Puerto Viejo de Talamanca Puerto Viejo Map Costa Rica

There was a time when the only travelers to the little seaside settlement once known as Old Harbor were intrepid surfers who padded around the quiet, dusty streets, board under arm, on their way to surf Salsa Brava. That, certainly, is no longer the case. This burgeoning party town is bustling with tourist activity: street vendors ply Rasta trinkets and Bob Marley T-shirts, stylish eateries serve global-fusion everything and intentionally rustic bamboo bars pump dancehall and reggaetón. The scene can get downright hedonistic, attracting dedicated revelers who arrive to marinate in ganja and guaro (a local firewater made with sugarcane).

Despite its reputation, Puerto Viejo manages to hold on to an easy charm. Stray a couple of blocks off the main commercial strip and you might find yourself on a sleepy dirt road, savoring a spicy Caribbean stew in the company of locals. Nearby, you’ll find rainforest fruit farms set to a soundtrack of cackling birds and croaking frogs, and wide-open beaches where the daily itinerary revolves around surfing and snoozing. So, chill a little. Party a little. Eat a little. You’ve come to just the right place.

 

SALSA BRAVA

One of the biggest breaks in Costa Rica, Salsa Brava is named for the heaping helping of ‘spicy sauce’ it serves up on the sharp, shallow reef, continually collecting its debt of fun in broken skin, boards and bones. The wave makes its regular, dramatic appearance when the swells pull in from the east, pushing a wall of water against the reef, in the process generating a thick and powerful curl. There’s no gradual build-up here: the water is transformed from swell to wave in a matter of seconds. Ride it out and you’re golden. Wipe out and you’ll rocket headfirst into the reef. In his memoir, In Search of Captain Zero, surfer and screenwriter Allen Weisbecker describes it as ‘vicious.’ Some mordant locals have baptized it ‘the cheese-grater.’

Interestingly, this storied wave helped turn Puerto Viejo into a destination. More than 30 years ago the town was barely accessible. But that didn’t dissuade dogged surfers from the bumpy bus rides and rickety canoes that hauled them and their boards on the week-long trip from San José. They camped on the beach and shacked up with locals, carbo-loading at cheap sodas. Other intrepid explorers – biologists, Peace Corps volunteers, disaffected US veterans looking to escape the fallout of the Vietnam War – also materialized during this time, helping spread the word about the area’s luminous sunsets, lush rainforests and monster curls. Today Puerto Viejo has a fine paved road, global eateries and wi-fi. The fierceness of Salsa Brava, however, remains unchanged.

Sights

Finca La Isla (Gardens)

(Tel 8886-8530, 2750-0046; self-guided/guided tour US$6/12; h 10am-4pm fri-Mon) West of town, this farm and botanical garden has been producing organic pepper, cacao, tropical fruits and ornamental plants for over a decade. Birds and wildlife abound, including sloths, poison-dart frogs and toucans. Informative guided tours (minimum three people) include admission, fruit tasting and a glass of fresh juice; alternatively, buy a booklet (US$1) and take a self-guided tour.

Aiko-logi (Wildlife Reserve)

(Tel 2750-2084, 8997-6869; http://aiko.peppendale.com; day tour Incl. transport & lunch US$60, overnight stay per person Incl. meals US$99; p ) Nestled into the Cordillera de Talamanca, 15km outside Puerto Viejo, this private 135-hectare reserve is centered on a former finca, on land fringed with dense primary rainforest. It’s ideal for bird-watching, hiking and splashing around in swimming holes. Day tours from Puerto Viejo (or Cahuita) can be arranged, as can overnight tent platform stays. Reserve ahead.

 

Activities


Surfing

Breaking on the reef that hugs the village is the famed Salsa Brava, a shallow break that is also one of the country’s most infamous waves. It’s a tricky ride – if you lose it, the waves will plow you straight into the reef – and definitely not for beginners. Salsa Brava offers both rights and lefts, although the right is usually faster. Conditions are best with an easterly swell.

For a softer landing, try the beach break at Playa Cocles – where the waves are almost as impressive and the landing far less damaging. Cocles is about 2km east of town. Conditions are usually best early in the day, before the wind picks up.

Waves in the area generally peak from November to March, and there is a surfing miniseason from June to July. From late March to May, and in September and October, the sea is at its calmest.

Several surf schools around town charge US$40 to US$50 for two hours of lessons. Stands around town rent boards from about US$20 per day.

Caribbean Surf School

(Tel 8357-7703) Lessons by super-smiley surf instructor Hershel Lewis, widely considered the best teacher in the town.

One Love Surf School

(Tel 8719-4654; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) Julie Hickey and her surfing sons Cedric and Solomon specialize in surf lessons for women and children.

Swimming

The entire southern Caribbean coast – from Cahuita all the way south to Punta Mona – is lined with unbelievably beautiful beaches. Just northwest of town, Playa Negra offers the area’s safest swimming.

Southeast of town you will find some gems – stretches of smooth white sand, fringed by jungle and ideal for surfing, body surfing and, when the swell is low, swimming. Playa Cocles (2km east of town), Playa Chiquita (4km east), Punta Uva (7km east) and Manzanillo all offer postcard-perfect beach paradises. Swimming conditions vary greatly, however, and the surf can get dangerous. Riptides and powerful undertows can be deadly. Inquire at your hotel or with local tour operators about conditions before setting out.

Snorkeling

The waters from Cahuita to Manzanillo are sheltered by Costa Rica’s only two living reef systems, which form a naturally protected sanctuary, home to some 35 species of coral and 400 species of fish, not to mention dolphins, sharks and, occasionally, whales. Generally, underwater visibility is best when the sea is calm.

Just south of Punta Uva, in front of the Punta Uva Dive Center, is a decent spot for snorkeling, when conditions are calm. The reef is very close to the shore and features include stunning examples of reindeer coral, sheet coral and lettuce coral. The reef at Manzanillo is also easily accessible. Local operators offer snorkeling trips for about US$40 to US$60 per person.

Diving

Divers in the southern Caribbean will discover upward of 20 dive sites, from the coral gardens in shallow waters to deeper sites with amazing underwater vertical walls. Literally hundreds of species of fish swim around here, including angelfish, parrotfish, triggerfish, shark and different species of jack and snapper.

Reef Runner Divers

(Tel 2750-0480; www.reefrunnerdivers.net; 1-/2-tank dive US$65/100; h8am-6pm) If you are not certified, you can use a temporary license for US$55 or spring for the full PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) certification for US$335.

Hiking

There are superb coastal hiking opportunities within 15km of Puerto Viejo in Parque Nacional Cahuita and the Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Gandoca-Manzanillo.

