On the surface, reggae music, bonfires and Bob Marley paraphernalia dominate the bustling beach town of Puerto Viejo. Bars and clubs each boast the best guaro or happy hour cocktails and on the beach, locals sell their handmade Rasta trinkets to hoards of young backpackers.
However, the party atmosphere isn’t all you can find in Puerto Viejo. Stray a little off the main road and you’ll wander into local neighborhoods filled with colorful Caribbean houses. Head towards the beaches and the music changes from resonant reggaeton to a symphony of cicadas, birds and monkeys. Your neighbors are no longer rowdy backpackers but snoozing sloths and flitting toucans.
To truly experience the beauty of this popular town, you need to peel back the unruly layers and explore beyond main street. Don’t visit with a strict agenda either. The best way to fall in love with the Caribbean coast is to sit back, relax and let the beach vibe take over.
This is our guide to Puerto Viejo or Old Harbor, so you know what to expect and how to make the most of your time there.
Click to skip to the section.
- The Town
- Beaches and Neighborhoods
- Where to stay
- Where to eat
Puerto Viejo Costa Rica map
How to Get to Puerto Viejo
There is a bus from San Jose to Puerto Viejo every day at 6, 10, 12 (to Manzanillo), 2 PM and 4 PM. The bus leaves from Terminal Atlantico Norte, Calle 12 Ave 7-9, takes 4.5 hours and costs around 5000 colones.
From San Jose, the quickest way is by Route 32 through Braulio Carrillo National Park. Follow that road through Siquirres and in Limon, turn onto Route 241 towards Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, continue all the way to Rio Banano and then turn right onto Route 36. Follow Route 36 all the way to Puerto Viejo. This is about a 4 hour drive.
This route is on a well paved road as they are major highways. Do expect to run into traffic as there are a lot of trailer trucks on this route and most of the time, it is only one lane.
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Limon airport is the closest local airport to Puerto Viejo. Sansa flies into Limon and then you have to take the bus or shuttle to Puerto Viejo. It is a 40 minute flight and costs around $70 one way and the shuttle from Limon to PV is about 1.5 hours.
There are shared shuttles from many destinations in Costa Rica. This costs around $54 per adult. You can also take private shuttles which are more expensive (~$250).
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If you are coming from Tortuguero, you can take a boat to Limon (twice daily, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Around $35 and takes 4 hours). Then from Limon, you will need to catch the bus or book a shuttle.
If you are going to Puerto Viejo from La Fortuna or San Jose, you can go white water rafting as the interconnection tour. Companies such as Rios Tropicales pick up travelers in San Jose or La Fortuna, go rafting and then drop off in Puerto Viejo.
How to Get Around Puerto Viejo
The well paved flat road between Puerto Viejo and all of the beaches makes it super easy to get around.
There is a bus that runs between Limon and Puerto Viejo and Puerto Viejo to Manzanillo every day. This costs ~500 colones.
The main bus stop called “La Parada” is near the entrance of Puerto Viejo. This is where all the buses will stop from San Jose.
The main bus terminal is right in town by the beach with a huge sign that says “Bienvenidos Puerto Viejo.” The ticket station is across the street with a huge sign that says “Boleteria.”
The most popular way to get around Puerto Viejo is by bike. You can rent bikes for $6-12 a day or scooters for $35-40 a day.
Puerto Viejo town is actually not that small but the roads are quite narrow. The town center has a ton of hotels, hostels, restaurants, banks, souvenir stores and pharmacies.
You can see what Puerto Viejo looks like in our driving video below!
Beaches and Neighborhoods
There are six main neighborhoods around Puerto Viejo. Each of the neighborhoods has their own little community and you can find hotels, hostels and restaurants in all of them.
There isn’t too much at Playa Negra, the beach north of Puerto Viejo. It has blackish sand, a low key atmosphere and vast empty shores. It is about 2 kilometers from Puerto Viejo.
Playa Cocles is the most popular beach in the area. It’s easily accessible, has good surfing waves and not too far from Puerto Viejo. The beach is gorgeous and you can find several hotels in the small community. It is about 3.5 kilometers from town.
Chiquita is another stunning beach with sparkling turquoise water and natural tide pools. If you stay at Chiquita, you will feel like you have the beach all to yourself. It is about 4.5 kilometers from town and very close to the popular Jaguar Rescue Center.
Modern rustic cabinas, bright green water and several beautiful beaches make up the small town of Punta Uva. Best location to truly get away from it all as there isn’t much there, you will need to go to Chiquita to stock up on supplies.
