Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast: Playa Cocles to Punta Uva

Along a palm-studded shore, a small stream of water snakes down to lapping waves.

The beach at Punta Uva. Photo © Wim de Jong, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

South of Puerto Viejo, the paved road runs via Punta Cocles and Punta Uva to Manzanillo, a fishing village at the end of the road, 13 kilometers (8 miles) southeast of Puerto Viejo. Coral-colored Playa Cocles runs southeast for four kilometers (2.5 miles) from Puerto Viejo to the rocky point of Punta Cocles, beyond which Playa Chiquita runs south four kilometers (2.5 miles) to Punta Uva, where caimans can be seen in the swampy estuary of the Río Uva. From here, a five-kilometer (3-mile) gray-sand beach curls gently southeast to Manzanillo. Coral reefs lie offshore, offering good snorkeling and diving.

A Swiss couple offers tours and demos at their cocoa farm and chocolate “factory,” Chocorart (tel. 506/2750-0075, chocoart@ice.co.cr, 8am-5pm daily, $15 pp, by reservation only), at Playa Chiquita. You’ll learn all about cacao production, from the bean to the chocolate bar, on their hilly farm. Similarly, The Chocolate Forest Experience (tel. 506/8836-8930, $26) lets you experience “real” artisanal chocolate on tours (10:30am and 3pm Tues. and Thurs.).

Wildlife lovers should head to the nonprofit Jaguar Rescue Center (tel. 506/2750-0710, tours 9:30 and 11:30am Mon.-Sat., $15, by appointment only), at Playa Chiquita, where you can see all manner of wildlife—including caimans, monkeys, and all the venomous snake species in Costa Rica. Owners Encar and Sandro are trained biologists who work to rehabilitate injured or orphaned animals for reintroduction to the wild.

Fascinated by butterflies? Mariposario Punta Uva (tel. 506/2750-0086, 7am-5pm daily, adults $5, children free), a netted butterfly garden and reproduction center in the hills above Punta Uva, has some 20 butterfly species within its netted garden, and monkeys and other animals are easily seen on trails into the surrounding forest.

The dirt road to the butterfly garden ascends one kilometer (0.6 miles) to La Ceiba Private Biological Reserve (tel. 506/2750-0278, by appointment), an animal rescue center that also works to rehabilitate wildlife for reintroduction into the forest. The delightful Spanish couple that runs it, Francisco and Angela, offer guided hikes ($30 pp for 4 hours). The forest reserve and two-hectare (5-acre) garden are great for bird-watching and animal sightings, and a lagoon is a breeding ground for poison dart frogs, good for a nocturnal “sex show” tour. La Ceiba rents out three wooden cabins with kitchens, huge decks, and modern baths; they’re perfect for families.

Map of Playa Cocles to Manzanillo, Costa Rica

Playa Cocles to Manzanillo

Entertainment

After dark, head to the thatched Sloth Society Bar (tel. 506/2750-0080) at La Costa de Papito hotel. This cool place has live music on Tuesday (Jim Vicks plays a “funka-jazza-bossa-bluesy-rock” mix) and Thursday (Junior’s Calypso Trio). Totem Beach Bar (tel. 506/2750-0758) has a Caribbean night with reggae vibes at 6pm every Wednesday.

Sports and Recreation

Seahorse Stables (tel. 506/8859-6435, from $75, by reservation), near Punta Cocles, offers horseback rides. Edwin Salem, the gracious Argentinean owner, arranges occasional polo matches on the beach. He also offers sailing lessons on his 18-foot Hobie Cat as well as overnight turtle-watching tours ($150 including lodging), plus surfing trips.

Punta Uva Dive Center (tel. 506/2759-9191) has scuba trips to the reefs of Gandoca-Manzanillo. Herschel at Quiet Kayak Tour (tel. 506/8357-7703, $50 pp) will take you up the Uva River.

Crazy Monkey Canopy Ride, at Almonds & Corals Lodge Tent Camp (tel. 506/2271-3000), has zip-line rides ($40) at 8am and 2pm daily.

Treat yourself to a decadent chocolate body rub and cacao butter massage or similar sensual delight at the Indulgence Spa (tel. 506/2750-8413) at La Costa de Papito.

