Cahuita: Culture and Calm on the Caribbean

Last Updated: August 31, 2019

Though humble in size, Costa Rica has distinct differences in its culture from one destination to the next. On the country’s east coast, for example, Afro-Caribbean traditions mix with Latin American heritage to create a unique island feel. The small beach town of Cahuita is the perfect place to experience this laid back vibe. With waves lapping the all-but-empty beaches, locals riding bicycles through town, and the aroma of jerk chicken wafting between the brightly painted buildings, visitors will shed the stress in no time. Add to that a national park that is full of wildlife and it is surprising that Cahuita has stayed so small. In this post, we’ll give you all the details you need to plan your visit, including some of our favorite activities, restaurants, and hotels.

Cahuita, Costa Rica - Culture and Calm on the Caribbean

Location and Orientation

Cahuita is located about 3-4 hours from the capital of San Jose on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast. It is a 40 minute drive south of the port city of Limon and 20 minutes north of the popular beach town of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. Cahuita is best known for its national park and authentic cultural feel. The tiny grid-shaped downtown consists of only a few blocks but packs in a lot of local flair. Several good restaurants, a few bars, small shops, and neighborhood homes make it a fun place to explore. On the dusty dirt road going north of town, you’ll find secluded beaches and quaint lodging options tucked into the jungle setting.

Cahuita, Costa Rica Destination Guide - Main Street in Town
Main street in Cahuita

When to Visit

The weather on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica is best described as tropical. Sunny and hot mornings are perfect for activities but often bring afternoon thunderstorms or evening downpours. This helps keep the jungle lush and green. Though it is worth visiting any time of year, the driest months and calmest seas tend to be in September and October. These months are typically the rainiest in other parts of Costa Rica. For more about Costa Rica’s weather patterns, see our post Weather in Costa Rica.

Activities in Cahuita

Cahuita is appealing for those looking to see wildlife, enjoy beaches, and, most of all, explore the local culture. Below are some activities that will allow you to do just this. See the Booking a Tour section later in this post for information on how we can help you arrange your activities in Cahuita.

Cahuita National Park

A trip to Cahuita wouldn’t be complete without a visit to this lush swath of protected rainforest. We have visited several times and have always seen sloths, monkeys, lizards, the occasional snake, and many kinds of birds. Run by a community organization, the park has two entrances. One is in town (this is the most commonly used) and the other is 5 km (3 miles) south off the highway.

From the entrance near town, a trail runs along the coast and then crosses a river. After the river, the trail continues to a point, turns, and eventually reaches the southern entrance (about 8.3 km/5.2 miles in total, each way). Entering from the southern entrance, a new raised walkway meanders through a forested wetland and then along the beach, around the point, passing the river, and eventually back to the town of Cahuita.

To see the most wildlife, we recommend hiring a guide. You can see a lot on your own if you go slowly, but a guide will be able to spot more with their trained eye. On our last visit, a guide pointed out an eyelash pit viper snake that we never would have seen on our own as it was hidden deep in the bushes.

We work with some excellent naturalist guides in the Cahuita area. See the section on Booking a Tour, below, for more information on how to arrange a guided tour.

Cahuita National Park in Costa Rica
Thick vegetation on the trail in Cahuita National Park

Snorkeling

Part of the protected area of Cahuita National Park extends into the ocean, protecting the local marine life as well. A large coral reef sits off the point and is a great place to explore with a snorkel and mask when conditions are right. 35 different coral species and over 120 different fish have been identified here. Snorkeling can be done only with a guide, and tours (around $60 per person) include a boat ride out to the reef, snack, and guided hike back through the reserve. See the Booking a Tour section, below, for info on how to reserve a snorkel tour. 

Tree of Life Wildlife Sanctuary

Tree of Life is an amazing rehabilitation center that cares for local wildlife that has been injured or illegally held as pets. They release the animals that are able to be rehabilitated and give the not-so-fortunate ones a good home in spacious enclosures. Some of the wildlife you might see includes monkeys, sloths, white-tailed deer, freshwater turtles, parrots, and coati (raccoon-like animals with long snouts). The guided tour takes you through scenic gardens and includes interesting facts about local spices, fruits, cacao, and other plants. Tours can be arranged by contacting Tree of Life through their website. Located on the dirt road going north of town near Playa Grande. Reservations required. 

