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If your traditional Christmas is cold and grey and wrapped up in wool, have you ever thought about splashing out and taking a Caribbean Christmas with your toes in the ocean instead of socks?

Caribbean Christmas starts here

Caribbean Christmas starts here

Here on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, Caribbean Christmas is anything but traditional and that’s the fun of it. Sure, if you absolutely must have turkey and all the trimmings you can find it but you might choose a sea fresh lobster instead for your Caribbean Christmas Dinner.  And you may put yourself under a decorated Christmas palm tree with a mojito — no wool clothing required.

Christmas at Casa Bromelia at Caribbean Christmas at Geckoes Lodge, Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

Barefoot Luxury Christmas at Casa Bromelia, Geckoes Lodge

I’ve always loved the Caribbean Christmas — what’s not to like about strolling through Puerto Viejo decorated for the festivities stopping for a pina colada and watching the pelicans diving for fish, instead of having to rush home to warm your freezing feet?

Pelicans diving at Caribbean Christmas, Geckoes Lodge, Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

Pelicans fishing in Caribbean Costa Rica

Puerto Viejo really lives up at Christmas with live music adding atmosphere to beach bars selling Christmas Caribbean cocktails and restaurants offering special tropical menus to happy (warm!) visitors.

Happy Warm Christmas!

Happy Warm Christmas!

Costa Rica loves Christmas and Ticos begin by preparing their festive tamales whilst swathing their Caribbean coloured houses in lights and decorations.

Making tamales for Christmas in Costa Rica

Making tamales for Christmas in Costa Rica

Tamales completed for Christmas eve in Costa Rica

Tamales completed for Christmas eve in Costa Rica

House in Puerto Viejo well and truly decorated

House in Puerto Viejo well and truly decorated

There’s also many Nativity scenes throughout the country, both at private houses and public buildings and enactments of the Nativity.

Nativity Scene, Costa Rica

Nativity Scene, Costa Rica

Live Nativity Scene, Costa Rica

Live Nativity Scene, Costa Rica

Christmas in Costa Rica is a vibrant celebration with music, dance festivals, street fairs and parades. One of the most famous parades is El Tope, a horseback parade with magnificent horses and riders dressed in their finest: a gorgeous sight!

Detail of El Tope

Detail of El Tope

So if you’re feeling like a change this year, need to escape the stress, get off the beaten path and immerse yourself in Barefoot Luxury, your Caribbean Christmas awaits!

Caribbean Costa Rica coast line

Caribbean Costa Rica coast line

Just add a mojito...

Just add a mojito…

Puerto Viejo is not ‘just’ Puerto Viejo. The region commonly known as Puerto Viejo is actually made up of 6 different neighbourhoods, set along a 16 kilometre (10 mile) stretch of coast. Each neighbourhood has its own character but all have beautiful rainforest backed beaches, so the question could be Puerto Viejo: Where to Stay? Which neighbourhood will suit you?

Well, in general, the further away from Puerto Viejo town you are, the more wildlife you will see and the quieter your surroundings will be. That doesn’t mean though that all restaurants are in Puerto Viejo town: far from it. Some wonderful restaurants are scattered along the entire coast.

So, here’s a brief description of each neighbourhood to help you find just which one suits you.

Playa Negra: 1-2 kilometres (0.6 – 1.25 miles)

The Old Barge at Playa Negra

The Old Barge at Playa Negra

Playa Negra is North of Puerto Viejo and famous for its Black Beach. The distance from town will depend where in Playa Negra you choose to stay. Accommodation options include a couple of beach hotels and various vacation rentals, so if you would like to be out of town and enjoy black sand this may be your spot. With only one bar and one restaurant in Playa Negra, be aware that you’ll probably want to go to town some evenings. Taxis are easily arranged. The photos of it on enjoymexico.net/rentals/cabo-san-lucas/villa-turquesa/ are really something to look at, just don’t do that to your self in the middle of your work year.