White-Water Rafting

Exploradores Outdoors

(Tel 2750-2020; www.exploradoresoutdoors.com; 1-day trip Incl. 2 meals & transportation from US$99) This outfit offers one and two-day trips on Ríos Pacuare and Reventazón. Staff can pick you up and drop you off in Cahuita, Puerto Viejo, San José or Arenal. It has an office in the center of town.

Courses

Spanish School Pura Vida

(Tel 2750-0029; www.spanishschool-puravida.com) Located at the Hotel Pura Vida, this school offers everything from private hourly tutoring to intensive five-hours-a-day, multi-week classes.

Tours

Tour operators generally require a minimum of two people on any excursion. Rates may be discounted for larger groups.

ATEC

(Asociación Talamanqueña de ecoturismo y Conservación; Tel 2750-0398; www.ateccr.org; h 8am8pm)

This highly reputable not-for-profit organization promotes sustainable tourism by working with local guides and supporting local communities. Activities include hiking, horseback riding, snorkeling, fishing, dolphin-watching, rafting, kayaking, surfing, bird-watching, courses in Caribbean dance, cooking and hair braiding, and trips to indigenous territories and local farms. Note that 24-hour notice is required for some tours. Visit the office or the website for a complete price list.

Gecko Trail Adventures

(Tel 2756-8412, in USA & Canada 415-230-0298; www.geckotrail.com) This full-service agency arranges local tours as well as transportation, accommodations and tours throughout Costa Rica. It has offices downtown and at Banana Azul resort west of town.

Terraventuras

(Tel 2750-0750; www.terraventuras.com; h 7am7pm) Offers overnights in Tortuguero (US$95 to US$199), along with the usual local tours. Also has its very own 23-platform, 2.1km-long canopy tour (US$55), complete with Tarzan swing.

Caribe Shuttle

(Tel 2750-0626; http://caribeshuttle.com/puertoviejo-tours) Based at Rocking J’s Hostel, this company offers a wide variety of tours in the Puerto Viejo area and also specializes in excursions to Bocas del Toro, Panama.

Sleeping

Puerto Viejo has a little bit of everything. All budget spots have private hot-water bathrooms unless otherwise stated. Note that rates are generally discounted slightly when paid in cash.

Hotel Pura Vida

(Tel 2750-0002; www.hotel-puravida.com; s/d/tr US$34/38/48, without bathroom US$28/32/42; p W ) Despite the budget prices, this Chilean-German-run inn opposite the soccer field offers solidly midrange amenities. Ten breezy, immaculate rooms come clad in polished wood, bright linens and ceramic-tile floors; No 6 is especially nice, with views of town from its solar-heated shower. There’s a lounge with easy chairs and hammocks, and breakfasts, snacks and chilled beers are available.

 

Rocking J’s

(Tel 2750-0657; www.rockingjs.com; camping per person US$6-8, hammock US$7, dm/d/tr US$11/26/39, ste US$60-70; pW) Puerto Viejo’s grooviest hostel and ‘hammock hotel’ is owned by the charismatic, mischievous ‘J,’ who organizes full-moon parties and drinking games. Good times, good vibes and new friends await here. The accommodations are basic: tight rows of tents and hammocks, snug dorms and private doubles share rickety showers in an environment brightened by a veritable explosion of psychedelic mosaics.

Surfboards, snorkels and bikes are available for rent, and in addition to an onsite restaurant and bar, there’s also a music studio–survival bunker made from reclaimed shipping containers.

Jacaranda Hotel & Jungle Garden

(Tel 2750-0069; www.cabinasjacaranda.net; s/d/tr/q from US$30/45/50/55; p W ) In a blooming garden intersected by mosaic walkways, this place near the soccer field has 15 simple wood cabinas with spotless ceramic-tile floors and murals of flowers, along with a small shared kitchen and patio. Yoga classes are offered, the onsite One Love Spa offers massage and bodywork, and there’s an organic ‘supermarket’ (new in 2014) right next door.

Cabinas Guaraná

(Tel 2750-0244; www.hotelguarana.com; US$35/43/53/60; p i W ) Amid a
tropical garden in town, 10 brightly painted concrete cabinas are decorated with wooden furniture and colorful folk tapestries, and each one comes with a small private terrace with hammock. There is a spacious shared kitchen and a vertigo-inducing tree house that offers spectacular sea views.

Hostel Pagalú

(Tel 2750-1930; www.pagalu.com; dm US$12, s/d US$27/32, s/d without bathroom US$23/26; p W ) This peaceful, contemporary hostel offers a break from Puerto Viejo’s party scene. Clean, airy dorms and doubles abound in niceties, including large lockers, charging stations for MP3 players and bunkside reading lamps. There’s a shared open-air kitchen and a quiet lounge with tables and hammocks, plus a supply of spring water for refilling your own reusable plastic bottle.

Bungalows Calalú

(Tel 2750-0042; www.bungalowscalalu.com; s/d/ tr US$35/45/50, d/tr/q with kitchen & air-con US$60/70/80; p a W s ) A lovely tropical-garden setting, swimming pool and convenient parking are among the appealing features at this small cluster of bungalows within easy walking distance of town. Cheaper fan-cooled units have private front porches where you can listen to the chorus of chirping birds every morning. Family-friendly larger units come with air-con and kitchen.

Cabinas Tropical

(Tel2750-0283; www.cabinastropical.com; s/d/ tr US$40/45/55; p n a W) Ten spacious rooms, decorated with varnished wood and shiny tiles, surround a primly landscaped garden on the eastern end of town. The comfortable quarters are just part of the appeal: biologist owner Rolf Blancke leads excellent bird-watching hikes at dawn (per person US$65, minimum three people, breakfast provided).

Monte Sol

(Tel 2750-0098; www.montesol.net; r US$38, without bathroom US$30, d/q bungalows with kitchen US$52/72; p i W ) Clean, basic cabinas in a quiet locale east of town have tile floors, mosquito nets and hammocks.

La Ruka Hostel

(Tel 2750-0617; www.facebook.com/laruka.hostel; dm/r without bathroom US$10/25; W) If the cute painting of the surfing dog doesn’t lure you in, the friendly welcome from owners Dannie and Dave will. Just east of town, this relative newcomer has spacious common areas up front, a brand-new kitchen out back, dorm space and a couple of private rooms upstairs with shared bath.

Kaya’s Place

(Tel2750-0690; www.kayasplace.com; s/d without bathroom US$19/27, d US$35-55, ste US$70; pW) Across the road from the beach at Puerto Viejo’s western edge, this funky guesthouse has 17 snug, basic rooms, ranging from dim units with shared cool-water showers to more spacious garden rooms with air-con and private bathroom. A 2ndfloor lounge is filled with hammocks and offers prime ocean views. Bikes are available for rent.

