Welcome to Cahuita National Park, one of Costa Rica’s most beautiful natural treasures. Located on the Caribbean coast, this park is a must-visit destination for nature lovers, hikers, and beach-goers alike.
With its lush tropical rainforests, pristine beaches, and vibrant coral reefs, Cahuita National Park offers visitors an unparalleled experience of the natural beauty and diversity of Costa Rica. It’s located on the Caribbean side of the country just north of Puerto Viejo.
Come to think of it, out of all the things to do in Puerto Viejo, this is THE most spectacular place! You can’t miss this park if you’re heading to this side of Costa Rica. Here’s everything you need to know about Cahuita National Park.
Hiking in Cahuita National Park
The hike through Cahuita National Park is an unforgettable experience, filled with stunning views of the Caribbean Sea, pristine beaches, and lush tropical rainforests. The trail starts at the entrance to the park at Puerto Vargas and follows the coastline, offering visitors a chance to spot exotic wildlife such as howler monkeys, sloths, and toucans in their natural habitat.
Here are the stats for the hike:
Distance: 5 miles
Type of Trail: Point to Point
Elevation Gain: 374 feet
Entrance fee: $6 USD for foreigners/donation based.
NOTE: There are two entrances. Keep in mind if you enter from Cahuita town (the opposite way I’m recommending below), then it’s actually by donation only. But entering from the other way is the best way to explore this area, in my opinion, plus your money goes straight back into the community at the park!
So regardless of which entrance you come in at, you should plan on handing over a few bucks anyway. (more on all this in a sec)
The hike through Cahuita National Park is approximately 5 miles (8 km) long and takes about 3-4 hours to complete depending on how fast you walk and how many times you stop!
The trail is well-maintained, relatively flat, and suitable for all levels of hikers, just as long you don’t mind the distance. Remember, this is point-to-point. You’re not turning around.
How to Get to Cahuita National Park from Puerto Viejo
Important! If you want to take in the whole trail here, knowing how to get here is important. Unless you have a car, this is the way to do it:
- Go to the bus stop in Puerto Viejo: The bus stop in Puerto Viejo is located on the main road, right here. You can easily spot it because it’s a covered area with benches and a sign that reads “Parada de Buses.”
- Check the schedule: The buses from Puerto Viejo to Cahuita run every hour during the week, starting from around 6:00 am until 6:00 pm. It’s a good idea to double-check with your accommodation host, though!
- Board the bus: When the bus arrives, the bus fee is about $2 USD and can be paid in cash to the driver. It’s best to have small bills or coins, as the driver may not have change for larger bills.
- Get off at the park entrance: Tell the bus driver to stop at the park entrance, which is known as “Entrada Puerto Vargas.” This is where you can begin your hike through the park. This isn’t the popular entrance, so don’t worry if other people are staying on the bus. They are heading to the other entrance. Keep reading, you’ll understand why I’m telling you to do it this way.
The Low Down on Hiking in Cahuita National Park:
The terrain along the trail is relatively flat and easy to navigate, with some sections of the trail passing through densely forested areas and others opening up to panoramic views of the sea. Some of the trail is sandy and dirt, while other parts are along a boardwalk.
Along the way, hikers will pass by several beautiful beaches, including Playa Blanca and Punta Cahuita, secluded white-sand beaches that are perfect for swimming and lounging.
As you continue your hike, you’ll come across several lookout points that offer stunning panoramic views of the Caribbean Sea and the surrounding rainforest. The trail then winds its way through the jungle, crossing several streams and small bridges before finally reaching the charming town of Cahuita.
You’ll have the opportunity to see tons of animals like coatis, sloths, snakes, howler monkeys, poison dart frogs, iguanas, toucans, and more!
Start Your Hike at The Puerto Vargas Entrance
The stop is essentially in the middle of nowhere on a dirt road! Again, don’t worry, it’s worth it to do it this way. You’ll walk down the dirt road for a few minutes, and you’ll finally hit the entrance, where you’ll pay the fee.
The trail begins as a comfortable and shaded boardwalk that extends all the way to the first beach, Puerto Vargas. This beach is equipped with bathrooms, showers, and picnic areas, making it the perfect spot to relax and enjoy the stunning views.
From here, you have two choices: chill on the beach or continue your hike. The trail transforms into a sandy beach walk, with intermittent shade to break up the heat. You’re about 1.5 miles in at this point.
Getting Half Way Through and Reaching Punta Cahuita
As you continue, you’ll come across Punta Cahuita, a beautiful beach that leads to more coves. It’s not uncommon to see snorkeling boats just offshore, but remember, it is not allowed to snorkel without a guide in the area. It’s for your safety and the preservation of the reef. More on this soon!
Feel free to bask under the sun and maybe take out your snacks. You’ll have plenty of sandy patches to claim as your own here.
Just after this point, you’ll find another older boardwalk that veers inland for a bit. Don’t worry, you’ll pop back out onto the beach at Playa Blanca. It’s a bit narrower here, but it’s yet another great spot to take a break and soak up some sun! You’re over halfway there!
