Kathleen Sharkey works as Projects Manager and Guest Relations officer in the LAFL office in Cusco, Peru. She is part of the team that greets travelers upon arrival and orients them in preparation for their trip to Machu Picchu. Before joining LAFL, Kathleen had the opportunity to travel to Costa Rica. She particularly enjoyed the Caribbean coastal town of Puerto Viejo, located 125 miles from San Jose, and she has happily agreed to share her experiences, observations, and travel tips.
In preparation for her Costa Rica vacation, Kathleen eagerly read through travel guides for Costa Rica facts and information. She came up with this general description: “Costa Rica is the picture perfect vacation for nature lovers, surfers, and adventurers. Situated between the Caribbean and the Pacific Oceans, Costa Rica offers nearly 800 miles of a coastline peppered with funky beach towns, infamous surf spots, and natural reserves.”
Among the many fabulous Costa Rica travel destinations, Puerto Viejo, on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, is the perfect embodiment of these characteristics. In her research, Kathleen found that Puerto Viejo and the surrounding villages remained relatively isolated from San Jose and the more developed parts of Costa Rica until the late 1970s, “without electricity or connecting roads.” This allowed for the development of a unique Afro-Caribbean community, heavily influenced by Jamaican migrant workers who settled in the region and created “a separate cultural space…free of modern developments and mass tourism.”
The completion of a paved road in the 1980s changed everything: “the secret was unleashed, and Puerto Viejo soon became prime relocation for Europeans, Canadians, and ex-pats looking for a warm spot to settle.” During her Puerto Viejo travel, Kathleen observed that the diverse populations of locals and foreigners that inhabit the town “have congregated, turning Puerto Viejo into a unique hybrid community mixed by numerous cultures, languages, and foods.”
What to see and do in Puerto Viejo
One of Puerto Viejo’s amenities is its excellent coffee, and Kathleen recommends the expat-owned Caribeans Coffee and Chocolate Factory for “the best coffee in town.” She noted that, “It is a quaint setup with ocean view, access to wireless, and a great vibe. With zero stress, seated oceanfront, surrounded by jungle green with an iced coffee in hand, I was starting to get the whole “Pura Vida” thing.”
She also recalls enjoying an excellent mid-day meal at Veronica’s Place: “The restaurant offers anything from coconut rice and beans to banana ice cream, and is a must go in Puerto Viejo. There are number of places for you to sample the Caribbean’s tasty take on the basic plate of “Gallo Pinto,” but Mi Sam is notably the best.”
Opportunities for excursions in the bountiful nature of Caribbean Costa Rica are virtually endless. These include: canopy walks, waterfalls, hiking, dolphin-watching, turtle-sighting, biking through fishing villages, kayaking, white water rafting, sport fishing, and snorkeling the coral reefs in places like Manzanillo, Cahuita National Park, and Puerto Vargas.
Kathleen recounts an anecdote from one of her Costa Rica vacation adventures: “We rented some bikes from a shop next to the hostel and took a ride to Punta Uva, a picturesque point with an impressive view of the coast. You can rent bikes at a number of places for a couple bucks, and they will gladly point you in the right direction. Along the way, we ventured through some jungle paths that led to hidden, turquoise-colored waters and white sand beaches, which seemed all too beautifully cliché to be real.”
The biking adventure was complicated by “a pretty outrageous rainstorm,” a 3-hour session of pounding rain, typical in Costa Rica. “As the rains calmed, we caught a local soccer game on the side of the road. The field was in pretty poor condition, especially after the rains, but the kids and onlookers could not have cared less. As I stood watching, slightly irritated about the soak from the rainstorm, I was overwhelmed by the look of fun on the kids’ faces. It lightened my mood instantly, and officially set the tone for the rest of my travel: Pura Vida.”
The Puerto Viejo nightlife is another not-to-be-missed element of this Caribbean coast town: “For the last evening, we made our way to the strip of beachfront bars that double as makeshift discos by night.” Kathleen describes the crowd as “a mix of tough-pouring bartenders, locals, short-term travelers, and the ex-pats who now call Puerto Viejo home. To say the least, it was a perfectly wild last night filled by eclectic faces, funky beats, and a healthy dose of rum.”
After a week, Kathleen and her friends moved on to continue their Costa Rica vacation on the Pacific Coast, but Puerto Viejo left a lasting impression: “Between the picturesque beaches, funky coffee shops, hysterically fun nightlife, and fascinating hybrid community surrounding it, Puerto Viejo is a truly unique coastal town. Mixed by a rich cultural history with modern hippy-dippy twists, Puerto Viejo provides all its visitors a raw introduction to the effortless beauty of Caribbean Costa Rica.”
For more Costa Rica travel ideas, browse our Costa Rica For Less website and contact one of our expert travel advisors to start planning your own dream Costa Rica vacation.