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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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