How to Get from Panama to Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica and What to Visit There?
After we’ve spent a few amazing days in Panama, it was time for us to head to Costa Rica. The first destination on our itinerary was Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, a beautiful, laid-back town on the South Caribbean coast of the country.
However, our adventure started on our way from Panama to Costa Rica. You might think crossing from one country to another is something that can be done within minutes, but that is not the case. For us, this was a whole separate journey, which is why we decided to write an entire section on how to get from Bocas del Toro to Puerto Viejo.
After switching between a few different means of transportation and walking across the border in hot Central American temperatures, we arrived in Puerto Viejo and our blissful days in this beautiful beach town were about to begin.
Read our guide, and we will help you get to Puerto Viejo from Panama, give you a few details you should know about the place and suggest a few spots every tourist should check out.
What Should You Know about Costa Rica and Puerto Viejo?
The Republic of Costa Rica is a small country located in Central America. A little less than 5.000.000 people live here and Spanish is their official language, but English is widely spoken as well.
Even though their territory is tiny, the country is proud to shelter 5 percent of the world’s existing biodiversity. As you can assume, discovering Costa Rica’s natural beauties is one of the main reasons why this destination is so popular among tourists.
If you love learning about the world’s history, you will be glad to know that Costa Rica has a rich indigenous culture. Many tribes were living here prior to Spanish colonization which started in the 16th century. During the following centuries, the country became a part of the First Mexican Empire, and a member of the United Provinces of Central America until it finally gained independence in 1847.
Another interesting fact is that Costa Rica is one of only a few nations around the world that doesn’t have a standing army. They abolished it in 1949 after the Costa Rican Civil War.
As Costa Rica borders with Nicaragua, Caribbean Sea, Pacific Ocean and Panama, plus Puerto Viejo is located close to the Panamanian border at Sixaola, it is no surprise that many tourists decide to visit this jolly coastal town.
Hidden in the Limón Province, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca is widely known for its vibrant and influential surfing community, as well as Salsa Brava – the most powerful wave in the country. Beautiful beaches, such as Playa Negra and Playa Chiquita will give you a chance to relax and unwind if you are not into water sports.
Even though this was once a sleepy fishing village, relatively isolated from the rest of the country until the 1970s, today it is one of the most popular tourist destinations that combines luscious nature, the indigenous culture of the Bri Bri people and modern bars, restaurants, shops and hotels.
Keep reading, and you will find out how to get here and what you should see.
How to Get from Bocas del Toro, Panama to Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica?
Getting from Bocas del Toro in Panama to Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica, might not be complicated since you have to travel for only about 100 km, but it is still an adventure.
Our journey started when we got into a little boat taxi in Bocas Del Toro. Since this town is located on an island, this is probably the fastest way to travel in and out of it. This 30-minute ride took us to mainland Panama in Almirante where we walked to the bus station and boarded on a minibus/cab to Changuinola.
Once we arrived, our first stop was to get some groceries before we cross the border to Costa Rica. We drove by the banana farm and saw a huge container full of bananas. This was particularly interesting to us because that farm was the one that supplied the fruit for the “Chiquita” banana bread that we bought in the store earlier.
However, we drove to the border, crossed it on foot, got stamped and left Panama. You will recognize the crossing when you see the old little bridge and in front of it, on its right side a window with Panamanian flag. That is the place where they are going to check your documentation and photo, scan your fingerprints and ask for a proof of exit. So, the process is quite detailed, but it doesn’t take too long.
Then, all you have to do is cross the bridge, walk a little and get an entry stamp in Costa Rica. Here, the process will be much faster, since the check is not as detailed as the one on the Panamanian side of the border.
Once we entered the country, we walked to the bus station in Sixaola and boarded on a bus to Puerto Viejo.
Why Rent a Car at the Adobe?
As soon as we arrived to the town, we rented a car from Adobe Rent-A-Car. To be honest, this was a real life saver because the car served us well until the end of our journey through Costa Rica, and along the way, we realized that it was absolutely necessary.
We were quite lucky to find out about this company because they offer amazing service at a reasonable price. They have Daihatsu, Hyundai, Isuzu, Kia, Mitsubishi, Suzuki, and Toyota cars in their fleet. Believe us, if you are planning to visit various cities in Costa Rica, or just spend some time in Puerto Viejo, but also check out the neighbouring national parks and similar remote places, you will definitely need a car. Renting one at Adobe’s is an investment that will surely pay off.
5 Places You Simply Have to Visit in Puerto Viejo
Now that you know where Puerto Viejo de Talamanca is and how to get there, it’s time to talk about a few places here that are undoubtedly worth a visit.
Puerto Viejo has several incredible beaches that you can enjoy all year round since the average temperature is always between 25-30◦ C.
This depends on where you are staying at, but it is most likely that the closest beach to you will be the Playa Negra. It is located only about one kilometre up the road from the city, and its dark sand stretches for more than 10 km. Playa Negra is ideal for surfing beginners, but it can have strong waves and riptides during some months of the year.
Three kilometres from the city centre you will find Playa Cocles. This is the best beach for socializing, and it is usually crowded. It’s great for surfing as well. Many great restaurants and bars are located here, and street food isn’t bad either.
If you are looking for a peaceful place where you can relax and enjoy nature, Playa Chiquita is the place you should check out. It is about 6 kilometres away from Puerto Viejo, and it can be accessed only through the little jungle path. It is romantic and ideal for people who enjoy hiking and snorkelling.
