14 Fun Things to Do in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

Puerto Viejo is a laid-back village on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. This place captures the hearts of many travelers due to its relaxed vibe. Puerto Viejo exudes coziness with reggae bands performing somewhere, delightful Caribbean cuisine, and breathtakingly beautiful nature. Hop on a bike to explore the coastline or dance the night away with your feet in the sand. Puerto Viejo can also be easily combined with a trip to Panama, as you can travel there from Bocas del Toro in just about four hours. Scroll down quickly and read all my tips for the lovely Puerto Viejo!

How to Get to Puerto Viejo?

It’s important to know that there are two villages in Costa Rica with the name Puerto Viejo. In the northeastern part of the country, you’ll find Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí. The Puerto Viejo I’m writing about is called Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. This village is located in the Limón province, in the southeastern part of Costa Rica. Buses often only display the text “Puerto Viejo” as the destination. So always pay close attention to ensure you’re getting on the right bus. Most people travel to Puerto Viejo from San José, Bocas del Toro, or Tortuguero. Below, you’ll find how to travel from these destinations to Puerto Viejo.

From San José to Puerto Viejo

By local bus: Go to Terminal Atlántico Norte in San José. Multiple buses depart from here to Puerto Viejo throughout the day. You can’t reserve bus tickets in advance; you buy them at the bus station.

By minivan: The minivan ride from San José to Puerto Viejo takes about 5 hours. The easiest way is to book the minivan in advance. You’ll be picked up from your hotel in San José or the airport and dropped off at your accommodation in Puerto Viejo.

By rental car: This is a drive of approximately 215 kilometers (133 miles), and it takes about 5 hours.

From Bocas del Toro (Panama) to Puerto Viejo

By local bus: Take the ferry from Bocas del Toro to Almirante and catch the bus to Guabito. Cross the border there, and then take the bus to Puerto Viejo.

By minivan + ferry: A comfortable way to travel this route is with this minivan + ferry combination, which takes you to Puerto Viejo in about 3.5 hours. The great advantage is that all transfers are well coordinated.

By rental car: Unfortunately, it’s not possible to cross the border with a rental car. You’ll need to return the rental car in Panama and pick up a new one in Puerto Viejo.

From Tortuguero to Puerto Viejo

By local bus + boat: In Tortuguero, take the 3-hour boat ride to Moin. In Moin, take a taxi to Terminal de Mepe in Puerto Limon, and from there, catch the bus to Puerto Viejo.

By minivan: The easiest way to travel from Tortuguero to Puerto Viejo is with a minivan. The entire journey is well organized, and you’ll be taken from hotel to hotel.

By rental car: Since Tortuguero is only accessible by boat, you’ll need to park your rental car at La Pavona Harbour. In Tortuguero, take the boat to La Pavona Harbour. Depending on tides, this journey takes 1 to 2 hours. From La Pavona Harbour, it’s about a 4 to 5-hour drive to Puerto Viejo.

Tips for Transportation in Puerto Viejo

Bicycles are a perfect and affordable mode of transportation in Puerto Viejo. Many attractions are just outside the village and are a bit too far to walk. Therefore, renting a bike is ideal in Puerto Viejo. Tuk-tuks also operate in Puerto Viejo, but these rides can be quite pricey. To put it in perspective: What you pay for a 15-minute tuk-tuk ride can get you a bike rental for 24 hours. However, be cautious when it’s dark; not all bikes have lights, and there are no bike lanes or good lighting along the road. It might be a good idea to bring a bike light.

What to Do in Puerto Viejo?

Even though Puerto Viejo isn’t very large, there’s plenty to keep you entertained for a few days.

Bike from Puerto Viejo to the Fishing Village of Manzanillo

Puerto Viejo is the perfect place to jump on a bike and explore the area! You can rent bikes at many places in Puerto Viejo, and it’s quite affordable. For just a few euros per day, you can cruise around and explore all the beautiful spots of Puerto Viejo.

A great cycling route is from Puerto Viejo to the fishing village of Manzanillo. You’ll bike along a stunning coastal road, passing several beautiful beaches and attractions. Round trip on the same route covers about 26 kilometers (16 miles). Depending on your stops along the way, you can spend half or a full day exploring. Starting early in the morning avoids the heat and lets you combine this with other recommendations in this article. Read on to learn about the beaches and other attractions you’ll encounter on this bike route.

Stops on the bike route: Playa Cocles > Playa Chiquita > Playa Punta Uva > Playa Grande > Ara Manzanillo > Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge. Further in this article, you’ll find detailed information about all these places.

Learn About Parrots at Ara Manzanillo

Ara Manzanillo is a conservation center where they’re helping the great green macaw population to thrive. Due to extensive deforestation for agriculture, the habitat of these parrots was at risk, leading to a decline in their population. Ara Manzanillo works to optimize the birds’ natural habitat for successful breeding.

