The Caribbean coast has a completely different look and feel as compared to the Pacific and so do the hotels. The road from Limon to Manzanillo is lined with gorgeous and uncrowded beaches and the area extends from the main port city of Limon and goes all the way south to the Panamanian border. Along the way you will pass by the towns of Playa Negra, Punta Cocles and Puerto Viejo among others.
The hotels in this area of Costa Rica range from eco lodges for those that love nature, to B&B’s and more basic places such as tent refuges that sit on stilts. There are also thatched lodges in the rainforest, cabanas and even places to stay that are in trees for those that are passionate about wildlife. On the flip side there also boutique hotels and hip retreats. Pretty much every type of accommodation is available, depending on your budget and your style of travel.
In this post I will not get into those places to the North of Limon. The reason for this is that there are no roads that go up the coast and therefore the only the way you can get there is to hop on a boat in places like Moin, or by flying on one of the domestic flights . Most people that travel north of here will stay in the Tortguero area as that is where most of the hotels or lodges are located, and due the remote locations they are almost all all-inclusive. If you are looking to go there, I have given my recommendations for those hotels in another post.
If you are driving or taking a bus to the Caribbean coast, most visitors will stay in or near the towns of Cahuita and Puerto Viejo and that is where I have listed my recommendations. These two popular towns, Cahuita and Puerto Viejo as well as the area itself share a Creole culture that is unique to Costa Rica. Locals in this region typically speak Spanish or an africanized-creole English and you will notice that the radio will play variations of both salsa and reggae. In this area you will be able to enjoy traditional Costa Rican cuisine like gallo pinto (rice and beans) as well as Caribbean favorites like spicy jerk chicken. In between your time at the beach, you may also want to check out the Jaguar Animal Rescue Center, go to the BriBri Indigenous Reserve or Chocoart which is a family run organic Cacao Farm.
Le Cameleon – This hotel tends to cater to upscale travelers. Its a modern hotel in a great location in the area of Cocles, which is about 1km out of Puerto Viejo. From here you can cycle into town or take a taxi. Its also close to a supermarket if you want to grab some food and drink before heading out.
The hotel is located just a little back from the road with trees surrounding the rooms and the pool and over the road to the beach club where breakfast lunch and dinner is served. Breakfast has a good choice of fruit, breads and pastries along with a selection of the main menu, the gallo pinto, eggs benedict and American hashbrowns. The beach club also leads onto the beach where you can sit & have morning coffee or late evening drink. Rooms are large, bright and airy with views into the trees that lets you have a good shot to see sloths, monkeys and birds. T If your into Yoga, they can help you out with that as well.
Shawnadha Lodge – This place has a private route to get to the beach. The atmosphere is great as the grounds of the hotel are beautiful and a pleasure to walk around. While walking around you stand a good chance of seeing wildlife like agouti and the famous poison dart frogs. The also have this really big Ceiba Tree which is really something to see. The food at the place is a mixture of French and Caribbean and they have a great chef. The only downside, if your into this sort of thing, is there isn’t a bar during the day nor any music.
Coco Loco Lodge – The lodge is close to town and the gardens are full of birds. You will love the hammock on the front porch where you get a chance to listen to the jungle noises in the morning, if it doesn’t wake you up beforehand. The cabana come with a refrigerator, coffee maker, safe, mosquito netting and a couple big fans (Tip – when reserving ask for a room with AC as not all rooms have it ). Wi fi is free, but the further you are away from the main house, in the distant bungalows, for instance, the weaker the signal. Nice peaceful atmosphere if that’s what you are looking for.
Blue Conga Hotel – A charming little hotel, located walking distance from Puerto Viejo. It is located in a peaceful area, surrounded by trees, nature and lots of birds. and you are just one block from the beach. The rooms are basic but well done and comes with all of stuff you will need and the breakfast is all is good and filling. . They also have a wonderful small swimming pool with a well kept tropical garden just in case you are tired and don’t want go to the beach.
El Encanto Hotel is a fantastic place to stay. Its Located at the edge of Cahuita, towards Playa Negra, but only a short walking distance into town. The hotel offers very comfortable and clean rooms and the grounds are wonderfully maintained. It has beautiful gardens in which you will see lots of animals like frogs, birds and lizards while you’re having a good breakfast( fresh fruits, juices, breads, and made to order eggs and pancakes). In addition there’s free coffee, tea and purified water always available. Oh and did I forget? There is also a sweet and a salt water pool as well as small area where you can enjoy a jaquzzi or a massage. Suggestion: Try to request the triple room as it has a private outside seating area with a little waterfall!
Cahuita National Park
One of the main reasons people like to go to Cahuita, other than its sandy beaches and crystal blue water, is for Cahuita National Park. If you are a birder or even if you aren’t, Cahuita National Park is a great place to see all kinds of birds such as the green ibis, rufous kingfisher, or low swooping Swainson and keel-billed toucans (my favorite), so bring your binoculars. Other birds you might see include the Central American curassow and large groups of nesting parrots (and even, Dec.-Feb., macaws). Cahuita’s and the parks freshwater rivers and estuaries are also good places to spot caimans and herons. Its not as common as in the past but as your walking, be careful to watch for snakes that MAY be seen along the trail. You can also see crabs such the red land crabs and bright blue fiddler crabs which are know for there oversized claws)inhabit the shores. And finally.. its not unheard of too see a couple of the visitors favorites – monkeys and sloths
If you like, you can hire a guide to take you through which may be worth it for you as they can see alot more then the adverage person when it comes to spotting interesting things that you and I would just walk by without noticing. And finally – Don’t forget your insect repellent and sunscreen.
Getting To The Caribbean Coast:
The best way to get their is by renting a car instead of say a transfer as the drive is not bad at all and you will have the option of stopping where and when you want along the way. Its going to take you about 4 hours to get there but with car you also be able to more easily go between Cahuita and Puerto Viejo plus venture even further south, if want to be little more adventurous. Make sure you download the route on how to get there before you arrive with Google Maps, if your phone is locked or if you don’t want to get a SIM card. You can see more on how to download maps so that you can see them offline by going to BudgetAirfare.com
Driving to the Caribbean Coast:
From San Jose take the Highway #32 and follow the road North to Limon.You will go through the mountains, this part of the drive is incredibly beautiful, and will be very high up and at some point, you will be driving past the Braulio Carrillo National Park (it might get foggy so we recommend you make this drive during the day) and the Rainforest Aerial Tram.
Continue driving through Guápiles, Siquirres and Matina. When you get to Limon, just before you drive into the city center, you will see a sign (at the Colono Gas Station) where you turn right to go to Puerto Viejo. Stay on this road and follow the coastline. You will see signs that lead to you both Cahutia and Puerto Viejo further south.