Renting a car at Adobe proves to be a good idea when you decide to visit remote beaches like Punta Uva, that is located 10km outside of the town. This peaceful, unpopulated beach is where you’ll find the most beautiful sand and water. Several stores and restaurants exist here, so everything you need will be at your disposal.
At last, Playa Grande is hidden in the nearby village called Manzanillo. As you can guess based on its name, that it is the largest beach in the area. This place is widely known as the best surfing spot in Costa Rica and the nesting spot of the leatherback turtle.
Cahuita National Park
Costa Rica is known for its ecotourism and biodiversity, so it is only logical to visit at least one of their national parks. The most accessible, family-friendly and favourite among many tourists is the Cahuita National Park. The entrance is free, but they will ask you to leave a donation.
Almost 2.800 acres of land and over 55,000 stunning marine acres are home to 35 different species of coral, over 100 species of sea turtles, fish, crustaceans and molluscs, as well as some sloths, caimans, snakes, lizards, herons and white-faced monkeys.
You will find fantastic walking trails here and guided snorkelling tours for adventurers who’d like to explore the coral reefs up close.
Most importantly, the Cahuita National Park is not overly crowded, which makes it a perfect place for experiencing local wildlife.
Jaguar Rescue Center
One of the most popular spots in Puerto Viejo is the Jaguar Rescue Center. If you love animals and you’d like to meet some of them, help them and enjoy their presence, this is the best place to do it.
The Jaguar Rescue Center was founded in 2007 by two incredible people – Encar and Sandro. Ever since, this place was a temporary or, in some cases, permanent home for injured, ill or orphaned animals. The primary goal is to rehabilitate them and once they are strong and independent enough to take care of themselves, reintroduce them back into their natural habitat.
They focus on amphibians, birds, small primates, and reptiles, providing them with veterinary services and care. Many professional veterinarians and caregivers are employed here, and if you are looking for a volunteering opportunity, you can apply to work at the rescue center.
If you decide to visit the Jaguar Rescue Center, you can go for a public or private tour, day or night one, with a focus on monkeys, sloths, jaguars or toucans. This is another family-friendly activity, especially because kids get so excited to see the cute sloths.
White Water Rafting Rio Pacuare
Rio Pacuare is a beautiful river that borders the Talamanca mountain range. It’s a 2-hour ride away from Puerto Viejo, so you will definitely need a car to get there, and you should probably reserve a whole day just for this. You will spend a lot of time enjoying this adrenalin pumped activity, and you will be tired afterwards. Getting a good night sleep the night before and eating a big, healthy breakfast is highly recommended.
Imagine a lush jungle and a jade-coloured, fast river streaming through it. That’s the landscape you’ll be rafting through. Even though this is a beautiful and fun experience and you are safe with certified guides, it might not be the best idea to do it with your children.
They have height and agility requirements, and kids have to be over 12 years old to participate. There’s a lot of paddling included and falling off the boat is a regular thing, and children might get scared or even hurt, so it is better to stay safe.
Chocorart Cacao Plantation
Costa Rica offers various chocolate tours in different parts of the country. So, why not go for a one in Puerto Viejo?
This tasty experience will take you to a ChocoRart factory and organic cacao farm in Playa Chiquita, where you will have a chance to smell and try the purest chocolate.
The ChocoRart operation is owned by a Swiss couple who follow the traditional recipe of Mayan Indians when it comes to cacao harvesting, fermenting and cooking.
All ingredients of their chocolates are natural, and you can expect to taste different choco delicacies with coconut, ginger, nuts and vanilla.
If you have a sweet tooth, this will probably be your favourite part of the whole Puerto Viejo trip.
Pro Tips for Curious Travelers
Okay, by now, you are ready to visit Puerto Viejo and have a good time. All that’s left right now is for us to give you a few pro tips.
Costa Rica and Panama care about their environment, so make sure you do too. For example, when you get a yummy smoothie at some of their cafes or restaurants, they won’t give you a straw. Also, stores don’t hand out plastic bags, so make sure you have your cloth bag with you when you go grocery shopping.
When you come to Puerto Viejo, you will be close to the equator. This means the weather here is relatively consistent. During the day, temperatures go up to 30°C, and at night they don’t drop under 21°C. It’s pretty hot, so make sure you dress lightly.
Remember, when you come to Puerto Viejo, rainforest will be everywhere around you. Naturally, it rains here a lot. If you don’t like that, make sure you schedule your visit during the drier period, which starts in the middle of the February and lasts until the end of May, plus September and October.
If you are coming to Puerto Viejo for surfing, December to March and June and July are the best months for your vacation. On the other hand, the best time for scuba diving is from August to November and mid-January to May.
We didn’t list out all of the places you can visit, there are plenty more options, especially for hikers. Numerous waterfalls, botanical gardens and Tortuguero National Park are just some of the things you can check out if you plan to stay here for more than a few days.
Even though malaria, dengue and mosquitoes are not a big problem in this region, you should still wear an insect repellent, just to be safe.
Many destinations here are remote, so renting a car is definitely recommended. As an alternative, you can rent bikes.
That’s all folks. Enjoy your stay at Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, and for more details check out our YouTube video.
Make sure to continue reading our blog because the sequel to our Costa Rican adventure is coming soon if you have any questions feel free to leave us a comment.
See you soon!