On the surface of it all, I was disappointed with Puerto Viejo because of two things: weather and the hostel. It seems superficial, but hear me out; the veins run a lot deeper than a simple “ugh, rain, ew, hostel” (though to be honest, those things still stand true, but in a bit more of an eloquent way).
Not to get the violins out, but Puerto Viejo was the worst period of time on my solo trip. Over the four days there, I had to really pull myself together, try at things only to fail, face loneliness, and I realised just how tough solo travel can be – but also how solo travel constantly reinvents itself, pretty much every day.
Each day is a new one and luck can definitely turn around… although for the most part over these four days, it didn’t. Here’s why I was disappointed with Puerto Viejo.
Going in wet season does make a difference
I’ll let you in on something: it rained. A lot.
Like I said in my June monthly update, I do try to not let the weather bother me. There’s one slight problem with that: it does. Especially when the place you’re in is completely geared towards outdoor activities, i.e. the beach, cycling, wandering around the town, surfing.
Don’t get me wrong, I have done things like surf in the rain (I do come from England, after all), but the redeeming feature of that sort of thing is something like the company you’re in, or the experience you’re having.
Anyway, I felt that Puerto Viejo was a lot more dead than when it was likely to be better weather. As I walked around the town in my squelchy flip flops, I passed empty market stalls all lined up in a row, occasionally accompanied by a lone Rasta-style man smoking to the backdrop of rain glumly dripping down.
I imagined the sun shining, the streets busy and the markets full and alive, people laughing and travellers keen to buy their token of the trip. I wanted to be that person. I think Puerto Viejo must be incredible in the high season, but when I went, in late June, it was not centre stage.
I didn’t like the hostel
This frustrated me a lot and it was mainly because of this that I didn’t enjoy my time in Puerto Viejo. When I was researching hostels, I had heard nothing but praise for Rocking J’s. Party hostel, they said. Best time I’ve ever had, they said. OMG they have hammocks you can sleep in, awesome!, they said.
Sure, the hammocks are actually pretty cool. But I soon came to realise this wasn’t the place for me. I could even get on board with the sort of outdoor showers and toilets even though they’re kind of just tin cans you take care of your ablutions in… I found it all a bit weird, sure, but I could deal with it. By this time I had also managed to sweep a cockroach off my bed and not shudder (there’s no benefit in being too fussy when backpacking in Central America).
But what I couldn’t hack was the claim to “party hostel”. What does party hostel conjure in your mind? To me, it means lots of people who are friendly and up for a laugh, a chat, whatever. I thought perhaps that maybe it would be too much for me and I’d need some time alone here and there…
All I got was time alone. The problem with a big “party” hostel for a solo traveller is that it’s a bit overwhelming. There are too many common areas so you can barely talk to anyone as they’re so spread out. Everyone looked glum because of the weather, or perhaps their own cockroach-infested beds – I’ll never know, because nobody talked. Nobody smiled. Nobody struck conversations in the dorm rooms, which is what I had loved and how it worked in Monteverde and San Jose.
And the people who did come were in groups, usually quite unwilling to make friends with other people. They were an already-formed clique. I just couldn’t understand why people didn’t talk, why people excluded you, why people were so unfriendly.
Later in Bocas del Toro, I actually met people who I had been in this hostel with at the same time, but I had never met them because of the size and temperament of the hostel. They switched. People I met later on and were heading to Rocking J’s also switched. I did meet some lovely people here and there, but we all felt the same way about Rocking J’s. Not a fan.
I don’t want to say avoid Rocking J’s, and I definitely wouldn’t say “don’t go to Puerto Viejo” – everybody’s experiences are different depending on the situation. The people I met obviously went around the same time as me and clearly that period of time wasn’t showing Puerto Viejo off at its best. Although I bet there are people who had a great time, too.
There are instances when Rocking J’s would be really fun, like if you’re in a big group of people travelling together. Otherwise, go there for a night out or stay there for a night in their hammocks for the novelty.
As for Puerto Viejo itself, I would go back but I’d go in the peak season when I’m sure the streets are bustling and everyone is in happier spirits. It is such an outdoorsy place!