South Caribbean Coast
Caribbean (Atlantic) Side
Costa Rica’s South Caribbean Coast is the country’s up-and-coming hotspot. Its postcard-perfect beaches, killer surf, and vibrant coastal communities offer something for everyone. What makes the region unique, however, is its fascinating blend of cultures. The population is primarily Afro-Caribbean, with Latino, Indigenous BriBri, and a whole bunch of international expats mixed in. The cool rhythm of reggae and the patois-English (Limonense) dialect of the locals set the tone, combined with French, Italian, Hebrew, Spanish, and more, it’s a veritable melting pot.
The beachfront town of Puerto Viejo is the largest and most popular with national and international tourists alike. Tourism and the day-to-day life of the locals blend together in relative harmony. It’s also a notorious party town with several bars along the beach and in town, often offering live music. Tour providers offer the classic Costa Rica collection of canopy zipline tours, horseback riding, surfing classes, and tours to the nearby national parks, in addition to visits to the local BriBri reserve where guided hikes, medicinal plant tours, cultural encounters, and even a chocolate-making process tours are offered. River rafting on the beautiful Sarapiqui is also a cool way to get some thrills in and witness pristine jungle and the river ecosystems first hand.
Take the coastal highway 256 south out of Puerto Viejo and you’ll pass one spectacular beach after another. Among the favorites are Punta Uva and Manzanillo, which also have inshore reefs for snorkeling and scuba diving. (See the Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge section under National Parks for more information)
Cahuita is another favorite on the South Caribbean Coast but is smaller and less of a party town than its neighbor Puerto Viejo. Visitors mostly come to experience the stunning Cahuita National Park which runs along the coastline and harbors idyllic white-sand beaches and a live coral reef offshore. The park’s wide and flat trails run through the coastal forest offering shade for visitors and a plethora of animals, reptiles, and birds. Look out for sloth, monkeys, and iguanas in the foliage. Cahuita National Park is one of the few parks providing handicap access – with more national parks planning to follow suit in the near future.
Surfing the Caribbean side: Some of the biggest, most powerful breaks arrive during the northern hemisphere’s winter months, between December and March and especially January and February. The most famous spot in the area is the legendary Salsa Brava just in front of Puerto Viejo. Playa Cocles is a couple of minutes south of town and is a popular hang-out beach for young folk. The currents are dangerously strong, however, swimmers and beginner surfers are cautioned to stay out of the water. It is, however, extremely popular with intermediate and advanced surfers.
For beginners and bodyboarders try Playa Negra near Cahuita or ask a local for beach recommendations and classes.