Puerto Viejo or Mal Pais?

Old Mar 27th, 2011, 02:28 PM
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Puerto Viejo or Mal Pais?

I am traveling to Costa Rica with a friend for the month of May 2011. We are having a girls getaway and it will be our first time to CR. While deciding where to go in CR, we have narrowed it down to 2 places that we like and that we can afford. We will either stay in a beach house in Puerto Viejo that is 300 meters from Cocles beach or Mal Pais in a beach house that is 150 meters from the south end of Mal Pais beach.

We would love to go to several places in CR to see more of the country but the only reason we are able to stay for a full month is because the monthly rates are significanly cheaper. So we're just choosing one town.

We are single women in our late 20s so we would like somewhere safe. We are pretty active so we would like to do things like canopy tours, hikes, rafting, snorkeling and/or diving, and etc. We would also like to surf as much as possible. We have both been surfing twice but we are horrible at it. We want to spend the month to improve our skills (or really just gain skills) and practice. We are also really laid back and are looking forward to laying out on the beach. My friend also enjoys the nightlife scene.

I keep hearing that Mal Pais and Puerto Viejo are as different as night and day but I can't seem to figure out what these differences are. We will be booking our trip soon so if anyone could suggest which location would be more suitable for our vacation, it would be greatly appreciated! We're completely lost. Thanks so much!!
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Old Apr 11th, 2011, 12:11 AM
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I like Puerto Viejo because of its Caribbean relaxed filling, with a main mix of the rasta, native and latin cultures, which make this a unique place. Of course, you tourist make the other part of the place's filling with mainly American, Europeans and many Argentinians that have established there.

I could not be specific with Mal País because I haven't been there. However, I know many place near by and that's an area in which there has been a lot of massive tourism development, although not exactly there in Mal País, but every time getting closer.

If, besides the expectations you mentioned, you would like a nice transcultural experience in a less "traditional touristic place" to not say "too much tourism", you may be sure that Puerto Viejo is a better option. In fact, the Carribbean side of Costa Rica is an exceptional area, in which locals are more
combative against massive tourism. Even if not only in this area of the country, it is here were you will find the most varied mix of foreigners who decided to establish in CR, making a living from small and medium size (more environment friendly) tourism facilities.

I have to confess that in this case I am biassed, because I was born in Limón, and although I lived there until I was 13, that enough time to make me keeping going back as much as I could.

Just to finish, Puerto Viejo's area is a more humid and environmentally exuberant area than Mal País's, and although both are tropical and biodiverse, near Puerto Viejo you find the most important Coral Reefs of Costa Rica, in Cahuita N.P.

Best regards,

Rodolfo Vieto
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Old Apr 15th, 2011, 12:36 PM
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I have been to both! I have only been to CR twice but we were trying to hit some of the more remote surfing destinations.

Both are amazing. You can't really make a mistake here. You will enjoy both. However maybe I can provide some insight to help with your decision. From what I have learned, Puerto Viejo September is the best weather you will get there. We travelled to Mal Pais in February (of 2009) and PV this January (2011). We stayed in Mal Pais for 2 nights and PV for 5 nights.

In Malpais we stayed around 1km (15 minute walk) from Santa Teresa beach, which is where the small village is that has a couple surf shops. I can only compare the waves for the times we were there, but Malpais had HUGE clean waves. Locals were talking about the "off shore winds" which were causing these larger than average waves, so what we experienced is probably not normal. It was really hard to "get up" but according to my husband (who managed to get up) the surfing was better in Malpais. The beaches are so scenic here, and since it's on the Pacific you get the nice sunset views. We were too tired to really check out the night life but I heard there really isn't any. The weather was great.

As I mentioned, from talking to the locals, PV's best weather is September. The weather patterns are different on the Caribbean than the rest of CR. We stayed directly across from Playa Cocles (at Totem if you see it on a map). Playa Cocles seemed to vary quite a bit for waves, one day it was very calm, another day the waves were huge. We biked through Puerto Viejo to Playa Negra which had smaller "beginner" waves since it had been 2 years since we last surfed. I think if you're there for a month you could definitely appreciate the bigger waves.

My husband thought the waves in PV were not as "clean" - more choppy and not as easy to ride. Although it was easier for me to learn (I got up, woohoo!) since the waves on Playa Negra were smaller than Malpais. We discussed it with some guys from California who settled in PV, and they say the waves are a lot harder to ride than California.

