Guide to Visiting Cahuita National Park, Costa Rica
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Cahuita National Park, Costa Rica is one of the most wildlife-rich places in the world! In this guide, we share everything you need to know before you go including the best things to do in Cahuita National Park, how to get there, and what things cost!
As I walked through the entrance to Cahuita National Park the forest around me sprung to life.
Sloths hung from the trees not a few steps from the entrance, and hermit crabs ran for cover as we made our way down the dirt path. The canopy of trees above allowed only speckles of light through and provided shade from the hot sun above.
Howler monkeys filled the peaceful forest with their loud cries and when I took the time to just look in silence, even more species of wildlife came from the shadows. Lizards, crabs, spiders, and even snakes! They were all around you and only those with a good eye and calm patience will spot them all…
As you can see, my first impression of Cahuita National Park in Costa Rica was pretty spectacular- and so it should’ve been!
Costa Rica is renowned for its beautiful national parks filled with dense rainforest and amazing wildlife. These parks protect Costa Rica’s unique flora and fauna and provide a great way to see the animals you know and love in their natural environment all while supporting wildlife conservation.
Cahuita National Park is no different.
For those who come to Costa Rica to see its unique wildlife, a visit to Cahuita National Park is a must! So in this guide to Cahuita National Park, I’ll share everything I learned from visiting the park and how to make your trip there as memorable as mine!
About Cahuita National Park, Costa Rica
Cahuita National Park is one of Costa Rica’s most stunning destinations. Located on the Caribbean Coast, Cahuita boasts a 5 mile (8-kilometer) hiking trail that leads through some of the most breathtaking rainforests I have ever seen. The abundance of wildlife in the park make it one of the most popular places to visit in Costa Rica.
Although the park was originally set up to preserve the coral reef on the peninsular, an earthquake in 1991 lifted the seabed by 10 feet (3 meters) and it had a horrible impact on the reef. Despite this, some reef still survived and even today many visitors come to view to some 35 coral reef species and 135 fish species.
The closest major tourist town to Cahuita National Park is Puerto Viejo. From Puerto Viejo, its only 10.5 miles (17 kilometers) to Cahuita National Park. You can also stay in the town of Cahuita, however, due to its size and amenities, most opt to stay in Puerto Viejo.
Cahuita National Park is a small but bustling national park that’s easily visited in a day. This makes it one of the best day trips you can do a must on any Costa Rica itinerary
Getting to Cahuita National Park
From Cahuita Town
The town of Cahuita is walking distance from the park. If you stay in Cahuita then you don’t need transport to the park.
From Puerto Viejo
From Puerto Viejo to the town of Cahuita there are regular buses from Avenida 73 (the main street that runs parallel to the beach in Puerto Viejo.) The bus times are 6:30 am 7:30 am 9:30 am and 11:30 am. There are afternoon buses but I wouldn’t want to get to the park that late as it closes at 4 pm.
The bus you want says “Limon to Puerto Viejo” and it meets on the main street along the beach right near the bus ticket office. Each way the bus is $1.50 USD or 750 Colons. The bus will drop you at the Cahuita bus station near the Kelly Creek entrance to the park.
Returning is a different story as there were no bus times. That being said, there are lots of buses that pass through Cahuita and head past Puerto Viejo. We were told by the bus ticket office to simply head to the station in Cahuita (where you will be dropped off on your way to the park) and wait. We did so and a bus arrived within 15 minutes headed in our direction.
Just remember to get there well before 6 pm to avoid missing the last bus.
Taxi or car
A taxi to the park one way will cost between $20 to $25 USD each way. You can barter for the taxi to pick you up later or get another one in Cahuita. Between a group of 4, this wouldn’t be a bad idea if you don’t want to catch the bus.
If you have your own car just punch Cahuita National Park in Google Maps and off you go. There is parking near both entrances to the park (more on them below.)
From San Jose
I personally don’t suggest visiting Cahuita National park from San Jose for the day. There just simply isn’t enough time. However, if you plan to come for one night and stay in the town of Cahuita then this is a great idea.
To get to Cahuita from San Jose head to the Terminal Atlantico bus station. Its located on Ave 7/9, Calle 12. The bus leaves every day at 6 am, 10 am, 12 pm, 2 pm, and 4 pm. You can try pre-purchase tickets on busbud.com or just arrive at the terminal 1 hour early to buy your tickets.
This bus costs around $9 USD each way and takes 4 to 5 hours.
Alternatively, you can go on an organized day trip from San Jose to Cahuita National Park. This private transport will be much faster than the public bus, although it will still be a long day!
Entrance to Cahuita National Park
There are two entrances gates to Cahuita National Park. They are the Kelly Creek Station and Puerto Vargas. The 5 mile (8 km) trail leads from one entrance to the other. The most common place to enter is at Kelly Creek station. If you catch a public bus from San Jose or Puerto Viejo, they will stop in Cahuita which is where the Kelly Creek Station entrance is.
At the Kelly Creek Station, the entrance to Cahuita National Park is completely free, however, there is a compulsory donation. I personally donated $5 USD for each Bailey and me. The donation is for preserving the park so it goes to a good cause anyway!
At the Puerto Vargas Station, the entrance fee is $10 USD. Don’t ask me why one is by donation and the other isn’t as it makes no sense.
The park is open from 8 am to 4 pm, however, they begin turning people back on the trail at around 2 to 3 pm.
