So, what are the best things to do in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica? Will you stick to the beach and go surfing, take a food tour, or even use the town as a launchpad for an incredible overnight trip? Let’s take a look!
The southern Caribbean coast of Costa Rica is renowned for its beautiful beaches and culture, and the small town of Puerto Viejo does not disappoint. You’ll find white sand beaches, delicious Costa Rican food, and nights that explode with reggae music. Puerto Viejo is a fantastic place to visit.
Top Things to do in Puerto Viejo De Talamanca
Puerto Viejo de Talamanca is a coastal town on the southeast shores of Costa Rica located on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. This guide will cover the very best things to do in Puerto Viejo. Whether you want nature, adventure, culinary experiences, or culture, these top things to do in Puerto Viejo will keep you entertained.
The drive from San Jose to Costa Rica is nearly two hours. You can book a private transfer directly to your accommodation, or you can take the more affordable shuttle service. It takes longer but is much more affordable.
1. Take a food tour or cooking lesson
Food is a highlight of any trip to Puerto Viejo. A Guided tour around the Puerto Viejo restaurants and cooking lessons at local chef’s houses are brilliant ways to experience Costa Rican cuisine. Small restaurants (aka ‘sodas’) are packed with traditional dishes to sample. You can either learn to cook the dishes yourself or bounce around on a tasting escapade to all the best locally known spots.
This Tasting Costa Rica Tour combines two tours in one. Starting with wildlife viewing and ending with a cooking class to sample local food.
Must-try dishes include Gallo pinto, olla de Carne, and Casado. Caribbean chicken (Pollo Caribeno) is also tasty if you get the chance to try it, and the dish is flavored with sweet coconut milk. You are sure to sample some dishes that you’ll want to try again at home.
You can easily book a guided tour or cooking lesson online. If you are only visiting for a few days or during peak season, we’d recommend booking in advance. Saying that cooking lessons are perfect rainy-day activities, which is something to keep in mind if you face a day of bad weather.
2. Party in Downtown Puerto Viejo Costa Rica
Puerto Viejo has an exciting entertainment scene and one of the best things to do in Puerto Viejo is to experience its nightlife. Downtown Puerto Viejo is where you’ll find a handful of bars and lounges along the beachfront. What better place to party than a bar overlooking the ocean? Downtown Puerto Viejo is a popular place to be after sundown.
Johnny’s Place is a long-running fixture and is a good place to start. The venue serves food and drinks on the beachfront. You can sample a range of cocktails. Salsa Brava Restaurant also transforms into a party location after dark. With the motto “good food, creative drinks, and a respect for the local traditions”, it is clear that Salsa Brava pioneers a fun atmosphere. Grab a local beer or wine or choose from the cocktail menu.
Downtown Puerto Viejo is a fun place to be at night. If you want to experience nightlife in Puerto Viejo, it is easily the best place.
3. Visit the Bri Bri Waterfalls
A hike to a collection of stunning waterfalls is a great way to spend a few hours. The entrances to the Bri Bri Waterfalls are only a fifteen-minute drive from Puerto Viejo, which is nice and convenient. One entrance is signposted Catarata Ma-Cu, and the other is Bri Bri Sparking Waterfalls. You can pick which one, as both are relatively similar in terms of technical demands and of an equal length. Allow a ten-minute walk from either entrance to reach the falls.
Bri Bri Waterfalls has a stunning plunge pool that is deep enough for you to have a refreshing swim. Remember to bring a camera so you can snap some pictures of the experience, too, as the waterfalls are truly a scenic spot to visit.
4. Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica
Who doesn’t love sloths? Visiting the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica is one of the top things to do near Puerto Viejo, and it is just half an hour’s drive north. The sanctuary is a rescue and rehabilitation center providing specialist veterinary care for injured sloths. Some long-stay residents have unfortunately been deemed unsuitable for release. Still, the vast majority are released back into the wild fit and healthy.
The Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica welcomes visitors on guided tours. You can hear more about the sloths’ stories, their injuries, and the conservation efforts the sanctuary is pioneering. You can also see the more practical side of their rehab – like motor training on their outdoor climbing frames. If you love animals and want to support noble conservation efforts, then the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica is one for your itinerary.
5. Take a surfing lesson at Playa Cocles
Costa Rica is quickly establishing itself as a gem on the surfing scene. Whether you are a pro already or are just wanting to develop the basics, surf lessons are one of the most fun things to do in Puerto Viejo. You can brush up on your skills and nail some impressive moves while appreciating stunning views of the Costa Rican coastline.
Playa Cocles is not only one of Costa Rica’s most stunning beaches but also one of the best spots for a surf lesson. The laid-back beach is a relaxing spot with lots of space, perfect for surfing with less of a crowded feel of other popular surf spots like Playa Grande.
