The Ultimate Guide To Puerto Viejo

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The Ultimate Guide To Puerto Viejo

Welcome To Puerto Viejo

Thinking about planning a trip to Puerto Viejo? Do it! We finally branched out from the Pacific Coast for our first time in August 2023, and it definitely won’t be our last trip. Puerto Viejo is an under-the-radar beach town on the Caribbean side of the country that shouldn’t be missed. The Afro-Caribbean culture gives this region a distinct personality and nothing like the rest of Costa Rica.

In our guide to Puerto Viejo, you’ll find many of the area’s popular restaurants, activities, and lodging. You’ll also find a guide map that visually displays the town and points of interest.  Let’s go!

Puerto Viejo Costa Rica
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Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

Getting There

From San Jose

When arriving to Costa Rica by plane, Puerto Viejo is most easily accessible by flying into the San Jose Airport. When you’re looking into flights, make sure that you select the airport code SJO (San Jose), and not LIR (Liberia). Liberia is the smaller secondary airport in Costa Rica, and it’s up in the northern part of the country. You’ll add an extra 4-5 hours of drive time if you select the wrong airport.

The drive is around 4.5 hours once you’ve arrived and picked up a rental car. If you’re comparing arrival airports, the only reason to fly into Liberia would be to explore La Fortuna or Monteverde for a few days on the way down to the Caribbean Coast. Not a bad option!

We love to take red-eye flights whenever possible. You’ll touch down in SJO, pick up a rental car or shuttle, and you’ll be in Puerto Viejo by check-in time. If your flight arrives later in the evening like our non-stop does from LAX, spend the night at a nearby airport hotel and get a fresh start in the morning. It’s not enjoyable driving the 4.5 hours at night if you’re exhausted from a long travel day.

From everywhere else

Already in Costa and heading to Puerto Viejo? Use the navigation app Waze if you’re driving from another part of the country. There’s currently a ton of construction on Highway 32 (as of Fall 2023), and you’ll want the most up-to-date road conditions. Be sure to bring a backup battery in case your rental doesn’t have a USB port. We always have this wireless charger with us because the navigation apps drain your battery quickly.


Rental Cars

If this section sounds a bit repetitive from other city guides you've read... it is. We've synchronized the rental car section in our destination posts to provide you with the most up-to-date changes when we have something to add here, and the info applies to any place you'll be visiting.

Rental cars are honestly the best way to get around Costa Rica, and Adobe Rent A Car is now our recommended company. Their fleet of cars is refreshed every two years, keeping them in good condition. Plus, they have 13 offices in most of the major towns in case you need help with the vehicle.

We used to roll with Economy Rent A Car and have always had a good experience with them. Unfortunately, we've received too many complaints and can no longer recommend their general booking site. We have a contact at Economy who still sets up many of our rentals. Shoot us a message through Facebook or Instagram if you want his contact.

Confusing insurance requirements are the most frequent complaint about rental cars in Costa Rica, so we really like how Adobe displays their additional insurance options at checkout. It’s pretty hard to be surprised when you get there.

Rental car insurance in Costa Rica is complicated and often leaves you feeling burned at the rental counter. There are various levels of undisclosed insurance. Check out our full guide to renting a car in Costa Rica here to avoid some major frustration later. Also be sure to use our booking link here to receive an exclusive discount at Adobe Rent A Car.

Economy Rental Car at SJO
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Picking up at Economy in SJO


If you really don’t want to make the drive from San Jose, ILT Costa Rica is a great shuttle option. We’ve used them a few times when traveling with larger groups, and their English-speaking drivers were friendly and professional. Puerto Viejo is a great town to explore by bike, so a rental car may not be needed depending on your preferences.

There are also local buses that run daily from San Jose to Puerto Viejo and the surrounding areas. It’s around $10 and a great option if you’re on a budget and want a more local travel experience.


The Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica is much less developed than the Pacific side. Accommodation is primarily a mix of vacation rentals, small independent hotels, and budget hostels. There aren’t many options for large chain hotels. Below is a list of some lodging options in the area.


Vacation Rentals

There are so many great vacation rentals to choose from. Our host, Yoshua, was amazing, and the rental was central to everything in Playa Negra. He has four listings that are all beautiful and worth a look. Check out his Airbnb host profile here. A quick search on Airbnb and VRBO will pull up tons of rental options ranging from budget to luxury.

Playa Negra Beach in Puerto Viejo
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Playa Negra looking to P.V. Town

Puerto Viejo Guide Map

Take a look at our interactive map to start the inspiration. It isn’t an absolute list, but we’ve put together some of the most popular places to visit in the Puerto Viejo area.

