Puerto Viejo is a popular destination for backpackers and budget travelers. While Tortuguero in the north may get all the attention, come down to this part of Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast for excellent surfing, tremendous snorkeling and diving, great night life, cheap accommodation, and a lot of delicious food options. It’s also a popular spot for expats from America. Moreover, just a few hours from here is Cahuita National Park, a beautiful park for hiking and monkey spotting. There are a lot of reasons why I love this part of Costa Rica. It’s a good alternative to the more expensive and touristy Pacific side of the country.
- Hostel prices – Hostels here have tents and camping starting at $8 USD per night for single, $16 USD for double, etc. Dorm rooms are about $8-10 USD per night and private rooms are $20 USD per night. My favorite cheap place to stay here is Rocking J’s. It’s a bit outside the city but has the cheapest accommodation in town (hammocks, tents, dorms, and private rooms). Added bonus? They also have great BBQs!
- Budget hotel prices – Hotel prices start at $30 USD per night for single or double, which will generally get you breakfast and a private bathroom. More upscale accommodation typically begins at $40 USD per night.
- Average cost of food – Local cuisine in a “soda” restaurant (local stand) will typically cost $3 USD. Main courses in most restaurants cost around $10 USD. On the road to the beach is a great pizza place for $4 USD and a little stall that sells the world’s best empanadas for $1 USD.
- Transportation costs – Traveling by bus from San José will cost about $8 USD for a five hour trip. In town, you can take shared taxis to some of the more distant beaches but renting a bike is much cheaper – they cost only a few dollars per day.
Money Saving Tips
- Eat empanadas – On the road between town and Rocking J’s across from the Lizard King is a stall that sells fried chicken and empanadas for $1 USD. Not only are they delicious, they are also ridiculously cheap. Eat at this place to save money, but make sure you head by after he opens at 4 pm.
- Camp – Most of the resorts and hostels by the beach let you camp. If you don’t have your own tent, you can rent them. For only $8 USD per night, it’s the best way to keep your accommodation costs down.
- Drink outside town – Bars in town are about 25% more expensive than at the hostels and hotel bars that line the road towards the main beach. Start your night there, and save some money.
- 2-for-1 and all-you-can-eat – The Japanese restaurant in town has 2-for-1 happy hours every night and all-you-can-eat sushi on Tuesdays. Worth it!
Top Things to See and Do
- Hit the beach – This area is known for it’s beautiful Caribbean beaches. Simply put, there’s nothing better to do in this town than lay on the beach and just hang out.
- Surfing – Puerto Viejo is the most famous surfing area on the Caribbean coast, and you’ll find lots of places ready to teach you how to hang if you’re a beginner. Though the waves aren’t as good as on the Pacific coast, it’s easier to learn and a lot cheaper here.
- Cahuita National Park – About an hour north to Puerto Viejo, is Cahuita National Park. This is one of Costa Rica’s smaller and less-visited parks. There are 5 miles of trails that go through the jungle and along beaches. It’s beautiful, and you have an extremely high chance of seeing lots of monkeys. The town that borders the park is quieter than Puerto Viejo, so if you need a break from crowds, relax here for a few days. Here is a video:
- Yoga – Many, many, many Westerners have moved to the area and many of these expats are very “new age.” In that spirit, they have opened up a lot of yoga and healing shops here. If you’re into yoga and miss your fix from back home, this is a great place to take a class.
- Visit the iguanas – A few miles south of Puerto Viejo lies Iguana Verde where you can take an Iguana Conservation Tour. For $15 USD, you are able to see the facility and learn about the Green Iguana, which is an endangered specie.
- Rent a bike – For about $5 USD, you can rent a bike for a day. It’s nice to cycle to Manzanillo and back (around 15 miles in total). Along the way, explore the secluded beaches, and take time to have a picnic lunch.
- Tour the Jaguar Rescue Center – This foundation works at rescuing and rehabilitating animals like jaguars and howler monkeys. The animals are not kept in captivity longer than necessary, so that means you may not always get to see a jaguar, but this center does offer the chance to get more intimate interaction with some of Costa Rica’s wildlife. In any case, it’s a worthy cause to support at $15 USD per person
- Sample some natural juices and homemade chocolate – Finca La Isla is an ecologically-friendly farm and botanical garden that offers tours to visitors. You can learn about the medicinal herbs and plant life of the area, sample some of the farm’s products (like fresh juices and chocolate), and see a variety of exotic plants and animals. Tropical frogs love the botanical gardens, and you have a great chance at spotting the red poison dart frog.
- Ride a horse along the beach – Have you always been tempted by the romance of an ocean-side horseback ride? Playa Chiquita Riding Adventures offers rides through the jungle and along the beach. The rides cater to all skill levels, and range in price from $60 USD (two hours) to $85 USD (half day)
- Go fishing – Costa Rica offers some of the world’s best sport fishing. Whether you’re an avid fisher or a newbie, there are plenty of options to check out. Trips vary in length and cost, and be sure to ask about snorkeling possibilities for a combined tour.