Costa Rica was the main reason for us choosing Central America for our travels. Its ambitious carbon targets and not having a major military force since 1949 made it stand out to us. Puerto Viejo, a small tourist town on the Caribbean coast near the Panamanian border, is known for partying, yoga and good vegetarian food. So for the latter two reasons, we decided it would be the place to settle for a month to acclimatise to Costa Rican life. There are a variety of accommodation options in Puerto and we rented a serviced holiday apartment with small kitchen for most of our stay.
It took a while to get used to not moving on every few days but we did settle into a routine, albeit a rather relaxed one. Typically getting up around 7am to make it to open air yoga at the top of a hill, with a great view of either jungle or the coast. Afterwards, heading into town for a much-needed brunch.
On most days we would walk to the one of the nearer of the six or so beaches in the area for a swim. The jungle goes right up to the sea here making for a fantastic journey along the way. The waves on these nearby beaches are good for beginner surfers and Roger has started to learn – we’ll provide progress updates as we go.
On other days we might hire bicycles to head to further flung beaches, like the gorgeous Punta Uva.
We already mentioned bicycles in Bocas del Toro, and they are everywhere here too!
If not cooking ourselves, the local casado dish (or married man’s lunch) – rice, beans, fried plantain, salad and a choice of meat – has become a favourite of ours. Minus the meat of course. Fruit juices generally complement, occasionally with an additional rum option.
Various other residents make regular appearances throughout our day.
To Roger’s delight, the only craft beer pub in town just happened to be at the bottom of our road.
As the sun sets at around 5.30pm, locals and visitors gather on the beaches near town for a final swim and/or a drink in a beachside bar.
In a break from the routine, we took a short trip to a couple of nearby spots, departing from perhaps the most picturesque bus shelter ever.
The tranquil Manzanillo – at the literal end of the road in the easterly direction – was our first stop. The village itself is small and functional, but the beach is picture perfect.
Our lodging was set back a little into the jungle, meaning an incredible soundtrack of insects, birds and howler monkeys. We were protected from anything more sinister that may have lurked out there by several lines of (doggy) defence!
Cahuita, our other stop, is the on the other side of Puerto Viejo and could be described at its more refined little sister. Its main draw is its national park…
… where we spotted sloths, congo monkeys, carablanca monkeys, eagles, large spiders and other creatures along the 8km trail.
The park is another example of the jungle meeting the sea. The beach – Playa Blanca – is ideal for swimming and snorkeling (particularly on the coral reef, only with guide) although conditions weren’t ideal on the day we went. We were impressed by the great care and focus on conservation exercised by the park, which is jointly run by Sistema Nacional de Áreas de Conservación and the local community.
Our day ended with a “luxurious” candlelit dinner – plantain chips and cans of beer – as the whole town suffered a power cut lasting several hours. In this part of the world, no electricity also means no running water.
The following day was perfect for the beach, but we found ourselves questioning whether we had had enough of beaches. It turns out the answer is no! Playa Negra – like several other beaches in the area named after its black sand – is just up the coast from Cahuita town. It flies la bandera azul ecológica meaning it is kept to the highest ecological standards.
Although we don’t necessarily seek out beaches and tourist towns, we have fallen in love with the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. Pura Vida is a countrywide saying and statement of intent towards life, and we find ourselves embracing it more and more. It will be interesting to discover how this varies through other parts of Costa Rica.