By Local Expert: Ashley Harrell
Costa Rica’s Caribbean shoreline is one of the most underappreciated attractions in the country. Due to a fear of petty theft (which can happen anywhere, by the way) and a deeply ingrained racism against the Jamaican-descended Ticos who live there, many Costa Ricans never even visit this side of their own country. They are missing out.
Like elsewhere in the Caribbean, this coast is super laid-back, temperate, and teeming with wildlife. Activities, lodging, and just about everything else are cheaper here than on the more highfalutin Pacific side. Whether it’s a remote turtle sanctuary, a tour of an old cacao farm or a wild all-night party that a traveler seeks, the Caribbean comes through. And in a country known for uninspired fare, the Caribbean side is the big exception: think whole fried snapper with a side of coconut rice and fried plantains, washed down with delicious ginger juice. Pura vida, mae.
1 Delicious Caribbean Food
The hardest thing about going to the Caribbean is choosing where to eat. Selvin’s Restaurant has the best Caribbean food I’ve ever tasted, but then, there’s also the fresh lobster at Mopri. The international cuisine at Stashu’s Con Fusion, and the super-hip Koki Beach, are also high on the list.
2 So Much Chocolate
Before bananas took over, cacao farms used to drive the economy in the southern Caribbean. And lately, there’s been a renewed interest the area’s sweet, sweet chocolate business. Visitors can take chocolate tours through farms belonging to Caribeans or Chocoart, and learn how cacao pods are harvested, how the chocolate is made, and, of course, sampling along the way.
3 Rampant Wildlife
Up in the northern Caribbean sits Tortugero, one of the most remote villages in the entire country. It borders Tortugero National Park, where birds, reptiles, and amphibians seen nowhere else in the country thrive. Expeditions take visitors out on the canals or to the beach, where they watch baby turtles hatch and attempt to reach the sea. The Cahuita and Gandoca national parks in the southern Caribbean are also replete with wildlife, sloths included.
4 Amazing Accommodations
The Caribbean coast doesn’t have any mega-resorts or hotel chains. What it does have, however, is tons of character. Boutique hotels and B&Bs dot the coastline, with unique options like the funky abodes at Tree House Lodge, open air bungalows at Almonds and Corals, the stylish rooms at Le Chaméléon, and the relaxing beachfront accommodations at Banana Azul.
5 Rollicking Nightlife
Every night of the week in Puerto Viejo there is live music or fire dancing or at least a happy hour somewhere. My personal favorite spot is The Lazy Mon for its lively ping-pong and pool games and the chill atmosphere right by the beach. Don’t attempt to buy illegal drugs from locals around these parts, or you might just prove the haters right about the Caribbean’s crime problem.
After visiting Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, I can say that the Caribbean coast is just as beautiful, interesting, and majestic as the Pacific coastline. And since it rains more on the Caribbean coast, you’ll find far fewer people on this side. The huge resorts, overpriced meals and tours, and thousands of expats that flood all parts of the Pacific, especially the Nicoya Peninsula, are hardly anywhere to be found. So let them do what they want while you enjoy (fairly) empty beaches, cheap seafood, and lots of wildlife.
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5 Reasons to Visit Costa Rica’s Caribbean Side