This map was made with Wanderlog, for making itineraries on iOS and Android

Puerto Viejo Activities:

  • Biking: Rent a bike and explore the coastal road, which stretches between Playa Negra, Puerto Viejo, Playa Cocles, Punta Uva, and Manzanillo.
  • Visit Cahuita National Park: This is one of our favorite national parks in the country. It’s about 25 minutes from P.T. town. 
  • Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge: Hike through the tropical rainforest and enjoy the pristine beaches of this beautiful refuge. Entrance is free and donations are suggested. This sprawling park is home to tons of animal life. We could spot Howler monkeys, White-faced monkeys, sloths, and tons of beautiful birds.
  • Yoga and Wellness: Join a yoga class or book a wellness retreat. The town is known for its laid-back vibe and holistic offerings.
  • Nightlife: Puerto Viejo has a lively nightlife with many bars featuring live music, particularly reggae. Salsa Brava is a local favorite and is known for its late-night parties throughout the week. We caught it on a mellow night with some great acoustic reggae.
  • Visit the Jaguar Rescue Center: Tucked in the heart of Costa Rica’s Caribbean rainforest, the Jaguar Rescue Center stands as a sanctuary for animals in need. This haven rehabilitates injured, orphaned, or confiscated wildlife, allowing them to recover and eventually return to their natural habitats. From sloths to monkeys, ocelots to toucans, witnessing these animals’ journey to recovery is inspiring.
  • Visit the Bri Bri Waterfalls: 10 minutes from downtown Puerto Viejo is Catarata Ma-Cu or the Bri Bri Sparkling Waterfalls.
  • The “secret spot” we visited on the Airbnb experience tour was the Talamanca Viewpoint at the Playa Cocles Cliffs. You can park on the side of the road and take a short trail to the top of the cliffs. It’s a nice view and keep a look out for sloths in the canopy above.
  • The Yicel Shipwreck: A beached boat that you can explore.

Don’t Miss Restaurants:

  • Cahuita’s Taste Caribbean Soul Food – Cahuita’s Taste is the soul of Caribbean cuisine in Costa Rica. The Shrimp Empanada was authentic, fresh, and probably the best meal I had in the Puerto Viejo area. Don’t miss a fresh Cahuita cider next door! Located in Cahuita.
  • Aroma, Coffee Bar & Breakfast – A nice breakfast and lunch restaurant near Cahuita National Park. They have a good selection of clean and fresh bites. Don’t Miss the mango spring rolls. Located in Cahuita.
  • Restaurant 4th Generation – An authentic Afro-Carribean restaurant near the Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge. Located in Manzanillo.
  • Bread and Chocolate – This was our favorite breakfast spot in PV. They are closed on Mondays, and no other explanation is needed. Just go there and enjoy. Located in Puerto Viejo.
  • De Gustibus Bakery – We tried to go to Bread and Chocolate for our first breakfast in PV. It was closed, so we wandered around and ended up here. It ended up being amazing and we can’t recommend it enough. The family that owns it is so nice and welcoming! Located in Puerto Viejo.
  • Stashu’s Con Fusion – We booked a PV tour through Airbnb Experiences, which was kind of a let down, but the guide recommended this place. I doubt we would have found it but so glad we did. The sunset view is a treat and we’ll be back for sure. Located in Puerto Viejo.
  • Puerto Pirata Tiki Bar – We’re suckers for a good Tiki Bar. Most don’t have good food but Puerto Pirate broke the rule. Great sips, eats, and sunset views. Located in Puerto Viejo.
Cahuita's Taste Restaurant
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Empenadas and local cider at Cahuita’s Taste

Sunset drinks at Puerto Pirata in Puerto Viejo
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Sunset drinks at Puerto Pirata

Our Itinerary

Time Needed – 4 to 5 Days

The Caribbean Coast could easily take up 4-5 of the average 14 day itinerary. You’ll have enough time to visit all of the parks, Jaguar Rescue Center, bike around, and relax a the beach.

Day 0 – The Travel Day

This is your travel day, so we don’t count it as a day to enjoy Puerto Viejo. The fun stuff starts tomorrow.

Day 1 – Explore PV Town and Bri Bri Waterfalls

On our first full day in Puerto Viejo, we deviated from our normal self-guided exploration and booked an Airbnb experience to get a quick overview of the area. It was called the Hidden Gems and Waterfall Tour, hosted by Maya. We learned a bit about the area, explored a “hidden” spot, and visited a nearby waterfall. It was a nice overview, but not really what we were hoping for. It was a bit too tame for us, and only recommended for those who prefer the structure of slower guided tours.

We suggest you go explore on your own. See our activity list for Puerto Viejo at the end of this post for the best places to explore on your own. Don’t forget this insulated koozie to keep your beverages cold all day!

The Bri Bri Waterfalls are 10 minutes from downtown Puerto Viejo. Look for Catarata Ma-Cu or the Bri Bri Sparkling Waterfalls. The entry fee is ₡1000, and they will watch your vehicle. They will also provide a walking stick to get down the trail, which can be slippery if it rains. Don’t miss out on a fresh pipa fria for ₡500 when you get back up the hill later! Check out our full guide here.

BriBri Waterfalls in Puerto Viejo
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Catarata Ma-Cu Falls

Day 2 – Jaguar Rescue Center and Playa Cocles

Jaguar Rescue Center is a great morning activity. This haven rehabilitates injured, orphaned, or confiscated wildlife, allowing them to recover and eventually return to their natural habitats.

