You’ll find great surf sites, lots of people, deep sea diving, and parties galore down the coast towards Panama. This part of the coast is a lot easier to get to and much cheaper than Tortuguero. Most travelers head for Puerto Viejo, the region’s main hub. This is backpacker central, and it’s easy to get sucked into the surfer, party life here.
Puerto Viejo is a rocking seaside town with a strong Caribbean feel, and I really like it despite the fact that it’s touristy. The town is small, it’s easy to get around, there are beaches everywhere, and there are a ton of good restaurants ranging from local “sodas” where you can buy cheap Tico (Costa Rican) food to amazing Western places with delicious baked bread or good sushi. You’ll be rocking to reggae as you wander along streets, as there are more Caribbeanites than Spaniards in Puerto Viejo.
Near Puerto Viejo are two other towns worth seeing: Cahuita and Manzanillo. (There’s also Limon, the area’s main port city. Skip it. It’s ugly, dodgy, and not worth even a few hours.) Cahuita, a tiny town situated right next to a stunning national park with the same name, is about an hour north of Puerto Viejo. Like Tortuguero, this is a place to relax. There’s one bar that gets lively on some nights, but for the most part, after a day of hiking, swimming, or surfing, most people just sit and read.
Manzanillo is only 12 kilometers from Puerto Viejo, which makes for an easy day trip. In fact, you can walk here from Puerto Viejo in about two hours—just follow the beach. The town is even smaller than Cahuita, and no one ever really visits. The reef system here is close to the shore, and this is the area’s main diving spot. Most of the people who come here are older couples, families, or retirees. Come here to dive and relax after all the partying and noise of Puerto Viejo.
After visiting Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, I can say that it’s 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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Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast