I was into my second year working as a flight attendant, planning my life out one month at a time (as us flight attendants do). The upcoming month was February, and I noticed I had a week of vacation blocked on my schedule. It had completely slipped my mind that I had vacation coming up, and I immediately started brainstorming ways to spend my time. The thing is, when you’re a flight attendant, you have infinite options (free flights, baby!), and that actually makes it harder to make a decision.
I had almost settled on the idea of staying home and enjoying a stay-cation. Which in Upstate NY, in February, pretty much entails staying indoors, drinking hot beverages, and staring outside at the gray, overcast skies.
While working a flight that week, I mentioned to a coworker that I had a week of vacation coming up. She enthusiastically inquired, “Where are you gonna go?! You should go to Brazil… or Iceland… or Africa!”
I wasn’t exactly up for a spontaneous escape to Africa, but I’d be lying if I said her enthusiasm didn’t rub off on me. I started thinking about how my body could really use a warm, beach-focused intermission from the winter. I had never been anywhere in Central America, so I let that idea marinate for a bit before I finally decided on Puerto Viejo, a lively backpacker’s town on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. I don’t speak any Spanish and I’m a female solo traveler, so the somewhat touristy, expat-heavy Costa Rica seemed like the best option. While definitely the more expensive of the Central American countries, Costa Rica offers a buffet of natural beauty and incredible food. Their laid-back lifestyle is commonly referred to as la pura vida or “the pure life.” Costa Rica is abundant in foreign expats who have helped make the country more palatable to Americans and backpackers, while still keeping the local culture alive.
Because I didn’t really plan ahead… at all… I ended up having to stay in a few different places. However, this was not a problem at all seeing as it doesn’t take any longer than ten minutes to walk from one end of Puerto Viejo to another. This is probably the first trip I’ve gone in with literally zero plans, and I’ll have you know it won’t be the last. It was so nice to wake up with the sun, to spend my days lazing around on the beach, biking to nearby beach towns, hanging out in restaurants and coffee shops, curling up with a good book.
Where I Stayed
Indalo Boutique Hotel
I spent the majority of my stay at this beautiful boutique hotel just a couple blocks away from the main street of Puerto Viejo. It’s tucked away enough that it feels quiet and serene but still close enough that it’s just a short walk to all of the restaurants and cafes in town.
Where I Ate
A healthy, vegetarian breakfast and lunch spot right on the water. Their coffee is some of the best I had in Puerto Viejo, and- let’s be real- great coffee is best served with a waterfront view. Order a fruit bowl with granola- you won’t leave hungry!
A small, adorable organic/ vegan cafe that’s open for breakfast and lunch. They have a vegan plate that includes coffee or tea, a big vegan (with a gluten free option) pancake served with homemade marmalade and maple syrup, plus a side of fruit. The people working there are lovely, and the food is delicious!
The vegetarian plate is vegan, cheap, DELICIOUS, and filling. I went back a second time, and years later I’m still dreaming about it.
This is a lovely spot for a casual dinner. Sit upstairs for a great view of the water and the town of Puerto Viejo. I had a very tasty vegan chickpea burger and above-average house white wine for a fair price.
A really great date night restaurant with a jungle-y setting and really incredible food. The menu is a fusion of Costa Rican and ethnic/ Asian cuisine and they have plenty of vegan options.
My favorite coffee shop in Puerto Viejo, this place is also home of fair trade, locally produced chocolate. They do tours of the chocolate farm/ factory which I highly recommend.
This is a really popular spot for breakfast and homemade chocolate truffles. I didn’t eat any of the chocolate, so I can’t personally vouch for them, but they do have excellent reviews.
Things to Do
You can rent bikes for about $7 per day, which I did so that I could bike further south to explore some of the other beaches in the area. One day I rode 13 km down to Manzanilla National Park and spent a couple hours hiking the nature trails.
Disclaimer: some parts of the road aren’t the greatest so please use caution and make sure you’re wherever you need to be before it turns dark because the road gets VERY VERY dark.
Take a tour of Caribeans’ chocolate farm and factory for $26. It lasts about three hours, walks you through all the stages of chocolate production, from bean to chocolate bar. Finish off the tour with a gorgeous view of the ocean and a chocolate tasting with a variety of different herbs, spices, and ingredients.
The best part of coming to Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast is all of the amazingly beautiful beaches. Ok, so maybe that’s the second best part, a close second to all the adorable beach dogs just waiting for your attention (and snacks). Renting a bike is the best way to get to all of the different beaches and decide for yourself which is the best (and which dog you want to put in your suitcase for the flight back home).
OM Yoga Studio is part of Cashew Lodge Jungle Sanctuary, a hill-top jungle paradise just three blocks from the center of town. You can drop in for a yoga class for $12, get a massage or reiki sesseion at their spa/ wellness center, and explore the gardens where the lodge grows its own food. The yoga studio is open-aired with beautiful views of the ocean.