Playa Cocles is an exposed beach and reef break with great surf, no matter the tide – making it a reliable place for surfing lessons. Even better? Playa Cocles is just a ten-minute drive (or a fifty-minute coastal walk) away from Puerto Viejo town center.
6. Take an overnight trip
There are so many things to do in Puerto Viejo. But, if you stay for a week or longer, you should take advantage of Puerto Viejo’s superb location. Puerto Viejo is ideally situated on the Caribbean Sea and is an ideal base for many incredible overnight trips. Get ready to add these two trips to your list.
How does ticking off two countries in one trip sound? Since Puerto Viejo is located right next to the Panama border, it is only fitting that you dedicate a day or two to visiting the other side. We suggest catching a shuttle across the Panama border and visiting Bocas del Toro.
Bocas del Toro is famed for overwater lodges, so you’ll be able to find some beautiful accommodations. It is also a brilliant spot to access the jungle and go scuba diving or snorkeling.
If the hassle of a border crossing doesn’t sound enticing, why not take an overnight trip in Costa Rica? La Fortuna is a fantastic destination if you are interested in geothermal activity and is considered the gateway to Arenal Volcano National Park. You can spend time at Tabacon Hot Springs and admire the Chato and Arenal volcanoes. Just catch one of the shuttle buses between Puerto Viejo and La Fortuna.
We recommend overnight trips only for those who love extra adventures and are excited at the prospect of more challenging things to do from Puerto Viejo. For those who feel this will be too much effort, don’t worry; there are still plenty of things to do in Puerto Viejo on your doorstep.
7. Playa Negra
Playa Negra is easily one of the most photogenic spots in Puerto Viejo and another one of the most beautiful beaches on the Caribbean coast. For those who know a bit of Spanish, you may have already guessed that Playa Negra is a black sand beach. Visiting the beach is a must-do if you are looking for things to do in Puerto Viejo. The natural attraction is exceptionally striking.
Playa Negra is located near Puerto Viejo, so it is easily slotted into busy itineraries. It is an excellent place to take a quick detour between nearby attractions. However, Playa Negra is also a great surfing and sunbathing spot if you have more time to spend there.
8. Go horseback riding on Playa Chiquita
Just a twelve-minute drive down the coast from Puerto Viejo, you’ll find Playa Chiquita. Playa Chiquita is a serene, tropical beach – ideal for a romantic beach day. But for extra excitement, book a horseback riding experience on the beach.
The tour company Playa Chiquita Riding Adventures offers beach rides that start from an hour and can be extended to 2.5-hour experiences. Horseback riding on the beach is a dream for many, and Playa Chiquita is a beautiful place to make that dream a reality. You don’t need to be an experienced rider to enjoy the tour. Since it is a private tour, you’ll have your guide’s full attention if you need any extra assistance. Riding along the beautiful beaches of the southern Caribbean coast will be a memory that lasts a lifetime.
If you want an exciting but romantic thing to do near Puerto Viejo, horseback riding on Playa Chiquita definitely ticks the box. Consider combining it with a visit to the Jaguar Rescue Center or Playa Cocles, which are a short walk from the riding center.
9. Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge
Visiting Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge is one of the top things to do in Puerto Viejo for nature lovers. Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge is home to some beautiful flora and fauna. You can easily spend a day on its hiking trails and beaches. And the reserve is just a twenty-minute drive south of Puerto Viejo town center.
Keep your eyes peeled for animals like sloths and monkeys in the treetops. Along the coastline, you are likely to spot hermit crabs and, if you are lucky, dolphins. Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge is the best place near Puerto Viejo to see animals in their natural habitat. Costa Rica’s wildlife is incredibly diverse, and this refuge is a great place to appreciate that.
Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge is the perfect day out for any animal or nature lover. The refuge offers an ideal immersion if you haven’t experienced the rainforest before. Bring bug spray, plenty of water, a swimsuit, and snorkeling gear if you want to go snorkeling over the coral reef when you reach the ocean.
10. Tortuguero National Park
Once you’ve visited Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, Tortuguero National Park should definitely be on your list. The national park is one of the trickiest places to visit near Puerto Viejo since it is remote and has few roads. But the draw is strong since the park is home to sea turtles and some of the most dramatic jungle scenery. This half-day tour is a good way to see it from San Jose.
We suggest booking a boat tour – which will whisk you around the remote canals you otherwise could never access. You’ll spot caimans, toucans, and, hopefully, endangered sea turtles. If you visit between July and September, there’s a chance that you’ll spot turtles nesting. Tortuguero National Park is home to leatherback, hawksbill, loggerhead, and green sea turtles. All of these come back to their birthplace to lay their own eggs each year.
