Pretty much everyone these days seems to visit Puerto Viejo while in Costa Rica. While its northern neighbor Tortuguero has traditionally been the main tourist draw in this region, Puerto Viejo has blossomed into a popular destination of its own.
And it’s no surprise why! Puerto Viejo offers excellent surfing, tremendous snorkeling and diving, a crazy nightlife, cheap accommodation, and a lot of delicious food options.
It’s more crowded these days but the beaches outside the town are still beautiful and serene. Moreover, just a few hours from here is Cahuita National Park, a beautiful park for hiking and spotting wildlife. This area is still a cheaper alternative to the more expensive and touristy Pacific side of the country too.
This travel guide to Puerto Viejo will help you save money and make the most of your visit!
Table of Contents
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Puerto Viejo
1. Explore Cahuita National Park
2. Hit the beach
3. Try a yoga class
4. Tour the Jaguar Rescue Center
5. Vist Finca La Isla
Other Things to See and Do in Puerto Viejo
1. Take a surfing lesson
Puerto Viejo is the most famous surfing area on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast. Though the waves aren’t as challenging as they are on the Pacific Coast, it’s easier to learn here — and a lot cheaper too. Surf the Jungle offers two-hour beginner lessons for about 33,000. Their 7-day surf camp (which includes meals, accommodation, local tours, and yoga classes) is 1.3 million CRC per person.
2. See endangered iguanas
Head to Kekoldi Indigenous Reserve (where the indigenous Bribi tribe lives) just outside of Puerto Viejo to tour the Green Iguana Project. You can explore the facility and learn all about the endangered Green Iguana and how indigenous locals have started rebuilding the iguana’s population — from reproduction to raising to releasing them into the wild. While you’re here, you’ll also learn about Bribri culture, including how they grow and use local medicinal plants. It’s 6,925 CRC to visit.
3. Bike to Manzanillo
For 6,200 CRC, you can rent a bike for a day and cycle the picturesque 8-mile (13-kilometer) road to Manzanillo and back. The road is relatively flat and (mostly)-paved. Along the way, you can pause at secluded beaches, stop for roadside sugarcane juice, and pop in at the Jaguar Rescue Center. It’s a safe and well-worn road, and you’re likely to encounter lots of other cyclists and walkers along the way.
4. 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 hit the high seas to fish for tarpon, mackerel, grouper, and more. Trips vary in length and price, with most lasting a full or half day. Be sure to ask about snorkeling possibilities for a combined fishing/snorkeling tour. Expect to pay at least 60,000 CRC per person for a shared excursion (usually 4-8 people).
5. Hike the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge
Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge spans 18 square miles (45 sq km), including an 8-mile (10-kilometer) stretch of beach, mangrove swamps along the Caribbean, and plenty of lush jungle. Turtles, crocodiles, parrots, and caimans all call this place home, so it’s an excellent place to spot wildlife. Turtle nesting season is from March to May, which is the best time to see them up close. Admission is free but if you want to hike, it’s best to hire a guide because the trails aren’t well mapped. Plus, the guides are incredibly skilled at spotting camouflaged wildlife that you might miss! Guides cost between 24,000-34,000 CRC.
6. Go Whitewater rafting on the Rio Pacuare
The Rio Pacuare stretches 67 miles (108km) and makes for a thrilling whitewater rafting day trip. Here you’ll find both Class 3 and 4 rapids, offering plenty of fun as well as some big drops. You’ll spend hours paddling down the river between deep valleys and along dense jungle forest. Rios Tropicales will pick you up from your accommodations in Puerto Viejos for a full day of paddling on the river, including a meal, for 65,000 CRC per person.
7. Go snorkeling
There are lots of excellent snorkeling locations around Puerto Viejo, including in Cahuita National Park, where you’ll find some of the biggest coral reefs in the country. In Cahuita, you can hop on a snorkeling tour boat tour for 27,000 CRC per person. Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge is another option if you want to snorkel closer to the shore. On clear, sunny days, you’ll encounter tropical fish, coral, turtles, and more (you’ll have to bring your own equipment though).
For more information on specific destinations in the country, check out these guides:
Puerto Viejo Travel Costs
Hostel prices – A bed (in any size dorm) costs about 9,000 CRC per night. Expect prices during peak season (February-March/September-October) to cost more, particularly if you want a dorm with more amenities (like air-conditioning). A basic twin private room for two people costs between 17,500-43,000 CRC per night. Free Wi-Fi is standard though only a few hostels have self-catering facilities. Most do not include breakfast.
