Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica is a backpackers haven, a place for bare feet and beach stays, hammocks and hippies. This small town on the caribbean coast of Costa Rica comes with an immediate feeling, a vibe as they say, relaxed and free; a be your self type of spirit.
Although Costa Rica is a popular vacation destination for many, with so many different things to do, due to its high cost and resort style reputation, it is often over-looked by budget friendly travellers and backpackers. While a trip to this beautiful country in Central America has the potential to be very luxurious and a little expensive, this does not mean it has to be this way. Dear backpackers, don’t skip it.
I took the bus from San Jose directly to Puerto Viejo, a small coastal town on the caribbean side of Costa Rica. I had heard conflicting things about this part of the country. Some reported it having a high petty crime rate, others extolled the laid back hammock vibe, yet another described it as being a party capital. This obviously required some personal investigation.
The bus dropped us off on the boulevard downtown. With the ocean and palm trees on one side and a selection of bars, coffee shops, and stores on the other, I was immediately impressed by the development of this less popular Costa Rican destination. In the core of the town there was quite a few American style restaurants, cafes and surfing schools. The streets were busy with shoppers and travellers who were decked out in beach gear just hanging out in one of the many hostels that populates the town of Puerto Viejo
I headed towards the most talked about hostel in the area, Rockin J’s. It was a little out of town, maybe a 10 minute walk…but with my backpack and being slightly lost, I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to make it there or even if it existed…you will feel the same…and let me tell you…it exists…and the walk isn’t so bad.
Rockin J’s is a colourful open air hostel. It has its own bar and restaurant and offers a slew of different sleeping arrangements. Boasting hammock dorms, tents (way too hot though) even the occasional bedroom, this hostel mosaic on the beach was as awesome as I expected. The beach was a 20 second walk away and safely on property. The gardens of the open air hostel were well maintained, the showers were clean (and cold unless you find the only hot shower ;) ) and the lounges and BBQs initiated a great social atmosphere.
This is a great location for night life. Heading into town from Rockin J’s, there were a number of local Soda’s (small local homes who cook one meal and sell it for super cheap), as well as a number of bars on the beach. Almost all of the bars were open patio style, playing loud reggae music, with most having some sort of fire dance show. Walk in, grab a Imperial (the beer of CR), relax or dance on the beach and have a great night.
The beach during the day is a great place to hangout. The water is warm and the waves are reasonably big, making them great for surfing and fun to play in. There are crowds of people on the beach just hanging out who are joined by many vendors selling food, drinks, and crafts throughout the day. The paths through the jungle to the beach are also really enjoyable. This is a city of relaxation, I say that because other than visiting the Jaguar Rescue Centre, relaxing on the beach is what you should expect to do here. Wake up, eat, go to the beach, eat, back to the beach, swim, eat…that is a reasonable Puerto Viejo schedule. Sometimes these relaxing places are just what we need.
Spending a day at the Jaguar Rescue Centre is worthwhile. Take a cab from town and spend a few hours enjoying a tour around the centre, interacting with the monkeys, and observing sloths and anteaters. Experience how this volunteer run facility helps rehabilitate the animals of the Costa Rican jungle. This was my first experience one on one with monkeys and I had a great time. in addition to having fascinating time, I learned much about these unusual creatures.
Puerto Viejo ended up being a pleasant experience for me. I found this less popular and less developed side of Costa Rica to be more than I expected. The people were lovely, the scenery breath taking, the food delicious and the price was right. I never felt uncomfortable while there, even as a solo female traveler. The vibe got me; the town made me think of drum circles and bare feet. It impacted my weird self and I would return in a blink. Not to mention its proximity to Panama’s border….some of us travellers just cant resist hopping over to a new country. Puerto Viejo is a place worth visiting.
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Subhadrika Sen says
Costa Rica looks quite a relaxed and colurful place. I must say I did not except Costa Rica to be so colourful and drenched in the myriad hues of expressions and thoughts. If I can ever make it , I would love to come here.