This five day tour lets you experience a different side of Costa Rica combining 5 days in Tortuguero NP and Puerto Viejo. Leaving from San Jose, you’ll spend 5 days touring Costa Rica’s Caribbean including accommodation and transportation.
11. Go kayaking at Playa Punta Uva
A visit to Playa Punta Uva is always relaxing, but for an extra experience, rent a kayak or purchase a guided kayaking tour. The beach is famed for its calm waters and serene atmosphere and tends to be quiet and without crowds most days. You’ll have an easy introduction to ocean kayaking.
From your kayak, you can explore the coastline and access all those areas you couldn’t on foot or by swimming. Kayaking is one of the best water activities to blend a fitness challenge with sightseeing. Playa Punta Uva is just a 20-minute drive from Puerto Viejo. For the best experience, visit Punta Uva during the week rather weekend to avoid the extra crowds.
12. Go snorkeling at Playa Manzanillo
Playa Manzanillo is just a 20-minute drive away from Puerto Viejo, and if you like marine life, it is a great place to visit. Playa Manzanillo is popular amongst divers and snorkelers alike, who love the beach for its calm waters and vibrant underwater scenery. But snorkeling at Playa Manzanillo is the least technical of the two and equally rewarding. Dolphin sightings are common, and, on occasion, you can spot manatees visiting the waters from their nearby mangroves.
If you don’t have your own snorkeling gear, you can easily rent some from the rental shops along Manzanillo’s beachfront. Just drop by a spot like Bad Bart’s and rent some equipment for a few hours.
13. Spend a lazy morning at Playa Puerto Viejo De Talamanca
Playa Puerto Viejo may not be one of Costa Rica’s best beaches. It is small, not particularly beautiful, and backs straight onto the busy town of Puerto Viejo. So why should you visit, you may ask. In short, Playa Puerto Viejo has the best atmosphere of all the beaches in this guide.
Playa Puerto Viejo is a beloved local spot to relax and unwind. You can do the same, usually while listening to the background sound of reggae music. Because of its central location, visiting Playa Puerto Viejo is one of the most convenient things to do in Puerto Viejo. And, when you have spent a few hours on the beach, you can head to the row of beachfront bars to party or grab some food.
14. Take a chocolate tour
Most people know the origins of chocolate. Seeing the cacao trees and the process in person, though, is a different experience entirely. Since chocolate has such an illustrious, lengthy history in Costa Rica, it is only fitting that you have this experience here. And even better, Puerto Viejo has its own chocolate farm.
In Puerto Viejo, you can take a fantastic chocolate tour. The tour includes a guided walk through the cacao forest, where you learn about the history and science behind chocolate. Of course, the chocolate tour whisks you away for a tasting session (be warned, early chocolate was bitter). There is also a chance to get a glimpse into the production process.
Out of all the Caribbean food you could taste in Costa Rica, chocolate is one of the best locally produced foods. A chocolate tour is a fun (and delicious) way you learn about the process first-hand.
15. Cahuita National Park
If you are visiting Costa Rica and love nature and wildlife, you must visit Cahuita National Park. The national park is a part marine and part land reserve. It is said that its reef houses over 500 species of fish, so you can easily imagine how colorful and lively the marine reserve is. On land, you’ll find monkeys, nesting sea turtles, and hundreds of bird species.
Cahuita National Park is just a 20-minute drive north of Cahuita National Park. It is an ideal day trip from Puerto Viejo, and you can spend hours wandering the hiking trails through the coastal jungle. Visiting Cahuita National Park is an active activity near Puerto Viejo. You’ll be bountifully rewarded for your efforts with wildlife sightings galore. Make sure to bring a camera and your water bottle – you’ll need both in equal doses.
16. Visit the Jaguar Rescue Center
The Jaguar Rescue Center’s name is a little misleading. You won’t just find jaguars at this animal hospital, but animals of all shapes and sizes. You could come face-to-face with a primate, m0nkey, or reptile. All the animals are undergoing rehab to nurse them back into health for release back into the wild or have been deemed unsuitable for release and are staying permanently. The Jaguar Rescue Center does a fantastic job advocating for and assisting injured wildlife.
You can take self-guided tours of the Jaguar Rescue Center to see what the program is all about. The proceeds go towards running the charity and caring for all residents, so it is nice to know that your money is going towards a worthwhile cause. The Jaguar Rescue Center is one of the most wholesome things to do in Puerto Viejo.
Puerto Viejo FAQs
Now that we’ve covered all the best things to do in Puerto Viejo, what else do you need to know? There is a lot to discuss Puerto Viejo, so this next section will provide FAQs for all the most commonly asked questions. Let’s get started.
How to get to Puerto Viejo De Talamanca
Puerto Viejo does not have its own airport, which makes sense, considering it is only a small town. However, there are two airports relatively nearby that you can fly to reach Puerto Viejo.