Puerto Viejo town:

Shop and Dive Operator in Puerto Viejo

Shop and Dive Operator in Puerto Viejo

If you like plenty of nightlife then choose Puerto Viejo town. Most of the bars, music venues and parties happen here. So, with plenty of cheap accommodation options you can easily walk or bike between ‘happenings’ and use your budget to party! Accommodations can be noisy but this won’t matter if you’re out most nights. Of course most of the shops are also in Puerto Viejo town and there’s a large selection of restaurants. The ATM’s and pharmacies are also only in town plus the majority of tour operators .

Cocles: 2 – 4 kilometres from town. (1.25 – 2.5 miles)

Beach Break & The Island at Cocles Beach

Beach Break & The Island at Cocles Beach

If you’re looking for tranquillity but want to be near Puerto Viejo town, Cocles is the place for you.  The distance again depends on where you choose to stay as Cocles stretches along the coast. Playa Cocles is a long beach and Beach Break is a popular surfing spot, whilst the other end of Playa Cocles has pretty natural tide pools to laze in. There are plenty of accommodation options from hotels to lodges to vacation rentals and some seriously good restaurants. The supermarket in Cocles has all the basics, plus imported goods and an extensive selection of wine and spirits so you can stock up without going to town.

Playa Chiquita: 4 – 6 kilometres from town. (2.5 – 3.75 miles)

 

Late afternoon at Playa Chiquita

Late afternoon at Playa Chiquita

Playa Chiquita is like a little world of its own. Full of expats from every corner of the world, if you need your palm reading, want to know what your tarot cards say, do some reiki or take a yoga retreat, this is your place. Accommodation options are various ranging from small hotels to cabinas to vacation rentals. The supermarket El Duende Gourmet has lots of interesting speciality items and there are a few cute cafes and places to eat.

Punta Uva: 6 – 10 kilometres from town. (3.75 – 6.25 miles)

Arrecife Beach at Punta Uva

Arrecife Beach at Punta Uva

The beaches of Punta Uva are famous and justly so — some would even say that they are amongst the most beautiful in Costa Rica. Swimming and snorkelling are sublime here so if you don’t mind being further from town and want to spend most of your time on the beach, this could be your neighbourhood. It is a quiet jungle neighbourhood with few amenities. Accommodations are mainly vacation rentals and Bed & Breakfasts. With only one or two restaurants or cafes, you may need some transport to visit Playa Chiquita and/or Cocles.

Manzanillo: 16 kilometres from town. (10 miles)

Beach to escape to at Manzanillo

Beach to escape to at Manzanillo

If you want to get way off the beaten track Manzanillo is the place for you. It’s a quiet village although at weekends it becomes full of local families enjoying beach barbecues. The beaches at Manzanillo become prettier and wilder the further you go into the wildlife refuge. Accommodation options are mostly vacation rentals or a few cabinas and there’s a couple of simple places to eat.

So there you have it: Puerto Viejo: Where to Stay. You’ll know by now which neighbourhood appeals to you and they all have their charms. See you soon!

Barefoot Luxury Arrecife beach, Geckoes Lodge, Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

 

It’s Pejivalles season and all over Costa Rica the air is scented with them as people boil these palm fruits. Whether you know them as Pejivalles or Pejibayes or Peach Palm Fruit, these fruits can be found all over Central and South America and the palm is also famous for the popular heart of palm (delicious in salads).

Pejibayes or Pejivalles or Peach Palm Fruit. Geckoes Lodge, Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

Pejibayes with skin after harvesting

The fruit hangs in large clusters around the top of a particular palm tree. Read more about it here:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bactris_gasipaes

Pejibayes or Pejivalles or Peach Palm Fruit Clusters on Palm tree. Geckoes Lodge, Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

Pejibayes hanging from a palm

Pejibayes or Pejivalles or Peach Palm Fruit Tree. Geckoes Lodge, Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

The tall spiny palms mean that harvesting requires some skill!

Pejibaye skin ranges from yellow through to red and the fruit needs considerable boiling before eating. People usually boil them in their skins for a few hours, peel them, remove the stone and then eat them with mayonnaise or salt and lemon.

Pejibayes or Pejivalles or Peach Palm Fruit with mayonnaise. Geckoes Lodge, Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

Cooked Pejibayes are often eaten with mayonnaise or sour cream

So what do they taste like? Well, imagine a cross between a chestnut, a cashew nut and a buttery potato and you’re coming close. You can find them on market stalls, supermarkets and the local farmers market and per kilo they cost about 2 US$.

