San José, Jacó and Puerto Viejo: A beautiful trip to Costa Rica is written by Jacob Jørgensen.
San José - the entrance to a beautiful country
Costa Rica has been on my travel wish list for a long time. So long, in fact, that it was strange that it hadn't worked out yet, because as a well-travelled person I tend to be good at turning travel dreams into drømmerejser. But now the opportunity was there, and since no one else could come along, I went solo to the rich coast of Costa Rica, which must be one of the most well-organized countries in Latin America. And most beautiful.
Costa Rica is the size of Denmark, and with about as many people. There is also plenty of coastline. All perfect for a 10-day trip to my country number 99.
San José - The capital of Costa Rica
"A superfluous stop". "A city that you will unfortunately have to spend some time on". The prejudices about San José are many when reading descriptions, and therefore I did not have the highest expectations for San José as a city. And it's really a great starting point, because it's almost hard not to be pleasantly surprised. And I was sincerely pleasantly surprised by the city!
I think some of the prejudices are simply due to the fact that the rest of Costa Rica is as beautiful as it often is. The country is obviously a natural paradise, and if that is what you are looking for, a capital city is probably not what appeals to you the most. But now, for logistical reasons, I was forced to spend three nights in the city, and those were some really good days.
San José: Barrio Amón and Otoya
There are many different ones Neighborhoods - neighborhoods - in San José.
I personally like living in the center, but it is not always the safest neighborhoods, so I explored the historic neighborhoods Amón and Otoya right on the edge of the center, called the Catedral, and there are several really good options in the converted villas and houses. It should also be popular to stay in Barrio San Pedro, which is more fancy but not within walking distance to downtown.
All the areas seemed both interesting and safe, so I ended up in Otoya, where it took me less than 5 minutes to walk to the start of downtown San José. Brilliant!
There are not many classical sights in the city, but there are a few museums that I now skipped. On the other hand, there are two markets in the center: A 'Mercado Artesanal', which primarily has tourist souvenirs, and then 'Mercado Central', which is a real market at the nice end. If you imagine a Latin American version of the Market Halls in København, it is not completely skewed.
It is an obvious place to have lunch, look at the small stalls and buy pork belly - Chicharrón - and fresh fruit. The atmosphere is peaceful, yes, almost cozy. I was greeted kindly from the next table in the local eatery Soda, where I canned rice with seafood. It turned out that there was a whole menu, so there was also lobster soup and a small dessert for 40 kroner.
Costa Rica is not super cheap - well almost like Spain - but you get something for your money.
San José has something I really appreciate: Walking-friendly streets. Both decidedly pedestrian streets and also just ordinary streets with good sidewalks.
The whole country is quite orderly, and it becomes quite evident in the big city, where it actually feels easy to walk around to the different areas, eat your way through the center and look at the whimsical mix of small parks, colonial buildings, low houses in fun colors and a few single modernist monsters. Can definitely be recommended.
Jacó: Beach only 70 kilometers from San José
Costa Rica is a small narrow country and therefore it is sometimes not very far from one place to another. Other times you are surprised by the travel time because there are mountains in the way. I am a bathing animal and needed sun and hot water quickly, so I had chosen the beach town of Jacó because it is only 70 kilometers from San José.
If you have more time in the country, I got many recommendations on Brasilito and in general the bathing and surfing places outside the cities on the Pacific coast, but Jacó is easy. I stayed at a small hotel / smart hostel directly on the beach, Selina, and it is a fantastic beach, which is good for both you who want to swim and those who want to learn to surf.
The city is located in a horseshoe-shaped bay, which takes the pressure off the big waves from Stillehavet. Beautiful place, but hotel Selina as such can not be recommended - there were too many things they did not have control over for it to work well.
It's a tourist town and there are lots of restaurants, bars and the like on the main street behind the beach. The locals think Jacó is too much, too Americanized, and too overbuilt. Yes, there are Americans, and a single bar or four that should be moved to the US instead, but if you've been to the Spanish or French coast, even Jacó certainly does not seem over-expanded.
