
We got to go home with a bag of chocolate that we made together, and it was delicious!
3. Explore Punta Uva
Punta Uva is a small village about five miles east of Puerto Viejo, and it’s a great place to spend an afternoon if you have a little extra time. You can bike here or take a tuktuk for 5000 colones ($10).
The beach, in particular, is a massive draw to Punta Uva. Its soft sand, gentle waves, and coral reef have helped this spot earn its reputation as one of the best beaches in Costa Rica!
Parking your bum and enjoying the scenery is a great way to experience Punta Uva, but kayaking and snorkeling are popular pastimes as well. There are several little vendors on the shore renting out gear for you to take out and explore the water further.
I rented a snorkel and headed out to the point to your right. You’ll swim with the fish and eventually make it to the little arch at the point! You can’t really go through as it’s not safe to walk through, plus you’ll be stepping on coral which is a no-no. But it’s cool to see this seemingly perfect arch in the rock!
After snorkeling, if you want a closer look at the point, you can do an easy hike around and get some great views of Punta Uva. You’ll be able to see the little arch but you won’t get a straight-on view like you do when you’re snorkeling.
If you want a slice of beach almost to yourself, head further down the beach to your left, the crowds thin out in that direction. You can spend all day here hanging out!
4. Chill or Surf at Playa Cocles (My Favorite Thing to Do in Puerto Viejo!)
Catching waves is one of the best things to do in Puerto Viejo, especially between December and March. The good news is you don’t have to be a pro to partake, as plenty of vendors offer surf lessons to newbies.
Playa Cocles is a great place to learn how to surf, and seasoned surfers also love it for its big swells. If the waves are a bit too big for your liking, this sandy stretch of beach is also a great spot to sit back and relax!
The beach sits just southeast of Puerto Viejo and can be reached by following the scenic coastline via a trail for about 10-15 minutes straight from town. The walk is beautiful and was one of my favorite things to do in Puerto Viejo! Yes, seriously.
It’s a gorgeous little walk through the jungle alongside a rocky shoreline. Along the way, you’ll hear the water lap the coast, monkeys will hop above you in the trees, and you’ll feel like you’re miles from a town.
Once you get to Playa Cocles, you’ll have your fair share of vendors renting surfboards, offing lessons, and of course, a legendary coconut guy named Martin, who will serve you up a coconut after you finish ripping the surf!
I rented a board ($5 an hour) twice and had a ton of fun in the surf! But it did flatten out for the rest of my time there, so the waves can be a bit on and off, but it’s still a treat to be able to catch some waves on this side of Costa Rica.
Of course, just chilling on Playa Cocles is great too! In fact, it’s the best beach within walking distance from town. There’s an in-town beach, but this one is much nicer.
5. Take a Quick Day Trip to Manzanillo
One of the best things to do in Puerto Viejo is to leave the town in the rearview! Sitting in town and sipping coconuts on the beach would be easy all day. But there are so many cool areas surrounding the village that you must resist the urge to fully indulge in the idyllic Caribbean lifestyle (at least for one afternoon).
Manzanillo is about 8 miles from Puerto Viejo along the Refugio Nacional Gandoca-Manzanillo wildlife refuge, a protected area that is home to a diverse range of flora and fauna, including monkeys, sloths, and exotic birds.
This little fishing village is home to one of the area’s longest beaches, Playa Grande, which features soft white sand and a small shipwreck on the shoreline. As you stroll along the shore, you’ll be surrounded by the sounds of the jungle and the gentle waves of the Caribbean Sea, creating a serene and peaceful atmosphere that is hard to find elsewhere.
From the beach, you can go snorkeling, swimming, kayaking and paddleboarding! The calm and clear waters of the bay are perfect for beginners, while more experienced adventurers can explore the nearby coral reefs and spot colorful marine life. As with the other beaches you’ll find rentals along the shore.
Manzanillo is even less touristy than Puerto Viejo, so if you want to visit a more authentic Caribbean beach town while visiting Costa Rica, this is it. It’s just after Punta Uva so depending on your time you might want to consider doing a half day at each to squeeze them both in.
6. Hike and Snorkel at Cahuita National Park (Best Day Trip from Puerto Viejo!)
If you want to see some of the unique flora and fauna this area is known for, check out Cahuita National Park. This lush area sits just north of Puerto Viejo and comprises rainforest, beach, and coral reef. Need I say more?
The best way to experience the park is by hiking and snorkeling, where you’ll have chances to see incredible wildlife, including sloths, monkeys, coatis, and tons of marine life!
There are also a few beachy areas to take a break from walking along the trail, so you can casually walk it and take breaks and dips into the clear blue water. Here’s a quick run down on how to best explore Cahuita…
The best way to do the hike is the way I did it. Well, at least I think so!