Even though they’re not the most attractive fruit in the world they have their fans and in Costa Rica they even have their own festival, near Cartago. And if you become a fan of pejibaye / pejivalle / peach palm fruits, there are plenty of recipes to experiment with: how about a pejibaye cake, biscuits, tacos, stew, salad, soup or even liqueur for starters?

Pejibaye cake

Pejibaye cake

 

Pejibaye Soup

Pejibaye Soup

People are not the only fans of pejibayes… a highly nutritious source of food for many rainforest animals, Agnes the Agouti at Geckoes Lodge seriously enjoys Palm fruit season and can be seen nibbling on pejibayes all around the garden.

Agnes the Agouti eating Pejibayes or Pejivalles or Peach Palm Fruit at Geckoes Lodge.

Agnes the Agouti eating Pejibayes or Pejivalles or Peach Palm Fruit at Geckoes Lodge.

So give your taste buds a sensation in Pejibaye season and taste these buttery, nutty numbers, although remember you need to cook them well, unlike Agnes the Agouti.

 

 

 

If you love fruit, this is the country for you! Fruit in Costa Rica is everywhere… walk down a street and there will be someone selling piles of sweet smelling pineapples, bananas hanging from trees and mangoes dripping from a branch.

Just a few of the fruits available in Costa Rica

Just a few of the fruits available in Costa Rica

Fruit in Costa Rica is not an addition to the everyday diet but an integral part of it. People grow it in their gardens, pick it from trees on the roadsides, knock coconuts from palms on the beach and eat fruit on a daily basis.

Banana stall on the way to Puerto Viejo

Banana stall on the way to Puerto Viejo

The differing climates of Costa Rica are perfect for growing a huge variety of fruit. The more temperate regions are bursting with apples, strawberries, oranges, plums and peaches. The tropical regions are full of mangoes, guavas, water-apples, water melon, limes, pineapples, star fruit, lychees, papayas, mangosteens and of course the famous banana.

Fruit stall

Fruit stall

Since there are more than 200 varieties of Banana they constitute some of the most common fruit in Costa Rica and along with pineapples are extensively farmed and exported.

Bananas being transported for washing and sorting

Bananas being transported for washing and sorting

Here on the Caribbean coast bananas are not only eaten raw but certain varieties are fried and eaten as plantains alongside rice and beans or added to fish or meat casseroles. But let’s not forget the banana crisps (chips) that are sold everywhere, sometimes seasoned with lime and salt but always a super accompaniment to a cold beer — or a fruity batido.

Fried plantains or 'Patacones'

Fried plantains or ‘Patacones’

Plantain crisps

Plantain crisps

Yes, let’s talk about Batidos, which are fruit shakes made of fresh fruit liquidised with either milk or water. One of my absolute favourites is a lime and ginger batido: fantastically fragrant and refreshing. The variety of batidos available is impressive and can be made from any fruit you can name. And there is so much fruit in Costa Rica that the fruits named here are just the tip of a big fruit-berg!

Fresh lime and ginger batido at the beach

Fresh lime and ginger batido at the beach

With such profusion it is no wonder that fruit in Costa Rica is such an important element in the country’s economy and indeed in the national diet.

Papaya Batido -- delicious with a squeeze of lime

Papaya Batido — delicious with a squeeze of lime

So take a look at the next pineapple or bunch of bananas you buy — it’s pretty likely you’ll be holding fruit from Costa Rica. But to taste it at its absolute best you’ll just have to come here, pick some yourself and sample the cornucopia of fruit in Costa Rica. Pura Vida indeed!

Fruit at the Saturday market in Puerto Viejo

Fruit at the Saturday market in Puerto Viejo

 

So it’s September and one of the best things to do this month is Snorkeling in Puerto Viejo. In September, the seas are calm, the weather is dry and it’s the perfect time to strap on that snorkel and glide over those coral reefs!

Put yourself in another world!

Put yourself in another world!

Puerto Viejo and Cahuita have some great snorkeling spots and whether you choose to take a boat trip to an outer reef or simply snorkel from the beach, in the calm ocean of September you’ll be rewarded with good visibility and plenty to look at.

