The Caribbean coast has it all. Amazing tropical rainforest, spectacular beaches and overflowing vegetation and wildlife, add to the rich flavor of the region’s people. It’s paradise for ecotourist – green sea turtles lay their eggs each year in Tortuguero. The adventurous have plenty to do – fishing, sea kayaking, diving, and much, much more.
Limon: Rhythm, Flavor and Tradition
Everything you could ever want in a tropical destination you will find in Costa Rica’s Atlantic coast. The province of Limon runs along almost 124 miles of majestic sceneries and friendly people. It meets both the Nicaragua and Panama borders.
After a two and a half hour drive on a highway, you’ll have reached this whole different world. To get there, though, you will have had the pleasure of crossing canyons, mountains, waterfalls and the virgin forest of the Braulio Carrillo National Park.
Once you start leaving the cloudiness of the park, you will find yourself breathing heavy air in the hot climate of the topical lowlands of the Atlantic. Next, you will come into Puerto Limon, a flavorful mixture of rich and ripe sights and sounds.
Your Guide to Limon’s Soul Food
Limon has treasured the African roots of its cooking, even after the difficult passage through the plantation life of the Caribbean Islands, from which many of the old people came. The misical names of many products and recipes; the common use for others, unknown in the Central Valley (as aki and okra); the prevalence of aromatic teas; and many other African features are very much alive today.
Tie-a-leave (taya lif, in creole): It’s a small green platain tamale.
Dokunu: A small sweet tamale, made with corn flour and coconut milk, that’s also called blue dress.
Johnny cake: Its name derives from “journey cake”. It’s a round bread, made with flour and coconut milk, that stays fresh a long time.
Chinese immigrants first came to Limon more than a century ago, to work in the building of the railroad.
Luckily, they stayed, and with them, an array of tastes and products that have widely enriched the cooking of the region.
At the roots
The city of Limon is the center of the entire province. This Caribbean spot is the perfect place for anyone who wishes to relax and get involved with this colorful side of Costa Rica.
Limon’s culture has been made popular by the many important people it has nestled. Poets, musicians, chefs, storytellers and painters, with their work, have all helped put this special place on the map, for people inside and out of the country.
Most of the province’s inhabitants have an Afro-Caribbean heritage. The town has grown in size since the 1970’s, and the atmosphere is cool and tropical.
The entire region holds a great deal of Costa Rica’s history. It was established in 1870, as a port for the export of bananas and other main crops going to world markets. It was also here that a historic strike for the rights of banana plantation workers took place in 1934.
A great amount of parks and beaches all over this area make Limon the perfect place to cover from head to toe. You can find all sorts of accommodations, with varying sizes and price ranges. One thing they all have: excellent service, hospitality and the perfect setting.
Mingling and partying with the limonenses
Limon’s central market is a very interesting place to visit. Inside, you can find everything from fruits and vegetables, to clothes and shoes. Sodas or small restaurants are everywhere, specializing in the local and traditional cuisine.
One of the main attractions to this region is the week-long Carnival, held every October. It is related to African masquerades, transformed in the Caribbean Islands in the John Canoe Festivals. At the turn of the 19th century, and the first decades of the past one, people in Limon kept alive those celebrations.
They were rediscovered in 1949, and the Carnival is now one of the most reknowned in all of Central America. Alfred Henry King, a barber, promoted this tradition more than fifty years ago. It was first planned to coincide with the anniversary of the landing of Christopher Columbus in Costa Rica (off the coast of Limon, on October 18th, 1502).
Today, locals and thousands of visitors take to the streets and move to the rhythm of drums. The heat, the music and the bright costumes invite everyone to become part of this performance.
In order to truly get to know Limon, you must taste its food. Every visitor should at least try rondon (a Caribbean version of the Yoruba “obe”: fish and vegetables, slowly cooked in coconut milk); rice and beans (red beans and rice, cooked in the ubiquitous coconut milk); pati (meat patty); and agua de sapo (a drink prepared with lemon juice, molasses, ginger, and a little something else).
All of these dishes are spicy and are made with ingredients that hold true to the African legacy of Limon’s people. Recipes have been passed down from generation to generation, and even the youngest know the traditional and authentic flavor of their food. A popular spot for visitors is the Black Star Line restaurant, in the very heart of the town.
But the Chinese and Indian immigrants have also brought their own cooking, and it is common to find recipes from all those far away places in the menus. Visiting Limon and not tasting its food is almost like not going there at all.
By the 1860’s, the coffee business in Costa Rica was big and was becoming the most important source of income for the country. The coffee oligarchy was in charge of government and was aware of the need to become more competitive in the international market.
Coffee had to be taken out of the country through the Pacific, after having been hauled by cart and donkey on a long and exhausting journey. Even though a railway to this coast was built, it wasn’t very effective.
So, in 1871, Presidente Tomas Guardia hired someone to build a railway to the Atlantic. It was described by engineers as a truly difficult piece of work, and was ultimately awarded to Minor Cooper Keith, a United States citizen.
The railroad extended for 120 miles, over a rugged, mountainous route, and passed through some of the country’s most dense jungles. Its construction burdened the government with an enormous debt, and upon its completion in 1890, it cost the lives of more than 4000 workers.
After nineteen arduous years of work, it became the only existing route between the Central Valley and Puerto Limon, until the early 1970’s. This railroad introduced important new elements into the Costa Rican social structure that changed the country’s life forever.
The surf season is from November through March.
Puerto Viejo (Salsa Brava) – Costa Rica’s most powerful wave, tubular and very dangerous because if you don’t make it, you will visit your friend “Salsa Reef”. The break is called Salsa Brava and is located front of the town of Puerto Viejo where you can find hotels, camping, restaurants and night life Caribbean-style. Great place to surf but when the swell arrives there’s a big crowd waiting for the tubes, and some get stuck in the reef, so bring a big board and always stay focused.
Playa Cocles – Good right beach break. The beach is located near Puerto Viejo (south from P. V.), and you can go walking by the beach in a trail with beautiful trees and birds along the way, or go by car and stay in the accommodations in front of the beach.
Manzanillo – Very good right point break, located 20KM south of Puerto Viejo. There are few accommodations. The break is in the Gandoca – Manzanillo National Park.
Westfalia – Beach breaks along the road from Limon to Cahuita National Park. It can be dangerous because of the strong currents, so stay out if it’s big.
Black Beach, Cahuita – Cahuita is a National Park, is North from Puerto Viejo, Usually it gets good with big swells, so some people escape crowded Salsa and catch some nice waves nearby. You will find accommodations and beautiful trails along the coast and entering the mountains.
Playa Bonita – Used to be one of the best waves, but the earthquake raised the land here, and now you’ll get good waves only few times a year. There are accommodations and the beach is located north of Limon city (5KM).
Portete – Right point break, located north of Playa Bonita, accommodations nearby.
Isla Uvita – Christopher Columbus came to this little island when he first visited Costa Rica in his fourth trip. The Island is in front of Limon, and you have to take a boat (five dollars p. p. ) at Limon, or at Piuta, a nearby town to the north. On the island you will find no accommodations or water, so bring all your stuff, because if you want you can camp in the area.
Uvita has an impressive left, which can get big and dangerous, so ask the locals how to get out from the point to the island, because if you go straight you can have trouble with the reef. You’ll have to do a half moon and stay out of the inside when you are going out or when you are caught by a big set.
Costa Rica Travel: Travel Information & Tips
No matter how beautiful a destination may be, it needs easy access and be reachable within the limitations of an average vacation period. Costa Rica is only two and a half hours away from Miami!