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Trip Report Puerto Viejo and Bocas del Toro

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We recently took a 10 day trip starting in San Jose and traveling to Puerto Viejo with a side trip to Bocas del Toro. We traveled with our 4 year old, so trip was planned to accommodate him as much as possible (in order to keep our sanity!).

Our first night was spent at the Toucan Rescue Ranch about 30 min. from the airport in SJ. I chose this place because it's right off the road to PV and it looked like a fun place to stay with kids. It was definitely a worthwhile experience, but not for light sleepers. There's a brand new cabina on the property, which has a kitchen and plenty of space- very clean and nice. If you like animals and don't mind hearing birds and dogs throughout the night, this is a special place to visit. Leslie, the owner, is a warm and special person who has dedicated her life to rescuing animals. She has several sloths living in her house, as well as many birds, monkeys, porcupines, etc. on her property. It was a great start to our vacation.

We rented a car through Mapache, who was frustrating to deal with. They gave the first car away that we reserved and only had a much more expensive car for us. It was high season and we had no choice but to take it. It worked out fine, but I felt taken advantage of.

The drive to PV was pretty, but long with lots of big trucks holding up traffic. It took us about 4 1/2 hours to get down there. Amazing how much of this area is virtually untouched, rugged coastline- beautiful.

We stayed at El Nido Cabinas in Playa Chiquita just a short drive down the road from PV. This is a quiet little place with nice cabins and a pool. We were one of two guests that night and enjoyed the attention we got from the nice manager there at the time.

We left early the next morning on Caribe Shuttle headed to Bocas del Toro. It was a bit of an adventure (shuttle, walk across bridge, another shuttle, boat ride- all in about 3 1/2 hours), especially walking across the sketchy bridge over to Panama, but it was well organized and all went smoothly.

The boat dropped us in Bocas Town, which was bustling and getting ready for Carnival. Keep in mind we had a young child with us and decided this was not a great place for us to hang out. We had a nice lunch at 9 degrees and did some food shopping at the market there. Americans own this restaurant and were nice enough to set us up with a boat driver for the next day, which saved us quite a bit of money rather than booking through our resort in Red Frog Beach. We hopped on a water taxi and in about 15 minutes arrived at Red Frog Beach.

Red Frog Beach Resort is a bit of a strange place. We chose it because the villas are beautiful and had all the amenities we wanted with a young child. it is under construction and has no good food options- just two very average restaurants catering mostly to the hostel on the island. There is an activity center with ping pong and foosball, which was great for our son who met other children there. The villa was gorgeous and we had our own pool. In many ways it was luxurious, but def needs some improvements in service and in completing construction that has been abandoned.

We took two day trips while in Bocas, with a private driver both days. It was around $100 for the day, which seemed reasonable. We visited Dolphin Bay, Zapatilla Island (beautiful but lots of people), star fish beach (also nice, but crowded) and Bocas del drago for lunch on the beach. We found this whole area to be gorgeous and well worth the visit. It was a lot of boat riding for our son though after several days of travel. I think I would've cut back on some of the day trips if I were to do it again. The beach at Red Frog, particularly Turtle Beach was nice enough to spend the day at.

After 4 days in Bocas, we headed back to PV. Took Caribe Shuttle back, which again went smoothly, minus that bridge crossing which included large trucks this time- not fun! The immigration process was a but time consuming this time, but uneventful fortunately!

We spent the remainder of our vacation at El Nido Cabinas again. This time we were the only guests, which was fantastic for us. Our cabin was new and very nice and had A/C and cable. They gave us everything we needed, including sand toys and children's DVD's. This is a peaceful, clean, comfortable option, but certainly nothing too adventurous- again chosen for our son.

We spent the days in PV beach hopping to Manzanillo (calm and beautiful), Playa Chiquita and Punta Uva, which was my favorite beach. Perfect safe waves for a child, soft white sand and a little restaurant on the beach, which made it easy. We also went to the Chocolate farm for a tour, which was super interesting, but not so much to our son (who I think expected a life time supply of chocolate) and also made a stop at the Jaguar Rescue Center. This was an interesting place, but the tour guide talked for a long time and it was hot and buggy out- we had to leave early, as our son could not deal. They did release a sloth back into the wild we while we were there, which was really cool.

The food in PV, was a mix- mostly fantastic, but more expensive than I expected. I'm sure it was our choices and that there are much cheaper options there. I'm still dreaming about our meal at Malbec which served the best steak I've ever had. Also enjoyed El Refugio (similar meal), Jungle Love and the atmosphere at Salsa Brava (food there was mediocre).

We had a very long drive back to SJ, again due to large trucks holding up traffic. With a short stop for lunch, it took us almost 6 hours to get to Santa Ana. Fortunately, we had an incredible last night at Casa Bella Rita. Nicest people ever and the house and rooms are amazing. They made a special meal for us and baked a birthday cake for our son. It was all done so thoughtfully and made for a very special ending to our trip!

Overall we had a fantastic trip. it was our fourth time in CR and I'm glad we decided to go someplace not as developed. The traveling was a bit much with our son and I think we could've made this two separate trips and been able to relax more. I'd go back to both Bocas del Toro and PV without hesitation.

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