ABOUT CAHUITA COSTA RICA

Population: 8300https://shuttles.transportation-costarica.com/images/PDFs/cahuita-map-small.jpg

Even as tourism has mushroomed on Costa Rica’s southern coast, Cahuita has managed to hold onto its laid-back Caribbean vibe. The roads are made of dirt, many of the older houses rest on stilts and chatty neighbors still converse in Mekatelyu. A graceful blacksand beach and a chilled-out demeanor hint at a not-so-distant past, when the area was little more than a string of cacao farms.

Cahuita proudly claims the area’s first permanent Afro-Caribbean settler: a turtle fisherman named William Smith, who moved his family to Punta Cahuita in 1828. Now his descendants, along with those of so many other West Indian immigrants, run the backyard eateries and brightly painted bungalows that hug this idyllic stretch of coast.

Situated on a pleasant point, the town itself has a waterfront but no beach. For that, most folks make the five-minute jaunt up the coast to Playa Negra or southeast into neighboring Parque Nacional Cahuita.

 

Sights & Activities

Playa Negra

At the northwest end of Cahuita, Playa Negra is a long, black-sand beach flying the bandera azul ecológica, a flag that indicates the beach is kept to the highest ecological standards. This is undoubtedly Cahuita’s top spot for swimming and is never crowded. When the swells are big, this place also has an excellent beach break for beginners.

 

Playa Blanca

At the entrance to the national park. A good option for swimming.

Tree of Life

(Tel 2755-0014, 8610-0490; www.treeoflifecostarica.com; adult/child US$12/6, guided tour US$15-20; h 9am-3pm Tue-Sun Nov–mid-Apr, daily tour 11am Jul & Aug, closed mid-Apr–Jun & Sep-Oct) This lovingly maintained wildlife center and botanical garden 3km northwest of town on the Playa Negra road rescues and rehabilitates animals while also promoting conservation through education. The rotating cast of residents typically includes kinkajous, peccaries, sloths, monkeys and toucans. There’s excellent English-language signage throughout. It’s also possible to volunteer here; see the website for information.

Sloth Sanctuary of
Costa Rica

(formerly aviarios del Caribe; Tel 2750-0775; www. slothsanctuary.com; 2hr group tour adult/child 5-11yr US$25/15, private half-day tour per person US$150; h 8am-2pm tue-Sun) About 10km northwest of Cahuita, bordering the Río Estrella, the Arroyo family runs this private 88-hectare wildlife sanctuary dedicated to caring for injured and orphaned sloths. Visitors can observe these unique animals up close on group or private tours. (Irrefutable fact: there is nothing cuter than a baby sloth.) Though many of the reserve’s rehabilitated sloths lack the skills to return to the wild, the Arroyos have successfully released more than 100 of them back into area forests.

Tours

Snorkeling, horseback riding, chocolate tours and visits to nearby indigenous territories are standard offerings.

Willie’s Tours

(Tel 8917-6982, 2755-1024; www.williestourscostarica.com; h 8am-noon & 2-7pm Mon-Sat,) A fullservice tour agency that can also arrange further-flung tours and transport.

Centro Turístico Brigitte

(Tel 2755-0053; www.brigittecahuita.com; Playa negra) Does it all, but specializes in horseback tours (90 minutes to six hours, US$40 to US$85) and surf lessons (US$30 including use of board); check website or stop by in person for full details.

Cahuita Tours

(Tel 2755-0101; www.cahuitatours.com) One of the most established agencies in town.

Mister Big J’s

(Tel 2755-0060, 8887-4695; h 8am-7:30pm) Offers the usual range of tours.

Roberto’s Tours

(Tel 2755-0117; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) Specializes in sportfishing tours and has a restaurant for cooking up your catch.

Sleeping

There are two general areas to stay in Cahuita: the town center (which can be a little noisy) or north of town along Playa Negra. If walking between Playa Negra and the center at night, don’t carry valuables; better yet, bike or take a taxi, especially if traveling alone.