Finishing Up The Hike
As you get closer to the exit, you’ll walk along a shaded dirt path, and you’ll certainly find more people in this area. Many people enter the other way and only hang out within the first mile or two of Cahuita National Park. This is why I like the other entrance. You get a peaceful hike and tons of beach time to yourself in the lesser visited areas.
I had most of the hike to myself up until this point, if you can believe it!
You’ll continue the hike, going in and out from the beach to a bit more inland. Eventually, you’ll get to another older boardwalk that plops you out around Playa Blanca! Another stunning beach you can enjoy on this hike.
Soon you’ll see a bunch of picnic tables with their own little coves, the perfect place to enjoy a picnic lunch while taking in the breathtaking scenery. This is the main beach area, the busiest spot in the park—And also—The end of the five-mile hike!
Getting to Cahuita Town and Back to Puerto Viejo
When you’re done hiking, you’ll end up right in the center of Cahuita, the town. Perfect! This is why I recommend starting at the other entrance.
- You get to do the whole hike.
- You end up in an actual town instead on the side of the road where the other entrance is.
- You don’t have to go back. You can go point-to-point (if you do the whole thing and go back, it will be 10 miles!)
If you’re hungry, there are plenty of restaurants to choose from.
- Soda Kawe is an affordable spot with quick food.
- Aroma, Coffee Bar & Breakfast if you woke up early and need another pick me up.
- Gelato is waiting for you right at the exit of the park, which is well-deserved after that hike!
Getting back to Puerto Viejo is easy. The bus stop is here, just grab the bus heading back to Puerto Viejo.
Snorkeling in Cahuita National Park
One of the most exciting activities in Cahuita National Park is snorkeling!
The park is home to one of the largest coral reefs in Costa Rica, which is teeming with a diverse array of marine life, including tropical fish, rays, and even sea turtles.
BUT to go snorkeling in the park, visitors must go with a guided tour, as it is prohibited to snorkel without a guide in order to protect the delicate coral reef ecosystem. Don’t try to snorkel off the many beaches you will pass on the hike, it’s not allowed!
Just as a side note, there was an earthquake in 1991 that ruined some of the coral here. It’s not as amazing as it once was but is still good on a good visibility day. Remember to check if the water is calm and clear before booking a tour.
Tips for Visiting Cahuita National Park:
To make the most of your visit to Cahuita National Park, here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Wear comfortable shoes and clothing: The terrain along the trail can be rocky and uneven, so wear what is most comfortable for you. The weather is usually quite hot and humid, so it’s best to wear lightweight and quick-dry if you’re swimming a bunch. You don’t want to hike in soggy clothing.
- Swimsuit: You’ll want to dive in, trust me! It’s too beautiful and hot not to…
- Bring sunscreen and insect repellent: The park is located in a tropical forest, so be sure to bring plenty of sunscreen and insect repellent to protect yourself from the sun and mosquitoes. You’ll be in and out of shade.
- Carry plenty of water and snacks: The hike through the park can take several hours, so be sure to carry enough water and snacks to keep you hydrated and energized along the way. There is nothing to buy at the start nor during the hike or along the beaches. You’ll only find it in the town.
- Respect the park’s rules and regulations: To protect the delicate ecosystem of the park, visitors are asked to follow the park’s rules and regulations, including not feeding or touching the wildlife, not littering, and not snorkeling without a guide.
- Start early: At 2 pm, the park’s workers start from the middle of the hike and start walking towards both entrances ushering visitors to move towards the exit to get everyone out by 4 pm. If you haven’t reached the halfway point by 2 pm, you will be asked to turn around and walk back!
Guided Tour vs. DIY
I didn’t take a tour for this hike, but you might want to! Depending on where else you’re going in Costa Rica, you should definitely do a guided tour at some point on one of your hikes. The guides are excellent and point out animals that are elusive and add value to your visit.
For me, this was my last stop in Costa Rica, and I had done guided tours and seen tons of animals by this time, so I wanted to enjoy the walk by myself. I still luckily got to see tons of animals, including a snake, coatis, monkeys, iguanas, tons of birds, and even some funky mushrooms.
Cahuita National Park is an incredibly beautiful and diverse destination that offers you a chance to experience the natural beauty of Costa Rica up close. From hiking along the coastline to snorkeling in the coral reefs, there’s something for everyone to enjoy in this park. With its stunning beaches, vibrant rainforests, and abundance of wildlife, Cahuita National Park is truly a nature lover’s paradise!
I loved Cahuita National Park during my time backpacking Costa Rica— I hope this helped you better plan your visit!
Nina Ragusa is an adventurer, messy bun master, breakfast fan, and full-time travel blogger. She’s been abroad since 2011 and blogging on Where in the World is Nina? for nearly as long. Nina helps people like you move around the world while making money. She loves talking about how to work abroad and online to travel longer!