Sloth at Tree of Life Wildlife Center
Two-toed Sloth at Tree of Life Wildlife Center

Indigenous Culture Tour/Hike

Several indigenous groups still exist in Costa Rica. These cultures, which settled the land long before the Spanish, continue to hold many of their cultural beliefs and practices. Some even still speak their own language. A visit to a Bribri group near Cahuita will allow you to meet some families and learn about their way of life.

There are a couple of options for tours. One has easier access and focuses on chocolate making, medicinal plants, crafts, and visiting a waterfall. There is also an extended version where you get to meet the Shaman-type figure of the village and take part in a small ceremony. Another tour offers a challenging hike to a remote village where you will learn about medicinal plants, observe a variety of birds, visit a family to learn about their culture, and see a different waterfall. 

Cultural tours range from $55-85 per person. See the Booking a Tour section, below, to get more information or make a reservation.

Booking a Tour

Need help booking activities for your time in Cahuita? We work with reputable tour operators in the Cahuita area and would be happy to help you with your reservations. Contact us through our Tour Booking Service page or send us an email to bookings(at)twoweeksincostarica(dot)com with info about your group and the tours you would like to do. Booking through us costs the same and helps support our website!

Beaches

A laid-back beach town wouldn’t be complete without some shady palm trees and swishing waves. Cahuita has a few excellent beaches to explore. Playa Blanca near the national park entrance is a small cove with light tan sand that is probably the best for swimming or wading, though there are still waves and rip currents. Playa Negra, a dark gray sand beach, sits a little north of town and tends to have fewer people. Playa Grande, another gray sand beach, is farther north on the dirt road and is the most secluded. It is best for surfing or a long walk.

Cahuita, Costa Rica Destination Guide - Playa Blanca
Playa Blanca, right outside the entrance to Cahuita National Park

Restaurants in Cahuita

Cahuita has a mix of cuisine. You will find many restaurants run by locals who serve up traditional Costa Rican food with Caribbean flair. Expats who now call Cahuita home also have brought international offerings. Italian is one of the most common.

Sobre Las Olas

Sobre Las Olas (On the Waves) is true to its name with a fantastic location on the water. They have a big menu with a lot of local fish and seafood. There is no lunch menu, it’s the same one all day long, so be sure to come with an appetite. Prices are on the high side for the area, but the view makes it worth it. Try to snag a table outside on the sand if you can.

Recommended Restaurants in Cahuita - Sobre Las Olas
View from one of the oceanfront tables at Sobre Las Olas

Pizzeria Cahuita

When you have had your fill of traditional food, there is Pizzeria Cahuita. This restaurant is run by Italians who know how to make a delicious pie. The thin-crust pizza is cooked in a wood-fired oven. The homemade pasta is great too. You can dine in their casual restaurant near the beach or take out is available.

El Girasol

For a nice dinner out, check out El Girasol. This intimate restaurant has simple, but delicious, Italian food made with quality ingredients. All of our pasta dishes were wonderful, and we loved the homemade complimentary bread. Having attentive service was also a plus.

Cahuita, Costa Rica Restaurants - El Girasol
Pasta in a light cream sauce with asparagus and prosciutto at El Girasol

Reggae Bar

If you’re looking for a place to just kick back, check out Reggae Bar. This super casual spot across from Playa Negra is a locals’ hangout that has been around for years. The view is great, the beers are cold, and the food isn’t bad either. Often has live music at night.

Cahuita, Costa Rica Restaurants - Reggae Bar
The view from Reggae Bar

Hotels in Cahuita

For such a small town, Cahuita has a sizeable selection of lodging. Although the options are diverse, all are small and locally owned. You won’t find any five-star resorts, but there are plenty of charming hotels with all the amenities.

A couple of tips: Much like the rest of Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, lodging in Cahuita often does not have air conditioning. If you are sensitive to the heat, be sure that your room has good air flow and fans, or A/C. Although it does cool down at night considerably, days can be hot and humid.

Buena Suerte B&B

Buena Suerte B&B is an excellent option if you’re on a budget. This simple bed and breakfast offers a handful of private rooms, some with air conditioning and others without. Those traveling without a car will appreciate the location, which is just outside town near the national park. Rates include a delicious, hearty breakfast. $35-55. Check Rates and Availability Here.

Marfi Inn

If you’re looking for apartment-style lodging, check out Marfi Inn. This small inn is centrally located in downtown Cahuita, but tucked away on a quiet side street. In addition to being close to several restaurants, right on the property is El Girasol Restaurant, one of the most popular options in Cahuita. $60-150 (double occupancy). Check Rates and Availability Here.