The hike is point-to-point (as in you start and end in different locations) and is a total of 5 miles (8km). Don’t be intimidated by how long it is though, because it’s very easy and essentially flat the whole way. There are even boardwalks part of the time, and you get to sit on the beach for a rest at anytime too.
If you want to do the whole hike, which takes you through the entire park and the whole coastline in this area as well, then this is how to do it. Take the public bus from town to the “Puerto Vargas entrance.” This will be before Cahuita town and kind of just a random dirt road in the middle of nowhere.
You’ll enter here, pay a small fee, walk through the gorgeous park, stop at any of the beaches, and then end your hike in the town of Cauhita.
I liked doing the hike this way so I could end up in Cauhita (the town) and check it out and grab some food. You can also easily catch the bus back from here too without having to wait on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere either. Confused? It’s ok, I wrote a guide for you! Read more about Cahuita National Park.
Want to get more up close and personal with the marine life? You can! But…
In order to experience the beauty of Cahuita’s coral reef, you are required to take a guided tour with a licensed operator. These tours are led by expert guides who are familiar with the park’s rules and regulations, as well as the various marine species that inhabit the area.
Once you’re ready to go, you’ll hop on a boat ride to access the snorkeling areas. You’ll be blown away by the sheer beauty of the coral reef! Stretching for miles, this coral reef is home to over 125 different species of fish, and you’ll have the chance to see everything from colorful angelfish and parrotfish to rays, turtles, and even reef sharks!
While exploring, be sure to follow the park’s strict conservation measures to protect the ecosystem, such as not touching the coral or getting too close to marine life. Wear your reef-safe sunscreen too. You can’t snorkel from the beaches, it’s not allowed—you must take a tour boat out to the reef!
7. Go White Water Rafting on the Pacuare River
For my true adrenaline junkies, one of the most adventurous things to do in Puerto Viejo is white water rafting. The Pacuare River features exhilarating class II-IV rapids along an 18-mile river gorge. The route is brimming with incredible scenery, including waterfalls, rugged cliffs, and a whole lot of greenery.
This white water rafting tour will lead you down the river, and an expert guide will help you navigate and point out any wildlife along the way. Breakfast and lunch are included, as are hotel pick up and drop-off.
Great rapids, incredible scenery, and food? Honestly, what’s not to love about this tour?
How to Get to Puerto Viejo
Getting to Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica is an adventure in itself! This will be one of the more removed places you’ll visit during your time in Costa Rica. Here are your options for getting to Puerto Viejo:
By Car: If you’re planning to drive, you can rent a car at the San Jose International Airport and take Route 32 East to Limon. From Limon, you can take the Coastal Road (Route 36) to Puerto Viejo. The drive takes about 4-5 hours, but it’s a scenic route with plenty of opportunities to stop and take in the stunning views.
By Shuttle: If you prefer not to drive, you can take a shared shuttle from San Jose to Puerto Viejo. The journey takes around 4-5 hours and it’s a great option if you want a comfortable and reasonably priced option of getting here. Check the schedule here.
By Bus: Another option is to take a bus from San Jose to Puerto Viejo. The bus journey takes around 5-6 hours, and there are several bus companies that operate on this route. It’s a budget-friendly option, but the journey can be long and uncomfortable. You’ll experience more stops along the way, and people stand in the aisle if there aren’t enough seats sometimes.
By Plane: If you’re short on time or prefer to fly, you can take a domestic flight from San Jose to Limon. From Limon, you can take a taxi or shuttle to Puerto Viejo, which takes about an hour. This isn’t the most effective way in my opinion, as it doesn’t save you much time, if any, and it’s also the most expensive.
If you’re looking for bus or boat tickets around Central America and Mexico, you can easily book them online! Check Availability
How to Get Around Puerto Viejo
Once you arrive in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica, there are plenty of ways to get around and explore the town and its surrounding areas, depending on what you’re wanting to do. Here are some of the best ways to get around Puerto Viejo:
Rent a Bicycle: One of the most popular ways to get around Puerto Viejo is by renting a bicycle. The town is relatively small, and biking is an excellent way to explore the area at your own pace. You can rent a bike from one of the many rental shops in town for around $5-$10 per day.
Take a Tuktuk: If you prefer not to bike or want to travel a bit further, you can take a tuktuk. They are readily available in Puerto Viejo, and you can usually find them riding around town—just wave them down. The prices are negotiable, so make sure to agree on a fare before getting in. From town, it’s $10 to Punta Uva and about double to get to Manzanillo.
