A.M. Costa Rica
Special Report:
Costa Rica's Caribbean
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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, June 10, 2002, Vol. 2, No. 113
A.M. Costa Rica/Patricia Martin
Colorful houses dominate the waterfront of the port city of Limón
Caribbean coast offers a mix of cultures to tourists
A.M. Costa Rica/Patricia Martin
On the Limon streets, you can buy whatever it takes to have a reasonable business discussion. 
 
 

A.M. Costa Rica/Patricia Martin
Limón Central market does not lack color.
 
 
 

A. M. Costa Rica/Patricia Martin
Hiding its years with a coat of yellow paint, one of the oldest buildings in Limón is now the Palace Hotel. 
 
 
 

A.M. Costa Rica/Patricia Martin
La Perla Negra lodge rests in jungle foliage on the black-sand seashore of Puerto Viejo. The wooden structures blend into nature rather than compete with it. 
 
 
 

A.M. Costa Rica/Patricia Martin
Hikers, bikers and naturalists adventure to the Caribbean lowlands, where cultures easily blend. 
By Patricia Martin
A.M. Costa Rica travel editor

While the Pacific coast with its upscale resorts remains the preferred tourist destination, a trip to the Caribbean side of Costa Rica will spice up your itinerary, introducing a very different aspect of the country. 

True, the beaches are equally gorgeous from one ocean to another, but on the east coast you’ll encounter Afro-Caribbean and indigenous Indian populations mixed with traditional Tico culture, and enjoy the wonders of two national parks and nature reserves. As to turtle thrills, of the four species of marine turtles that nest in Costa Rica, all but one of them choose the Caribbean shore to deposit their eggs. At this time, both the laying and hatching of eggs of the enormous Leatherback sea creatures is underway affording you experiences that you will covet forever.

HUMID, CASUAL AND ETHNIC 

The rain refuses to be confined to a season here. Even the dry and sunny days feel steamy, yet in the villages, it´s only a few steps from Main Street to the breezes and soothing waves of the Caribbean Sea. Life moves like a sloth on Prozac along the coastal settlements, inducing you to kick back and savor the Creole tang in both conversation and cooking, as you´re lulled by reggae rhythms. Don´t expect a precise replica of Jamaica, though — there´s been a cultural meltdown since the area was colonized in the 1800s, blending Jamaican and Latino ways to some extent. 

Indian culture is best explored through organized tours, as the indigenous people inhabit private reserves where outsiders may visit as "guests." If one goes inland to the town of Bribri, there´s almost nothing of interest for the tourist to behold on the single street, but a guide will take you on horseback to the thatched houses perched on stilts within the reserve, to experience Bri Bri communal life and their hospitality. The Cabécar people thrive in this area as well, and you´ll find information on the tour companies to contact.

MY WAY, THE HIGHWAY 

Highly recommended is a drive from San José on the Braulio Carrillo highway to the port city of Limón, which is also the provincial capital. This takes about three hours or more. From there, follow the coastal road south to Cahuita, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Punta Uva, Manzanillo. Proceed another 34 km. (about 20 miles) and you´ll arrive in Sixaola, which is the last outpost before Panamá. 

Enroute to Limón, you´ll experience dips and dives through mountains wild with vegetation in the Braulio Carrillo National Park portion. Your car tunnels through the base of a mountain, then rises like the cloud-forest mists to heights of 975 meters (nearly 3,200 feet). Romantic though this route may be, motorists are advised to check before departure on weather and highway conditions. Heavy rainfall sometimes brings mud and rockslides down the mountain slopes with possibly perilous results. In such a case, the road may be closed for several days for clearing, and an alternate route advised. One boulder we passed at the side of the road looked the size of a large van. 

TWO PUERTO VIEJOS?

Yes, there´s a turnoff to Santa Clara that leads to another town with the same name. About 50 km (30 miles) along the highway, a turnoff leads north to Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí, which is NOT our destination on this particular trip. Instead, we take the right turn to roll along to Limón, then southward down the coastal road to the other Puerto Viejo — which is known as Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. 

THE LIMÓN DEBATE

Some people say that Limón should be passed through quickly on the way to somewhere else. Others insist that it´s a good place to linger awhile and take in the sights. I side with the latter opinion, finding enough points of interest there, but remember that this is both a port and a city, meaning that you want to be somewhat watchful, just as you would be in downtown San José. 

Not everybody who approaches you is a potential soul mate. They just might be more interested in your wallet and camera than in your friendship. Street stands that sell knives and brass knuckles testify to the seamier side of Limón life. There´s no cause to be paranoid or impolite if anyone speaks to you, but do keep your wits about you, and again as in San José, don´t leave any possessions in your parked car.

SIGHTSEEING AND MORE

With caution in place, you can spend an interesting day taking in the following: The Central Market, teeming with the predominately black population and Tico residents, where you find food stalls, clothing and an array of goods. Stroll up and down the pedestrian boulevard, then along the waterfront; visit the museum with exhibits of the history of the area including the building of the railway from San José to the coast. Enjoy a nature walk through Parque Vargus among the tall palms and riotous flowers, colorful birds and sloths.

COLUMBUS LIKED IT

If time is not a factor, there´s always a boat tour to Isla Uvita just offshore, where Christopher Columbus dropped anchor on his fourth trans-Atlantic voyage. From the port of Moín a few miles away, boats take you northward through a system of canals into Tortuguero National Park, where four types of turtles come to nest. On this particular trek, we headed in the opposite direction to follow the coastline southward, leaving the canals and park for another date.

Part II

A.M. Costa Rica/Patricia Martin
 On the beach at Punta Uva, where the Jamaican culture blends with Tico.