Hotel La Casa de las Flores

Next to Marfi Inn is Hotel La Casa de las Flores (the House of Flowers). We recently stayed in one of their brightly colored rooms and really enjoyed it. Rooms come standard with two queen beds and A/C and all face a quaint courtyard with flowering trees. The owners live on site and take pride in making sure that their guests have a pleasant experience. $90-110 (double occupancy). Check Rates and Availability Here.

Hotel Casa de las Flores in Cahuita, Costa Rica
Hotel La Casa de las Flores

Magellan Boutique Hotel

An excellent value for the area is Magellan Boutique Hotel. Although affordable, this small hotel has an upscale feel. The six contemporary rooms have been recently renovated and come with one king bed, A/C, and TV. Magellan is popular with couples. The hotel is located on a quiet side road about a 10 minute drive to town and short walk to the beach. Visitors love the pool area and lush landscaping, which attracts birds. $100-110 (double occupancy). Check Rates and Availability Here.

Magellan Boutique Hotel Cahuita, Costa Rica
Magellan Boutique Hotel

Kenaki Lodge

For a little more comfort, there’s Kenaki Lodge. This beachfront bed and breakfast has a couple of options for accommodations. The wooden bungalows are open and airy, with high ceilings, big windows, and modern amenities. For a similar experience on a budget, opt for a regular room. All units have a nice outdoor space facing the gardens. Kenaki Lodge is located at the far end of town and best accessed with a rental car. $65-220. Check Rates and Availability Here.

Villas New Caribe Point

Villas New Caribe Point is our pick for families and groups. The cute two-bedroom villas are designed like a typical Costa Rican home and offer plenty of space to spread out. Each has a kitchen and separate living room, and bedrooms have A/C. Villas New Caribe Point is located on a side street near Playa Negra, about 5 minutes from town. $100-130. Check Rates and Availability Here.

Villas New Caribe Point, Cahuita, Costa Rica
One of the villas at New Caribe Point

For such a small town, Cahuita leaves an impression. When we first visited several years ago, we were lured in by the laid back pace and vibrant culture. The abundant wildlife that we saw in the national park and simple natural beauty everywhere around us made a lasting impact. Years later, Cahuita still feel like an exotic destination to us. Though the town is simple in what it offers, if you are looking for an authentic experience in Costa Rica, we highly recommend it.

Last Updated: August 31, 2019

Have a question about your visit to Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast? Ask us below!

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you book a hotel using one of the links, we receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Read our Privacy Policy for more information.

Looking for more information to plan your trip to Costa Rica? Read these posts:

Puerto Viejo de Talamanca: Caribbean Cool in Costa Rica – If you’re looking for a little more going on, you might like Puerto Viejo. This town is just south of Cahuita and offers beautiful beaches for swimming, tons of restaurants and hotels, and more things to do.

The Whistle that Drew Us In: Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast – This narrative, which we wrote shortly after our first visit to Cahuita, gives a feel for the culture and vibe of this area.

Tortuguero Off the Resort – Tortuguero is a fantastic destination for wildlife and commonly paired with Cahuita. Read our guide to this tiny village to learn how to visit as an independent traveler.

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19 Comments

  1. Sounds wonderful! I’m so excited! Given a choice between visiting here or Puerto Viejo which would you choose (in July, no car). Thank you!

    1. Hi Hannah, Both towns are good options if you won’t have a car but they are very different places so it is hard for us to recommend one over the other without knowing more about your travel interests/preferences. Cahuita is a lot quieter so if you want more going on, definitely go with Puerto Viejo. We also find the beaches in PV to be a little nicer than in Cahuita. Cahuita has a really cool laid back vibe, though, which makes it great in its own way, and the national park is awesome. We recommend reading our Puerto Viejo post to get a better sense of the differences between the towns.

  2. We will be arriving in Cahuita in Early July. Can we wait til we arrive to book tours? It is low season and weather looks stormy. Will we be able to snorkel?

    Can we use American money? Are credit cards broadly accepted?

    Your site is most helpful

    1. Hi Karyn, The weather on the Caribbean side is usually decent in July so don’t worry. And don’t rely on what the forecast says because it is not accurate for Costa Rica. Read our Weather post for why.

      Yes, US currency is accepted but it is better to use local colones so that you don’t have to worry about the exchange rate you’re getting with dollars. Read our Money post for lots of detail about that. Credit cards are accepted in most places in Costa Rica, but in Cahuita, they are accepted a lot less. Many of the small grocery stores and restaurants are cash only. So be sure to have plenty on hand. There is an ATM machine in town.

