Intro to Cahuita, Costa Rica
White sand, coconut trees lining the beach and reefs near shore? Sounded good to us. The small beach town of Cahuita is on Costa Rica´s Caribbean Coast, about 4 hours from San José, south of Limon. The area around Cahuita including the peninsula south of town and offshore was designated a National Monument in 1970, and then a National Park in 1978, in an attempt to protect the large coral reef off the coast. The beaches are lovely, with clear, warm water. It feels much less developed than elsewhere in the country.
While it is certainly on the main tourist trail, Cahuita has a distinctly Caribbean feel, very different from the west coast and the interior of Costa Rica. The town is very laid-back. It’s an interesting mix of Caribbean and Central American culture and traditions. There are many local people who spoke more English than Spanish, or at least spoke Spanish with what seems to be a strong Caribbean accent. The town was originally established by Afro-Caribbean fishermen and their families in the early 1800s. In the late 1800s, cheap labor was brought in to work the banana plantations or on the railroad line to San José. Some of their descendants ended up settling here as well. Jamaican heritage is particularly present, and the sounds of reggae and calypso are more common here than any other music.
Cahuita National Park
Cahuita National Park is a great place to play outdoors on nature walks, canoe trips, horseback riding, etc. We set out early in the morning and walked from Kelly Station through the National Park to Cahuita Point. This trail continues all the way to Vargas in the south. Along the way we saw white-faced Capuchin monkeys, two-toed sloths, butterflies, iguanas, line upon line of leaf-cutter ants (we were sure to take a big step over) and a bright yellow viper. We heard howler monkeys making a ruckus in the distance (scary) and one hanging dead by his tail high in a tree. It looked like he went in his sleep, poor guy. The National Park is the biggest draw, and the abundance of wildlife will not disappoint.
Cahuita has great food! We loved the shift to jerk chicken and coconut sauces, so different from the standard Gallo Pinto (rice/beans) and sides. Jamaica again made its presence known. Miss Edith’s was one memorable spot, with authentic, local food in a casual setting. Fresh fish with curry sauce was a hit, as were the house-made plantain chips. Prices were a bit high, but hey, this is Costa Rica. Restaurant Tipico is another good choice, featuring Afro-Caribbean dishes, locally-sourced produce and yummy, fresh, fruity drinks!
Offshore, snorkelers report great views of coral, fish, lobsters, urchins and more under the waves.This is said to be the finest reef in Costa Rica. Snorkel equipment can be rented in town, as can a boat to take you out to the best spots. The southern side of the park is an important spot for nesting for leatherback and hawksbill turtles. Even though there is supposed to be lots of great sea-life, we passed on diving while we were there. The the best season for it is said to be February-April. An earthquake in 1992 put the reef offshore in danger, as it raised it high enough to be exposed during low tide. The marine environment is further affected by illegal logging inland and its resulting silt runoff, as well as the use of fertilizers by nearby fruit companies. Hopefully, the reef and surrounding forest and park will be given the chance to survive and regenerate.
There are express buses that leave several times a day from the terminal in San Jose. Grayline and a company called Interbus exist for tourists (it seems exclusively) who can pay for a smaller vehicle, air conditioning and a driver. These services charge about between $30 and $50 per leg, and seem to be the one of the only options to get between some destinations without multiple bus transfers or passing back through San José if you can’t get one of the express buses. It’s $35 from San Jose to Cahuita. Options for budget travelers are fewer than elsewhere in Central America. It seems everything has been developed for the foreign tourist arriving with more money than time to spend.
Next time: We’d love to check out the Sloth Sanctuary, which we heard about long after we’d visited the area.
Where We Stayed
Elijah was our host at the small guesthouse, Brisas del Mar, set right next to the water near town. We really enjoyed talking to him, though our chats were brief. The three guest rooms are adjacent to the family’s living space. Prices are very reasonable, and who can beat waking up to the sound of waves breaking on the beach?