Kimberly Erin says
Its a great place full of flavour and colour! I am sure if you make it to CR, you will truly enjoy it :)
Ryan | Blogging From Paradise says
We did a house sit in Buena Vista – a 3 hour walk into the jungle from Bribri – so spent plenty of time in Puerto Viejo.
Not our cup of tea – we love the Pacific side of CR – but a neat spot nonetheless. The cost of stuff got me; for a lower end, chill place things a bit too much. But overall I see the appeal and hey, you have more than enough restaurants and places of lodging to choose from plus a beautiful, quiet beach.
Thanks for sharing!
Kimberly Erin says
a 3 hour walk into the jungle for a house sit? WOOOOWWWW What an experience! would love to hear more about that one. Where is your fav location on the pacific side?
Tracie Howe says
This seems like a nice pit stop to recover from more intensive traveling. I could see myself spending a day relaxing here, though I get bored if that’s all there is to do. It’s nice to know about the surfing potential and the animal rescue center. Thanks for sharing!
Kimberly Erin says
aha it is quite the relaxing place but as I said, you can always surf…or spear fish…or if you are interested in animals, the rescue centre takes volunteers :) The monkeys won’t let you get bored.
We did Costa Rica at a canter (so only really hit up 3 or 4 points) due to its high cost.
We’d also planned to enter Panama along the Caribbean coast, however storms and flooding saw us head to the Pacific instead.
Thanks for giving me a teaser of what we missed! :-)
Kimberly Erin says
ahahaha very fair…cant argue with a tropical storm :P how was the pacific? Fav places?
Kari (Happy Coconuts Travel Blog) says
I love this! Puerto Viejo is one of my absolute favorite areas of CR, it’s so different from anywhere else and has such a special place in my heart. My husband and I spent the last 16 months traveling Costa Rica and Puerto Viejo still remains one of the best locations we spent time at and I am dying to go back.
Kimberly Erin says
YESSSS! ahaha finally someone who feels just like me! I found it so different there and open and free than anywhere else in CR that I am dieng to go back…and how great would it be to put in some time volunteering at the Jaguar rescue centre?
Paige Strand says
Wow your photos are epic, also props on the hand stand! :)
Great post! I’ve always wanted to visit Costa Rica and now I want to even more! Thanks for the tips on what to do, I think I’d love it! And great photos! :)
I’ve been lucky enough to spend a little time in Puerto Viejo and you did a really great job in capturing the huge amount of colour that there is there. Also, I have to say it, that sloth could conceivably be the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen.
This post made my day! Your description is so precise that for one moment I could almost feel I was there, bare foot, walking around and swimming into the sea ?
elizabeth @ Compass & Fork says
Is that lost shot a hammock bar? Looks like a relaxing spot.
Great Post, intriegued by the open air hostel! How safe were your belongings. I loved the colourfulness of the photos. It was a great read!
On my list! Love the way you write too so descriptive! Can’t wait to see this
Incredible yoga skills! Love the hammock place!
That sounds exactly like my type of vibe! Hammocks, hippies, barefoot lifestyle… Yes please. <3
Haha.. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought.. does this hostel actually exist? Looks great, need to put it on my list!
If I will do a volunteering gig, I will go for Costa Rica. I hope somewhere closer to Puerto Viejo. Haha. The cool vibe as displayed in boards, hammocks and the whole set up looks like a place that I can stay long.
Costa Rica is a veritable paradise. I do understand that on the whole it is perceived as a more expensive getaway full of exotic resorts. Puerto Viejo promises to be a more cost effective option. The fact that it is relatively lesser known, adds it its exclusivity and allure.
Looks like a really rejuvenating place. I love the hammock bar.
Mini Travellers says
Love all the photos and that photo of the yoga move is amazing! Go you!
Mary - A Mary Road says
This indeed look like a Hippie Heaven :-) I haven’t been in Costa Rica, but hopefully next year! :)
A single long road is Puerto Viejo s downtown — a vibrant low-rise strip following the coast and lined with brightly painted open-air bars, seafood shacks, ice cream stands and surf shops, all awash in a relaxed hippie haven vibe.