Center

Cabinas Secret Garden

(Tel 2755-0581; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; dm/s/d US$10/18/25; p W ) This tiny Dutch-run place with a lush garden has five tiled units with fans, mosquito nets and hot-water showers in cubicle-style bathrooms, plus one five-bed dorm with cold showers. There’s also a nice shared kitchen with free coffee.

Cabinas Riverside

(Tel 8893-2252; d with/without kitchen US$27/23; p) Managed by friendly Cahuita local Peck Ferguson and family, this tidy budget place just around the corner from Kelly Creek ranger station offers nine simple rooms with mosquito nets and hot showers; five units also come with kitchens. The grassy yard abuts a swampy area perfect for spotting caimans, monkeys and sloths.

Cahuita National Park HoTel

(Tel 2755-0244; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; s or d US$45, tr or q US$60; paW) The hotel-style rooms here are large and bare, with dowdy brown curtains and industrial tile floors, but you still might be tempted by the prime location right at the national-park entrance. Beach and ocean views from the upstairs terrace (and several rooms) are spectacular.

Cabinas Smith 1 & 2

(Tel 2755-0068; s/d/tr with fan US$12/16/21, s/d/tr/q with air-con US$25/31/36/46; p a W ) These clean rooms spanning two properties between the main drag and the waterfront are run by a friendly older couple with deep local roots. Eight newer units adjacent to the owners’ home have TV, air-con and wi-fi; five older fan-cooled units around the corner are primarily of interest to the seriously budget-minded. All share a guest kitchen.

Spencer Seaside Lodging

(Tel 2755-0027; s/d downstairs US$16/26, upstairs US$20/30; p ) Rooms at this longtime, locally owned spot are rough around the edges but big – and nothing at this price level can match the seaside setting within two blocks of the town center. Upstairs units have better views, as well as a shared terrace strung with hammocks.

Alby Lodge

(Tel 2755-0031; www.albylodge.com; d/tr/q US$60/65/70; p W ) This fine German-run lodge on the edge of the park has spacious landscaped grounds that attract howler monkeys and birds. Four raised bungalows (two sleeping three people, two sleeping four) are spread out, allowing for plenty of privacy. High ceilings, mosquito nets and driftwood details make for pleasant jungle decor. A common rancho (thatched gazebo) has excellent communal kitchen facilities.

Kelly Creek Hotel

(Tel 2755-0007; www.hotelkellycreek.com; s/d US$50/60, extra person US$10; p W ) At this place just outside the national-park entrance, you may be serenaded by the dulcet squawks of the resident parrot; draw closer and find four graceful natural-wood cabinas with high ceilings, cream-colored linens and mosquito nets. Local artwork adorns the reception area, and the onsite restaurant (open from 6pm) serves paella with advance notice (US$16 per person, minimum two people).

Bungalows Aché

(Tel 2755-0119; www.bungalowsache.com; bungalows s US$45, d US$50-55; p W ) In Nigeria, Aché means ‘Amen,’ and you’ll likely say the same thing when you see these three spotless polished-wood bungalows nestled into a grassy yard bordering the national park. Each octagonal unit comes with a lockbox, mini-fridge, kettle and small private deck with hammock. A three-bedroom vacation house (doubles US$70, up to seven people US$120) is available 1km inland.

Ciudad Perdida

(Tel 2755-0303; www.ciudadperdidaecolodge.com; d standard/superior incl breakfast US$106/127, q US$212; p a W ) S In a shady, peaceful spot bordering the national park but only a fiveminute walk from Cahuita’s town center, this eco-conscious lodge offers cute one-and two-room, candy-colored wood bungalows surrounded by landscaped gardens. All include hammocks, ceiling fans, refrigerators and safe boxes. One house has a Jacuzzi, three have kitchens and all have cable TV.

Playa Negra

Cabinas Tito

(Tel 8880-1904, 2755-0286; www.cahuita-cabinastito.com; d with/without hot water US$30/25, additional person US$10, 4-person houses US$70; p W ) Only 200m northwest of Cahuita, yet surrounded by extensive tropical gardens and banana plants, this quiet family-run oasis offers seven brightly painted, clean and simple casitas (one with kitchen) plus a family-friendly Caribbean-style house. Tito, the kind and charming young Tico (Costa Rican) host, is a recent university graduate who’s actively seeking to create habitat for birds, frogs and other wildlife.

