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Published: December 19th 2011
So after finally leaving Bocas del Toro I began the trip to Puerto Viejo just on the other side of the Panama – Costa Rica border which, despite being relatively close geographically, involved no less than 6 changes of transport beginning with a water taxi to Colon followed by the ferry to Almirante, taxi to the bus stop, mini bus up to Changuinola, chicken bus to Guabito and finally a shuttle taxi to Puerto Viejo from Sixaola on the Costa Rican side after a short stroll across the beaten up border bridge. The crossing itself was easy enough. I’d heard that on entering Costa Rica immigrations officials might ask for an onward / return ticket leaving the country within 90 days. Without one they send you back across the bridge and make you buy a bus ticket probably from Ticabus to be able to enter – no doubt a nice little earner for the bus company. I decided to take the risk and fortunately the guy at the desk was clearly more interested in chattin away to his mate on the phone than asking me any questions, so a quick stamp latter and I was on my way.
On the other side of the border there waited a handful of 4x4 taxis offering quick and direct shuttle services straight through to your hostel in Puerto Viejo. I crossed with four other travelers and the initial quote was 40 USD for the taxi (8 dollars each). The bad thing for the taxi drivers is that the bus station is no more than sixty seconds walk away where chicken buses depart for Puerto Viejo every hour or so for less than a couple of dollars, although of course the journey is a little slower and less comfortable. This does however give travelers a great bargaining chip and after the inevitable umming and arring and when the departure of the next bus drew closer, the taxi driver just caved in and halved the price of the taxi.
I stayed in Puerto Viejo a total of 7 nights, the first being in the mosquito-infested “Nika’s Cabins” before moving next door the next day to the infinitely better “Pagalu” – one of the nicest hostels I’ve stayed in and one of my favourites from the whole trip – really good dorms, great showers, great kitchen, hostel guitar, free water refills
and FREE tea!
I’ve got fond memories of Puerto Viejo, which by day is just another laid back beach town with not a whole lot to do other that lie on one of the nearby beaches, but at nighttime bursts into life when all the bars and discos get going. One day there I did hire a bike and cycle down the road/track to Playa Manzanillo – the nicest (and furthest) of the bunch – passing by Playa Uva and Playa Cocles. It was a nice ride and decent cycle taking me the best part of an hour if I remember correctly, and with the sun bearing down on me the whole way it was definitely something of a workout! It was all worth it in the end though.
The only other excursion I made was to the Parque Nacional Cahuita – a protected nature reserve just a short half hour bus ride from town. The bus dropped me off in the town of Cahuita and from there it was a short walk to the main entrance of the park. Finding the entrance wasn’t all that straightforward as from the station it’s not signposted,
but once I was in, it took a fairly hefty 3 hours to stroll around the whole park, and this could easily have been more had I stopped to swim at any one of the cute secluded beaches along the way. I managed to see a handful of raccoons wandering around and plenty of wee monkeys jumping about in the trees. The exit brings you out on the road heading straight back to Puerto Viejo so I tried (unsuccessfully) to hitchhike my way back. Given that every passing car pretty much has to go through town I thought my chances were quite high but after about 20 minutes of trying the chicken bus came along and I jumped on. The park was really nice though and well worth a wee day trip.
All in all Puerto Viejo was a very cool place with a chilled out vibe during the day and cool bars at night. Well worth a few days – even if the mosquitoes will drive you nuts!
Photos can be seen here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/13183189@N06/
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