Escape Caribeño

(Tel2750-0103; www.escapecaribeno.com; s/d/tr garden view US$70/75/85, ocean view US$90/ 95/105; p a i W) Charming Italian owners keep these 14 spick-and-span bungalows with spotless bathrooms, some on the beach side and others in the garden across the road, 500m east of town toward Playa Cocles. More expensive units are in lovely Caribbean-style structures with stained-glass shower stalls, but all have stocked minifridges, cable TV, fans and hammocks. Breakfast (US$5 to US$9 extra) is also available.

Coco Loco Lodge

(Tel 2750-0281; www.cocolocolodge.com; d US$5569, d bungalow US$75-87; piW) You’ll find various accommodations at this quiet Austrian-run hotel. The most charming are the palm-thatched bungalows, equipped with shining wood floors, minifridges and coffeemaker. All of these have private terrace with hammock, offering views of the expansive garden. Credit cards accepted.

Casa Verde

(Tel 2750-0015; www.cabinascasaverde.com; s/d/ tr/q US$62/78/95/109, s/d without bathroom from US$40/46; p W s) Tiled walkways wind through gardens with 17 tidy rooms, each with high ceilings, stained-wood furniture, folk-art touches and private terraces with hammocks. Cheaper rooms are more basic, but the shared bathrooms shine. A pool and hot tub – encrusted with rock formations – are straight out of Fantasy Island. Credit cards accepted.

Blue Conga Hotel

(Tel 2750-0681; www.hotelblueconga.com; Incl. breakfast d/tr/q upstairs US$85/100/115, downstairs US$75/90/105; p W s) This backstreet B&B 1km east of town has 14 simple rooms in a two-story, tropical-style building. Best value are the six airy upstairs units, with high ceilings, clerestory windows, canopy beds with mosquito nets, handcrafted lamps, private terraces, coffeemakers and microwaves. Rooms downstairs are less inspiring. Breakfast is served on a lovely open-air garden deck, beside the brand-new pool.

Cashew Hill Jungle Cottages

(Tel 2750-0001, 2750-0256; www.cashewhilllodge.co.cr; cottages US$90-150; p W s) Perched on a lush hillside five minutes above town are seven bright, colorful and comfortable three to eight-person cottages with full kitchens, loft-style sleeping areas and charming rustic touches. All have private decks or patios stocked with comfy chairs and hammocks, while the two-bedroom Playa Negra cabin offers exquisite ocean views. A brand-new yoga platform hosts classes twice daily.

Banana Azul

(Tel 2750-2035; www.bananaazul.com; Incl. breakfast d US$104-129, d ste US$164; p W s) Removed from town, this wonderful hotel sits astride a blissfully tranquil black-sand beach. Jungle-chic decor (white linens, mosquito nets, bromeliads in the showers) is complemented by fine ocean vistas from upstairs terraces. Best is the Howler Suite, a corner room with multidirectional views. There’s also an onsite restaurant-bar, plus bike and boogie-board rentals. No children under 16.

Eating

With the most diverse restaurant scene on the Caribbean coast, Puerto Viejo has the cure for casado overkill.

Find groceries at the local Old Harbor Supermarket (h 6:30am-8:30pm) or the incongruous chain store Mega Super (h 8am-7pm). Don’t miss the Saturday organic market (h 6am-6pm Sat), when area vendors and growers sell snacks typical of the region.

Bread & Chocolate

(Tel 2750-0723; cakes US$3, meals US$5-8; h 6:30am-6:30pm Wed-Sat, to 2:30pm Sun; v ) Ever had a completely homemade PB&J

(ie bread, peanut butter and jelly all made from scratch)? That and more can be yours at this dream of a gluten-lover’s cafe. Coffees are served in individual French presses; mochas come unconstructed so you have the pleasure of mixing your own homemade chocolate, steamed milk and coffee; and everything else – from the gazpacho to the granola to the bagels – is lovingly and skillfully made in-house.

Flip Flop

(Tel 2750-2031; mains US$5-16; h noon-10pm; c ) Atmospherically lit with colorful paper globe lanterns, this place has something for everyone: Thai, Indian and Indonesian curries, tacos, sushi, pasta, seafood, burgers and steaks. Throw in a wide-ranging, reasonably priced drinks list (sangria, mojitos, caipirinhas and every kind of colada imaginable), and desserts like warm chocolate brownies and banana splits, and you’ve got one very popular eatery.

Soda Shekiná

(Tel 2750-0549; mains US$7-12; h 11:30am-9pm Wed-Mon) Some of Puerto Viejo’s best traditional Caribbean home cooking can be found at this backstreet eatery with wooden slab tables on an open-air terrace, just northwest of the soccer field. Everything is served with coconut rice and beans, salad and delicious caramelized fried bananas.

De Gustibus

(baked goods from US$1; h 7am-6pm) This Italian-owned bakery on Puerto Viejo’s main drag draws a devoted following with its fabulous focaccia (US$2 a slice), along with apple strudel, profiteroles and all sorts of other sweet and savory goodies. Eat in, or grab a snack for the beach.

Veronica’s Place

(Tel2750-0263; www.veronicasplacepv.com; dishes US$4-8; h 8:30am-8pm; v ) This delightful vegetarian cafe with breezy upstairs seating offers delicious juices and smoothies along with fresh, healthy interpretations of Caribbean food, using fresh fruits and vegetables. Raw food and vegan options are available. Veronica rents cabinas, has a macrobiotic health-food store onsite, offers Caribbean-cooking classes and runs a volunteer work exchange on her organic farm.

Pan Pay

(Tel 2750-0081; dishes US$3-6; h 7am-5pm) This popular corner spot on the beachside road in town is excellent for strong coffee, fresh baked goods and hearty wedges of fluffy Spanish omelet served with crisp tomato bread. There are sandwiches and other light meals, but it’s the flaky chocolate croissants that make us want to jump out of bed in the morning.

Café Rico

(Tel 2750-0510; caferico This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; breakfast US$3-7; h 5:30am-1pm; W ) Home to some of Puerto Viejo’s best coffee, this cozy garden cafe serves breakfast accompanied by a plethora of other services: free wi-fi, laundry, a book exchange, and rentals of bikes and snorkeling gear.

Dee-Lite

(gelato US$2-3; h 12:30am-8pm) Directly across from the bus stop, this authentic gelateria is the perfect place to cool off after a long, hot bus ride.

