Cahuita National Park
Last Updated: Feb 02, 2014
Razed by the folds of ten thousand waves, the shimmering sands of Playa Blanca glow in the afternoon sunlight. The beach, Cahuita's most popular, is a testament to the illusory line where the land meets the sea, where Cahuita's lowland, coastal rainforest falls away and melts into amalgam of colors and shapes dwelling among the coral gardens off the coast. Each forest, filled with the strange, the bizarre and the amazing from the four-chambered stomachs of sloths that spend their lives grinding cecropia leaves to the color-changing camouflaged tentacles of octopus hiding amongst brain, fire and staghorn coral.
Location : Cahuita
Altitude : Sea level
Area : 2,732 terrestrial acres & 55,000 marine acres
Hours : 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily
Telephone : 2755-0461 or 2755-0302
Entrance fee : Donation
Cahuita National Park protects more than 57,500 acres of land and sea including almost 600 acres of living coral reef; one of only two reefs in Costa Rica. Snorkeling trips take visitors out to the coral gardens among more than 35 different species of reef. Within this specialized habitat live more than 125 species of fish like tropical parrot, trigger, butterfly, angel and lion fish all swimming around and among the reef. Snorkelers often encounter harmless nurse sharks lying along the sea bottom, sting rays waffling over the sand and lobsters hiding in the shade of a rock or chunk of coral.
Back on land, Cahuita National Park has a five-mile trail that begins by the Kelly Creek park entrance along the southern edge of Cahuita town and winds along the coastline around Cahuita Point and Puerto Vargas Point before doubling back toward Puerto Vargas. Along the way, visitors walk among hard-packed sand trails beside the coastline, over bridges through the park's marshlands and through the park's secondary forest past lagoons and beaches.
The remnants of old farms and piers remain from decades past, before Cahuita National Park's inception in 1970. Mango, water apple and banana trees flourish in the holes among the canopy while capuchin monkeys play happily and stalk along branches searching for ripe fruit to eat. Howler monkeys, two- and three-toed sloths, green iguanas and more than 400 species of birds dwell among the forest canopy while down below armadillos, anteaters, coatis, raccoons and agoutis scurry across the forest floor.
Cahuita National Park is generally hot and humid year-round. Unpredictable rain showers are common in the area, though the drier months are March, April, May, September, October and November.
Bird and Wildlife Watching: The park is populated with howler and capuchin monkeys, two and three-toed sloths, toucans, iguanas, butterflies, frogs, snakes, anteaters, raccoons, agoutis and other wildlife. Guided nature tours are highly recommended.
Turtle Tours: The park’s southern tip is a nesting site for loggerhead, leatherback and the hawksbill sea turtles from March through October. Be sure to check with park rangers before walking through turtle nesting areas.
Hiking: Cahuita National Park offers light hikes along mostly sandy trails. Trek over bridges mangrove swamps, past tropical vegetation to the crystal seas off Cahuita and Vargas points. Several area tour operators offer informative hiking tours. During heavy rains, the trails may be very muddy and difficult to navigate.
Scuba Diving: When the waters are calm and the visibility is good, divers can enjoy more than twenty dive sites between Cahuita and Manzanillo, where you'll find Costa Rica’s only two living coral reefs. The colorful, underwater worlds are full of life, including angelfish, triggerfish, sharks and parrotfish. Off of the park’s coast, two shipwreck dives include cannons and other antiquities.
Snorkeling: Cahuita offers the best snorkeling in the Caribbean. For the best visibility, visit Cahuita National Park from February to April, when the ocean waters are relatively free of river silt. Snorkeling equipment can be rented from hotels and beachfront kiosks..
Swimming: The park’s two beaches, Playa Blanca and Playa Vargas, stretch for almost nine miles; great for sunbathing, but swimmers should always check with park rangers before entering the water – tides can be strong, and are subject to constant change depending on the weather.
Canoeing: Several tour operators offer relaxing canoe trips down the park's rivers, many of which empty into ocean waters protected by the national park. See a quieter, less-touristy part of the park on canoe and kayak tours.
A five-mile, mostly flat, coastal walking trail leads from the Kelly Creek Ranger Station south to Puerto Vargas Ranger Station. Those who complete the coastal trail must either turn back towards Kelly Creek, or hike an additional 1.2 miles to the Puerto Vargas Ranger Station. From Puerto Vargas, hikers may catch a public bus or walk back to Cahuita.
Flora & Fauna
Playa Vargas, at the southern tip of Cahuita National Park, is a nesting site for three species of sea turtles. Green sea turtles nest July through October while the hawksbill and loggerhead turtles from February through May.
Monkeys, sloths, iguanas and other tree-dwelling animals are common sightings at the park, augmented by rummaging armadillos and coatimundi, vibrantly-colored venomous snakes, several species of bat and more than 400 bird species.
At Cahuita Point, located at the end of Playa Blanca, troops of white-faced monkeys often beg tourists for food. Please do not feed the monkeys. High-calorie fruits and nuts are bad for their health and may encourage a dependence on humans and lead to aggressive behavior.
Cahuita National Park has two ranger stations. At the north end, near Cahuita town, the Kelly Creek Ranger Station (2755-0461) charges a voluntary donation per person. To the south, visitors will find the Puerto Vargas Ranger Station (2755-0302).
- Rain Gear: The weather is often unpredictable within the national park, so it is best to go prepared.
- Insect Repellent: Mosquitoes and other biting insects are common along Cahuita National Park’s coastal hiking trails, so take plenty of insect repellent on your hike.
- Cool Clothing: This area is often hot and humid, so dress in cool, cotton clothing. Don’t hesitate to wear your bathing suit, as quick ocean dips are a very enjoyable way to keep cool.
- Hire a naturalist guide: guides are worth every penny – they are full of interesting facts and know exactly where to look for camouflaged wildlife.
The Kelly Creek Ranger Station entrance is located at the southern end of downtown Cahuita.
The Puerto Vargas Ranger Station entrance is less than a mile south of the main entrance to Cahuita town. Just take the main road (Route 36) south toward Puerto Viejo and follow road signs to Puerto Vargas.