Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Limón

The Charm of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca

On the coast of the Caribbean Sea lies the unique city of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, a haven for those seeking a relaxing Costa Rican vacation on the beach. The vibrant seaside town is surrounded by gorgeous beaches with crystal clear blue waters and a lush green jungle filled with tropical flora and fauna. Fast becoming one of Costa Rica’s premier tourist destinations, visitors will immediately pick up on its rastafarian feel and authentic vibes.

Not to be confused with the inland white water rafting destination of Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui in Heredia, a city near the Caribbean coast but not on the beach, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, more commonly called simply Puerto Viejo, is located right along the shore in the Southern portion of the Caribbean of the Limon province of Costa Rica. It lies 55 kilometers (34 miles) southeast of Puerto Limon, and about 16 kilometers (10 miles) to the south of Cahuita.

Note that there is only one paved road in town, connecting Puerto Viejo to Limon and Manzanillo. The others are dirt roads, which adds to the village’s rustic charm. This coastal town offers tourists a look at Costa Rica’s characteristic tropical vegetation as well as some incredible beaches with picturesque turquoise waters and golden sands.

Puerto Viejo is one of the best surfing spots in Costa Rica, with prime conditions for beginners and experts alike at the region’s various beaches. In fact, the town’s role as a Costa Rica tourism hotspot can largely be attributed to its popularity with surfers, gaining local favor and even international acclaim. The town is a must-visit for any surfing enthusiast, as people come from far and wide to ride the famed Salsa Brava waves.

The town itself is lively while still maintaining an authentic feel. Alongside reasonably priced hotels and other accommodations, you’ll find plenty of restaurants, discos, bars, and stores. It’s also easy to access the nearby Manzanillo Village from Puerto Viejo, which is a much smaller town with only a few restaurants and a beautiful beach.

History of Puerto Viejo

Puerto Viejo has a unique atmosphere thanks to being largely isolated from outside influence for the majority of the 20th century. For many years, there was no road to the town, so it remained inaccessible by car. This created a secluded beach paradise for those that lived in Puerto Viejo, which was largely undisturbed for many decades.

Prior to becoming a tourist attraction, it was a small fishing village. The influence of the Latino, Afro-Caribbean, and indigenous Bribri residents at this time can still be felt in the culture of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca today. Actually one can visit the Bribri Indigenous Reserve and taste the delicious chocolate that is harvested and made all from within their reserve.

Over time, Puerto Viejo became more connected with its surroundings, starting with the construction of the first road to the village in the early 1970s. Slowly but surely, visitors came seeking this hidden gem, bringing more traffic to the area but still ensuring the town retained its laid-back, secluded, and authentic vibe.

Puerto Viejo has always been beloved for its great surfing conditions, and local surfers and backpackers helped to popularize the area over the years. Many new businesses cropped up in the town, including restaurants, eco lodges, and stores selling local crafts and wares.

As the town became more connected with the outside world, so too did it gain more notoriety, gradually shaping the tourist retreat we see today!

The Best Things to Do Around Puerto Viejo

As a land of gold sand beaches and tropical forests, Puerto Viejo has plenty of fun activities and attractions to offer tourists. Visit notable locations such as the Cahuita National Park, the Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, and the Talamanca Indian Reserve.

For another unique and laid back experience, tour a local chocolate plantation, or just relax on the beach during your stay.

Go Surfing

Surfing is the main attraction in this southern Caribbean seaside town! Check out our Puerto Viejo surfer’s guide if you’re looking for the inside scoop on all the best beaches.

The most popular beach for surfing is Salsa Brava, which lies to the south of town. This peak has excellent conditions and is regarded as one of the most intense surf breaks in Costa Rica.

The fastest and most powerful waves come from a reef break that forms left and right peaks. Salsa Brava draws many surfers from all over the world, but its notoriety means it tends to get crowded during the day, especially on weekends.

Do note that this surfer’s paradise does have a strong rip current. Swimming is not advisable as the waves are best left to expert surfers. However, there are beautiful beaches within walking distance that are perfect for a tropical swim or simple day lounging on the sand!