Laszlo’s

(mains US$14; h 6-9:30pm) Whaddya get when you take a champion sport fisher, born and raised in Transylvania, and transplant him to Puerto Viejo by way of New Jersey? Answer: an amazing, eclectic eatery with no sign and no menu that only opens whenever owner Laszlo catches enough fish. The day’s catch comes with garlic and parsley, homemade French fries and grilled veggies. Yum!!!

Stashu’s con Fusion

(Tel 2750-0530; mains US$10-18; h 5-10pm Thu Tue; v) Stroll 250m out of town toward Playa Cocles to this romantic candlelit patio cafe serving up creative fusion cuisine that combines elements of Caribbean, Indian, Mexican and Thai cooking. Steamed spicy mussels in red-curry sauce and tandoori chicken in coconut are just a couple of standouts. Excellent vegetarian and vegan items round out the menu. Owner and chef Stash Golas is an artist inside the kitchen and out. Do not miss.

Miss Lidia’s Place

(Tel 2750-0598; dishes US$6-20; h 9am-9pm) A long-standing favorite for classic Caribbean flavors, Miss Lidia’s has been around for years, pleasing the palates and satisfying the stomachs of locals and tourists alike. Fruit-and-veggie lovers will appreciate the ice-cold batidos (fresh fruit drinks) and the delicious assortment of broccoli, green beans, cauliflower, corn-on-the-cob, carrots and mushrooms accompanying most dishes.

Chile Rojo

(Tel 2750-0025; mains US$6-15; h 11:30am-10pm thu-tue; v) Monday nights at this Asian fusion spot mean the US$13 all-you-can-eat (and quite decent) sushi and Asian buffet. Any other night of the week, this trendy 2nd-story spot offers excellent views of the main drag, and the sushi bar opens around 7:30pm. The cuisine is truly pan-Asian, running the gamut from tabbouleh to tikkas to Thai curries.

Café Viejo

(Tel 2750-0817; www.cafeviejo.net; mains US$9-28; h 6pm-1am Wed-Mon) This pricey, scenery Med

iterranean lounge and restaurant stands out for its fresh pastas, tasty pizzas, fancy cocktails and upscale, romantic ambience. Its main-street location makes for excellent people watching.

Koki Beach

(Tel 2275-0902; www.kokibeach.com; mains US$1124; h2pm-midnight Tue-Sun; W) A high-end favorite for drinks and dinner, this sleek eatery cranks reggae-lite and sports colorful Adirondack chairs that face the ocean from an elevated wooden platform on the east end of town. There’s a decent selection of Peruvian-inflected ceviche’s, meat and seafood dishes, but slim pickings for vegetarians.

 

 

INDIGENOUS COMMUNITIES IN THE SOUTHER CARIBBEAN

The area is home to a number of thriving indigenous communities, many of which can be visited by travelers. Brush up on a little local knowledge first:

Bribrí & Cabécar

At least two indigenous groups occupied the territory on the Caribbean side of the country from pre-Columbian times. The Bribrí tended to inhabit lowland areas, while the Cabécar made their home high in the Cordillera de Talamanca. Over the last century, members of both ethnic groups have migrated to the Pacific side. But many have stayed on the coast, intermarrying with Jamaican immigrants and even working in the banana industry. Today the Bribrí tend to be more acculturated, while the Cabécar are more isolated.

The groups have distinct languages (which are preserved to some degree), though they share similar architecture, weapons and canoe style. They also share the spiritual belief that the planet – and the flora and fauna contained within it – are gifts from Sibö (God). Taking Care of Sibö’s Gifts, by Juanita Sánchez, Gloria Mayorga and Paula Palmer, is a remarkable record of Bribrí oral history.

Visiting Indigenous Communities

There are several reserves on the Caribbean slopes of the Cordillera de Talamanca, including the Talamanca Cabécar territory (which is more difficult to visit) and the Bribrí territory, where locals are more equipped to handle visitors. ATEC organizes trips out of Puerto Viejo.

The most interesting destination is Yorkín, in the Reserva Indígena Yorkín. While you are there, you can meet with a local women’s artisan group, Mujeres Artesanas Stibrawpa, who offer demonstrations in roof thatching, cooking and basket weaving. It’s a rewarding trip, well worth the time and effort to get there (day trips US$70, overnights US$90).

Alternatively you can visit the larger, modern village of Shiroles, about 20km west of Bribrí, where you can observe and participate in local chocolate production (half-day trip US$35). Half-day trips (US$25) also visit an iguana farm on the Kèköldi territory (this is a tiny ethnicity related to the Bribrí).

Note: it is not recommended to visit these territories independently. Not only are many spots difficult to reach, but also in most cases villages do not have the infrastructure to accommodate streams of tourists. Of course, remember to be respectful – these are people’s private homes and workspaces, not tourist attractions.

 

Drinking & Nightlife

Lazy Mon

Puerto Viejo’s most dependable spot for live music, Lazy Mon draws big crowds with reggae at happy hour (5pm to 7pm), then keeps things hopping with more of the same throughout the evening.

Salsa Brava

(Tel 2750-0241; h noon-10pm) Specializing in fresh seafood and open-grill cooking, this popular spot is the perfect end-of-day cocktail stop – hit happy hour between 5pm and 7pm and you’ll also catch two-for-one mojitos for sunset overlooking the Salsa Brava surf break. On Friday and Sunday it brings in DJs for the popular reggae nights.

Johnny’s Place

(h 1pm-3am) At this central beachside institution, Saturday is the big night, with DJs spinning reggaetón, dance hall, hip-hop and salsa. A mix of locals and travelers take up the dance floor and surround the late-night beach bonfires outside.

Maritza’s Bar

(Tel 2750-0003) This no fancy local spot down by the beach has regular karaoke nights and DJs playing salsa and merengue.

 

Shopping

Makeshift stalls clutter the main road, selling knick-knacks and Rasta-colored accoutrements aplenty.

Lulu Berlu Gallery

(Tel 2750-0394; h 9am-9pm) On a backstreet parallel to the main road, this gallery carries folk art, clothing, jewelry, ceramics, embroidered purses and mosaic mirrors, among many other one-of-a-kind, locally made items.

Information

Be aware that though the use of marijuana (and harder stuff) is common in Puerto Viejo, it is nonetheless illegal.

As in other popular tourist centers, theft can be an issue. Stay aware, use your hotel safe, and if staying outside of town avoid walking alone late at night .


Banco de Costa Rica (h9am-4pm Mon-Fri) Two ATMs work on Plus and Visa systems, dispensing both colones and dollars. Sometimes they run out of cash on weekends, and can be

finicky; if one machine won’t let you withdraw cash, try the other .
Banco Nacional Just off main street near the bridge into town. Dispenses colones only. Costa Rica Way (Tel 2750-3031; www.costaricaway.net; h 8am-6pm) operates a tourist information center near the waterfront east of town and lists hotel and restaurant info on its website.

