We were apprehensive to add Costa Rica to this year’s trip. We’ve always surpassed our budget here (Costa Rica is one of the more expensive countries in Central America), and this year being on a six-week, three country backpacking trip, blowing through our savings at the first stop wasn’t an option. But, we decided that we would try our hardest to stick within our means, and enjoy the first week at one of our favourite towns in the world – Puerto Viejo.
Our friends Carson and Chantal introduced us to Puerto Viejo in 2014, we’ve now been back twice since, but this is the first time without them.
It was our turn to be the tour guides this time, we had a few family members join in on the fun. Jeff’s mom, Cheryl, his Uncle Chris, and our sister-in-law Shelby booked some last-minute flights and we couldn’t have been more excited to share this place with them.
Puerto Viejo sits in southern Costa Rica on the Caribbean coast. It has an amazing rasta vibe, vibrant with colour, music, and food for every appetite. A hippie haven, drawing diverse travellers, some for a night and some who never leave. Expat run restaurants, hostels, bars, and shops line the streets, offering a wide variety of culture to immerse yourself in.
After our little hiccup of a cancelled flight (Read about that here), we arrived in San Jose, spent the night, and in the morning made the trek through the mountains out to the Caribbean Coast. Read about driving from San Jose to the Caribbean Coast here.
As you read above, we planned to do Puerto Viejo on the cheap, which had proven to be quite a feat in the past. We were determined to make it work, and even with the company we were hosting, we weren’t planning on changing our budget much. We booked in at Rocking J’s hostel to spend our nights sleeping in hammocks, and our adventurous family gladly did the same.
Rocking J’s is like no hostel we’ve ever been to, and you have to see it. Mosaic tile and art done by the guests who have stayed there adorn pretty much every square inch of this place, and its beautiful.
Its known as a great place to party, with daily drink specials, theme nights, and a party that spills out to a campfire on the beach after quiet hours (for a party hostel it can actually get pretty quiet past 11pm, thankfully). There are a wide variety of accommodations to fit any comfort level – hammocks, tents, dorm rooms, and private rooms, some with their own bathroom. Our hammocks set us back $7/night, which included access to the shared bathrooms and cold water showers (hot water showers are not needed in the Caribbean, its 35 damn degrees out). Its basic and bare bones, but recommended if you want to meet cool people and try something new.
On to the food – and as you know, we love to eat. We were lucky enough to meet a guy who turned us on to the $4 breakfast burrito at Hot Rocks, a restaurant in town. This burrito packs enough punch to keep you full all day, even through all the activities your going to do. Breakfast and lunch in one – winning! The road side patties/empanadas are a real budget saver. Later in the evening keep your eye out for the meat sticks. If you are looking for some cheap, fresh fruits and veggies, the organic market in Puerto Viejo is held every Saturday. Vendors selling fruits, vegetables, meats and tofu, plants, fresh smoothies and juices, and handmade goods set up in the flea market. It’s a fun place to walk around.
If you’re wondering what there is to do in Puerto Viejo, remember you’re in the Caribbean. You don’t have to do anything! It is home to some of the most beautiful beaches we’ve ever seen, and they run all along the coast, from Cahuita to Manzanillo. The most popular mode of transportation in the area are bicycles, and you can rent them from your hostel or from a number of shops in town, for $5-$8 a day . Go see the lady at Borroco Pizza (across from the market), she doesn’t speak a lick of English but is super nice, has cheap, good bikes, and is easy to work with. Don’t be alarmed when you have to leave your passport, most places will ask you to for collateral. Just use your judgement, obviously.
We did a full day tour of the coast, biking from town to Manzanillo and back. Over 25km in total! It was hot, exhausting, but so worth it. Stop at each beach along the way, go for a swim, drink some agua (or a cerveza, your choice). The mostly flat, paved roads make the biking manageable). When you get to Manzanillo, do the 45 min hike through the National Park, you may see a sloth!
The live music scene in Puerto Viejo is hopping, and we were lucky enough to see a couple great bands. The Lazy Mon is a great place to watch live music at dusk and late into the night, it’s a beautiful setting right on the beach. They have two-for-one drink specials every afternoon too!
And last, but certainly not least, if you’re at the end of your time in Puerto Viejo, are tired of sleeping in a hammock and need some luxury in your life that will most definitely drain your budget, go to Banana Azul. On the completely opposite spectrum of Rocking J’s, owned by two wonderful Canadians, this place is gorgeous. We were so lucky to have our family treat us to our last night here for being their tour guides for the week.
We could continue to write forever about this place that we love, but all the pictures and words in the world can’t explain it. Go see for yourself!