Puerto Viejo History

Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica History

Located in Limon province on the shores of the Caribbean Sea, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca is a beach lover’s paradise. Here amidst the exotic flora and fauna, lies a vibrant seaside town with gorgeous beaches, crystal clear blue waters, some of the most amazing surfing opportunities and a thriving ecotourism industry. Fast becoming one of Costa Rica’s premier ecotourism hot spots, many international surfers come here from all over the world to ride the famed Salsa Brava waves, making this Caribbean influenced town a ‘must visit’ place when in Limon.

Simply known as Puerto Viejo by the locals and not to be confused with Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui in Heredia, this bustling town lies 34 miles south east of Puerto Limon, Costa Rica and 10.2 miles south of Cahuita. Formerly a quiet little fishing village, Puerto Viejo has a charm that is all its own. Becoming increasingly popular, both as an ecotourism destination and with the young hip crowd, this town is among the top rated surfing destinations of the world. With its relaxed atmosphere and its own unique blend of Latino, Afro-Caribbean and Bribri indigenous cultures, Puerto Viejo is a lively place to have a fun relaxing vacation.

This town has a wide variety of bars, discos and restaurants as well as reasonably priced accommodations and hotels scattered all over the place. Additionally, there are also plenty of good shopping opportunities available out here as well. With its gold sand beaches, tropical vegetation and many interesting attractions nearby such as the Cahuita National Park, Talamanca Indian Reserve and Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, visiting Puerto Viejo de Talamanca is a great opportunity to experience ecotourism in Costa Rica at its best.

Most roads to this town are in pretty poor condition with the only paved road being the main highway from Limon to Manzanillo. The streets here are dirt paved. However, they give Puerto Viejo a kind of rustic touch that is distinctive and unique. The people here are also very friendly and all this adds to this tiny village’s charm.

Famous for its fabulous beaches, Puerto Viejo’s Salsa Brave beach is a surfer’s paradise. Aside from surfing, one can also indulge in horseback tours of the area, as well as snorkeling, diving, mountain biking, kayaking or boogie boarding. Whether you are looking forward to having a good time or just a laidback retreat, the shores of Puerto Viejo are a great place to kick back and soak in the sun.

Until fairly recently it was hard to get to the Talamanca coast. Distance from San Jose and the difficulties of travel by narrow-gauge train and canoe kept coastal villagers isolated from national commerce until the late 1970’s. Because the people were isolated from the Costa Rican mainstream, they maintained cultures and customs that are unique in Costa Rica. Forests and beaches largely escaped the early scars of development.

By 1979 a road connected the villages to Limon. Electricity brought lights and refrigeration to Puerto Viejo in 1986 and to Manzanillo in 1988. Now, you can drive to Puerto Viejo in a little over 3 hours – 4 to 4.5 hours by bus – to enjoy its cultures, wildlife, forests and the Caribbean sea. Private phones were installed in October of 1996 and this has been our route to cyberspace.

The earliest peoples of Talamanca of whom we are aware were the Bribri and Cabecar Indians who lived in the interior, mostly along watercourses.

Later, Afro-Caribbean people settled along the coast, founding the villages of Old Harbour (Puerto Viejo), Grape Point, Manchineel (Manzanillo), and Monkey Point. English was the principal language in those days, and despite a campaign to convert everything to Spanish, to the point of changing town names, English is still widely used. Coastal Talamanca is the most bi-lingual region of Costa Rica.

For generations the Blacks and Indians lived in harmony, trading with each other, living successfully off the land. These people have accumulated an incredible amount of knowledge of the forest and sea. Many indigenous people continue to live in thatch roofed houses built entirely of forest products.

Later, Afro-Carribeans introduced cash crops such as cacao, began extracting lumber, often hiring Indians to work in these enterprises. Perhaps 30 years ago Spanish speaking laborers arrived from the central valley of Costa Rica. Latin Costa Rican influence has grown increasingly, an influx of North Americans and Europeans has added to the cultural mix. Many find this atmosphere fascinating and stimulating.


The Bribri and Cabecar:

The indigenous people of Talamanca are part of the Amazon basin cultural grouping. The Bribri and Cabecar, living near developed areas, wear western clothes, participate in the modern economy and political life. Spanish language predominates, but many use the Indian languages, and it is not uncommon to hear an Indian speaking in Caribbean English. Many Traditional customs and beliefs are retained.

The Indigenous people live in three Indian reserves. Both the Talamanca-Bribri Reserve and the Talamanca-Cabecar Reserve cover large areas of the interior Talamanca mountains. A smaller reserve, Kekoldi, is located just inland from Puerto Veijo.


African-Caribbean People:

English speaking Afro-Caribbean people settled the Talamanca coast beginning in the mid-1800’s. In General they came from Jamaica, often via Panama. They brought with them knowledge about farming and fishing, culinary arts, and some beliefs about life, death, and nature that can be traced back to their African origins. They also brought British colonial customs adopted during generations of slavery and labor in the Caribbean islands. May Pole dances, cricket, and even Shakespeare were practiced in their coastal villages.

Caribbean farmers planted the coastline with coconuts, and developed interior farms of root crops, breadfruit, citrus, and more. They brought with them, Akee and cola nut, two tree crops native to Africa and important to their culture. Cacao, coconuts, turtle shells, etc. became cash crops and facilitated local development. Commerce and cultural ties were linked to the Caribbean islands. Magazines, bibles and the teachers to instruct people in their use came from Jamaica.

Interesting cuisine using local, fresh ingredients has been an important Afro-Caribbean contribution. Spicy jerk chicken, fish are favorites along with patacones ( plaintain banana french fried style), and coconut rice and beans. Spicy patti (meat pie) are commonly offered on the street. Music is a very important part of this culture and small acoustic bands can often be seen playing at local restaurants.