Things to do in Cahuita National Park, Costa Rica
1. Walk the 5 mile hiking trail
The main attraction in Cahuita National Park to me was the 5-mile hiking trail that leads out to Cahuita Point and around the peninsular to Puerto Vargas. Along the way, you can view lots of wildlife and during my visit, I saw Howler monkeys, a Viper snake, coatis, sloths, and a range of lizards and birds!
The trail is flat and well maintained and simply follows the coastline. Unfortunately, the 5 mile trail isn’t a loop so walking to one end means you’ll need to walk back the way you came. It is common for visitors to simply walk to Punta Cahuita and back. This is around the halfway point.
If you plan of walking the entire trail, be sure to arrive at the entrance gates at 8 am to give yourself plenty of time to explore.
2. Go snorkeling
The marine part of Cahuita National Park was once the crown jewel of the area. However, since the earthquake in 1991, the quality of the snorkeling has dropped.
With that said, it’s still well worth doing and you can do snorkeling tours for around $30 USD. These tours leave from Cahuita Town. Alternatively, you can book a full-day trip from Puerto Viejo that includes snorkeling, a guided hike, and your transport!
Be sure to check the weather conditions before booking a tour as visibility on the Caribbean Coast isn’t always great. Also, you cannot snorkel without a tour as you need a special guide to take you. This ensures the reef is preserved.
3. Relax on the beach
There are two beautiful beaches in Cahuita National Park; Playa Blanca and Puerto Vargas. Playa Blanca starts from the entrance gate and runs right up the park. Puerto Vargas is just past the end of Punta Cahuita and is much more secluded.
You can swim at both, but do be careful not to swim out to the corals and damage them!
Both beaches are beautiful with my favorite being Playa Blanca. You can just walk along the main trail and stop at any point to enjoy the white sand and crystal clear waters!
Hot tip: While relaxing on the beach, keep your bags close! When I was there, some coatis (raccoon-like animals) grabbed a lady’s bag and it took a few locals to get it back!
How to Best Visit Cahuita National Park: Going on your own VS a guided tour
I personally explored Cahuita National Park on my own. I caught the public bus from Puerto Viejo, walked the park with Bailey (without a guide), and got the bus back. I absolutely had an amazing time and the experience was really cheap costing Bailey and I around $15 USD between us. For those on a budget, happy to spot wildlife without equipment, and who just want to see the wildlife, this is a great option.
However, if you want to learn more about the flora and fauna and have an expert guide with wildlife viewing equipment, then a guided tour is the best option. There are a few different tours you can do and they vary a lot in price. This specific tour includes both the snorkeling and hiking tour with transport from Puerto Viejo for only $50 USD!
You can also barter for a guide at the entrance gate for just a hiking tour. This will usually cost around $20 USD per person but unfortunately, you’re not guaranteed to always be able to get a guide as once they make a sale they’re off in the park.
A guide will most definitely make the experience better, so if your budget allows, I would recommend getting a guide!
Tips for visiting Cahuita National Park
Wear good footwear – The trail is well maintained, however, if you decide to walk the entire way you’re looking at a 10 mile (16 km) hike. Also, rain can cause muddy conditions so if you have hiking boots, wear them. If you only have runners then that should be fine too, your feet might just get a little wet.
Bring a towel – For the beach of course! Relaxing on the sand was perfect after a few hours of walking so bring a towel and make it a beach day too!
Don’t feed the animals – The animals in Cahuita National Park are wild so let’s keep them that way. Feeding the animals also poses a threat to the animals and humans.
There are no toilets in the park – Once you pass the entrance gates there are no toilets. So, go before at the Kelly Creek Station (entrance gate.) Also, be aware that they don’t always have toilet paper!
Bring mosquito repellent – The mosquitos in the park can be really bad. I wish I had brought bug spray with me!
You need cash –Donations are cash only so bring enough. Also if you want to get a guide at the gate, they also only take cash.
Bring your lunch – You can’t buy food in the park so bring lunch and some snacks with you.
Where to Stay to explore Cahuita National Park
Cabinas Algebra (budget) – There aren’t any hostels in Cahuita Town, however, this budget hotel is a great choice. The hotel only has bungalows large enough for up to 4 people and they come at a really great price with fantastic reviews.
Hotel Boutique La Casa de las Flores (mid-range) – For those wanting a more luxurious stay, Hotel Boutique La Casa de Las Flores is a good choice. The hotel is simple, clean, and comfortable. The location is right in Cahuita only a few steps from the entrance to Cahuita National Park.
Check availability on Booking.com
Pagalu Hostel (budget) – This hostel is the top-rated in town and also one of the cheapest. The hostel is simple but offers a relaxed social atmosphere. Location is right in Puerto Viejo too.
La Tica y la Gata (mid-range) – Located on the outskirts of town, this small family-run hotel feels more like staying with friends than a typical hotel. The rooms are modern and the hotel is surrounded by beautiful forests. This hotel also has a pool for those hot days!
Check availability on Booking.com
Relax Natural Village Adults Only (luxury) – This super romantic bungalow hotel is pure luxury. The hotel is located right out of Puerto Viejo giving you a much more tranquil stay surrounded by nature. This is the perfect place to stay for a romantic getaway!
Check availability on Booking.com
Before you go…
Cahuita National Park is truly a special place to visit. I really hope this guide has helped plan your trip there and cleared up any questions you have!
If you loved this travel blog then be sure to check out our other Costa Rica travel blogs or these related articles below! Thanks for reading!
July 15, 2020