Caribbean Coast

With its coconut palms, white-sand beaches, exotic dishes and music, the Southern coast of Costa Rica is a true Caribbean destination. The diverse mix of people and cultures and its relatively recent connection with the rest of the country makes it very different from the rest of Costa Rica. The villages remained fairly isolated from mainstream Costa Rica until a road was built in 1979, connecting the villages with Limón and opening up national commerce. For this reason, the villages of the Caribbean coast have maintained unique cultures and customs. It wasn’t until 1986 that electricity was brought to the area, and phones lines and internet came ten to twenty years after that. The forests and beaches also escaped damage from early development.

Early history
Bribri and Cabeca Indians were the first inhabitants of this area, later joined by Afro-Caribbeans mostly coming from Jamaica to work on the railroads in the mid-1800s. It is with the arrival of these people that the coastal villages of Old Harbor, Grape Point, and Manicheel were formed. English was the main language in those days, and it was due to a campaign to convert the area to Spanish that some towns were renamed to what they are now known; Puerto Viejo, Punta Uva and Manzanillo. These people lived in harmony for generations learning from and trading with each other.

The cultural mix
About 30 years ago Spanish-speaking workers from central Costa Rica began coming to the area, and the fascinating cultural mix has been slowly enriched by the arrival of many North-Americans, Canadians and Europeans. It comes as no surprise that this is one of the most bilingual regions of the country. Immigration to the area was also affected by both the Panama-Colombia war of independence in 1903 and the Nicaraguan civil war in the 1980s. In the 2000 census for this area, more than forty four different nationalities were counted, and also every race on the planet.

Nowadays, the southern Caribbean coast is a popular spot for tourists, travelers from abroad and weekenders from around other parts of Costa Rica. Puerto Viejo is the main destination, popular with travelers and ticos alike for its surfing opportunities, adventure activities, holistic centers, beautiful beaches and nightlife. The quieter destination of Cahuita is a little more up-market, and most popular for the Natural park; a wonderful bird and wildlife-spotting area with pristine beaches and protected reef. All along the coast from Cahuita to Manzanillo are found hotels, cabinas, bungalows and retreats to suit every budget. Also scattered along the way are a variety of restaurants and cafes, most commonly the typical Soda cafes serving traditional Caribbean dishes.

The tropical climate also differs greatly in the Caribbean from the rest of Costa Rica with wet and dry seasons changing every three months or so, and weather is reputedly changeable all throughout the year. Check Puerto Viejo’s overview for details.

Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast is unique in its ways, most either love it or hate it, and if it turns out to be your thing, you may find yourself staying a little longer than you first anticipated…