Costa Rica’s laid-back lifestyle is often referred to as la pura vida, or “the pure life.” While it is one of the more expensive of the Central American countries, I would challenge to say it’s for good reason. Costa Rica offers a buffet of natural beauty, incredible food, and mindful establishments. It is also one of the safest places to travel to in Central America, not to mention its long-standing running as one of the happiest countries on earth.
The country is abundant in foreign expats who have made the country more palatable to backpackers and foreign travelers, while still keeping the local culture alive.
Whether you’re coming for a yoga retreat, an excuse to lay out on the beach, or perhaps to take a shot at a sloth sighting, these sustainable shops, restaurants, and local businesses will ensure you have a meaningful and well-rounded trip.
Where to Stay
Indalo Boutique Hotel
This beautiful boutique hotel lies 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. The rooms are open, spacious, and minimalistic. If you’re looking for something no-frills, yet clean and comfortable, this is the perfect spot.
This healthy, vegetarian breakfast and lunch spot sits right on the water, spoiling you with a cool ocean breeze. 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. Their fruit bowl with granola is a light yet satisfying breakfast that makes for the perfect start to the day. They also serve a variety of smoothies, salads, and sandwiches and cater to vegan, vegetarian, and gluten free eaters.
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!
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 a glass of house white wine for a fair price.
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
Rent a Bike
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 session at their spa/ wellness center, and explore the gardens where they grow their own food. The yoga studio is open-aired with beautiful views of the ocean.
Puerto Viejo is a very small, consolidated town so all you really need to get around are your own two feet (and perhaps a bike if you plan on exploring the surrounding beaches).
Most restaurants accept credit cards, but there is an ATM located on the western-most end of town at the Banco de Costa Rica.
If you’re coming from San Jose (SJU airport) there are several options for getting to Puerto Viejo, from budget-friendly public buses to private transfer vans. This website is a great resource for arranging transportation to Puerto Viejo.