Cahuita is the jewel on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. A cute little village, beautiful wild beaches and one of the best national parks within crawling distance: what more could you want? The reason to come here is the Cahuita National Park where you can enjoy hiking, spotting animals and – in the good season – even snorkelling. Not only during the day, but also at night you can look for wildlife. The nightlife is modest, but there are a few cozy bars. Read everything about things to do in Cahuita in this travel blog.
* This article contains affiliate links. If you book or buy something through this link, we earn a small commission at no cost to you.
How long in Cahuita?
We were in Cahuita for five nights ourselves. It was our first week in Costa Rica. Cahuita is a very nice place to hang out. We also included a day arranging things and had laundry done. The rest of our time here was filled with discovering Cahuita National Park, reading books at the Playa Negra, good food and relaxing, and a night walk. At Cabinas Tito we had a ‘cabin’ with its own kitchen in a tropical garden where frogs, agouti, basilisk lizards (!) and even a sloth came to visit.
Three ways to do Cahuita
Cahuita is such a typical place where you as a backpacker without a ticket home can linger forever. Please note: you need an exit flight ticket for Costa Rica to enter the country. Remember that Cahuita is really a very small village with few amenities. And most of you reading this will unfortunately not have forever. So here are three ways to do Cahuita.
Option 1 – Cahuita in 2 to 3 days: a destination in itself
For a visit to the national park and to experience the village, we recommend a minimum of two nights and a full day. If you travel slowly or want to enter the national park several times, you can certainly stick to it for one or two days.
Option 2 – Cahuita in one day: day trip from Puerto Viejo
If you don’t have much time during your Costa Rica vacation, you can visit Cahuita on a day trip from Puerto Viejo. We recommend staying there for at least a few days.
Option 3 – Cahuita for a week: base for the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica
You can choose Cahuita as a base for the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica – instead of Puerto Viejo – but we don’t necessarily recommend that. If you do, we recommend that you take at least a (short) week to be able to do enough trips and to relax.
Cahuita as a base for the larger region is really only an option with your own (rental) car. The number of buses per day and the travel times by bus are not good enough to do relaxed day trips from here to the places around Puerto Viejo. And for the furthest beaches beyond Puerto Viejo you are also about 45 minutes away by car.
Why you come here: Cahuita National Park
This place is why you come here. Cahuita National Park really is a fantastic little national park with jungle, beach and a hiking trail. Cahuita is 20 to 30 minutes from Puerto Viejo and is easily accessible by bus or taxi. But you can also sleep in the villagr here so that you can walk straight from your hotel into the national park.
Entrance fee Cahuita National Park
Access to the national park from the village is on a “donation” basis when you enter the national park in the village. You’re expected to pay something like 5 USD (for foreign tourists, Costa Ricans pay 1,000 colones; prices 2022), which is reasonable. This is also the entrance price at the other entrance (Puerto Vargas sector). At the gate, it’s likely that you can pick up a guide who can look for wildlife with you along the hiking trail.
Hike and relax
If you want to rest and have a sandwich during your hike, you can walk straight onto the beach and sit in the shade of the trees on the white sand. You can swim in some places, but the current is too strong for that in some places. On the beach you will find green and yellow flags that indicate whether it is safe to swim.
The nice thing about Cahuita NP is that you can hike here independently. The path runs more or less along the sea, a little bit in the jungle, so you don’t have to worry about getting lost. Along the path you will easily encounter animals such as sloths, monkeys, birds, raccoons, and maybe even a snake.
Length of the hike
We walked in and out of the park at the village of Cahuita. You can even walk all the way around the headland on which the national park is located, and catch another bus at the exit. Then the walk is 9 kilometers long (one way), and another 4 kilometers longer if you walk back to the village along the motorway.
Best time for Cahuita National Park
As a tropical country, Costa Rica generally has a wet and a dry season, although there can always be a shower. There is not really a very clear dry or wet season for the Caribbean coast. Anouk from Destination Pura Vida (Dutch blog) has a good explanation about the best travel times per region: https://bestemmingpuravida.nl/het-weer-en-klimaat-van-costa-rica-uitgelegd/
TIP – If you are going to eat something on the beach, watch out for the raccoons! And of course: do not feed the monkeys, raccoons and other animals!
We were in Cahuita during the weekend. We usually find that a disadvantage because it is too busy. But now the advantage was that other groups with guides also spotted smaller animals. The morning is usually the best time of the day. But later in the morning we also saw enough animals. It does get hot quite quickly, even in the shadow of the jungle. So early in the morning it is also nicer.
Cahuita NP is plastic-free
Please note that you are not allowed to bring plastic bags into the park. At the entrance they actually check the bags for this. So we had to leave our plastic sandwich bag behind. At first we thought this was stupid, but when you enter the park, you really see that the park is a lot cleaner than in other places. And it’s also better for the raccoons, who will grab your food right out of your bag if you’re not very careful.