If you’re in search of a less crowded spot, head to Playa Negra, which has great conditions on cooler days. Playa Cocles is another popular spot for intermediate and advanced surfers, with some powerful waves of its own!

Visit the Cahuita National Park

Originally formed to protect the coral reefs of Costa Rica, Cahuita National Park now encompasses many acres of jungle trails and beaches, as well as plenty of acres of ocean.

Take a tour of Cahuita National Park to discover its native plants and animals. Visitors to the park are invited to scuba dive and snorkel in the coral reef, which contains over a hundred different species of fish as well as sea turtles, eels, sea urchins, manta rays, sea cucumbers, and some small shark species.

On land, you’ll have the opportunity to see the endangered Sangrillo tree, which lines the end of the main trail. Animals commonly seen inside Cahuita National Park include sloths, pacas, northern tamanduas, mantled howlers, and many species of brightly colored birds like keel-billed toucans, herons, and green ibises.

While primarily found a bit further north in the Maquenque National Wildlife Refuge and Tortuguero National Park you might even catch a glimpse of the great green macaw!

Take a Chocolate Tour

Get in touch with local culture on a chocolate tour, where you’ll tour a real chocolate plantation located in a nearby remote village. On the tour, you’ll learn how the indigenous Bribri people make authentic local chocolate, one of Costa Rica’s primary exports.

See every part of the process, including growing acres of trees, harvesting cacao, and processing the cacao into chocolate. You’ll also get to taste the very chocolate made on the plantation, all while learning a little more about the indigenous populations of Costa Rica.

Hike in the Gandoca-Manzanillo Rainforest

Animal lovers should check out the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, which is home to dozens of rare and endangered species you won’t find anywhere else in Costa Rica. Hike through this national park for a chance to see sloths, lizards, toucans, monkeys, West Indian manatees, tapirs, caimans, turtles, eagles, pelicans, tarpons, and more!

Take a guided tour of Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge for additional insight into its native animal species. You’ll also have the opportunity to learn about the park’s many different unique biomes and habitats, which include a humid tropical rainforest, lowland rainforest, wetland, orey and jolillo palm swamps, and natural mangrove oyster beds inside the region’s only intact mangrove swamp.

Top Hotels in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Costa Rica

Puerto Viejo’s blossoming tourism industry means there are plenty of reasonably priced accommodations and hotels to stay at in town, from larger resorts to intimate bungalow retreats.

Villas del Caribe

With beautiful beachy surroundings and comfortable amenities like a pool, breakfast buffet, and jacuzzi, Villas del Caribe is an excellent hotel that even boasts its own private stretch of coastline.

The hotel offers its guests WiFi, a TV bar, a restaurant serving international cuisine, and a perfect location just a few minutes away from Playa Chiquita.

Hotel Banana Azul

Just steps from the beach, Hotel Banana Azul is both a top family-friendly and budget-friendly hotel without cutting back on any amenities. Guests can use the outdoor pool and hot tub, dine at the on-site restaurant, and get a massage from the spa. For additional savings on local tours and experiences, book a vacation package.

Hotel Banana Azul is also a popular choice for couples, and many book it for weddings and romantic beachfront bonfires under the stars.

Cariblue Beach & Jungle Resort

Get the best of both worlds at the luxury Cariblue Beach & Jungle Resort located right along the Caribbean coast.

In addition to pools, jacuzzis, restaurants, and bars, Cariblue has many unique amenities and services like a surf school, bike rental, aqua spa, craft shop, and multiple lounge spaces. Tropical rooms and common areas provide the perfect setting for bird watching, as over 100 species of exotic birds nest in the trees around the resort!

La Costa de Papito

Stay in a private jungle bungalow at La Costa de Papito, a small but high-class hotel not far from Playa Cocles.

Immerse yourself in local culture while enjoying the conveniences of an on-site spa, a bar and lounge, a breakfast buffet, and a gourmet restaurant. There’s even a surf school at the beach nearby, which is perfect for beginners.

