Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
This burgeoning party town is no longer a destination for intrepid surfers only; it's bustling with tourist activity. Street vendors tout Rasta trinkets and Bob Marley T-shirts, stylish eateries serve global fusion, and intentionally rustic bamboo bars pump dancehall and reggaetón.
The Atlantic Slope
The idea was simple: build a port on the Caribbean coast and connect it to the Central Valley by railroad, thereby opening up important shipping routes for the country’s soaring coffee production. Construction began in 1871, through 150km of dense jungle and muddy mountainsides along the Atlantic slope.
This is the wettest region in Costa Rica, a network of rivers and canals that is home to diminutive fishing villages and slick sportfishing camps, raw rainforest and all-inclusive resorts – not to mention plenty of wading birds and sleepy sloths. Most significantly, the area’s long, wild beaches serve as the protected nesting grounds for three kinds of sea turtle.
Located within the confines of Parque Nacional Tortuguero, accessible only by air or water, this bustling little village with strong Afro-Caribbean roots is best known for attracting hordes of sea turtles (the name Tortuguero means ‘turtle catcher’) – and the hordes of tourists who want to see them.
Puerto Limón is the biggest city on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, the capital of Limón province, and a hardworking port that sits removed from the rest of the country. Cruise ships deposit dazed-looking passengers here between October and May, but around these parts, business is measured by truckloads of fruit, not busloads of tourists, so don’t expect any pampering.
Playa Cocles, Playa Chiquita and Punta Uva
A 13km road winds east from Puerto Viejo through rows of coconut palms, alongside coastal lodges and through lush lowland rainforest before coming to a dead end at the sleepy town of Manzanillo. Though well paved, the road is narrow, so if you're driving, take your time and be alert for cyclists and one-lane bridges.
For a sense of what Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast was like prior to the arrival of mass tourism, jump ship in this sleepy coastal fishing village, wedged between the Canales de Tortuguero and the Caribbean Sea. Bereft of ziplines, it’s the sort of spot where elderly men play dominoes on porches and kids splash around in mud puddles.