Puerto Viejo, Goodbye – for now?

We spent 6 weeks in Puerto Viejo and came to the very difficult decision that it may not be for us or the business, after all. Never say never, and we may return, but here’s why.

The Town of Puerto Viejo

Little Puerto is growing by leaps and bounds, but the infrastructure is not. The main and only road through the centre of town is paved. However, there is a roughly one-block section where it’s rough, rocky dirt. It’s been that way since Navide first came, at least 2019. So many tourist dollars are spent there each year – where does it all go?

Perhaps related, a reliable source in Puerto Viejo told us a few interesting facts:

  • The ‘mayor’ of the area containing Puerto Viejo makes (I won’t say ‘earns’) more than the President of Costa Rica.
  • The owner of a newly upgraded beachfront restaurant/gallery paid $50,000 to get his building approvals pushed through.

Hmm. The source said this is not common in Costa Rica, but Talamanca is the most corrupt area, and Puerto Viejo is in Talamanca. We were assured this would not affect us, but there’s no guarantee. Crooks always want more.

There are a number of areas that smell really bad, like sewage. Someone else told us that a lot of black water (from toilets) goes straight to the ocean. I’m not sure if that’s true – everyone is supposed to be hooked up to town sewer or septic. But there are places that smell really bad.

Party Viejo

We stayed in town – more below – and some people come to Puerto Viejo to party, at least some of the time. There appear to be no noise regulations on bars, so you can be blocks away and the music is still really loud until 2:00 am or later. The video below is from El Sendero, one of several restaurant/bars on the beach several blocks away from us. You can see how crowded it’s getting, and they are just starting the music.

The party atmosphere detracts from the retreat atmosphere we’re seeking to create. We would need a large lot well away from ‘downtown.’ to ensure a peaceful atmosphere.

El Cameleon / NOA Beach Club

Wilmer, Islena, Elvia, Alejandro, and Valery stayed at El Cameleon hotel for their visit. It is a nice resort with NOA beach club in front on the beach. Beach club means it has restaurants, a swimming pool, lots of places to relax, and the ocean. Waiters will bring you food and drink. Here are some photos and videos of that club, including Alejandro being attacked by Sanji.

Also at NOA are those cords that people climb up and do stunts on, a la Cirque du Soleil. Here is Alejandro climbing to the top.

And here is Adriana demonstrating her upper body strength on the same rope.

One day when we were relaxing at NOA, a sloth came down from one tree and went up another.

And finally, Wilmer and Ringo relaxing.

Wilmer and Sanji at NOA beach resort

Up and Down the Coast

We also checked out Cahuita, which is about 15 minutes from PV in the Nicaragua direction and has a nice, black sand beachfront. There’s not much else going on. One of our real estate agents has a relative making ~$7,000 per month from an AirBNB there, though.


There is no town of Cocles, it is one of the beaches south of Puerto Viejo – about a 10-15 minute bike ride. It is a long and beautiful beach, with quiet, relatively secluded areas and also where the beach volleyball happens. This video was taken during Semana Santa (Easter), the busiest week of the entire year.

Punta Uva

Punta Uva is one of the top beaches in the world and is toward Panama approximately 20 minutes by bicycle from PV. It has something for everyone, from quiet, secluded areas to organized beach volleyball. The water is wonderfully warm, similar to Cartagena. Some areas are very placid and others have reefs, but it’s all beautiful. Here’s us getting from Puerto Viejo to Punta Uva by Tuk Tuk, speeded up by Natalia.

There’s a nice viewpoint at one part – here are Islena and Valery at it.

There is no town of Punta Uva, but there are large and small lots within a 15 minute drive, and Puerto Viejo is 10 minutes by car, 15 by bike. The lots were nice…but not special. Nothing jumped out at us. They are also still pricey for us. But we did think that if we returned, we would seriously consider this area.

Here’s one in the water, with Sanji on the body board!

Other Highlights

We visited a small waterfall and pools near Cahuita. The water was refreshing but not cold, there were places to jump for those who liked, and the air was nice and fresh.

The Costs!

Land costs in Costa Rica are estimated to have increased 400% since 2020. We are, basically, a few years too late. We cannot afford the property we need. We could get a smaller piece of land with no view, and hope no neighbours liked to party or burn garbage (there’s a lot of that in Costa Rica – it starts wildfires and the government is trying to get people to not do so). Or, we could seek investors and look for a larger piece of land with some ‘Wow’ factor. Both of these are still options….

