The Caribbean coast of Costa Rica
Our last days in Central America after 3 weeks’ long trip were for relaxing and recovering from such busy days we had. Then what’s best than the Caribbean coast along Puerto Viejo by the nice beaches and warm waters? While in Costa Rica you have the choice of both Pacific and Caribbean coasts, it is merely up to you what you are really looking for. Either cold waters, long beaches with strong currents and big waves, ideally for surfing and other sports alike, or nice calm warm waters along small beaches. In our case it was not even optional thinking about the Pacific.
So after our rather disappointing experience so far in Costa Rica, were quite skeptic already in what we could expect. Anyway, we did a good decision although there was a very big downside in any case: getting here from San Jose. Yet again, another very lengthily drive, aggravated with the super long queues of cars and tracks because of the improvement works being carried right now at the road (January 2016). But with or without any road works, expect to be driving for 4 hours minimum, even the total distance is not that much. It is the only and main road for everyone going to the Caribbean, and onto Panama via the Caribbean side. Also because of Limon is the largest and main port in the country, hence the hundreds of lorries slowing down the flow enormously.
Once you reach Limon, the last 40 kilometres are easy and fast parallel to the coast. At first impression you will see dirty beaches and horrible landscapes. We were worries at this point! But hold on until you reach Cahuita, and beyond. This changes dramatically, with extremely beautiful unpolluted beaches, lush forests and nature. But you won’t be “alone”. You will be part of the many tourists all over the area.
Depending on the area you will find a different kind of tourist, but overall, most what you will see is the rasta style, backpacker. This does not mean the place is low, on the contrary, it’s a wide mixture of upper class tourism and cheaper one. This is a place for everyone, and you can find everything to your taste and needs, luckily, on a very small scale and undeveloped tourism. There are no large hotels, nor big constructions. The beaches are completely free from sellers, nor even bard or restaurants aligning them. It is really pure nature, something we really appreciated especially having experience before the overcrowded, over exploited mass-tourism places of Boracay in the Philippines and Bali in Indonesia.
Here the beaches are part of Natural Parks, and as such, are highly protected. You can have a bath with monkeys and sloths meters from you. It has been for us the place we’ve been with the most unspoiled beaches ever in the world (and we’ve been to 75 countries counting Costa Rica). But you will need to be on the move around and see other beaches than just one. While the fastest way will be to have a rental car, you can bike everywhere along the coast as majority of tourists do (but I won’t recommend for farther distances). Otherwise, take the frequent and inexpensive buses instead. They will take you anywhere along the coast down to the border with Panama. Each beach is different, and the more south you go the emptier and nicer they get, as is Manzanillo, our favourite without hesitation.
For more information about Puerto Viejo check Wikipedia site. The currency in Costa Rica is the Colon. Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do along the Caribbean Coast
- Cahuita Small village, not of special interest, but right by the entrance to the Cahuita National Park with its beautiful beaches and nature. A must do while in the area.
-Playa Blanca The main beach along the Cahuita National Park.
-Puerto Vargas The next beach at the other side of the National Park.
-Playa Negra Is the beach right by Cahuita. Not a nice one, but walking distance to the nice ones some meters ahead inside the National Park.
- Puerto Viejo The largest village in the area in the entire area from Limon south towards the border with Panama. Majority of tourists select this as their base as the choice of accommodation is quite big, and so the choice of shops and restaurants and nightlife.
-Playa Negra Is the main beach at Puerto Viejo, widely used by surfers.
- Playa Cocles This is the next beach after Playa Negra, a really good one in my opinion, specially by the rock formation in the sea with the viewing point, and Punta Cocles. From here the nicest beaches start towards the south.
- Playa Punta Uva The next great beach after Cocles. Small but very pretty.
- Playa Grande One of the largest beaches, more quieter than the previous ones. The farther you go the less crowd you get.
- Playa Manzanillo By all means, the most beautiful beach of them all. We spent here most of the time and had it really to ourselves most of the day.
While you can get on a bus from San Jose and major cities in between, prepare for a long journey. Frequent buses cover the route between the capital and Sixaola right by the border with Panama, and enter the Caribbean Coast at Limon all the way south parallel to the coast along all the villages.
A rental car is another option, only faster than the bus. Unfortunately flying is not optional, even though there is an airport in Limon but currently not in use for commercial flights.
Within the area, you can hop-on a frequent local bus covering the route between Limon and Sixaola. Expect them to be quite busy at all the times since it’s the most popular transport among the thousands of tourists. Yet for a more relaxing option (only if you are not planning to go to farther distances) is to rent a bike. You will see many many tourists using biked specially along Puerto Viejo and the nearby villages. For farther distances, as said before, get on a bus if you do not have your own transportation.
Bear in mind before coming here in not expecting to find large properties nor resorts. Yes it’s the Caribbean but no, it’s not Cancun. In the other hand what you will find are hundreds of small properties. Either small hotels, or more likely to be, family run businesses. Surprisingly, most of those are in fact run by foreigners rather than Costa Ricans, and the reason they told us for this is that Costa Rican people is way more lazy and slow, and cannot take any stress. This makes totally sense after our experience in the country so far, I do strongly agree.
Finding a good deal can be complicated though. Not because there is not a good choice, but because that choice was not to the standards we are looking. We were not keen to sleep in a cabin and sharing facilities such as toilet. This kind of accommodation you have it plentiful if you are a backpacker. On the other side you have the upper class accommodation, likely to be fully booked all year round, with very high rates but of course you get that, a luxury stay. In between both poles is where we seek for, and found an incredibly great place. I have no words to tell you how much I strongly recommend you this place for your stay if you have the option. As usual, a good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms, Ebookers or TUI.
We stayed at 3 Bamboo, an eco-friendly lodge in Bordon Lilan, Cahuita, 70403. Please pay attention that this is not located at the village of Cahuita, but outside near the only road parallel to the Caribbean. We needed the GPS to find it, but then was easy to remember. And of course to note, you need a car to get here. They provide entire houses that can accommodate large families. The one we stayed (for 2 of us yet could accommodate 6) was large, spacious sitting room with open plan kitchen that was entirely fitted with all appliances and more. Large separate room, small bathroom and a nice terrace. There was everything you could need provided, even beach towels. Super clean and attention to detail on everything. The owners, French, were absolutely a highlight. They could not be any more friendly and helpful, a joy to speak to them about anything with an incredible great customer care. Within the complex, they have an awesome barbecue area where we had our own dinner freshly done every night, and the largest pool and jacuzzi of any other hotel in the area! All within a beautiful landscaped gardens and natural decorations. Really really loved it.