CROSSING THE MOUNTAINS
On our way to the Caribbean we took the Braulio Carrillo Highway Nº 32, the road to Limon is marked as Siquirres Highway. The Braulio Carrillo is a modern highway that bisects the National Park. The park lies on one of the most rugged regions of the country, so does the highway, surrounded by wonderful landscapes, steep mountains, dense vegetation and cliffs. I strongly recommend to drive during daylight, the continuous bends, potholes, fog and limited visibility can make a very dangerous route at night. When the road became less dangerous we realized we were out the National Park, and after two hours or so we arrived to Puerto Limon. We asked a group of men for directions on how to get to Puerto Viejo and they were very polite and helpful. We passed through the cemetery as they told to go ahead until we see the sign to Cahuita and Puerto Viejo. We continued driving slowly through the coastline, for the road is in poor condition, passed Cahuita and finally arrived, 3 a.m. Not very proper, we were all hungry and tired, we found only one street vendor along the beach-side of the road who was cooking on a charcoal grill something that reminded us of a hamburger, with strange sauces and strange breads, which we decided to avoid despite our starvation and wait until breakfast.
Road through Braulio Carrillo by acodring
View through the windshield. Steep hills, cliffs, craters from falling rocks, gaping holes where sections had washed away. This is one nerve racking highway.
SHAWANDHA LODGE Next morning we woke up in an incredible jungle setting. The Shawandha Lodge is situated 10 km outside Puerto Viejo, in Playa Chiquita. The beach is walking distance, all you need is to cross the road and take the beautiful path through the tropical forest that will put you on the beach. The Shawandha Lodge is designed as a primitive village, the wooden bungalows are nestled amidst the tropical gardens, separated enough by the amazing foliage. Ours was very spacious, had a very comfortable king size bed, polished wooden floors, ceiling fans instead of air conditioning, which was not a problem at all for the windows were big and mesh and allowed a fresh breeze to flow into the room. All bungalows are decorated in an personal style, bathrooms are very nice and show unique ceramic designs of French artist Pascal and the terrace is wonderful to spend the late hours of the evening before a drink in the restaurant. By the way, the caipiroska was great. At night we could hear the different sounds of the jungle, frogs and toads, howler monkeys, insects scraping the enormous leaves of a plant called the “poor man’s umbrella”, often seen growing along the roads and that is all over the place in the Shawandha. We really enjoyed our stay.
PLAYA CHIQUITA LODGE A charming, small, beach-jungle lodge, just a short walk away from Playa Chiquita.
A path through the jungle led us to the open air dining room of the “Shawandha”, under a huge palm roof and decorated in a Balinese – Tahitian style, where we really enjoyed our breakfasts and relaxing cocktail hours. The menu offers fusion cuisine, blending French recipes with tropical flavors, which happens to be a good and tasty combination.
As for Puerto Viejo itself (and surroundings) there is a wide choice of food available, mainly Italian. Local cuisine is mainly represented by “sodas”, small eateries which offer affordable meals and managed by local women, look for Miss Irma, Miss Sam, Miss Dolly, Miss Helena, Soda Tamara. Some don’t even have a sign. Essential dish to try: the “casado” (married man): rice and beans (gallo pinto) with cabbage salad, fried eggs, fried plantains, and either meat, fish or chicken. A worthwhile experience, believe it or not. For dessert, ask for a banana pancake.
For good Italian cuisine make your way to “Amimodo”, just past Puerto Viejo town. The ocean is just a few steps away, and the bar features a big screen TV that broadcasts mainly sport games. THE place for pasta and pizza with exquisite sauces, also for grilled fish with Italian herbs.
Caribbean food is often spicy with a Jamaican influence and offers mixed flavors of coconut milk, ginger, curry, pepper and chiles. Street vendors offer a large array of fruits like mangoes, papayas, pineapples. Also bake goods as pan bon, a dark sweet bread and spicy meat pies called “pati”.
OTHER RESTAURANT RECCOMENDATIONS
BREAD AND CHOCOLATE Puerto Viejo. Organic breakfasts and lunches.
JOHNNY’S PLACE Live reggae dance, and institution in Puerto Viejo.
SELVIN’S RESTAURANT Punta Uva. One of the best in the area, specializing in fish and lobster.
