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Cocles is a small place and we spent much of our time just hanging out at the house (which was so seductive, it was hard to tear ourselves away) or heading into nearby Puerto Viejo. Even if you didn’t leave Cocles, however, you would have a fine time. The resorts here, compared to Puerto Viejo are much more high end and reclusive. High-end eco is how the village seems to be styling itself. It’s not openly apparently, but the fact that there is a tourist police station in such a little place, and a lovely new supermarket shows someones spending money for influence somewhere.
The beach is a surf lovers dream and therefore pretty choppy and ferocious. At certain times I believe it’s a lot calmer, but in February it was pretty feisty. What we did discover though, was if you followed the bay around to the south, there was a rocky area with some large rockpool type areas. We noticed that this is where parents were taking their kids, but could see from some of the adults in there that at points it was pretty deep. We hung out at these rock pools a few times and it was lovely and warm and chilled out. There’s more going on in there than you think – plenty of fish to watch, nibbling on the rock edges and crabs pottering around. There was a fish in there one time which took to attacking me. It was very big, granted, but very determined at going for my shins. This is not the first time in the Caribbean fish have ganged up on me and I’ve never heard anyone else complain, so I feel quite paranoid. Even Mark conceded that I wasn’t making it up and it was after me.
Apart from the terrible danger of little fish butting your calves, there are two dangers at the beach in this area. Firstly, the sea itself and it’s powerful, temperamental currents. I wouldn’t suggest going in out of your depth unless you’re a strong swimmer. Even, then I think you’d have to be careful. Second of all, because the beaches usually back onto stretches of jungle, they are easy places for quick get-aways and robberies – some armed – are known around this area. We carried very little with us whenever we were out and about in general, but especially when going to the beach. If you wear your watch and don’t have your phone and a ton of cards and money on you, then if worst case scenario robbing – what have you lost? Plus leaving stuff on the beach as you go swimming is a big risk in most places. I’ve heard about a service somewhere in the country where they have portable lockers that vendors take down the beach and look after during the day. What a genius idea – this would be a great business idea in any country surely?
Food, Drink and Chilling
Our fave place in Cocles ended up being Playa 506. It was a hostel but also ran as a kind of beach club. If you bought drinks and food etc, you could hang out all day. There was seating all the way down to the beach. They had craft beer, good food and coconuts. It’s not the cheapest place going but nowhere in Cocles is and it is dead on the beach and means you and your stuff is pretty secure.
The other beach club, which was actually much closer to us was attached to the very fancy La Cameleon hotel across the road. We were prepared to play silly prices to sit in the lovely environment but getting serviced was like panning for gold, so we ended up abandoning it and once we found Playa 506 never really gave it a second thought. We were highly amused by their menu including Rainforest Artisanal Water from the magical rainforest contains the true voice of nature cradled in a 100% plastic-free package. Basically, they have just bagged up the water they collect when it rains. Hilarious. We told our host he was missing a trick and should mark up his prices (his rainwater is free!).
Cafes and Restaurants
There isn’t a lot in Cocles and things aren’t open all the time. We spent a lot of time in the place closest to us, Cafe Rio Negro, not just because it was closest but they did nice juices, craft beer, simple tasty food and it was a nice chilled place to sit – setback from the road on the edge with a suprising amount of wildlife passing by. We saw our first toucans here – and watched four of them playing about for ages. There is also a monkey bridge nearby and we found some of the howler monkeys liked to hang out on the high trees above. There was a couple of times we thought we might have been over charged, but we could never work out if that was the case or if it was just suprisingly expensive. La Nena is a simple cafe, good for caribbean food and I’m now kicking myself we didn’t get to try their lobster, which was in season. Opposite the Jaguar Rescue Centre is El Rincon Porteño. This place was a suprise treat. Really nice grub and not bad prices considering it was on the edge of the beach and so good – particularly loving the steak and chimchurri I had. And as we left we discovered a sloth up a tree just outside. Added bonus.
There wasn’t a lot more in Cocles at all. There was a high-end Italian which is supposed to be renowned and got rave reviews, but to be honest, we weren’t really interested in getting Italian, coming from Europe and also looking at the menu it sounded more American Italian than Italian as we know it. There is a Thai Lanna style complex of chalets/villas for some bizarre reason, which we were disappointed to learn didn’t come with a Thai restaurant on site. Further up the road towards Puerto Viejo, there are more restaurants to be found. Particularly opposite the most popular surfing beach (not sure if it has a separate name). The BBQ grill that was going often when we walked past smelt amazing, but we were generally passing through so didn’t get to try their jerk chicken or curry in the end. The Caribeans Chocolate and Coffee is a cafe attached to a chocolate farm where they offer tours. Too hot for chocolate for me, but they do a decent breakfast.