Be cautious swimming, as the riptides can be ferocious. Lifeguards are occasionally on duty (more information).

Food

Start the day at La Casa de Carol (no tel., Mon., Wed., Fri.), a lovely little French-run café at Playa Chiquita. A stone’s throw south, La Botánica Orgánica (tel. 506/2750-0696, 8am-3pm Tues.-Sun.) serves health food such as hemp-seed granola, whole-wheat pancakes, and lentil burgers. Vegetarians might also head to Punta Uva and the Jardín del Ángel (tel. 506/2750-0695), serving granola with fresh fruit and soy milk, plus dishes such as lasagna and curries.

Mediterráneo (tel. 506/2750-0758, noon-10pm daily), at the Totem Hotel Resort, has the advantage of beach views, plus great pizza, risotto, and Italian seafood with homemade pasta. By day its Bar Ostería (noon-8pm daily) serves as an oyster bar and also has Italian dishes.

Speaking of Italian, the finest cuisine east of San José is to be savored south of Punta Cocles at La Pecora Nera (tel. 506/2750-0490, pecoranera@racsa.co.cr, 5:30pm-11pm Tues.-Sun. high season only, $5-20), a genuine fine-dining experience in unpretentious surrounds at fair prices. Ilario Giannono, the young Italian owner, offers delicious bruschetta, spaghetti, pizzas, calzones, and a large selection of daily specials—all exquisitely executed. I recommend the mixed starters plate, a meal in itself. A wine cellar has been added. Credit cards are not accepted. Ilario also runs the adjoining Il Gato Ci Cora (noon-10pm daily), serving salads, pizzas, and paninis.

At Punta Uva, I like to kick back in a hammock at the beachfront Punta Uva Lounge (tel. 506/2659-9048, 11am-5pm daily), with simple thatched dining areas in lawns opening to the beach; it serves sandwiches and simple rice and fish dishes, plus ice cream and cocktails.

La Casa del Pan (tel. 506/8879-1548) is a lovely roadside café that doubles as a French bakery and pizzeria.

Que Rico Papito (Playa Cocles, tel. 506/2750-0080) has a tremendous tropical atmosphere beneath a huge thatched ceiling. Go for the Caribbean barbecue (7pm-10pm daily) and live music (Tues. and Thurs.).

For gourmet dining you can’t beat Magic Ginger Restaurant (Playa Chiquita, tel./fax 506/2750-0205, noon-2pm and 6pm-10pm Mon.-Sat.), at Hotel Kashá. Owner Louise Ducoudray dishes up culinary treats such as shredded chicken Bombay salad and swordfish in prune sauce with rum.

The open-air Le Numu (Playa Cocles, tel. 506/2582-0140, 7am-10pm daily), set in a lush garden at Le Caméléon, offers a chicly urbane ambience for enjoying such delights as duck breast salad ($14), salmon and mushroom tart ($14), and Dijon-horseradish-crusted mahimahi ($14). The bar specializes in martinis and hosts live calypso on Saturday twice a month.

You can stock up on food at the El Duende Gourmet deli and grocery, or at the fully stocked C. J. Marketplace, both at Punta Cocles; the latter has a no-plastic-bag policy (bring your own bag).

Accommodations

Accommodations: $25-50

$25-50

At Cabinas El Tesoro (tel. 506/2750-0128, dorm $9 pp, cabins $30-55, depending on size), about one kilometer (0.6 miles) from Puerto Viejo, 11 simply furnished rooms have orthopedic mattresses, screened windows, fans, and private baths with hot water, plus patios with hammocks. Three more upscale rooms have earth-tone stucco, cross-ventilation, cable TV, fridges, and large walk-in showers; two have air-conditioning. There’s also a his-and-hers surf dorm at the back, with a communal kitchen, toilets, and showers. There’s free Internet, coffee, and parking, and free movies are shown nightly on a wide-screen TV.

La Casita (Jamaica tel. 876/974-2870, info@harmonyhall.com, fax 876/974-2651, low season $300 per week, high season $350 per week), just north of the soccer field in Cocles, is a delightful albeit rustic log-and-thatch casita set in lush gardens with forest all around. It’s just you, the monkeys, and the geckos. A path leads to Playa Cocles, and a grocery store and restaurant are a short stroll.

