Tips for Visiting Cahuita National Park in Costa Rica

A visit to Cahuita National Park might be the best recommendation we can give you when you’re in Puerto Viejo. This park protects one of Costa Rica’s best-preserved coral reefs, and you can spot a lot of wildlife by simply following the trail through Cahuita National Park. Bright yellow and green snakes are commonly seen here, and you might also encounter monkeys or raccoons crossing your path. Do you hear some rustling? It might be a basilisk, sloth, or a family of coatis moving through the jungle. With a beautiful jungle on one side and the sea with multiple white beaches on the other, you could easily spend a whole day in this beautiful natural area. Before you go, make sure to read all my tips for Cahuita National Park!

Visiting Cahuita National Park

Cahuita National Park is perfect for a visit from Puerto Viejo as it’s located just 17 km away. What’s great about the park is that it’s not as commercialized as many other national parks in Costa Rica, and the park is even free to enter. Therefore, you won’t be the only one visiting Cahuita National Park. If you want the best chance to spot animals, go early in the morning. Cahuita National Park opens at 8 am, allowing you to leisurely follow the trail and enjoy the tranquility while searching for wildlife. The park gets busier later in the morning, and the chances of spotting wildlife decrease.

You can choose to explore the trail on your own or hire a guide to accompany you in Cahuita National Park. Not necessarily because of the route, which is quite straightforward, but mainly so the guide can tell you more about the flora and fauna and help you spot animals. There are usually a few guides at the entrance around opening time who are willing to guide you for a small fee. I personally entered the park on my own and had a fantastic experience, but in hindsight, with a guide, I probably could have seen even more wildlife and learned more about the biodiversity. Therefore, my advice would be to take a guide with you! Especially considering that guides are much more expensive in the rest of the country than in Cahuita National Park.

The Different Entrances of Cahuita National Park

Cahuita National Park has two different entrances. The main entrance of Cahuita National Park is called Kelly Creek Station and is located in the small village of Cahuita. The hike starts at Playa Blanca, and you’ll walk along a beautiful coastal path, shaded by trees from the sun. The second entrance, Puerto Vargas, is a bit closer to Puerto Viejo. From this entrance, you’ll first walk 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) through the dense rainforest on a beautiful trail. At this entrance, you’ll pay about $5 for admission. If you choose the main entrance, Kelly Creek Station, you won’t have to pay an entrance fee. However, it’s highly appreciated if you make a donation for park maintenance. A donation of $5 or more is an appropriate amount.
It doesn’t really matter which entrance you take. I chose the Puerto Vargas entrance and had the first part of the hike almost to myself. That made the walk even more impressive. After about five hours of walking through the park, I found it nice to end at the main entrance, Kelly Creek Station, where there’s a restaurant where you can relax with an iced coffee and have something to eat if you’d like.

The Hiking Route through Cahuita National Park

There’s only one trail through Cahuita National Park where you’ll walk between the sea and the jungle the entire time. Every so often, you’ll have a different view, and there are many nice spots to enjoy the scenery, have a snack, or take a swim in the sea. The whole route is about 8 kilometers (5 miles), and you could complete it in about three hours. If you take it at a leisurely pace, you can easily allocate a few extra hours. You can start at one entrance and exit at the other after 8 kilometers, or you can walk to Punta Cahuita halfway and take the same route back. I recommend walking the entire route because each part is different and the whole route is worth it.

Tip: Did you park your rental car at one of the entrances? You can easily take the bus or a taxi from the other entrance back to your rental car. From Puerto Vargas, you can walk to the main road where the bus stop is located, and from the main entrance, you can walk to the bus station in the village of Cahuita in 10 minutes.

Wildlife in Cahuita National Park

Cahuita National Park is perfect for spotting wildlife. During the hike, you have a good chance of seeing sloths, the trees are full of swinging monkeys, and raccoons will probably cross your path. It’s also an ideal place to see snakes and other reptiles. Especially the bright yellow, green, or brown vipers are unique. At Punta Cahuita, about halfway through the route, the capuchin monkeys and raccoons have become less shy. This is because people often stop here to eat, and the animals know that they might find food there.

Important: Do not feed the animals in Cahuita National Park. Although the monkeys and raccoons might come near you when you’re eating, it’s better not to feed them. This disrupts the natural balance and is ultimately very harmful to the wild animals.

Snorkeling in Cahuita National Park

In addition to the beautiful nature on land, Cahuita National Park also boasts a much larger underwater area. Off the coast lies a stunning coral reef with more than 500 species of fish and coral. However, you’re absolutely not allowed to snorkel in the sea with your own snorkel set.

A significant portion of the coral reef in Cahuita National Park was damaged some time ago by an earthquake. To prevent further damage, snorkeling has been allowed only with a guide since then. Moreover, you can only snorkel during certain periods of the year when conditions are suitable. This is often possible from March to early May and from August to October. Swimming in the sea, on the other hand, is not a problem and can be done all year round. It’s wonderful to take a swim in the clear blue water during your hike.

How to Get from Puerto Viejo to Cahuita National Park?

Cahuita National Park is located 17 km (10.5 miles) away from Puerto Viejo. If you have a rental car, you can drive to the park in about 20 minutes. Parking your rental car costs a few euros. If you don’t have a rental car, you can take the bus from Puerto Viejo to Limón and get off at the village of Cahuita or Puerto Vargas.

What to Bring to Cahuita National Park?

  • Ample water, snacks, and optionally a packed lunch. There are no shops or restaurants in the park.
  • Swimwear and a beach towel or mat.
  • Comfortable walking shoes for a few hours of walking.
  • Insect repellent.
  • Cash money.
  • Of course, your phone or camera for taking photos.
  • If you have binoculars, it’s a good idea to bring them along.


Our Favorite Spots in Puerto Viejo

The charming coastal village of Puerto Viejo is the perfect base for visiting Cahuita National Park. If you’re looking for a cozy hostel near the beach and close to many cafes and restaurants, take a look at Selina. This is the perfect place to have a great time with fellow travelers as the hostel organizes many activities such as yoga classes, parties, and workshops. Hotel Casa Merlin is for you if you’re seeking tranquility. It’s a bit further from the town, but you’ll be completely immersed in nature. There’s a lovely pool, and you’ll stay in a spacious comfortable room. An absolutely unique option is Finca Chica. You’ll sleep in a beautiful villa amidst the jungle while the beach is only a 5-minute walk away.