Cahuita National Park
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Cahuita’s 14 kilometers of beaches are shaded by palm trees, lush forests, marshlands, and mangroves. Together they make up Parque Nacional Cahuita (1,067 hectares), created in 1970 to protect the 240 hectares of offshore coral reef that distinguish this park from its siblings.
Animal life abounds in the diverse habitats—an ideal place to catch a glimpse of tamanduas, pacas, coatis, raccoons, sloths, agoutis, armadillos, iguanas, and troops of howler and capuchin monkeys, and to focus your binoculars on ibis, rufous kingfisher, toucans, and parrots (and even, Dec.–Feb., macaws). Cahuita’s freshwater rivers and estuaries are also good places to spot caimans.
The offshore reef lies between Puerto Vargas and Punta Cahuita. Smooth water here provides good swimming; it’s possible to wade out to the edge of the coral with the water only at knee level. At the southern end of the park, beyond the reef, huge waves lunge onto the beach—a nesting site for three species of turtles—where tidepools form at low tide. Check with rangers about currents and where you can walk or snorkel safely.
Snorkelers can try their luck near Punta Cahuita or Punta Vargas (you must enter the water from the beach on the Punta Vargas side and swim out to the reef). Snorkeling is only permitted with a guide or organized snorkeling tour. Up to 500 species of fish gambol among the much-diminished reefs.
Besides what remains of the coral, there are scant remains of two old shipwrecks about seven meters below the surface, both with visible ballast and cannons; one wreck has two cannons, and the second, a more exposed site, has thirteen. The average depth is six meters. The best time for diving and snorkeling is during the dry season, February–April; water clarity during the rest of year is not good because of silt brought by rivers emptying from the Talamanca mountains.
Gangs of capuchin monkeys may beg for tidbits, often aggressively. Many folks have been bitten. Feeding wild monkeys with human foodstuffs alters their habits and can adversely affect their health. Don’t feed the monkeys!
A footbridge leads into the park from the Kelly Creek Ranger Station (tel. 506/2755-0461,6 a.m.–5 p.m. daily, entry by donation), officially known as Puesto Playa Blanca, at the southern end of Cahuita village. A shady seven-kilometer nature trail leads from the Kelly Creek Ranger Station to the Puerto Vargas Ranger Station (tel. 506/2755-0302, 8 a.m.–4 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 7 a.m.–5 p.m. Sun., $10), three kilometers south of Cahuita midway along the park; the trail takes about two hours with time to stop for a swim.
The main for Cahuita National Park entrance is about 400 meters west of Highway 36, about three kilometers south of Cahuita (the Sixaola-bound bus will drop you off near the entrance). You can drive to Puerto Vargas from here; the entrance gate is locked after hours.
Camping is not permitted.
© Christopher P. Baker from Moon Costa Rica, 8th Edition