Relaxed Vibes and Reggae Beats on the Caribbean Coast

Costa Rica’s eastern coast, along Caribbean sea (part of the Atlantic Ocean) is calm, relaxed and relatively free of splashy tourist spots. It is more dominated by indigenous cultures and West Indian immigrants due to it’s remoteness and malarial weather that kept Spanish settlers away centuries ago. In fact this region of the country was the last to have paved roads, and electricity didn’t fully arrive until the late 70s. Most part of eastern Costa Rica is protected forest land, with few spots of inhabited parts, mostly along the main road to San Jose.

Cahuita

My first stop in Costa Rica was at Cahuita, and this was purely because that’s where the first bus we saw in San Jose was going to. Arriving in the capital, we headed to the bus station north of downtown San Jose and saw that there was an express departure for Cahuita and Puerto Viejo, so we hopped on.

It was a great decision.

Cahuita was a perfect introduction to Costa Rica and was exactly what we were looking for. Relaxed vibes, reggae beats, tons of laughter and delicious food with lots of coconut flavours. Cahuita is a small village with a standard grid layout and pretty soon you’ll have traversed all of it. To the south and right next to the village is the Playa Blanca (white sand beach), part of the Cahuita national park. To the north and a short walk away is Playa Negra (black sand beach) lined with numerous hostels, cheap hotels, resorts, restaurants and even yoga studios. This is where most tourists end up and for a reason – it is stunning!

What to do in Cahuita? Rent a bicycle, go snorkelling, swim, and check out Parque National Cahuita. Plenty of photo opportunities too! This is more than enough things to do for few days.

Parismina

We spent five days in this remote village of Parismina, reachable only by boats. The reason for being here was to volunteer for a non profit that works towards the conservation of sea turtles. This part of the world is a turtle nesting hotspot and over centuries has seen a rapid decline in the number of turtles due to indiscriminate human activity – both on land (stealing turtle eggs, eating turtles for meat, hunting for shells, depletion of appropriate spaces for nesting due to construction, etc.) and in the ocean (fishing nets, big shrimp trawlers and climate change). The organization in the village here – Asociación Salvemos las Tortugas de Parismina – endeavours to save turtles from extinction through various conservation efforts.

Logistics

Buses for Siquirres Puerto Limón, Cahuita and Puerto Viejo depart from San Jose’s Autotransportes Mepe bus terminal (few blocks north of downtown). From San Jose, the stops are – Siquirres roughly two hours away, Puerto Limon an hour more, Cahuita another hour, and finally Puerto Viejo five hours away more or less. There are smaller buses available that stop more frequently, but is not worth the price. You may also take an express bus to Puerto Limon, hang out in the town for a little bit and catch the next departure to Cahuita/Puerto Limon.

The Northern Carribean coast is not very far from San Jose, but the remoteness and sparse population of this place can give you a sense of being in the middle of nowhere. Most of the places here are accessible by waterways only (or small airplanes) and protected under the boundaries of Parque Tortuguero.

Reaching Parismina therefore requires a little more work. Coming from the west (San Jose) or east (Puerto Limon), get off at the town of Siquirres. There’s not much to do here but to stock up on supplies and grab a plate of food from one of the eateries near the bus station or the main square. Line up for the next bus to Caño Blanco (they run twice a day) which is approximately a two hour ride on a very dusty road through banana plantations to nowhere. From Caño Blanco, you transfer to a boat which will take you to Parismina in a fun 15 minute ride.

To go to the tourist spots on the western coast and central highlands, such as surfing at Tamarindo or hiking in Monteverde, you need to return to San Jose.

Food

Besides the staple Gallo Pinto (rice and beans) that accompanies almost every meal, the main flavours of this Caribbean region include generous use of coconut. Rondon was my favourite dish – various root vegetables and meat in coconut sauce – and so was anything in jerk seasoning. Ask for patacones (fried plantain) instead of potatoes for your meals, and try eating at a smaller eatery rather than a swanky restaurant.

If your Costa Rica trip permits, definitely include Caribbean Costa Rica in your travel itinerary.