In the words of Noddy Holder, it’s Chriiiiistmaaaaaas!!
We were so excited to celebrate Christmas in Costa Rica, it was definitely one of the main things we were looking forward to when we started the trip. It’s also extra special because it’s our first Christmas together, first Christmas married, and also my first Christmas abroad (Joe spent Christmas last year with his family in France).
So for our special honeymoon adventure Christmas, we decided to spend it in Puerto Viejo, a small beach town on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, just north of the border with Panama. But don’t let the word ‘small’ fool you – despite its size, Puerto Viejo has a big heart and as soon as we arrived we found the same reggae vibes we’d found in Bocas del Toro.
First – The Rant
Since we knew it would be such a special celebration, we actually booked our accommodation back in August and decided to treat ourselves to a hotel for 5 nights.
I hate to be so negative at the start of a blog post, but this massively backfired for us. Turns out the hotel had made some major changes between August and December – getting rid of the restaurant and bar and no longer offering breakfast (all that was on offer was coffee, bread and dry crackers). We hadn’t even been told this and were disappointed on our first morning that there was actually no food at all. Pretty shocking for a $90 per night hotel! Worse still, the hotel’s website still advertised the restaurant and a choice of eggs, pancakes, fruit or granola for breakfast. Complete lies!
After some complaining, the staff agreed to make us breakfast the following mornings but that still didn’t make up for the fact we had been lied to. The room was also very basic and only had netting up as part of the wall, so it was very noisy all of the time. We’re also convinced there were mice. The only redeeming feature was the pool.
Basically the moral of the story is – avoid the Lizard King Hotel!! There are much nicer and cheaper options elsewhere in Puerto Viejo.
On a lighter note, when we arrived at the hotel we received a Christmas parcel… from England! My parents were super thoughtful and sent us proper Cadbury’s chocolate and an amazing inflatable tree with baubles! It definitely got us in the Christmas spirit – thanks you guys!
The Sloth Sanctuary
One of the main reasons we wanted to go to Puerto Viejo was because it’s close to Costa Rica’s Sloth Sanctuary. We couldn’t go to Costa Rica and not visit these cute and hilarious local residents!
The sanctuary opened in 1992 and became a home and rehabilitation centre for injured and rescued sloths. Some of the earliest residents have ended up having a permanent home at the sanctuary, although animals rescued now are rehabilitated back to health and released back into the wild.
There are a couple of types of tour you can do at the sanctuary. We did the Buttercup Tour ($30 per person), named after the first sloth to be rescued, which involved a guided tour of the sanctuary and a canoe ride in the jungle surrounding the sanctuary. The guided tour was great – we went into the buildings that house the resident sloths and were told lots of facts and stories about these cool animals. Some of the stories were really sad – many of the sloths were in a bad way when they arrived, having been electrocuted or abandoned as babies. Electrocution on power lines is the biggest cause of injury or death of sloths.
The good thing is we met some survivors that now have a lovely home at the sanctuary. And they were pretty lively! Sloths are slow-moving animals but they still move a lot, some of them put on a great show for us!
The canoe trip was also great. We saw an iguana, howler monkeys, birds and the icing on the cake – a sloth in the wild! Definitely a perfect end to our visit of the sanctuary. Thank you so much to our wonderful friend Eilidh for treating us to our sloth experience as a wedding gift!
Playa Punta Uva and Playa Cocles
We also couldn’t visit Puerto Viejo without spending quality time at it’s amazing beaches.
The best beaches are a little way out of town and bike rental is really cheap (around $5 per day) so it’s a great way to explore the coast. The beaches are great for surfing and there are lots of shops offering surf lessons and board rental. However because it’s so great for surfing, it also means the waves can be rough for swimming. Lifeguards monitor areas of Playa Cocles and unfortunately the red flags were out the days we visited.
Our favourite beach was Playa Punta Uva, a 30-40 minute cycle from town but the beach is beautiful and also pretty quiet.
Playa Cocles is closer to town and you can easily walk there in 20 minutes. We followed a trail in the stretch of jungle between the beach and main road which leads you to Playa Cocles and further. We LOVED this trail – we actually saw loads of wildlife including monkeys and sloths. Right up close as well!
Walking the trail to the beach and back made for a great (and cheap) day out. Even though we had some rain on Christmas Day, the sloth-spotting made it worth it, and we managed to hide from the worst bit of rain in a cool cafe and bar at Playa Cocles, called Reggae Chill. We can vouch that their cocktails are very good!
Pure Jungle Spa
Our Christmas Eve treat was an incredible couples massage at Pure Jungle Spa – thanks you so much to Joe’s parents for our spa gift!
The spa itself is on the outskirts of Puerto Viejo and surrounded by lush jungle. The building is rustic and airy and our room had a big door that opened out on to the jungle. And the massage was so relaxing! It definitely put us in chilled out Christmas spirits. Even better, we each got a piece of local chocolate after the massage which was so yummy we ended the buying a bar, we couldn’t resist!
We paid $138 for the deep tissue couples massage and the spa offers lots of other treatments as well, including tropical facials and body treatments. We’d really recommend the spa if you’re in the mood to treat yo’self!
So what else did we do in Puerto Viejo? Since it was Christmas and we were in the mood to treat ourselves, we ate and drank lots!
There are loads of bars and restaurants, offering anything from the local casado (rice, beans, salad and plantain) to Thai, Italian, and amazing fresh seafood. Better still, most places have a happy hour (or happy few hours) where you can get 2 for 1 cocktails for around $6.
On Christmas Eve we had delicious curry and seafood at Stashus Con Fusion and on Christmas Day we had yummy steak and fish (and very strong frozen margaritas) at Madre Tierra. On our last night we went to Koki Beach which had a great atmosphere and gorgeous (if a tad pricey) food but the service was a bit slow.
Puerto Viejo itself is just cool to wander round. There are lots of surf and artsy shops, and lots of places to chill out. The local beach is also really pretty at sunset.
So we really enjoyed our Costa Rican Christmas! We loved our chill out time in the sun and it was so great to meet lots of the local sloths! We’re also really glad we stayed in Puerto Viejo, there’s lots going on and the atmosphere is good, it was a great choice for Christmas. We hope you all had a wonderful Christmas as well!
How did you spend your Christmas? Which sloth are you after the festive season?? Leave a comment and let us know! Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram to see our latest travel photos.