It’s probably no secret, I love to take a trip every year around my birthday. I actually didn’t think that was going to happen this year, but I was eyeing a couple budget friendly locations–one being Costa Rica. Luckily a flight deal fell on my lap for $288 RT on Copa (Copa is airline BAE) from Dulles (rolls eyes) to San Jose, Costa Rica…booked it!
I’ve always heard great things about Costa Rica, mostly that it’s very eco-friendly and that you need at least a two week visit if you want to see what it has to offer. Most friends I knew who visited flew into Liberia, where more of the tourism and resorts are situated. San Jose is quite a bit south from Liberia (north west) and at least from my research on the interwebs, isn’t known for having much to do.
I saw quite a few suggestions to visit the Caribbean coast and I figured I am Caribbean, why not? So I decided on visiting Puerto Viejo.
My first piece of advice? Don’t bother attempting to visit Puerto Viejo if you don’t have at least 2-3 days to be there. Why? Because if you are traveling there from San Jose, it is a FIVE hour drive. Yes, cinco horas. Almost a quarter of a day. What made this even worse was that our flight didn’t arrive in San Jose until 4 pm, which meant that we didn’t get to Puerto Viejo until after 10 pm (we were held by the Policia for a while, don’t ask). While I am on the subject of transportation from San Jose, your options are limited as the public bus transport (about $11 USD) between the cities stops at 4pm. So if your flight gets in later your only options are to either spend the night in San Jose and travel the next morning, or spend $260 one way for a private shuttle. I was traveling in a group of 3 so the private shuttle was doable while still being expensive IMO but again, another story.
For our short time in Puerto Viejo, we stayed at Hotel Boutique Indalo, a very intimate, clean, secure, and well manicured property on a quiet street. Might I add they also have hot water and good water pressure, go ahead and laugh if you want to.
Apparently our room also came with this kitty, he was always around our room waiting for us or napping with us. Maybe he was protecting us. I’m not a cat person though so who knows.
One of the things I knew I wanted to do while in Puerto Viejo was to visit the Jaguar Sanctuary, how cool
or dangerous would be it be to see some Jaguars live and up close? So when we settled into the hotel that night we booked a 3 activity excursion to the Jaguar Sanctuary, the Chocolate Lady, and the Waterfall for $59 USD per person for the next morning at 9 am.
That’s a pretty good deal for pick up, drop off, three excursions, and snacks. The following morning a van came to pick us up before heading to another hotel to pick up another group of travelers (who were a great group of people) and heading to the Jaguar Rescue Center. We saw a ton of great animals, some cute and some ferocious, while on the tour with our guide Cecilia who is incredibly knowledgeable about the animals in general and each of their individual stories:
The Jaguar Rescue Center was great–but they ain’t have no jaguars…talk about a swindle. Apparently they haven’t had any since the year the center opened. Anywho, once the tour is over there is a little refreshment area where a lady makes some fruit smoothies and sells some baked goods and pastries. Their brownies are amazing. Get you one.
After we left the Rescue Center our driver stopped so we could have a few moments to take in the beach, which was a spectacular view, and there was also a jerk man conveniently cooking in the same spot. Most of the van (not me or my crew) decided to grab lunch there.
With that we were back in the van and off to see the chocolate lady. I wasn’t too enthused about this excursion because I had gone to an exceptional chocolate class while in Guatemala earlier this year. Always trust your gut I tell you because they literally just explained to us how chocolate is made, showed the cacao at (some of) the various stages, passed around a folded banana leaf, gave us some apple banana (which was delicious but clearly had nothing to do with making chocolate), then welcomed us to purchase some of their handmade crafts and chocolate items. No chocolate making at all. I was irritated but I would have been upset had I not already done it somewhere else. So basically we were 0-2 on swindles in Puerto Viejo, first the jaguars and then the chocolate.
After visiting the Chocolate Lady we were back in the van and off to the waterfalls. You do have to hike down to the two waterfalls (small one first, large one second), they will offer you a walking stick (por gratis, for free), take it, the hike is janky and muddy in areas. But the waterfalls were beautiful!
This picture of the large waterfall doesn’t capture the full heighth of it, it was huge, and some little boy jumped into the water…from the top. Some more sane guys climbed a short way up and jumped from there…unfortunately I caught none of those jumps on camera.
Once we hiked back up from the waterfalls, they had fresh pineapple and coconut water for us before heading back into the van and back to our hotels, pero no me gusta agua de coco, o anything de coco for that matter. How’s that for Spanglish?
We head back to the hotels and say our goodbyes to our new friends. My group was starving because we hadn’t eaten a meal all day, so instead of going back to the hotel we went straight to a nearby fish restaurant for a late lunch. I don’t remember what the restaurant was called nor do I have a picture–but it was by far the best meal we had during our time in Costa Rica, and the dranks were great too. Now it being the best meal wasn’t saying much by comparison because the rest of the food we had was TERRIBLE. But this place had great food.
After our meal we walked back to the hotel, got cleaned up, took a nap, then ventured out into the town to check out the nightlife around midnight. We walked from our hotel to the main street which was at most about 3 blocks away. The walk was dark, but over all Puerto Viejo appeared to be a really safe town, we definitely felt comfortable walking.
Puerto Viejo has strong Caribbean (read: mostly Jamaican) influences, driversby are mostly blasting reggae or dancehall, there is a reggae club called Salsa Brava that has pure rastaman type vibes, and another club nearby whose name I didn’t catch that plays more like rap, reggaeton, dancehall, and top 40. Lots of people were out and about on the streets having drinks and catching the vibes. There were a couple street food vendors who were grilling up some cracktastic chicken or beef kabobs (among other things)—we were starving and they were muy delicioso. Shortly after our kabobs, the power went out twice (like everybody’s power) and considering our already dark walk, we thought it’d be best to call it a night and head back to the hotel.
The next day, Sunday, we got up and went to a bar/restaurant to grab breakfast before catching the shuttle back to San Juan. In short, the food was terrible. While our flight back to the States was on Monday, it was a 5 am flight, and with a 5 hour drive back to San Juan, we thought it’d be wiser to head back a day early. We arrived at our San Juan hotel that evening (which was really nice) and we were again starving so we decided to have dinner at the hotel restaurant. Bad idea, like most of the trip, the food was TERRIBLE. So we ended up ordering Pizza Hut.
If you know me you know just how irritated I was by having to resort to Pizza Hut while abroad.
We caught a taxi at around 3 am (the hotel also gave us snack bags as we exited with fruit and juice boxes, how thoughtful?) and went to the airport for our first flight back to Panama.
If I could sum up Puerto Viejo in one word it’d be, charming.
Overall, I found Costa Rica to be underwhelming. I was super disappointed in the food experience. It certainly isn’t worth traveling to, in my opinion, if you don’t have at least 5 days to work with. We spent the majority of our time traveling, which was totally as result of not having a plan of where I wanted to go within the country prior to booking. I am definitely willing and interested in visiting Costa Rica again, hopefully next time with more time to explore.
Have you ever been to Costa Rica? What part did you visit? Leave a comment below.
‘Til next trip folks!