Costa Rica’s Cahuita: Now & Then

Cahuita, Costa Rica, wildlife, beach

 

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, Costa Rica, wildlife, beach, crocodile
There were several crocodiles hanging out in the creek in the garden of our hotel.

 

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.

 

Cahuita, Costa Rica, wildlife, beach, Cahuita National Park, hike
Laura at one of the river crossings on the trail in Cahuita National Park.

 

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!

 

Cahuita, Costa Rica, wildlife, beach, toucan
Just a toucan. No big deal.

 

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.

 

Cahuita, Costa Rica, wildlife, beach, Rhinoceros beetle
This rhinoceros beetle was just outside our room hanging out pura vida style.

 

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.

 

Cahuita, Costa Rica, wildlife, beach,hike
Hurricane Otto left some debris on the beach.

 

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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15 years later, Cahuita is still one of my favourite places in Costa Rica!

 

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17 Replies to “Costa Rica’s Cahuita: Now & Then”

  1. Beautiful photos Jennifer! and a great article 🙂

  2. It is sad that there was less wildlife. Hopefully it was just temporary due to the hurricane. As for me, I would not be disappointed not seeing snakes and tarantulas!

  3. A leave blower to clean the trail? That just sounds so wrong in so many ways… In 15 years so much has changed all over the world. I noticed it with the Caribbeans and Asian tropical areas. It’s just not as it used to be and maybe the tourism is just a reason for that.

  4. I’ve only been to Costa Rica once, and I think a recommendation for a not-croweded park is a must there. The popular places really are too popular. (although I’m certainly part of the problem). As for the toucan, that’s great! We searched and searched and only saw one on our journey.

  5. Costa Rica has been on my list for awhile now; I really hope to get there soon! I would love to do a lot of hiking while there, looks like such a beautiful place and lots of amazing wildlife to see. That rhinoceros beetle looks crazy! I can’t believe how darn big it is!

  6. Carol Colborn says: Reply

    Is that rhinoceros beetle as big as it seems to be? Haven’t been to Costa Rica. We would love to go. Hope to enjoy the beaches and take great photos like you did.

    1. It was about as big as the palm of my hand. Definitely not a small beetle!

  7. Cahuita sounds perfect – wildlife, hiking and great food is the perfect mix. I wouldn’t have pictured this when picturing Costa Rica but it just looks beautiful. I can see why you returned. So interesting seeing how places change over time.

  8. Dude, as soon as you mentioned the sloths, I knew I had to make a visit here. What’s the closest major city to fly into?

    1. You will fly into San Jose and that’s the closest airport really. The bus from San Jose to Cahuita is about 3.5 hours, though this depends a lot on traffic on the road.

  9. Costa Rica has been on my travel list for awhile now. I’ve never heard of Cahuita before though. Thanks for putting it on my radar!

  10. We just came back from Costa Rica and loved every minute! We did not make it to Cahuita, but hope to return and will make sure we get there! Change can be difficult, especially when you see it in a place you love, but I am happy to see that some aspects have remained the same. The friendly locals and beautiful beaches are such a statement of CR.

  11. Melody Pittman says: Reply

    My husband and I live part time in Panama and we cannot wait to finally visit Costa Rica! I loved reading this guide to gain some more insight into the country. I laughed when you immediately talked about paved roads; living in Panama I understand what a big deal that is. It’s something we definitely take for granted. I am definitely going to look at visiting Cahuita since you had such great things to say about it and it’s affordable. Thanks for sharing!

    1. I love Central America and can’t wait to explore Panama and Nicaragua. Don’t forget to check out the beaches south of Cahuita down the Caribbean coast!

  12. This is the case with many places in the world. Commercialization takes a toll. But it is a catch-22 situation as the area needs to sustain as well. I think concerted efforts of all stakeholders should work towards sustaining the pristine nature of the place as well as ensure that the community develops through sustainable means.

    1. Costa Rica is such a small country, it will be interesting to see how they handle the pressures of tourism and population growth in the coming year. Since ecotourism is a big revenue for them, I’m sure will see some creative solutions.

  13. It’s too bad these places have to change because of tourism but ultimately they are often a victim of how appealing to visitors they are. This is where tourism is a double edged sword as it was brings in much needed money for these areas.

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