Caribbean Costa Rica, Away From the Crowds
Yes. There’s much said about Costa Rica. Beautiful, yet overpriced and Americanized. I find this merely partly to be true. I have been living on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica for several months, together with my 3 daughters. I have experienced first hand that there’s absolutely more to Costa Rica than the world wants you to believe. Now, let me guide you to a less expensive and more authentic Cost Rican jungle experience.
Off the beaten path
We chose Manzanillo as our home base, being literally the end of the road. Or the end of the world, depending on which way the wind blows. You can’t go past Manzanillo, or you’d get beautifully lost in the forest. Ending up somewhere in Panama.
Manzanillo has long been an off the beaten path destination as there was no paved road connecting this small community with the outside world. Today this has slightly changed, however this rural little fisherman’s village still managed to keep an authentic and laid-back vibe. Entering upon the village you’ll feel like you just stepped into a classic adventure movie. You’ll be playing the head part, like a pirate discovering an out of this world piece of paradise. There’s nothing more than a few local eateries (Cool & Calm Café is a sea-food must) and the well known Maxi’s Bar. The last blasting some serious reggae & calypso tunes to spice up your Caribbean experience. Located right in the rainforest, right along the most pristine coconut-palm lined beaches, there’s nowhere else you need to be than here. The water is crystal blue, and is one of the most safest swimming and snorkeling areas of the whole Caribbean coast. The people are friendly and welcoming. Approach them with an open heart and you’ll leave with a richly extended family.
You don’t have to pay expensive park admission fees to see wildlife. Walking around town, or better yet biking the road from Manzanillo to Puerto Viejo, you’ll easily spot the following wildlife.
- Howler monkeys. They’ll be swinging above your head, high up in the trees. These little fellows are small but the sound they produce travels miles! If you see branches moving there’s likely a group of monkeys to be found.
- Sloths. Biking from Manzanillo to Puerto Viejo (an hour of intensive biking in heat and humidity) we’ve always been able to spot a sloth. They are most likely to be found high upon the trees, in the so called Bush Papayas, tall trees with a whitish stem.
- Blue Morpho Butterflies. This masterpiece of Mother Earth you can’t miss. It will flutter & dance right along and besides you.
- River turtles. Coming from Manzanillo going to Puerto Viejo, through Punta Uva, you’ll have to cross a little bridge. Look down and you’ll find small river turtles there, sunbathing on rocks and pieces of wood.
- Toucans. Toucans are easily spotted everywhere. In Manzanillo, and biking the road to Puerto Viejo. Either the big and brightly colored, or the smaller so called Toucanitos which are less distinct and smaller.
- Frogs. Raccoons. Spiders. Snakes. Hummingbirds. All to be spotted in their natural habitat if you take the time to unwind and observe.
You’ve traveled miles and miles to get to the Caribe Sur, as the locals lovingly call the Caribbean area of Costa Rica. Now you can’t leave without exploring the vibrant community of Puerto Viejo. No matter what day you come around, it always has this laidback vibe to it. There seems to be a right time and moment for everything. And everything can be done, tomorrow. You’ll see people cruising the streets. Someone sitting by the ocean, staring, contemplating daily life. People fishing, laughing, playing or just sleeping on a bench.
The beach in Puerto Viejo is one of our favorite places to be. The water crystal clear, the sand soft and golden. There are pieces of driftwood everywhere which make perfect seats for thinking happy thoughts. Make sure you pick the stretch across from Puerto Pirata, a small eatery with a cool vibe & delicious organic vegan food.
Diving & snorkeling is best done with Reefrunners. The staff is bilingual and they’re absolutely the kind of people you would want to hang out with. They are located next to Puerto Pirata and offer tours to Punta Uva where the reef is breathtaking. If you’re lucky you’ll encounter sea turtles and/or dolphins too. When there’s no tour the boat is used by all the local children playing & jumping in the water.
For a local breakfast go to Pan Pay bakery (just around the corner from Reefrunners) where all the locals get their bread & sandwiches. Although it doesn’t score high on ambience it is inexpensive and has a sea-view. For lunch pass by ‘Como en mi casa’, owned by an Italian couple who definitely know how to manifest passion on a plate. All fresh, made with love & served with a smile. It’s not the most inexpensive option, but absolutely worth the indulgence!
A night out in town most likely consists of having a few drinks at hip and happening Koki Beach and/or enjoy a jam session at Hot Rocks. Both no all-nighters but great alternatives to hitting the sack at 9pm.
Surfing the warm waters of the Caribbean is a must. Whether you are a novice in surfing or an experienced surfer, The Caribe Sur has it all. Need a lesson? Hershel is your best pick! He’s one of the few certified instructors in this area, and an absolute blast to be with. He makes you stand up on your first lesson, without a doubt. You can easily locate him in Puerto Viejo, surfing next to the old barge or at his surfshop. His personality of much better originality then the name of his surfshop ‘Caribbean Surf School & Shop’.
A conscious community
Although nature is stunningly beautiful here, it’s the people that make the place. There’s a new generation of inspiring human beings gently washing over. A conscious generation who spreads love & facilitates the community with exceptional (spiritual) growth. If you get the chance be part of this movement!
- Olas para todos. Manifested by a sparkly young woman named Nathalie Vigini who loves to surf and make a difference. She teaches (local) kids to surf ànd respect our beautiful planet. You’ll find her at Playa Cocles, radiating positive vibes. Once every month she does a free surf class & beach clean up. She also has multiple (fun) educational projects you can be part of! Contact Nathalie here.
- Circo del Caribe. This gentle soul called Maximus Z. Barnaby, has made a significant difference in the town of Puerto Viejo. He attented the best circus centre in the US (connected to world famous Cirque du Soleil), and now shares his unique skills with the locals. He lives passionately, and his drive to create and inspire is heartwarming. If you possess any artistic skill like slack-lining, acrobatics, clowning etc, make sure you pass by to share the good. Kids (local and foreign) are welcome to join his dynamic and mind-expanding classes. My daughter did, and she still refers to it as one of her best experiences on the road. Classes are given almost daily. For up-to-date (contact) details check their Facebook page.
Where to stay
There are several inexpensive and conveniently located places to stay. Rocking J’s a far out backpackers favorite, located right at the beach and within walking distance of Puerto Viejo. If you fancy a good nights sleep, this is not the place to be. If you’re looking for a party without end, go for it!
For a more rural experience Manzanillo has a recently opened hostal, right next to the bus stop. Right at the beach, but rather close to Maxi’s. Bring some earplugs for the weekend. In need for some serious jungle fun? El Arbol Jungle Villa in Manzanillo has beautiful accommodations right in the rainforest. You’ll hear nothing but jungle sounds.
- Jaguar Rescue Centre in Playa Chiquita
- BriBri Waterfalls in BriBri
- Gandoca Manzanillo National Park
- Cahuita (beach, town & hike)
Now wander off, get beautifully lost, emerge yourself in nature. Play, laugh and let the people of Costa Rica warm your heart!