There are many visitors who arrive with no schedule, intent on kicking it until the money runs out or they otherwise get an urge to move on. This is particularly so of the funky, laid-back hamlets of Cahuita  and Puerto Viejo , budget havens popular with surfers, the tie-dyed backpacker set, and those seeking immersion in Creole culture.
Most people stay at least a week to get in the groove and make the most of the southern Caribbean’s offbeat offerings, including Cahuita National Park , protecting a rainforest full of monkeys, as well as one of Costa Rica’s few coral reefs.
You’ll want to take horseback rides along the beach and/or a “dolphin safari” into Gandoca-Manzanillo, while experienced surfers might want to check out the Hawaiian-size waves two miles off Punta Cocles . And if you don’t mind roughing it, consider an excursion into the Talamancas for an overnight at Reserva Indígena Yorkín.
Further north, most travelers head to Tortuguero National Park  for 1–3 days of viewing wildlife by rented canoe or on guided boat tours offered by nature lodges. Tortuguero is famous as the most important nesting site in the western Caribbean for the Pacific green turtle, one of four species that come ashore predictably at numerous beaches up and down this shore.
Anglers favor Barra del Colorado , acknowledged for the best tarpon- and snook-fishing in the world; two or three days is sufficient. Tour operators and specialist lodges can make all arrangements.
If you’re driving along Highway 32, which connects San José  to Puerto Limón , the Rainforest Aerial Tram  makes for a rewarding stop while en route from San José to the Caribbean, as does Centro Turístico Las Tilapias (Sundays), and the must-see Veragua Rainforest Research & Adventure Park, a short distance west of Limón.
Despite new opportunities from the tourism boom (or perhaps because of it), the region has witnessed a burgeoning drug trade, and in recent years Limón has been consumed by murderous gang wars. The southern Caribbean has also developed a reputation for crime against tourists.
Drugs are prevalent, and in Cahuita and Puerto Viejo visitors may be pestered by young males trying to sell them drugs. Hoteliers in the region claim that the bad reputation is all a sad misrepresentation, but during my most recent visit, things seemed to have gotten worse, including several violent attacks and murder.
The negativity is more than counterbalanced by the scores of wonderful, welcoming souls. And local residents’ associations formed by expatriate business owners have done much to eradicate crime.
Some local Afro-Caribbean men are very forward with their advances toward women, and judging from the number of young foreign women on the arms of local men, their approaches are sometimes warmly received. The “rent-a-Rasta” syndrome engendered has inspired a reputation for “free love” that other female travelers must contend with. Be prepared for subtle to persistent overtures.