It was because of the Jaguar Rescue Centre in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast that I ended up living near Playa Cocles for three months in a blue jungle house. My eldest daughter was returning to volunteer at the Jaguar Rescue Centre and I decided it was the perfect place to start my retirement.
This is where I fell for Costa Rica, a place where the jungle meets the ocean, sloths cross the road, and the call of howler monkeys become the norm as an incredible early morning alarm. I bought a second-hand bike and discovered secluded beaches, incredible wildlife, friendly locals, and even a boa constrictor on my front lawn.
Here are 8 fabulous experiences to enjoy on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast.
1. Discover Incredible Biodiversity At Tortuguero National Park
My visit to Tortuguero National Park ranks right up there as a favorite experience on Costa Rica’s coast. With its maze of canals and mangrove trees, Tortuguero is one of the most biodiverse rainforests in Costa Rica. As you travel through the winding canals lined with mangrove trees to get to the national park, herons, anhingas, keel-billed toucans, and howler monkeys greet you. Be swept away by the sheer natural biodiversity of this corner of the earth. Join a guided tour of green sea turtles laying their eggs, take a birdwatching tour or dip your kayak paddle in the canals while silently exploring.
Read more details about visiting Tortuguero National Park in this article: 4 Beautiful National Parks in Costa Rica Not To Miss.
2. Embrace The Pura Vida Lifestyle In Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Costa Rica
Puerto Viejo de Talamanca (simply referred to as Puerto Viejo) is known as a party town. And lively it is. There are plenty of hostels and bars booming with reggae and calypso music. But that is not all of Puerto Viejo.
Puerto Viejo encapsulates the laid back “Pura Vida” vibe of Costa Rica. It’s the perfect place to breathe a little deeper and slow down.Puerto Viejo’s residents are a mix of Afro-Caribbean, indigenous Bribri, Ticos and expats that came but couldn’t bear to leave. Visit Puerto Viejo’s Saturday market. Pick up a cold coconut water (pipa fria) and talk to the local artisans and farmers. Even with my beginner level Spanish, the locals were patient and friendly. Take time to visit the cafes, watch the fishermen mending their nets by hand and marvel at what actually gets transported on a bicycle.
3. Relax On The Caribbean Coast Beaches Of Costa Rica
Just imagine for a minute, swaying palm trees. White sand. Turquoise blue waters. Rolling waves. Spanish chit chat. Local fried plantain and coconut rice served on a banana leaf. Calypso music playing in the distance. This is the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, which you can enjoy to the fullest at these four beaches south of Puerto Viejo.
The first beach, just 2 miles south of Puerto Viejo, is Playa Cocles. You can’t miss it. An array of colorful surfboards waiting to be rented, the crashing surf, beach volleyball, and surfers dashing into the Caribbean Sea to ride the waves. At just over 1 mile long, Playa Cocles has plenty of room for the surfers and those just wanting to chill.
Just a little further south, about 4 miles from Puerto Viejo, is the even lovelier beach of Playa Chiquita. It’s the perfect beach away from any crowds to relax, swim and soak up the relaxed lifestyle of Costa Rica.
This small fishing village has a spectacular beach. About 5 miles south of Puerto Viejo, it is not particularly well-marked, so look for the Restaurante Selvin and turn towards the beach. The powdery sand, stunning color of the water and palm tree forest make it the perfect Costa Rican beach. If you are up for kayaking, paddle boarding, or snorkelling, rentals are available.
Playa Manzanillo is located inside the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge. This private-public area protects the flora and fauna found in the biodiverse mangrove swamp. Various turtle species lay their eggs here and manatees and caimans are abundant.There is plenty of opportunity to see wildlife and hiking trails that are best explored with a guide.
I love the white sand and swaying palm and almond trees at Playa Manzanillo. With few tourists, it has a very local and laid back vibe epitomized by the local cafe named The Cool and Calm Cafe. Snorkel on the reef or get your camera and photograph Flowerpot Rock, a jagged rock off the shore topped with a few trees.
- For all the beaches on the Caribbean coast near Puerto Viejo, it is really important when taking part in water activities to be aware of the strong undertow.
- Never leave your belongings unattended on the beach, even while swimming.
- Biking to all the beaches is my preferred way to get there. Rent a bike in Puerto Viejo and then spend the day beach hopping. Beaches are also accessible by car and public bus.
4. See Sloths And Monkeys Up Close At The Jaguar Rescue Centre
One of the most popular attractions on the Caribbean coast near Puerto Viejo is the Jaguar Rescue Centre. The remarkable rescue and rehabilitation centre is four miles south of Puerto Viejo in Playa Chiquita. The Jaguar Rescue Centre acts as a temporary or permanent home to orphaned and injured local wildlife.
