75. Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Costa Rica - Howler Monkeys and Protected Parks

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July 30, 2007

Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, on the Caribbean coast, reminded us a bit of British Columbia's Sunshine Coast.

It has a granola-eating, self-help-book-reading type of feel and is full of little inns, eclectic restaurants and bakeries, and street vendors selling homemade jewelry.

It has also has kilometers of empty white-sand beach that ends only where the thick rainforest began.

Puerto Viejo de Talamanca (not to be confused with Costa Rica’s other “Puerto Viejo”, Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui) is not to be missed.

(What is to be missed is Puerto Viejo’s Los Olas hotel, where we camped the first night. It seems to be more of a crack house than a hotel).

Ten or 12 kilometers farther down the bumpy road from Puerto Viejo, is the village of Manzanillo, which is part of the Refugio Nacional de Vide Silvestre (National Wildlife Refuge) Gandoca-Manzanillo.

We camped there our second night beside the Bantik Restaurant/Gallery, which is run by a very kind and engaging woman.

The next morning we walked south along the majestic white beach, alone on the beach expect for driftwood, fallen coconuts and palm fronds.

We drove back to Puerto Viejo that night and camped at the Cutback Hotel, in a wooded plot next to the beach.

(Although we motored back and forth a few times between the two towns, the best way to take it all in by renting bikes)

In between Puerto Viejo and Manzanillo is Playa Cocles, popular with the surfers and the hangers on. We spent a full day there watching a competition and enjoying the energy of the relatively busy, but still uncrowded, beach.

Eighteen kilometers north of Puerto Viejo, the opposite direction of Manzanillo, is Cahuita National Park (open 7 am to 5 pm on weekends).

Up until three years ago it was possible to camp in the park, at what looked to be great sites, but not any longer.

(Another camping option, which wasn’t open yet when were there, is the ex-pat run Cacoa, Trails between Puerto Viejo and Cahuita National Park).

We spent one day their hiking, swimming, snorkeling off Vargas Point and looking, unsuccessfully, for exotic birds.

At the end of the day, feeling fully satiated and ready to leave, we spotted a howler monkey swinging on the tree canopy above us. And then another. And then maybe a dozen more.

In sum, I liked this area so much that we spent an hour talking to a real estate agent and a morning driving around looking at investment property.

Miss Sensibility isn’t so sure.

Key Facts & Figures:

-Bike Rentals: $3/person
-Bantik Restaurant campsite: $8/night
-Cutback Hotel campsite: $6/night
-Cahuita National Park: open 7 am to 5 pm on weekends