Cabinas Algebra

(Tel 2755-0057; www.cabinasalgebra.com; bungalows US$20-35; p W ) This long-time German Swiss-run place has three rustic cabins, with hammocks, tucked into a peaceful backyard garden at Playa Negra’s northern end. The spacious, inviting front deck doubles as a restaurant and common area, with wood floors, books, games and wi-fi. It’s 2km northwest of Cahuita, but the owners offer free bus-station pickup with advance notice.

Centro Turístico Brigitte

(Tel 2755-0053; www.brigittecahuita.com; cabinas US$30-50, s without bathroom US$15; p i W ) Behind Reggae Restaurant in the heart of Playa Negra, this well-signed backstreet spot offers a couple of basic wood cabinas and two private single rooms. However, the big draw here is the bevy of services offered by Swiss expatriate owner Brigitte (a 30-year Cahuita resident): surf classes, bike rentals, horseback rides, tours, laundry service and a good onsite restaurant.

Camping María

(Tel 2755-0091; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; campsites per person US$6, incl tent rental US$7; W ) Seven sweet and well-spaced campsites share a gorgeous section of waterfront near the northern end of Playa Negra, shaded by coconut palms and a variety of fruit trees. Campers have access to rudimentary cooking facilities, two bathrooms with cold-water showers and an upstairs library and recreation room with guitar and pool table. María brews free morning coffee for everyone.

Cabinas Iguana

(Tel 2755-0005; http://cabinas-iguana.com/en; d bungalow US$45-55, d without bathroom US$25; pWs) Set back from the beach on the road marked by the Reggae Restaurant, this Tico family-run spot features rather faded but nicely shaded simple wood cabins of various sizes, all nestled into forested grounds with abundant wildlife.

Playa Negra Guesthouse

(Tel 2755-0127; www.playanegra .cr; s/d US$70/85, cottages US$110-160; p W s ) Managed by a delightful Québecois couple, this meticulously maintained place offers three charming rooms in a Caribbean-style plantation house, complemented by three kitchen-equipped storybook cottages. Tropical accents include colorful mosaics in the bathrooms and cozy wicker lounge furniture on the private verandas. A lovely pool, honor bar and barbecue area are tucked into the well-manicured garden dotted with fan palms.

Every unit has thoughtful touches, including a mini-fridge and coffeemaker, and the staff go out of their way to help guests explore the area. A winner all around.

La Piscina Natural

(Tel 2755-0146; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; d/tr US$45/60; p W s ) Run by Cahuita native Walter and former Colorado schooteacher Patty, this chilled-out gem of a spot near Playa Negra’s northern end is a self-proclaimed ‘Caribbean Paradise’. The rooms, which share access to a huge kitchen and open-air lounge, are comfortable enough, but what really make this place special are the lush grounds, gorgeous waterfront and stunning, rock-fringed natural ocean-water pool.

Cabinas Nirvana

(Tel 2755-0110; www.cabinasnirvana.com; d US$30, cottages US$45-85; a W s ) Eight cabinas come in a variety of configurations at this tranquil garden spot surrounding a pool, just inland from the Reggae Restaurant. Five units have kitchens, one has air-con and all have pleasant sitting areas on private front porches. There’s also one cheaper room for budget travelers. Friendly Portuguese-German owners Yolanda and Sepp rent bikes for easy access to town.

Casa Marcellino

(Tel 2755-0390; http://casamarcellino.com; d US$85-96, q US$102-113; W ) In a peaceful garden setting, just inland down a side road between Cahuita and Playa Negra, you’ll find this Italian-run cluster of spotless wood cabins with fully equipped kitchens. More expensive units have large bathtubs, plus spacious porches with hammocks and retractable awnings.

