If you have been spending all your time on Costa Rica’s Pacific “gold coast”, you may be surprised to find that there is what feels like another country completely on the Atlantic side. The Caribbean coast of Costa Rica has a distinct Afro-Caribbean influence, which is completely different from the culture of the central highlands or the northwest province of Guanacaste.
From San Jose you take Highway 32 as it hugs the steep mountainsides of the Braulio Carillo National Park. It is a Jurassic park experience, driving through the rugged terrain carpeted with virgin rain forest. The jungle is always trying to erase man’s path with landslides and falling rocks. So be careful and keep an eye out. Be sure and check a GPS system like WAZE for road closings before you head out.
After coming down out of the forest, the road flattens out as it passes through the banana and pineapple plantations of the Atlantic lowlands. When you start to see transoceanic vessels in the distance, you have arrived in Limon. Not much to see in Limon so don’t waste your time it is a port town (it is a bit dirty and down-in-the-mouth), so take a right and head south down the coast. Limon tends to be a bit rough so you have been pre-warned.
Down the coast you will find several charming beach towns. First comes Cahuita and its namesake Cahuita National Park. The waves can be seen breaking on the coral reef offshore—a good place to snorkel.
Next up is Puerto Viejo, which is a tiny bit more bustling if you could call it that. To call these little towns laid-back is an understatement of epic proportions! However, around the back sides of the blocks or hidden down a tree-covered lane are all manner of rooming and food, even boutique hotels and international restaurants.
Continuing south you can choose your personal paradise: Chiquita, Cocles, or Punta Uva beach. All are palm-lined coves of pale, soft sand washed by turquoise water and dotted with tidal pools.
At the end of the road is the remote and exotic Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge. This reserve includes a 10-kilometer stretch of completely empty beach and a 740-acre forest with hiking trails.
As you drive, eat! There are a lot of cool funky places along the trip. The dish “rice-and-beans” (sounds like “risanbean”) is made with coconut milk, thyme and Scotch bonnet chilies. YUM and SPICY. Ask around for a local who makes and sells “patty”—a spicy meat pie. Try the “agua de sapo” (frog water) which is water sweetened with crystallized sugarcane syrup flavored with ginger and lime. And then there’s the seafood gumbo called “rundon.” No reason to go hungry!
Heading to the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica is a great adventure, for a week or so. One piece of professional advice–do not invest in the area. Please do not make the mistake as many have done, unless you plan to live there till the end, because you may not get your investment back if you need to sell.
You will enjoy the lush forests dripping with flowers and wildlife, and the funky vibe that is The Other Costa Rica. Pura vida mon!