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Like other settlements on the Talamanca coast, the village of Cahuita, 45km south of Puerto Limón, has become a byword for relaxed, inexpensive Caribbean holidays. It boasts a laidback atmosphere and great Afro-Caribbean food, not to mention top surfing beaches further south. Plan your trip to Cahuita with our guide to Cahuita — based on The Rough Guide to Costa Rica, your travel guide for Costa Rica.
In contrast to its southern neighbour Puerto Viejo, Cahuita hasn’t been overwhelmed by the tourist industry. With a much more laidback vibe, it's a place where locals sitting on their verandas share the well-maintained streets with a handful of restaurants and bars.
Most of the inhabitants are descendants of Afro-Caribbean settlers from the Bocas del Toro area of Panama, and from Jamaican workers brought to build the Jungle Train.
At the southern end of the village lies the main attraction. Namely, the largely marine Parque Nacional Cahuita, which was created to protect one of Costa Rica’s few living coral reefs.
Many people come here to snorkel and take glass-bottom-boat rides (there’s no beach to speak of in the village itself).
The main street runs from the national park’s entrance at Kelly Creek to the northern end of the village, where it continues as a dirt road for three kilometres north along Playa Negra to the Tree of Life.
If you want to explore more of Costa Rica's Caribbean coast, our self-drive Caribbean adventure trip has your name all over it.
Cahuita is one of the best places to visit if you're looking for a pristine beach destination. Your days here consist of long walks on the beach, sunsets (or sunrises) and delicious food. Here are the best things to do.
Cahuita lies between two popular beaches. The most enticing of these is white-sand Playa Blanca, an undeveloped, palm-backed stretch just south of the village in the national park. This secluded beach is known for its clear blue waters, soft white sand, and lush green surroundings that make it a perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
The calm and tranquil atmosphere of the beach is ideal for sunbathing, swimming, or just simply taking a leisurely stroll along the shore. Additionally, the beach is surrounded by a tropical forest that is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna, making it an excellent spot for nature lovers. You can also indulge in various water activities like snorkeling, kayaking, and paddleboarding.
Note that swimming here can be dangerous because of riptides.
At the northern end of the village, Playa Negra (Black Sand Beach) is safe for swimming in most places but often littered with driftwood. It is famous for its black sand and turquoise waters. This secluded beach is the perfect place for those seeking a quiet and peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.
The beach is surrounded by lush green forests that offer a breathtaking view of the Caribbean Sea. The dark sand of the beach is a result of volcanic activity in the region, and it creates a stark contrast with the surrounding greenery. Playa Negra is also famous for its surfing waves, attracting surfers from all over the world.
Note that nude or topless bathing is definitely unacceptable at either beach, as is wandering through the village in just a bathing suit.
Playa Negra’s Tree of Life is one of Cahuita’s more popular outings. Located between towering ginger plants and below a dense canopy, this wildlife rescue centre cares for indigenous species from the surrounding region, and beyond.
Aiming to release as many as possible back into the wild, the centre's residents include capuchin and spider monkeys, kinkajous, peccary and coatis. It also has a walk-in enclosure teeming with brilliantly coloured butterflies. And all this set in the grounds of a botanical garden that's chock-full of endemic plants and trees.
Until the early 1800s, the coastal waters of the Caribbean crawled with pirates. Two shipwrecks in the bay on the north side of Punta Cahuita are believed to be pirate wrecks, one Spanish and one French.
You can sometimes see the Spanish wreck on glass-bottom-boat tours to the reef although it has been (illegally) picked over and the only thing of interest that remains is encrusted manacles.
Where you find pirates you also find pirate ghosts, it seems. Treasure from the wrecks near Old Harbour, just south of Cahuita, is said to be buried in secret caches on land.
One particular spot, supposedly guarded by a fearsome headless spirit dressed in a white suit, has attracted a fair share of treasure hunters. While no one has succeeded in exhuming the booty, all of them have fainted, fallen sick or become mysteriously paralyzed in the attempt…
The crystal clear waters of Cahuita National Park are perfect for snorkeling, providing a chance to explore the colorful marine life that thrives in the coral reefs. The park is home to a wide variety of tropical fish, sea turtles, and even sharks.
Any of the town’s tour companies or local guides can take you.
Surfing in Cahuita is also an exciting activity that attracts surfers from all over the world. The region offers a variety of surf spots, ranging from beginner-friendly waves to more challenging breaks for experienced surfers. While you can surf at Cahuita, Puerto Viejo has better waves.
White water rafting is an adventure of a lifetime. Río Pacuare, located close to Caguita, offers an exhilarating experience for both novice and experienced rafters. The rapids of Río Pacuare range from Class II to Class V, providing a diverse and challenging experience for all levels of rafters.
The river flows through the dense tropical rainforest, offering a breathtaking view of the natural beauty of the region. The scenery along the river includes lush greenery, cascading waterfalls, and wildlife such as monkeys and toucans.
Exploradores Outdoors in Puerto Viejo can pick up from Cahuita for their whitewater-rafting trips on the Río Pacuare.
Cahuita and the surrounding villages offers a range of yoga studios and retreat centers, surrounded by stunning natural beauty, including pristine beaches and lush forests. The peaceful and serene atmosphere of Cahuita provides the perfect setting for practicing yoga and meditation, allowing visitors to unwind and connect with nature.
Many yoga studios in Cahuita offer a variety of classes and retreats, catering to different levels of experience and preferences. From Hatha to Vinyasa, there is a yoga class for everyone.
Yoga classes are available all over the village. For example, Goddess Garden hosts various yoga and meditation retreats, usually arranged by instructors visiting from the US and Canada.
Brigitte Tours in Playa Negra offers a variety of horseriding tours around Cahuita. These include a 3hr trip through the jungle and across a beach. They also rent bikes and organise surfing lessons and kayaking.
Though popular with budget travellers, Cahuita is not especially cheap. If you’re travelling in a group, however, you can keep costs to a minimum. This is because most cabinas charge per room and have space for at least three or four people. Upstairs rooms are slightly more expensive, due to the sea breezes and occasional ocean views.
The centre of the village has several options, the best of which are listed below. Staying here is convenient for restaurants, bars and the national park.
There’s also accommodation in all price ranges on the long road that runs by the sea along Playa Negra. It’s quieter here, and the black sand beach is not bad. A word of warning, though — take care walking this road at night and be wary of currents when swimming.
You’ll also find several camping options in the vicinity. The most attractive of these is at the Puerto Vargas ranger station in the national park.
Explore more places to stay in Cahuita.
Cahuita has plenty of places to eat fresh local food. But, as with accommodation, prices can be higher than elsewhere in Costa Rica, though the quality in general more than makes up for it.
As you might expect, the European, US and Creole impact is strong, and restaurants tend to be creative with their influences.
Being a small, laidback village, you can get around on foot, and that includes strolling from the village to Playa Negra. You can also walk to Parque Nacional Cahuita in the other direction.
A few hotels have bikes available, should you wish to get about on two wheels.
While Cahuita doesn’t have much to speak of when it comes to historic attractions and museums, it certainly has plenty to keep visitors occupied for at least a week. Longer, if you factor in time to chill on the beach.
If you’ve come for the beach and to snorkel Parque Nacional Cahuita, the best time to visit Cahuita is in the December — April dry season.
However, if you’re keen to see turtles lay their eggs on the park’s beaches, note that nesting season for leatherbacks runs from March to July.
Meanwhile, loggerhead and hawksbill turtles lay from February to May, and green turtles lay from July to October.
The easiest way to get to Cahuita from San José is by bus on the comfortable, direct Autotransportes MEPE service from the Terminal Atlántico that continues on to Puerto Viejo.
Taking a bus from San José to Puerto Limón and then changing for Cahuita is only marginally less expensive than taking the direct bus and increases travel time by at least an hour.
In Cahuita, buses arrive at the bus station on the main road into the village centre.
Companies such as Interbus serve Cahuita daily from La Fortuna (6hr), San José (5hr) and Puerto Viejo (40min), with door-to-door service. Note that rates are much more expensive than public buses, and the trip can actually take longer.
Cahuita is 43km southeast of Limón on Hwy-36. Pay attention, as the turn-off sign is by no means obvious. You can aim for the private grassy car park in the centre (charge), or look for free spaces near the national park entrance.
For more transportation tips, read our guide to getting around Costa Rica.
Looking for more inspiration? Read up on the best things to do in Costa Rica, and get yourself a copy of The Rough Guide to Costa Rica.
Our Costa Rica travel tips will also help you plan your trip. And if you're not a fan of planning, you'll love our customisable Costa Rica itineraries.
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Top image: Cahuita, Costa Rica © Michal Sarauer/Shutterstock