What else can you do in Cahuita?
When you have finished looking around and swimming in the national park of Cahuita, you can really enjoy yourself. We list a few activities. But remember that Cahuita is not about the activities. Slow down and go with the flow!
1. Playa Negra in Cahuita
A beautiful black beach within walking distance of the village, a few restaurants with sea views. What more do you want? Well, sloths can often be found in the trees on Playa Negra in Cahuita! We were unlucky here (and saw them in the national park), but Amanda from justmytravel.nl has lived in Cahuita and assured us that they are there.
2. Looking for nocturnal animals in Cahuita
As a nature lover you can’t leave Costa Rica without having done a night tour. Cahuita is one of the places where you can do this with a guide. We did a night tour here and saw several eyelash pitvipers (for us this was the best place in Costa Rica to see them), nocturnal eight-legged, tree-climbing crabs, frogs, special insects and caimans.
Unfortunately, night tours in the national park were not allowed, so the tour leads you around the rim. To be honest: we were less happy with our guide. He smoked drugs during the tour and was high. So ask around for a recommended guide. Tour agencies are easier to reach by whatsapp and are not always present in their offices.
3. Snorkeling tours in Cahuita
At the tip of the headland there is a reef where you can snorkel in the good season. Unfortunately the snorkeling tours were not available during the season we were there. The sea was too wild at that time. When the right season is remains a bit of a mystery to us. It seems that December-February the weather is often not good enough for snorkeling. After that it should be possible – ask if there are boats going when you are there.
4. Horse riding
Several accommodations around Cahuita offer horseback riding tours. We think they are quite large animals with long legs, but we know that there are enthusiasts. Even we were almost tempted to get on a horse and ride along the beach at Cahuita and on a trek through the jungle to a real finca in the hills. People seem to appreciate the horse riding tours of Centro Turistico Brigitte – https://www.brigittecahuita.com
5. Listen to music and relax
If you talk to locals in Cahuita, it won’t be long before they mention Walter Ferguson. This local celebrity, who is more than 100 years old when we visit Cahuita, is one of the voices of calypso for Costa Ricans : the Caribbean music so characteristic of this coast. One song stays with us: Cabin in the Wata tells the story of the man who built his house in the water when it was forbidden to live in the national park.
Not only can you hear calypso in Cahuita, reggae is also popular. Many residents of Cahuita are descended from Jamaicans who migrated here at the end of the 19th century . So take a seat at one of the bars, kick off your flip-flops, and relax.
Where to sleep in Cahuita
If you want to overnight in Cahuita you have basically two choices: you choose your accommodation in the village or somewhere near Playa Negra. The advantage of sleeping in the village is that you are within walking distance of the national park, so you can visit it multiple times easily. In the village you may be unlucky enough that your accommodation is located right next to a bar, so be sure to look for that in the reviews.Booking.com
The accommodations along the road to Playa Negra are generally more embedded in nature: this way you have nature on your doorstep. With a little luck you will have monkeys, sloths, tropical birds and a few of the famous Costa Rican frogs in the garden. You get relatively much for your money in this part of Cahuita. We slept at Cabinas Tito.
Do you want to get away from the tourist crowds of Puerto Viejo and have a national park on your doorstep? Then Cahuita is for you. You can sit in or near the village. Or choose an accommodation at Playa Negra within cycling distance of the village.
Secret Garden – Located just one block from the national park entrance, this is one of the better budget options in Cahuita. Also has double rooms.
Brigitte Ranch – A little outside the village, but almost on Playa Negra. We are always happy when the people are friendly. Also check their own website for activities –https://www.brigittecahuita.com/
Cabinas Tito – This one includes self-catering cabins with your own veranda (some a bit dark) and a few cottages with shared facilities. Beautiful garden with lots of wildlife and a communal open area with tables. Friendly people. We stayed here ourselves and can recommend it, especially because of the self catering.
Playa Negra guesthouse – This one is also almost on Playa Negra. Not the cheapest, but you do get something extra for it.
Cabinas Iguana Cahuita – With a swimming pool and garden, this is another option near Playa Negra. Often fully booked.
Cabinas Arrecife – In a quiet street in the village of Cahuita. Basic for the price, but good location.
Carribean Secret – A detached house with one or two studios for rent on the edge of Cahuita National Park.
There are actually no truly luxurious accommodations in Cahuita. Here are two options in the more expensive price category. For that you get a class of slightly neater and relatively stylish boutique-style or modern-feel hotels.
Casa de las Flores – Boutique hotel with a courtyard and well-kept rooms in the village.
Cahuita Inn – Beautiful, modernly furnished and perfectly clean hotel by the sea and in the village.
Tip – Self catering! We didn’t even plan to do it at first, but we ended up cooking ourselves often in Costa Rica. It saved us a lot of money. Maybe something for you too?
