Yesterday was probably the quickest, easiest border crossing I’ve ever had the pleasure of doing. The whole thing took about half an hour including a brief detour to have an expensive wee. There were no queues on the Saturday morning. We were stamped out of Panama, walked over the bridge, were stamped into Costa Rica then off we fucked to catch a bus. Why can’t all border crossings be this easy?
We got to Puerto Viejo way earlier than I was expecting to and fell into Café Rico for iced tea and some absolutely excellent chips. The prices though! Fuck me, we’re not in Panama anymore, Toto. We dropped our bags at the hostel and went in search of a beachside beer and very quickly realised that we weren’t going to be doing a lot of this on account of not being fucking millionaires.
Tarrant is rapidly losing patience with hostel life though. I have a bit more tolerance than her but even I’ve got to admit there are some weird fuckers here. One girl is keeping her clothes in the communal freezer which is only one of those tiny compartments you get in the top of fridges to begin with. The thing is she’s keeping them there because she’s concerned they’re infested with whatever bit the shit out of her in Bocas. We got savaged in Bocas too, it’s probably sand flies, but who the fuck suspects their clothes are riddled with tiny bugs then proceeds to keep them in a communal space where people keep food? Another bloke sidled up to me whilst I was cooking, stood right over my shoulder in silence and when I looked at him and asked him if he was alright he just goes, “Cooking is good?” Yeah mate, and it’d be a lot better if you weren’t fucking breathing on me. Fuck’s sake. Fortunately Puerto Viejo is a bit of alright so I guess we’ll just avoid the hostel as much as possible.
So there’s a national park close to here and it’s one of the few in Costa Rica that won’t be having you sign contracts to hand over your first born in payment. Cahuita National Park is entry by donation (depending on which entrance you use) and I’d read that the “strong suggestion” was US$5 per person which is incredibly reasonable. Then it’s just a case of stalking people who had taken guides and waiting until they found something.
It doesn’t take long, these guys are shit hot. One of the first things we saw were raccoons which might not have been as exciting to our north American counterparts on account of the fact they can find them rooting through their rubbish bins on any given Tuesday, but to us it was amazing. I’ve never seen one in real life, they’re adorable! I mean, I probably wouldn’t give one a cuddle on account of the razor claws but they were great to watch.
Sloths are a thing that exist here too, I don’t know how they manage to spot them, they’re just big lumps in the trees. We did see them when they were pointed out but not clearly and it’s one thing to follow a guided group around, it’s quite another to ask to use their scope. Everyone is really generous with their finds though, beckoning complete strangers over to look at the cool lizard they found. It’s like those Magic Eye things from the 90s, you’re staring into the foliage and all you can see is twigs as people try and describe which twig you need to be looking slightly to the right of and… ah fuck! There it is! Then you can’t unsee it until you look away and it disappears again.
Monkeys were the star of the day though. There were a group of Howler monkeys just hanging out in the tree. There was a couple of babies too but they were impossible to get photos of. Cameras are a bit of a sore point at moment, my RX100 is only functioning intermittently at the moment so we’re using my spare phone which is an S20. The thing is, the only reason we’re using this is because Tarrant drowned her phone in Bocas. Fortunately the S20 has a vastly superior camera so whilst I’m sorry that she had to go through the trauma of setting up a different phone which is several hours of her life she can’t get back, it does mean we have a decent enough photography device.
You can pretty much walk as far as you damn well please around Cahuita National Park. You can walk all the way through to the other end and catch a bus back from there should you choose to, it’s about eight kilometres of flat walking. But the walking is slowwww. You’re gawping into the trees, stopping when you see a group to find out what they’re looking at. You’re spending time watch things eat, or just stare right back at you. It takes a lot of time. We also had Tarrant’s ankles to think about and they were starting to ache so we decided to go as far at Punta Cahuita. The picnic area was full so we just sat on the beach and ate lunch before turning around and heading back.