Snorkeling at Cahuita National Park

Snorkeling at Cahuita National Park

You don’t need to bring your own snorkel, mask or fins as they are readily available for rent right here in Puerto Viejo. Plenty of the tour agencies offer great tours and even if you’ve never snorkeled before, don’t worry, they’ll have you snorkeling like a professional within minutes! Have a look at the end of this post to see a list of places that offer snorkeling tours.

Snorkeling in Puerto Viejo is usually pretty and often really exciting because who knows when you’re going to spot a great big starfish, a lion fish or see a turtle glide past?

Gorgeous Starfish

Gorgeous Starfish

The spectacular Lionfish

The spectacular Lionfish

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you want to get a little practice in first and just snorkel off the beach, head down to Arrecife beach in Punta Uva, which apart from having a good reef not far offshore is also one of the most beautiful beaches on this coast.

Snorkeling off Arrecife Beach

Snorkeling off Arrecife Beach

So if you’re around this coast in September or October and thinking of things to do, snorkeling in Puerto Viejo should be high on your list!

Snorkel gear for rent: Things to Do: Snorkeling in Puerto Viejo

Snorkel Tours:
http://www.puertoviejosatellite.com/tour-detail.php?tid=expcahhttp://www.wahoofishingtours.com/our-tours/dolphin-snorkeling-sightseeing-tours/
http://geckotrail.com/en/tours/dolphin-watching-and-snorkeling/
http://www.spanishatlocations.com/spanish-school-locations/costa-rica/our-spanish-school-in-puerto-viejo/excursions/  (Learn Spanish too!)
http://tourspuertoviejo.com/snorkeling_tour_cahuita_national_park.html
http://terraventuras.com/tours/
http://www.exploradoresoutdoors.com/caribean-tours.html
http://www.reefrunnerdivers.com/dolphintours.htm

 

Arrecife Beach -- spot Tom and our dogs, Fred & Charlie.

Arrecife Beach — spot Tom and our dogs, Fred & Charlie.

In the Top 10 Beaches of Costa Rica, Arrecife Beach is well up the list. Arrecife beach has it all: soft golden sand, leaning palm trees to drink your mojito under, crystal clear water, an incredible view of the bay, safe swimming and last, but by no means least, a pretty reef offshore to snorkel.

How about a lunch of Fish Tacos under this palm?

How about a lunch of Fish Tacos under this palm?

It is one of my favourites and it has some really stiff competition in this area as there are more than a handful of stunningly beautiful beaches. After all, Punta Uva, the beach on the other side of the point has been named as one of the top 10 beaches in the world! Although internationally Arrecife and Punta Uva beaches are put together and named simply Punta Uva, locally they are known by their individual names. That’s because they are very different. Both are drop dead gorgeous but with their own characteristics and atmosphere.

Gorgeous Arrecife beach.

Gorgeous Arrecife beach.

Arrecife is the beach we all dream off when sitting behind the computer on a rainy day. It is  the picture postcard beach — you know what I mean — one of those beaches that when you see a photo of it you are almost convinced that it’s been photo-shopped.

A mojito delivered to your hammock: Barefoot Luxury!

A mojito delivered
to your hammock: Barefoot Luxury!

But Arrecife doesn’t need any enhancement at all… this is a photo I took and it looks exactly like this, although when you’re sitting there or lying in the warm ocean, it feels a lot better!

So tomorrow I’m off to Arrecife, to drink a mojito or a beer underneath one of those palms, lie back in the sea and stay there until the ocean turns silver.

Family fishing at Arrecife beach

Family fishing at Arrecife beach

September is almost here and September weather on this coast is Beach Time! It doesn’t get any better. So if you’re around in September (or October for that matter) head to Arrecife beach and put yourself on one of the Top 10 beaches of Costa Rica … and maybe one of the Top 10 beaches of the world: Pura Vida!

Saturday afternoon at Arrecife beach

Saturday afternoon at Arrecife beach

So, here you are in Puerto Viejo and for a change it’s a cloudy day… you feel like getting out and about… but where’s an interesting and scenic place to go? One of my favourite things to do is to take a drive into the Talamancan mountains.

