Did you know that some of the best beaches in Costa Rica are in Puerto Viejo? Many people overlook this coastal town and instead head towards the tourist-infested towns of the Nicoya Penisula or Jaco. Big mistake. You will find some of the most unspoilt, scenic beaches of Costa Rica in Puerto Viejo.
Puerto Viejo at a Glance
Clear turquoise water, white sand beaches, palm trees, and the breeze. This little known Caribbean coast is the ultimate tropical paradise. The tiny fishing village is at the heart of the Caribbean coast, and unlike the high traffic in the tourist towns like Taramindo and Jaco, you will find that Puerto Viejo is quirkier, more laid-back, and deeply rooted in the Caribbean culture.
Puerto Viejo is located in one of the poorest provinces in Costa Rica with very little infrastructure. This is one reason why large property buyers and investors overlook the area, leaving the beaches and the villages quite unspoilt. Without the high traffic tourists and luxurious resorts, the villages and towns have retained its old charm. This, plus the low cost of land is attracting a lot of private property buyers looking to settle in these serene, quaint little villages alongside the beach.
While Puerto Viejo generally refers to the entire coastline or the nearby communities of Punta Uva, Chiquita, Cocles and Playa Negra, the center of the town is a small area towards the north end of Playa Cocles. You will not find a lot of streets here, and the number of restaurants, cafes, hostels and hotels are just enough to entertain a bunch of cruise liners who, thankfully, do not patrol this part of the coastline so much.
You will find some of the best beaches in the country just a 220-minute ride away from the center of San Jose. Check out some of the most beautiful beaches of Puerto Viejo. In no particular order:
If you head towards the south of Puerto Viejo, Playa Cocles is the first beach you will reach. It is easily one of the most developed beaches along the coastline of South Caribbean and one of the best, thanks to the local community there who started paying for lifeguard services not long ago. If you’ve lived in or been to Costa Rica, you’ll know that this is a rare find.
This beach is a great surfing place and dishes out some serious beach breaking waves that is perfect both for the expert and the amateur. Every year it hosts a ton of surf competitions with lots of late night shenanigans and surfer after parties.
The river beside it makes Playa Cocles unique. The river does not meet the ocean, but it comes so close that there is now a narrow, long strip of beautiful sandy beach that has formed between the two water bodies. This river is quite popular among swimmers and is deep enough for people to jump from trees as high as 20 meters.
The next coast heading south is Playa Chiquita. This is the kind of place where you can enjoy a book in quiet. The beach is actually a combination of several smaller bays, and on a lucky day, you might get one just for yourself. Even the waters here are calm, with no sudden waves to topple you over.
In order to get to Chiquita, you will have to cycle or walk down one of the many trails. They haven’t put up any, so you better keep your eyes peeled. You won’t find much facility save for a handful of supermarkets and restaurants which is exactly why we love this place.
Further down south is Punta Uva aka ‘Grape Point’ which is even quieter still. You’d be surprised to find that the beautiful white sand and brilliant blue, reef-protected water hasn’t attracted nearly as many beach bums as you’d think. Most part of the beach falls under the control of Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife and Marine refuge. If you visit during the season, it is very likely for you to come across land animals and leatherback turtles coming up to the beach to lay eggs.
Punta Uva is 9 kilometers away from Puerto Viejo, and so you might want to take a bike. The place is quite underdeveloped save for a couple of supermarkets and some restaurants. This is one of the best white sand beaches of Costa Rica and definitely worth the visit.
As the name suggests, Palaya Grande is the largest stretch of sand in Puerto Viejo. It is located in the serene, mellow village of Manzanillo. This place is just 7 miles down the road from Puerto Viejo. There’s not a lot of chance for you to get lost as there is only one main road in the entire of Caribbean.
You will find a park area along the entire stretch of the beach with lonely benches step up between the breezy palms. This tiny village pretty much goes unnoticed by the high tourist traffic, making it an ideal place to go to if you are looking for a serene, calm place with virgin vegetation. There are not many places to put up, only one convenience store and a restaurant. Pretty much the ultimate get-away for your retirement plan or just anyone who wants to live close to nature.
Cahuita is 16 kilometers north of the South Caribbean coast and stands out for its rich and vibrant community. The culture here is dominantly Jamaican, from its creolized African English to its cuisine and ‘calypso’ music with shops and hotels covered in reggae-rasta colors. You have to get to the town to visit the Cahuita National Park, a beautiful attraction with an 8km trail covered in jungle. The town has two beaches Playa Blanca and Playa Negra. Just as the name suggests, one beach is black, and the other is white, making it quite easy to tell them apart. Playa Blanca is close to the park towards the east, and Playa Negra is located in the west side of the town. Both beaches are pretty much the same with rich and beautiful coral reefs, making them ideal for scuba diving and snorkeling.
Puerto Viejo is home to some of the most legendary surf competitions for decades thanks to beaches like Salsa Brava where it dishes out the best and heaviest waves in all of Costa Rica. Loosely translated as “angry sauce,” this coral reef located right in front of Puerto Viejo is only for the most experienced and professional surfers. The breaking wave here has been known to rip apart inexperienced surfers with its notorious “cheese grater.”
Every year this place attracts thousands of surfers from all over the world. At 50 to 150 meters, these Caribbean style waves are quite consistent, and you will find they are best between Novembers – April.
Besides the surfs, this place has a vibe totally different from any other surf town in Costa Rica. You’ll get stink-eye from transplants, broken boards from late drops offers of ganja from Rastafarians and whiffs of patchouli from tourist refugees. Treat your taste buds to their special sweets plantain fries, Caribbeans bowls, and tacos as you groove through the happy hours going from 4pm to 6pm.
Playa El Chino
This beach was once a popular hub for boats exporting bananas and cacao. Today it has become a center of attraction for its crystal clear waters, calm surf, and coral tide pools. It is nestled between El Parquecito to the south and Playa Negra beach to the north. The beach is basically a narrow stretch of sand with rows of antiquated structures where you will find one of the oldest markets in Puerto Viejo, Reef Runners, and Comissario Manuel Leon.
Located right at the center of the town, this beach couldn’t be more convenient. You can surf in this beach, but this is more popular for snorkeling and relaxing. To get to the beach, you need to follow the road from the bus station, and take a left turn at the first corner. The beach extends all the way to the town Police Station.
Puerto Viejo and the entire of Southern Caribbean region has a weather of vast contrasts. The temperature is pretty constant throughout the year with average highs during the day time as low as the 90s and average lows in the night time as high as the 70s.
Getting to Puerto Viejo
You can get to Puerto Viejo through the coastal highway from Limon.
It’s straightforward when arriving from San Jose as they have a direct bus service that will take you all the way to Puerto Viejo. If you want to avoid the waiting and the crowded bus stations, get yourself the one-way ticket from the Atlantica Norte terminal in San Jose and enjoy a 5-hour sleep in the bus.