El Encanto B&B

breakfast s/d US$75/85, d studio/ste US$105/200, extra person US$25; p W s ) This pleasant French-and-Spanish-owned B&B, only about 200m northwest of downtown Cahuita, is set in landscaped grounds dotted with easy chairs and hammocks. Demure bungalows have high ceilings, tile floors and firm beds draped in colorful textiles. The studio and a brand-new upstairs apartment both have

Hotel Suizo Loco Lodge

(Tel 2755-0349; www.suizolocolodge.com; incl breakfast s/d/tr US$85/115/165, ste d/tr US$140/203; pWs) Ten immaculate, whitewashed bungalows have king-size beds and folk-art decor at this serene family-friendly lodge (cribs available). All units have safe, mini-fridge, solar-heated showers and small, private terraces. The perfectly landscaped grounds contain an impressive mosaic-tile pool with a swim-up bar. It’s along the road forking off the main Playa Negra road about 2km northwest of Cahuita.

Coral Hill Bungalows

(Tel 2755-0479, 2755-0554; www.coralhillbungalows.com; d incl breakfast US$136; W) Popular with honeymooners, these three immaculate private bungalows in a wildlife-friendly garden setting are done up with tropical decor: polished-wood floors, bamboo furniture, mosquito nets, hand-painted ceramic sinks and porches with hammocks and leather rocking chairs. Luxuries include pillow-top mattresses, high-thread-count sheets, fresh flowers and full breakfasts served by the gracious American hosts. Follow signs from Reggae Restaurant.

Goddess Garden

(Tel 2755-0055, in USA & Canada 800-854-7761; www.thegoddessgarden.com; d 5-night packages incl lodging & 3 meals daily US$1320-1450; p W s ) Surrounded by old-growth jungle (including an awe-inspiring ‘Goddess Tree’), this place at the end of the Playa Negra road is geared toward larger groups and yoga retreats, but independent travelers looking for a peaceful, meditative five to seven-day immersion experience are also welcome.

Kenaki Lodge

(Tel 2755-0485; www.kenakilodge.com; d incl breakfast US$102, d/tr/q bungalows US$124/124/237; p W ) Directly opposite Playa Grande (the next beach north of Playa Negra), this appealing new place is the creation of Parisian expatriate Isabelle and Costa Rican tae kwon do master Roberto. Three bright, high ceilinged modern rooms, an older triple bungalow and two brand-new bungalows with satellite TV and modern kitchen fixtures surround a spacious landscaped yard and a wooden breakfast deck.

Eating

Soda Kawe

(h 5:30am-7pm) This humble spot on Cahuita’s main street serves delicious, reasonably priced casados cooked over a wood fire. Breakfasts here include free coffee; other meals come with your choice of fruit drink.

Smoothie Bar & Crêpe Café

(juices US$1 .60-4, crepes US$4-6; h 8am-6:30pm) At this friendly main-street spot, Sherilyn and Eddy whip up fresh fruit crepes and juices mixed with water, milk, yogurt or ice cream. There’s always an attractively priced juice of the day (US$1.60), but even better is the agua de sapo, a delicious, sinus-clearing Caribbean concoction made with lemon juice, water, brown sugar and loads of fresh ginger.

Cafe Chocolatte 
100Tel Natural 


(dishes US$4-9; h6:30am-3pm) Greet the morning with a cup o’ joe and a warm cinnamon roll, or unwind in the afternoon with a refreshing jugo. Breakfast offerings include French toast and waffles, while the lunch menu revolves around salad, spaghetti, baked potatoes and rice dishes. Hearty sandwiches on homemade wholegrain bread are perfect for beach picnics at the national park.

Pizzeria Cahuita

(Tel 2755-0179; pizzas US$5-12; h4-10pm Mon-Wed, noon-10pm Fri-Sun) As the red-white-and-green color scheme implies, the ITA here stands for Italy, motherland of the two expatriate families who opened this excellent, unpretentious pizzeria in 2013. Grab a seat at the aluminum tables on the cement back patio and enjoy a surf and insect serenade while you wait for your thin-crusted beauty to emerge from the wood-fired oven.

Luisa Steak House

(Tel 7039-9689; mains US$6-16; h 6am-10pm Mon-Sat) In the corner veranda of an old house, this cozy spot specializes in filet mignon, tenderloin and T-bone steaks, but you’ll also find plenty of other savory treats, including chicken in jalapeño or coconut sauce, pork chops, grilled seafood skewers and ceviche.