The other thing we really enjoyed about PV is the night life - every night there is ONE happening place to go. We went out 3 of the 5 nights, and it was really amazing we actually got to know some of the people. Since the area is so small, we would see the same people all the time. I'm sure this would be the same case for Malpais since it is also small.

Other things to consider - there are a lot more day trips available from PV. You mentioned snorkelling, rafting etc. There are day trips available from PV to go rafting on the Pacuare river - but not from Malpais. I highly recommend Exploradores Outdoors!!! Also, there is snorkelling in Cahuita which is close to PV.

Another thing I really liked about PV is you could rent bicycles, which we used to quickly get between areas.

I think if I were you, I'd probably go to PV. The fact it is September and the other activities you want to do would sway the decision. Based on surfing alone Malpais might be the better choice though.

If you end up going to PV, definitely check out Tasty Waves Cantina it's a bar between Playa Cocles and PV.

I never felt unsafe either place. (I'm 28 female) but I was with my husband everywhere. Everywhere in CR you should watch your belongings but the only thing I feel that is treacherous are the potholes along the roads

Have an awesome trip!
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Old Apr 15th, 2011, 03:24 PM
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I love the exchange of ideas on this board. I have been to both as well. I have to disagree (Very Respectfully) with Andrea. She wrote an excellent response. But Santa Teresa / Mal Pais took my heart. I love it there.

You say you are two gals in your twenties and surfers. Let me tell you a quick funny story. I was there last July with my wife. We are in our fifties. Anyway there is a young population here, and everyone surfs and many do yoga too. Lots of attractive people walking around. After a couple of days, I asked my bride to excuse me, and asked "Have you noticed all the beautiful women walking around here?" She just smiled and said "Uh huh. But the heck with the girls. Have you checked out the guys??". I am fortunate that I married such a good sport. ;-)

One of my favorite things about this area is the food. There is an international community there. Lots of folks from Europe and South America. They have opened up some very interesting restaurants. I would go back just to eat!

I am pasting up a link to my NON-COMMERCIAL blog: http://truecostarica.com/. The very first posting is about the food in the area.

If the forum moderators feel that this is commercial, they will take it down. No problem. I want to respect the rules. If that happens, I will paste up the whole posting from the blog. I just wanted you to see the pictures.

Hope this helps! Let me know if I can offer more advice.

Warm Regards,
Pat Hewitt
(Travel professional)
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Old Apr 18th, 2011, 11:20 AM
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I like reading the other side of the story
Anyways like I said you cannot make a mistake, you will love your trip either way Definitely let us know what you decide to do or if you have other questions!!!
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Old Apr 19th, 2011, 03:08 PM
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Wow! You have all been so helpful. Thank you so much. So we've been back and forth a lot, but we have decided to go to PV. We really want to surf but the nightlife and other activities that PV offers sound amazing as well. And we fell in love with the house we found near Playa Cocles beach.

I loved the stories you all shared. I'm more excited than ever. I do have a couple other random questions though. Someone told me I should only drink bottled water, but that's pretty costly for a month. Is it safe to drink water out of the tap? And also, what is the best thing to do about currency? Is it best to take cash or travelers checks and exchange it, or go with credit cards, or debit...? What's the best/safest option?