Daily public and private tours are offered to see the animals that currently live there. The stories of how the animals arrived at the Jaguar Rescue Centre are impactful and memorable. So are the faces of the two and three-toed sloths, the anteater, and the howler and spider monkeys. A variety of snakes and birds from the rainforest also make up the inhabitants of the centre. There are many inspiring stories of animals being successfully released back into their natural habitat. Find out more about the Jaguar Rescue Centre.
5. Hike Or Snorkel At Cahuita National Park
Just 10 miles north of Puerto Viejo is Cahuita National Park. With its two stunning white sand beaches, Playa Blanca and Puerto Vargas, and a 5-mile hiking trail, Cahuita National Park is definitely worth visiting. Plan to relax under the palm trees or hire a certified guide at the entrance and walk through the rainforest spotting capuchin and howler monkeys, perhaps a sloth or two and maybe even a Jesus Christ lizard. Snorkelling with a certified guide is also a popular activity in Cahuita National Park. Read more details about Cahuita National Park in this article: 4 Beautiful National Parks in Costa Rica Not To Miss.
6. See The “Bean To Bar” Process At Caribeans Chocolate And Coffee
You might notice Caribbeans Coffee Shop at the side of the road, just south of Puerto Viejo, and stop for a coffee, as I did. Inside, its handmade, organic chocolate is available for sampling and purchasing. Caribeans is the perfect example of bean to bar chocolate making and the taste is exquisite. The chocolate is flavored with herbs and spices such as lime leaves, chile peppers and peppermint, to name a few of my favorites. Caribeans Chocolate And Coffee is a fabulous place to have a coffee, chocolate drink, smoothie and a bite to eat. And of course, a piece of chocolate or two.
The experience is even more meaningful if you take the tour through their cacao farm. Along with fabulous views out to the Caribbean Sea, the tour is interactive and educational. It truly gives an understanding of where chocolate comes from and the process and pride that this small producer puts into its product.
Pro Tip: Caribeans Chocolate And Coffee tours are at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily except Sundays. No need to book in advance. The tours last about 2 hours and involve walking on a gravel road and well-maintained trails through the rainforest. Find out more about Caribeans here.
7. Visit The Bribri Indigenous Territory
Taking a guided tour to the Bribri Indigenous Territory is an authentic cultural and historical experience. Hike through the rainforest, learn about medicinal plants and walk through a cacao farm. Meet a family that has been farming and making organic chocolate from cacao trees using a process that has been handed down from one generation to another. Book your tour here or here.
8. Watch Critically Endangered At The Ara Manzanillo Reintroduction Station
The Great Green Macaw, whose habitat range is in Central and South America, is found in Costa Rica but only on the Caribbean coast. Greatly reduced in numbers due to hunting, deforestation, and the international wild bird pet trade, this gorgeous species is critically endangered. Take the 4 p.m. tour, the only way to visit the Great Green Macaw Reintroduction Station, and be prepared to be wowed. A magnificent vista awaits you overlooking the jungle with glimpses of the sea but the most spectacular sight is the Great Green Macaws.
The guide will explain the ways that the Great Green Macaw is being protected and reintroduced to the wild. You’ll see plenty of these stunning birds as they fly in for feeding time. Their riot of colorful feathers, green, turquoise, and red, and grace in flight is spellbinding.
- Definitely book a tour. Right here!
- Getting to the Great Green Macaw Reintroduction Center: The Reintroduction Center is at the top of a hill. If coming by bicycle, park your bike and walk uphill just over half a mile. By car, look for the sign reading ARA about 7.4 miles south of Puerto Viejo. Another way to get there is by taxi. The road is steep but doable and there is parking at the top.
Where To Eat In Puerto Viejo
Bread and Chocolate: Stop by Bread and Chocolate for a delicious breakfast or lunch in its relaxed atmosphere. Don’t miss the bean to bar chocolate experiences.
Cafe Rico is tucked into a tropical garden and has a library onsite. It totally embodies the Pura Vida lifestyle with great coffee and food.
Como en mi Casa: Dive into a healthy meal while sitting on the little balcony.
Caribeans: As mentioned above, this eatery is at Playa Cocles and has a great breakfast and lunch menu. Don’t forget to pair your meal with chocolate drinks, smoothies, and coffee. And the piece de resistance? The chocolate, of course.
El Refugio Grill in Punta Uva: A small and intimate restaurant, open for lunch and dinner, with excellent food. It’s a fabulous jungle experience.
Consider these other experiences awaiting you in Costa Rica: