You have to be determined to get to this coastal Caribbean town, but it’s worth it. Puerto Viejo, on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica, is about a four-hour bus ride from the airport in San José. I don’t like to stay in hotels when I travel—I like to live among the people—so my cousin and I booked an Airbnb, and our hosts became like family. Every morning for breakfast, we walked to a restaurant called Ghetto Girl that serves things like plantains, rice, beans, fresh fruit, and mango juice. Then we’d go to the nearby beach or the black-sand Playa Negra. In the afternoon, we would rent bikes and explore the island.
We ziplined, did a rock-climbing excursion, and went horseback riding on the beach through a company called Terraventuras. There was also this area where people are always playing salsa music, and we met a bunch of friends who would just stop in the street and teach us to salsa dance. Later, we liked to go to Nema, a bar that serves good seafood, and a place called Lazy Mon that has beach chairs during the day, then a night becomes a party spot. If things didn’t get jumpin’ at Lazy Mon, we would walk down to Salsa Brava. We went dancing every night and stayed out until sunrise. Once we dove in the ocean at 4:30 a.m. with the locals. “Pura vida” is something they say a lot in Costa Rica. It means “pure life,” and I felt a very kindred connection to that. Before we left, I got a piece of my hair in the back dreaded with a shell in it to remind me of this place and its people.
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A version of this article appears in the November 2018 issue of Marie Claire.