What to do in Sloth Paradise: 15 Top Activities in the South Caribbean of Costa Rica
Puerto Viejo de Talamanca: the beach town where the dress code is a bathing suit and flip-flops and no one is in a rush to go anywhere. It has more than paradise beaches, and in this list, we’ve selected for you the very best things to do in our little corner of the South Caribbean. Trust us, we did them all!
1. Visit the most beautiful beaches
Did you know in just a strip of 30km (18 miles) you can find all kinds of different Caribbean beaches? Here are our top recommendations:
Punta Uva & Arrecife: Considered one of the most beautiful beaches of the world with golden sands and spectacular palm trees, you definitely won’t want to miss this postcard-perfect photo opp.
Playa Chiquita: The name translates as “little beach” due to the narrow sand space between the ocean and the jungle. It’s less crowded than Punta Uva, but equally beautiful.
Cocles Beach: Easily visible from the road, Cocles is the hot spot for young locals, has the best surfing waves, and a picturesque island that you can swim to in good weather. A great beach for socializing and people-watching, Cocles also has easy access to many restaurants and fruit stands.
Playa Negra: The first beach you’ll see at the very entrance of Puerto Viejo, this beach is named for its warm black sands, which contrast beautifully with the jewel-toned ocean and deep green jungle.
Manzanillo: A smaller town to the south Puerto Viejo has golden beaches, including the famous Playa Grande, which comes with its very own shipwreck as of 2017!
Cahuita: With white sand beaches that extend right into the national park, Cahuita is famous for being the nesting site of leatherback and green sea turtles. It’s home to one of the largest coral reefs in Costa Rican waters.
Puerto Viejo town: There are many small beaches right around the downtown area, surrounded by coral reefs that provide a calm bay for the fishing boats and safe places to wade in the tidepools.
2. Rent a bike and cycle everywhere
Bikes are the main transportation in Puerto Viejo and you will see both locals and foreigners riding their beach cruisers everywhere. You can find bike rentals all over town and in pretty much all hotels and hostels. A beach bike rental costs around $6 USD for 24 hours, and trust us, this should be the first thing to do as soon as you get your feet in the South Caribbean.
3. Spot sloths and other wildlife
Looking for sloths in Costa Rica is a bit like searching for a needle in a needle stack–they’re everywhere, but they are not always easy to find. Read our Guide to Sloth Finding to master sloth spotting!
The Caribbean is also the place to visit if you like bird watching due to the lush and humid jungle: there are over 300 birds to be seen! You don’t even have to visit a national park to see them, you will hear a symphony of birds every morning; hummingbirds, toucans, parrots, and many more!
4. Visit wildlife rescue centers, sanctuaries, and other conservation organizations
There are also some wildlife rescue centers in the area that you can visit. You’ll get a chance to see some of the animals up close, and can feel good about helping them since these worthy causes are normally supported by admission fees.
If you are interested in birds and conservation, check out the Ara Manzanillo, who dedicate their work to restoring the endangered great green macaws, which very nearly went extinct. Thanks to their heroic efforts, these beautiful flying rainbows can be seen (and heard) on a regular basis from Puerto Veijo down to Playa Grande. Don’t miss out on spotting these gorgeous birds!
5. Go snorkeling and diving
Although snorkeling isn’t doable all year long in the South Caribbean, this is an amazing area to snorkel when the weather conditions are right. The best time for snorkeling is in March, April, September, and October.
Arrecife and Cahuita National Park are home to some of the biggest coral reefs in Costa Rica, and also make excellent scuba diving spots where you can see tropical fish, turtles, coral, and lots of other marine animals!
6. Visit Cahuita and its National Park
Cahuita is another small town just 20 minutes away from Puerto Viejo, and it’s a vibrant place with an important Afro Caribbean history and cultural heritage.
Cahuita National Park is one of the most popular parks in Costa Rica and protects the largest coral reef in the country. The entrance to the park is free but we highly recommend leaving a donation that helps with the maintenance of the park.
7. Visit Manzanillo and its wildlife refuge
Manzanillo town is located 12km (8 miles) from Puerto Viejo and can be reached by bike or bus. Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge is located at the edge of town and protects an important mangrove swamp and lots of flora and fauna.
8. Hike in the jungle
- Cahuita National Park is famous for its flat trail that is just over 8km (5 miles) long and runs along the shore of the white beaches. The park is perfect for swimming in the turquoise water, having lunch at the picnic tables next to the beach, and watching wildlife.
- Starting at Gandoca-Manzanillo, you’ll find a 9 km (5 miles) trail to Punta Mona, which also boasts an off-the-grid permaculture farm. The landscape in this area is different from the scenery you see in Puerto Viejo or Cahuita, so bring your camera!
- If you feel these hikes are too hard, try the 1500 metres (1 mile) trail that goes from Salsa Brava Beach in Puerto Viejo town to Cocles beach. This short trail goes by the beach and you’ll be able to see the resident howler monkeys and sloths living there!
9. Take a tour of the jungle… at night!
After the sun has set, the jungle becomes a different realm: the green yields to the darkness, and you have a unique opportunity to sense the rainforest in a different way. Frogs, toads, insects, spiders, snakes, raccoons, olingos, and more nocturnal creatures come out in the twilight realm. This experience is definitely not for everybody, but if you dare, you’ll have one memorable experience! (Do not do this alone, take a guided tour with an experienced professional!)
10. Take surf lessons
Surfing is big in Costa Rica and the Caribbean coast has surf conditions for most of the year. You can rent surfboards or take surf lessons right there on Cocles Beach.
And if you’re a pro, or just crazy, you can ride one of the most famous waves of the Caribbean: the world-famous Salsa Brava, from January to March.
11. Visit an indigenous reserve
Take a break from the beaches for one day and learn about the Bribri people, the largest indigenous group in Costa Rica. They live more in the mountain areas and still retain their own culture, lifestyle, and traditions.
A tour to the Bribri Indigenous Reserve gives you an insight into the life of the indigenous people of Costa Rica. You will have the incredible opportunity to speak with a shaman, learn about how this community grows and processes chocolate, eat a traditional lunch, and you’ll get to walk through the jungle and learn all the uses they have for the plants that are native to this area.
We recommend booking a tour with the ethno-tourism specialist of Life Culture Travel, a tour agency founded and run by an indigenous woman. Indigenous tours are very valuable to the economy of these communities.
12. Raft one of the most beautiful rivers of the world
In a one-day tour based out of Puerto Viejo, you can raft over 30km (18 miles) of class III and IV rapids in the Pacuare River, considered to be one of the most gorgeous tropical rivers. This tour includes transportation, a certified guide, and meals. It cost around $ 90 USD per person, but it is worth every minute.
13. Kayak at Punta Uva
Kayaking–who doesn’t love it? One of the best places to do so is the river in Punta Uva. You can see river turtles, kingfishers, herons, ducks, sloths, maybe even a sloth drinking from the river (or even swimming through it!), monkeys, and many other kinds of animals… all from the seat of your kayak.
Just after you finish kayaking the Punta Uva river, you can go to the ocean and paddle above coral reefs while getting a nice view of one of the most beautiful beaches of the world from the ocean. You can rent the kayaks for $10-15 per hour directly on the beach.
14. Swim in the waterfalls
Just a few minutes from Puerto Viejo by car or bus is a lovely waterfall: spend a morning and picnic next to the refreshing waters of a tropical river.
15. Live the Caribbean life
Bribri and Spanish lessons, Afro Caribbean dance, Caribbean and indigenous cooking, medicinal plants tours, the history of cacao, ancestral chocolate recipes, the spiritual roots of the Bribri… you can learn everything from the local communities to better understand why this corner of the world is so unique and special!
Last but not least, tourist places can also attract bad guys with bad intentions. Just like everywhere else, stay aware and take precautions.
- After dark, avoid the beach and travel in groups.
- Pickpocketing is not usual in the South Caribbean, but always keep an eye on your belongings at the beach, even during the day.
- And please, do not touch colorful insects or animals! Actually, don’t touch any animals, and most of all, do not pet the fuzzy caterpillars.
-Sloth Friendly Network