We only took a slow stroll of course, we still wanted to see shit. There was a family pointing into the foliage so we stopped and they explained there was a snake, but it looked like a branch. I stared really intently at all the branches wondering which one was the snake. How the fuck does someone even spot something like this in the first place? Once we saw it it was obvious. The snake was a slightly lighter green than its surroundings and if you followed the nope rope up you could see its little head. The family left and we pointed it out to another couple of groups that came by.
We saw white-faced capuchin monkeys on the way back too, one of them swung down onto the hand rail and strutted along that for a short while before heading back up into the trees. So that was awesome! The family of howler monkeys were still chilling where we’d left them too. We watched them a while longer then headed to the beach to do some chilling of our own.
The trail around the national park hugs the coast so you’ve got the sea to one side and jungle to the other. Some of the beaches are safe for swimming so we figured we’d end our sweaty stroll with a dip in the Caribbean. All strolls should end with a dip but my patience with sand was starting to wear thin so we didn’t loiter for long before we headed back into Cahuita town to catch the bus back to Puerto Viejo. The national park exceeded expectations though, it was absolutely fantastic. We really enjoyed the day.
We still had one more full day here so we stretched my sand tolerance to its absolute limit and took a bus to Punta Uvas for one last frolic in the Caribbean Sea. It’s a nice beach, we walked through a little foresty bit to a beach with loads of shade and set up against a log so we could have a back rest. Grandma likes a back rest. It saves me wriggling around on a sarong trying to get comfortable thus inflicting more sand on my general being. Sand. Yeah, I’m pretty much done with sand now.
We alternated between chilling and paddling before we decided we’d been far too close to sand for far too long now and padded off up the beach in search of a tasty cold motor impairment beverage. There’s a little bar with a nice vibe. They do food too but we were interested in a liquid lunch. This backfired massively on the bus home when my bladder decided it didn’t want to play this game anymore and insisted we get off the bus a couple of kilometres away from town so I could dash into the sea for a massive piss.
Puerto Viejo has been a great introduction to the pura vida attitude of Costa Rica. You’re going to get offered weed several times a day here and the Caribbean vibe is strong. It’s a really great place to chill for a few days, the nearby national park is very much worth several hours of your time, and there are some nice places to eat. It’s expensive, especially when compared to Panama. Prices are on a par with the UK, though perhaps not the astronomically pricey places like London or Brighton. Definitely brace yourself though, your bank account is going to have a nervous breakdown.
Jump to “Useful shit to know…”
Cahuita National Park & Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Limón, Costa Rica
Stayed at: Backpackers Puerto Viejo, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Useful shit to know…
How To Get From Bocas Town To Puerto Viejo By Bus
Bocas Town To Guabita
- If you bought a return boat ticket you need to go to the same place you were dropped off to go back.
- We used Transporte Maritimo Valencia and had paid US$10 for a return ticket valid for a month.
- Boats start at 6am and are every half an hour.
- We had to surrender our ticket at the ticket desk. A family in front of us hadn’t done this and tried to present their ticket on the dock so they were sent back to the desk.
- The boat took about half an hour, maybe just over.
- I naively assumed that we’d need to go to the same bus station we were dropped at 1.4 kilometres away and whilst I’m sure this would be fine as buses to Changuinola do go there there’s a much closer one you can easily walk to. It’s only 250 metres away and it at coordinates 9.293836, -82.399657.
- We paid US$1 each for a taxi though. Taxi drivers will meet the boat wanting to take you everywhere from the border to Panama City.
- Almirante to Changuinola took 45 minutes and cost US$1.45 each.
- You’ll be dropped opposite a terminal where you need to look for the sign above the platforms stating “Guabito”.
- There was a full Toyota Hilux taxi there when we arrived. That pulled away and another Hilux taxi took its place. I don’t know if there’s ever a minibus but we took the shared taxi.
- It took around 20 minutes and cost US$1.45.
The Border Crossing
- You have to go to immigration to get your exit stamp. You’ll see a big sign for it near the tourist shuttles to Bocas.
- Coordinates are 9.498216, -82.61271.
- We were there at 9am on a Saturday and there was no queue.