Every day from 3:00 PM to 4:00 PM, you can join a tour here to learn about the macaws, their way of life, how they find partners, and you can witness them being fed around this time. Feeding is done using platforms in the treetops, allowing you to see the macaws up close without disturbing them. While you can’t interact with the parrots and calling them is not allowed, they might occasionally fly closely overhead from one tree to another or perch on a nearby branch to observe you.

Tip: Tickets should be purchased online in advance. I recommend doing this a few days ahead as it can fill up quickly. Also, note that from the main road turn-off, it’s a steep 15-minute uphill walk to reach the entrance of Ara Manzanillo. Unless you have a 4×4 rental car, you can park at the top. Tuk-tuks cannot go up this hill.

Visit Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge

Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge is about 15 kilometers (9 miles) from Puerto Viejo and is a stunning park with several beautiful beaches and viewpoints. Located along the coast near the village of Manzanillo, it’s a perfect addition to your cycling route. However, the park is quite extensive with various routes, so you might want to dedicate a separate day to explore it fully. Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge protects some of Costa Rica’s most endangered flora and fauna. The park features lovely jungle trails, and within just fifteen minutes, you’ll reach a scenic overlook of the coastline. Admission is free, but donations are appreciated as they help maintain the park.

Opening Hours: Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge is open daily from 6:30 AM to 3:00 PM.

Kayaking or Paddleboarding in Puerto Viejo

Imagine if you could only do one thing in Puerto Viejo—kayaking or paddleboarding at Punta Uva should definitely be on your list. At this beach, you can rent a kayak or board from 9:00 AM, allowing you to paddle up the river instead of the ocean. The 2-kilometer (1.25 miles) journey takes about 1.5 hours and is truly stunning. It feels like a dream flight. Once you’re on your board or in your kayak and have paddled under the road bridge, the surroundings become wonderfully peaceful. You’ll be immersed in the beauty of nature and encounter various animals. Many sloths inhabit the trees and occasionally come down to the river for a drink. The river is teeming with turtles, which might swim alongside you or rest in groups on tree trunks in the sun. Moreover, you’ll spot monkeys and iguanas in the trees. This was one of the most enjoyable activities I did in Puerto Viejo.

Play Beach Volleyball at Playa Cocles During Sunset

Playa Cocles, located a 10-minute bike ride from the center of Puerto Viejo, is a lively spot around sunset. It’s bustling with surfers catching their last waves, and groups of people relaxing with music, cold beers, or coconuts sold from small carts. If you’re in the mood for some activity, you can also play a game of beach volleyball on the shore. You’ll find several volleyball courts and plenty of people to challenge for a game as the sun goes down. Also, test your balance by walking on one of the slacklines set up on the beach.

Spot Wildlife in Cahuita National Park Near Puerto Viejo

A short half-hour drive from Puerto Viejo takes you to Cahuita National Park, one of Costa Rica’s most beautiful national parks. The park features a hiking trail with stunning jungle on one side and the sea with multiple white beaches on the other. Along the way, you have a high chance of spotting unique wildlife, such as the vibrant yellow and green viper snakes. You’ll also encounter many monkeys and raccoons, while trees are filled with sloths and reptiles. Plus, you can relax on the beach, take a swim in the water, and during specific months, even snorkel in one of the best-preserved coral reefs. Before you go, check out our tips for Cahuita National Park to make the most of your visit.

Getting There: Take the bus from the Puerto Viejo bus station to Puerto Limon. This bus runs every hour. Get off at Puerto Vargas, and you’ll be right at the entrance of Cahuita National Park.

Visit the Jaguar Rescue Centre in Puerto Viejo

Visit the Jaguar Rescue Centre if you’re curious about Costa Rica’s unique animals. While it might seem like a small zoo at first, the approach is quite different. The Jaguar Rescue Centre takes in sick, injured, or abandoned animals from the country. They provide medical care and use rehabilitation projects to help these animals regain strength, enabling them to return to the wild. Your entrance fee supports this wonderful initiative, providing food, medical care, and proper temporary housing for the animals. During your visit, you’ll learn about sloths, snakes, birds, and other creatures you might not have heard of before. Enthusiastic volunteers will gladly answer your questions during the tour. Tours start at 9:30 AM and 11:30 AM every morning.

Best Sunset Spots in Puerto Viejo

Many of the beaches around Puerto Viejo become lively around sunset. Chino Beach, in the heart of Puerto Viejo, is a popular spot where both locals and travelers gather to enjoy the last rays of the sun. Music boxes are often brought along, and street performers showcase their talents. Relax on the beach or settle down at one of the nearby restaurants. Pirata Tike Bar is a popular beachside bar serving delicious cocktails. Next to Pirata Tike Bar, you’ll find the cozy restaurant Grow, offering prime views of the sunset. They also serve delicious vegetarian food.