Some hostels (like Rocking J’s and Oasis) rent out basic tents for 4,400 CRC per person if you’re on a tight budget.
Budget hotel prices – Nightly rates for a budget two-star hotel room with a private bathroom start at 46,000 CRC. Most have pools and AC.
Airbnb is also an option here with private rooms costing around 27,700 CRC per night while entire homes/apartments average 90,000 CRC.
Average cost of food – Costa Rican cuisine is centered around rice and beans, which are usually eaten for every meal. Potatoes, plantain, pork, and beef are also popular. Gallo pinto (rice and bean stir-fry) is the national dish. You’ll find it mixed with eggs for breakfast. Other popular meals include fried plantain and chicken and rice. Generally, the food here is quite mild.
If you’re on a budget, you can eat cheaply by sticking to cantinas and sodas (small locally-owned restaurants selling traditional food). You can usually find tacos or empanadas for 1,000 CRC or less, while fuller meals like casado (rice, beans, veggies, and meat) or gallo pinto cost about 5,000 CRC.
A burger is about 3,500 CRC while a beer is around about 1,500 CRC. Lattes/cappuccinos cost around 1,500 CRC as well. Bottle water is 825 CRC.
The more expensive restaurants are close to the beach. Seafood main courses or a plate of grilled meat costs around 11,000 CRC. Vegetarian dishes, pizza, and pasta cost around 8,500 CRC.
If you cook for yourself, you’ll spend around 20,000-25,000 CRC on groceries per week, which gets you basics staples like rice, pasta, bread, veggies, and some meat.
Backpacking Puerto Viejo Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking Puerto Viejo, expect to spend about 30,000 CRC per day. This budget covers a hostel dorm, public buses, street food and cheap eats from cantinas and sodas, and free activities (like relaxing on the beach). You’ll need to limit your drinking on this budget, otherwise add 3,000-5,000 CRC more per day.
A mid-range budget of about 63,000 CRC per day covers staying in a private hostel room or Airbnb, eating at sodas and sometimes having meals at restaurants on the beach, drinking a few beers, renting a bicycle, taking the occasional taxi, and doing some paid activities like the Jaguar Rescue Center. You won’t be living large on this budget but you won’t really want for anything.
On a “luxury” budget of 145,000 CRC or more per day, you can stay in a hotel, eat out anywhere you want, drink as much as you’d like, go diving or snorkeling, and rent a car or take taxis to get around. This is just the ground floor for luxury though. The sky is the limit!
If you come outside of the busier dry months, you’ll pay about 20% less for accommodation.
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages – some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in CRC.
Puerto Viejo Travel Guide: Money Saving Tips
Puerto Viejo has become a more expensive destination in the last few years as tourism here as grown. That said, it’s still quite affordable. Here are some suggested ways to save money while you’re here:
- Camp – Some of the resorts and hostels by the beach let you camp. If you don’t have your own tent, you can rent one for around 4,400 CRC per night. This is the best way to keep your accommodation costs down.
- Avoid the high season – Prices are higher in February-March and September-October (and during holidays) so be sure to travel during the low-season to take advantage of lower prices!
- Rent a bike – For about 6,200 CRC 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. Just remember to lock up your bike when you’ve parked it!
- Pack a water bottle – A water bottle with a purifier will help you save money and thousands of plastic bottles by purifying the tap water for you. My preferred bottle is LifeStraw.
Where to Stay in Puerto Viejo
Puerto Viejo has a seemingly endless supply of hostels and budget hotels. It’s really easy to find cheap places to stay here, but you’ll want to book in advance as rooms tend to fill up quick. Here are some of my suggested places to stay in Puerto Viejo:
How to Get Around Puerto Viejo
Bus – Puerto Viejo is small enough to get around on by foot, but you’ll need to take a bus if you want to get to places like Cahuita or Manzanillo. Buses depart from town several times a day, with tickets costing between 600-1,200 CRC.
Bicycle Rental – Biking is probably the most common (and fastest) way to get around Puerto Viejo. Lots of accommodations and shops have bicycle rentals, usually starting at about 6,200 CRC per day.