The quickest way to get to Puerto Viejo is to fly into Limon International Airport. You can rent a car from here and drive just an hour south along Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast to Puerto Viejo. If you don’t drive, you can also book a shuttle online or in person on the day. The main shuttle company is called Caribe Shuttle and operates three times a day, taking about an hour to reach Puerto Viejo.
If you are struggling to find frequent flights to Limon International Airport, consider our second option. This (also typically cheaper) option is to fly into San Jose International Airport. However, it does take a little longer to reach Puerto Viejo once you land. Once you arrive in San Jose, you’ll have to rent a car and drive four to five hours to Puerto Viejo. Alternatively, catch a three-hour shuttle with a company like Willie’s Tours Costa Rica Shuttles or a much cheaper seven-hour public bus.
Getting around Puerto Viejo De Talamanca
Getting around Puerto Viejo is a piece of cake. The Puerto Viejo area is so tiny that you can easily explore it on foot. Any local attractions within the town are accessible on foot, like Playa Negra and the bars downtown. Even if you don’t fancy walking, there are plenty of bike rentals to make the most of, and you can be zipping around in no time.
Cycling to nearby towns and attractions like Manzanillo and the Jaguar Rescue Center is extremely straightforward. Think of bike rentals as the perfect solution if you want to sightsee just outside Puerto Viejo. It is speedier than walking, and rental costs are low, making it a budget-friendly way to get around.
Ideally, if you want to visit places further afield, you should hire a car. You’ll need to adapt to different driving styles and road conditions. Still, with a bit of patience and practice (and insurance), you’ll soon appreciate the freedom.
Sometimes you really do need public transport. If you don’t drive, public transport will be your only option to visit further afield. Finding return taxis in remote places can be difficult, and taxi prices can quickly add up anyway. Luckily two Puerto Viejo buses connect the town with the rest of the southern Caribbean coast. The two routes run from Limon to Sixaola and Limon to Manzanillo, stopping at notable places like Bri Bri and Cahuita along the way. It is easy to get around Puerto Viejo using buses. Just check the timetables beforehand, as the Limon to Manzanillo service can be rather sporadic.
The best time to visit Puerto Viejo De Talamanca
The best time to visit Puerto Viejo is between February and April or September to October. These months are the driest and have the most pleasant temperatures, providing the best weather for your stay.
However, if you’ve got the choice, we’d recommend visiting in September or October. This way, you’ll be arriving just in time for the end of the turtle nesting period and have the highest chance of seeing baby turtles. If you have yet to see baby turtles, you should definitely visit during this period.
September and October are also the optimal snorkeling season. These are the months to visit if you want to enjoy spotting turtles and snorkeling in calmer, clearer waters.
Where to stay in Puerto Viejo De Talamanca
So, last but not least, where should you stay in Puerto Viejo? Despite being a little town, Puerto Viejo has a lot of accommodation options. Whatever your budget, you should find something appropriate – as long as you don’t leave booking accommodation too late. These are our top recommendations for each budget.
Luxury: Umami Hotel
Umami Hotel is a luxury five-star hotel in Puerto Viejo’s center. Guests access a spa, outdoor pool, and room service. All rooms include luxury amenities like a patio or balcony, plus tea and coffee-making facilities. Check reviews and rates on Booking.com
The hotel’s interior design is tasteful and comfortable, with no expense spared. Umami Hotel is the one for you if you want a glitzy and upscale place to stay in Puerto Viejo.
Mid-range: Selina Hostel Puerto Viejo
Selina Hostel Puerto Viejo is a beautiful two-star hostel, ideally suited to a mid-range budget. The charming property has a large outdoor pool, although you are just a seven-minute walk from Cocles Beach if you want to swim in the sea instead. Further facilities include a casual restaurant, shared kitchen, kid’s playground, surf club, and scenic terrace. Check reviews and rates on Booking.com
The hostel has varied room options; you can choose between dorms, private rooms, and entire two-bedroom apartments. There are even glamping options in teepee tents if you want a really adventurous experience.
Budget: Pagalu Hostel
Low-key and budget-friendly, Pagalu Hostel is a beautiful place to stay in the center of Puerto Viejo. Guests receive locker access, wi-fi, parking, and all-day tea and coffee. The communal areas are incredibly cozy, with a terrace with hammocks and a separate patio area. Check reviews and rates on Booking.com
Choose between a private room or a classic hostel dormitory. If you want to splash out, you can upgrade to choose a private room with an ensuite.
Excited to try out these things to do in Puerto Viejo? You should be. The town is a beautiful and fun-packed destination in Costa Rica and the perfect spot for an entertaining getaway.
If you get the chance, check out our ultimate Costa Rica travel tips before you go. Otherwise, have a fantastic trip; we hope that you experience as many of these things to do in Puerto Viejo as possible.