Cultural & Adventure Tours -- The Asociación Talamanqueña de Ecoturismo y Conservación ★★ (ATEC; Talamancan Association of Ecotourism and Conservation; (tel) 2750-0398; www.ateccr.org), across the street from the Soda Tamara, is a local organization concerned with preserving the environment and cultural heritage of this area and promoting ecologically sound development. (If you plan to stay in Puerto Viejo for an extended period of time and would like to contribute to the community, ask about volunteering.) In addition to functioning as the local information center, Internet cafe, and traveler’s hub, ATEC runs a little shop that sells T-shirts, maps, posters, and books.
ATEC also offers quite a few tours, including half-day walks that focus on nature and either the local Afro-Caribbean culture or the indigenous Bribri culture. These walks pass through farms and forests, and along the way you’ll learn about local history, customs, medicinal plants, and Indian mythology, and have an opportunity to see sloths, monkeys, iguanas, keel-billed toucans, and other wildlife. A range of different walks lead through the nearby Bribri Indians’ Kéköldi Reserve, as well as more strenuous hikes through the primary rainforest. Bird walks and night walks will help you spot more of the area wildlife; there are even overnight treks. The local guides have a wealth of information and make a hike through the forest a truly educational experience. ATEC can arrange snorkeling trips to the nearby coral reefs, as well as snorkeling and fishing trips in dugout canoes, and everything from surf lessons to dance classes. ATEC can also help you arrange overnight and multiday camping trips into the Talamanca Mountains and through neighboring indigenous reserves, as well as trips to Tortuguero and even a 7- to 10-day transcontinental trek to the Pacific coast. Half-day tours (and night walks) are $25 to $60, and full-day tours run between $75 and $120. Some tours require minimum groups of 5 or 10 people and several days’ advance notice. The ATEC office is open daily from 8am to 9pm.
Local tour operators Exploradores Outdoors ★★ ((tel) 2750-2020; www.exploradoresoutdoors.com) and Terraventuras ★ ((tel) 2750-0750; www.terraventuras.com) both offer a host of half- and full-day adventure tours into the jungle or sea for between $35 and $300 per person. One especially popular tour is Terraventuras’ zip-line canopy tour, which features 22 treetop platforms, a large harnessed swing, and a rappel.
Scuba Diving -- Scuba divers can check in with Reef Runners Dive Shop ((tel) 2750-0480; www.reefrunnerdivers.com). These folks frequent a variety of dive sites between Punta Uva and Manzanillo, and if you’re lucky the seas will be calm and visibility good—although throughout most of the year, it can be a bit rough and murky here. Reef Runners has an office in downtown Puerto Viejo. Rates run between $80 and $110 for a two-tank boat dive.
A Little Mind & Body Revitalization -- If you’re looking for some day-spa pampering, check out Indulgence Spa ★★ ((tel) 2750-0536; http://www.indulgencespa-salon.com). Located at La Costa de Papito, these folks have a wide range of massage and treatment options at reasonable rates. They make many of their own oils, masks, wraps, and exfoliants. They also have an in-house salon.
Bliss Massage Center ★ ((tel) 2756-8224) offers up a similar menu of treatment options in the mini-mall in the center of downtown.
Better suited to a longer stay or organized retreat, Samasati ((tel) 800/563-9643 in the U.S., or 2224-1870 in Costa Rica; www.samasati.com) is a lovely jungle yoga retreat and spa, with spectacular hillside views of the Caribbean Sea and surrounding forests. Rates run between $115 and $215 per person per day, depending on occupancy and room type, and include three vegetarian meals per day and taxes. A wide range of tour, massage, and yoga packages are available. If you’re staying elsewhere in Puerto Viejo or Cahuita, you can come up for yoga classes ($15), meditation ($5), or private massages ($110–$200) with advance notice. Samasati is located a couple of kilometers before Puerto Viejo (near the turnoff for Bribri) and roughly 1.6km (1 mile) up into the jungle.
Sunning & Surfing -- Surfing has historically been the main draw here, but increasing numbers of folks are coming for the miles of beautiful and uncrowded beaches ★★, acres of lush rainforests, and laid-back atmosphere. If you aren’t a surfer, the same activities that prevail in any quiet beach town are the norm here—sunbathing, going for a walk on the beach, reading a book, or taking a nap. If you have more energy, choose from a host of tours and hiking options, or you can rent a bicycle or a horse. For swimming and sunbathing, locals like to hang out on the small patches of sand in front of the Lazy Mon @ Stanford’s and Johnny’s Place. Small, protected tide pools are in front of each of these bars for cooling off. The Lazy Mon has several hammocks and you’re likely to stumble upon a pickup beach volleyball match or soccer game here.
If you want a more open patch of sand and sea, head north out to Playa Negra, along the road into town, or, better yet, to the beaches south of town around Punta Uva and all the way down to Manzanillo, where the coral reefs keep the surf much more manageable.
Just offshore from the tiny village park is a shallow reef where powerful storm-generated waves sometimes reach 6m (20 ft.). Salsa Brava ★★★, as it’s known, is the prime surf break on the Caribbean coast. Even when the waves are small, this spot is recommended only for very experienced surfers because of the danger of the reef. Other popular beach breaks are south of town on Playa Cocles.
Several operators and makeshift roadside stands offer bicycles, scooters, boogie boards, surfboards, and snorkel gear for rent. Shop around to compare prices and the quality of the equipment before settling on any one.
Another Way to Get Wet & Wild -- Exploradores Outdoors ★★ (www.exploradoresoutdoors.com; (tel) 646/205-0828 in the U.S., 2222-6262 in San José, or 2750-2020 in Puerto Viejo) runs daily white-water rafting trips on the Pacuare and Reventazón rivers. The full-day trip, including transportation, breakfast, and lunch, is $99. If you want to combine white-water rafting with your transportation to or from the Caribbean coast, they can pick you up at your hotel in San José or La Fortuna with all your luggage, take you for a day of white-water rafting, and drop you off at day’s end at your hotel anywhere on the Caribbean coast from Cahuita to Manzanillo. You can choose to use the option in the other direction, getting dropped off at the hotel of your choosing either in San José or the La Fortuna/Arenal Volcano area. These folks also offer a combination kayaking and hiking tour to Punta Uva, as well as overnight tours to Tortuguero.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.