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Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Costa Rica

On the beautiful Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, the small town of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca is a low-key travel destination that lures visitors from around the world and never lets them leave…

Costa Rica is a country that has everything for the nature lover: beautiful beaches, rich rainforests, superlative surf and a fantastical range of flora and fauna both above and beneath the sea. And absolutely all of these elements, and much more, can be found in the tiny town of Puerto Viejo on the country’s lesser-visited Caribbean coast. 

The magic of the area is visible immediately upon arrival. The town’s one main road strings together a series of stunning golden beaches, each more beautiful, and even more deserted, than the last. Cocles, Playa Chiquita, Punta Uva, Arecife, Playa Grande, Manzanillo…aficionados of each could argue long into the starry night about their relative merits and never settle the question of which is best.

All of the beaches are barely touched by development and surrounded by rich jungle in which are regularly spotted sloths, toucans, great green macaws, iguanas, capuchins, and howler monkeys. So rich are the wildlife sightings here that even a simple cycle to a local supermarket can feel like a safari through a national park.  

The one road out of Puerto eventually peters out into jungle just above the border with Panama, giving the whole area a wonderfully lazy end-of-the-road feel. So quiet and flat is the road that it is super convenient for cycling. There can be few places on the planet where such a diverse range of beautiful beaches are accessible just by pedal power and all in under half an hour. 

The beauty continues off the coastline as well, where still-rich coral reefs, home to manta rays and turtles, wait to be explored. And if that wasn’t enough, several of the beaches boast excellent surf, attracting wave-riders from around the world. The town’s rich surf culture has produced at least one Costa Rican national champion and it’s a great place for experts and learners alike. 

Puerto Viejo (the name means “Old Port” in Spanish) is also home to a fascinating cultural mix. It is one of the relatively few communities that combines Costa Rica’s three main cultures, the Spanish-descended Ticos, the indigenous tribes and the black Caribbean population that largely arrived with Jamaican immigration in the 19th century. 

The town’s substantial Jamaican influence is also immediately evident in the great range of reggae music that can be heard everywhere you go around town. It’s also there in the local food which offers some spiced-up Caribbean alternatives to Costa Rica’s otherwise unadventurous standard fare. The town’s food scene is also enhanced by an unbelievably rich variety of tropical fruits, from all the standard favourites to some you never even dreamed existed (peanut butter fruit, anybody?) 

Puerto Viejo attracts a diverse range of travellers and although nightlife and parties can be found here, it’s a largely chilled and quiet place. Although there are many beautiful accommodation options, from beachside bungalows to jungle-clad hilltop homes, there is a refreshing absence of large hotel chains here. The lack of a local airport also helps the town maintain a beautiful balance between having just enough tourist facilities without becoming over-developed.  

Many of the people who come for a few days end up falling in love and making plans to return and live in and around Puerto, contributing to the town’s substantial international community, bringing together beach lovers, surfers and wildlife enthusiasts from around the globe. 

Puerto Viejo is a stupendous holiday destination for any lover of sea, sand and surf. Come check it out for yourself, but just make sure you keep your schedule open afterwards, just in case you find that you too can’t leave the Old Port on the Caribbean Sea.