Puerto Viejo Satellite (www.puertoviejosatellite.com) Another website with information on local lodgings, eating and activities.

Getting There & Away

BUS

All public buses arrive and depart from the bus stop along the beach road in central Puerto Viejo. The ticket office is diagonally across the street.

Bribrí/Sixaola US$1 .50/3 .35; 30/90 minutes; departs roughly every hour from 6:30am to 7:30pm .
Cahuita/Puerto Limón US$1 .50/3 .60; 30/90 minutes; departs roughly every hour from 5:30am to 7:30pm.

Manzanillo US$1 .20; 30 minutes; departs every two hours between 6:45am and 6:45pm (less frequently on weekends) .
San José US$10 .90; five hours; departs 7:30am, 9am, 11am and 4pm daily, plus 1pm Sunday.

VAN SHUTTLE

An ever-growing number of companies offer convenient van shuttles from Puerto Viejo to other tourist hot spots around Costa Rica and down the coast to Bocas del Toro, Panama .
for an exhaustive list, see Gecko Trail’s very helpful website geckotrail.com/shuttle.htm. The following companies operate out of Puerto Viejo.

Caribe Shuttle (Tel 2750-0626; http://caribeshuttle.com/from-puerto-viejo) Serves Bocas del Toro (Panama), San José and Tortuguero. Gecko Trail Standard shuttle service to San José and Tortuguero; also offers good value Adventure Connection packages that provide transport to San José or Arenal, with a half-day, 30km Río Pacuare rafting trip included in the price.

Interbus (Tel4100-0888; www.interbusonline.com) Serves Arenal-La Fortuna, San José, Siquirres and Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí.

Getting Around

A bicycle is a fine way to get around town, and pedaling out to beaches east of Puerto Viejo is one of the highlights of this corner of Costa Rica. You’ll find rentals all over town for about US$5 per day.

Puerto Viejo to Punta Uva

A 13km road winds east from Puerto Viejo, through rows of coconut palms, alongside coastal lodges and through lush lowland rainforest before coming to a dead end at the sleepy town of Manzanillo. The road was paved for the first time in 2003, dramatically shortening the amount of time it took to travel this route. The roadway is narrow, however, so if you’re driving, take your time and be alert for cyclists and one-lane bridges.

If you want to stay close to Puerto Viejo while having access to a nice beach, Playa Cocles has a good mix of isolation and amenities, offering a wide variety of places to stay and eat. After that, the pickings get thin until you get closer to Punta Uva, where you’ll find a cluster of lodges and restaurants – as well as one of the prettiest beaches in the region.

Buses heading from Puerto Viejo to Manzanillo will drop you at any of these places along the way.

Sights

Jaguar Centro de Rescate

(Tel 2750-0710; www.jaguarrescue.com; adult/child under 10yr US$15/free; h tours 9:30am & 11:30am Mon-Sat; c ) S Named in honor of its original resident, this well-run wildlife-rescue center in Playa Chiquita now focuses mostly on other animals, including raptors, sloths and monkeys. Founded by Spanish zoologist Encar and her partner Sandro (an Italian herpetologist), the center rehabilitates orphaned, injured and rescued animals for reintroduction into the wild whenever possible. Volunteer opportunities are available with a two-week minimum commitment.

Activities

The region’s biggest draws involve surf, sand, wildlife watching and attempts to get a decent tan between downpours. Playa Cocles is known for its great surfing and organized lifeguard system, which helps offset the dangers of the frequent riptides, while Punta Uva features the best and safest beaches for swimming.

Punta Uva Dive Center

(Tel 2759-9191; www.puntauvadivecenter.com; 1-/2tank dives from US$65/80) Clearly signposted off the main road in Punta Uva. Offers diving, PADI courses and snorkeling.

Tours

Chocolate Forest Experience

(Tel 8836-8930; http://caribeanscr.com/chocolatetour .html; Playa Cocles; guided tour US$26; h tours 10am Mon, 10am & 2pm Tue & Thu, 2pm Fri & Sat) Playa Cocles–based chocolate producer Caribbean’s leads tours of its sustainably managed cacao forest and chocolate-creation lab, accompanied by gourmet chocolate tastings.

Crazy Monkey Canopy Tour

(www.almondsandcorals.com/tours/crazy-monkeycanopy-ride; per person US$45; h 8am-2pm) The region’s only canopy tour, operated by Almonds & Corals Lodge between Punta Uva and Manzanillo.

Sleeping & Eating


All of the following places are listed from west (Puerto Viejo) to east (Punta Uva).

Playa Cocles

A broad stretch of white-sand beach lies just 1.5km east of Puerto Viejo, offering proximity to the village and its many restaurants, but plenty of peace and quiet, too.

Cabinas El Tesoro

(Tel 2750-0128; www.cabinaseltesoro.com; dm US$10, d/tr/q with fan US$35/45/55, with air-con US$60/70/80; p a i W ) Directly opposite the Playa Cocles beach break are these 12 clean, simple cabinas with tile floors and queen beds, some with air-con and cable TV. The attached Mi Casa Hostel sleeps 16 in four-bed dorms. Bikes can be rented onsite, and surfboard rentals and lessons are available across the road. The bar next door hosts live music on Tuesday.

Finca Chica

(Tel 2750-1919; www.fincachica.com; bungalows US$65-130, per week US$370-750; W ) Surrounded by lush tropical greenery, these four stand-alone wooden houses range from a two-person bungalow to an amazing three-story structure known as ‘La Casita del Río’ that sleeps up to six people. All have fully equipped kitchens, and three have spacious living and dining areas. It’s tucked down a dead-end dirt driveway, a few hundred meters off the main road.

El Tucán Jungle Lodge

(Tel 2750-0026; www.eltucanjunglelodge.com; s/d/ tr/q US$38/50/60/70; p W ) Only 1km off the road, this jungle retreat feels miles from anywhere, making it ideal for bird-watchers. Four clean wooden cabinas on the banks of the Caño Negro share a broad patio with hammocks from which you can observe sloths, toucans and more. Upon request, the welcoming German owners serve breakfast (per person US$5) and organize walks in the area.

La Isla Inn

(Tel 2750-0109; www.laislainn.com; s/d with fan US$62/79, with air-con US$73/102; p a W s ) Opposite the lifeguard tower at the main hub of the beach lies this efficient wooden lodge with 12 expansive rooms, all of which are equipped with safe, cable TV and handmade wood furnishings crafted from the slightly curved outer boards that are discarded during lumber processing.