This is a small fishing village 13 kilometers from Puerto Viejo next to Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge. It’s a cute little town but gets absolutely crazy on the weekends with the local excursions and parties.
Puerto Viejo Weather
Weather in Puerto Viejo is different than the rest of Costa Rica. Instead of the typical tropical seasons, the Caribbean has a more temperate weather throughout the year. This means it can rain all year long. Summer months are actually September and October (those are the rainiest months for the rest of the country).
It’s extremely humid in this area, keeping temperatures cooler than the Pacific side. It is usually around high 80’s and low 90’s, cooling off at night. When you’re visiting Puerto Viejo, don’t be surprised if it’s raining while it’s sunny in other parts of Costa Rica!
Puerto Viejo Hotels
You can find all sorts of hotels in Puerto Viejo except for the big international chains. Much of Puerto Viejo’s charm is that it isn’t super commercial or developed and the community wants to keep it that way. You can find still luxury hotels with air conditioning and high end amenities, all built harmoniously with nature.
Hotel Banana Azul: Beach front resort on Playa Negra. Offers a variety of rooms and suites. Has an on-site restaurant, beach club, gardens, ponds and massage hut. Click the link above to read our review.
Villas del Caribe: Beach front hotel on Playa Chiquita with its own entrance to the beach. Rooms are spacious with private decks and hammocks, has a large pool and on-site restaurant.
Relax Natural Village: 6 villas each with a private deck and hammock, close to Playa Cocles. Nice boutique hotel with very personal service and gourmet breakfast.
Cariblue: Another hotel in Playa Cocles, it’s more like a resort with two swimming pools, a swim up bar and jaccuzis. They also have spa, restaurant and surf school on the property.
Tree House Lodge: 5 luxury eco-houses very close to Playa Punta Uva. Each house has something unique about it and is spread out throughout the 10 acre property. Definitely a splurge for couples but a great option for groups.
Airbnb and Vacation Rentals
Airbnb and vacation rentals are very popular in Puerto Viejo. We stayed at one called Reservas Kalawa run by an Italian family. It was a very nice apartment walking distance to Puerto Viejo downtown. Read more about using Airbnb in Costa Rica in this post and get $40 off your first booking.
Puerto Viejo Hostels
Puerto Viejo has a large amount of hostels since it is a popular backpacker destination. These are three popular hostels in Puerto Viejo: Hostel Pagalu, Selina Hostel and Lionfish Hostel.
Puerto Viejo Nightlife
You’ll get your fill of reggae music, bonfires, shots and dancing in Puerto Viejo as it’s one of the biggest party towns in Costa Rica. There’s a party every weekend! Head to Salsa Brava, Roots Reggae and Tasty Waves for a good time. You can also find bars and discotheques like Johnny’s Place and Tex Mex.
Due to the melting pot culture, you can find all sorts of food in Puerto Viejo. Make sure to try the unique Caribbean-Costa Rican dishes such as rice and beans and rondon.
Soda Lidias: Our favorite place for local food. They have delicious hot sauce and their rice and beans are our favorite.
Bread and Chocolate: Great bakery.
Ghetto Girl: Another good place to go for rice and beans. The restaurant has some fun decorations.
Tasty Waves: Has your typical burgers, tacos, beers and cocktails. Tuesday nights have 2 for 1 tacos and they have wild parties.
De Gusticos Bakery: Another nice bakery.
Koki Beach Lounge: The food is a little overpriced but they have a nice atmosphere and yummy cocktails.
Deelite: Amazing gelato!
Stashu’s con Fusion: Great drinks and dessert we loved the most.
Things to Do in Puerto Viejo Costa Rica
Although Puerto Viejo is not big, there are a lot of fun things to do. Within a 30 kilometer radius, you have a national park, a wildlife refuge, beautiful beaches and two animal rescue centers.
Jaguar Rescue Center: Learn about how they rescue, rehabilitate and reintroduce animals such as sloths, monkeys and owls back into the wild. You can also visit the Ara Project where they help the Great Green Macaws.
Cahuita National Park: Visit Cahuita National Park to see wildlife or take a snorkeling trip since it’s an incredible park to experience both beach and jungle. Plus it’s free!
White water rafting Rio Pacuare: When it comes to adventure in Puerto Viejo, it falls short compared to other destinations in Costa Rica. But you can go white water rafting on the Rio Pacuare, one of the top 5 five rivers in the world for white water rafting!
You can read about other fun things to do in Puerto Viejo here.
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If you’re not sure if you should visit Puerto Viejo, check out our post “Differences between the Caribbean and Pacific coast of Costa Rica.”
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