Updated: 3/17/21 | March 17th, 2021
The Caribbean coast of Costa Rica is usually dominated by two places: the Amazon-like jungle of Tortuguero in the north and the party/beach paradise of Puerto Viejo in the south.
But traveling the Caribbean coast, there was one place I liked best: Cahuita.
Located an hour north of Puerto Viejo on the southern Caribbean coast, it’s a popular stop for many travelers but it is nowhere near as crowded as other spots along the coast. Most travelers visit the national park with the same name. The town is very small (it’s home to under 10,000 people) and it’s predominantly made up of small restaurants and guesthouses — not tour shops and bars like you’d find in Puerto Viejo.
And the park? The park is amazing.
Covering over 2,600 acres on land and with a marine area of 55,000 acres, it’s not surprising that the park is home to an incredible amount of nature and wildlife. There are over 35 types of coral in the reefs within the park (which span around 4km) and there are around 135 different types of fish — which you can see if you go snorkeling in the area. The beaches are a nesting ground for sea turtles.
It’s a paradise.
The park itself opened in 1970 and obtained national park status by 1978. It’s the only national park in the country that does not charge admission (though donations are welcome).
My Experience at Cahuita National Park
To give you a sense of what the park is like, here’s a short video from my time there:
Unfortunately, the day I visited, many of the trails were closed due to heavy rains and flooding. (I spent my first two days here indoors because of 24-hour rain!)
The trail from Cahuita town to the other end of the park is 8km. When I went, only the first 2km were open. That was still enough to hang out on a beautiful beach, see howler monkeys, iguanas, white-faced monkeys, tremendous numbers of birds, and beautiful butterflies. If I saw that in an area close to town, I can only imagine what it would be like further inland, away from most people.
Tips for Visiting Cahuita National Park
To help you make the most of your visit, here are some helpful tips and things to consider:
- Wear decent shoes – The main trail is a 5km loop, so you’ll want to wear good footwear if you plan on walking the full trail (it’s flat so you can do it in sandals if you want, but shoes are probably best).
- Bring your bathing suit – Chances are you’ll want to swim or snorkel while you’re here so don’t forget your towel and bathingsuit.
- Don’t forget water – It can get quite warm if you hike the trail or lounge out on the beach, so bring plenty of water (at least 2 liters).
- Stick to the path – Avoid damaging the ecosystem by staying on the trail. Don’t try to touch any of the wildlife, either.
- Bring bug spray – The mosquitos can quite pretty bad, so make sure you bring bug spray!
- Bring your own toilet paper – The toilets in the park often won’t have toilet paper, so bring your own just to be safe!
- Stay dry – The rainiest months to visit are June and November, so try to avoid those if you’re looking to avoid the daily downpours.
Practical Information for Visting
Hours: The park is open daily from 6am to 5pm. If you’re planning to snorkel or dive in the region, underwater visibility is best between February and April.
Cost: The park is free but they do ask for donations (your donations help keep the park open so please give generously!).
Guides can be hired in advance or at the gate. Expect to pay around $20 USD for an hour guided tour. Guides have binoculars so you can see all the animals up close. Most guides don’t arrive until around 8am so if you need a guide, don’t arrive too early.
Getting there: You can take a bus from San José or Puerto Viejo. Buses from San José are about $9 USD each way and take around 4-5 hours. The bus from Puerto Viejo takes around 30 minutes and costs $1.50 USD. A taxi from Puerto Limon is $15 USD.
If you ask me, it’s one of the most underrated places to visit on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica.
If you are coming down the coast toward Puerto Viejo, stop in Cahuita for a few days. While the beach may not be as nice, hiking and wildlife are much better. If I didn’t have such limited time during this trip, I would have stayed longer.
Book Your Trip to Costa Rica: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner or Momondo. They are my two favorite search engines because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned.
Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels.
My favorite spot in town is Secret Garden. This is a quiet, peaceful hostel close to the bus stop and park entrance. It’s a great place to relax after visiting the park!
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. I’ve been using World Nomads for ten years. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:
- Safety Wing (for everyone below 70)
- Insure My Trip (for those over 70)
- Medjet (for additional repatriation coverage)
Ready to Book Your Trip?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use when I travel. They are the best in class and you can’t go wrong using them on your trip.
Want More Information on Costa Rica?
Be sure to visit our robust destination guide on Costa Rica for even more planning tips!
Photo credit: 1 – Eric Fredericks, 2 – Haakon S. Krohn, 3 – yepyep