9 Best Sights in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Tortuguero and the Caribbean Coast

Ara Manzanillo

An ambitious project begun two decades ago has slowly improved the survival prospects for the once-endangered great green (Ara ambiguus) and scarlet macaws (Ara macao). A daily 3 pm tour of the field station here acquaints you with the breeding and reintroduction into the wild of these colorful birds. Throughout the 98-acre property are approximately 100 macaws. Advance reservations are required.


Cacao once ruled the Talamanca region, but few plantations are left these days. One friendly Swiss couple continues the tradition and shows you the workings of their chocolate plantation on their chocolate tour. Follow the little-known life cycle of this crop from cultivation to processing. There's sampling at the tour's conclusion. Call or email to reserve a 2-hour tour, and aim to come with a group to avoid the $80 minimum tour fee. Since these folks are Swiss, they can tailor the commentary in German, French, or Italian, in addition to the standard English or Spanish.

6 km (4 miles) southeast of Puerto Viejo at Playa Chiquita, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, 70403, Costa Rica
Sights Details
Rate Includes: $25 per person; minimum of $80, Closed weekends, By appointment only

Finca la Isla Botanical Garden

At the Finca la Isla Botanical Garden, you can explore a working tropical-fruit, spice, and ornamental-plant farm. Sloths abound, and you might see a few poison dart frogs. A guided tour (three-person minimum, must be reserved in advance) lasts two hours and includes admission and a glass of the farm's homemade fruit juice. Tours can be arranged in advance on days outside the Friday through Monday opening hours. You get the fruit juice if you wander around on your own, too (a $1 tour book is available in English, Spanish, French, Dutch, and German). Watch the demonstration showing how cacao beans are turned into chocolate, and sample some of the product at the end of the tour.

½ km (¼ mile) west of Puerto Viejo at Playa Negra, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, 70403, Costa Rica
Sights Details
Rate Includes: From $6, Closed Tues.–Thurs.

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Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge

The refuge stretches along the southeastern coast from southeast of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca to the town of Manzanillo and on to the Panamanian border. Its limits are not clearly defined. Because of weak laws governing the conservation of refuges and the rising value of coastal land in this area, Gandoca-Manzanillo is less pristine than Cahuita National Park and continues to be developed. (Development thins out the farther you get from Puerto Viejo and the closer you get to the village of Manzanillo.) However, the refuge still has plenty of rain forest, orey (a dark tropical wood) and jolillo (a species of palm) swamps, 10 km (6 miles) of beach where four species of turtle lay their eggs, and almost 3 square km (1 square mile) of cativo (a tropical hardwood) forest and coral reef. You'll most likely spot monkeys, sloths, and perhaps even snakes. The Gandoca estuary is a nursery for tarpon and a wallowing spot for crocodiles and caimans.

15 km (9 miles) southeast of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge, 70403, Costa Rica
2750–0398-for ATEC
Sights Details
Rate Includes: Free, Closes daily at 3 pm

Green Iguana Foundation

You’ll no doubt see Costa Rica’s ubiquitous iguanas scurrying across roads on your travels around the country. A project of the nearby Tree House Lodge acquaints you with the lives of these fascinating animals. The green iguana—one of eight species and the most common found on the Caribbean coast—grows up to 6 feet in length, with two-thirds of that span consisting of the tail. The goal here is the breeding and raising of iguanas with their release into the wild in the adjoining Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge. Admission goes to support that work.
Punta Uva, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, 70403, Costa Rica
Sights Details
Rate Includes: $15, Tours Tues., Thurs., Sat. 10 am

Playa Chiquita

Nothing against Puerto Viejo, but the farther you get from town, the quieter things get—to put it bluntly, the "riff-raff" factor lessens out here. The downside is that you'll find fewer visitors congregating on dark-sand Chiquita, and isolated stretches of beach can spell trouble. Stay only if you see a lot of other people around. The undertow is strong out here. Swim at your own risk, preferably in company, and don't venture out too far. Amenities: none. Best for: sunrise; surfing; walking.

6 km (4 miles) southeast of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, 70403, Costa Rica

Playa Negra

Not to be confused with Cahuita's beach of the same name, Puerto Viejo's black-sand Playa Negra lies close to town but is relatively undeveloped. That situation is expected to change in coming years, but for now you'll likely have this stretch of sand north of town to yourself. While this sounds idyllic, remember that there's always safety in numbers on beaches in this area. Be careful about going into the water; the undertow can be strong. Amenities: none. Best for: sunrise; surfing; walking.

1 km (½ mile) north of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, 70403, Costa Rica

Playa Puerto Viejo

The clutter of the unnamed in-town beach epitomizes Puerto Viejo. Locals gather here. The strong undertow makes swimming risky along this stretch, but surfers delight in the consistently good waves. The upside is that you're just a few steps from the in-town restaurants. Amenities: food and drink. Best for: partiers; sunrise; surfing; walking.

In town, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, 70403, Costa Rica

Punta Uva

The area's most beautiful beach—with dark sand like all area strands—lies a long way from Puerto Viejo and offers splendid isolation from the commotion of town. Uva means "grape" in Spanish, and the beach gets its name from the sea-grape trees found out here. A few nearby restaurants can take care of your culinary needs. As always here, there's the undertow to contend with. Be careful and never venture too far out into the water. Amenities: food and drink. Best for: sunrise; surfing; walking.

9 km (5½ miles) south of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, 70403, Costa Rica