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Puerto Viejo was the nearest big town to Cocles, but was much smaller and less developed than I had realised. It has a couple of reputations. One for being a great place to chill out. The other for being quite crime-ridden, violent and dodgy. We were a bit wary at first, but like most of these places, once you get used to it and if you’re careful where you go and what you do, it’s all good. It definitely takes on a slightly different vibe after it gets dark, which unfortunately is fairly early evening. But the dodgy goings on that seem to occur, mostly involve the young or the party-hards. We were there till gone midnight one night and it was ok, but we were generally happier if we’d headed home by 9pm. Partly as it wasn’t always that easy to get transport home. You’d see a cluster of tuk-tuks as you’d walk about, but when you needed one, there wouldn’t be one for toffee. And when you do spot one, chances are they already have passengers. By the time we left we had a couple of local taxi guys numbers. Even if they couldn’t pick you up, they’d have someone who probably could. This did lead to the most terrifying car ride of my life one night though, which is another reason to be on the move home a bit earlier. I don’t know if it’s because there’s less traffic late at night or that the cops aren’t about, or generally people who could report them aren’t about, but things certainly sped up as the night drew on when it came to taxis. This is not my first party with dangerous taxi drivers. I’ve seen my life flashing before me in many countries, most notably Greece and Bali. And those were on windy country roads. The road between Puerto Viejo and Cocles was completely flat and mostly straight. Perhaps this just meant peak speeds could be met easily. It was fast. It was fast and furious style fast. There was over-taking. There was fast and furious style over-taking. But hey we lived once more to tell the tale.
The really nice thing about the main beach in Puerto Viejo is that it has these kind of pool areas which look lovely to dip in and I am presuming safer than going out into the other areas of the beach. The surrounding water has crazy currents so I would never want to go out far there. We had a great view of the water from the upper floor of the nice bar restaurant Nema. Up there it felt like there were 7 or 8 currents converging at once.
A couple of hundred metres from the beach there is the casualty of these crazy waves. Apparently, this rather fine ship had been there a good few months with all attempts to retrieve it having failed. When the water was calm enough it could be reached from the shore, though it’s probably not the best idea to go play on it.
There weren’t as many beach bars actually on the beach as you would think, but Puerto Pirata was a great spot to sup your beer on the beach.
It had some funky decor and also sold various sized carved driftwood boats, made by local legend Marvin. You would often see Marvin cycling around, sometimes with a boat upside on his head (a really big boat), sometimes hacking at wood on the side of the road. Our little boat is our favourite Costa Rica souvenir!
Another great beach bar, which is nice in the evenings when they often have entertainment is the Salsa Brava bar. Be prepared to be patient for service – just enjoy the ambience and the scenery. They had an amazing funk singer on when we were there who did her whole, very loud performance with her baby papoosed to her. The Lazy Mon is also a chilled spot, on the beach but set back a little.
As you continue around the coast, you reach PV’s Playa Negra which has black volcanic sand and an older old shell of a boat which has grown its own island. This along with most of the other beaches is popular for surfing. It’s just at the end of town, with the main road out of town running along side, divided by trees and bushes. There’s only one business, quite far up the road, so it’s not greatly lit, so not one to hang around too late in the day.
Everyone cycles about in Cocles and Puerto Viejo. We were quite freakish for not having either a car or a bike, but getting around on foot. Bikes are ideal as the coast road is flat and pretty straight. They are available to rent all over the place. We had thought about it but our last stretch of ‘road’ home was up a v steep hill and a rubble road and that seemed no fun on the way up and possibly not much better on the way down. There’s also the responsibility of having rented property which can be stolen. A relaxing day out for me, this does not make. And although everyone might have a bike, NO-ONE has bike lights. I guess the drivers just get used to it and make allowances.
For the most part, we ended up walking everywhere and actually really enjoyed the walk – a good bit of exercise and you never know what you’re going to see along the way. Crazy local goings-on or cute critters. The walk took us up past the most popular surfing beach, from where you could do a jungle pathway walk into town. We only did this once, as the main road was much quicker, but it was a really nice route. You go along the back of a couple of the big hostels so can stop for refreshment and a bit of a sit down along the way.
Food and Drink
Our first time in PV we did what most first-timers to somewhere new do – find the easiest option. This usually is also the most expensive option and in our case it was, but it was worth it. Even on a budget you’ve got to splash out sometimes and the Koki Beach Lounge gets it all right, so it’s worth it. A restful place to spend a bit of time with some nice drinks and food. Their main menu looked lovely but we did only go for the giganticly portioned bar snacks.
Bread and Chocolate – a breakfast recommendation from our host. The name had put me off originally as I don’t really like sweet breakfasts but this bakery and cafe does the most amazing breakfasts. Their bagels are to die for.
Madre Tierra – another recommendation, this time for dinner. A small, simple restaurant with local Caribe style food. Really friendly and fine food – wish we’d found it earlier.
Stashu’s Con Fusion – we ended up coming here the first time as we were craving Asian food and there is nothing in town and their fusion was the closest we were going to get (note – there is a place which claims to do Japanese, Thai and middle eastern but just no!). Stashu runs the place and everyone there is really friendly. The food is certainly interesting and though not particularly sophisticated is something you won’t have had before and is really tasty. This was Mark’s favourite place. Dishes we enjoyed included Guava Green Curry, Tandoori Coconut Sauce and Thai Citrus Peanut sauce.
Tamara – rather Bob Marley themed but thankfully they played other things. Friendly, good selection of drinks and good hearty Caribbean food.
Amimodo Ristorante Pizzeria – perfect if you’re craving pizza or pasta. A nice large restaurant with an area outback, though not backing onto the sea, was a stones throw. A little bit pricier than some others but did have a proper grown-up restaurant feel to it. Not epic food, but good for round these parts.
Como en mi Casa – Art Cafe – we only stopped off in here briefly, and the place is a little small, but their smoothies deserved a mention. I also liked their bathrooms 🙂
All in all our favourite dining experiences were back at our house. There isn’t a huge variety and opening times reminded me of Spain – thing either shut early or opened late. I think we were slightly running out of steam by this point as well so eating out had become a bit perfunctuary. Bread and Chocolate was my favourite place in PV by far, but that could have been as it was homely comfort food.
Luluberlu – I wished I’d had more room in my case, as I’d have swiped up some nice bits from this gallery/shop full of Costa Rican made goods. The lampshades were amazing.
Passion Fruit – cute little arty bit and pieces and clothes. Mark got a great pair of bamboo sunglasses in here.
Wanderlust – Nice, tasteful bits and pieces. Some of it taking Namaste to a whole new strange level, seeing as we were in Costa Rica, but each to their own.
Mark was desperate to have a tattoo souvenir of Costa Rica but we only found one tattooist in town and her style was point work which wasn’t right for him. Then on the day before last we happened to walk along a road we’d walked before but suddenly a tattoist sign was outside. This guy had literally just opened. After a bit of faffing, the last day in PV, he got the most amazing tattoo of a tucan, which the guy designed from a mixture of ideas to fit into the space, and a jaunty little push bike for Mark’s thigh. I’ve spent way too much time in tattoo shops losing the will to live, but I was impressed how quick and professional this guy was – but most of all he was just really good! Dark Love Ink Tattoo, Avenida 73.