El Caribe, Costa Rica’s laid back and vibrant Caribbean Coast is home to the countries most beautiful beaches. From Cahuita to Manzanillo there is a 30 km stretch of stunning coastline, which inhabits white sandy beaches, crystal clear water, lush jungle and colourful, slow paced Caribbean villages.
In between Cahuita and Manzanillo is Puerto Viejo, which is the most populated place along the coastline, with lots of restaurants, bars, places to stay and useful amenities, such as places to hire bikes and organise scuba diving tours. The streets are filled with colourful dwellings, Rastafarians, surfers, market stalls and the wafts of Creole cuisine.
The best restaurants in Puerto Viejo are:
• Miss Lidia’s Place: Lidia who has been around for years runs this local favourite. The restaurant has the most delicious and authentic Caribbean food in Puerto Viejo; specialities include gallo pint, spicy coconut sauce and chicken, rice and peas. Telephone number: 506-2750-0598.
• Koki Beach: This sleek spot is one of the more upmarket restaurants in town yet it still has a very relaxed atmosphere with reggae music playing in the background and colourful Adirondack chairs overlooking the ocean from the raised wooden decking. The cocktails, ceviches, seafood and meat dishes are all delicious. Telephone number: 506- 2275-0902; website: http://www.kokibeach.com
• Puerto Viejo Bakery: The bakery is located at the east end of the town and sells all sort of delicious, homemade breads, pastries, pies, yogurts with fruits and granola and sandwiches, which can all be eaten in or taken away.
Besides Puerto Viejo, accommodation and amenities between Cahuita to Manzanillo are few and far between. Therefore, its better to explore these beaches on day trips and be based in Puerto Viejo. The ideal way to get from Puerto Viejo to the other beaches is to cycle along the smooth road, which runs through the jungle where its possible to see lots of wildlife, including monkeys, toucans and sloths. There are bicycle hire shops dotted around the main road in Puerto Viejo.
Here is a round up of the top five beaches:
Cocles: The nearest beach to Puerto Viejo is Cocles. It’s literally just around the corner, taking just 5 minutes to reach by bicycle or 15 minutes by foot. This long, white sandy beach is a surfer’s paradise. There is a surfboard rental hut on the beach, which also offers surfing lessons. For food, drinks and a game of pool head to Tasty Waves bar and restaurant, which is run by a bunch of friendly Americans and located just behind the beach. The best day to head there is Tuesday after 8pm for their Taco Tuesday special offer.
Chiquita: South of Cocles lies Chiquita where there is a small village and collection of pristine beaches, with crystal clear waters, separated by lush jungle, which are popular for hiking. The majority of Chiquita is natural land with vibrant coral reef, which is ideal for snorkelling.
Punta Uva: 7 km south of Puerto Viejo lies the golden sands of Punta Uva beach, which is situated at the heart of the Gandoca Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge. This fringing and growing reef has a unique marine biodiversity with fish and living coral, and crystal clear water making it an interesting and ideal place to snorkel. Punta Uva Dive Center offers PADI scuba diving courses, exploring dives and snorkelling adventures.
Manzanillo: The next beach after Punta Uva and the most southern beach on that stretch is Manzanillo. This beach town has a couple of shops and a few places to eat, including the local favourite Maxi’s Sports Bar and Grill. To the south of the main beach there is a long, quiet stretch of rock pools, smaller, more private beaches and lush jungle.
Cahuita: 15 km north of Puerto Viejo lies Cahuita, home to Cahuita National Park beach, which the most stunning beach on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coastline. Even though tourism has flourished along this southern coastline, Cahuita has managed to hold on to its laid-back Caribbean vibe. The town is rustic, with colourful houses on stilts and friendly neighbours. The National Park beach has golden sand, crystal-clear water and one of Costa Rica’s finest coral reefs, which is home to an abundance of marine life that’s ideal for snorkelling and scuba diving.
How to get from San José to Puerto Viejo:
There are various transportation options to get from San José to Puerto Viejo:
• The bus for Puerto Viejo de Talamanca leaves from Terminal Atlantico Norte, also known a Terminal de Buses San Carlos, which is located on Calle 12 between Avenidas 7 and 9 in Barrio Mexico, San José. The bus ride takes five hours and the bus company is called Transportes Mepe. Tickets currently cost 4,535 colones/ $8.
• It is possible to book a shared van ride, with daily departures leaving from San José.
• Private transfers can be booked and will go directly from San José Airport to Puerto Viejo.
• Driving from San José takes fours hours.