Puerto Viejo Costa Rica

By Eliot Greenspan

Puerto Viejo is the hottest spot on Costa Rica's Caribbean coast. And I'm not just talking about the often stifling heat. Surfers, backpackers, and Costa Rican cognoscenti treasure Puerto Viejo and its surrounding beaches, rivers, and rainforests. Still, very few visitors venture to the country's remote southern Caribbean coast, which is a shame. A tiny town fronting a small protected harbor, Puerto Viejo offers up excellent restaurants, rocking bars, and wealth of tour and adventure opportunities.

From the shore right in town you can watch surfers tackle Salsa Brava, a steep reef break that has been compared to Hawaii's treacherous Bonzai Pipline. Just south of town lie a series of white sand beaches backed by thick rain forest and protected park lands, reaching all the way to the Panamanian border. If you decide to do more than sunbathe, you can hike the trails of the nearby Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge and Cahuita National Park. You'll almost certainly hear the roar of howler monkeys, and watch parrots fly by. Those with sharp eyes might pick out a three-toed sloth munching on cecropia leaves. There are also zip-line canopy adventures, chocolate making tours, ATV outings, surfing, rich botanical gardens, and good snorkel and scuba spots to keep you busy.

Most compelling of all? Costa Rica's Caribbean coast is a world apart from the rest of the country. The pace is slower, the food is spicier, the tropical heat is more palpable, and the rhythmic lilt of patois and reggae music fills the air.

Eliot Greenspan is the author of Frommer's Costa Rica and Frommer's Costa Rica Day By Day.