Costa Rica‘s Caribbean coast stretches 125 km (78 miles) between Nicaragua and Panama. Less developed than its Pacific counterpart, it makes for a fascinating trip for adventurous travellers in search of nature. Take a look at our round-up of the area’s top experiences spanning the north’s national park, through to the beaches of the south.
Take a chocolate tour at Caribeans Coffee and Chocolate
Caribeans Chocolate and Coffee is a small family-owned operation in Puerto Viejo, Limon, who also happen to offer one of the best chocolate tours. The Caribbean is the ideal environment for the cacao plant to grow, and for this reason there is a lot of great chocolate in Costa Rica. The country has a rich chocolate history which is explained on the tour – the sustainable permaculture farm works with local cacao farmers to produce the highest quality cacao and chocolate products. During your tour, visitors walk through the cacao forests, learn about the history of cacao and chocolate in Costa Rica, and find out more about how cacao is turned into chocolate.
The Tree of Life Wildlife Rescue Center is dedicated to nursing back to health animals that are in need of care. Sadly, animals such as monkeys, sloths, raccoons, coatis, jaguarundis, peccaries, porcupines, deer, and iguanas obtain injuries from car accidents, domestic dogs, or power line mishaps – they may also find themselves homeless due to habitat destruction, or are left orphaned after a parent is killed. The Tree of Life Wildlife Rescue Center takes in these animals and gives them a second chance at life. The center is also home to a beautiful and diverse botanical garden – if a visit to the the rescue center and botanical gardens inspires you, you can also help out by joining their volunteer program while visiting the Caribbean coast.
Punta Uva is considered by many to be the best beach on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast. The crystal waters are as tranquil as a lake and are the most beautiful shade of turquoise, averaging an enticing temperature of 27°C (80°F). The picture-perfect beach is lined with palm trees, while under the water a coral reef thrives off the coastline and is easily accessible if you have a mask and fins. This stunning beach is the most perfect place to spend the day. It is also the only beach on the Caribbean coast where you can actually watch the sunset, since it faces west.
Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge is 9,450 hectares of rainforest, palm and red mangrove swamp land, white sand beaches, and a colorful and lively tropical coral reef. This spectacular refuge is home to green sea turtles, hawksbill sea turtles, leatherback sea turtles, manatees, dolphins, 360 species of birds, sloths, monkeys, exquisite reptiles, insects, and amphibians, among so many other fascinating species of wildlife.
Tortuguero National Park is one of the highlights of the Caribbean coast, and can only be accessed by a simple-to-arrange boat or small plane transfer. The park is home to many species, including 57 amphibian, 111 reptile, 300 bird, and 60 mammal. This diverse and tropical haven is made up of several different types of ecosystems spanning rainforest, mangrove forest, rivers, estuaries, and coastal beach. Between February and October, visitors can witness four different species of sea turtles (green turtle, hawksbill, leatherback, and loggerhead) nesting on its beaches.
Learn about the indigenous tribes of the Caribbean
The Bri Bri tribe is indigenous to the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica and Panama. This tribe has been in existence for the past 5,000 years, and has a rich culture that is deeply rooted in nature, having thrived in the jungles of the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica for over 1,000 years. You can find out more from several opportunities and tours dedicated to this fascinating group of people and their ancient culture and way of life. Choose from available tours where you can learn all about natural healing from a medicine man; visit a Bri Bri family and learn about their traditions, practices, and ways of life; or discover more about cacao harvesting and the origins of chocolate from a local tribe.
Taste local Costa Rican food
Traditional Costa Rican food from the Caribbean has a totally different flavor than that served on the Pacific coast. While the staples are the same (rice and beans, plantains, ceviche, arroz con pollo/vegetables/shrimp/meat, etc), the spices are what make the Caribbean side of things so diverse, and often include coconut milk, ginger, curry, allspice, cinnamon, and chilli pepper. Puerto Viejo and the surrounding areas offer visitors some excellent dining options – Veronica’s Place and Soda Lidia are two establishments that really do Caribbean food justice.
The Cahuita National Park is most famous for its vibrant coral reefs and abundance of tropical fish and other marine species. There are more than 500 species of tropical fish amid the reefs here – the most common types of corals are brain coral, elkcoral, stagghorn, and sea fans. The spectacular crystal-clear underwater scene is also home to two shipwrecks that can be visited on an organised dive. Be aware that snorkeling and diving are not permitted unless you are with a certified guide, as great efforts are made to protect the reefs from further damage both natural and man-inflicted, as well as potential extinction.
Puerto Viejo has a reputation for having the best nightlife. The clubs here play reggae, roots, and dancehall jams all night long, and there are rustic beachfront bars with happy hour specials as well as pool tables, reggae nights, ladies’ nights, and even mojito nights! There seems to be a drink special or live music at one of the many bars every night of the week. The laid-back vibe of Puerto Viejo makes going out at night a really fun experience, as everyone is just out to have a good time. Salsa Brava Bar, Johnny’s Place, and Tasty Waves Cantina are all popular places to go for a good time out.