Selina Puerto Viejo

Selina Puerto Viejo strikes the perfect balance of work and play!

Start your day with a daily breakfast buffet and some yoga led by professional instructors. Lounge at the outdoor pool, complete with a bar, hot tub, and waterfalls in the afternoon. Then wander into the town of Puerto Viejo, less than 1 mile away, for an authentic Afro-Caribbean dinner in the evening.

If you’re on a working vacation, take advantage of the hotel’s modern coworking space that offers monthly desk rentals for extended stays.

The Beaches of Puerto Viejo

The white sand beaches of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca attract tourists from all across the globe. Soak up the sun at these secluded retreats where you can sunbathe, swim, ride on horseback, snorkel, dive, kayak, boogie board, and of course, surf!

Salsa Brava

As an incredible surfing beach of international renown, Salsa Brava pulls the most visitors of any Puerto Viejo beach, and it’s almost always the most crowded spot in town when the weather is right. Less experienced surfers can try their hands at the smaller waves, while experts tackle the intense reef breaks that provide quite a challenge for even professional surfers.

Note that in exchange for amazing surfing conditions, there is a strong rip tide at this beach most days, so it’s not advisable to swim here. However, if you don’t surf, you can still sunbathe and watch others get barreled in the amazing waves!

Playa Cocles

Like Salsa Brava, Playa Cocles has great surf conditions that are suitable for intermediate to advanced-level surfers. However, Playa Cocles tends to be less popular, so you can enjoy the waves in peace away from the crowds.

This is a beautiful, mile-long sandy beach with plenty of space to stretch out and sunbathe. Unlike the choppier waters of Salsa Brava, the waves of Playa Cocles are calmer in the shallows of the beach, so it’s pleasant to swim here as well.

Playa Negra

Playa Negra is a black sand beach that stretches many kilometers down the coast, making it a great place to stroll along the shoreline. Most visitors choose to swim and relax at Playa Negra, though there are some waves suitable for surfing when conditions are right.

Punta Uva

Punta Uva is one of the prettiest beaches near Puerto Viejo, and it’s also fairly quiet compared to the more popular Salsa Brava.

Enjoy picturesque, crystal clear waves and golden sands on a beach that’s perfect for swimming and sunbathing. Because of the low foot traffic, Punta Uva is a great choice for those seeking a romantic getaway.

Playa Chiquita

To get to Playa Chiquita, you’ll need to take a short hike on a secluded jungle path. This cozy beach is surrounded by lush rainforest, making it especially scenic. The waves here are calm and slow, making it a good spot for swimming, though the beach is somewhat rocky.

Many of Puerto Viejo’s beachside restaurants are within walking distance of Playa Chiquita, making it a great spot to spend the whole day relaxing on the shore if you choose.

Playa Grande

Playa Grande is the largest beach in the area and also one of the most remote, located about 11 kilometers (7 miles) south-east from town.

This beach tends to not be crowded, as there is less development along the shore. However, this also makes it a great spot for lounging in peaceful surroundings, with a small park area perfect for beachside picnics.

The Most Important Tips for Navigating Puerto Viejo

Maximize your enjoyment while on vacation with these important tips you should know before you go to Puerto Viejo!

When’s the Best Time to Visit?

During Costa Rica’s wet season, the largest and most exciting southwest swells reach the Pacific coast. Therefore, if you’re in Puerto Viejo to surf, aim to visit between May and November.

Learn About Culture

While many visit Puerto Viejo for the surf, there’s a wealth of culture contained in this village, with many great opportunities to immerse yourself in it.

Take a culture tour, visit a historic site, or simply talk to the friendly locals during your stay. You’ll sure to feel like a true Tico in no time!

Costa Rica Beach & National Park Tour
14 Days / 13 Nights
Starting at $2,068 per person
Around Beautiful Costa Rica Tour
10 Days / 9 Nights
Starting at $1,071 per person