A creek in the Talamancan mountains

A creek in the Talamancan mountains

Suddenly you are in a different world. Towering tracts of rainforest with waterfalls tumbling between the greenery, rivers flowing over massive stones, indigenous Costa Ricans tending their fincas, children playing with a balloon and stacks of bananas along the road awaiting collection.

The pleasure of a red balloon: Children in Talamancan mountain village

The pleasure of a red balloon: Children in Talamancan mountain village

Bananas awaiting collection, Talamancan Mountains.

Bananas awaiting collection, Talamancan Mountains.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Depending on the route you take (don’t worry, we’ll make sure you don’t get lost: Tom is an ace map maker!) you may follow the road along the Sixaola river and see the mountains of Panama on the other bank.

Sixaola River bordering Panama.

Sixaola River bordering Panama.

The Talamancan Mountain range is the highest and wildest mountain range in the whole of Central America. It extends along the border between Panama and Costa Rica and is one of the region’s most important conservation areas. It’s of global significance apart from being beautiful! Read more about it here: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/205 Things to Do: Drive into the Talamancan Mountains

On your way along the Sixaola river you’re sure to see the banana transport before you climb into the foothills of the Talamancan mountain range. If you’re lucky you may happen on a fair taking place in one of the indigenous settlements.

Transporting Bananas

Transporting Bananas

 

 

On their way to your supermarkets!

On their way to your supermarkets!

Local Fair in Suretka in the Talamancan mountains.

Local Fair in Suretka in the Talamancan mountains.

But whatever day it is you can be assured of beautiful views, wonderful photographic opportunities and of course the fun adventure of getting off the beaten track.

Small Finca in the Talamancan Mountains

Small Finca in the Talamancan Mountains

On the way to Bribri

On the way to Bribri

When I’m travelling I am often just as fascinated by all the daily activities going on around me as by the ‘must see’ famous sights. If you also enjoy the simple pleasure of experiencing a culture completely different from your own, then don’t miss a trip to Bribri when you’re next in this area.

Bribri Children

Bribri Children

Bribri is the name of an important indigenous tribe of Talamanca (one of the six counties of Limon province) and also the name of a town. Although Bribri is officially a city due to it’s status as a municipality, complete with Mayor, when you visit you’ll feel as if you’re in a small village.

Traditional House on the way to Bribri

Traditional House on the way to Bribri

So what’s so special about Bribri? Well to me, it’s fascinating because it is the complete opposite of Puerto Viejo. Completely lacking in any ‘touristy feel’ Bribri is always humming with lots of indigenous people doing their weekly shopping, going to computer classes, getting things done at the municipality, having a haircut, meeting up with friends and perhaps buying a dress for a special occasion.

Barber Shop in Bribri

Barber Shop in Bribri

Fruit Snack Stall, Bribri

Fruit Snack Stall, Bribri

 

 

Computer School, Bribri

Computer School, Bribri

 

 

Farmer shopping in Bribri

Farmer shopping in Bribri

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Party Dresses in Bribri

Party Dresses in Bribri

To get to Bribri you can take the bus from Puerto Viejo (takes about 30 minutes) or, if you’re driving choose the more scenic route along the Sixaola river which borders Panama. So pretty! Whichever route you take, along the way you’ll see traditional houses and Bribri children playing. It’s off the beaten track certainly and that’s something I always find interesting. It is the other face of Talamanca and as much a part of life in Caribbean Costa Rica as Puerto Viejo and the entire coast.

Shop front in Bribri

Shop front in Bribri

 

Football kit wash day on the way to Bribri

Football kit wash day on the way to Bribri

So when you’re on the Caribbean coast, if you want to see the other side of life here, take a trip to Bribri for the morning or afternoon, eat a great lunch of fried chicken at El Refugio, wander around and watch daily Talamancan life unfolding. It’s not on everyone’s Things to Do list —  maybe that’s why a Trip to Bribri has a charm of its own.

The place to buy your Alka Seltzer, on the way to Bribri.

The place to buy your Alka Seltzer, on the way to Bribri.