When you’re done at the rescue center, grab some lunch and hit the beach. Playa Cocles was our favorite open stretch of beach in the Puerto Viejo area. Soak up the sun at this beautiful stretch and maybe try a surf lesson if the waves look fun.

Puerto Viejo Costa Rica
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Snorkel off the beach!

Day 3 – Explore Cahuita National Park

20 minutes north of Puerto Viejo town, Cahuita National Park invites you to unwind and explore at your own pace. There are two main gateways to access this laid-back paradise. The Kelly Creek Station is the main entry point. You’ll simply jot down your details in a logbook and the entrance fee is a voluntary donation if you wish. Please donate! Your contributions are what keep the park free and well maintained. The second entrance, Puerto Vargas Station, is down the road and there’s a US$10 admission fee. Once inside the main park entrance, you’ll see the bathrooms before continuing on your adventure. Don’t miss our full guide here.

White Face Monkey in Cahuita
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A White Face Monkey in Cahuita Park

And a Sloth!
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And a sloth! 🤙

Day 4 – Punta Uva / Manzanillo

Punta Uva and Manzanillo are the two southernmost beach towns accessible by car or bike. While bikes are a great way to explore the area, you’ll be on the main road so be prepared for some vehicles zooming by. Punta Uva has a few different beach areas, and Play Grande was one of our favorites. It’s a few minutes off the main road with a beautiful empty stretch of idyllic coastline. We visited when the ocean was dead flat but it’s often roaring with larger waves.

Manzanillo is best known for its laid back atmosphere, the Yicel Shipwreck, and the Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge that continues all the way to the Panamanian border. Spend some time exploring the refuge to see monkeys, sloths, birds, and underwater animal life.

The Yicel Shipwreck in Manzanillo
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The Yicel Shipwreck

Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge
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Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge

Day 5 – Free Day to Explore

Today is a free day. Rent some bikes, grab your sand-free beach towel, take a surf lesson, go get lost, smile.

Bike in Puerto Viejo
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Rent a bike and hit the beach!


  • Super SK – A small market located at the entrance to Puerto Viejo Town. It has the essentials, but we mainly stopped here for cervezas.
  • MegaSuper – This is one of the larger supermarkets in town and recommended for a bigger grocery shop.
  • Public Market – This is the local farmers market that is open Saturday from 6am-noon.
  • Super Banana Gourmet Market – We stayed in Playa Negra at an epic Airbnb. This market was a few minutes away and had limited offerings. Only good for snacks and drinks if you’re in Playa Negra.


Ideally, you won’t need any of these, but we’ve listed them here just in case. Depending on the type of trip you’re booking, trip insurance could be a helpful peace of mind. We’ve used Safety Wing Travel Insurance. It’s affordable and covers most activities you’ll encounter on your trip to Costa Rica. Check their coverage here and see if it’s right for your trip.


  • Centro Médico Aruma – A small local medical center nearby. It’s okay for minor injuries but anything major may require transportation to a larger hospital in San Jose.
  • Clínica de Especialidades Médicas San Gabriel – Another small local urgent care center.


  • Caribe Dental – The main dental office in town.


  • Farmacia Caribe – The main pharmacy in town.

Puerto Viejo Tips:

  • If your goal is to see as much wildlife as possible in Cahuita National Park, spend the extra $20-30 for a local guide who can spot much more.
  • August, September, and October typically have more calm ocean conditions. The rest of the year can have bigger surf and the potential for rip currents.
  • Don’t miss our Ultimate Packing List for Costa Rica.

Don’t Forget

You can buy almost anything you need in Manuel Antonio, but the prices of some items may surprise you. Sunscreen can cost upwards of $20 USD for a normal size tube at the local market. Some of our don’t forget items are listed below.

Sunscreen – Reapply all day when you’re outside. The sun is no joke here!
Bug Spray – Mosquitos and other bugs are around all day, especially in the shady areas near still water.
Quick-dry towel – These quick-dry towels are also sand free.
Waterproof hat – I like this floating hat, but any good hat works.
Polarized sunglasses – They don’t have to break the bank. Check out these polarized sunglasses by Blenders.
Waterproof phone case – Great if you’re planning on water activities.

Let’s Go

So that’s our 5-day trip to Puerto Viejo. Remember, this itinerary is just a starting point. Feel free to customize it to suit your preferences and add additional activities or destinations along the way.

Note: Always check travel advisories, local regulations, and current conditions before planning your trip.

Thanks for your support 🤙

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Cody & Anna

Cody and Anna Traxler

We’re Cody and Anna, and we’ve fallen in love with Costa Rica over the past decade. We’re not experts in every part of the country, but our countless adventures have inspired us to create this travel guide. Our goal is to share our experiences and help you jet off on your own unforgettable journey. Enjoy Ultimate Pura Vida and start planning here 🤙

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