Costa Rica | Puerto Viaje and My First Land Border Crossing in Central America

The Border Crossing

Ten days ago when I checked into my flight to Panama, I had been told to book my onward travel out of the country. It was then that I had to decide that my first stop in Costa Rica would be Puerto Viaje, a little beach town on the Caribbean coast, because of its proximity to Bocas Del Toro which would be my last stop in Panama.I had found and booked myself a shuttle with Caribe Shuttles which cost about $30.

The journey itself was easy and only took a few hours. A boat picked us up from Bocas Del Toro to take us to Almirante, where a minibus was waiting to take us the hour journey to the border. The actually border crossing between the countries was surprisingly very straight forward. I had read and heard mixed reviews, mostly saying that it was difficult, so I was expecting it to be similar to my experience arriving into Panama, with lots of questions asked as you panic!

However all that happened was, our passports were stamped out of Panama, and then we walked over a bridge which connected to the two countries, with all of our bags etc, to queue up for border control on the Costa Rica side. I had been told to expect the proof of onward travel question again, so I had my flight details to Guatemala ready to show (which I had booked the night before) but I wasn’t asked for it! Once across the border, we boarded another minibus waiting for us and began the very short journey to Puerto Viaje.

Poor guy! The driver of the shuttle offered to carry my rucksack which I’m sure he immediately regretted!

Puerto Viaje

I was dropped at my hostel mid afternoon and headed straight out to explore the town. Puerto Viaje is right on the coast, however I wasn’t impressed with the actual beach fringing the town- it wasn’t the nicest, very small with rocks. However I later found out an amazing beach was just a short cycle away. After exploring a few souvenir shops and exclaiming at Costa Rican prices, (same as Western) I found a bar with some WiFi and had my first beer in the country. Good to sample the local delicacies!

My first and overall impression was that I didn’t love Puerto Viaje, but that could have been because it was such a comedown from Bocas Del Toro which I had absolutely loved. My hostel was a little away from the main road, just a five minute walk but the roads were really dark at night. I had heard a few stories about travellers being mugged there and wasn’t willing to find out for myself! Annoyingly it also got dark at 5:30 which didn’t allow much time for evening activities!

Jaguar Rescue Centre

The one thing I did that I loved there, was the following day, I hired a bicycle and cycled to the Jaguar Rescue Centre. It was a 20 minute cycle along the coast and I passed some beautiful beaches a bit further along, including one called Cocles Beach. I arrived at 9:45, thinking I would be able to have a wander around the centre myself, but the only times you’re allowed inside is on the 09:30 and 11:30 tours. So I had to wait a while for the next! Passed the time by writing my diary and got chatting to an American girl called Ashley.

When 11:30 arrived, we were split into several small groups of English/ Spanish speaking groups of about ten or so guests. This is definitely a good idea because it feels more personal. The sanctuary was small but there were loads of different types of Costa Rican animals and birds there and we were shown each of them. The sanctuary aims to re-release all of the animals that come through the centre. It was set up by a retired couple who came to live in Costa Rica and were brought injured animals to treat. The first animal they tried to rescue was a jaguar who unfortunately didn’t survive and so the sanctuary became named after him.

We saw several types of monkeys; some howler monkeys, which are loud and slow, white faced capuchins, and some spider monkeys who move quickly. We also saw some caimans and crocodiles floating around in some pools. My personal highlight was seeing sloths! There were three toed sloths of a variety of ages. There was a nursery area made out of bamboo and blankets, where the smallest ones were. The keepers, who are mostly volunteers, put their food at the top of the climbing frame so to eat, the baby sloths have to learn to climb. They were adorable.

Amongst other animals they have there, there was an Ocelot and a Margate which are types of Central American jungle cats however we didn’t get a very good view of either because they kept themselves hidden. This is good because it means they aren’t humanised, they are doing what they would do in the wild! We also saw two types of toucans and some colourful parrots. Lastly we saw a collared peccary (which I had never even heard of) which was very tame, and also a permanent resident as he had had to have an operation on his mouth to remove a tumour, so his tongue falls out the side of his mouth. Finally we finished up with lots of snakes! It was a really lovely place and I was definitely pleased and visited as my entrance fee will go towards their work.

On the way back, Ashley and I cycled back to the Main Street to get lunch, which we had in a reggae bar on the beach. It was the dream! I love the Caribbean food here. After lucky we cycled back to Cocles beach, the beautiful surf beach to lie there for the afternoon which was lovely. Unfortunately at 5pm when it started to get so dark so quickly and with no streetlights/ lights on our bike we both felt we should get back.

I think my opinion of Puerto Viaje is tinted slightly by my hostel being pretty unsocial and out the way, so it didn’t feel super safe venturing out at night. As soon as it got dark I headed back there and there was nothing to do. I met alot of people who loved it, having stayed in hostels right on Cocles Beach for example. That evening I did a ton of research on Costa Rica and decided to book my bus to move onwards to La Fortuna for the following day. Short and sweet!

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