Here is my very long winded review of our short visit to Puerto Viejo. Hopefully it helps answer a few questions, and provides some information for those of you thinking of visiting the area.
First off, I want to say, anyone considering visiting the Caribbean side of Costa Rica, should absolutely do it! This was my second trip to Costa Rica and previously I had spent all of my time (about 20 days) exploring the pacific coast and the Arenal area (both amazing places, and I will be submitting reviews for those areas as well). This time, before we left Costa Rica, my wife and I really wanted to run over and spend a few nights on the Caribbean side, just to check it out. Our experience was absolutely amazing, and we are already planning our next trip back to Puerto Viejo.
We tried to take the scenic drive from Arenal to the coat, but took a wrong turn somewhere and ended up going back through San Jose. While I am sure it added more time to the drive, it was fun to get to see more of the countryside. It was a bit of a drive from the San Jose area, over to Limon, then down to Puerto Viejo. It took us about 5 hours getting there and about 4 hours getting back (traffic was a lot heavier headed to the coast). The thing about the drive is that it passes quickly because you travel through some amazingly beautiful areas. We passed through some sort of National Park with absolutely amazing scenery. You also get to pass through a lot of growing grounds for what looked like Bananas and pineapple, which we thought was pretty neat. The stretch between Limon and Puerto Viejo is on a road that mostly runs along the ocean and again was a beautiful stretch of road. We stopped at several fruit stands on the road side and purchased fresh fruit and freshly baked breads from the locals. The people of Costa Rica are truly the kindest you will meat.
While there, we stayed at the Cariblue Hotel, and were extremely happy with it. The accommodations were very nice and exactly as advertised. Our room was comfortable and it had a/c, which was a big deal for my wife and I. The pool area and bar were very nice, and the grounds were beautiful. The highlight of this place (for us) was the resident sloth that hangs out in the tree right by the check in desk, that we got to look at and take pictures of every time we came or went from the hotel. We also had the pleasure of being woken up by howler monkeys our last morning, so that was pretty cool too.
The hotel is not right on the beach, but it is just across the street and it was only about a 2 minute walk from our room to be on a beautiful stretch of beach. Add this to the fact the place has a nice pool, and we didn’t feel like we were missing anything not being right on the beach.
The breakfast buffet had a nice variety of fruits, breads and pastries, rice and beans, and some eggs and sausage. We didn’t have the chance to eat dinner at the hotel (as I always prefer to eat dinners away from the hotel), but the menu looked nice. The price was a bit on the high side, but I think that’s fairly typical for any hotel restaurant.
Maxi’s – We went down to Manzanillo one afternoon and enjoyed a great lunch at Maxi’s. My wife is a vegetarian and got some sort of dish in a Caribbean sauce and she really enjoyed it. I got the Casado with Caribbean chicken, and it was great. The chicken was a tad over cooked, but the spices and sauce were amazing. The setting was beautiful, the drinks were cold, and the staff was extremely friendly and helpful. I would absolutely recommend a visit to this place.
Bread and Chocolate – we went here fully intending to have lunch, but ended up getting fresh lemonade and a plate of their various truffles. I am a serious fan of chocolate and all I can say is this place is great. After filling up on sweets, we didn’t have room for a meal, but their menu looked good, and I will for sure return for lunch on my next trip.
Koki Beach - we picked this place due to the beautiful ocean view it has. Their yucca chips were awesome and I had the tilapia with Caribbean sauce. The view and the ambiance were amazing, and it was probably my favorite meal of my trip. Their prices are a little higher than the other places we saw, but in my mind, it was absolutely worth it.
Salsa Brava - we went here our last night for dinner. Again it was right on the water, and while we couldn’t really see the ocean, the sound of the waves added to the dinner experience. We received some complimentary bruschetta which I thought was really good. I don’t know if it is something they typically do, or if it was just taking a while to prepare our dinners so they brought us out an appetizer, but either way, we thought it was a very nice touch on the service side of things. I had some coconut shrimp with a mango sauce that I thought it was pretty good. Overall I thought the food was good and the service was excellent, so I would not hesitate to recommend someone visit here for lunch or dinner.
Activities - We didn’t have much time in the area so we were limited in what we could do. We did go to the Jaguar rescue center, and it was well worth the time and the 14.00 admission. We got to see 2 and 3 toed sloths, monkeys, toucans, and other amazing animals and reptiles. The tour was very informative, and to top it off, they let you hang out in an enclosure with a bunch of little monkeys that are swinging all over the place and will happily use the tourists as a jungle gym.
Beaches – absolutely beautiful! We spent a good part of our time there just walking up and down the beaches between Puerto Viejo and Manzanillo. It is truly amazing to see the jungle/rain Forest run right up against a beautiful golden sand beach, and right into the blue Caribbean waters.
The last thing I will touch on is crime. I read and heard a lot about crime down in this part of the Country. While I didn’t spend a lot of time in the area, I can truly say not once did my wife or I feel uncomfortable or nervous of our surroundings? Like everyone on this board says, use common sense, and you will be fine. We didn’t take any long walks on secluded beaches at night, and we were not out super late walking around town. We did however wander town freely in the evenings, and took walks up and down quiet beaches during the day with only one or two other people around, and we felt safe as could be. We did have a car, so its not like we were walking or riding a bike long distances in the dark, but again, that goes back to using common sense and just being aware of your surroundings. I do understand people being cautious and hesitant to go places where they hear crime is an issue. However, after experiencing this place first hand, I am hopeful that the few bad apples in this area, wont dissuade people from visiting this amazingly beautiful place.
The Caribbean side is VERY different from the pacific side, but I think that is what makes it so great. I have loved every part of Costa Rica I have visited, and after only 2 days in Puerto Viejo, my wife and I are intent on getting back to spend a full week there, and experience more of what the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica has to offer.
If anyone has any questions, feel free to ask.