While Cahuita, Costa Rica is an increasingly popular destination – and it’s easy to see why – it still has the feel of a hidden treasure. Laid-back and small, steps away from the extraordinary Cahuita National Park, and just minutes from its larger cousin, Puerto Viejo, the town of Cahuita offers a blissful oasis of Caribbean calm and natural beauty. And you haven’t lived until you’ve sampled the creamy, spicy goodness of its coconut-obsessed cuisine.
From visitors eager for adventure on land and on the water to nature lovers to those simply seeking the ultimate opportunity to unplug, refresh and relax – all of these have found an answer in Cahuita.
An unmatched laid-back vibe
It’s hard to imagine a more relaxing destination than one where cars are completely unnecessary, anything you need is a few steps away, bike exploration the name of the game, and calypso music is in the air. Visitors find a chance to breathe deep all over Costa Rica, but there’s no question that life is even slower and more blissful on the Caribbean side.
Chill out on black-sand Playa Negra (you’ll find white-sand beaches within the National Park); rent a bike to take in the views along the coast, or simply head out for a stroll to take in small-town Caribbean life.
Cahuita National Park
The name “Cahuita” comes from two indigenous terms: “Kawe” refers to a local tree, the sangrillo, and “Ta” means “point.” It’s fitting because even as restaurants and shops have popped up along the shore, the undisputed star remains the dense green jewel that is Cahuita National Park, just a few minutes’ stroll from the center of town.
Created in 1970, the park features approximately 3.8 square miles of land and a whopping 89 square miles of ocean, with a massive coral reef that’s home to a mind-boggling array of marine species and has made Cahuita a must-visit destination for snorkeling and diving.
On land, you can see both howler and white-faced monkeys, toucans, sloths and more.
The Punta Cahuita trail stretches from the park entrance to the Puerto Vargas Beach on the other side and offers visitors three option. The first and most popular section of the Punta Cahuita trail stretches just under a mile along the shore from Kelly Creek River to the Suárez River. If you’d like to stretch your legs a bit more, continue on another 1.5 miles to Punta Cahuita. From there, it’s another 1.3 miles through a tropical rainforest to Puerto Vargas, a less-traveled section of trail where the park’s flora is on fullest display.
Caribbean food in Cahuita
For longtime Costa Rican visitors and residents in other parts of the country, one of the biggest reasons to visit the Caribbean coast is the incredible food, completely distinct from the cuisine in the rest of Costa Rica. Because of the heavy Jamaican influence in the region, the food here offers a tantalizing range of spicy-sweet Caribbean flavors.
Beat the heat with a cold coconut water straight from the pipa or an agua de sapo, a fresh ginger lemonade that packs a punch. Follow your nose to select one of the local eateries for Caribbean classics such as rice-and-beans, often accompanied by fish, chicken or another protein drenched in coconut-infused salsa caribeña. Or, snack on patí, crispy empanadas filled with spicy meat.
If you love seafood and see rondón on the menu (which comes from “run down,” because the soup contained whatever spare ingredients the cook could “run down” or in the kitchen), don’t miss the chance to sample this creamy stew with fresh fish or shellfish and potatoes, cassava or other roots. Jerk chicken, Jamaican-style, is another dish you’ll find easily throughout Cahuita.
For longer visitors or those seeking the greatest possible diversity of dining options, nearby Puerto Viejo also offers a huge array of local and international cuisines. In Cahuita, you’ll also find pizzerias, cafés and plenty of other options within the few blocks of the town center. However, Caribbean cuisine is still very much the king and queen of the plate.
What to do near Cahuita
Cahuita is easy to explore solo but also offers a wealth of organized tours for those eager to see more.
Cahuita National Park
Within the National Park, visitors can hire a guided walking tour, snorkeling or scuba diving – but options don’t stop there. Explore the Caribbean coast on horseback, go white-water rafting, or use Cahuita as a base to explore the natural wonders near Puerto Viejo, Bocas del Toro or even Tortuguero on the northern Caribbean coast.
The area near Cahuita also boasts spectacular waterfalls, and several tours offer hikes where explorers can cool off under these natural showerheads.
What’s more, the southern Caribbean area is offering an increasing number of tours that allow visitors to experience Costa Rica’s indigenous cultures. Experiences showcasing the region’s renowned cacao are just one easy and delicious way to get a glimpse into this sometimes overlooked aspect of the country’s cultural diversity.
Tree of Life
A visit to the Tree of Life botanical gardens and wildlife rescue center just outside of town is an ideal way for nature lovers to get a closer look at the region’s fauna.
Getting to Cahuita
Cahuita is an easy 3.5-hour bus ride from San José (nonstop, except for a quick rest break in Limón); the bus continues on from Cahuita to Puerto Viejo and then the Panamanian border, and once in Cahuita it’s easy to travel between the three. If you drive, you’ll be able to stow your car in favor of a bike once you arrive, or enjoy the easy access to Puerto Viejo’s astonishing array of restaurants and shops.
When to visit Cahuita
We saved the best for last. One of the Costa Rican Caribbean’s undisputed attractions is the fact that while the rest of Costa Rica is in the midst of its May-November “green season” of afternoon showers, the Caribbean region didn’t get the memo and often enjoys its most spectacular weather from September to November.
At any time of year, the warm waters, sprawling beaches, delicious food and the renowned “chill factor” of Cahuita, Costa Rica are waiting to welcome you.
*Planning an Educational Travel Trip to Costa Rica?
Spending time in Cahuita is an ideal destination for students, teachers, and parents participating in educational travel programs through Costa Rica. Our sister company Costa Rica Explorations frequently visits Cahuita where participants are able to fully embrace the exquisite flora and fauna that Cahuita National Park protects, both on land and in the sea. This small coastal fishing town provides a wonderful place for students to enjoy beginner surf lessons on Playa Negra and to immerse themselves within the Afro-Caribbean culture of Cahuita.
Plan a Vacation to/through Cahuita
Cahuita is often substituted for or complemented with Puerto Viejo as an itinerary’s Caribbean-beach destination. Cahuita is more suited for those looking for smaller crowds and a more relaxed atmosphere. With gorgeous weather in the fall months of September-November, many people travel with us on our Secluded Caribbean itinerary. Since Cahuita is less than an hour from the Limon airport, a flight back to SJO can be provided to save precious hours of vacation time. Contact us to plan an itinerary!