My first couple of nights in Costa Rica were a total fiasco. My friend and I had been planning this trip since March and, as the date drew closer, we were increasingly excited to arrive in what every site on the internet promised would be heaven on Earth.
We arrived in San José and made our way to Stray Cat Hostel —which was, by the way, pretty and comfy and had the kindest staff—. We stayed there two nights and I think it’s accurate to say we spent most of the time at the hostel since there really isn’t much to see or do in San José and it’s dangerous to wander about after dark. Usually, when a trip starts on the wrong foot it means it can only get better, and this is exactly what happened here.
On our second morning in Costa Rica, we took an early bus from San José to Puerto Viejo, a beach town located in the southeast, close to the border with Panamá, in the province of Talamanca. We booked two beds at Bikini Hostel and decided to stay in Puerto Viejo while exploring this region. Puerto Viejo is a wonderful town, busy and vibrant day and night, perfect for partying and meeting people. Although our hostel was not the cleanest and there was no AC, we met interesting people we later travelled with and got some very useful tips and recommendations from the staff. The town itself honours the “pura vida” motto with its chill/reggae atmosphere.
The easiest way to move around Puerto Viejo is by bike. There are a lot of places that will rent a bicycle for around $5 US a day, and that’s all you need to explore the beaches in Talamanca. Although Puerto Viejo doesn’t have the most beautiful beaches, it is the perfect place to stay at night, for there are plenty of restaurants, bars, handicrafts and an interesting array of internationals. Puerto Viejo became our base for four nights and we had the fortune to meet a wonderful set of people at our hostel with whom we usually dined and shared our adventures.
Punta Manzanillo is one of the most beautiful places we visited in Costa Rica. It took us one hour and a half to cycle from Puerto Viejo to here, and the ride was so nice! I recommend you go in the morning since the sun can be a bit too strong in the afternoon. Since there’s not a path exclusively reserved for bicycles, you must be careful with the cars, but the road is paved decently and there’s little traffic; you’ll find many other cyclists.
The National Reserve Gandoca-Manzanillo is where you should go. Entrance is free—you’ll be asked to give a voluntary donation— and you can just leave your bike outside. The reserve is not very big but you’ll find good hiking trails and wonderful beach spots. You’ll probably get a glimpse at some monkeys, too; we had the fortune to see some howling monkeys and many different kinds of lizards.
Punta Uva is closer to Puerto Viejo than Manzanillo, about 45 minutes by bike. Although the beach here is beautiful, too, it’s a bit busier than Manzanillo. There is a river in Punta Uva, too, and you can hire a kayak and go kayaking both in the river and the sea, where you’ll see many cave-like rock formations.
Playa Cocles is pretty close to Puerto Viejo, only 20 minutes away by bike, and it’s a wonderful place to chill. Cocles also has a surfer atmosphere about it, there are surfboards everywhere, coconut water stands and many wooden signs with funny inscriptions.
The South Caribbean was one of my favourite regions of Costa Rica and I only wish we had spent more time there —we spent four days out of fifteen there—. Many people told us about seeing sloths in this region, but unfortunately, we didn’t see any. The good vibes and beautiful beach spots made up for that though. Have you been to the Talamanca region in Costa Rica?