Cahuita has a lot going on for a little town, so it’s no surprise that it has seen significant development in the last 15 years. Despite the increase in tourism, Cahuita remains one of my favourite places in Costa Rica. Abundant wildlife, beautiful beaches, a fantastic national park, and superb Caribbean cuisine make this town a must-visit each time I go to Costa Rica. Bordering the national park, Cahuita is likely to retain its small-town feel as large developments are prohibited. Although Cahuita is seeing more visitors, development has remained in the hands of independent business owners. You will not find big resorts, golf-courses, or supermarkets here. Instead, you will be rewarded with natural beauty and wildlife strolling by as you relax in a hammock.
Cahuita Now & Then
Paved Roads When I first visited Cahuita, the bus station was little more than a parking lot and we walked down gravel roads to find our accommodation. Now, there is a sort of mini-mall at the bus depot and all the roads are paved.
More bars are competing with each other. I remember walking down the main road, checking out the shops and restaurants, without any bother. Now, the bars have happy hours and touts trying to bring tourists in off the street.
Gates now control the entrance to the park. Perhaps my memory is failing me on this one (I am getting old, after all), but I remember just walking into the park without being turned away for being there outside of regular hours. In fact, there wasn’t even an attendant or gate there to turn anybody away. Now, you have to sign in at the visitor’s centre and the attendant makes sure each person contributes the “optional” donation.
More noise on the trail. With more people obviously comes more noise, but certainly using a leaf blower to clean the trail is overkill. It’s no wonder there is less wildlife around. Fortunately, they only clean the first part of the trail, where most tourists visit. If you continue walking further, the trail, while still well maintained, has a more natural feel (and much fewer people).
Less wildlife Seeing wildlife is always unpredictable and depends on many factors. Perhaps because our most recent visit was just after Hurricane Otto, much of the wildlife wasn’t around. I definitely didn’t see a tarantula or snake this time, nor were there as many butterflies. However, compared to many other parts of the world, wildlife was still abundant. Monkeys and sloths were easy to spot and we even came across a toucan!
What Hasn’t Changed in Cahuita
Beautiful beaches Since most people don’t venture beyond the first part of the trail, you can still find isolated beaches throughout the park where you can have a little bit of white sand and blue sea all to yourself.
Delicous food I haven’t been everywhere yet, but so far, the best jerk sauce I have ever eaten has been in Cahuita. Fresh seafood and Caribbean spices make even budget meals taste gourmet.
Friendly locals As an introvert, I am always amazed that I am able to meet new people on our travels. But all you really have to do is be open. We met a man at one of the local sodas who also happened to come to our hostel each day to feed the crocodiles and loved showing us how quickly they could eat us if we ventured too close. Even the lady who runs Miss Edith’s remembered me from that one time I ate in her restaurant 15 years ago and asked if they could bottle some jerk sauce for us to take home. I can hardly remember where I was living that long ago, much less some random person I met.
Affordable accommodation and food is still widely available. You would think the pressures of tourism and increased cost of living would have driven prices up dramatically, but we only paid $30 for a private room with kitchen in a motel-like place that had a huge garden filled with wildlife. As for food, we paid $5 for a big, delicious meal at Soda Kawe and $15 for a more luxurious meal with fresh juice at Miss Edith’s.
Lots of activities Despite its small size, Cahuita still has a lot to keep you busy for days. The National Park extends into the ocean, so you can find great snorkeling tours. Surfing is available at Playa Negra which typically has small waves better suited to beginners (though the swells can get big enough to be interesting to more advanced surfers). If you prefer something more stable, try a kayak or paddle board tour. The Tree of Life wildlife centre and garden can be a great place to check out wildlife while supporting rehabilitation projects.
Self-guided hiking Generally speaking, I wouldn’t wander into tropical jungles full of poisonous animals by myself, but the trail through Cahuita Park is easy to follow and there are enough other people on it that you don’t feel completely alone. The hike is only 7 km (one way), but I have yet to complete trail because there is so much to see along the way.
Tips for Visiting Cahuita
Visit the park early Get there as soon as the gates open to avoid the crowds and have the best chance at spotting wildlife during the early hours of the morning.
Walk farther Don’t stop at the billboard, which is as far as many tourists go. There is still plenty of trail to explore and you will see a lot more the farther you are willing to walk away from the crowds.
Book accommodation with a garden close to the park Animals don’t know where park boundries are located and will happily wander through anything park-like nearby. We stayed at Riverside Cabins & Houses and were able to watch monkeys, sloths, crocodiles, butterflies, and more right from our hammocks.
Eat at Miss Edith’s & Soda Kawe These were the best two meals we had in all of Costa Rica. If you’re gluten-free, make sure your casado (a set meal that typically comes with meat, rice, beans, plantains, and salad) doesn’t come with pasta.
Plan to spend at least 2 full days here to optimise wildlife viewing.
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