If you love sloths, beaches and biking, you are going to want to hear about our weekend in Puerto Viejo.
Rob and I had been wanting to make it to Puerto Viejo since we landed in Costa Rica. Neither of us had ever been to the Caribbean side of the country and had only heard incredible things. People always told us that it doesn’t feel like the rest of Costa Rica. And now that I’ve been, I tend to agree.
Because it’s about a 5-hour drive to Puerto Viejo from San Jose, both Rob and I took a day off of work, so we could have a long weekend to explore more of Caribbean Costa Rica. We left early Saturday morning and made it to the coast before noon.
We had grand plans to go to the Farmers Market and have lunch and hit the beach. But then, we (I) spotted the Sloth Sanctuary about 45 minutes before Puerto Viejo and had to stop.
We did the 2-hour tour where you ride in a rowboat through canals to find sloths in the wild. We found a few sloths high up in the trees, as well as a little croc (yikes!) swimming around in the canal. We also saw monkeys doing monkey things. After the canal tour, we went into the education centre where there were several sloths (two-toed and three-toed). These sloths are unable to be rehabilitated to be released into the wild. Sad. We learned so much: the difference between two-toed and three-toed sloths; what causes sloths to be harmed; and how the sanctuary is helping the conservation and rehabilitation of sloths.
Post-sloth sanctuary, we drove into Puerto Viejo and had lunch at a vegan/vegetarian restaurant that looked out at the ocean. At this point, I already knew I loved this place. Puerto Viejo had already won over my veggie-loving heart.
After lunch, we headed to our hotel. The hotel was along one of the worst roads I’ve ever driven on. I definitely thought I was going to destroy the bottom of our car. I didn’t, thank goodness.
It was hot and there was a pool….so we swam enough to work up our appetite again. I had read that Puerto Viejo had one of the best restaurants in all of Costa Rica, so of course, I needed to check this out. Now, understand that Costa Rica is not a food mecca. It isn’t typically known for exquisite cuisine, BUT this place was GOOD.
It was an Italian restaurant with the owner/chef straight from Italy. The owner came over to our table to greet us. He recommended some of his specials and suggested the best options for us vegetarians. It. was. so. much. food. We were full after the appetizer. But it was all so good. We ended up taking most of our pizza home and later, enjoyed some late-night pizza in our adorable suite.
We woke up around 4am to a family of bats having a rager of a party outside our window…and that continued well into the rest of the morning. So, it wasn’t the most restful night. However, we were ready for a day of lounging on some beaches.
Puerto Viejo is a little town, but the larger area is a collection of beaches and smaller communities surrounding each beach. We stayed outside of the town near Playa Cocles. That’s the surfing beach. And the first beach we hit up on our beach day. The surf conditions were…well, non-existent. The water was as calm as an ocean could be. So, we walked the beach for a while and decided we would try Playa Uva, the snorkelling beach. But we didn’t have snorkel gear. So first, we had to go to nearly every store that exists in the region to find snorkel equipment.
In the process of trying to find snorkel gear, we stumbled upon ‘Bread and Chocolate’, a little cafe that serves, you guessed it, bread and chocolate (and a whole lot more). I had been craving chocolate cake for several weeks. It just seemed that it was everywhere I turned, so for second breakfast, we ate cake (and iced coffee).
We made it to Playa Uva. We quickly discovered that it was a local favourite and the busiest of all the beaches we went to. I was pumped to get my snorkel on… until I realized the goggles were much too small for my head. On top of that, we didn’t seem much because visibility was pretty poor and we weren’t in the optimal snorkelling area. We decided to go to one more beach, Playa Chaquita, the best swimming beach.
Google Maps has let us down many times in Costa Rica. Why do we continue to use it instead of Waze, I’m not sure. Habit, I guess? But finding Playa Chaquita was a task. We drove back and forth, looking for signs, turning down dead-end roads. What the heck were we missing? Just as we gave up, I quickly turned down a random side road that led us directly to the beach. We found it! And it was my favourite beach by far. There was even some coral to snorkel around with my ‘too small for my head’ snorkel gear. We even were able to see some colourful fish swimming with us.
Food and Bevies
After beaching all afternoon, we headed back to the hotel to get changed and prepare for the second half of our day. We decided to ditch the car for the night and walk around town. Our first stop was for some drinks and lunch at a little surf beach bar, Tasty Waves. We had already passed many times and had been on my radar. The drinks were excellent and the fiesta nachos were even better. Literally, I could eat those all day, every day.
Once we were refuelled and refreshed, we followed a path in the jungle beside the ocean. At the end of the trail was another little bar, Salsa Brava Bar, that was hosting a reggae night with live music. So, the Reggae singer serenaded us while we sipped some margs while watching the sunset. One of my favourite sunsets yet!
We had our heart set on going to the local brewery, so we walked through town to get to Playa Negra Brewing. As we were walking up, we heard more live music. Seems to be the scene in Puerto Viejo. So, we sat down, ordered two flights of beer and a pizza, and enjoyed more live music. The beer was excellent, the music was good vibes, the pizza never came… They forgot, so we went looking for another dinner spot.
We ended up going to a popular Caribbean restaurant, Lidia’s Place, to try the infamous rice and beans. It did not disappoint. Full and satisfied, we started walking in the direction of our hotel. We hit up another recommended beach bar for a round of mojitos before we called it a night.
The next morning, our last day in Puerto Viejo, we woke up to rain. We had intended to try surfing again but changed our plans for a visit to the Jaguar Rescue Centre.
But the time we got up and ready to leave the hotel, the rain had stopped. We had some time to kill after getting out tickets, so we found another chocolate and coffee cafe nearby to enjoy.
Jaguar Rescue Centre
The Jaguar Rescue Centre has by far been my favourite animal sanctuary that we’ve visited in Costa Rica (and we’ve been to a few). The tour takes you throughout their property where they have reptiles, birds, monkeys, sloths, and one wild cat. I thought I was a sloth expert after the sloth sanctuary, however, I still learned a ton. We also got to see real baby sloths up close and personal.
Hearing the stories of how the animals got there and why they are still there is a bit heartbreaking. However, it seems like the place is able to give the animals plenty of love and care. They also shared their success stories in releasing animals back into the wild. If it wasn’t five hours away from San Jose, I would be there every day loving all the creatures.
After learning about sad animals, we grabbed some lunch on the beach at Puerto Pirata. Another iced coffee and some veggie tacos to fuel me for the long ride home. There’s nothing quite like having a good meal and a cold beverage on the beach.
Although we had a long weekend, it felt like a short stay in Puerto Viejo. There were so many more places we wanted to go and things we wanted to try and beaches to explore. So, I guess that just means we’ll have to make it back there again sometime soon.