The difference between Cahuita and Puerto Viejo
Cahuita is a village mostly inhabited by locals, a simple village with less tourist, restaurants, bars, and shops (there are only 3-4 souvenir shops in Cahuita. It's a village with wild beaches without any additional entertainment. Puerto Viejo, located only 16 km from Cahuita, is completely different.
A former fishing town, today Puerto Viejo is a surf paradise. It’s a town popular among young “backpackers”, who come here to rest and have fun. The city streets are noisy and with a lot of traffic. Tourists visit many souvenir shops or boutiques with clothes from local designers. Young people are riding bikes (you can rent a bike anywhere from 5$/day) around the town and having fun in many bars with reggae music and live performances while having a joint. Surfers enjoy the waves on the Salsa Brava beach.
Where to stay and what to eat in Puerto Viejo
You could say that Puerto Viejo lives and we livened ourselves up during dinner at Monli restaurant in the city center. The owner of the restaurant is a French lady, who will offer you a large choice of fresh fish and seafood (one of the waiters personally catches them every morning!) accompanied by an organic salad made of vegetables from the owner’s garden. We had another great tuna steak with fresh salad and patacones (fried plantains). Here you’ll pay about 15$ per meal.
Our hostel Oasis wasn’t easy to find. It was hidden on the beach behind a few sodas and restaurants. The Oasis hostel was great. A young owner, already high, welcomed us and he showed us around. The hostel is actually his home with only 3 guest rooms and a spacious backyard on the beach. A double room costs 35$ per night. Breakfast wasn’t included, but there was a cute small kitchen in the backyard with all necessary kitchen utensils. Besides, there was a bakery De Gustibus across the street from the hostel serving delicious breakfast.
Around Puerto Viejo
A tour offer is the same as in Cahuita: Parque Nacional Cahuita, snorkeling around the coral reef, a visit to the local Bribri tribe, and a trip to the magical archipelago Bocas del Toro in Panama (the border with Panama is just 50 km from Puerto Viejo). Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to go to Panama and we decided to spend our last two days of vacation at the beach.
A beach in front of our hostel was not suitable for swimmers. The water was filled with reefs and you could go miles walking on them without entering into the deep sea. We had to walk for about 20 min towards the south to reach Playa Cocles, a popular surf beach, where we could swim and play with the waves. Trees and dense vegetation surrounded the beach so we had plenty of branches to hang our towels and shade to hide from the sun.
If we didn’t relax on the beach for the last two days, we would definitely rent a bike and ride along the seaside towards the south. We would stop in Manzanillo (13 km from Puerto Viejo), another beautiful village with stunning beaches, where you could snorkel around the coral reef and visit a 50 km2 of the natural reservation with more than 350 bird species.
On the way back, we would visit the Jaguar Rescue Center (4 km from Puerto Viejo), a shelter for the wounded animals of the jungle (sloths, snakes, howler monkeys, owls, ocelots, toucans, etc.). The entrance to the Jaguar Rescue Center is possible only with a guide daily at 9:30 or 11:30 and it costs 20$.
Parque Nacional Tortuguero
Another interesting place to see in Costa Rica (that we didn’t have time to visit) is the Parque Nacional Tortuguero, called “Amazonia of Central America”. The national park is covered with dense rainforest, swampy mangroves, and it’s accessible only by a boat ride through its many canals (among crocodiles and caimans).
Parque Nacional Tortuguero is one of the most visited national parks in Costa Rica. You can find it at the north Caribbean Coast, towards the border with Nicaragua. It’s home to a large number of animals and plants, from which the most interesting are turtles. Turtles lay their eggs on the shores of Tortuguero National Park twice a year (from March to May and from July to October).
We wanted to make a day trip to Tortuguero on our way from La Fortuna to Cahuita, but it wasn’t practical. We needed 5h to get from La Fortuna to Tortuguero and we had to be on the last bus to Cahuita around 1 or 2 p.m. It wasn’t possible or effective since it wasn’t the right time for the main attraction – turtles laying eggs.
It was time to go back to San José and to catch a plane home to the snowy and cold Prague. :/ I would definitely visit Costa Rica again. I would come back to my favorite Monteverde, I would spend more time at the breathtaking Pacific Coast and I’d visit places that I didn’t have time to see – Parque Nacional Tortuguero, Nicoya peninsula with supposedly the most beautiful beaches, and one of the Costa Rican islands (for example, Isla de Coco).