Puerto Viejo – The Spicier Side of Costa Rica

Puerto Viejo – The Spicier Side of Costa Rica

I get a particular pleasure when the number of pillows that I have rested my head on is the same as the number of days in a week. With that pleasure comes a certain level of exhaustion that is contingent with the type of pillow I have been resting on. If the pillow is not actually a pillow, but a lump of dirty clothes, then I’m probably very fatigued because I’ve either been camping, or staying at a dirty hostel where cleanliness is not a priority and my sleep is inhibited by disturbing stains and bed bugs. Because I am cheap, this is usually the case.

Also, the stimulating novelty of seeing different places and people and things fades after some time. Therefor, my mental health is partially dependent on the handful of predictable hippie towns, where one can find yoga workshops and kombucha. Puerto Viejo is just that, although it also offers some of the best nightlife on the Caribbean coast… in case you want a little yin for your yang.

The town itself only spans a few blocks, but the roads going north and south are flat, shady, and parallel the coastline. Rent a bicycle from a hostel and ride south to watch the surf break at Playa Cocles, or head a bit further to Sloth Point by Punta Uva for crystalline, swimmable water and, as the name suggests, some sloth watching for a glimpse into the lives of the ideal reincarnation.

The wildlife on the Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast still burgeons, thanks to the area’s lack of development until the 1980’s, when electricity was introduced. However, the road to nearby Limon from the Central Valley now carries an imposing number of fruit shipping containers, and the busses from Limon ferry an increasing number of US and European tourists, who appear to make up half of Puerto Viejo’s population.

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The tourism boom is no surprise to anyone that’s visited this uniquely bilingual, Jamaican- vibey place. The Bribri and Cabecar Indians were the only humans along the coast until the 1800’s, when English speaking Afro-Carribean people settled and started planting cash crops, such as Cocoa. Yes, coconut rice and beans and jerk chicken are a fantastic change for anybody that has grown tired of the ubiquitous Gallo Pinto.

Today, you can have a palatable experience sampling chocolate on a chocolate tour. Many Tico farms are part of the movement to produce high quality rather than high quantity chocolate, allowing fairer pay to workers.

During a swell, the town is flooded with surfers hoping to take on Costa Rica’s most powerful wave, Salsa Brava. The name comes from the amount of “sauce” the wave generates. As with the cuisine, Costa Rica’s waves are very mild until you hit the Limon area.

Puerto Viejo will be enjoyable for both those who want to get their party on, and for those who want to get their Zen on (just bring earplugs).

Where To Stay

Cabinas Lika: $25/room, but you can haggle it down to $10/person. Advertised as “Clean and cheap,” they lived up to the claim. Just be careful with the electric stove in the kitchen, it might shock you. In one of the quietest parts of town.
Pagalu Hostel: $12/dorm, $28/private room. Most everyone’s top pick for a good reason. Bed sheets changed daily and a great atmosphere. They don’t take reservations, so stop by at 9 to see if anything is available and get priority.

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Veronica’s Place: $10/ night for dorms. Very clean and Veronica is wonderful.
Rocking J’s: $6 to camp, $7 for hammock, $10/bed. But don’t stay here if sleep is a priority. http://www.rockingjs.com/
Lion Fish Hostel: $7/cot, $10/bed. Pretty filthy, I’d take the cot to avoid contact with the creatures that live in the mattresses.

Where to Eat

Everything in Puerto Viejo (let alone Costa Rica) is expensive, even the grocery stores, so you might as well splurge on a few of the many really good cafe’s and restaurants.
Cafe Rico: Owned for 15 years by an English man, it has basic breakfast items but a cool, shady atmosphere that makes a great escape from the heat. The walls are lined with books, trade 2 for 1.
Pan Pay: Relatively affordable, it’s a popular breakfast place near the beach. The inexpensive pastries are the best calorie/dollar value.
Bread and Chocolate: Expensive, but practically everything here is homemade, from the bread to the jam. Great French press coffee.
Soda Guetto Girl: The Girl herself does almost all the Carribean style cooking, and does it well. She makes the best rice and bean in the country. Great deals for vegetarians and meat lovers.

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