Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Costa Rica

Puerto Viejo de Talamanca (not to be confused with Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí in the northern lowlands) is a decidedly Caribbean concoction of perfect beaches, spectacular surfing and laid-back attitude, spiced up with the most happening music, nightlife and restaurant scene on the coast. It’s touristy – and more and more expats are moving here every year. But if you can let go of getting in touch with ‘the real Costa Rica’ for a moment, you’ll have a blast.

As throughout the southern Caribbean coast, the Afro-Caribbean presence is strong here: locals sometimes refer to the town by its patois name ‘Walaba,’ and coconut-scented odors and reggae music emanate from the doorways. With the influx of foreigners, however, you might hear German or French on the streets sooner than patois. Puerto Viejo’s kitchens are now turning out fantastic fusion cuisine, incorporating influences from Mexico, Italy and China. Music lovers are mixing up their play lists with salsa, hip-hop and rock and roll. Some might claim the ‘authentic’ Caribbean flavor is diluted; but others argue it is enhanced.

‘Downtown’ Puerto Viejo is little more than one long paved road that follows the coastline. And that one long road is crowded with ice-cream parlors and surf shops and open-air bars, all exuding good music and good vibes. What makes Puerto Viejo what it is, however, are the miles and miles of beach stretching along the coast in both directions from the center. Playa Negra to the northwest and Salsa Brava, Playa Cocles and Punta Uvita to the southeast: this is what draws the surfers and sun-worshippers.

Puerto Viejo is most certainly a party town, but the road to Manzanillo is strewn with mellow bungalows and empty beaches. And if you would rather watch wildlife than engage in it, the Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Gandoca-Manzanillo is a beautiful bike ride away.

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