 

 

OK, you’re right — maybe I cannot really title such a blog Things to Do: Swimming with Pelicans. But then actually why not? It’s free, no organisation needed but fun and wonder guaranteed.

Of course there is no guarantee that you will find a pelican or two to swim with — but you might. Over our years here I’ve often found myself in very close proximity with these gorgeous and impressive birds. Usually I don’t have a camera with me… but the close up shots I got below were taken standing knee deep in the sea and yes you guessed it: swimming with pelicans.

Swimming with Pelicans at Punta Uva beach

Swimming with Pelicans at Punta Uva beach

They are not very scared of people and after fishing they land with a splash in the sea close to shore where they relax, bobbing up and down. When I see that, I take my chance and slowly swim or wade towards them. They eye me up a little suspiciously but stay put in their bobbing position and only if I get within a metre of them do they take off and land a few metres further away.

Pelican resting after fishing

Pelican resting after fishing

Have you seen pelicans fishing? When I’m not swimming with them I sit on the beach and watch them swooping and diving: they are so elegant! They can skim a wave with only millimetres between them and the breaking wave: ace flyers they certainly are. Look at these two doing just that:

Skimming the waves

Skimming the waves

Pelicans fishing at Gandoca

Pelicans fishing at Gandoca

I know there are loads of ‘official’ things to do on this coast and you could fill several weeks of being engrossed with one activity or another on daily basis without finishing ‘the list’ but some of my favourite things to do here are those rather more unorthodox fun things… and swimming with pelicans is a thrill.

Pelican Flyover at Playa Grande

Pelican Flyover at Playa Grande

So when you’re thinking of Things to Do in this area don’t forget to go down to Punta Uva, one of the best beaches for swimming with pelicans. If like me, you enjoy some of the simpler and more unorthodox things in life, you may find getting up close and personal with a pelican may be just as thrilling as I think it is!

Apart from enjoying the spectacular beaches and ravishing rainforest and all the wildlife, did you know there are loads of Things to Do on this coast?

Sized ziplining 1 Geckoes Lodge, Cocles, Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

Ziplining is the number 1 activity / Trip / Tour in Puerto Viejo — so don’t miss it!

Terraventuras run this successful tour in Puerto Viejo with a good deal of professionalism and a whole lot of fun. Just call them or drop into their office in Puerto Viejo and you could be ziplining through the canopy the following day.

Take a look here:

Is it for You?

If, like me, you don’t really enjoy heights and feel drawn to the edge of anything elevated, you might be thinking ‘well that’s one activity that’s really not for me’. But don’t decide against it just yet…

Sized Ziplining 2 Geckoes Lodge, Cocles, Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

The Terraventuras  team ( www.terraventuras.com ) are not only very good at what they do, they’re reassuring too! If you are initially scared (because after a zipline or two you’ll be having a great time) one of the team will zipline with you until you feel confident enough to go it alone.

The first time I went with my nieces and nephew I had a LOT of misgivings. Standing on the first platform after the instructions and safety briefing, I thought to myself ?I must be crazy — what the hell am I doing here?’ By the end of the tour I wanted to go and do it all over again — it was such a thrill.

Sized Ziplining 3 Geckoes Lodge, Cocles, Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

So what’s it like?

Apart from being fun and more thrilling than the best fairground ride, I thought Ziplining was also incredibly beautiful. To be high up in the canopy is to have a birds-eye view and that is simply gorgeous. Suddenly you have a different perspective and see the rainforest up close and from above. It’s stunning.

Also you never know what bird or animal life you’re going to see from either the platform or as you zip along the wire. Sightings of sloths, monkeys, toucans, iguanas and agoutis are not unusual.

Sized Ziplining 5 Geckoes Lodge, Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

Walking between the platforms is also lovely and something that is rarely mentioned in reviews or articles about ziplining. Those brief walks between platforms are a great plus because there you are, immersed in the rainforest — it’s a botanical treat.

So if you want to get up close and personal with the rainforest try it : Go Ziplining!

Sized Ziplining 6 Geckoes Lodge, Cocles, Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica geckoeslodge.com

On my Things to Do list in Puerto Viejo ziplining would certainly be very close to the top.

Pura Vida!