In a similar vein, I like the German-run El Tucán Lodge (tel. 506/2750-0026, $38 s, $50 d) in the heart of the forest 800 meters (0.5 miles) uphill from Seahorse Stables. With charming decor, it’s a lovely spot to lay your head in stylishly simple wooden cabins on the edge of the Río Caño Negro at Cocles.

Accommodations: $50-100

$50-100

La Costa de Papito (tel. 506/2750-0080, low season from $54 s/d, high season from $59 s/d, including taxes), at Playa Cocles, is run by Eddie Ryan, a New York hotelier who has conjured 10 simple yet tastefully decorated bungalows at the edge of a lush two-hectare (5-acre) garden. Each has ceiling fan, leopard- or zebra-pattern sheets, exquisite tiled baths, and shady porches with hammocks under thatch. Four smaller cabins have polished hardwoods and outside “rainforest” baths. There’s a laundry and massages, plus bicycle, surfboard, boogie-board, and snorkel rentals. Hearty breakfasts are served on your porch and in the restaurant. There is also a full-service spa.

The 20-room Italian-run Totem Hotel Resort & Restaurant (tel. 506/2750-0758, from $75 s, $90 d) is a reasonable option on Playa Cocles. It has two types of accommodations in effusive gardens. Standards in a thatched stone-and-timber two-story structure, although dark, have colorful decor and spacious gray-tile baths. Suites boast huge lounges with terra-cotta floors and screened glassless walls opening to a walk-in pool with a cascade. Two wheelchair-accessible rooms have been added, along with six bungalows and six suites. There’s an outdoor games room with Wi-Fi, a large thatched bar with a TV, plus a surf shop. The Mediterranean restaurant doubles as an oyster bar by day.

Looking like a colorful transplanted piece of Jamaica, Aguas Claras (Punta Cocles, tel. 506/2750-0131, $70-220 s/d) has five adorable one- to three-bedroom casas on well-groomed grounds. Each is a different size, accommodating 2-6 people. Of a delightful Victorian style, they have gingerbread trim, bright tropical pastels, ceiling fans, modern tiled baths with hot water, large full kitchens, and shady verandas with rattan furnishings; there is also Wi-Fi. Miss Holly’s Kitchen is here.

The Jardín Miraflores Lodge (tel./fax 506/2750-0038, $50-95 s/d), at Punta Cocles, appeals to nature lovers. Choose from double rooms with shared baths or private baths and balconies with hammocks, along with suites with king beds, private baths, and living areas. Downstairs rooms have kitchenettes and king beds plus two sofa beds. Mosquito nets hang above the beds. It also has a basic six-bed dorm with outside baths for groups only ($10 pp). The wood and bamboo hotel is adorned with Latin American fabrics, masks, and art, along with vases full of fresh tropical blooms, plus Wi-Fi throughout. Upstairs, cool breezes flow through the rooms. Health-conscious meals are served in a rustic rancho. Tours are offered. Rates include breakfast.

Playa Chiquita Lodge (tel. 506/2750-0408, low season $60 s/d, high season $70 s/d), three kilometers (2 miles) south of Punta Cocles, is appealing for its jungle ambience. Eleven colorful and spacious “bungalows” offer murals, small sunken baths with hot-water showers and lovely tropical details, fans, Wi-Fi, and leather rocking chairs on a wide veranda. You can dine alfresco under thatch in the restaurant. The lodge arranges diving and snorkeling, boat trips, and bike and horse rentals.

The endearingly tropical Italian-run Pachamama B&B (Punta Uva, tel. 506/2759-9196, $55-110 s/d) enjoys a marvelous riverside forest setting amid trees festooned with epiphytes. It has two one-bedroom bungalows featuring pastel color schemes and including sponge-washed floors, simple furnishings, mosquito nets, ceiling fans, pleasing tiled baths with hot water, and hardwood decks. A spacious wooden one-bedroom house is a charmer. The two-bedroom casa has a lively color scheme.

