South Caribbean: Cahuita – Puerto Viejo – Manzanillo

The  community  in the  Southern  Caribbean,  or the  region  of Tala- manca  as it’s also known,  is surprisingly  diverse, with people  from 40  different  nationalities  living within  its boundaries.  According  to the government’s  2000  (and latest) census, 18 percent of the 25,857 population  are immigrants, a number  that has certainly risen sub- stantially since. Apart from the local population  of Afro-Caribbeans, Bribri, and Ticos of European origin, the expatriate community  is an eclectic mix from all corners of Europe,  Canada, the U.S. and South America, and the most unique in Costa Rica.

On any given day one can hear English, Spanish, Patois, French, Italian, Dutch or Swiss spoken in the street, as well as the Bribri mother tongue. Interestingly, the expatriate community  is made up mostly of young  couples,  as opposed  to  the  retirees  found  in other  expatriate havens. Many are of mixed race with young children, families of devel- oped-country descent  making a go of a slower but  more  meaningful life. It’s an area that  attracts  those  of the  hippy persuasion,  but  also those who might have been pioneers or adventurers in another  life.

Almost everybody works, either in the tourism business, as a ho- telier, or offering leisure activities. There are ecologists, artists, chefs, photographers, masseurs and beach bums making their own ways in the  area. In the  last few years a number  of real estate brokers  have emerged as well. It’s a very active community where everybody knows everybody. As one newcomer  put  it: “Within  a few days of arriving here, I couldn’t  just pop into town to pick up some groceries, every- one was talking to me, telling me they’d heard I’d arrived. Literally, you can’t go into  Puerto  Viejo without  spending  a couple of hours talking to everyone.” There seems to be few part-time residents. Most expatriates seem to have permanently  relocated to the area.

There are several community  groups in the area, from the Cham- ber of Tourism  and Commerce, to several environmental  groups  in- cluding a group called ADELA that organized  to prevent the govern- ment  from allowing oil exploration  in the  area. A movie called “El Caribe”  was even made  about  the  struggle.  The  local community has organized recycling for the town, and another group organizes lifeguards for Playa Cocles.

In  terms  of  leisure  activities,  surfing  is big  in  this  area,  with beaches  for all levels of experience.  The  Salsa Brava, which means something  like “hot  sauce,” is the most challenging in the area when there’s a swell, and is known for its size and power. There’s also snor- keling, swimming, horseback riding and hiking.

Music is a big part of the culture in the area, with major influence from calypso and reggae.  Usually there’s plenty of live music to be found in both  Cahuita  and Puerto  Viejo. Alternatively you can drive the hour to Limón where live bands shake the city all weekend. Like all cities in Costa Rica, Limón  has its own festival, held in October. Also, in May the city hosts a music festival.

Apart from the local cuisine – rice and beans, patties, etc. – the South  Caribbean  has perhaps  the  largest concentration of excellent restaurants  in the country.  Cauhita  has some excellent local and in- ternational  cuisine.  Down  toward  Puerto  Viejo, and  even as far as Playa Chiquita,  you can find some of the finest Italian cuisine in the country,  as well as Thai fusion,  French  cuisine, and  Spanish pastry shops. The comparatively high concentration of European expatriates and their taste for good food has obviously had an affect on the local restaurant  scene.

Puerto Viejo, which has become the more popular town with tour- ists, can be quite noisy in the center in the evenings, especially during high season around  Christmas and New Year. However,  most expatri- ates seem to live outside the town center and in these areas noise is not a problem,  with the exception, of course, of the sounds of the jungle.

For early risers, the Caribbean  holds the added benefit of the spectacle of the morning  sun rising out of the sea. Later in the morn- ing, beach walkers share the  spot with youngsters  catching  bait for the day’s fishing. Those preferring the easy afternoon sunset will want to check out the Pacific side of the country.

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