LA PECORA NERA Cocles, between Puerto Viejo and Manzanillo. Fancy Italian restaurant
CHA CHA CHA Cahuita Main road. Sea Food
MISS EDITH Near the Police Station, Cahuita. Home cooked meals
Pipa Loca Amimodo Restaurant by leiflet
THINGS TO DO
You don’t need a car to cruise the town, you may rent bikes or motor bikes, but you do need a car to explore the surroundings.
NICE BEACHES Puerto Viejo sits on a point made up mainly of coral platforms, so several areas here are not suitable for swimming. However, there are other spots with white sand and convenient cafes that are ideal for enjoying the ocean. These places are referred to by the names of certain people or establishments residing or situated on the beach; thus, the beach in front of Manuel León’s property is called Chinese Beach, and the beach in front of Stanford’s Restaurant named after this establishment. At a place called Punta Pirriplí, is the famous Salsa Brava wave, one of the best surf spots on the entire Caribbean coast and host to international surfing contests.
Further south to Punta Mona, stretch some of the best beaches in Costa Rica. Playa Cocles is a white sand beach 3km south of Puerto Viejo, good for relaxed surfers who are not in search of adrenaline and advanced swimmers. Playa Chiquita is a small deserted beach fringed with palm trees, an excellent place to get lost and spend hours snorkeling, swimming and sunbathing in a peaceful lovely setting. Punta Uva, 7km south from Puerto Viejo, is a natural blessing, one of the most beautiful beaches in the country. We had lunch at “El Ranchito” restaurant on the beach and a great fun kayaking and swimming until sunset. Check the Iguana Verde Tree House Lodge, to experience a romantic stay in a luxurious wilderness retreat, right in front of the Punta Uva Beach, one of the best eco lodges of Costa Rica. The sleepy Manzanillo is the last town south of Puerto Viejo. The golden sand beach flanked with tropical jungle offers moderate surf and some diving and snorkeling areas.
Be sure to stop at the ATEC office, opposite Soda Tamara. ATEC acts as a tourist information bureau and post office and arranges everything from adventure tours to personalized trips.
GANDOCA MANZANILLO WILDLIFE REFUGE From Manzanillo to Punta Mona there are no roads, this wildlife reserve is a fantastic place for trekking among tropical forests and gorgeous beaches.
Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge by psychopompous9
CAHUITA AND CAHUITA NATIONAL PARK “Cahuita’s 14 km of beaches are shaded by palm trees, lush forests, marshlands, and mangroves. Together they make up Cahuita National Park (1,067 hectares), created in 1970 to protect the 240 hectares of offshore coral reef that distinguish this park from its siblings. Animal life abounds in the diverse habitats behind the beach–an ideal place to catch a glimpse of tamanduas, pacas, coatis, raccoons, tree-dwelling sloths, agoutis, armadillos, iguanas, and, of course, troops of howler and capuchin monkeys that come down to the shore.”
TORTUGUERO NATIONAL PARK The park is located in the Limón Province of northeastern Costa Rica. Tortuguero is one of Costa Rica’s most popular National Parks. It is a wilderness area with great biological variety. The wildlife is rich and diverse, with eleven different defined habitats. These include high rainforest, littoral woodland, slope forest, swamp forest, holillo forest, herbaceous swamp and herbaceous lagoon. Mammals, birds and fish are many. It is the third-most visited park in Costa Rica, despite the fact that it can be reached only by airplane or boat.
PACUARE WHITEWATER RIVER RAFTING The Pacuare is the most scenic and accesible river. Is not very challenging, but offers quite a lot of rapids, from Class III to IV. We paddled the river in a day, but you can also hire a two day trip with an overnight stay at the PACUARE LODGE. The river snakes between a dense tropical forest, waterfalls, indigenous villages, and canyon walls. Five minutes after we began our journey, we were all alone amid spectacular landscapes with the real feeling of being connected with nature. The river flowed peacefully for the first kilometers of its course to the Caribbean Sea while the guide introduced us to the mysteries of rafting. Suddenly we met the first of the 38 rapids and the guide began to shout “remen, remen”, we began to paddle like mad to beat the first challenge. This first time was kind of confusing, one of us is left-handed, so while the guide and four of us paddled in one way, the other went the wrong side and we began to circle around with no success until we found our way out. We agreed to match things better for the next rapid. During the four hours of our river adventure, we experienced the adrenaline and fun of paddling powerful rapids, also magic moments in which we enjoyed the beauty of the surrounding wildlife.