Everyone knows Costa Rica is the place to go for that pura vida vibe, and other guaranteed soul soothers.
Deserted beaches? Yup!
Turtles? Got em!
Monkeys? Check, check and check!
And depending on what part of the country you visit, you’ll get each of these to some extent, unless of course you stay just near the capital city of San Jose. And even that's a great part of the country, once you figure out how to get around the first few times.
Over the years, we’ve visited this favorite country of ours several times, checking out different areas each time. But there is one part of the country that has a particular feel to it - not at all typically Costa Rican, if there is such a thing. But more of a West Indies culture and reggae vibe - a little edgy and always laid-back.
I’m talking about Puerto Viejo, the once-sleepy village at the southern tip of Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast near the Panamanian border. The secret trickled out about ten years ago drawing ever more tropical travelers in search of rum, reggae, surf, and self-discovery. If that sounds like your kinda fun, get there soon. And when you go, be sure and book your room at Hotel Banana Azul - dare I say one of the biggest reasons the secret got out in the first place.
We’ve stayed there twice and each time had a comfortable and relaxing stay. On our first trip to the southern Caribbean, we drove our rental car from San Jose to Puerto Viejo, about a four hour drive. The second time we arrived from Panama to the south and took a van shuttle to Puerto Viejo from Changuinola. (Actually, the shuttle picks you up on the Costa Rica side of the border after you first haul your own luggage across a long, rickety bridge over the border, but that's a story for another day!) Transportation to and around Puerto Viejo is fairly straightforward, road signage is good, and moving around once you're there is also simple and safe. Just slow down at the sloth crossing signs!
What We Like
Banana Azul is an adult hotel - perfect for singles, couples, and families with kids over the age of sixteen. That's just one of the reasons for the chill atmosphere. Staying here is like hanging with friends for a week at the beach. It takes just a few short hours to find your way around the property, become friends with the folks at the front desk, become even better friends with the folks making umbrella drinks at the bar, and check out the beach. From then on, your routine is set according to you. Relaxed. Uncomplicated. Your biggest decision is what to have for dinner.
The Hotel and Gardens
The hotel is located in a secluded, residential neighborhood north of town - so it’s generally pretty quiet day and night. Guests have a wide variety of accommodations to choose from: rooms, suites, and new air-conditioned villas. The rooms and suites all have views of the lush gardens, pool and/or side ocean views. Rooms in the main hotel all face the pool and are on two floors. The upper floor opens onto a shared balcony running the length of the hotel with each room's balcony separated by dividers. First floor rooms open onto the lower level common area and dining room at the far end nearest the beach.
New villas were completed in 2016 across the street from the hotel - pics are on their website. The private Villas Banana Verde feature a kitchen, dining and lounge area, bedroom with cable TV, luxurious shower and A/C. All villas have a plunge pool and a balcony on both the first and the second floor. Villas can accommodate up to four people and seem ideal for extended stays.
Several suites toward the back of the property - formerly the owners suites - are secluded and very roomy. We stayed in the Howler Suite for a week during each of our stays and were very comfortable. The corner room has one of the best views of the property and the bathroom is spacious with a luxurious tub for two. At night, the jungle air can get still and sometimes buggy, but the ceiling fan kept us cool and mosquito netting kept critters away. Nevertheless, mosquito repellant always comes in handy.
A full breakfast is included with the room and is always impressive, not to mention delicious. They cater to everyone no matter what kind of breakfast you like, and what hour you're up and going. Hot coffee comes out at 5:00 am followed by fresh fruit, cereal, yogurt, fruit juice, and a selection of teas at 6:30 am. At 7:30 am, out comes the second course consisting of breakfast favorites like Gallo Pinto, omelettes, breakfast burritos, or Eggs Benedict. My breakfast burrito, below, was fresh and yummy.
The evening's dinner menu is displayed on a blackboard by breakfast time, serving to not only give you a heads up, but have you drooling about it all day long as well.
To avoid this, get your mind off the food and set out exploring the town and the jungle around Puerto Viejo. Or head to the beach.
Banana Azul is located on Playa Negra - just steps beyond their lush green treeline - where the sand is soft and the color of dusk, and the jungle runs the entire length of the beach. The water is good for surfers (though more action can be found in town at Playa Cocles) and perfect for swimming. There are plenty of beach loungers so there's no excuse not to while away the afternoon.
The pool at the hotel is fun and refreshing, and surrounded by lush tropical landscaping. There's a jacuzzi with a waterfall that gives great back massages. Several areas around the pool and on the first floor gathering area are perfect for lounging.
Tour Planning On Site
If you’re interested in seeing more of Puerto Viejo, tours to the surrounding area can easily be arranged on site through the hotel's Caribe Fun Tours. Staff is located at Banana Azul and can help with online travel, tours, and transport planning. We highly recommend visiting the Jaguar Rescue Center, as well as the National Park in Cahuita, and the indigenous BriBri community. The surfing at Playa Cocles and beaches at Punta Uva are also worth an afternoon.
Banana Azul is a 20-minute walk to the town of Puerto Viejo and further still to the south beaches at Playa Chiquita and Punta Uva. This wasn't a problem for us as we had a rental car. But if you don't, it can be tough to get around on your schedule. If you enjoy hanging at the hotel, you probably won’t be disappointed. Anything you really need is available right there. But if you know you'll want to explore, I'd recommend renting a car. Walking to and from town at night from Banana Azul isn’t recommended.
And if you're a very light sleeper, consider a room other than the Howler Suite. Though it's lovely and one of the most popular with guests, it's over the kitchen area, and they get an early start making breakfast at dawn.
Banana Azul is a great place to stay. Its location is secluded enough for a quiet stay yet an easy jaunt to get into town. We wouldn't hesitate to recommend them and will stay there again!
If You Go:
Banana Azul - Playa Negra, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Limon, Costa Rica
- Adults and kids 16 and over
- LGBT friendly property
- Renting a Car - 2WD is sufficient unless driving long distances or off-the-beaten-path. Mud and mudslides can be challenging during the rainy/Green months of the year in the southern Caribbean (November - January, and April - August)
Have you been to the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica? Leave me a comment if you've visited, or when you get back from your trip!