Witness the Chocolate-Making Process

Did you know that cocoa contains natural compounds that increase dopamine in your body, making you feel happier and more joyful? No wonder people can become addicted to chocolate! The area around Puerto Viejo is home to many cocoa plants that are turned into delightful chocolate products. At Caribeans, you can book tours from Monday to Saturday to witness and taste this process in person. It’s a short but enjoyable walk up to the plantation, where you might even encounter toucans or sloths along the way. You’ll be guided through the process from fruit to chocolate bar step by step.

Tip: Naturally, you can buy various flavors of chocolate bars in the shop. The unique packaging prevents the chocolate from melting in your bag (unless you leave the bar in direct sunlight), so it’s great to stock up.

Go Surfing or Take a Surf Lesson in Puerto Viejo

The waves of Puerto Viejo are perfect for diving into the sea with a surfboard. Salsa Brava is a well-known reef break in Puerto Viejo that challenges professional surfers to conquer it. However, this wave breaks on a reef that has caused many broken surfboards and accidents. Professionals sometimes even wear helmets here. The average surfer is better off at Playa Cocles, where, during the right tide, you have a wide beach to enjoy with your surfboard. You can rent a surfboard directly on this beach or take a surf lesson from one of the many surf instructors. Are you a beginner surfer? Playa Uva might be more suitable. This beach is smaller, the sea is calmer, and it’s a great place to practice moves on both the beach and in the water.

The Most Beautiful Beaches of Puerto Viejo

There are four beautiful beaches in Puerto Viejo, each worth a visit. You can explore them individually or tick them all off during the bike ride from Puerto Viejo to Manzanillo.

Playa Cocles

Playa Cocles is a large and lively beach where many locals and travelers come to relax. Especially during sunset, it’s a fun place to hang out. You can play volleyball, surf, rent surfboards, and take surf lessons.

Playa Chiquita

A bit further than Playa Cocles is Playa Chiquita. This beach is a bit more challenging to reach and therefore quieter. Park your bike at this point and walk along the path next to the fence towards the beach. You’ll cross a rickety bridge, which your bike can’t go over. You can relax under the trees on this beach, and the sea is calmer for swimming. If you’re hungry for breakfast or lunch, grab a bite at Gypsea Cafe. They offer delicious healthy and nourishing dishes.

Playa Punta Uva

This beach is definitely worth a visit! Playa Punta Uva is located in a small bay and has a pleasant atmosphere. It’s great for surfing, stand-up paddleboarding, or kayaking on the river.

Playa Grande

The last beach on your route features an interesting attraction—an actual shipwreck on the sandy shore. Playa Grande is adjacent to the fishing village of Manzanillo. You can take a breather from your bike ride or take a dip in the sea on this beach.

Best Restaurants in Puerto Viejo

Puerto Viejo is filled with fantastic restaurants of all types and sizes. Here are my favorites for you to consider.

Cafe Rico – This hidden gem is open from 7:00 AM to 12:00 PM. Enjoy a delightful breakfast in a charming garden surrounded by shelves filled with books for reading or exchanging. Cafe Rico is closed on Thursdays and Fridays.
Tamara – Indulge in delicious local Caribbean cuisine with an Afro-Caribbean atmosphere.
Berry Matcha – Visit for healthy fruit bowls with tasty toppings, perfect for a quick morning or afternoon bite.
Port Vell – This breakfast and lunch spot offers a menu of delicious and healthy dishes. Note that it’s closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Tasty Waves Cantina –International and Mexican cuisine in a lively atmosphere. Tuesdays are Taco Tuesdays, with discounts on tasty tacos accompanied by live music.
Grow – A mostly vegan restaurant right by the beach. The vegan Salmon Toast, made with smoked carrots, is almost indistinguishable from real salmon!
Bread & Chocolate – Start your day off right at Bread & Chocolate. Choose from sweet and savory breakfast options like pancakes, waffles, bagels, oatmeal, and sandwiches.
Cafe Viejo –Experience Italian flavors in Costa Rica. Both the pizzas and pastas are delightful.
Gypsea Cafe – This cozy restaurant near Playa Chiquita offers delicious, healthy, and nourishing dishes. Perfect for breakfast or lunch.
Soul Surfer – A great place with an extensive menu of burgers, offering plenty of meat, seafood, and vegetarian options.

Our Favorite Places to Stay in Puerto Viejo

Looking for a cozy hostel near the beach and close to cafes and restaurants? Check out Selina. It’s the perfect place to have a great time with fellow travelers, as the hostel organizes activities like yoga classes, parties, and workshops. Pagalù Hostel is another budget-friendly option. It might not be as fancy as Selina, but it has everything you need for a comfortable stay. There’s a spacious kitchen, a calm atmosphere, and a perfect location. If you have a bit more to spend, Finca Chica is a unique choice in Puerto Viejo. You’ll stay in a beautiful jungle villa just a 5-minute walk from the beach. Experience a tranquil oasis amidst stunning nature. You’re likely to spot animals like toucans, monkeys, or frogs right from your villa.