Pura Vida in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

After a wonderful two weeks in Belize we continued south in Central America to Costa Rica.  To make this journey we flew Copa Air (since there are no direct flights we had to make a short stop in Panama City).

We’d be spending two weeks in Costa Rica and we had considerable difficulty in narrowing down the places we wanted to visit.  We eventually decided on a plan to spend a few days on the Caribbean side, followed by a few days exploring the central highlands, then a few days on the Pacific side.


Our first destination was Puerto Viejo in the southeast part of the country, not far from the border with Panama.  We rented a car and set off on a scenic drive across a high mountain pass then through endless fields of pineapples and banana trees.

Truck traffic was heavy between San Jose and the port at Limon so the drive took a little longer than Google Maps had estimated.  Fortunately the roads were paved and in good condition.  The main hazard was a few one-lane bridges as we approached Puerto Viejo.

Puerto Viejo has an interesting mix of cultures, including the indigenous BriBri, descendants of Jamaican workers who came in the late 1800s to build the railroad through the jungle between San Jose and Limon, and a good number of American and European expats that lend a Bohemian vibe.

Jaguar Rescue Center

One of the places we were most excited to visit near PV was the Jaguar Rescue Center.  The center is so named because the first animal that was taken in was a baby jaguar.  JRC now takes in all kinds of animals including sloths, monkeys, snakes, and deer.

We joined a JRC tour led by sloth expert Becky (maybe the only person in the world who holds a PHD in sloth studies). She gave a great talk on sloths and sloth behavior and we learned some great tidbits.  Did you know that “two-toed sloths” are actually “two-fingered sloths” because they have three toes but only two fingers?

The kids also enjoyed learning that sloths only poop once a week and in order to be able to poop they first have to do a “poop dance” before going into a trance and dropping 40% of their body weight.


In the sloth nursery we got to see two week old sloths.  So cute!


The center also houses howler monkeys and capuchins.  These monkeys are masters at escaping their enclosures.  JRC works to rehabilitate and return all of their animals to the wild unless the animal is a non-native species or couldn’t survive on its own.


In addition to the animals we learned about the Jabillo tree.   This species of tree is covered with sharp spikes, is full of poisonous sap, and has seed pods that explode, sending the seeds flying at over 100mph.  Fortunately this usually happens high up in the tree canopy.


Hanging 10 at Playa Negra

Surfing is a popular pastime in Costa Rica and one day we decided to sign the kids up for lessons.  The lessons took place at Playa Negra, a black sand beach just north of town. The kids started on dry sand and learned how to paddle on the board and to pop up and stand at the right time.


It did not take the kids long to catch their first wave!


The waves broke along a beached barge that provided an interesting backdrop.  According to the surf instructor the barge has been there for over a century.


After the lessons we walked back into town along the beach.


Cahuita National Park

Another day we made a short drive to Cahuita National Park.  The park features several kilometers of trails with great nature spotting as well as some pristine beaches. Entrance is by donation.


As we walked the trail we soon passed by a Capuchin monkey.  These monkeys have a reputation for grabbing bags from visitors to the park in hope of finding some food.


Later we saw a raccoon splayed out on a fallen tree.  It can be hard to stay cool with that much fur.


Within the park the trees grow right up to the beach, which provided a nice shady spot to sit while the kids played in the water.


On our way back we saw a sloth in the wild (not actually that wild, this palm tree was just outside of a cafe).


Birthday Celebrations

Each of us is celebrating a birthday on this trip and Wes passed a big decade milestone.  We celebrated by stopping by BriBri Springs Brewery, located right across the street from Playa Negra.


We were astonished at how good the beers were, especially considering how difficult it must be to get quality malt and hops into the country.  The Arcturus IPA was particularly tasty.  The food from the restaurant is also tasty; we enjoyed the “casado,” a traditional dish with roasted chicken and rice & beans.


Summing Up

The Caribbean coast of Costa Rica is a less popular tourist destination than the Pacific side, and the beaches are typically viewed as not being as good as they are on the west coast.  However, we really enjoyed the beaches around Puerto Viejo and we also liked the laid-back feel of the town.

In our next update we channel our inner Tom Hanks and declare “Take Me to the Volcano!” 🙂