The Cahuita and Puerto Viejo region on the Caribbean coast offered us one last chance at Costa Rica beaches, bike rides, and national parks. The added bonus is that the towns are also close enough to the Panama border that you can stay here a while before crossing, giving you a great base before travel and wonderful towns to explore full of alternative sights and lazy days spend laying in the sun.
Wanting to make the most of the national parks that Costa Rica has on offer, we decided to stay in the quieter town of Cahuita, where the Cahuita National Park is of course located. What is even better is that this national park has an entrance by donation, making it a great alternative to the more expensive Manuel Antonio National Park (post here). And do not think you are missing out if you only have time for one as they both offer up great walks in the jungle alongside wild beaches, with opportunities to spot sloths, monkeys, birds, and of course sea life.
To take full advantage of this park, we recommend starting at the main entrance in the town of Cahuita, and then walking the full trail which leads you to an alternative exit around a 10 minute bus ride from the town. From here you can either take a bus back to Cahuita, or in the opposite direction to Puerto Viejo. The walk itself is fantastic, with it being a lot quieter than Manuel Antonio with a lot more locals taking advantage of the price for a picnic with family.
We enjoyed a quick swim in the ocean (though be careful of the strong current), and spotting animals all whilst taking our time in the beachside trail. The highlights included spotting a small yellow viper snake curled up on a tree, and a monkey attempting to take my water bottle right off my backpack (the cheeky bugger)!
After spending the day at Cahuita National Park, we decided the next day should be in the more touristy town of Puerto Viejo. We had our sights set on the Jaguar Rescue Centre, as well as wanting to relax on the beautiful beaches along the way towards Manzanillo. We caught a local bus from Cahuita to Puerto Viejo (schedules here), and continued on the bus to be dropped off at the rescue centre for the early tour.
Whilst the entrance for this place is $20US, it really is worth the money to know you are contributing to keeping the centre running, the volunteers fed, and most importantly the animals looked after and rehabilitated! You can red a post by Rachel here on the centre itself, though if you love baby animals know that you won’t be disappointed here!
Many people that head to the centre actually go by bike instead of bus, with us doing so to save a little bit of time so we could enjoy Puerto Viejo more. However, a popular activity which looks amazing is to rent bikes in Puerto Viejo (for around $5US), and ride from town out towards Manzanillo stopping at some great and mostly deserted beaches including Playa Cocles and Punta Uva. We were fortunate enough to see some of the beaches along the way and they truly had a wild feel to them, alongside the privacy of taking the effort to get out of town.
With time dwindling, we made our way back into town and to what must be one of the best bakeries we have found on this trip. It is hard to say that as we must have been to thousands of “panaderias” as they are called in Spanish along our travels, but this place was something special! Called “De Gustibus” and located on the edge of town, you should definitely go here and make sure you get something sweet and savoury!
The rest of our time was spent exploring the streets of Puerto Viejo, relaxing and swimming on the beaches in the town itself, and finding some hidden gems back in the town of Cahuita including a weekend farmers markets (cacao products everywhere yum!). This was the perfect place to relax before making the border crossing into Panama, though of course the relaxing was only set to continue once we reached our next destination – Bocas del Toro islands (read about it here)!
If you are heading to the Cahuita or Puerto Viejo region we highly recommend staying in either Cabanas y Soda Sol y Mar in Cahuita which is very reasonable priced for private rooms and right near the entrance of the national park, or Rockin’ J’s in Puerto Viejo which gives you either the cheap option of hammocks, or the slightly more expensive dorm beds!
We hope you have a great time exploring this area, and if we can help guide you along the path a bit more send through a comment and we will answer any questions you might have!
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