I didn’t anticipate enjoying the Caribbean coast in Costa Rica. I was VERY wrong.
People in Western Costa Rica have nothing good to say about the Caribbean side, and are almost disgusted when you tell them you’re going there! They talk of dangerous animals, robberies, and threats to your personal security. Not (entirely) true. We definitely were more cautious and were even warned by the locals about theft, but nobody actually wants to hurt you – they’ll just take all of your stuff if you’re stupid about it. And there are some creepy crawly creatures:
We left Monte Verde on Thursday morning en route for Cahuita – a town just north of Puerto Viejo and the Panama/Costa Rica border. Cahuita is tiny, dusty, and quiet until 10:30 pm (when it apparently comes alive! – I went to bed, so I really couldn’t say first hand). If you wanted some relaxation in a semi-remote feeling location, Cahuita would be the place to go! Food was expensive, and not entirely plentiful in choices, so I definitely would not recommend it if you love to eat.
We stayed at the “Secret Garden” – not an entirely bad place, but a bit weird. The room we had was quite large, with our own bathroom and space for the three of us, but it felt kind of strange the entire time. Not unsafe at all, but … strange. Sorry for the vague description – I’m not sure how to put it into words!
We didn’t do very much but relax at the beach and then go to the Cahuita National Park. The national park was beautiful! It was basically just a path through the jungle, with 30 feet (sometimes online 10) between you and the beach – gorgeous!
We walked a few kilometers to the point, where Liz and I turned back as Rhea continued (only a tad bit further) but she found a sloth RIGHT by the trail! We’ve seen quite a few sloths now, but never up this close. Look at this guy (photo credit to Rhea)!
We left Cahuita and got a ride to Puerto Viejo from Marco, a guy from San Jose (it’s pretty nice getting free rides sometimes and not having to sit on a crowded bus!), and checked into the Hotel Puerto Viejo – the oldest hotel in Puerto Viejo! The owner, Kurt, came from California and bought the place in 1987, at which point it was the only hotel in town. Apparently this town has boomed in the last few years, and we LOVED it! I thought it would be too big, touristy, and too much of a party town, but it ended up having great people, activities, and gorgeous surroundings.
We rented bikes for the day/night (24 hour rental!) – best decision ever. We rode out to Manzanillo, the town at the end of the road past Puerto Viejo, and were amazed by the ride.
The road was littered with potholes, which made the riding a bit tough (we had to pay attention!), but the jungle around us was amazing – as were the little shops, hotels, restaurants, and homes along the road. We saw a few empty lots we would very seriously love to buy – but they are no doubt very expensive. We stopped at a grocery store/juice bar/bakery run by a few Americans which was fantastic. Photo by Rhea Fulton:
We were blown away by their baked goods and ended up buying plenty of cupcakes, cakes, cookies, etc. We even rode all the way back (maybe 3 miles each way) for breakfast the next day! I could see myself working there, easily. Baking everyday with cool people, speaking Spanish, and being 30 seconds from the beach? Perfect.
The next day we had quite a treat. Rhea’s sister, Chloe, visited Puerto Viejo six years ago on her honeymoon and ate at Soda Elena (a ‘soda’ is a restaurant with typical Costa Rican food, which on the Caribbean side means it has a strong Caribbean influence), and fell in love with Miss Elena, the woman who ran it. They apparently got quite close, and Rhea was told to find Miss Elena while in Puerto Viejo. Unfortunately Miss Elena had to close her soda a few years ago, but after asking around a bit we found out where she lived. Rhea found her on Saturday, and was immediately embraced and invited to bring us all over for lunch the next day. We arrived in our Sunday best (which wasn’t that amazing) and were greeted SO warmly by both Miss Elena and her sister, Evon.
They own a huge chunk of land with a variety of cabins, which they now rent out to travelers – all of whom they keep quite good track of! They are very family oriented, down to earth, lovely women. Before lunch Evon showed us around the garden – tons of trees and plants all over the property. They had noni trees, ginger plants, Hong Kong Orchid trees, fresh oregano (which I had never seen!), starfruit – and many, many more. Our lunch was delicious: coconut rice, beans, fish, cole slaw, fried plantains (my new favorite), and two types of ginger brew. One was the “Christmas” drink – it was bright red, less spicy, and really delicious. The other was more normal and was dark brown, tasted very gingery, and was VERY spicy. We loved it. The entire meal was fantastic. Miss Elena sat with us and chatted, but didn’t eat with us. After our meal we sat around in their living room talking, mostly about life. They are firm believers in living your life how you want it, and only being concerned with how you treat other people. Your possessions don’t matter – but your personal relationships do. As Evon said, “This ain’t a dress rehearsal, it’s the real deal!”
It was wonderful to spend time with such compassionate, warm, loving women. They take people in, as they did us, and fully embrace them in every way. They insisted that we warn them next time we come to Puerto Viejo, because we HAVE to stay with them. OK!
Puerto Viejo was, overall, really great. The only place I would not recommend going, unless you want a GREAT meal, is Rocking J’s. It is known as the “cool” place to stay, but it’s a hostel that fits over 300 people – most either in tents, or in the hammocks that are lined up 3 x 20 (ish) in a few different areas. Not my scene – tons of young people (like seriously young, 18? Why aren’t they all at school?) who really just want to party, ALL the time. I’d really rather sleep in peace.
The beaches were beautiful, the jungle was lush, and the bike riding was fantastic. Besides the fact that we had single speed cruisers – which were NOT easy to get up all the hills on – the bikes were probably the highlight of our time in Puerto Viejo. They made it so easy to get around, see more, and just enjoy riding. I have genuinely enjoyed the last week, almost to the point of tears multiple times, just because of the joy and beauty I keep seeing around me! Perhaps I’m a cheese ball, but there really is so much to see in this world and I am so grateful to have the opportunity to not only see it, but appreciate and interact with it. Life is beautiful!
We’re in Bocas del Toro (Panama) now, and are 1/3 done with our open water SCUBA certification! LOTS of fun.