Southeast of San Jose and south of Limon, the Cahuita National Park has a 6km trail parallel to the coastline through jungle and on the white sand beach. A footbridge leads into the park from the Kelly Creek Ranger Station (run by a local committee) at the southern end of Cahuita village. A shady 7km nature trail leads from the Kelly Creek Ranger Station to the Puerto Vargas Ranger Station three km south of Cahuita mid-way along the park. The trail follows an old road of packed sand in the woods just off the beach. You must wade the Perozoso ("Sloth") River--its waters stained dark brown by tannins--just west of Punta Cahuita. Near the Puerto Vargas Station, the route turns to doubletrack.
The trailhead is located at the Kelly Creek Park Entrance.
To reach the park from Limon, head south along the coast on RUTA 36 for about 40 miles. Look for the left turn heading east into the town of Cahuita. The park entrance is on the south side of the town next to the hotel.
Driving Directions from San José: If you are starting from downtown San José take Calle 3 out of town to where it becomes the Guápiles Highway (32) headed northeast. Continue to Limon where you turn South on 36 for Cahuita.
The hiking trail from the Kelly Creek station at Cahuita village, around the point to the Puerto Vargas is an excellent route to spot green ibis, yellow-crowned night herons, Northern boat-billed herons, Swainson toucans, keel-billed toucans, rufous kingfishers, and the Central American curassow.
Continuing south from the Vargas Ranger Station, there is the Hiung Trail which continues 5.5km to the park boundary at the Rio Carbon. Some adventurous hikers have even continued beyond Rio Carbon on the beach all the way to Puerto Viejo. This route is relatively unused and maybe signed as closed.
The villages of Cahuita and Puerto Viejo are not in the National Park, but their Caribbean attitude mixed with the multicultural community of locals and expatriates from North America and Europe are definitely a local attraction.
Here are some basic notes on driving in Costa Rica for the tourist. There is a myth about the quality of the roads and of VW bus sized pot-holes. This may have been true years ago, but on the main routes, this is no longer true. With that said, there are still numerous challenges for first time drivers in Costa Rica. First, do not expect much out of so-call “highways”, like the InterAmerican Highway. The fancy name makes the uninitiated think this is a major 4 lane divided, restricted access road. Well, yes, about 1% is. The rest is two lane (marginally), undivided, rural roads with tons of traffic constantly stopping, turning, passing or driving slowly. Like every other road in the country, you can expect to see on the road numerous unexpected cows, cyclists, pedestrians, bus stops, school crossing zones, dogs, mud slides, police check points, unannounced one-lane bridges, missing manhole covers, and, of course, a never ending stream of semi-trucks driving erratically fast. What you do not find on any roads is much signage. There are infrequent signs indicating the distance to the next town, and even more infrequent are road names or numbers (if at all), including even within major towns. To make matters worse, signs that used to exist are disappearing due to deterioration or theft. Also, do not expect drivers to use their head lights, even in a heavy rain shower, unless it is really dark. This makes passing in rain a game of roulette since you can't see the oncoming traffic. Speaking of dark, do not drive at night since the roads in some areas can be ruled by those under the influence of alcohol.
If you have to drive through San Jose, make sure to do it at dawn to avoid the horrendous traffic all day long, including weekends. Keep in mind several maps show highways passing through San Jose. This is not true. They end abruptly on the outskirts of town and you have to slug it out in a crazy stop-and-go traffic and many unmarked turns to get to the other side all day long. There are unsigned so-called by-pass routes around San Jose, but finding them can be a challenging game of trial-and-error, and they are only marginally better.
If you have to drive on the Nicoya Peninsula, you can expect to find generally better roads with better signage. However, there are numerous unmarked eroded road sides, especially over stream culverts. do not drive at night. Watch out for the iguanas sprinting across the road.
A GPS unit can be helpful when navigating roads, however, the maps in Costa Rica were created using a special map datum. This datum is not usually available on GPS units but the road base maps were created with it. Therefore if you use the default WGS84 datum with a base road map on the GPS unit, you will always show a position being about 0.5 miles to the north of the road base map.
When picking up a rental car, make sure to check all the tires for wear, check the spare tire pressure, check the tire jack, and make sure to test the lock on the spare tire. It would be wise to quickly purchase a can of Fix-A-Flat.
Overall, Cahuita National Park is the 13th most popular hiking trail of all 20 hikes in Costa Rica.
Local Contacts: Cahuita National Park (506) 755-0302 or (506) 755-0461 or (506) 775-0060; Costa Rican Tourism (866) 267-8274.
Best Season: Any
Average Difficulty: Easy
Base Camp: Primative camping permitted near Puerto Vargas Ranger Station
Luxury Loding: Almonds & Corals Lodge (506) 272-2024; Casa Viva, Puerto Viejo (506) 750-0089; Tree House (506) 750-0706
Breakfast Restaurant: Cafe El Rico or Pan Pay in Puerto Viejo Talamanca
GPS: 9.73654, -82.83928
Date Published: 1/5/2016
Date Updated: 7/15/2016
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For hiking the Cahuita National Park in Costa Rica, our printable trail guides offers trail descriptions, maps, lodging suggestions, driving directions, levels of difficulty and points-of-contact.