Travel guide part 4: Costa Rica

Puerto Viejo

After Antigua, we were planning on heading to Lake Atitlán in the highlands of Guatemala, but the weather took a turn for the worst. Instead, we took a two hour flight to San José in Costa Rica and then went on a four and a half hour bus ride from Gran Terminal del Caribe station to Puerto Viejo via Limón. We were toying whether to go to the East or West coast of the country, but having heard that the West was busier and more expensive, we decided that we were more suited to the hippy, laid back town of Puerto Viejo.

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For the first five days we stayed in Hotel Boutique Indalo, which was stylish and quiet, and a five minute walk from the centre. It wasn’t your typical beach-style accommodation but it was comfortable and one of the nicest places we stayed all trip. A room was around £70 a night.

Hire a bike for the day (you can hire them at Indalo but it is a few dollars cheaper to get them on the main strip) and cycle to the beach. Playa Cocles is a short 4km cycle ride from Puerto Viejo town and Playa Uva is double the distance. Cocles is good for surfing (you can hire surf boards and organise lessons on the beach), but the swell makes it difficult for beginners. Uva is definitely worth the extra 4km if you want a more isolated beach. It is worth pointing out the fantastic Italian bakery, Tiare, on the way to the two beaches. The very friendly owners make some of the best pastries and cakes in town, and the breakfast and coffee is superb too!

There are dozens of great restaurants to choose from including Chile Rojo for unbeatable sushi (the set menu was pretty good value), EZ Time Bar & Grill for huge stone baked pizzas, and Cafe Viejo for one of the best meals we had all trip. Soda Shekina also serves delicious home cooking, which you can enjoy on the roof terrace. I would avoid Soda Lidia’s Place, the food was average, overpriced and lacked atmosphere. Cafe Rico, half book shop, half coffee shop has an excellent breakfast, served on cute old china tableware. For drinks, head to Lazy Mon for cocktails (and there is a ping pong table), or Jonny’s Place which can get lively when there is a bonfire.

For the last two nights, we decided to splurge and we stayed at Mar Ver Lodge, in the more isolated area of Playa Chiquita (the beach is a five minute walk away from the accommodation). Owned by a fantastic couple, the lodge was stylishly decorated and when sitting on the balcony you could spot all sorts of wildlife, from sloths, parrots and lizards. At night, you can hear the booming howler monkeys from your bed. It is also worth mentioning that the 3-course breakfast was absolutely incredible and the hosts did everything they could to accommodate us.

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Restaurants are slightly more expensive in Playa Chiquita than Puerto Viejo. We had two excellent meals at Pura Gula and the La Biela. The former had better quality food but was a bit overpriced, the latter was cheaper and had live music.

Parque Tortugero

For the last leg of the trip, we went to Parque Tortugero to explore some of Costa Rica’s nature. The National Park is made of up a series of waterways and dense rainforest, and the only way to get there is by boat or aeroplane. We took a bus from Puerto Viejo to a port called Moin, which took an hour, and then a three hour boat ride from there. The boat journey itself was unbelievable and we saw cayman, turtles, monkeys, giant iguanas and numerous different species of bird.

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We stayed at Miss Junies Lodge, Tortugero’s first hotel (we even met Miss Junie herself who was in her eighties!) The next day, we went on an early morning boat trip which closely skimmed the edge of the rainforest. Our guide, a local named Ray, spoke fluent English, was brilliant at spotting and informing you about the animals we encountered. You can book this through the hotel.

Tortugero was a strange place, with its primary purpose being tourism. That being said, other than doing the boat trip, there is nothing to do and the restaurants were very basic and uninspiring. One day is plenty, but despite its remote location, it was worth a visit.

Top tip: Don’t try to get back from Tortugero and catch a plane from San José airport in one day. If there is a traffic jam (which there was when we did the journey) or it rains, you can be severely delayed.

San José

As with Guatemala City, San José is a stop-over city. We were there for a night and a day and despite being determined to find something of interest in the city, we had no luck. We felt reasonably safe in the central area and in the art neighbourhood, Barrio Amon (it wasn’t as interesting as it sounds). However, it felt very unsafe as soon as you took a wrong turn. For food, go to Alma de Amon restaurant.

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