If I’m honest, prior to setting off on my Amazing Central America trip, my expectations of what I’d see in Costa Rica were limited to the lush rainforests and adventurous activities that surrounded them.
Little did I know that there was a whole Caribbean coastline to explore and on this particular itinerary, my perceptions would change after spending a couple of nights in the laid-back beach town of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca.
The local bus from San Jose took five hours. The journey took us from a big bustling city, along winding roads set up against green hillsides and cloud forests, before turning onto a road that paralleled the Caribbean coast, treating us to ocean views along the way. Not only did our jaunt give us the opportunity to see some of the country’s diverse terrain, it also gave us a chance to get to know more about our fellow travelers.
Lined with rustic reggae bars, Caribbean-style restaurants and colorful homes inhabited by residents of both Afro-Caribbean and indigenous descent, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca offers a unique culture only found in this part of Costa Rica. Downtown itself is small and concentrated, making everything easy to walk to however, if you’re interested in exploring more of the coastline, bicycle rental is abundant and is the perfect way to see some of the other nearby beaches not too far from town.
Later that evening, our Costa Rican group leader Esteban took us out for some authentic Caribbean cuisine. On the menu were beans and coconut infused rice, fried plantains and lobsters marinated in a buttery jerk seasoning, caught that very same day. Fresh coconuts were also available, and there was no way I could say no to that on a balmy night!
On our post-dinner stroll around town, live music from one of the local reggae bars caught our attention so we stopped by to check out the Rastafarian scene. Some of our group travelers were eager to get up and dance while others were perfectly happy soaking in the free and easy vibes while listening to the band throw down some jams.
The following morning, I met up with a couple of other travelers for a light bite to eat before making plans to catch some waves.
After chatting to a few locals about the area and getting our gear in check, we headed to a recommended nearby black sand beach where the conditions were some of the more suitable that day. Since Puerto Viejo is known in the surfing community for the biggest and most powerful waves in Costa Rica (known as Salsa Brava), we wanted to ensure we weren’t getting ourselves into any trouble!
As we strolled along the beach, friendly locals smiled and waved our way before we were joined by a sweet and affectionate little canine who refused to leave our side.
While we surfed, other travelers spent the day hiking the trails in Cahuita National Park where they spotted sloths, monkeys and a variety of other wildlife. Created in 1970 as a National Monument to help preserve the coral reefs off the Caribbean Coast, Cahuita National Park is considered to be one of the most biodiverse parks in the country. Entry is by donation, which goes directly to maintaining the park for both its inhabitants and visitors.
Another nearby site worth considering visiting (especially if you’re an animal lover!) is the Jaguar Rescue Center which is dedicated to rehabilitating animals found in the area (including baby monkeys and baby sloths). But be sure to plan your visit early as they close at 1.30pm in the afternoon to allow for the animals to get plenty of rest.
Once we got out of the water, we grabbed some lunch before collectively deciding to take a stroll down the coast to get a glimpse of some of the spectacular beaches in the area.
We walked along a track that took us through shaded leafy forests and eventually found ourselves on a secluded beach with an opening to a vista of an islet and the powerful waves crashing up against it.
No longer strangers, it was the perfect setting for an afternoon of reflecting on all of the recent memories we had created in the last couple of weeks of traveling together, and to simply sit by and appreciate the sheer force and beauty of mother nature in a truly unique part of Costa Rica.
Want to experience Central America’s stunning Caribbean coast for yourself? Check out our range of small group trips to Costa Rica.
(All photos taken by April Wong on Intrepid Travel’s Amazing Central America trip.)