Caribbean Coast

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Puerto Viejo

The funky, yet laid back town of Puerto Viejo offers a taste of Jamaica without leaving the mainland. Multi-colored sand greets rolling waves of aqua blue attracting surfers, nature lovers and vacationers in search of stress free, eclectic atmosphere.

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Tortuguero- where the turtles go to nest.
Tortuguero- where the turtles go to nest.

Tortuguero National Park is one of Costa Rica’s most biologically diverse wildlife areas. The park rests on a plain, the ancient Nicaraguan Trench, which was filled with sediments some 7 million years ago. Small ridges appear here and there, such as Lomas de Sierpe, which are ancient volcanic cones compiled of lava, pyroclasts, andesite and pumice stone. The dark sandy shores of Tortuguero, pounded by the untamed surf, are the ideal setting for sea turtles to lay their eggs. It’s no wonder Tortuguero is most famous for being the nesting home of four of the world’s eight sea turtle species, but is also a must see destination for any eco-tourist. Although a chance to to view the nesting habits make Tortuguero a must seee, just as many tourists come to explore the intricate network of jungle canals that serve as the area's primary means of transportation.

Tortuguero National Park includes the Barra del Colorado Wildlife Refuge, a 20,000 hectare refuge, which houses many endangered wildlife species such as tapirs, ocelots, jaguars, manatees and sloths. The park is also a popular birding destination, with over four hundred bird species having been recorded there.

Tortugeuero National Park is made up of a labyrinth-like maze of canals that criss cross in and out of the surrounding rainforest. Which explains why some call it, "the Venice of Costa Rica." Dense tropical rainforest almost exclusively line these amazing waterways. A guided boat tour through these canals provides the visitor with the opportunity to observe birds, monkeys, and other exotic wildlife in their natural environment. It’s no wonder Tortuguero National Park is considered one of the most ecologically diverse areas on the entire planet.

Tortuguero village is further north from the canals and sits on a narrow piece of land bordered by the Caribbean Sea and the Tortuguero River. The village is interesting and shouldn't be missed given the chance. Palm trees hand overhead and quaint narrow paths wind through lush vegetation and the wooden houses in the area sit on stilts. Although tourism has gained momentum in the area, with the construction of restaurants, shops and cabinas, the village seems to continue in a timeless way.

Four species of sea turtles nest on Tortuguero Beach.
Four species of sea turtles nest on Tortuguero Beach.

More about the Turtles

The turtles can be found nesting on Tortuguero Beach which is located in the village of the same name, which is adjacent to Tortuguero National Park. Got that? Four species of sea turtles nest on Tortuguero Beach: green turtles, most abundant, from April to August; leatherbacks ( the park’s most popular inhabitants) nest from late March through April and generally lay their eggs from May through June; hawksbills from April to October; and loggerheads from April to May. It should be noted that with the popularity of the turtles they only allow so many visitors on the beach at one time during the nesting process, so it is important to secure a viewing position, which is usually best done through one of the local eco-tourist guide services.

Traveling to Tortuguero, it is possible to catch a flight into the local air strip from San Jose or out of other local airports within the country. It is also possible to take a boat tour out of Limon. Obviously slower by boat, but very relaxing and it gives one the opportunity to view lots of the pristine Costa Rica coastline that would otherwise go unobserved.

Puerto Limon

Puerto Limon is famous for its carnival, 'las Dias de las Culturas'
Puerto Limon is famous for its carnival, 'las Dias de las Culturas'
On the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica sits the colorful city of Puerto Limon. Limon is a working seaport. With a population close to 80,000, the city has a diverse variety of cultural groups. But make no mistake, Puerto Limon is pure Caribbean, with its rich, ripe jumble of sights and sounds and smells, it is a hot, steamy, laid-back place. With the exception of its week long carnival, “las Dias de las Culturas,” the life in Limon is typically slow, although the strong afro-Caribbean contingent does add a colorful element to the city. Today, Limon is primarily a rough-and-tumble port city that exports millions of pounds of bananas every year. It is also a destination to its fair share of imported products and has a consistent number of cruise ship callings. When a cruise ship is docked in Limon, you'll find the city bustling beyond the usual.

