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 – Dorm rooms start around 5,500 CRC per night, while private rooms cost around 17,000 CRC 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! Most hostels offer free WiFi, though free breakfast is not that common. A few hostels also offer self-catering facilities. Campgrounds and tent rentals are available from a few hostels in the area, usually starting around 4,500 CRC per night for single and 8,600 CRC for a double.
Budget hotel prices – Hotel prices start around 16,000 CRC per night for single or double, which will generally get you breakfast and a private bathroom. Free WiFi is also standard. More upscale accommodation typically begins at 27,000 CRC per night. There are a lot of options in town that you can find on Tripadvisor that aren’t listed on major booking websites so be sure to look around. Airbnb is available in the area, with shared accommodation prices starting at 9,400 CRC per night. Options for shared accommodation are limited, so you’ll have better luck finding an entire apartment/home for rent. Expect to pay around 23,000 CRC per night for an entire home.
Average cost of food – Local cuisine in a “soda” restaurant (local stand) will typically cost 1,600 CRC. Main courses in most restaurants cost around 5,400 CRC. On the road to the beach is a great pizza place for 2,200 CRC and a little stall that sells the world’s best empanadas for 535 CRC. Sit down restaurants in town, especially those that cater to tourists, will cost double that so avoid them if you’re on a budget! If you plan on cooking for yourself, a week’s worth of basic groceries will cost around 15,000-20,000 CRC.
Transportation costs – Traveling by bus from San José will cost about 4,300 CRC for a five-hour trip. Upon arrival, 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. Car rentals are also available (though not really necessary) for as little as 10,000 CRC per day. 4-WD isn’t required for driving around town, though if you’re heading out to explore you’ll likely want a vehicle designed for rougher roads.
Suggested daily budget – 22,150-24,900 CRC / 40-45 USD (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating out a little, cooking most of your meals, and using local transportation. Using the budget tips below, you can always lower this number. However, if you stay in fancier accommodation or eat out more often, expect this to be higher!)
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 535 CRC. 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 4pm.
- 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 around 4,300 CRC 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!
- Avoid the high season – Prices will be higher during the summer (and during holidays) so be sure to travel during the low-season to take advantage of lower prices!
- Rent a bike – For a few dollars each day you can rent a bike. This is all you need to get around the area and it will save you money taking taxis or buses.
Top Things to See and Do in Puerto Viejo
- Hit the beach – This area is known for its beautiful Caribbean beaches. Simply put, there’s nothing better to do in this town than lay on the beach and just hang out. That’s the main reason people come here!
- 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. Beginner lessons last a couple hours and cost around 27,000 CRC.
- 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 8km 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. Admission is by donation, so be generous! Here is a video:
- Yoga – Many, many, many Westerners have moved to the area and a large percentage 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. Most drop-in classes will cost around 6,000 CRC per person, though there are often membership and retreat discounts available.
- Visit the iguanas – A few miles south of Puerto Viejo lies Iguana Verde where you can take an Iguana Conservation Tour. For 8,025 CRC, you are able to see the facility and learn about the Green Iguana, which is an endangered species.
- Bike to Manzanillo – For about 2,700 CRC you can rent a bike for a day. Cycle to Manzanillo and back on a relatively flat and (mostly)-paved road. Along the way, explore the secluded beaches, and take some time to have a picnic lunch. The journey is around 26km round trip.
- 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! Tours cost around 11,000 CRC 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. You can take a self-guided tour for 550 CRC, while a guided tour will cost around 3,500 CRC.
- 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 price, so be sure to ask about snorkeling possibilities for a combined tour. Expect to pay at least 55,000 CRC per person (exclusive tours will cost more).