La Costa de Papito

(Tel 2750-0080; www.lacostadepapito.com; d Incl. breakfast US$107, additional adult/child US$17/7; pW) Relax in rustic comfort in the sculpture-studded grounds at this popular Cocles outpost, which has wood and bamboo bungalows decked out with handcarved furniture, stone bathrooms straight out of The Flintstones and roomy porches draped with hammocks. The onsite restaurant serves Italian-influenced specialties, while the rustic, palm-thatched Indulgence Spa (Tel 2750-0536; www.indulgencespa-salon.com; h 11am-6pm Mon-Sat) offers massage and spa treatments.

Physis

(Tel 8866-4405, 2750-0941; www.physiscaribbean.net; Incl. breakfast d US$100-125, tr US$135) Creature comforts abound at this four-bedroom B&B, tucked down a Playa Cocles side road and managed by expatriate Californians Jeremy and Emily. There are free Netflix movies in the smaller downstairs units, satellite TV in the honeymoon suite, and superstrong wi-fi, sound systems, dehumidifiers, air-con and mini-fridges throughout. An upstairs deck with well-stocked bar doubles as the breakfast area.

La Pecora Nera

(Tel 2750-0490; mains US$12-30; h 5pm-late TueSun; v) If you splurge for a single fancy meal during your trip, do it at this romantic eatery run by Tuscan-born Ilario Giannoni. On a lovely candlelit patio, deftly prepared Italian seafood and pasta dishes are served alongside unusual offerings such as the delicate carpaccio di carambola: transparent slices of starfruit topped with shrimp, tomatoes and balsamic vinaigrette.

There is an extensive wine list (from US$32 a bottle), but you can’t go wrong with the well-chosen and relatively inexpensive house wines. The restaurant has also branched out to a more casual spot next door, Gatta Ci Cova (Tel 2750-0730; sandwiches US$7-11, mains US$10-14; h noon10pm Tue-Sun; v ), where you can grab panini and drinks.

Playa Chiquita

It isn’t exactly clear where Playa Cocles ends and Playa Chiquita begins, but conventional wisdom applies the name to a series of beaches 4km to 6km east of Puerto Viejo.

Villas del Caribe

(Tel 2750-0202, 2233-2200; www.villasdelcaribe.com; Incl. breakfast d standard/junior US$80/110, junior villa/villa US$120/150; p a s ) With a prime location near the beach, this resort offers lovely, brightly painted rooms, comfortable beds, sitting areas and roomy bathrooms with Spanish tile. Junior villas also come with kitchenettes, while the twostory villas have ocean views, king-size beds, kitchens and BBQ. All have private decks with hammocks.

Aguas Claras

(Tel 2750-0131; www.aguasclaras-cr.com; 1-/2/3-room cottages US$70/130/220; p i ) Five tropical Victorian cottages painted in bright candy colors and edged in lacy woodwork sit tucked amid the trees on the beach side of the road. All come with fully equipped kitchens.

Tierra de Sueños

(Tel 2750-0378; www.tierradesuenoslodge.com; bungalows Incl. breakfast $95-165; p W ) S True to its name (‘land of dreams’), this blissful garden retreat comprises several adorable wood bungalows with mosquito nets and private decks.

The quiet, tropical atmosphere is complemented by regular yoga classes on an openair platform. Bike rentals (US$5 per day), snorkeling gear (free) and laundry (US$10 per load) are available, as is wi-fi (in common areas only).

La Kukula

(Tel2750-0653; www.lakukulalodge.com; Incl. breakfast d/tr US$130/147, 2-/3-bedroom houses US$260/300) Three tastefully spaced ‘tropical contemporary’ bungalows bring guests close to nature with natural ventilation (super-high ceilings and screen walls), and open jungle views from the rainfall showers. The wood-decked pool is great for birdand frog-watching. For larger groups, a brandnew three-bedroom house sleeps up to nine, with private kitchen and pool. Delicious included breakfasts feature homemade bread and marmalade.

Shawandha Lodge

(Tel 2750-0018; www.shawandhalodge.com; d Incl. breakfast US$147, additional person US$25; p a i W s ) Immersed in greenery, with frogs, agoutis and other tropical critters close at hand, this upscale lodge has 13 private, spacious nature-themed bungalows painted in earth tones and equipped with large mosaic-tiled bathrooms. A meticulously maintained thatched rancho serves as an open-air lounge, and there’s a FrenchCaribbean restaurant. A private path across the road leads to the beach.

La Botánica Orgánica

(www.labotanicaorganica.com; mains US$4-8; h 8am-3pm Tue-Sun; v ) S Sporting massive wood chairs and tables on a breezy open-air terrace, this friendly roadside spot specializes in vegetarian and vegan breakfasts and lunches, from banana pancakes and breakfast burritos to lentil-veggie burgers and avocado and cheese sandwiches on homemade wholewheat bread. Everything comes adorned with hibiscus flowers and served with a smile. The attached gift shop sells earth-friendly souvenirs.

Chocorart

(Tel 8866-7493; snacks from US$2; h 10am-sunset) This Swiss-run roadside cafe makes a perfect place to break your bike ride and get a quick chocolate fix. Batidos, coffee and ice cream are all available, but the real stars here are the brownies, hot chocolate and other delectables made from cocoa grown on the adjacent farm; excellent chocolate tours are also available here.

Jungle Love Garden Café

(Tel2750-0162; www.junglelovecafe.com; mains US$9-20; h 5-9:30pm Tue-Sun; v ) American bohemian meets the Caribbean at this popular porch-front cafe that serves amazing flash-cooked tuna, pizzas, pasta, tropicalthemed salads and chicken dishes, and an eponymous Jungle Love Milkshake, a very grown-up blend of Baileys, guaro and local ice cream. The menu has veggie options and vegan items can be prepared on request. There are only eight tables; reserve ahead.

Pura Gula

(Tel 8634-6404; mains US$13-20; h 6-10pm) The short but solid menu at this casually elegant Catalan-owned eatery includes steak with gorgonzola sauce, fried calamari, spinach-cheese ravioli in pesto sauce, and shrimp accompanied by sauteed veggies and sesame mashed potatoes. Everything’s served on a pleasant open-air deck, just off the main road between Playa Chiquita and Punta Uva.

Punta Uva

Punta Uva is known for the region’s most swimmable beaches, each lovelier than the next. To find the turnoff to the point (about 7km east of Puerto Viejo), look for the Punta Uva Dive Center sign.

Walaba Hostel

(Tel 2750-0147; www.walabahostel.com; dm/s/d/ tr/q without bathroom US$13/25/35/50/60, s/d cabinas with bathroom US$35/45) Funky, colorful and amazingly cheap for Punta Uva, this ramshackle collection of open-air dorms, private rooms (including an ‘attic’ double reached by a ladder) and small cabins is surrounded by a flowery garden and managed by a friendly Dutch couple. Guests share ample kitchen facilities, hot and cold showers and a creaky-floored communal area with games, books and DVDs.