Limon is not usually thought of as a tourist destination, and few visitors take the time to tour the city, except those stopping on cruise ships. Most tourists use Limon as a gateway to Tortuguero or to the beaches of Cahuita and Puerto Viejo.

But if you do get a chance to tour the town you will not see the usual church or soccer field facing a plaza such as you see in all the other towns of the Central Valley. Instead, Vargas Park, is filled with huge banyan trees with buttress roots that the locals use for bus stop seats. Many tourists and visitors will enjoy the old seawall located along the eastern edge of the city where you can spend time seeing some of the original Spanish construction projects in the New World. To catch a glimpse of Limon’s inhabitants, one merely has to visit the city’s main market, Central Mercado to get a feel for ‘a day in the life of’ of these vibrant people.

Although the city itself has its own allure, Puerto Limon is most famous for its annual week long carnival, ‘las Dias de las Culturas,’ which is a cultural celebration. For many people this carnival is the best reason to visit the place. This week long carnival takes place during mid-October and is truly a wild and crazy affair who many call the ‘Mardi Gras’ of the Caribbean. The carnival attracts musicians, street performers, dancers, backpackers, and visitors of all backgrounds. The climax of Carnival Week is the parade, when locals and thousands of visitors take to the streets to unite in a magnificent music and dance spectacle. The combination of drums, the heat, the beat, the glistening bodies of dancers and drummers in dazzling costumes, urge spectators to discard their inhibitions and to surrender to the Caribbean magic. This is an extraordinary event and hotels are booked well in advance, so it is important to plan ahead and reserve early if you plan on visiting Limon during this time of year.

• Located just to the south of Puerto Limon on the road to Cahuita, is the town of La Bomba. Guided horseback riding in the surrounding tropical forests is offered out of its town center. This can be particularly appealing and rewarding for the eco-tourist with an equestrian background.


Cahuita is undoubtedly one of the most laid-back villages in Costa Rica. While neighboring Puerto Viejo is quickly becoming a don’t-miss destination on the hip travel circuit, Cahuita has managed to maintain a more relaxed relationship with visitors discovering the Caribbean coast. So, the boom going on in Puerto Viejo and the beaches south of Puerto Viejo have passed Cahuita by, but this could definitely be seen as a good thing.

A parade of pedestrians walk the few dirt and gravel roads here, oblivious to the bikes, cars and buses that occasionally make their way through the town. Most of the businesses here are still locally owned and operated which keeps the laid back feel consistent.

Cahuita may not be as popular as Puerto Viejo, but just as beautiful.
Cahuita may not be as popular as Puerto Viejo, but just as beautiful.
Cahuita is breathtakingly beautiful and people come here for its miles of pristine beaches, which stretch both north and south from town. The black sand gives the swimmable Playa Negra an unusual and otherworldly presence. The southern beaches, with the forest at their backdoor, and the coral reef offshore are all part of Cahuita National Park.

The original inhabitants of Cahuita were the Bribri and Cabecar Indians, but the village also traces its roots to Afro-Caribbean fishermen and laborers who settled in this region in the mid- 1800’s. Today, the descendents are primarily English-speaking blacks whose culture and language set them apart from other Costa Ricans and yes, they’re cooking with coconuts in the kitchen and playing reggae music on the radio- Laid Back.

Costa Rica’s most valuable coral reef lies beneath the surf at Cahuita. More than 600 acres of the fascinating formations branch off bringing the underwater world to life. Approximately 35 different species have coral have been identified including elkhorn, sea fans and brain coral. Crustaceans and schools of colorful salt-water fish swim about by the thousands feeding on a literal smorgasbord of algae. Unfortunately, silt and pesticides washing down from nearby banana plantations have taken a heavy toll on the coral reefs, so don’t expect the snorkeling to be world-class, but that said, on a calm day, it can be pretty good. Luckily, the beaches are great all the time.