Pretty much everyone these days seems to visit Puerto Viejo while in Costa Rica. While Tortuguero in the north may get all the attention, this part of Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast has exploded in recent years for excellent surfing, tremendous snorkeling and diving, great 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 monkey spotting. This area is still a cheaper alternative to the more expensive and touristy Pacific side of the country.
This travel guide to Puerto Viejo will give you the low down on everything you need to know to plan 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 the Caribbean coast. Though the waves aren’t as challenging as they are on the Pacific Coast, it’s easier to learn and a lot cheaper here. The Caribbean Surf School has beginner lessons for about 28,930 CRC ($50 USD) for two hours. You can also try stand-up paddling lessons.
2. See the endangered iguanas
Head to Kekoldi Indigenous Reserve (where the Bribi tribe lives) just outside of Puerto Viejo and tour the Green Iguana Project. You can tour the facility and learn all about the endangered Green Iguana and how the native people have started rebuilding their population, from reproduction to raising, until they’re released into the wild. While you’re here, you’ll also get to learn about Bribri culture, including how they use different medicinal plants. It’s about 8,025 CRC ($14 USD) to visit.
3. Bike to Manzanillo
For about 5,710 CRC ($10 USD), 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, and along the way, you can pause at secluded beaches, stop for roadside sugarcane juice, and stop 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, so be sure to ask about snorkeling possibilities for a combined tour. Expect to pay at least 55,000 CRC ($95 USD) per person (exclusive tours will cost more).
5. Hike the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge
Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge covers a huge territory, including an 8-mile (10-kilometer) beach, one of the few mangrove swamps in the Caribbean, and plenty of jungle. Turtles, crocodiles, parrots, and caimans (and many more) animals call this place home, so it’s an excellent place to watch for wildlife. The turtle nesting season here is from March to May. If you want to hike, it’s best to hire a guide because the trails aren’t well mapped or cleared. Plus, the guides are incredibly skilled at spotting camouflaged wildlife that you might miss! Guides are usually between 2,310-31,760 CRC ($40-55 USD).
6. Go whitewater rafting on the Rio Pacuare
The Rio Pacuare makes for a thrilling whitewater rafting day trip with its Class 3-4 rapids. 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. Trips are about 75,065 CRC ($130 USD) per person.
7. Go snorkeling
There are lots of excellent snorkeling places 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 boat tour for about 17,325 CRC ($30 USD) 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).
Puerto Viejo Travel Costs
Hostel prices – During peak season, a bed (in any size dorm) will cost about 8,565 CRC ($15 USD) per night. If you want a dorm with more amenities (like air-conditioning), you could pay up to 13,130 CRC ($23 USD) per night. Off-season, prices tend to be about 5,710 CRC ($10 USD) per night for rooms with 8+ beds, while dorms with 4-8 beds cost about 6,850 CRC ($12 USD) per night.
A basic twin private room for two people costs between 17,125-22,835 CRC ($30-40 USD) per night in peak season. In the off-season, prices are about 21,070 CRC ($27 USD) per night.
Some accommodations (like Rocking J’s and Oasis) also rent out basic tents costing about 15,415 CRC ($11 USD) per person.
Budget hotel prices – Nightly rates for a budget two-star hotel room with a private ensuite bathroom start at about 37,105 CRC ($65 USD) in peak season. In the off-season, budget rooms start from 31,400 CRC ($55 USD).
Puerto Viejo has lots of Airbnb properties. A shared room (like a bed in a dorm) averages about 12,560 CRC ($22 USD) per night, while a private room is about 25,690 CRC ($45 USD) per night. A full apartment averages about 45,670 CRC ($80 USD) per night.
Average cost of food – You can eat cheaply here if you stick to cantinas and sodas (small locally-owned restaurants selling traditional food). You can usually find tacos or empanadas for 855 CRC ($1.50 USD) each or less, while fuller meals like casado (rice, beans, veggies, and meat) or rice and beans cost about 3,200 CRC ($5.60 USD). A burger is about 2,400 CRC ($4.20 USD). Beer will be about 2,000 CRC ($3.40 USD).
There’s not really any high-end dining around Puerto Viejo, but the more expensive restaurants are close to the beach. Seafood main courses will cost about 9,500 CRC ($16 USD), while a plate of grilled meats is about 15,000 CRC ($26 USD). Vegetarian dishes and pizzas are from 5,500 CRC ($10 USD).
If you cook for yourself, you’ll spend between 11,415-20,000 CRC ($20-35 USD) on groceries per week, which will get you basics like meat, bread, eggs, cheese, some veggies, and fruit.
Backpacking Puerto Viejo Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking Puerto Viejo, expect to spend about 31,400 CRC ($55 USD) per day when you’re in the area. This budget will cover a hostel dorm, public buses or bicycle rental, street food and cheap eats from cantinas and sodas, and free activities (like the beach).
A mid-range budget of about 48,525 CRC ($85 USD) per day will cover staying in a private hostel room, eating at sodas and sometimes having meals at restaurants on the beach, a few beers, and a bicycle rental. You can also visit one attraction per day, 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 about 159,845 CRC ($280 USD) or more per day, you can get a nice four-star hotel and anything else you want here. The sky is the limit.
If you come in the low season, 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 USD.
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 not one of the most expensive places in the country. Here are some suggested ways to save money in Puerto Viejo:
- Camp – Some 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 5,710 CRC ($10 USD) per night, it’s the best way to keep your accommodation costs down.
- Avoid the high season – Prices will be higher during peak season (and during holidays) so be sure to travel during the low-season to take advantage of lower prices!
- Take advantage of 2-for-1 and all-you-can-eat – Chile Rojo (the Japanese restaurant in town) has 2-for-1 happy hours every night and all-you-can-eat sushi on Mondays. Worth it!
- Rent a bike – For about 5,710 CRC ($10 USD) 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 ($49.99).
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 570-1,140 CRC ($1-2 USD).
Bicycle Rental – Biking is probably the most common way (and the fastest) to get around Puerto Viejo. Lots of accommodations and shops have bicycle rentals throughout the town, usually starting at about 5,710 CRC ($10 USD) per day. Just shop around.
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 about 3,425 CRC ($6 USD), while it’s between 11,415-14,270 CRC ($20-25 USD) from Puerto Viejo to Cahuita. Negotiate beforehand!
When to Go to Puerto Viejo
Puerto Viejo’s temperatures are pretty consistent year-round, with daily highs being about 86°F (30°C). Even nights are warm, with the average being about 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 price 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 some level of caution while 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.
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.
- Momondo – This is my favorite booking site. I never book a flight without checking here first.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is another great flight search engline which searches a lot of different airlines, including many of the budget carriers that larger sites miss. While I always start with Momondo, I use this site too as a way to compare prices.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments. (If you’re new to Airbnb, get $35 off your first stay!)
- 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, great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all bookers.
- 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 exclusive discounts when you click the link!
- STA Travel – A good company for those under 30 or for students, STA Travel offers discounted airfare as well as travel passes that help you save on attractions.
- 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 to Puerto Viejo, here are my suggestions for the best travel backpack and tips on what to pack for your trip.
The Best Backpack for Puerto Viejo
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 Puerto Viejo
- 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
- 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 natural 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 had 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 witty tale comes from Nadine Pisani, who shares her story of quitting her job to forge a new life in sunny Costa Rica. 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.
My Must Have Guides for Traveling to Puerto Viejo
This book shows you how to easily collect and redeem travel points so you can get free airfare and accommodation.
Kristin Addis writes our solo female travel column and her detailed guide gives specific advice and tips for women travelers.
This book features interviews with dozens of teachers and detailed information on how to land your dream job and make money overseas.
My best-selling book will teach how to master the art of travel so that you’ll save money and have a more local, richer travel experience.
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: