Cahuita: Culture and Calm on the Caribbean

Last Updated: February 9, 2024

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 nearly empty beaches, locals riding bikes 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, 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. 

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.

For lots more information on visiting the park, read our separate post, Cahuita National Park: Wildlife Just a Step Away.

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


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. 

Keep in mind that the snorkeling in Cahuita depends on favorable ocean conditions. For this reason, it’s usually best to wait to book a tour until you arrive.

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. These tours include things like chocolate making, medicinal plants, crafts, and visiting a waterfall.


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.

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 or take out is available. They also have a nice patio out back with a few tables overlooking the ocean.

Pizzeria Cahuita Tables Outside
The outdoor dining area at Pizzeria Cahuita

Asante Bistro Cafe

We were so happy to find Asante Bistro Cafe on a recent visit to Cahuita.

This super cool restaurant is tucked away on a quiet side road. They have playful, creative dishes. We loved our wrapped hamburger and crispy shrimp tacos. For the kids, they had quesadillas and fries served in a treasure box. You can dine on the swings outside or in the small air-conditioned indoor space. 

Asante Bistro
The bacon-wrapped burger at Asante

Soda Kawe

If you’re looking to scarf some authentic local food after visiting the national park, head to Soda Kawe just up the road.

This simple restaurant serves plates with classics like rice and beans with coconut milk alongside the fresh catch or Caribbean chicken. They also have other traditional Costa Rican food options like fried snapper, lunch plates with chicken, beef, or fish, and patacones (savory fried plantains).

Caribbean food Soda Kawe
Fresh Caribbean-style fish and rice and beans at Soda Kawe

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.

Marfi Inn

If you’re looking for basic apartment-style lodging, check out Marfi Inn. This small inn is centrally located in downtown Cahuita, but tucked away on a quiet side street. It’s in a convenient location, close to several restaurants so a good option if you won’t have a rental car. $65-80 (double occupancy). Check Rates and Availability Here.

Hotel Boutique La Casa de las Flores

Next to Marfi Inn is Hotel Boutique La Casa de las Flores (the House of Flowers). We have 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. $130 (double occupancy). Check Rates and Availability Here.

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

Playa Negra Guesthouse

One of the most popular options in Cahuita is the Playa Negra Guesthouse. This boutique hotel has four colorful, Caribbean-style bungalows. They have two bungalows that hold up to 2 people and the two other bungalows can hold up to four people so are great for families. Playa Negra Guesthouse is located just outside town near the beach. $90-200. Check Rates and Availability Here.

A yellow house with intricate white trip and a porch, set in a tropical garden.
Playa Negra Guesthouse

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. The units share a pool. $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: February 9, 2024

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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.

Hiking the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge: This is another wonderful hiking option just south of Cahuita.

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.