I also like the charm of Cariblue Bungalows (tel. 506/2750-0035, from $95-110 s/d year-round), one kilometer (0.6 miles) south of Puerto Viejo, with 15 handsome, spacious hardwood cabinas amid shaded lawns. Some have king beds. All have colorful sponge-washed decor, bamboo ceilings with fans, private baths with mosaic tiles, and sliding doors opening to delightful porches with hammocks. There’s boogie-board and bike rentals, plus a gift shop, a TV lounge with Wi-Fi, and a free-form pool with a whirlpool tub and a wet bar. An Italian seafood restaurant serves meals under thatch. Rates include tax and buffet breakfast.

Next to Cariblue and almost identical, Azánia Bungalows (tel. 506/2750-0540, low season $75 s/d, high season $90 s/d) is another beautiful property on lush grounds. Eight thatched hardwood cottages with large decks with hammocks are delightfully simple and have batik blinds on all-around screened windows, queen beds plus singles in a loft, and handsome baths with colorful tiles, drop-down walk-in showers with sauna seating, and huge windows. It has Wi-Fi and a comma-shaped swimming pool, and it rents bikes. The restaurant specializes in Argentinean fare.

Of similar standard, Casa Camarona (Playa Cocles, tel. 506/2750-0151, $73 s/d year-round) is well run by a Tico couple and offers 18 modestly furnished, air-conditioned wooden rooms with tile floors and hot water. It has an intimate breeze-swept restaurant, La Palapa, decorated in Jamaican style. There’s also a gift store, a beach bar, laundry, safe parking, bicycle and kayak rentals, and tours. The facilities are wheelchair-accessible.

At Punta Cocles, the upscale Villas del Caribe (tel. 506/2750-0202, low season $70-130 s/d, high season $75-135 s/d) has a superb location in the cusp of the bay. It has 12 colorfully furnished rooms and villas in a two-story complex in landscaped gardens 50 meters (165 feet) from the beach. Fully equipped kitchens, hot water, and fans are standard. It has a seafront restaurant and bar with Wi-Fi. The hotel is eco-conscious—even the soaps and toiletries are biodegradable. Rates include breakfast and tax.

Also at Playa Cocles, Bugabutik Hotel Resort (tel. 506/2750-2012, low season $90-150 s/d, high season $105-170 s/d) also offers rustic elegance in aesthetically delightful studios, bungalows, and suites.

Another Caribbean-cabin-style entity, Hotel Kashá (Playa Chiquita, tel./fax 506/2750-0205, $80-90 s/d, all-inclusive) offers all-inclusive packages in addition to rack rates. This place has 14 handsome hardwood bungalows set back from the road amid the forest. The units are spacious, with plenty of light, screened windows, ceiling fans, two double beds, and pleasant baths with heated water and beautiful Italian ceramics. Some units are for two people; others are for four people. The hotel’s high points are its two restaurants, including Magic Ginger for gourmet fare, plus the Morpho Bar. It also has a small pool with a water cascade. Rates include tax and breakfast.

French-run El Colibrí Lodge (tel. 506/2759-9036, low season $50 s/d, high season $65 s/d), south of Punta Uva, has a lush jungle setting. Its four concrete cabins lack natural ventilation and get hot, but they boast ceiling fans, hardwood floors, nice color schemes, and modern baths with hot water. Trails lead to the beach. Monkeys hang out in the trees overhead, and an adjacent lagoon harbors caimans. The owners also rent a two-bedroom house. Rates include breakfast.

Blue Conga (Playa Cocles, tel. 506/2750-0681, low season from $60 s/d, high season from $70) is set in a lush garden and combines contemporary styling and tropical touches, such as rough-hewn timbers and nature-themed mosaics. Its owners (three couples, one each from Belgium, France, and Canada) offer spacious bedrooms with king-size canopy beds, ceiling fans, and balconies with forest views.

French hosts Ingrid and Erwin run Korrigan Lodge (tel. 506/2759-9103, from $95 s/d, including breakfast), at Punta Uva. It offers four cozy bungalows reached by paths that wind through lush gardens and rainforest.