Cabinas Punta Uva

(Tel 2759-9180; www.cabinaspuntauva.com; cabinas US$60, with private kitchen US$90) Only steps from idyllic Playa Punta Uva, this Catalanowned cluster of three cabinas with tiled bathrooms, polished-wood verandas, hammocks and a shared open-air kitchen is dreamily hidden down a dead-end street in a verdant garden setting. Fall asleep to the sound of crashing waves and chirping insects and wake up to the roar of the resident howler monkeys.

Casa Viva

1-bedroom houses US$100, 2-bedroom houses d/tr/q US$130/160/190; p a W ) Beautifully handcrafted by a master carpenter, these enormous, fully furnished hardwood houses, each with tiled shower, kitchen and wraparound veranda, are set on a property that fronts the beach – an ideal spot in which to chill out in a hammock and observe the local wildlife. Weekly and monthly rates are also available.

Costa Rica Tree House Lodge

(Tel 2750-0706; www.costaricatreehouse.com; d US$200-390, extra person US$50; p) S Adventurers who like their lodgings rustic and whimsical will appreciate these four open-air casitas of various sizes, including a literal ‘tree house’, a two-story cabin built around the base of a living sangrillo tree. All have kitchens, BBQs, spacious decks with easy chairs and hammocks, and private paths leading to a small white-sand beach. Proceeds support an iguana-breeding program.

Korrigan Lodge

(Tel 2759-9103; www.korriganlodge.com; d Incl. breakfast US$105; p) Nestled into a patch of jungle near the main road, these four thatch-roofed wood and concrete bungalows come with minibar, safe, modern bathroom and private terrace with hammock. All guests have access to free bikes. Breakfast is served in an open-air rancho surrounded by gardens.

Almonds & Corals Lodge

(Tel 2271-3000, in USA 1-888-373-9042; www.almondsandcorals.com; Incl. breakfast & dinner s/d US$196/250, s/d master ste US$276/350, additional child/adult from US$40/65; p i s ) S Buried deep in the jungle, this longtime luxury spot popular with honeymooners has 24 palm-roofed suites connected by wooden boardwalks, with four-poster beds, Jacuzzi tubs and private patios with hammocks. Rooms are screened in, making them comfortable, but you’ll still be able to enjoy the nightly serenade of insects and frogs. Meals are served family-style in an open-air dining room.

Selvin’s Restaurant

(Tel 2750-0664; mains US$10-18; h 8am-8pm Wed Sun) Selvin is a member of the extensive Brown family, noted for their charm, and his place is considered one of the region’s best, specializing in shrimp, lobster, a terrific rondón and a succulent chicken caribeño (chicken stewed in a spicy Caribbean sauce).

El Refugio

(Tel 2759-9007; mains US$15-25; h 5-9pm Thu Tue) This tony Argentine-owned restaurant with only five tables is renowned for its rotating menu of three appetizers, five main dishes and three desserts. New offerings get chalked up on the board daily, anchored by perennial favorites such as red tuna in garlic, bife de entraña with chimichurri (a marinade of parsley, garlic and spices) and dulce de leche crepes. Reserve ahead.

Manzanillo

The chill village of Manzanillo has long been off the beaten track, even since the paved road arrived in 2003. This little town remains a vibrant outpost of Afro-Caribbean culture and has also remained pristine, thanks to the 1985 establishment of the Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Gandoca Manzanillo, which includes the village and imposes strict regulations on regional development.

Activities are of a simple nature, in nature: hiking, snorkeling and kayaking are king. (As elsewhere, ask about riptides before heading out.) Other than that, you may find the occasional party at the locally renowned Maxi’s bar and restaurant at the end of the road (where buses arrive).

Activities

Aquamor Talamanca Adventures (Tel 2759-9012; www.greencoast.com/aquamor.htm) Near the bus stop in Manzanillo, this outfit rents snorkel gear and kayaks. Hours vary; call ahead.

Sleeping & Eating

Cabinas Bucus

(Tel 2759-9143; www.costa-rica-manzanillo.com; s/d/ tr US$25/35/45, s/d/tr/q apt US$40/45/60/70; p W ) Four tidy, brightly painted tiled rooms in a two-story mustard yellow structure have mosquito nets and private bathrooms, all sharing a small kitchen. There are also two kitchen-equipped apartments sleeping up to four people each. Omar, one of the co-owners, is one of Manzanillo’s top guides.

Cabinas Manzanillo

(Tel 2759-9033; s/d US$40/50; p W ) Run by the ever-helpful Sandra Castillo and Pablo Bustamante, these eight cabinas on Manzanillo’s western edge are so clean you could eat off the tile floors. Cheery rooms have big beds, industrial-strength ceiling fans and spacious bathrooms. There’s also a shared kitchen. From Maxi’s, travel 300m west toward Punta Uva, then make a left onto the signposted dirt road.

Congo Bongo

(Tel 2759-9016; www.congo-bongo.com; d/tr/q US$165/185/205, per week US$990/1110/1230; p W ) About 1km outside Manzanillo towards Punta Uva, these six charming Dutch-owned cottages surrounded by dense forest (formerly a cacao plantation) offer fully equipped kitchens and plenty of living space, including open-air terraces and strategically placed hammocks that are perfect for wildlife-watching. A network of trails leads through the 6 hectares of grounds to the beautiful beach.

Cool & Calm Cafe

(Tel 8843-7460; www.coolandcalmcafe.com; mains US$9-18; h4-9pm Mon, 11am-9pm Wed-Sun) Directly across from Manzanillo’s western beachfront, this front-porch eatery regales visitors with fine Caribbean cooking, from snapper to shrimp, and chicken to lobster, with a few extras including guacamole, tacos and veggie curry thrown in for good measure. Owners Andy and Molly offer Caribbean cooking classes and a ‘reef-to-plate’ tour where you dive for your own lobster or fish.

Maxi’s Restaurant

(mains US$9-21, lobster US$23-67; h noon-9pm; v) Manzanillo’s most famous restaurant draws a tourist crowd with large platters of grilled seafood, pargo rojo (whole red snappers), steaks and Caribbean-style lobsters (expensive and not necessarily worth it). Despite the somewhat lackadaisical service, the open-air upstairs dining area is a wonderful seaside setting for a meal and a beer with views of the beach and the street below.