- We had our photo taken and our fingerprints scanned then that was it. We were out of Panama.
- No English is spoken in this office but we got by with hand gestures.
- Incidentally here’s a toilet nearby if you need it but it’s a dollar to use. Head for coordinates 9.497815, -82.613853, you’ll see signs past the supermarket.
- When you head over the bridge up the walkway, keep to the right hand side.
- You’ll have your exit stamp checked by the guards on the bridge.
- You’ll see the sign for Policía de Frontera as you walk down off the bridge following the sign for Sixaola.
- Put your clocks back an hour!
- Again, there was no queue at what was now 8.15am on a Saturday.
- I’d read that you will absolutely be denied entry without some manner of transport out of Costa Rica. We’d used Onward Flight and I had the .pdf ready to check, stressing out that I’d not printed it.
- She spoke excellent English. She asked us where we were heading today and what our jobs were. Didn’t even ask us how long we were staying in Costa Rica, nevermind ask us for flight information.
- She stamped our passports and that was it. We were in Costa Rica.
Sixaola To Puerto Viejo
- If you walk up the road and turn right you’ll see a small bus terminal on the left.
- There’s a little café, the lady there will change your dollars for you. They’ll also give you the key for the toilet around the corner if you ask.
- Buses to Puerto Viejo leave every hour on the hour. You take the bus to Limon.
- We got our tickets from the office at the terminal. It cost ₡2325 (US$4.33) each and the bus took about 90 minutes.
- Total cost from Bocas Town to Puerto Viejo: US$11.23 each (assuming you bought a $10 return boat ticket thus making the return journey $4).
- Total time from Bocas Town to Puerto Viejo: including the border crossing (but this will absolutely vary depending on when you arrive at the border I would imagine) and waiting for buses: Four and a half hours.
- Autotransportes MEPE run buses between Manzanillo and Limon that will take you to Cahuita from Puerto Viejo.
- Head to the MEPE office in Puerto Viejo. It’s on Avenida 73, coordinates 9.656818, -82.755554.
- You can buy tickets there too, or buy them on the bus from the driver.
- The buses actually leave diagonally opposite from 9.656652, -82.755895.
- It takes about half an hour and costs ₡1065 each, one way.
- It takes you all the way into the Cahuita bus terminal.
- The timetable valid from March 2023 is below.
- Buses take about 20 minutes from Manzanillo to Puerto Viejo.
- We got to MEPE at 8.20am and the 8am Manzanillo to Limon bus was just about to leave.
- Limon to Cahuita is about an hour. We got to the bus terminal in Cahuita at 1.30pm and the 12.30pm Limon to Manzanillo bus was just about to leave. Maybe don’t cut it as fine as us. We were lucky with buses today.
- The national park is open from 8am until 4pm.
- You don’t have to book, you can just show up.
- You have to leave the trails at 2pm and the beaches at 3pm.
- If you enter through Puerto Vargas there is a mandatory entrance fee of US$5.65 per foreigner.
- If you enter through Playa Blanca it’s technically free but you will be asked for a voluntary donation.
- We felt US$5 each was fair.
- We paid in US dollars but you can pay in colones too.
- It’s cash only at the Playa Blanca entrance.
- There are toilets and changing rooms close by to where you pay.
- You can get off the bus at the Puerto Vargas entrance (there’s a bus stop at 9.713421, -82.822832) and walk all the way to Playa Blanca then take a bus back from Cahuita, or vice versa.
- That’s an 8.8 kilometre (5.47 miles) walk but it’s flat.
- The Limón to Manzanillo bus will probably get to Puerto Viejo around 90 minutes after it leaves Limón and this will take you to Punta Uva.
- You’ll want to check the schedule with the MEPE office though.
- You can buy your ticket at the office or on the bus.
- It costs ₡870 each one way and takes like ten or fifteen minutes.
- Get off the bus at 9.63637, -82.692109 and it’s a very short walk to the beach.
- The bus stop to get back is at 9.636514, -82.692278. You’ll see it, make sure you stand there or the bus won’t stop for you.