For simple elegance, you can’t beat the lovely El Nido (Playa Chiquita, tel. 560/2756-8274, low season from $125 s/d, high season from $160 s/d), with five spacious hardwood cabins around a small swimming pool. All have king beds with quality linens, plus TVs and DVD players. Your delightful hosts are Gail and her daughter, Maitreya, from Canada. Exotica Lodge (Puerto Viejo, tel. 506/2750-0542, low season $30 s, $40 d, high season $40 s, $50 d) offers a pleasant alternative. The bargain-priced Physis Lodge House (Playa Cocles, tel. 506/2750-0941, $55-75 s, $85 d, including breakfast) has four rooms with a gorgeous Asian-inspired aesthetic.

Accommodations: Over $100

Over $100

You get good value at Shawandha Lodge (tel. 506/2750-0018, low season $105 s/d, high season $125), one kilometer (0.6 miles) farther south at Playa Chiquita. It has 12 spacious, thatched, Wi-Fienabled hardwood cabins, each marvelously furnished with simple yet beautiful modern decor that the Spanish owners—Maho Díaz and Nicolas Buffile—call “neo-primitive,” including four-poster beds, screened windows, and large verandas with hammocks. The baths boast large walk-in showers with exquisite tile work. The restaurant is one of the best around, and there’s a splendid open-air lounge with contemporary decor. Rates include an American breakfast.

Part safari camp, part boutique hotel, the lovely but overpriced Almonds & Corals Lodge Tent Camp (tel. 506/2271-3000 or 506/2759- 9056, suite $235 s, $300 d, master suite $315 s, $400 d), three kilometers (2 miles) north of Manzanillo, has a lonesome forested setting a few leisurely steps from the beach. Each of 24 tent “pavilions” connected by lamp-lit boardwalks is raised on a stilt platform and features two singles or one double bed, a locker, night lamps, a table and chairs, plus mosquito nets and a deck with a hammock—a touch of Kenya come to the Caribbean. Very atmospheric! Separate junior suites and suites are even nicer and verge on luxe. Each cabin has its own shower and toilet in separate washhouses. Raised walkways lead to the beach, pool, snack bar, and restaurant serving Costa Rican food. You can rent kayaks, bicycles, and snorkeling gear. It earned four leaves from the Certification for Sustainable Tourism program, but in 2008 was accused by authorities of illegally clear-cutting protected forest for an expansion.

Eclectic in the extreme, Tree House Lodge (tel. 506/2750-0706, $250-390 s/d), at Punta Uva, is a rustic yet upscale place with a fabulous Middle Earth feel. Having recently expanded, it now offers four individual and irresistible units with forest or beach settings, and amenities such as iPod docks. The original all-wood two-story Tree House is built in and around a huge tree, with separate elements connected by a steel suspension bridge. Two bedrooms share a bath; a spiral staircase leads to a loft bedroom with a king bed. The Beach Suite features a Tolkien-style dome bath (owners claim it’s the largest in the country) with stained-glass windows and a huge whirlpool tub. Fantastic!

The most upscale, and controversial, hotel is Le Caméléon (Playa Cocles, tel. 506/2582-0140, from $295 s/d). This chic retro-contemporary boutique pad changes the entire tone, tempting a new breed of traveler-fashionistas to the region with its all-white vogue decor, with not a hint of the tropics. Even before it opened, it was selected as a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World. This avant-garde hotel integrates its public and outdoor spaces into the encroaching rainforest with appropriately tropical styling. The rooms (in four types) are gorgeous, although too urbane to fit a coast known more for reggae, Rastas, and reefer. Rooms are Ikea-styled, draped floor to ceiling in white, white, white, and set off by cushions and swirling artwork in primary colors (the color themes are swapped daily). Amenities include Wi-Fi, air-conditioning (now, there’s a first on this coast), and flat-screen cable TV, plus white-marble baths. The superb open-air lounge-bar-restaurant is on a raised wooden deck and can get lively with sybarites toasting with their mojitos. It has a spa and beach club.

Tucked in the hills one kilometer (0.6 miles) inland of Playa Cocles, Geckoes Rainforest Lodge (Calle Margarita, tel. 506/8335-5849, $255-277 s/d) has two huge, beautiful, all-hardwood two-bedroom villas set in lush grounds and each with a plunge pool.


Excerpted from the Ninth Edition of Moon Costa Rica.

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