Getting There & Away

Buses from Puerto Viejo to Manzanillo (US$1 .20, 30 minutes) depart at 6:45am, 7:45am, 9:45am, 11:45am, 1:45pm, 4:45pm and 6:45pm, returning to Puerto Viejo at 7am, 8am, 10am, noon, 2pm, 4pm and 6pm.These buses all continue to Puerto Limón (US$4 .90, two hours) for onward transfers. Transportes Mepe also runs one direct bus daily between Manzanillo and San José (US$12, five hours), leaving Manzanillo at 7am and returning from San José at noon.

Refugio Nacional de
Vida Silvestre Gandoca Manzanillo


This little-explored refuge – called Regama for short – protects nearly 70Tel of the southern Caribbean coast, extending from Manzanillo all the way to the Panamanian border. It encompasses 50 sq km of land plus 44 sq km of marine environment. The peaceful, pristine stretch of sandy white beach is one of the area’s main attractions. It’s the center of village life in Manzanillo, and stretches for miles in either direction – from Punta Uva in the west to Punta Mona in the east. Offshore, a 5-sq-km coral reef is a teeming habitat for lobsters, sea fans and long-spined urchins.

Other than the village itself, and the surrounding farmland areas (grandfathered when the park was created in 1985), the wildlife refuge is composed largely of rainforest. Cativo trees form the canopy, while there are many heliconia in the undergrowth. A huge 400-hectare swamp – known as Pantano Punta Mona – provides a haven for waterfowl, as well as the country’s most extensive collection of holillo palms and sajo trees. Beyond Punta Mona, protecting a natural oyster bank, is the only red-mangrove swamp in Caribbean Costa Rica. In the nearby Río Gandoca estuary there is a spawning ground for Atlantic tarpon, and caimans and manatees have been sighted.

The variety of vegetation and the remote location of the refuge attract many tropical birds; sightings of the rare harpy eagle have been recorded here. Other birds to look out for include the red-lored parrot, the red-capped manikin and the chestnutmandibled toucan, among hundreds of others. The area is also known for incredible raptor migrations, with more than a million birds flying overhead during autumn.

Despite the idyllic nature of the environment, there has been some political squabbling between Minae (the government agency that administers the national parks in Costa Rica) and some local businesses over the management of the refuge. Some local operators are trying to get the village excluded from the confines of the refuge – which would open the door to increased development in the area. (In fact, unapproved constructions have already materialized – some within 50m of the high-tide line, a zone in which construction is prohibited by national law.) Others oppose it. It will likely take years – and armies of lawyers – to sort the mess out.

Activities


Hiking


A coastal trail heads 5.5km east out of Manzanillo to Punta Mona. The first part of this path, which leads from Manzanillo to Tom Bay (about a 40-minute walk), is well trammeled, clearly marked and doesn’t require a guide. Once you pass Tom Bay, however, the path gets murky and it’s easy to get lost, so ask about conditions before you set out, or hire a guide. It’s a rewarding walk – with amazing scenery, as well as excellent (and safe) swimming and snorkeling at the end.

Another, more difficult, 9km trail leaves from just west of Manzanillo and skirts the southern edges of the Pantano Punta Mona, continuing to the small community of Gandoca. This trail is not commonly walked, as most people access Punta Mona and Gandoca from the park entrance at the northern edge of the refuge, which is located on the road to Sixaola. If you want to try to hike this, be sure to hire a guide.

Snorkeling & Diving

The undersea portion of the park cradles one of the two living coral reefs in the country. Comprising five types of coral, the reefs begin in about 1m of water and extend 5km offshore to a barrier reef that local fishers have long relied on and researchers have only recently discovered. This colorful undersea world is home to some 400 species of fish and crustaceans. Punta Mona is a popular destination for snorkeling, though it’s a trek so you may wish to hire a boat.

Otherwise, you can snorkel offshore at Manzanillo at the eastern end of the beach (the riptide can be dangerous here; inquire about conditions before setting out). Also check out the Coral Reef Information Center at Aquamor Talamanca Adventures in Manzanillo.

Conditions vary widely, and clarity can be adversely affected by weather changes.

Kayaking

You can explore some of the area’s waterways by kayak, available from Aquamor Talamanca Adventures (per hour/day US$6/25). Paddle out to the reef, or head up the Quebrada Home Wark, in the west of the village, or the tiny Simeon Creek, at the east end of the village. These are short paddles – ideal if you’ve got kids.

Dolphin-Watching

In 1997 a group of local guides in Manzanillo identified tucuxi dolphins, a little-known species previously not found in Costa Rica, and began to observe their interactions with bottlenose dolphins. A third species – the Atlantic spotted dolphin – is also common in this area. This unprecedented activity has attracted the attention of marine biologists and conservationists, who are following these animals with great interest.

For dolphin-watching tours in the reserve (from US$55), contact ATEC in Puerto Viejo.

Turtle-Watching

Marine turtles – especially leatherback but also green, hawksbill and loggerhead – all nest on the beaches between Punta Mona and the Río Sixaola. Leatherbacks nest from March to July, with a peak in April and May. Local conservation efforts are underway to protect these nesting grounds since the growth of the area’s human population has led to increased theft of turtle eggs.

During turtle season, no flashlights, beach fires or camping are allowed on the beach. All tourists must be accompanied by a local guide to minimize disturbance of the nesting turtles.

Tours

You could explore the refuge on your own, but without a guide you’ll likely miss out on the incredible diversity of medicinal plants, exotic birds and earthbound animals. Most guides charge US$35 per person for a fourto five-hour trek, depending on the size of the group. Ask around at Maxi’s or at Casa de Guías (Tel 2759-9064).

Recommended local guides include Florentino Grenald (Tel 8841-2732, 2759-9043), who used to serve as the reserve’s administrator, Omar (Tel 2759-9143; Cabinas Bucus) and Abel Bustamante (Tel 2759-9043).

Sleeping & Eating

Punta Mona

(www.puntamona .org; Incl. 3 organic meals campsites/r per person US$35/65; i ) S Accessible only by foot or boat, this 40-hectare organic farm and retreat 5km southeast of Manzanillo is a thriving experiment in permaculture design and sustainable living. It grows over 200 varieties of fruit and nut trees and hundreds of edible greens, roots, veggies and medicinal plants, which comprise 90Tel of the huge vegetarian meals included in the daily rate.

Check the website for myriad educational and volunteer opportunities here. To arrange accommodations and transportation, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ahead of your visit.

Information

An excellent photo book on the area, with commentary in Spanish and english, is Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Gandoca-Manzanillo by Juan José Puccí, available locally.

Minae (Tel 2759-9100; h 8am-noon & 1-4pm) is located in the green wooden house as you enter Manzanillo, and generally has trail maps of the refuge.

 

 

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