People in Cuba love their animals and the country seems to be pet friendly. Surely, animals are way more free to roam around than they are in other countries. Anywhere you go, there are dogs walking about, some of them pure breed dogs. Most of them are actually owned by families, but at times they befriend tourists and beg for food, other times they go throught garbage (however, I must say that the island is incredibly clean and only seldomly there is garbage in the streets).
Perrito at El Nicho
A house cat in Santiago
A parrot in Maruchi’s house
What is more surprising, however, is that anywhere in Cuba you will see chickens, pigs, sheeps and goats, horses and even cows. Most families keep chickens for eggs. However, chickens are not kept in cages but freely roam in the streets and gardens, picking on just about anything (is there anything more free range?). You may find that chickens and pigs are eating right next to you in gorgeous Playa Maguana. It is not surprising to be woken up by a chicken in Vedado, Havana. Less than surprising to see a chicken in the main square of Vinales, or even next to the pool in Las Terrazas. I wonder how a family knows which are its chicken, but nevermind that!
Chickens are left free to roam
Goats, sheeps and pigs are almost as free in Cuba – especially in more rural areas – but you might find that the obnoxious smell at 4:30 pm in your casa particular in Trinidad centro historico is nothing more than the neighbours’s pigs eating. Again, is there anything more free range than this?
Horses in Cuba are mostly a means of transportation: everywhere you will see horse carriages, most of them pull up to 8 people, who have to pay a price to get on the carriage. Horses are also used to clean gardens from unwanted grass – they will eat that, and leave the lown so neat and tidy! Donkeys, on the other hand, are used to transport goods.
Horse carriage in Camaguey
Cows are used to work the land, or so I was told.
Working the land the traditional way
Cows and horses are property of the state, which explains why all of them are marked and why it is very very hard to find beef in Cuban menus. It is actually forbidden to eat horse meat and even beef (some say it is because it is too expensive for them to buy it, some say the government forbids it for health reasons). Apparently, it is a very bad crime to kill horses and cows, and if for some reason one of them dies the state has to open an investigation to make sure it died of natural causes!
Seeing these kinds of animals roam (almost) freely is surely a more interesting experience than seeing crocodiles and dolphines forced to live in small cages or aquariums. Anyways, if you like animals, you will not miss a chance to see loads. And do not forget to carry goggles to see the coral reef!
The coral reef in Cayo Jutias
Puerto Viejo is the perfect place to be a beach bum or to practice one’s surfing abilities in the pristine Caribbean waters of Costa Rica. It has some of the best beaches in Costa Rica. The lush nature around town, its dusty streets, artesania shops, good bars and seafood restaurants and its relaxed rastafarian community (be prepared to listen to reggae music all day long, see the typical colours of rastafarians all around town and being served by a waitress who will laughingly admit to having smoked marjiuana) make this place charming and therefore one of Costa Rica attractions. The good news is that there are plenty of cheap accommodation, eating options and activities not to blow anyone’s travel budget.
Waves and wildlife are among Costa Rica attractions
Things to do in Costa Rica:
Surf and snorkel
Salsa Brava is thought to have the best waves of the country and is among the best beaches of Costa Rica for surfing. The coral reef almost emerges from the waters, so make sure to catch that wave unless willing to crash on the reef: in other words, it is only good for experts. Playa Cocles, about 2 km east of Puerto Viejo, has great but less dangerous waves, usually in the first hours of day. To catch the best ones, go between December and March. Not a surfer but willing to give it a try? Enroll in one of the surf camps.
Playa Negra is a great beach for swimming and body board. Snorkelling is best enjoyed in the areas between Cahuita and Manzanillo – for better visibility go when there are no waves. For scuba diving, there are over 20 good sites in the area where it is possible admire various species of fish. For information, the best option is Reef Runner Divers – it is even possible dive with a temporary permission for those who do not have a patent.
Sand, coral reef and forest in one of the best beaches in Costa Rica
Hike and bike
Puerto Viejo is a great starting point for other things to do in Costa Rica, such as a hike in the rain forest, kayaking, walking. And then go back to town to enjoy a delicious rondon soup (a traditional fish soup with vegetables and spices typical of the area). There are organised tours of the parks, but it is easy to hike around (and for free) independently in the Parque Nacional Cahuita and in the Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Gandoca-Manzanillo where toucans and sloths can be spotted. South-east of town the jungle meets the sea, contoured by palm trees and inhabited by toucans, sloths and monkeys: it all gives this a special aura. Carry lunch and plenty of water.
For those who want to be extra lazy, the best option is to just walk around, browse the artesania shops, enjoy the relaxed atmosphere and mingle with the local artists.
Biking around? One of the many things to do in Costa Rica
Where to stay and eat:
Backpackers looking for cheap accommodation in Puerto Viejo will find Hostel Pagalù a great quality option: comfortable beds (dorms are 12 US dollars), rooms and bathrooms are spotless, there is a cozy common area with books, wifi and computers, a well equipped kitchen to prepare meals. No reservations are accepted but those lucky enough to find a bed, will never be kicked out unless they decide to leave!
There are good supermarkets to buy and prepare meals. Those too lazy to cook who would rather eat out shoudl go to Soda Mirna, in the main street, as it is the best budget option with its set meals and large portions. Bread and Chocolate is perfect for a very filling breakfast, and everything is organic and prepared from scratch, not to mention delicious.
Various bars have live music at night.
Getting to Puerto Viejo and away:
It is possible to get here by catching a bus from the Gran Terminal de Caribe in San Jose. From Tortuguero, catch a bus from Cariari to Guapiles and then hop on another bus to Puerto Viejo.
To reach Panama get a direct bus to Sixaola (they leave several times a day) and then cross the border in Guabito.
For more things to do in Costa Rica click here.