Puerto Viejo, Up in Smoke – Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

Puerto Viejo, Up in Smoke

Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

As I stepped off the bus in Puerto Viejo, I began to peruse a map of the town that was displayed on the sign in order to orient myself to the area. A voice called from behind, “Oye mon, where ya stayin�”. I turned to see a lanky looking rasta in a green tank top, carpenter shorts and dreads down to his wait. “Heading to Rocking J’s,” I replied. He eyed me for a few seconds before taking a long deliberate puff from a joint the size of a candle. After he cleared the smoke from his lungs, he interjected with a follow-up question, “So where ya stayin�” With an incredulous look I replied, “Still…Rocking J’s.” This was my first impression of Puerto Viejo and it wasn’t far off the mark. The town itself is a hodge-podge of rastafarians, tourists, expatriates, and even a few indigenous Bribi locals. Its well rounded diversity is further complimented by the feeling of a true Caribbean style setting.

Puerto Viejo, more technically known as Puerto Viejo de Talamanca so as not to be mistaken for Puerto Viejo de Sarapaqui (I know….confusing), is located in the region of Limon in the southwestern corner of Costa Rica. But you already know that from looking at any guidebook. However, something the guidebooks don’t completely convey is the incredible versatility that the area is capable of. With that I’m speaking of the stretch from the town of Puerto Viejo to its sleepy neighbor to the south, Manzanillo. Whether you’re looking to party all night, catch some waves, lay out on the beach, explore some of nature’s tropical playground, or just sit in a hammock and watch life pass by, you can find it all right here. I’ll try to be as specific as possible, but I’m having trouble remembering some names. And I didn’t even smoke anything while I was there. Que lastima!

Accomodations & Meals
First one needs to find a place to stay. If you’re a budget traveler like me, I recommend Rocking J’s.It’s cheap, clean, and they have what every backpacker needs….hammocks, hammocks and more hammocks. I also like the fact that it’s a bit out of town. If you’re looking for a more intimate setting or something less social, lots of places have cabinas/bungalows such as La Costa de Papito. It is reasonably priced right in front of Playa Cocles. Lo recomiendo! Definitely make reservations or check on availability before you step off the bus, especially if it’s a weekend. Run a Google search on hotels in Puerto Viejo and you’ll have plenty of options. It’s not imperative to make reservations. You don’t want to waste a lot of time walking around in that brutal sun with your bags looking for a bed.

There are many good little eating places in and around Puerto Viejo that it seems somewhat frivolous to mention one or another. Then again, that’s why I’m writing this. A great little soda south on the road heading out of town is Be Happy – cheap, simple, and tasty. You can eat a meal while catching a movie at Hot Rocks Cafe located in town. They show two movies a night so if you’re not in a hurry for anything, which most of us aren’t, it’s a g ood place to chill out and grab a bite. There’s a breakfast place but I’ve forgotten its name. If you’re walking north from Rocking J’s, it’s about 200 to 300 meters on your left. It’s a quaint open area that’s family run. Try to find it because they have the best gallo pinto….EVER!Te lo juro.

What to do
Nightlife is centered around Johnny’s Place or Bar Restaurant Stanford.They’ll be playing a mix reggae, rock, salsa, and reggeaton depending on what night it is. Bambu was a really cool spot but it burned down late last year….shady stuff about that, oh well. I imagine some business will open something up soon at that location since it seemed to be a prime spot.

- The beaches that are carved out from Puerto Viejo to Manzanillo are spectacular. If you like to surf you’ll without a doubt want to check out Salsa Bravo. Playa Cocles is the first beach south of town and is great for relaxing under the sun. But what if you want to get in the water? Sometimes the waves are so forceful that you can’t even get in the water to just peacefully float around. Cruise down to Punta Uva about 7km south of Puerto Viejo. You’ll want to take a bike if you don’t want to hassle with the infrequent bus schedule. The beach slopes down on the western side of the point giving the water a much more tranquilo atmosphere. Even further south the beaches around Manzanillo offer a bit more seclusion for anyone trying to get as far removed from civilization as possible.

- I highly recommend renting a bike while you’re in there. You can probably rent one from wherever you’re staying but if not there’s probably a place real close by. It’s a good way to get around, especially if you don’t feel like walking much. Besides, how often can you relive your childhood by riding these late 70’s style bikes. Above all else though, you should get one just to take the cruise from Puerto Viejo to Manzanillo. The ride is serene and non-strenuous as the road takes you right through a tropical sanctuary with towering trees on both sides. As you come into Manzanillo you’ll find an open bar/restaurant, I forget the name but you can’t miss it. Take a load off with a bucket of beers for 3.000 colones…the best deal you’ll find.

- Take a walk on the trail that runs from the beach near Salsa Bravo all the way to Playa Cocles. It’s a popular trail that takes you behind several hotel properties and is a fabulous alternative to the road. You may see or hear a coconut come crashing down to the ground so be careful. Makes you wonder how many people actually get hit. If you’re taking the trail north from Playa Cocles you may walk a few hundred yards before another trail faintly diverges to the right. For reference, I think there’s a dilapidated shack that’s exposed near this trail. Anyways, you’ll follow the trail for no more than a hundred yards, climbing slightly up some rocks until you come to this overlook that’s absolutely amazing. You can see all the way along Playa Cocles to the south and get a good look at the little rock formation island that stands in front of it. The rocky ledge drops off about 35 feet to the water and if the waves are rolling in big they’ll crash up against the side and shoot water all the way to the top. Hay que verlo!

- But what if I don’t want to do anything, just sit in a hammock and get stoned all day? Well, you can do that too if you want. I know a lot of travelers head to Puerto Viejo for its reputation of easily being able to pick up some bud. I won’t dispute this claim, it’s very true. You can hardly walk down the street without someone yelling at you if you want some dope…discreetness is not a common practice. Word to the wise though, if you do make the decision to purchase some product don’t be a jackass and use your head. Don’t give someone your money under the pretense that they’ll come back with your drugs and never, ever follow someone to a house, apartment, or wherever because that’s where the stuff is. You’re just looking for trouble if you do cause that’s how people get jumped. Also, refrain from being too care free as to where you smoke in public. The Fuerza Publica is getting pressure to crack down on drug abuse in tourist areas and they won’t tolerate it.

So to sum it all up. Whether you’re looking to experience the wild nightlife of Costa Rica, challenge the massive waves of Salsa Brava, catch a little hammock zen, or just get away from the crowds to enjoy the tropical landscape, the extreme diverseness of Puerto Viejo and the southern stretch to Manzanillo can accommodate any travelers deepest desires.

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