Restaurant La Fé

(dishes US$7-16; h 7am-11pm) Chef and owner Walter, a Cahuita native, serves up tall tales and tasty meals at this reasonably priced spot. There’s a laundry list of Tico and Caribbean items, but the main draw is anything doused in the restaurant’s spicy-delicious coconut sauce.

Miss Edith’s

(Tel 2755-0248; mains US$6-24; h 7am-8pm; v ) This longtime local restaurant serves a slew of Caribbean specialties – including jerk chicken and potatoes stewed in garlic – and a number of vegetarian options.

Cocoricó

(mains US$7-14; h 4-10pm Mon-Thu, noon-10pm Sat & Sun) The menu here revolves around pizza, pasta and other Italian-themed mains, but the place is better known for its regular movie screenings.

Playa Negra

Near Playa Negra, you can also head to the restaurants at Cabinas Algebra or Centro Turístico Brigitte for good breakfasts.

Reggae Restaurant

(mains US$6-10; h noon-10pm) Exuding a friendly, laid-back vibe, this soda serves sandwiches and Caribbean-style casados on a wooden deck hung with green, red and yellow lampshades in the heart of Playa Negra. Reggae music and waves crashing on the beach across the street enhance the chilledout atmosphere.

Sobre Las Olas

(Tel 2755-0109; pastas US$12-15, mains US$12-25; h noon-10pm Wed-Mon; v ) Garlic shrimp, seafood pasta, or fresh grilled fish of the day come accompanied by crashing waves and sparkling blue Caribbean vistas at this sweet spot owned by a lively Tico-Italian couple. Cahuita’s top option for romantic waterfront dining, it’s only a 400m walk northwest of Cahuita, on the road to Playa Negra. Save room for the delicious tiramisù.

Drinking & Nightlife

Low-key Cahuita is home to one insanely loud drinking hole: Coco’s Bar (hnoon-last man standing). You can’t miss it at the main intersection, painted Rasta red, gold and green and cranking the reggaetón up to 11. On some nights (usually on weekends) there’s also live music. Across the street you’ll find a couple more bars, including Riki’s and Splash, the latter with its own swimming pool.

CACAO TRAILS

Halfway between Cahuita and Puerto Viejo de Talamanca in Hone Creek, this botanical garden and chocolate museum (Tel 2756-8186; www.cacaotrails.com; hone Creek; guided tour US$25, incl canoe trip & lunch US$47; h 7am-4pm; c ) has a couple of small museums devoted to indigenous and Afro-Caribbean culture, a lush garden bursting with bromeliads and heliconias, as well as an onsite chocolate factory where cacao

is processed in traditional ways. Twohour tours include a visit to all of these spots, plus a hike to a nearby organic farm. Additional expeditions allow for further exploration by canoe on the adjacent Río Carbón. Any bus between Cahuita and Puerto Viejo can drop you at the entrance. This is a great outing for kids.

 

A STAY IN THE FOREST: SELVA BANANITO

One of the Caribbean’s most inspiring and appealing ecotourism ventures is this rustic but comfortable family-run farm and lodge (Tel 2253-8118, 8375-4419; www.selvabananito.com; s/d incl breakfast from US$85/100, incl full board from US$130/200, incl transport from Bananito, meals & daily activities from US$180/320, 2-night package incl transport from San José, meals & daily activities US$475/860; p ) S. Gorgeously situated on the edge of Parque Internacional La Amistad, the 1700-hectare private reserve occupies a transitional zone between farmland and primary growth forest, transected by the headwaters of the Río Bananito and teeming with wildlife.

Above all, this is an environmentally conscious spot: the Stein family has owned this property for over 40 years, and has dedicated the last three decades to developing sustainable ecotourism and wise land-management practices. Major projects funded by tourism dollars include education of the local community about ecological issues, protection of the Río Banano and Bananito watersheds (which provide 100Tel of Puerto Limón’s drinking water), reforestation with native species, and efforts to establish a wildlife corridor that will eventually allow jaguars to move freely between Parque Internacional La Amistad and the Caribbean coast.

