Our trip to Bocas del Toro left us close to the border with Costa Rica, so instead of going back to Panama City we went straight to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, a small fishing village in Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast.
If you talk to one of the operators that run tourist shuttles between Bocas del Toro and Puerto Viejo, you would think that doing it on your own is worse than Frodo’s quest to Mordor. In reality, it’s very simple (follow these steps) and way cheaper. Just be sure to get your passport stamped once you set foot in Costa Rica: nobody will force you to go by the immigrations office, but the lack of an entry stamp will get you in trouble later on!
Just like Santa Catalina in Panama, Puerto Viejo was once a small fishing village discovered by surfers, and it perfectly illustrates Costa Rica’s ‘Pura Vida’ life mantra (originally from a Mexican film from the 50s, the term was quickly incorporated into the Costa Rican culture and embodies both the idea of appreciating life at its fullest and the fact that there is always someone else less fortunate, so… ‘Pura Vida’!). Puerto Viejo unfortunately also illustrates another thing about Costa Rica: prices don’t match the setting. Here you are sitting on this small little roadside hut when the bill comes, making you look around to check that you weren’t teleported to the Ritz Carlton!
With a full stomach and a bruised wallet, we went to check out Puerto Viejo’s beaches. I would rate them a hair down Galapagos and Bocas del Toros’ beaches, but really just because we had to share them with a few other persons. Jules sat down reading a book and I rented a surfboard. After half an hour I start getting these amazed looks. Knowing that they couldn’t be because of my awesome surfing skills, I look down and notice that my shorts had burst by the seams and I was proudly flashing my behind to the whole beach. A quick exit and a towel got us back to town without further incident, but we’ll keep an eye on Instagram for a #MooningGringo tag!
It was raining cats and dogs the following morning, so we decided to check out the Jaguar Rescue Center. Originally set up by Sandro and Encar Garcia, a husband and wife team of zoologists, to treat wounded jaguars, the center quickly started receiving requests from all over Costa Rica to harbor various distressed wildlife animals, and now hosts everything ranging from baby crocodiles found in abandoned pools to flurry sloths fallen from trees. The day before our visit it had just received four sea turtles that have been harpooned by poachers. Most of these animals are reintroduced to the wilderness once they recover, except for those that can’t fend for themselves (like an owl born with a wing malformation that prevented it from silently approaching prey). All of this is explained by passionate and witty volunteers that come from all over the world to help the center. Kudos to them!
On our last afternoon in Puerto Viejo we rented a couple of bicycles to check out Punta Uva, an even smaller town with an equally awesome beach. A big thanks to the readers that told us about this, without these tips we would be missing a bunch of incredible places!
Off to San Jose now!