Puerto Viejo is a small town located on the southern Caribbean coast in the province of Limon. It is the opposite of a tourist destination; the city has no golf courses, country clubs, tennis courts, almost no swimming pools, and only a few hotels even have air conditioning. But the city is incredibly laid back, and has a totally unique, non-touristy feel to it. The city is much more for the backpacking traveler who really wants to experience a place the way that the locals do. There are gorgeous rainforests there as well.
As a budget traveler, the best option is to travel by bus. For less than US$10 you can travel between San Jose and Puerto Viejo de Limon.
Getting from San Jose (airport code: SJO) to Puerto Viejo by plane
San Jose is served by Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO), the busiest and most important airport in the country. It is located about 20 km from the city. It is hub for TACA/LACSA and a focus city for Copa Airlines.
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Puerto Viejo is served by Limón International Airport (LIO) and is one of the four busiest airports in the country.
TACA Regional offers scheduled flights from San Jose to Purto Viejo , while Nature Air offers only charter flights. Once you get to Limon you still have about an hour drive to Puerto Viejo. You can get a shuttle from Limon to Puerto Viejo for around $10.
>>read more about Cheap Flights to San Jose
Getting from San Jose to Puerto Viejo by Bus
Your second option is to take a bus. Costa Rican public transportation is actually really good. The buses are safe, efficitent, and very cheap. The seats are very comfortable, and most of the buses are very nice. The bus that takes you from San Jose to Puerto Viejo costs about $7.50 one way. If you are bringing your surf board, you will have to pay an additional $2.00. The bus ride takes about four hours, with one ten minute rest break when you are about an hour from Puerto Viejo.
There are five buses that go to Puerto Viejo every day. Make sure when you buy your ticket that it is for Puerto Viejo de Limon and not Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui. They are on opposite sides of the country. The seats on the buses can be a little too close together for some people, and so if you do not want to take the public bus, you can also take a semi-private shuttle. These buses can drop you off from one exact place to another, just like a taxi cab would. They are more expensive, at about thirty dollars per passenger (fifteen dollars each child). These buses usually have air-conditioning and are very convenient, but you are limited to one piece of luggage per person, and excess baggage costs $10 per piece. The drivers of these shuttles usually go slower than the bus drivers do.
>>read more about Bus Travel in Costa Rica
Getting from San Jose to Puerto Viejo by Car
Finally, you can also rent a car. If you go by car, the drive is about four hours long. From San Jose, you first take Highway 32 to Limon, passing the Braulio Carrillo National Park and the Rainforest Aerial Tram as you drive. This part of the drive is incredibly beautiful, going through the mountains and passing waterfalls that are right next to the road. However, the drive is also very dangerous. The roads are some of the worst in all of Costa Rica, so be sure and take your time driving. You will want to rent a four wheel drive vehicle, because there are immense pot holes. You will pass through Guapiles, Siquirres and Matina. Then, you will be out of the mountains and onto a road that is much safer, flatter, and straighter that takes you to Puerto Limon. Along this stretch of road you will pass many banana and pineapple plantations. At Limon, you will turn right on the coastal highway that leads to Puerto Viejo. This road becomes very bad again; there are several bridges that are only one-lane, and if you are not sure if it is your turn or not, it is always safer to yield.