Carara National Park
On the outskirts of the city the large forests start, and here you will find the 'Parque Nacional Carara' - the Carara National Park - by Jacó. You can take a bus, taxi or Uber out there and there are four different trails where you walk through a unique piece of tropical forest.
It is best in the morning when the animals are most active. I saw iguanas, monkeys, butterflies, hares and a single wild boar and well a total of 20 other visitors. If you want speed, there are plenty of ziplines, ATV riding and other adrenaline-pumping activities in an activity park that stands on its own.
South of Jacó is 'Manuel Antonio National Park', which I dropped out to visit because I had heard that there are unfortunately too many visitors to the small park.
Jacó was hot, dry and just what I needed after a long flight with Air France.
Puerto Viejo: Caribbean and Costa Rica
5-6 hours drive southeast of San José is the very relaxed town of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, which is usually just called Puerto Viejo - the old port. The Caribbean part of the country has over time received immigrants from the Caribbean islands, so here are a number of Afro-Caribbean inhabitants, and the atmosphere is nice chilled.
Although Puerto Viejo is the largest town in the area, it is not much bigger than a large village extended along the coast with beach restaurants, small hotels and tons of beautiful scenery. You literally live in the middle of nature, and if you look for - or get help from a guide - you can see parrots, little monkeys and sloths everywhere - both animals and tourists…
Take the time to go to 'Cahuita National Park' and 'Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge', and do it only with a guide, because otherwise you will not see all that is there at all.
Getting to Costa Rica is easy by bus, shuttle buses or rental car, and therefore it is also quite easy to get for example from San José to Puerto Viejo.
Hotels in Puerto Viejo
There is a really good selection of hotels and I stayed in two different hotels that I can both recommend.
Hotel Banana Azul
Banana Azul is located immediately before the city and directly on the beach. It is a huge wooden house that has been expanded with small houses and villas next to it. It is all located in a beautiful garden area right next to it havet at the beach Playa Negra.
There is a pool, mini-market, restaurant and lots of charm, plus a service-oriented reception with tours and house taxis. They have both air-conditioned rooms and rooms on the 1st floor with a fan where the breeze comes from havet does the rest. There is quite a big difference in the location of the rooms, so find what suits you.
The hotel is a so-called 'adult hotel', so you must be at least 16 years old to stay here.
Hotel Banana Azul is rated 8,9 / 10 on several sides.
Le Cameleon Boutique Hotel
On the other side of Puerto Viejo lies Playa Cocles, and here lies Le Cameleon Boutique Hotel and their checked Beach club called Noah directly to the beach. This is also where you eat a super good breakfast and can have a drink and ceviche on the terrace in the evening.
Le Cameleon is a design hotel in white and clear colors and with three pools. You walk on wooden paths through a tropical garden to the rooms, all of which are air conditioned. Unlike Banana Azul, there is no age limit here, and there were several families with children - primarily from Europe.
The hotel has a number of activities, including their own skilled guide, who under the cheeky name “Jungle Man” finds everything worth seeing in the forests around the hotel.
Le Cameleon Boutique Hotel is rated 8,7 / 10 on several sites.
Jaguar Rescue Center
Le Cameleon is just a 10 minute walk from the 'Jaguar Rescue Center', which is a fantastic center that helps local animals that are injured, abandoned or just left behind. For example, many sloths and toucans are damaged on poorly insulated high-voltage power lines, so they collect to repair both animals and wires.
They have guided tours at 9.30 and 11.30, and if you ask your guide enough about the animals and the wild nature of Costa Rica, you can really learn a lot in the hour and a half that the tour lasts. Well yes, and then of course you can meet baby sloths that in cuteness can well compete with pandas.
It costs real money to get in, but they go to a good cause, so support yourself and nature, and set aside time for a trip in Jaguar Rescue Center, where by the way there are no jaguars, but many other exciting animals and stories.
San José, Jaco & Puerto Viejo are not all Costa Rica…
South of San José, there are also several wild national parks – among others the recommended 'Corcovado National Park' – and far out in Stillehavet is Isla Coco, which very appropriately added nature to the Jurassic Park films.
Good trip to one of the easiest and safest travel countries in Latin America. Good trip to Costa Rica!