Costa Rica's Best Kept Secrets
Costa Rica is one of the world's top travel destinations, and for good reason, but when planning trips, visitors often make the mistake of skipping one of the country's best stops, the Caribbean side.
Filled with colorful people, brightly painted homes, and clear turquoise water, a trip to the Caribbean coast is not to be missed.
If you would like to go backpacking or take a gap year in Costa Rica but venture off the tourist trail check out these recommendations for the hidden gems to discover.
1. Caribbean Coast
The Caribbean coast is mainly separated into two regions, Límon and the Talamanca coast.
While the official language of Costa Rica is Spanish, the predominate language on the Caribbean side is English. This is largely due to the Jamaican natives now residing here.
Many locals also speak a unique dialect called Patua, a mix of Spanish, English and French. It is important to note this side of the country is often avoided by tourists and locals alike due to its reputation for drugs, theft, and violence.
The Afro-Caribbean villages along this coast are generally small areas with poverty similar to that which can be seen in other regions of Costa Rica.
Much of the worry among locals comes from feelings of racism as drug related crimes and theft can happen anywhere but it is always a good idea to be aware when traveling.
It is unlikely that travelers will experience any conflict and, instead, will enjoy the laid back vibes, cool reggae beats, and warm Caribbean breeze found along this coast.
For adventure, this is one of the best scuba diving destinations in Costa Rica and there are courses for complete beginnere and more advanced levels.
2. Puerto Viejo
The most visited destination along the Caribbean shoreline is Puerto Viejo.
Located about 3 hours from the country's capital of San Jose, Puerto Viejo is a tropical beach community with Jamaican flare. This is one of the best places to see in Costa Rica.
You'll still find the typical Costa Rican dishes of meat, rice and beans, but with the addition of Caribbean jerk marinades and coconut milk.
The village is busy with life, offering visitors gorgeous views of the warm turquoise waters during the day and salsa dancing classes by night.
The main drag of the village is located along the shoreline and is often filled with the beats of local reggae bands. Renting a bike is the best way to view Puerto Viejo, the many surrounding beaches, top surfing destinations, hiking trails, and chocolate farms.
Bike riding is ideal during the day as the roads can grow especially dark at night making visibility difficult. One of the best rides is to the neighboring village of Manzanillo.
Even smaller than Puerto Viejo, Manzanillo is home to Jamaican colored homes, Bob Marley murals, and excellent hiking trails through Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Gandoca-Manzanillo.
You can find lots of Costa Rica tours offering trips in Manzanillo.
The trails can be challenging to navigate at times, especially after a summer rainstorm but the coastal views are worth it. Deep inside the reserve is where you'll find clifftop lookout points and those famous leaning palm trees over the Caribbean waters.
4. Talamanca Coast
The Talamanca coast is also home to many volunteer programs in Costa Rica, animal rescue centres and sanctuaries including the Jaguar Rescue Centre and Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica.
This coast is teeming with animals and gives visitors the opportunity to get up close to a special few. With much to experience and explore, the Caribbean coast is a must-see for any Costa Rican visitor.
By Ali Gaffey