Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica
When I went: January 2014
My host brother told me at the beginning of last semester that Puerto Viejo was the place to go, and Rocking J’s was the place to stay while there. I never made it during the semester, although a group of exchange students went; instead I went with my best friend Mary near the beginning of my month of backpacking. (Disclaimer: I have this ranked as my favorite place in Costa Rica, but I’m not sure how much of the awesome is the place and how much is the company!)
Puerto Viejo is a little tourist town on the southern Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. Actually, the town’s not much–it’s a strip of hostels and tourist craft booths. The beach is what makes it so beautiful. I also love the open, social, and relaxed feel. I met a lot of interesting people in Puerto Viejo. I would also say that Puerto Viejo is one of the more budget-friendly places in Costa Rica since the beach is (obviously) free and there’s no reason for expensive tours.
What I Did
I don’t like the beach. I mean, I don’t dislike the beach, but I prefer going places where I can climb and hike and look at pretty trees. Laying out and tanning is not my thing.
I usually don’t much like walking on the beach since the scenery never really changes and it’s just a tease to only have my feet in the water. That being said, I love walking on the beach in Puerto Viejo. The hostel we stayed at is at a point of the beach that is beautiful, but not swimmable. We walked both ways down the beach: maybe a kilometer to the left to the actual town of Puerto Viejo and a couple of kilometers to the right. I’ve heard you can walk a lot further in either direction, but we turned back because we forgot sunscreen and we are both very white.
The forest comes up to the beach and there are trees that grow horizontally over the sand. There are rocks and coral that turn subtle colors under the water and crabs that scurry into their holes. Waves slide over the shore or crash into bluffs, and the sand changes from sand-colored to dark gray, depending on where you are on the beach.
Mary and I rented bikes ($5 for the day) and rode a few kilometers south to Punta Uva and Playa Manzanillo, two more swimmable beaches. We stopped by a fruit stand on the way and bought a fresh pineapple, which the guy sliced for us. So there I was, eating pineapple and pedaling with my best friend down a road bordered by tropical forest with the Caribbean sea peeking through the trees.
How I Got There
Compared to the trip to Bocas del Toro, this was a breeze. There’s a bus that leaves from the Terminal de San Carlos in San José at 6am, 10am, 2pm, and 4pm, as far as I know. It goes straight through Cahuita and Puerto Viejo to Playa Manzanillo stopping in the city of Limón for a 15 minute bathroom break on the way. It cost around $9-10 and was about 4.5 hours.
I think you can also catch a bus from the Terminal del Caribe Sur, but you may have to transfer buses in Limón. Also, be sure you get the bus to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca rather than Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí, since apparently they’re different places. I personally think it’s simpler to catch the one in the San Carlos terminal.
Where I Stayed
This is one of the most unique hostels I’ve stayed in. It’s a huge open area with guest-made mosaic art covering the floors and walls. It’s pretty common to rent a tent or hammock, which come with a locker and lock, but they also have dorms and private rooms of varying degrees of comfort.
Mary and I stayed in the Observatory, which is up a ladder and through a trapdoor to a little open-air room with a mattress and hammock. It was a really cool experience with just enough privacy while still being part of the larger community, and I would recommend it if you’re traveling with one other person. Reserve it, though, since it tends to be pretty popular!
In general, Rocking J’s is a social place. It was super noisy, especially the night we got there, but like I’ve said before, I sleep like a rock, so this didn’t bother me. A Ukrainian couple that rode the same bus with us actually spent a night at another hostel to get some sleep, and then came back to Rocking J’s for the atmosphere. There’s so many opportunities to meet new people and branch out. This is where I met some of the most interesting people on my trip. Also, it’s right on the beach, although I recommend not going out to the beach after dark, since it can get a bit dangerous.
Long story short, Rocking J’s is known for its character and not necessarily for its comfort. I loved it, but some people might prefer one of the other billion hostels in Pueto Viejo.
Puerto Viejo is a beautiful and laid-back place that I would enjoy no matter who I was with. I could spend a solitary weekend writing, or go with a huge group and have completely different, but wonderful, experiences. The new exchange students and I are actually planning a mass trip down there, and I can’t imagine it would be anything like my previous time there!