Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí
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This small landlocked town (not to be confused with Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, on the Caribbean coast), 34 kilometers north of Highway 32, at the confluence of the Ríos Puerto Viejo and Sarapiquí, was Costa Rica’s main shipping port in colonial times.
Today the local economy is dominated by banana plantations: You can take a tour of Dole’s Bananero La Colonia (tel. 506/2768-8683, www.bananatourcostarica.com, $25), five kilometers southeast of Puerto Viejo, at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday by appointment.
Puerto Viejo is the base for waterborne nature-viewing or fishing trips on the Río Saripiquí, as well as white-water rafting and kayaking. This section of the Río Sarapiquí offers a prime white-water challenge, notably for kayaks. The most popular put-in point is at La Virgen, with Class II and III rapids below. A second put-in point is Chilamate, offering more gentle floats of Class I and II.
The following companies offer tours: Kayak Jungle Tours (tel. 506/2761-1019, www.rancholeona.com); Costa Rica Expeditions (tel. 506/2257-0766, www.costaricaexpeditions.com); and Ríos Tropicales (tel. 506/2233-6455, www.riostropicales.com).
Aguas Bravas (tel. 506/2766-6727 or 2296-2072, www.aguas-bravas.co.cr), opposite Banco Nacional at the east end of town, also specializes in white-water trips ($60) and has bird-watching tours, horseback riding, and other adventures.
You can explore the rainforest canopy at the Sarapiquí Canopy Tour (tel. 506/2290-6015, www.crfunadventures.com), which has 15 platforms, a suspension bridge, and one kilometer of zip line. It has a full-day river trip and canopy tour ($88).
Hotels and Restaurants
Immediately west of the soccer field is the modern Mi Lindo Sarapiquí (tel. 506/2766-6281, fax 506/2766-6074, $18 s, $28 d), with 14 clean rooms with TVs, fans, and private baths with hot water. It has a pleasing open-air restaurant that gets lively at night.
Nearby, the ever-improving Hotel Bambú (tel. 506/2766-6005, www.elbambu.com, from $54 s or $58 d low season, from $60 s or $65 d high season, including breakfast), facing the soccer field, has 17 clean, modern rooms with ceiling fans and air-conditioning, TVs, and private baths with hot water. It also has two self-sufficient apartments for six people, plus a large modern restaurant and a delightful swimming pool in a thatch-fringed courtyard.
My preferred option is Andrea Cristina Bed & Breakfast (tel./fax 506/2766-6265, www.andreacristina.com, $32 s, $52 d including breakfast) half a kilometer west of town. It has four rooms with lofty wooden ceilings, tile floors, and private baths with hot water. Two additional, simple yet appealing A-frame bungalows share a bathroom. A tree house ($58) is literally built around a tree. There’s a restaurant with great breakfasts on a patio in the garden, which attracts sloths and kinkajous. It’s run by friendly owners Alexander and Floribell Martínez. English-speaking Alex is a leading local conservationist and arranges nature and bird-watching tours.
Hotel Ara Ambigua (tel. 506/2766-7101, www.hotelaraambigua.com, from $60 s or $70 d low season, from $65 s or $75 d high season), sitting on a hillside 400 meters north of La Guaria, one kilometer west of Puerto Viejo, is a rustic and adorable farmhouse property in traditional Costa Rican style. It’s named for the scientific name of the green parrot, which can sometimes be seen on the property. It has 19 simply furnished Hansel and Gretel–style cabinas, some with natural stone floors; all have hot water. It has a swimming pool and WiFi. A small lake has waterfowl and caimans, and there’s a frog garden (ranario) with poison-dart frogs. Hiking trails lead into the forest. Its delightful rustic farmhouse Restaurant La Casona (7 a.m.–10 p.m. daily) is adorned with saddles and farm implements hanging from the dark, wood-beamed ceiling; it serves típico dishes.
Getting to Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí
Empresario Guapileños (tel. 506/2222-2727 or 2257-6859) buses depart the Gran Terminal Caribe in San José 10 times daily 6:30 a.m.–6:30 p.m. via the Guápiles Highway and Horquetas (two hours, $2). Taxis wait on the north side of the soccer field, next to the bus stop.
In 2009, a bird-watching route was launched in an effort to promote ecotourism throughout the northeast. Four trip itineraries center on 15 far-flung nature reserves that together are home to more than 500 bird species. The reserves encompass a wide range of habitats. The prime focus is on the Sarapiquí–San Carlos region, centered on Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí and Los Chiles. This is one of the last remaining habitats of the endangered great green macaw (one of the four itineraries is called On the Trail of the Great Green Macaw.)
The idea behind this Bird Route is to promote bird-watching as a stimulus to conservation of bird habitat, not least by providing income for local landowners and communities. You can purchase a map ($12.95 online at www.costaricanbirdroute.com) and explore on your own, but I highly recommend hiring a guide, which you can also book online.
© Christopher P. Baker from Moon Costa Rica, 8th Edition