What and where to eat in Cahuita
Of course, you can get the local version of rice and beans in Cahuita. They prepare it with coconut milk here! For a simple snack, take patacones (also known as tostones): crushed plantains with a dip. You can also go for simple tourist meals – from quesadilla to hamburger, fried fish or pasta. You can even go to the village for your honey-ginger tea and sourdough bread.
Do bring a bit of patience with you to Cahuita. Preparing your food can sometimes take a little longer than you might be used to. Some tips for restaurants can be found below, but be sure to stroll through the sandy streets of Cahuita yourself to see what you like, the village is not that big.
Our food tips in Cahuita
Sobre las Olas – The restaurant with perhaps the most beautiful view in Cahuita. Just outside the village, overlooking the sea with palm trees above your head. It’s not cheap, the food can take a while and the side dishes are from a buffet. But still a nice and friendly place for a drink or a simple snack. Watch out for falling palm leaves or coconuts when you sit outside.
Aroma Coffee Bar – the nicest and tastiest place in Cahuita, although it is not authentically Caribbean. They have delicious pancakes, sourdough bread, unparalleled smoothies, good coffee and (ginger) tea, richly filled wraps, and a special, extensive vegetarian menu. Aroma is located at the beginning of the village, in the street to the bus station
Coco’s Bar – On the main street, Coco’s is the most popular restaurant with extensive choice and relatively fast service. Great quesadillas for a quick snack.
Soda Kawe – On the main street not far from the entrance to the national park. At Soda Kawe you will find simple and good food with authentic Caribbean cuisine. Also good for a simple breakfast with fruit, eggs and tostadas (sandwiches).
Mi Nonna – A local panaderia (bakery) that sometimes also serves simple meals. Especially recommended because they usually have fresh bread in the morning.
Buying food for self catering
For self-catering, the choice in Cahuita is limited, but sufficient for simple meals. There are two supermarkets on the main street, of which Super Vaz #2 (near the national park) is the best. There is also a small shopping center at the bus terminal where you can get fresh fruit and vegetables and a small supermarket.
Practical matters in Cahuita
Laundry – Big J is the laundry place in Cahuita. You pay per basket. Reasonable prices and ready within a day. You’ll find Big J one block from Aroma Coffee Bar. Hand wash delicate garments yourself.
Sim & Whatsapp – Almost everything here is done with whatsapp! So get a SIM card. There is often no one present at the travel agencies and there is a WhatsApp number on the door. Furthermore, there are basic facilities in Cahuita to arrange the most important matters. For real amenities in the area you have to go to Puerto Viejo.
Hole-in-the-wall sim-card – Around the corner from Coco’s Bar you will find a small counter where you can buy SIM cards and top up your credit. Kölbi is the go-to SIM card for Costa Rica – Movistar and Claro are good alternatives. Take a package instead of topping it up separately – this can be done via the app once your number has been activated. They just don’t help with activating the SIM card at this mini shop. For this you will need a friendly Spanish-speaking local with a telephone to guide you through the process. We had to WhatsApp a copy of our passport and then confirm it again by phone before our number was activated.
Bus station – Just outside the center (a 5-minute walk) you will find the MEPE bus station from which you can travel to Puerto Viejo and San José. You do not have to go to the bus station for the minibuses from shuttle operators. They will pick you up at your hotel.
ATM – You will find an ATM in the shopping center near the bus terminal.
Do you have travel plans for Costa Rica? Compare ticket prices here!
Cahuita: how do you get there and away?
Cahuita is a 4 to 5 hour drive from San José and half an hour from Puerto Viejo. We arrived in Cahuita on a shuttle from Bocas del Toro, Panama. Shuttles are minibuses on specific tourist routes, often providing door-to-door service.
Public transport – The bus is the cheapest option. You can take the public bus from Cahuita to San Jose and Puerto Viejo (and the beaches around it). There is a local service between Puerto Limon and Manzanillo that goes via Puerto Viejo and Cahuita.
Shuttle – You can arrange transportation to other destinations in Costa Rica with, among others, Caribe Shuttle. You can arrange a ticket online or via WhatsApp. You can arrange combination tickets for bus and boat to Tortuguero (via Moín) through a travel agency and some hostels from Cahuita or Puerto Viejo. We did this from Puerto Viejo. You can also cross the border to Bocas del Toro with such a combination ticket. A frequently used route is the shuttle from Puerto Viejo/Cahuita to La Fortuna.
Taxi – A reasonable alternative for short distances of up to half an hour. Especially if you are with a group, a taxi between Cahuita and Puerto Viejo is a good option. We paid 15 USD for this. These are private individuals with a car – ask for rates and reliable drivers at your hotel.
Rental car – The easiest way is of course to travel to and from Cahuita with a rental car. But rental cars in Costa Rica are not cheap. A rental car does offer you the option of taking a hotel outside the center of Cahuita or Puerto Viejo. Not everyone always enjoys walking in 35 degrees.