  3. Hi! Thanks for all the great info on your website. We are coming to CR for Christmas break and will be there 2 weeks. 1 week will be spent in Drake Bay. We are hoping to spend a few days at another beach area, but are really not big into crowds, so Guanacaste doesn’t seem like a good option. What would you recommend the week of Christmas? Thanks!!

    1. Hi Emily, To avoid the crowds, you could check out Montezuma on the southern Nicoya Peninsula (it’s more remote so usually isn’t as busy) or Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean side. We spent Christmas in Puerto Viejo a few years ago and it was perfect. It’s really spread out so there’s lots of room for everyone. Just don’t stay right in downtown Puerto Viejo where it can get crowded.

  4. Going for a side trip for about 3 day after third dental visit in San Jose. Am older and have been to La Fortuna andaMonteverde. Will be alone,and plan to go in May. Which do you recommend; Cahuita,or Tamarindo? Or Samara? Best

    1. Hi Laura, Any of those destinations would be good for a solo visit, it just depends on the type of experience you’re looking for. Cahuita is the smallest destination but if you stay in the downtown, there’s a little bit going on. Tamarindo is the largest. Samara might be a good balance in the middle. It has a nice central main area of town along the beach with restaurants and shops. We’d recommend reading our destination guides to each town to get a better feel. Hope that helps!

  5. Hello, We are two single middle age (wow, it pains me to write that 😉 women traveling alone in about two weeks. La Fortuna for 2 days then Cahuita for a week. We are prudent and use common sense. We will have a rental car. Are dinners our in the evening (not the middle of the night), safe for two women traveling alone?

    1. Hi Michelle, Yes, totally. As long as you exercise reasonable caution, you shouldn’t have any trouble. Both of those towns are safe but it’s still a good idea to drive back to your hotel after dinner instead of walk so good that you will have a rental car.

  6. Thanks for your reply. We have just returned and I agree. We drove to dinners and back, etc and even walked the’main’ block or two in town after dark and never felt unsafe. Other travels do be advised twice someone tried to pry the door open to get into our rental car to either steal stuff from inside (nothing in there) or the car itself. The first time was our fault as we were parked with other cars but near hiking so not a populated part of town. The second time was right near the entrance to the Cahuita Park in town.

  7. Hi! We, family of 5 including 3 young boys 11, 9 and 7) visited Santa Teresa last year in April and loved it. Looking to visit another region of CR that offers snorkeling but still with a chill vibe like ST. Suggestions?
    Thanks!

  8. My husband and I are also coming to San Jose for dentistry – in March. Right now, our dates are flexible. We want to find reasonable accommodations in Cahuita with air conditioning. Is one time in March likely to have better weather, or is it likely to be the same all month? And, is this month okay weather-wise? We will have a car and would like to snorkel.

    Thank you!

    1. Hi Betsy, There’s not a significantly better time in March to visit Cahuita so just go with whatever works best for your schedule and hotel availability. Weather-wise, it’s a nice time of year to visit.

  9. Hi
    We will be traveling with kids ages 7 & 9. Would you recommend renting a car to get from San Jose to Cahuita vs. a private shuttle or bus? Also, for being out after dark if we’ll be out for dinner etc…? We plan to head to Tortuguero from there – is a one way rental a realistic option?
    Thanks!

    1. Hi Suzanna, It depends on where you are staying in Cahuita. If it’s not within walking distance of town, it’s easier to have a car to get to restaurants and things to do, especially with kids. One-way rentals are an option. You would probably return the car in Limon (see our rental car discount page for info on the company that we recommend. They have an office in Limon that would work). If you’re in town, you probably don’t need a car and could just take a shuttle from San Jose. Shuttles are also available for getting to Tortuguero after. If you decide to do shuttles and need help making the arrangements, please contact us through our Shuttle Booking page.

  10. Hi and thank you for all of the fun information. My wife, myself and two teenage kids will be traveling to cahuita for some beach time and I was looking an area or place that we could throw in some zip line or rafting on the way without extending our driving time from san jose too much. We are adventurous and will have a rental. I have rented and drove to the pacific coast one time before for a trip. Thank you in advance for your recommendations.

    1. Hi Nick, We work with a company that has a zip line tour and they also do hanging bridges and an aerial tram. It’s right on the way to Cahuita from San Jose. For rafting, the Sarapiqui or Pacuare Rivers are good options. Let us know if you’d like more information about these and we can send info by email about how to book them. Thanks!

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