This Costa Rican Life: The Beaches of Puerto Viejo

by Andie Mitchell on March 5, 2012

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This post brought to you by Camille, my one and only traveling companion.

No one takes the beach more seriously than this sun worshipper. Since arriving in Costa Rica, I spend every day basking in the warmth of the sun, often lying on the shoreline, my bikini bottoms filling with sand with each crash. White sand stretches for miles backed with trees bearing coconuts, almonds, and sea grapes. The ocean sparkles in its turquoise glory, interrupted by the cerulean striations of the underwater coral reef. Land crabs scurry into their holes as flocks of birds skim the water’s surface before making their ascent. These are easily the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen… but that’s not why I love them. Well, not the only reason. What I love about the beaches is also what I love about the towns. That one continuous, linear piece of land can house such diversity in landscape and culture. That every day I walk the beach I see something different and for a moment fail to recognize my surroundings.


Manzanillo: A Different World

Colorful boats rest lazily in calm, still waters. The sounds of televised Reggae fill the air, blaring at Maxi’s, one of three restaurants in the entire town.

Houses painted aqua, fuschia, pumpkin, and lime surrounded by tropical gardens hint at an old Puerto Viejo, before spoken Spanish replaced Patois (Jamaican Creole). Children drink from coconuts, machetes in hand. Caves formed by coral reef create an entrance to the natural reserve filled with howler monkeys and sloths.

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The beach continues for miles, expansive and flat with little surf, perfect for swimming. The walk to Punta Uva is so desolate it’s easy to wonder if you’re the only human being on earth.


Punta Uva: Raw Beauty and a Bit of Wreckage

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Punta Uva varies between developed and wild more than any other beach community in the area. For most the name is synonymous with beauty; I call it home.

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Closest to Manzanillo, a popular beach among locals rests on the sandy lawn of a once magnificent resort. Today pink rubble and support beams lay in its place. A proud dolphin crowns an empty pool. The land developer violated Costa Rican environmental laws and after thirty years of legal debate was forced to shut down. It would cost $650,000 to clean up the mess, making its further deterioration imminent. Families and friends lay under the protective shade of palm trees, unbothered by the ghetto behind them, eating snacks and playing music from their nearby trucks.

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Reaching the rest of Punta Uva requires hiking over a cliff in the jungle… or taking the road. We rarely choose the road.

Beyond the cliff is another local hangout, though this beach is backed by a functioning hotel and restaurant. Dogs run wild, tourists and locals wade in the ocean, children ride bicycles through the jungle onto the shore and play in the creek nearby.

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The beach quickly narrows from high tides; coral and driftwood create constant obstructions. Now immersed in pure wilderness the surroundings are akin to the set of Lost for at least a mile. Civilization reveals itself once more in Playa Chiquita.


Playa Chiquita: A Hippie Haven

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Playa Chiquita is easily my favorite of the beaches here.

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The women are nude or topless. Ethnically diverse families wade in the shallow tide pools, babies suckling their mother’s exposed breast. Germans rub their topless counterparts with tanning oil, fearless of the equatorial sun.

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Tropical fish reminiscent of Nemo swim between channels of coral.

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Fallen palm trees offer respite from the sun.

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You might call it paradise.

Fifty meters through the jungle you find the town of Playa Chiquita. Organic, fair trade, and local are more than just buzzwords here. Yoga centers and ecological restaurants owned by European transplants fill the area. For us, it’s the closest thing to civilization, a twenty-minute walk from home.

Playa Cocles: See and be Seen

The path to Cocles gives no hint of the surfing mecca at its end. Prohibitive coral reef covers the shore, forcing pedestrians to walk a lovely path through the jungle. Thick jade green grass feels foreign under your feet. Open fields allow sunlight to cover you, shaded only by the occasional palm tree. An aquamarine house resting on an overgrown lawn transports you to Havana. Winding back to the beach, soccer goals entertain active children. Shelters made of giant palm fronds and bamboo offer respite from the sun or rain (we hid under one during a massive downpour, even more massive salads in hand). An exclusive beach club, Le Cameleon, is out of place with red awnings and white lounge chairs, waiters in suits holding trays. The beach is expansive; the tide covers the shore in pearlescent half moons that turn iridescent at sunset.

In the distance is the Island of Cocles, uninhabited and rocky. At the end of Cocles lies Beach Break. Surfers fill the ocean, waiting for the next big wave. A lifeguard watches lackadaisically. Rastafarians sell coconuts and beckon you to take a surf lesson, sometimes clapping their hands as if to call a dog. The jungle no longer backs the beach, rather bars, a yoga studio, hostels, and our favorite Tuesday night hangout Tasty Waves. Here you will see locals and tourists who bumped arms with you in the club the night before. Grab yourself a coconut, wade in the water, and when the next big wave comes, relent.

Puerto Viejo: Beware Salsa Brava and The Cheese Grater

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The beach of Puerto Viejo lies on the other side of a rocky cliff from Beach Break. Coral reef surrounds the shore. Occasional patches of sand interrupt the local businesses. The main attraction here is the Salsa Brava, a famous wave that brings surfers from all over the world. Crowds paddle out, a few catch waves, and many break their boards or backs on the coral reef dubbed “The Cheese Grater”.

Bars and restaurants provide lovely views. Stalls selling hammocks, sarongs, and jewelry line the beach.

Puerto Viejo at night is a different world.

