When we were first backpacking around Costa Rica (long before we ever imagined calling the country home), one of the stops we found particularly striking was Cahuita National Park. With palm-fringed beaches, abundant wildlife and powder white sand, it was everything we had first imaged Costa Rica would be.
Fast-forward a few years, and we’re happy to say our return visit to Cahuita National Park proved just as wonderful as the first.
If you’re wondering if the park is worth the adventure to Costa Rica’s Caribbean, then this post is for you!
Your Guide To Costa Rica’s Cahuita National Park
First, check out our video we put together after our most recent visit to the park! This will give you a sense of what the area is like:
Arriving At The National Park
The national park gets its name from the laid-back town of Cahuita, known for its unique Afro-Caribbean culture and long sandy beaches. While the nearby town of Puerto Viejo continues to grow in popularity, attracting a large mix of backpackers and mid-range travelers alike, Cahuita has managed to maintain its sleepy charm.
The “downtown” is a smattering of colorful wooden houses and restaurants. And while it doesn’t look like much on the surface, a bit of exploration around Cahuita and down the gravel road that lines the coast reveals lovely bed and breakfasts, retreat centers, and a surprisingly diverse array of cuisine.
Most travelers opt to base themselves in Puerto Viejo, about 45 minutes or so from the park. However, if you’ve got the time, we recommend at least a night or two in Cahuita. (We’ll recommend specific hotels below.)
If you’re traveling from San Jose, Cahuita is about a three and a half hour drive, depending on road blocks and traffic.
Hours and Rates
Cahuita National Park is open daily from 6:00am to 5:00pm.
There are two main entrances. As mentioned, one is in Cahuita town proper, with an optional donation for entry. The other (called Puerto Vargas) is about 5 km south of town along the only main road. If you enter from here, the fee is $10 a person. A small fee to pay for paradise! The hiking trail connects the two entrances.
What To Do At Cahuita National Park
At over 2,711 acres, Cahuita National Park is the ideal place to spend a day exploring Costa Rica’s natural beauty. Here are the most popular activities to try while you’re there:
– Take a few hours to explore the jungle trails. It’s possible to spot sloths, monkeys, lizards, birds, snakes, cayman and more. To optimize your chances of wildlife sightings, ask your hotel to recommend a trail guide, or hire one at the park entrance. Early mornings or late afternoons tend to be better hours for finding animals.
– Go for a swim. Cahuita National Park has the most beautiful beach in Cahuita, with soft white sand and plenty of spots for swimming in the warm ocean. Do pay attention to the red flags that indicate which spots are safe for a dip. At the entrance to the park (from the town), you’ll also find a small break that’s popular with beginner surfers.
– Snorkel the reefs. Costa Rica doesn’t have a ton of great spots to snorkel and scuba dive, but the area just off the park is considered one of the best. In fact, the National Park was created in 1970 to protect these very reefs! Unfortunately an earthquake in the early ’90s caused some damage, but we’ve heard the waters are still worth exploring. During the rainy season, the water can be cloudy with poor visibility. Snorkeling is only permitted with a guide; here are some reputable hiking, snorkeling and boating tours available.
Other Activities In Cahuita
While the Cahuita National Park is the crown jewel, there are other attractions in and around Cahuita.
The Sloth Sanctuary is one of the most popular, a rescue center dedicated to rehabilitating sloths. We have heard mixed reactions (some of which say the center is not as ethical as it claims,) but cannot say either way for ourselves.
Alternatively, there’s the Tree of Life Wildlife Rescue Center, which is a fantastic spot to see a large array of rescue animals. You’ll learn the animal’s stories for how they ended up at the rescue center, along with preventative measures to educate the community and further protect the local wildlife.
To learn about local medicinal plants, the bean-to-bar chocolate making process or take a local cooking class, try the Alma Verde Healing Garden.
Where To Eat Around Cahuita National Park
While local food in Costa Rica typically isn’t much to write home about, the cuisine on the Caribbean is phenomenal. We love anything cooked in coconut milk and served with a side of patacones (smashed, fried plantains.) Here are a few places to get you started:
For a romantic dinner with an ocean view, this is the place. It’s a bit pricy, but has excellent seafood, pasta and traditional local dishes.
This is a good spot to try all the favorites like Caribbean style chicken, rondon, and shrimp in coconut sauce. It’s located right on the main strip in Cahuita.
This small restaurant makes the perfect spot for breakfast before exploring Cahuita National Park. They’ve got excellent coffee and tasty crepes.
This place is actually in Puerto Viejo, but we had to add it to our Cahuita list. We think it’s worth the drive if you’re not stopping in Puerto Viejo on your trip. This family-run restaurant is easily the best place we’ve eaten at almost anywhere in Costa Rica. The patacones with guacamole and Caribbean-style chicken are our personal favorites.
Where To Stay In Cahuita
Cahuita isn’t necessarily a luxury destination, but there are plenty of cute guest houses and small hotels that make the perfect base to explore the town, beach and park.
We’re currently crushing on Sears Vacations free hotel search. We wrote an entire post about it so you can learn the ins and outs of how it works, but to sum it up, all you have to do is sign up for a free account to access unpublished fares on hotels—with a best price guarantee.
Last time we used it, we scored discounts up to 39% off the published fares on other third party booking sites like Expedia and Booking.com. We’re using Sear’s Vacations booking platform for another trip to LA, and currently finding up to 60% off four-star hotels. Not bad at all!
Definitely read the entire in-depth post on Sears Vacations to learn more about this awesome free travel hacking tool.
We checked out what Sears Vacations has to offer in Cahuita and Puerto Viejo, and there are some impressive savings on a number of properties along the beach. You’ll want to check for the latest availability and up-to-date discounts, but here are a few spots we recommend:
Cabinas Caribe Lodge
Now it’s your turn! What did you think of Cahuita and the National Park? Should we keep making more videos? Share your thoughts below!
This post is sponsored by Sears Vacations. As always, all thoughts and opinions are our own.
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