East from San José, the road climbs into the mountains, passing volcanoes left and right, and then descends through lush rainforest on the Caribbean slopes of the Cordillera Central. These days it's a short drive to the coast (just a couple of hours), but the coast was practically inaccessible from San José until the arrival of the railway at Puerto Limón in 1890.
This heralded Costa Rica's banana boom, with plantations replacing swathes of forest behind the long sweeps of Costa Rica's wild Caribbean shores. Jamaican workers brought a West Indian flavour and today Puerto Limón and beach communities in the south have an easy-going Afro-Caribbean feel.
Puerto Limón is a pleasant town, with a commercial purpose as Costa Rica's only significant sea port to the Caribbean. Bananas and much else leaves from here, and cruise ships call in on their circuits of the western Caribbean. The town's appearance has had some attention in recent years. You might plan to stop and explore it for a few hours.
There is another Puerto Viejo in Costa Rica (Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui, in the Northern Lowlands) but this Puerto Viejo is way down south on Costa Rica's Caribbean coast. The small town of Puerto Viejo gives its name to the area which includes two excellent national parks: Cahuita National Park and the Gandoca-Manzanilla Wildlife Refuge.
Cahuita National Park protects a rainforested promontory beyond the dusty fishing village of Cahuita.
Gandoca-Manzanilla Wildlife Refuge is a real treasure, extending more or less from Puerto Viejo to the Panamanian border. It combines lush lowland rainforest with wetlands and mangrove, partly behind a beautiful palm-fringed beach where turtles nest. The park also safeguards the KeKoLdi Indigenous Reserve which is for Bribri and Cabecar communities. They are experimenting with ecotourism and are delighted to invite guests to visit them and experience their way of life for a short while.
There are some small hotels in this area, and one jungle lodge located within the boundaries of Gandoca-Manzanilla. It offers a wonderful opportunity to experience the jungle from a relatively very comfortable setting, with access to a lovely beach.