On the drive from Witches Rock to San Jose my new friends and I looked at the surf forecast for Costa Rica. It was looking pretty flat on the entire Pacific side and 3-5 ft. waves on the Caribbean. They all told me that I should definitely go to Puerto Viejo. I figured that it wouldn’t do any harm exploring the other side of the country. So the next morning I hopped onto a bus heading for the Caribbean.
A relatively painless 5 hour bus ride brought me to Puerto Viejo. A very chill, Rastafarian, touristy town. I arrived without any knowledge of the place except that there was supposed to be some surf. The first requirement after getting off the bus was to find a place to sleep. I had been told that there was a very popular hostel, Rocking Jay’s, but it was known for being a cheap party hostel. Not looking to party, I opted to seek out something a little more laid back. On the second try, I found a new French hostel. It was a couple dollars more than some of the other options around, but it seemed very mellow.
Puerto Viejo is definitely a tourist town, but still holds a certain appeal to it. Most of the restaurants and bars target the desires of tourists, both backpackers and families. Ganja is more prevalent than cigarettes. I found it to be all that I had expected from the few things that I had heard. Even though it is a big destination and transition place for backpackers heading to Panama, it has a little surf culture.
My first 24 hours or so were spent exploring the town and trying to find fins for my board. During my transit across the country, one of my fins decided that it no longer wanted to be used and broke. During my first lap around town, which was only about 6 square blocks, I didn’t see anything that resembled a surf shop. As my hopes of surfing started to dwindle, I peeked my head into a surf school. To my surprise they had the same fins for sale, but only willing to sell the set. You can’t surf without fins, so I had to suck it up and buy the set at a price a bit higher than I would have liked.
There are 3 main surf spots in the Puerto Viejo area, with a few others tucked away along the coast. The best known is Salsa Brava, a super gnarly reef break that with some swell tends to pick up and form a nice fast barrel. The first day was a bit overhead, crazy right barrels. As I waited for shops to open to find my fins, I watched people make freefall drops into a quick but epic barrel. It was great to watch, and I can only hope to be that good one day.
The other surf spots are beach breaks. Playa Cocles and Playa Grande. As soon as I had my fins and board set up, I started surfing Playa Cocles. About 3 kilometers away, I made the trek at least once a day to find some fun waves. At first I walked along the road while cars, buses, and tourist on bicycles breezed past. Then I found a trail along the coast which was way better. At least during the day, because at night there are tons of robberies! The first day that I surfed was terrible. Nonstop waves with zero shape. By the second day it started to clean up and by the third it was super fun. As the size decreased, the waves cleaned up and I was able to get some awesome sessions.
I was only going to be there for 3 days, but one thing led to another and I ended up staying for 5 nights. It was definitely a fun town, but I think that I correlate with the Pacific side of Costa Rica more. The environment and waves are much better in my opinion. So after 5 days, I decided to make the journey back across the country in search of another fun surf town.