It’s not just the land costs. Meals in restaurants cost as much as Canada or Switzerland, and hotels/resorts are probably more. There are sodas, which are small, family-owned places that serve typical Costa Rican cuisine, that are less costly. Rice and beans, aka gallo pinto, is the typical dish served with eggs, meats and other options. Breakfast there with 2 eggs and gallo pinto would be ~$9 USD. Still not cheap for basic food.

Groceries can also be very pricey – everything has be trucked in from afar. Used cars are very expensive due to duties on new cars. The Costa Rican currency has also been rising steadily and was ~500 colones to $1 USD at this writing. Many different industry groups have very publicly complained about this, because it’s hurting exports (e.g. pineapples) and tourism, among other sectors (e.g. tech companies that were locating facilities in Costa Rica). That said, Costa Rica had a stellar year for tourism in 2023, so the government is holding firm so far.

To be honest, land costs are shooting up in many places.

The Heat

We could not, would not live here without air conditioning. It didn’t seem bad when we first arrived, but temperatures crept up until by the end, it was just too much unless you’re at the beach every day. Navide found the same when they were here in October last year – once the sun comes up, it’s just too hot to do anything but chill by the water.

The Good Bits

The whole area is still a great place to visit, especially if you’re fan of beaches. You could spend a week here and go to a different one every day, each beautiful in its own way. Some beaches are ideal for sunbathing, others have shaded areas under the palms. Some have beach games going on, others are very secluded.

One great thing about Costa Rican beaches compared to many areas of the world is that they are relatively sparsely populated. There are few vendors who walk down the beach. In Cartagena, by contrast, there are vendors every minute or two (no exaggeration) selling everything from Coco Locos to clothing to offering a live performance to massages. In Puerto Viejo, there are restaurants large and small within an easy walk, though.

Puerto Viejo is quite safe. You can, and we did, walk or bike downtown regularly after dark with no concerns.

Which brings up another point – we really liked that we could walk and bike most places. It kept us active and is part of what we want for our lifestyle. There are no bike lanes and cars would park in them if there were, but there are enough cyclists and pedestrians that cars watch out for them on the road. When the roads are busy, bikes are as fast or faster than cars.

Casa Zancudo

Did I mention that Puerto Viejo is expensive? When I searched for AirBNBs, they were all $3,500-5,000 USD per month. In other words, about the same as you would pay in Victoria for a two-bedroom. I found a house through one of the real estate agents we dealt with. It was still $1,800 USD ($2,500 CAD!) and had no air conditioning. It was a good setup for two couples, though, as you can see in the video in the previous Puerto Viejo post.

Zancudo means mosquito, and the house had some. Due to the totally open design, there’s no way to keep them out. We did ask to have the house fumigated the day after I reported about 20 bites in one day – with repellent on. That helped, but still I had to apply insect repellent first thing when getting out of bed (which is covered by a mosquito net) and multiple times throughout the day. I would shower before bed at night and then sprint to the bed and dive under the mosquito net. Not a pleasant or healthy way to live.

Here’s a squirrel enjoying the open concept:

Except for the zancudos, the house was ideal in many ways. The price was half the next options, it consisted of two one-bedroom suites, each with its own deck, Sanji had a securely fenced yard, and there were bikes and body boards we could use!

Not the fault of the house, but it was noisy and dusty. That’s just a result of being close to ‘downtown’ and the open concept. It did feature a lot of wildlife, from crabs that live underground, geckos and much bigger lizards, and sloths that used the backyard fence as a road.

See you later, Puerto Viejo?

All of this led us to decide to explore Colombia further. The primary original reasons for not doing so included security in rural areas and the ability to attract tourists to the retreat. We have since seen enough other retreats that attracted people from far and wide to be less concerned about the latter. We will explore the rural security situation once we’re there. The coffee area is reportedly quite safe, both in the cities (Manizales, Armenia, and Pereira) and the smaller towns and countryside. We will see.

The positive reasons to go to Colombia include: much lower prices for land, food, construction, etc.; much more developed culture – e.g. music and food; less touristy. There are lots of other good reasons that would also apply to Costa Rica, such as friendly people, great climate (in the right areas!), and tons of natural beauty.

So we will see! We’ll start seriously exploring there next week (mid-April 2024).

Until then, thanks for following along!

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Brian Gordon Written by:

One Comment

  1. Janey
    April 20, 2024

    Enjoy Columbia Brian!!! There was an acceptable amount of Sanje cameos in this post. ;). Thanks again for sharing this journey. And seeing sloths! 😍

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