Yes, we did it again, we went to Costa Rica again this year. As we were thinking of places to break away to for August or September, a few places came to mind. However, summer in Chicago this year has been nonexistent. It’s been cold, rainy and dreary. Not much like normal summer in Chicago at all. We craved more sunshine. Knowing this is CR’s rainy season, and typically their offseason, I researched the climate and towns in the South Caribbean of CR. Surprisingly, Sept and Oct are actually their driest months, and with this being the off season, flights were much cheaper into San Jose than normal. So, we decided to venture off into an area of CR that we have never seen and heard very little about, Puerto Viejo in the south Caribbean. I’m going to preface this post by saying that the Caribbean side of CR is VERY different from the pacific. We knew that going in as I had researched and read information about the area. We were prepared to embrace these difference and enjoy a very different culture and experience. After flying into San Jose, we hired a private car to drive us to Cocles Beach, Puerto Viejo. Due to the offseason, the bus route from SJO to Puerto Viejo is limited, the last bus went out by 2 pm from SJO and due to our arrival time, we would not make it. Other option was to spend the night in SJO which we didn’t want to do. Our ride to PV took just over 5.5 hrs. (estimate was 4 hrs so more than we had anticipated). After a quick stop for some groceries, we were dropped off at our rental home, met the maintenance person for the key and got settled. We stayed at a beach house rental in Cocles, you can read my review of the stay here by Angie F. It was a decent house, given the location, but we were still less than thrilled with the lack of clean towels, laundry opportunities, and general cleanliness. The house was a few steps from the beach, but didn’t offer a view due to the vegetation in the back. The beach area was very nice and clean, but offered no opportunity for shade, so our first day out we didn’t stay on the beach much because we didn’t want to get fried by the sun! Unfortunately for us, our first day there was about the last opportunity we had to see a full sunny day. Each day following was either rainy or cloudy. The sea was so rough that we didn’t even go in past our waist (beside the time where we were knocked down by the waves). Really, it was dangerous, there were rip current warnings and almost no one was in the water the entire week! We did not get a car, so we walked or biked everywhere (bike rental from a local hostel $4 per day) except at night. The main road was very dark and some of the locals warned us that a certain stretch of the main road could become unsafe at night, so we mostly took a taxi home if we were out. Riding the bike at night was equally dangerous as there was no reflective component on the bike and the road was pitch black! I did carry a small flash light with us, and this came in very handy!!
Some of our trip highlights were:
The Jaguar rescue center. Such a wonderful place! The organization rescues and rehabilitate wild animals and later releases them back into the wild. We had the opportunity get up close to Toucans, Sloths, Monkeys, Snakes, and all types of other animals. It was a bit expensive to get in, but we had a private guide and the funds are all used to run the facility; the folks there are all volunteers. We did not see a Jaguar (they don’t actually have any), but there was a type of spotted leopard in the facility.
We used Exploradores for our excursions where we hired a guide. They were a very good agency to work with and we enjoyed our guide, Alex, on both the trips we took around town. Our first adventure was a Punta Uva river and sea Kayak with a hike in rain forest (sea portion canceled due to water conditions). We had a nice afternoon kayaking down the river. We saw quite a bit of wild life, and many turtles and birds. The hike was a joke, up a very steep wall into the rainforest with not much else to see except some insects. The kayak trip was relaxing but nothing I would do again and certainly not worth the cost of the guide and trip, although we really did like the guide, he was very good at spotting wildlife and explaining what we were looking at. Another outing was a snorkel and hike at Cahuita Rain Forest. Once again the water excursion was canceled due to difficult water conditions, but we opted for the boat ride and hike portion anyway. Surprisingly, once we boated away from the shore line, the water was fairly calm (or calmer). Alex said that normally you can see all the way to the bottom of the ocean from on the boat but the water was so turned up, it was murky and unclear. The hike on the Sendero Trail was very nice. We saw lots of cool reptiles, Monkeys, Sloths, Birds, and Blue Butterflies. Alex certainly had an eye for spotting the tiniest things!
One of our trip highlights was the Chocolate Tour at Caribeans. We were given a personal tour through the chocolate forest by the owner, Paul. He explained the history of the profession and then shared with us how he developed his personal flavor of chocolate and how they work with other indigenous bean farmers in the area. The chocolate tasting was an experience by itself. We were seated in two big chairs, with a beautiful view of the valley and ocean. Paul’s wife put chunks of various chocolate on trays where we were taught how to experience the flavor of chocolate slowly. Amazingly, I really could taste the difference in each piece! We were also provide samplings of chocolate with a tray of various spices (salt, ginger, garlic, mint, tarragon, paprika, etc.). It was a very interesting experience and enjoyable combination of chocolate flavors. Who knew?? Naturally we brought quite a collection of various chocolates home and I certainly would recommend this tour to anyone who is visiting the area!
The best part of the entire trip was the trip back to San Jose, which was made immensely enjoyable by a Class III, IV rafting trip. Really, this was great folks! For $100 each, we were picked up at our lodging area in Cocles, provided breakfast and lunch, lockers for our belongs, showers, an awesome rafting trip and transportation to our hotel in San Jose where we caught our flight the next morning . The rafting trip was with Exploradores: Pacuare River White Water Rafting, we did the one day trip but I heard the two day is even better.
This was a really an enjoyable ride with great guides, nice people and beautiful scenery. The Pacuare river is an 18 mile ride and supposed to be one of the highest rated rivers in the country to raft. It has many rapids and drops, but mostly it is very beautiful. I personally felt that the Rio Toro in the Arenal Volcano area had better drops and was more adventurous, but the Pacuare had many rapids, beautiful scenery and was much longer. So, I’d be happy to do either one again!!
Our trip ended in San Jose, we got back late from the rafting trip and wanted food and a bed because our flight out was very early, so we did not do any site seeing in San Jose other than locating the nearest restaurant! Although we were happy to see a part of Costa Rica that we had not experienced before, and in general we had a good time, I don’t think the Caribbean side of the country was for us. I don’t envision us going back to the Puerto Viejo area again anytime soon, although the rest of Costa Rica is still fair game!