Walk: Another great way to get around Puerto Viejo is on foot. Many beaches, restaurants, and shops are within walking distance. Walking is also a great way to soak up the laid-back vibe of the town and aside from a few tuktuks, this is how I got around.
Rent a Scooter: If you’re feeling adventurous, you can rent a scooter to explore the surrounding areas of Puerto Viejo. Prices are usually around $35-$50 per day.
Bus: There’s a public bus that runs up and down the coast, but it’s not as frequent to the beaches down below, and after waiting for a while, I ended up grabbing a tuktuk. However, the bus towards the Cahuita and Limon was easy.
Tour: I mentioned some tours above that are a great way for you to visit another place without having to do any of the work. Just show up, and you’ll get picked up and dropped off. In some situations, you NEED to do a tour of some places, so take a scroll back up and explore that option a bit more if you wish.
Where to Stay in Puerto Viejo
- Colibri Ecolodge – Nestled in the heart of the jungle, Colibri Ecolodge offers a peaceful and eco-friendly retreat for nature lovers. The lodge features spacious and comfortable bungalows, a refreshing pool, and a restaurant serving fresh and delicious meals. This is an ideal destination for travelers who seek to immerse themselves in the natural beauty of Puerto Viejo. It is more on the splurging side.
- La Tica y la Gata – This charming guesthouse is located just a few minutes from the beach and offers comfortable and affordable accommodations for budget-conscious travelers. The rooms are cozy and clean, and the outdoor common areas are perfect for socializing and relaxing. With its convenient location and welcoming atmosphere, La Tica y la Gata is an excellent choice for backpackers and solo travelers looking to experience the local culture.
- Umami Hotel – With its modern and stylish design, Umami Hotel is a great choice for travelers who want to enjoy the best of both worlds – comfort and convenience. The hotel features spacious and well-equipped rooms and a stunning pool. Located just a few minutes from the beach, this is the perfect place to relax and unwind after a day of exploring. It is more on the splurging side.
- La Tribu – This laid-back and friendly hostel is the perfect choice for backpackers and travelers on a budget. The rooms are simple and clean, and the communal areas are perfect for socializing and meeting fellow travelers. With its relaxed vibe and welcoming atmosphere, La Tribu is an excellent choice for anyone looking to make new friends and experience the local culture.
- Roots Family Hostel – This hostel is perfect for travelers who want to enjoy a more relaxed and peaceful atmosphere. The hostel features nice clean rooms, a fully equipped kitchen, and a lovely garden where you can relax and unwind. With its affordable prices and friendly staff, Roots Family Hostel is a great choice for budget-conscious travelers.
MORE ACCOMMODATION OPTIONS IN PUERTO VIEJO
When to Visit Puerto Viejo
If you crave sunshine, beach relaxation, and smooth ocean waters, perfect for swimming and snorkeling, then plan your trip between February to April and August to October. This dry season gifts you with clear skies, warm temperatures, and endless beach adventures. But, as one can imagine, it’s the busy season.
However, if you’re captivated by the allure of lush rainforests, vibrant green landscapes, and getting up close and personal with incredible wildlife, then the green season months might be your calling. Yes, there may be occasional rain showers, but they’re usually short-lived. Crowds thin out and prices get lower.
Packing List for Puerto Viejo
- Dry Bag: You’ll be using this all over Costa Rica if you’re heading to the beaches. It’s the best beach bag!
- Mosquito repellent: Keep pesky mosquitoes away! They come out around dusk, and nobody is safe…
- Sarong: Better than a quick dry towel and the perfect beach accessory. It’s my beach towel, cover-up, beach skirt… It’s all I travel with.
- Lightweight rain jacket: Be prepared for sudden tropical rain showers with a lightweight rain jacket that won’t weigh you down or make you too hot.
- Sun hat and sunglasses: Keep your face and eyes protected from the strong Caribbean sun. It’s bright over here!
- Reef-safe sunscreen: Protect your skin and the environment with sunscreen that won’t harm the coral reefs.
- Rash guard: If you’re going to be surfing, this is a must. They often have one they can lend you, but they aren’t the best.
- Sandals, flip-flops, walking shoes: I lived in my sandals and flip-flops here, but you might want a sneaker to walk around Cahuita, so it’s up to you!
- Water bottle: Most of the water in Costa Rica is drinkable! So bring a reusable water bottle. But the water in Puerto Viejo particularly might be best after filtering.
I hope this guide helped you plan your visit and find the best things to do in Puerto Viejo!
Nina Ragusa is an adventurer, messy bun master, breakfast fan, and full-time travel blogger. She’s been abroad since 2011 and blogging on Where in the World is Nina? for nearly as long. Nina helps people like you move around the world while making money. She loves talking about how to work abroad and online to travel longer!