Taxi – Taxis are affordable here and are often the best way to get to beaches and other attractions, especially if you’re splitting it with a few people. A taxi from Puerto Viejo to Punta Cocles is around 4,500 CRC. be sure to ask your hotel/hostel staff how much you should expect to pay. That way, you won’t get ripped off when you negotiate your rate.
When to Go to Puerto Viejo
Puerto Viejo’s temperatures are pretty consistent year-round, with daily highs around 86°F (30°C). Even the nights are warm, averaging around 74°F (23°C). The waves are best for surfing between December and March.
This part of Costa Rica is pretty dry, but the rainiest months are from November to January and then April to August. Rainfall is the heaviest in January, so you might want to avoid coming during this time (although prices are slightly cheaper).
February and March are dry months and the most popular for tourists escaping the winter months up north to hit the beaches and to surf. September and October are also very dry, with near-constant sunshine, and so many locals from San Jose and elsewhere in Costa Rica tend to visit during this time. If you’re visiting in September or October, book your accommodations well in advance (especially for a weekend visit).
How to Stay Safe in Puerto Viejo
While Costa Rica is one of the safest countries for traveling and backpacking in Central America, you’ll still need to exercise caution in Puerto Viejo.
Keep your eyes on your bags at all times, as petty theft is common here. Don’t wear flashy jewelry or other valuables in public. If you’re renting a bicycle, be sure to lock it up whenever you’re not riding it.
The town itself is small and there isn’t much threat of violence, but don’t stay out late after dark alone, especially on the beaches. If you must, stick to the main area where the busy bars and restaurants are.
Taxis here are unmarked, and while there are usually set rates to get between destinations, you should negotiate your price with the driver before you get in so you don’t get overcharged.
If you need emergency services, dial 911.
Worried about travel scams? Read about these 14 major travel scams to avoid.
Furthermore, Costa Rica’s natural wonders can be unpredictable. If you’re hiking in the jungle, be aware of where you’re stepping. There are poisonous snakes and spiders out here. When in doubt, hire a guide. If you’re not a strong swimmer, stay out of the water. The currents and waves off the coast here are very strong.
For more in-depth coverage of how to stay safe in Costa Rica, check out this post we wrote that answers some frequently asked questions and concerns.
Remember: always trust your gut instinct. Avoid isolated areas at night, and be aware of your surroundings at all times. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID.
And be sure to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past.
Puerto Viejo Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Puerto Viejo. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and, overall, are better than their competitors. They are the ones I use the most and are always the starting points in my search for travel deals.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands down the number one place to start.
- Momondo – This is my other favorite flight search engine because they search such a wide variety of sites and airlines. I never book a flight without checking here too.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a good accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments. It’s pretty popular here.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can tell you the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, easy to use interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around Costa Rica, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get a discount when you click the link!
- Rome 2 Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B the best and cheapest way possible. It will give you all the bus, train, plane, or boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
Puerto Viejo Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Puerto Viejo Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
Monkeys Are Made of Chocolate: Exotic and Unseen Costa Rica, by Jack Ewing
This book gives a fascinating overview of how animals, plants, and people interact with one another in Costa Rica’s rainforests. It’s written by Jack Ewing, a naturalist and born storyteller. Here, he shares a treasure trove of observations and stories gathered for more than 30 years of living in the country. Chances are, you’re coming to Costa Rica to discover some of the country’s amazing ecosystems. This book will get you excited about it.
In Search of Captain Zero: A Surfer’s Road Trip Beyond the End of the Road, by Allan Weisbecker
In 1996, Allan Weisbecker sold all his worldly possessions and set out in search of his long-time surfing friend, Patrick, who went missing somewhere in Central America. Traveling with only his dog, his surfboards, and his truck, Allan’s journey from Mexico to Costa Rica is a memorable one, filled with scarier moments (like evading bandits) and warmer ones (like befriending the locals). It’s really the tale of ultimate friendship.
Happier Than a Billionaire: Quitting My Job, Moving to Costa Rica, and Living the Zero Hour Work Week, by Nadine Hays Pisani
It’s the classic travel tale — overworked professional realizes that the 9-5 to grind isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and sets out to seek greener pastures. This is a nice, light read for when you’re just flaking out on the beach or by the pool. But along the way you’ll learn why Costa Rica is one of the happiest places on earth.
Puerto Viejo Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on Costa Rica travel and continue planning your trip: