What to do in Sloth Paradise: 15 Top Activities in the South Caribbean of Costa Rica

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.

Playa Chiquita by Tito Cahuita

 

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.

Cocles Beach is THE surf spot in the South Caribbean. Photo by Tito Cahuita

 

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.

playa negra south caribbean black beach
This old barge is one of the most famous postcards of Puerto Viejo. Photo: Tito Cahuita

 

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.

great green macaw south caribbean

 

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.

Playa Chiquita and Puerto Viejo downtown beaches are also good alternatives for this activity

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.

A beautiful trail by the beach. Photo: Tito Cahuita

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.

caribbean surf
Surfing at Cocles Beach. Photo by Tito Cahuita

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.

Fun and stunning views. Photo: Ríos Tropicales

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.

This activity doesn’t require expertise. / Photo: Life Culture Travel

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.

waterfalls south caribbean
‘Cataratas Dos Aguas’ (Two waters waterfall) Is a few minutes from Puerto Viejo!. Photo: Tito Cahuita

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!

Take home the flavors of the South Caribbean with cooking lessons! /Photo: Terraventuras

Stay safe!

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

What you need to know about the South Caribbean of Costa Rica

What you need to know about the South Caribbean of Costa Rica

“Limón has its own identity,” said Markus Brown, whose family has lived in Punta Uva, one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, for more than a century, “and we have to maintain the cultural aspects that make it different from the rest of the country and the rest of the world.”

The Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica has its border with Panama in the southeast, and with Nicaragua in the northwest. The little beach town called Old Habour (Wolaba in patois) or Puerto Viejo de Talamanca is located in the Province of Limon and is just 1 hour from the border to Panama, nestled between the Caribbean sea and the jungles of Cahuita National Park and Gandoca-Manzanillo reserve.

 

south caribbean
Aerial view of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Limon province. Photo: RISE Puerto Viejo

 

The South Caribbean is a very special place with its own peculiarities: you’ll find not only different foods but different languages (English and Mekatelyu), different music (Reggae and Calypso),  different architecture (Victorian and Caribbean mix), and different customs.

 

 

1. Caribbean weather is never the same

Costa Ricans like to talk about the “Caribbean Summer”, which is due to the unique microclimate on the South Caribbean Coast. To say it very generally, in the Caribbean the weather is hot and humid all year round, in contrast to a very defined rainy, and dry season over on the Pacific Coast.

 

south caribbean
A stormy morning in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca

 

The weather changes much more on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. You can wake up with amazing sunshine and just when you get ready for a beach day it starts pouring down within a few minutes. You never know when to expect a tropical rain shower here. The good news is that even the rain is warm. This is also why the Caribbean Coast always looks so green and brilliant.

 

2. Rice & beans, Rondon, Patty… Taste the Caribbean flavors!

If you are looking for fast food chains and industrialized food, you will not find any of those here. Instead, delicious and traditional Afro-Caribbean cuisine dominates the town. There are lots of different restaurants that offer fusion Caribbean food mixed with flavors from all over the world that were brought here thanks to the multicultural population of this beach town.

 

south caribbean food rice and beans
Traditional Rice n’ Beans. Photo: Visitcostarica.com

 

No matter whether you are looking for Italian, Mexican, middle eastern, or vegan food, there is definitely something for all tastes. There are still a lot of family-owned restaurants that have been offering their traditional cuisine for years and most of them are located just next to the Caribbean sea or nestled in the jungle.

 

3. Pura Vida!  – enjoy life to the fullest

“Pura Vida” can be literally translated as ‘pure life’, but it means so much more than that here in Costa Rica. Pura Vida can be used to say hello, goodbye, thank you, everything is cool, and much more.

 

Photo: RISE Puerto Viejo

 

The Caribbean Coast is marked by a variety of nice, empty beaches, reggae music, and easygoing people that live the  “Pura Vida” life to the fullest. You won’t find any rude or stressed out people here as the local Caribbean energy helps everyone to slow down and enjoy the simple pleasures that life brings us day by day. Once you arrive in the Caribbean you will get infected with this lifestyle and never want to leave!

 

Signs at Puerto Viejo’s bus station. Photo: @jus_schmidlin

4. Beaches, beaches, and more beaches

Throughout the region, you can explore an incredible variety of different beaches, all fringed by vibrant jungle. From rough surf beaches like Cocles Beach to beautiful little coral bays in Chiquita Beach and volcanic black sand at the Black Beach right at the entrance of Puerto Viejo. There is a little bit of everything and you will always find a spot where you are totally on your own, only surrounded by palms, sand, and jungle.

 

south caribbean costa rica
Aerial view of Cocles Beach and Island. Photo: RISE Puerto Viejo

 

Another peculiarity of Puerto Viejo is that there are no big hotel resorts or chains here – only small accommodations that try to retain harmony with nature. This is why Puerto Viejo is not very developed or commercialized and keeps its charm of a little beach town and the community wants to keep it that way.

 

south caribbean costa rica caribeando
Photo: @caribeandocr

5. Nature and wildlife

It is not only beaches and good food that the Caribbean Coast is famous for, but also its abundance of wildlife and gorgeous nature. The location of Puerto Viejo, between the protected areas of Gandoca-Manzanillo Refuge and Cahuita National Park, offers a home for a diversity of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and marine creatures.

 

red aye tree frog south caribbean costa rica
Red-eyed tree frog (Agalychnis callidryas)

 

Dolphins and sea turtles swim in the oceans, and you can find huge areas of pure jungle with trees that are over 100 years old, bustling with sloths, monkeys, wild cats, and other wildlife. But animals do not only live deep in the jungle, you can also find them in urban areas and it is not surprising that a sloth or a toucan might visit you in your hotel or while having dinner in a restaurant. Do not be frightened, just keep your distance and they will peacefully make their way through to the next tree. 

 

sloth at restaurant caribbean costa rica
Sloth at Cariblue Restaurant. Photo: Cariblue Beach & Jungle Resort

Read More: The Urban Sloth Project 

6. The sounds of the Caribbean

Puerto Viejo is a Reggae Town where descendants brought their culture and music over from Jamaica more than a hundred years ago. If you go to a local bar you will likely hear reggae and dancehall music playing, as well as dem bow.

 

 

The neighboring town of Cahuita is also the national cradle of Calypso: a famous Afro-Caribbean music genre that originated in the Caribbean island of Trinidad and Tobago in the 19th century. Cahuita is home to the legendary calypso singer-songwriter Walter Ferguson.

 

 

7. A melting pot of cultures

There is a fantastic variety of different cultures co-living in this small town. Indigenous communities like Bribri and Cabecar were the earliest in settling down several centuries ago, mainly living in their territories along the watercourses. Later in the 19th century, the afro descent population settled along the coast founding the town of Old Harbour (Puerto Viejo). In those days most people spoke English or Mekatelyu and only later converted to speaking Spanish.

 

A Bribri family working with cacao. Photo: Life, Culture & Travel Costa Rica

 

Nowadays the Caribbean Coast is still the most bi-lingual region of Costa Rica, with Costa Rican influence from other parts of the country growing, and arrivals of people from several countries of Latin America, Europe, and North America adding to the cultural mix.

Today it is estimated that over 40 different nationalities from all over the world live together in harmony in this little beach town! Just waiting in line at the bank or supermarket, you can often hear conversations in Bribri, Patois, English, Spanish, German, Dutch, French, or Chinese!

 

afro caribbean woman
Photo: Life Culture Travel Costa Rica

 

Due to this cultural mix, the tolerance in the South Caribbean is very high and it is one of the main reasons why the South Caribbean is also a popular chosen destination for people of the LBGTQ+ community.

“We came from Jamaica” – says Edwin Patterson, a local resident in the South Caribbean. “120 years ago my family arrived here, so we were foreigners once as well. Most of the people that live here are foreign. There’s nothing richer than cultural diversity. You can see it in Nature: You have guavas, cas, mango, and coconut trees. Without them, you don’t have the ingredients, the spark. All of us will be monotonous. Of all those cultures who came, we learned from them, and they learned from us.”

 

 

-Sloth Friendly Network Team