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Ordinary Life in an Extraordinary place: Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica.
I could be said to be living an extraordinary life by living in the rainforest on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. When chatting with friends from other countries I realise that my daily life has some very extraordinary elements!
But of course despite living somewhere which could be called extraordinary, like Puerto Viejo in Costa Rica, my life still contains all the ordinary aspects, like doing the food shopping, cooking, washing, gardening, going to work (sort of!), exercising and social life.
However, those ordinary aspects have some extraordinary surprises…take doing the food shopping and cooking just for starters.

The oldest supermarket in Puerto Viejo: El Chino’s.

Food Shopping: Ordinary Life in an Extraordinary place.

When we first came here in 2006 there were a few small supermarkets with a very limited choice of products. There was one butcher and no fishmonger although we are are right by the ocean. It took me a little while to work out where to buy fish in the beginning, but finally, using my then inadequate Spanish, I learned that you had to go to the sea and wait for the fishermen to return with their catch. Right, Red Snapper or Lobster for dinner then. If you plan on going fishing and catching your fish for dinner make sure to get the top tackle box.

Bucket of fresh fish straight off the fishing boat


In the supermarket I spent hours trying to fathom what I should be doing with any number of products I’d never seen and had no idea how to use. It was fun though and made for some very interesting meals… not always delicious but certainly different.

Old Harbour Supermarket in Puerto Viejo

Now, 11 years later there is a far greater choice of supermarkets and products, several butchers and we even have a fishmonger!
I have to admit I still don’t know all the names of the local vegetables and cannot make brilliant patacones. But I can make a good Rondon and will put the recipe at the end of this blog — try it — it’s delicious! It was given to me by a good friend who took me under her wing and educated me in Costa Rican food shopping.
All these years later, I am an avid fan of yucca, (especially yucca crisps), Natilla (a sort of sour cream) Rondon and almost all the fabulous tropical fruits. I’ve learned that eating papaya without lime juice is like eating potatoes without salt and how to cut a mango perfectly without waste.

Cooking: Ordinary Life in an Extraordinary place.

My cooking before Costa Rica was far less adventurous than it is now. Now although I still use recipes for inspiration I substitute recipe ingredients for what I have found locally which makes for extraordinary combinations which often work — but not always!
Larry the Kitchen Lizard usually watches me cooking and the chuckling of Geckoes punctuates my time in the kitchen. Larry is a small long tailed lizard that has a penchant for kitchen action and can be seen darting around, especially as I chop.

Larry the Kitchen Lizard watching me cook

As I cook I watch the Agouti’s outside, nibbling on the vegetable and fruit peelings and the toucans sitting in the trees above the river.

Agnes the Agouti having a snack outside my kitchen

Toucan keeping a beady eye on the cooking

So here is my recipe for Rondon: Even if you don’t have a Larry Lizard or Geckoes in your kitchen, it will taste authentically Puerto Viejo: Buen Provecho.

Puerto Viejo RONDON
1 Can of Coconut Milk OR the equivalent from Fresh Coconuts
Fish Heads to make Stock.
500g Fish
1 Large Onion, chopped
6-12 Thyme Sprigs
6-12 Fresh Coriander Sprigs
1 Hot Chilli
Black Pepper & Salt
1 small crab or a few crab claws
1-2 Plantains (green bananas)
Sweet Potatoes

Fry onions in a large pot, add chilli and then all the vegetables.
Add the coconut milk and fish stock.
Boil gently until the vegetables are almost cooked.
Reduce on a higher flame until you have the consistency of cream.
When reduced, add fish and simmer gently until the fish is cooked.

Eat with friends and enjoy your Caribbean Cooking!

Rondon: The famous fish soup of the Caribbean coast

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