Holidays with an Alternative - Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica
It’s easy to dismiss Puerto Viejo in southern Costa Rica as a town full of young guys (and girls) with dreadlocks, soul patches (guys only) and the waft of marijuana (no discernible gender bias). Bars shout for attention with loud music and bright lights, and beer bottles fight with brightly coloured cocktails for supremacy.
It all adds to the reputation of the area as a party town.
But that’s not all Puerto Viejo has to offer…
There is also great wildlife here … and a strong community of alternative healers.
Taking a walk along the beach will afford you excellent views of whimbrels, plovers and sandpipers, plus large black vultures, egrets and herons. Or take a kayaking tour with Nature Riders and you’ll paddle upstream carefully navigating your way round fallen trees, spotting sloths, kingfishers, sleeping bats, turtles, and brightly coloured crabs. With any luck you may also see a black kite sitting on a low branch waiting for an unsuspecting crab to emerge from its hole.
As we stopped out kayaks on a small shingle island in the river, our guide Ignacio started to prepare coconuts for us to drink from and we struck up a conversation about the healing properties of many of the plants here. There is the ‘naked Indian tree’ so named for its rich red bark, which is often given to people with anaemia. There are large red hibiscus flowers that are packed with vitamin C (and taste much like lettuce), and the leaf of the guarumo tree which is brewed into a tea and given to people with asthma.
As Igancio machetes the coconuts and slices ripe pineapple he explains that more and more people are being attracted to this area to offer alternative treatments from reiki to shiatsu, from yoga to a raw detox, from vibrational healing to therapeutic massage. Those seeking an alternative lifestyle have settled here, attracted, they say, by the area’s energy, and in turn they are attracting a new breed of tourist; those looking to boost their health, in a beautiful, natural setting, in a country known for its love of nature.
And that’s the thing about Costa Rica – it is everything you expect; peaceful, friendly people, a beautiful almost pristine environment, and rich array of wildlife to watch. And yet it’s also unexpected too. Who’d have thought when I woke that morning that I’d end up having lunch with Igancio at his home and sharing the afternoon with him and his friends, including vibrational healer Tom Grosjean who kindly offered to give me a treatment. Who’d have thought, as I sat in the famous Koki Beach bar that evening with my Costa Rican guide Henry that a female sloth and her tiny baby would slowly make their way into the restaurant to shelter from the rain. And who’d have thought I’d almost trip over a racoon as I took an early morning walk in Cahuita National Park.
So if partying and getting your hair beaded on the beach isn’t for you – don’t assume you won’t like Puerto Viejo. Underneath its marijuana scented exterior hides a town with spirit and soul – and some spectacular wildlife.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chantal Cooke is an award winning journalist and broadcaster with a passion for the planet. In 2002 she co-founded the award winning radio station PASSION for the PLANET and in 2009 Chantal was awarded London Leader in Sustainability status. Chantal also runs a successful communications agency – Panpathic Communications.