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“Very good, very good. Delicious, delicious!” A street vendor shouts as she grills skewers of chicken and beef over an open flame. “Hola Mami,” men hiss as you walk by. Drugs exchange hands outside of Johnny’s Place and Tex Mex. No doubt the scene is unsavory; drug dealers from nearby Limon and inebriated tourists don’t mix well. However, if you keep your guard high and your mind open you will find charm and hopefully friends. Restaurants with hospitable service and beautiful men are everywhere. An American style dance club, Mango, owned by a European-Latin couple is a melting pot for young locals and tourists. We dance our hearts out at Mango at least three times a week. We’re greeted with hugs and kisses. The DJ plays our song requests. The bartenders know our names. It feels like home.

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Playa Negra: A Place for Stargazing

If you feel so bold, skinny-dip here under the stars. The black sand will feel as soft as confectioner’s sugar, the water as warm as a bath. Your only witness: the moon.

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Ana Maria March 5, 2012 at 4:48 pm

Beautiful post! I feel like I’ve been there now, rather than being here at -12 :)

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glory March 5, 2012 at 5:05 pm

Love it!!!

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amarachi March 5, 2012 at 7:09 pm

wow this is really amazing, I wish I had this opportunity but I’m only 17 lol. Hopefully one day I can really travel. Enjoy Paradise!

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Maggie @ I'm not a clever robot March 5, 2012 at 8:31 pm

Andie! Did I miss a really important post? Did you really *move*? I feel like a bad friend!
(You look gorgeous, though!)

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The Mrs @ Success Along the Weigh March 6, 2012 at 4:57 am

Definitely a bookmarker for those going to the area!

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The Mrs @ Success Along the Weigh March 6, 2012 at 4:57 am

Definitely a bookmarker for anyone going to the area!

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Wendy March 6, 2012 at 6:55 am

Loved this post the last line almost killed me!! such a good description and for a few minutes I felt like I was there too! Have fun ladies!!

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Sabra March 6, 2012 at 7:09 am

Oh! Wally Lamb, one of my favorite authors. The beaches look fantastic. Hope to go there some day.

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Marie March 6, 2012 at 8:35 am

A-MAZING writing Camille. So poetic, descriptive, absolutely mesmerizing. Thank you both for sharing this experience with us!

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Bryton Stefnik March 6, 2012 at 9:14 am

Awesome read buddy! Thanks for the TW shout out, hope to see you girls Tuesday night!!!

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SoonerLaura March 6, 2012 at 9:46 am

Beautiful – absolutely beyond words! Popped in today to see what you had posted and am green with envy. I posted about the beach yesterday, but unfortunately am not walking on one this week. :(

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Tabitha March 6, 2012 at 11:10 am

The extent of my jealousy can not be accurately expressed. It’s snowing here…

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Bianca @ Confessions of a Chocoholic March 6, 2012 at 11:55 am

Love this guest post! I wish I can go there someday!

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francine March 6, 2012 at 12:12 pm

this is totally winning first place in my heart for my upcoming honeymoon!! thank you for the beautiful description!

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Damyon March 6, 2012 at 5:20 pm

I started to pack my bags.

Are you being paid by the tourist board? If not, drop them a link to your blog. They may just give you some kind of comp.

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Damyon March 6, 2012 at 5:22 pm

I forgot.

The photo above the paragraph that begins, “The beach of Puerto Viejo lies on the other side of a rocky cliff from Beach Break.”, is beautiful, as is the woman.

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Karina March 6, 2012 at 8:28 pm

Cami! Those awesome sunglasses, dish girl – where are they from???

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Liesl Ayers-Southwell March 7, 2012 at 11:12 am

I am a new reader here and have quickly become hooked. I can relate to you in so many ways and love to read about your adventures now in Costa Rica. My husband and I are from Seattle. For our honeymoon we backpacked through Costa Rica. When we hit Puerto Viejo, we put our back packs down and stayed the rest of the trip. We rented bikes and rode to Manzaillo, we watched the surfers on Cocles and vowed that if we ever decided to move out of the country,Punta Uva would be our resting place. Im so envious of your time there, but I so love reading your posts and reminising. Ejoy your time, and thanks for sharing!

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Liesl Ayers-Southwell March 7, 2012 at 11:16 am

Oh PS!!! Another amazing trip we had in Costa Rica was taking a tour with “Jungle Toms Safari” to Tortuguero. Tomas (the owner) is something of a philosopher and you learn so much along the way and gain a different perspective. Tortuguero was life changing for us. Being able to carry baby turtles from a sand doon to the ocean, as well as watch a giant green sea turtle lay her eggs. It was one of those moments for us, where we relized nothing else in the world mattered, except that very moment. Highly recomend!!

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Cristiana March 7, 2012 at 2:22 pm

Beautiful post, I am totally home sick now!

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Melanie March 9, 2012 at 3:03 am

geez….here I am longing for warm weather and spring to come…My body is literally craving sunshine and not functioning right because of it…I’m complaining and complaining about the weather to finally get warmer….

AND THEN THIS POST!…

You guys really are mean. I’d say something nice now….but I really am to jealous…

I’m a total tantrum baby and totally winey right now. I so want to be where you are….gosh….I can just feel the sunshine and here the waves of the beach when I close my eyes……..and then I open them and I see the gloomy weather right here….

so mean

I’m still happy for you though. :) How can somebody not be happy for you.

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Venus March 27, 2012 at 10:02 am

Beautiful writing Camille. I agree with the others, both of your descriptions make you feel like you are there. I was momentarily immersed in your surroundings and then I looked out my window..thanks for sharing. Duff just came back from Costa Rica, sounds like we need to plan a trip.

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Camille Willemain April 8, 2012 at 11:29 pm

Thanks Venus! I really recommend going to the Caribbean side, so beautiful, food is amazing, and much less developed than the Pacific. The central government has plans to tear it all down and build marinas so get there before the culture is completely lost!! Ps miss you and Don xoxo.

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seema November 19, 2012 at 8:30 pm

great pictures…thoroughly enjoyed going through them

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