Zip Lining/Canopy Tour
I’m not an adrenalin junky but at the same time, I’m not really afraid of most of those kind of activities. Apart from anything involving water – white water rafting, hello no! Anything else that involves heights, drops, shoots or other crazy things that normally freak people out, I’m ok with. I just don’t necessarily feel a particularly strong desire to do these things. But I I felt like you couldn’t come to Costa Rica without going zip lining. That seemed like something that just couldn’t be missed. I had had my sights set on Costa Rica’s second longest one in Manuel Antonio area (recently usurped by one in Monteverde, where we didn’t make it to). But once we’d got there, a noisy zip line didn’t seem to fit with the vibe we were enjoying in the country. Plus, most of the places advertised for these adventures, on deeper research, seemed to be set-up on some farmland somewhere and didn’t really appeal. It was our last chance, in Cocles, if we were going to zip line and in the end, I’m glad we left it till then. We booked it from a guy in Puerto Viejo that our host had recommended but basically if you saw any zipline tour in any of the tour shops, it was going to the same place. The one disadvantage of staying in out of the way Airbnb is they won’t come out to pick you up, so we arranged to get picked up at Cafe Rio Negra at the bottom of the hill. As soon as we got picked up we remembered why we didn’t like going on tours much. We crammed into the van with a bunch of over-enthusiastic tourists who’d done every tour going in the few days they’d been there and knew everything about everything and were going to make sure you knew it. Don’t get me wrong, they were nice people, but the idea of spending a whole day with that level of ‘in your face’ seemed a little tiring. Luckily when we arrived at the Puerto Viejo tour office we did a few musical chairs as folk separated to go to different tours and we got left with a quieter bunch. Another swap around outside of town, we waited for a new vehicle and hung out in a little town watching the cute local kids do an exercise class with their teacher. We then got into a truck with bench seats. I understood why as the road turned to track and the long, steep drive got very bumpy.
The zipline site is quite high up the mountain and truly in the middle of nowhere, which made it a beautiful and tranquil spot. You start by getting togged up in gear, a quick lesson then go on the first long zipline on hopefully don’t forget what you’re taught like Mark did, swinging around and only just making the other side. You then have to walk a fair way to get to the next platform, as you do throughout the course. It’s quite physically demanding for the not so young and not so fit (of which we are both). You have thirteen lines in all. There’s a period when you’re going platform to platform. At times there are rather a lot of people on one platform – usually based around a tree. You need to be careful to lean out of the way – I got a really rather painful kick in the back at one point, as someone landed too close to me. Mark also landed so hard at one point he burnt out the stopped and slightly burnt the guide’s hand. At the same time, I was set-up ready to go on the other side, stood rather awkwardly on my tippy toes. Not a position designed for hanging around, but as they had to sort out the mess the other end, I had no choice but to dangle. I was delighted to hear it was all Mark’s fault once I got to the other end.
The practical bits:
Carrying anything is not ideal. Bits and pieces if you have zip pockets, but large items can make life uncomfortable. You can put your stuff in a shed that they lock up while you go around. At the end, they give you fruit and water. We and most of our fellow zippers could really have done with water on the way round too though. Especially after the uphill hikes. There wasn’t really enough water either – the water machine didn’t work and we were desperately tipping it to try to get enough. I would suggest taking a big bottle with you to put away and enjoy at the end. And if you have some kind of fancy fold up one for the way round – would be handy. The other tricky bit is if you are short or heavy or as in my case – both! They often have to get you to jump so they can attach you to the cable. So you’re sometimes on a wooden ledge jumping about while they try to pull you up to attach you. There’s no dignity to be had and it was actually quite difficult at times.
So there was a lack of water, jumping about like a ballet dancing hippo and the potential for getting a bit of a kick, but other than that it was a fantastic experience. Oddly a pretty calm one. They have special new cables that they have implemented which are quieter than the standard zip lines – so the noise doesn’t disturb the wildlife. Well, only the screams, but no-one can scream louder than a howler! I won’t describe the whole thing because it’s more fun to find out as you go along. The staff are really friendly, chilled and funny, despite doing a very physical job to help you all. Watching them fly about is pretty impressive too. A knackering but worthwhile day out, even for lazy bastards like us.