The onsite lodge employs solar energy and uses biodegradable soaps and cleaning products. Comfortable cabins are all crafted from recycled hardwoods and constructed Caribbean-style, on stilts, for optimum ventilation, and three delicious home-cooked meals are included in the daily rates. Packages include transfers from San José, as well as your choice of activities, including bird-watching, waterfall tours, horseback riding, rappeling and tree-climbing.

If you are driving yourself, note that the last 4km of the route requires river crossings and is 4WD only. Selva Bananito staff can meet you at the first big river if you call ahead. Detailed driving directions are posted online.

 

Parque Nacional Cahuita

This small but beautiful park – just 10 sq km – is one of the more frequently visited national parks in Costa Rica. The reasons are simple: the nearby town of Cahuita provides attractive accommodations and easy access; more importantly, the white-sand beaches, coral reef and coastal rainforest are bursting with wildlife.

Declared a national park in 1978, Cahuita is meteorologically typical of the entire coast (very humid), which results in dense tropical foliage, as well as coconut palms and sea grapes. The area includes the swampy Punta Cahuita, which juts into the sea between two stretches of sandy beach. Often flooded, the point is covered with cativo and mango trees and is a popular hangout for birds such as green ibis, yellow-crowned night heron, boat-billed heron and the rare green-andrufous kingfisher.

Red land and fiddler crab live along the beaches, attracting mammals such as crab-eating raccoon and white-nosed coati. White-faced capuchin, southern opossum and three-toed sloth also live in these parts. The mammal you are most likely to see (and hear) is the mantled howler monkey, which makes its bellowing presence known. The coral reef represents another rich ecosystem that abounds with life.

Activities


Hiking


An easily navigable 8km coastal trail leads through the jungle from Kelly Creek to Puerto Vargas. At times the trail follows the beach; at other times hikers are 100m or so away from the sand. At the end of the first beach, Playa Blanca, hikers must ford the dark Río Perezoso, or ‘Sloth River,’ which bisects Punta Cahuita. Inquire about conditions before you set out: under normal conditions, this river is easy enough to wade across, but during periods of heavy rain it can become impassable since it serves as the discharge for the swamp that covers the point.

The trail continues around Punta Cahuita to the long stretch of Playa Vargas. It ends at the southern tip of the reef, where it meets up with a road leading to the Puerto Vargas ranger station. Once you reach the ranger station, it’s another 1.5km along a gravel road to the park entrance. From here, you can hike the 3.5km back to Cahuita along the coastal highway or catch ride going in either direction.

Swimming

Almost immediately upon entering th park, you’ll see the 2km-long Playa Blanc stretching along a gently curving bay to th east. The first 500m of beach may be unsaf for swimming, but beyond that, waves ar generally gentle. (Look for green flags mark ing safe swimming spots.) The rocky Punt Cahuita headland separates this beach from the next one, Playa Vargas. It is unwise t leave clothing or other belongings unattend ed when you swim.

Snorkeling

Parque Nacional Cahuita contains one of th last living coral reefs in Costa Rica. Whil the reef represents some of the area’s bes snorkeling, it has incurred damage over th years from earthquakes and tourism-relate activities. In an attempt to protect the ree from further damage, snorkeling is only per mitted with a licensed guide. The going rate for one person is about US$25.

You’ll find that conditions vary greatly, depending on the weather and other factors. In general, the drier months in the highlands (from February to April) are best for snorkeling on the coast, as less runoff results in less silt in the sea. Conditions are often cloudy at other times.

Volunteering

Though not renowned as a sea-turtle destination, Cahuita’s beaches are nonetheless an important habitat for several breeds. Asociación Widecast (Tel 2236-0947; www.widecast . org) has volunteering opportunities for those interested in assisting on in-water research projects and various conservation-related activities. Reserve in advance.

Eating

Boca Chica

(Tel 2755-0415; meals US$8-10; h 9am-6pm) After a long, hot jungle hike, you may think you’re hallucinating when you see this small, whitewashed place at the end of the road. It’s not a mirage, just a well-placed bar-restaurant, run by charming Italian expatriate Rodolfo and his Tica wife, Karen. The menu features cold jugos, Caribbean specialties, homemade pastas and delicious platos del día from noon onwards.

 

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