Again, you've all been such a huge help! Thanks so much for everything!
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Old Apr 19th, 2011, 04:36 PM
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We always drink tap--never a problem. We did stay at one place several years ago, near Puerto Viejo, that did not have potable water. It was clearly stated. That's the only time we steered clear of tap water.
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Old Apr 20th, 2011, 07:05 AM
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Tap water is fine everywhere. This is not like Mexico, where it's very important to drink only bottled water. I travel around the country here quite a bit and never worry about the tap water.
As for currency, don't bring travelers checks. They are not widely accepted here. Also, don't bring any $100 bills. Some places don't even like the $50 bills. Bring a little cash to get you started and then use ATM's for more cash as you need it.
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Old Apr 20th, 2011, 07:08 AM
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Also wanted to mention the Mal Pais/Santa Teresa has nightlife too. Anywhere you go that draws young surfers will have some nightlife. Not necessarily big nightclubs, but fun little bars. The Surf Camp is fun with pool tables, skate boards, etc...the Funky Monkey is a fun bar...there are others. I always manage to find a fun bar when I visit.
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Old Apr 20th, 2011, 01:16 PM
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This is awesome info! I'm the friend going with colie to PV, and getting sooooo excited! We're just trying to pin down a few more details, do you have any suggestions on how to get from San Jose to PV? From talking to friends who've been there, they've all recommended hiring a car...do we need to book that in advance? Are there companies you'd recommend? Also, we'll be spending 1 night in San Jose before we fly out. Do you have any suggestions of where to say that isn't too pricey? Thanks so much! We really appreciate the info!
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Old Apr 20th, 2011, 01:27 PM
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rrbica - for two people from San Jose to Puerto Viejo either public bus or Interbus is good as long as you can coordinate with your flight times. If you need to spend first or last night in San Jose, Casa 69 is a great choice. Banana Azul is amazing in Puerto Viejo I'll probably never stay anywhere else.
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Old Apr 20th, 2011, 04:08 PM
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Bookmarking.
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Old Apr 21st, 2011, 09:30 PM
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Thank you Pat for posting your link. Mal Pais looks beautiful. I wish we could do boyhood Mal Pais and Puerto Viejo bit next time I make a trip to CR I will definitely have to visit MP.

And thanks to all for the other tips. Especially about the travelers checks. That's what we were planning on bringing so I guess we'll change those plans.

Also to hipvirgochick, what's the difference between the public bus and Interbus? Is one safer than the other because I keep hearing horror stories about Costa Rica's bus system?

Thanks!
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Old Apr 22nd, 2011, 07:38 PM
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Mal Pais is close to Montezuma, maybe a 40 minute drive, and there are waterfalls to hike to there, a zipline, some fantastic restaurants and a terrific boat trip to a deserted island where you have a BBQ on the beach and stunning scenery. There are busses that run between the towns.
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Old Apr 23rd, 2011, 05:29 AM
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PV is sort of a druggie dodgy rasta vibe place

Punta Uva pachamamacaribe.com is nice beach

Cocles is underwhelming pretty dirty lots of stay

animals eating garbage so kindly put it is very rustic.

and much more crime ridden.

Also may begins the rainy season weather2travel.com

Climate guide lots more rain Carib side usually

So for me Mal Pais malpaissurfcamp.com moanalodge.com

2 nice places for me in that area both good values for price.
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Old Apr 23rd, 2011, 05:31 AM
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MalPais also best most tubular surfing breaks

if you know what you are doing

www.papagsurf.com
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Old Apr 27th, 2011, 06:56 AM
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We took the public bus to Puerto Viejo from San Jose without any problems. That being said we were a little nervous before-hand, but it was the only way we could get to to PV the day we arrived on our flight, because Interbus only leaves in the early morning. Public bus was cheaper and I wouldn't do it another way now! We booked ahead of time using a taxi service, the taxi pre-purchased the bus tickets, picked us up at the airport and dropped us off at the bus depot. It worked seamlessly. I was with my husband so I felt very safe, the bus terminal could be a bit unnerving for you if you are not used to a big city. I was also a little worried that we put our luggage below the bus. The only crime I have heard much about in CR is robbery, but so many people (tourists, back-packers) were putting their luggage below, and it was not a problem at all. I think we hear the worst of it and never the good things. I am from Toronto and used to semi-dodgy areas do I did not feel nervous, but if you are going with girls you may feel safer to take interbus.

I also recommend Casa 69! We stayed our last 2 nights in CR based on recommendations on here. It was lovely and a good walking location to the pedestrian area in SJ.

The other option you can do one way or the other, is you can actually use White Water Rafting as your transportation. They pick up in San Jose, Puerto Viejo and Arenal and drop-off in any as well. We used it as our transportation from PV to SJ after staying in PV. We used the company Exploradores Outdoors. It was AWESOME and I highly recommend it.

We used this website to book our taxi/bus. They also have a location in PV, where we booked our rafting and hotel in person:
http://www.puertoviejosatellite.com/

As for money, we took American money out in Canada before travelling there, and we used the bank machine in the SJ airport, and then Puerto Viejo to take out Costa Rican Colones. Most places take both, but small places like sodas (family restaurants) take Colones. I've heard the bank machine in PV might run out of money on the weekend, so try to get enough cash before each weekend.

I am excited for YOUR trip, haha!
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