Updated: Aug 20, 2019
Regardless of the mode of transportation that brings you to Puerto Viejo, the best* way to set out and explore the coast for the first time after you arrive is definitely bicycle. That’s right – rain or shine, even if you’ve already rented a car – the gearless, brakeless, cumbersome beach cruiser is specifically designed, it seems, for the (mostly) flat 15 km stretch of coastal highway connecting Playa Negra in the North to Manzanillo in the South.
*DISCLAIMER: best implies most enjoyable & rewarding but not necessarily the safest; helmets aren’t common but are most certainly recommended. Always be aware of motorists & other road hazards.
As soon as you roll into town, you’ll notice the famous beach cruiser is as common as coconuts. Colorful rentals line the streets, and locals and foreigners, alike, rely on the simple, low-maintenance machine as their primary means of getting from Point A to Point B – or even to The Point Bar & Grill. So, if you’re looking for the genuine experience, it’s advisable that you, too, saddle up and get peddling.
Of course, I don’t necessarily expect you to be convinced yet, so I’ve got at least a few reasons to support my claim below.
Reason Numero Uno: Adjust to the Pace of Life
It depends on where you’re from, as well as where you’ve been, but relative to much of the world, Costa Rica tends to move at a slightly slower pace. The Caribbean is the essence of this laid-back approach to daily life and for some – especially city-dwellers – it's a challenging adjustment. Enter the beach cruiser.
With a single gear and a modest maximum velocity – even downhill – the beach cruiser is fine-tuned to the speed at which things ought to move. It doesn’t matter how many leg days you’ve done, or how infinite your cardio, this bicycle decides how fast you go – you only choose where you go. Although, most people tend to go either North or South, as per the current arrangement of our civil infrastructure.
One trip the length of the highway at this specifically-restricted pace is sufficient for you to start seeing results. The 3-hour journey will recondition your perception of time and cause you to reconsider the parameters of promptness.
Soon you will be asking yourself, “what is 3 hours?” What is time?” This is when you’re ready. Only after one has accepted the speed of the beach cruiser will one be prepared to truly appreciate the pace of life in the Caribbean.
Reason Numero Dos: See Nature
If you didn’t come to Puerto Viejo to see wildlife, then you had better keep your eyes closed. Because that shit is everywhere. But you’re likely to miss these roadside treasures if you’re zipping along in an automobile.
The beach cruiser gives you plenty of time discover the magical natural diversity of this lush, jungle coast; and when you inevitably spot a creature, it’s easy to stop, dismount, and get your camera out. Or, in the likely instance that you find yourself stuck in a long traffic jam while a sloth slowly makes its way across the street, you have the freedom to go around. But of course you won’t go around because there’s always time to watch a sloth do sloth stuff.
Joke Time: Why did the sloth cross the road? Probably because we cut down their homes to make room for our cars...
That wasn’t even remotely funny. But it’s true.
Remember, it’s your responsibility to make sure that sloth makes it safely to the other side. Even if it means putting your own safety in jeopardy. This is true for all of the many animals you’ll come across.
Reason Numero Tres: Access
Here, the theme of “going slow” continues. Not unlike the wildlife, you see more by dialing back the haste. Discover the hidden, partially grown-over entranceways to the trails that connect the main road to spots along the beach as you cruise lazily by on your bicycle.
I can’t give away the exact secret coordinates… but if you keep your eyes peeled as you ride through the jungly town of Playa Chiquita, watch the beach side of the road. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot the tiny* trailhead that leads down to pristine tidepools, ideal for a quick dip.
*The trailhead is small but your bicycle will fit. Do not give up. As soon as the handlebars are through, you’ve made it!
Additionally, of course, there’s always the advantage of guaranteed parking for your bike. Don’t get turned away from the best spots because there’s no room for your car – take a beach cruiser instead!
Reason Numero Cuatro: There’s More to Puerto Viejo Than Just Puerto Viejo
Some travelers are well-informed upon their arrival, whereas others are surprised to learn that there is more to Puerto Viejo than just the town of Puerto Viejo. The town center is where much of the action is but that’s not the only place to check out.
About 2 km North of Puerto Viejo is Playa Negra, a tranquil town with never-ending black sand beaches that barely ever see a big crowd. Start here on your bicycle and head South, first passing through Puerto Viejo centre, and then Cocles, Playa Chiquita, and Punta Uva, before finally arriving in the Southern-most town of Manzanillo – home of the Manzanillo National Park. If you’re determined, the beach cruiser will allow you to complete this journey in just over an hour – but take your time; you’re in no rush.
Beware: once you reach Manzanillo you will be confronted by the only two hills on the coastal highway. If you’ve been skipping leg day, you might end up pushing your bike a short stretch, but once you conquer this unforgiving terrain, treat yourself to a refreshing swim in the sea or a cold smoothie at Maxi’s Restaurant on the other side.
Oh, and the hard part is getting back. Remember, you only realize how hot and tired you are when you stop bicycling… So, don’t stop.
Reason Numero Cinco: It’s Good for You
Let’s be honest. With all of the decadent chocolate, mouth-watering local cuisine, and fancy, tropical beverages readily available, you’re likely to give in to the occasional indulgence during your holiday. Cancel out the intake by burning some calories on your beach cruiser. Get some sun, see the sights, smell the smells, and feel less guilt about that inevitable extra round.
Returning home with a tan is cool but nothing is more impressive than showing off those massive, rock-hard calf muscles you earned from your many trips powering up and down the coast on the Caribbean’s signature mode of transport.
PRO-TIP: For the sake of your own safety, the flow of traffic, and the mental well-being of motorists, please ride in SINGLE file. Bicyclists/pedestrians are not guaranteed the right of way. Ever. Especially here. Be a considerate bicyclist and share the road.
In conclusion, there’s probably no bad way to see Puerto Viejo. However, with our string of unique, picturesque towns, each with its own vibe and style, seamlessly held together by the warm embrace of the continuous dense jungles which crawl the length of the tropical coastline, I would argue – as I just have – that there is a best way to see Puerto Viejo.