Cahuita National Park, Costa Rica – wildlife spotting and postcard perfect beaches 6

Postcard perfect beaches. That’s what you can be sure of finding in Cahuita National Park. Probably some wildlife too if you’re lucky.

Punta Puerto Vargas, Cahuita NP, Costa Rica

Photo credit: Benjamin White

Cahuita National Park

Cahuita National Park is a small coastal reserve, just 1,000 hectares in size, located in southeast Costa Rica, not far from the border with Panama. It might be small, but it has much to offer. Hike for an hour or two along the beach trek and you’ll feel like you’re on a deserted island.

Your own deserted island.

In the Caribbean.

Playa Blanca, Cahuita NP, costa rica

Playa Blanca. Photo credit: Benjamin White

The hike starts from the town of Cahuita. Register in the park office on Playa Blanca (White Beach) before setting off. There is no fee to enter the park, but a donation is expected.

The hiking trail, Cahuita NP, Costa Rica

The hiking trail. Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

Once inside the park you can choose to walk along the beach or on a trail through the littoral rainforest. The beach is spectacular, but the jungle is where you’ll spot wildlife

White-headed Capuchin, Cahuita NP, Costa Rica

White-headed Capuchin. Photo credit: Benjamin White

I managed to spot quite a bit of wildlife on my hike, including monkeys, agouti, toucans, and iguanas. If you’re keen to see monkeys make sure to spend plenty of time scanning the canopy.

Mantled Howler, Cahuita NP, Costa Rica

Mantled Howlers. Photo credit: Benjamin White

We saw at least four groups of monkeys, but we met others who walked the track at almost the same time as us and saw none. Keep yours eyes peeled. I spent so much time looking at the canopy I got a neck ache.

Butterfly, Cahuita NP, Costa Rica

Photo credit: Benjamin White

The best time to see animals is at sunrise, but if you’re like me, and not much good before 9am, there’s still hope.

Squirrel, Cahuita NP, Costa Rica

Photo credit: Benjamin White

Monkeys aren’t the only things in the canopy. It’s also where you’ll spot iguanas (the one I saw was too high up and too obscured by foliage to warrant a photograph) and squirrels. The squirrel in the photo is feasting on a crab that it just plucked off the beach.

Agouti, Cahuita NP, Costa Rica

Agouti. Photo credit: Benjamin White

Agouti, a relative of guinea pigs, are shy creatures. This one was seen way off in the distance drinking at the edge of creek. It bolted as soon as I moved towards it.

Basilisk Lizard, Costa Rica

Basilisk Lizard. Photo credit: Benjamin White

Basilisk lizards, found throughout Central America, are also known as Jesus Christ Lizards due to their ability to walk on water.

Friendly sting ray, Cahuita NP, Costa Rica

Friendly stingray. Photo credit: Benjamin White

A friendly stingray showed up while I was taking this photo of the beach. It cruised past me a few times, showing no fear, before heading out to the reef.

Oyster farm, Cahuita NP, Costa Rica

Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

While the beach looks postcard perfect the entire length of the trek, much of it is enclosed by reef, and thus it can be very shallow and awkward to swim in. The best places for swimming are at the start of the hike at Playa Blanca, and near the end of the hike at Playa Puenta Vargas.

Punta Puerto Vargas, Cahuita NP, Costa Rica

Photo credit: Benjamin White

For those who wish to snorkel, make note that you can only do so with a guide. The reef systems in Costa Rica have sustained serious damage over the years, the staff at Cahuita National Park are doing what they can to preserve this one.

Punta Puerto Vargas, Cahuita NP, Costa Rica

Photo credit: Benjamin White

The hike is only eight kilometres in length, but it gets mighty hot during the middle of the day, so bring plenty of water with you. There are no shops, and no public infrastructure.

It’s just you and your own deserted island.

Practical information and how to reach Cahuita National Park:

There are several public buses that make the trip between Cahuita and San Jose every day. Trip time is 4 hours. More transport info here.

More on Costa Rica:

Tenorio Volcano NP – how blue is Río Celeste in the wet season?

Do you speak any English, Santa Elena

More on Central America:


Granada – longstanding rival of León 

Ometepe – twin volcanos, lenticular clouds, and capuchin monkeys


Portobelo – pirates, pirates, and more pirates

Panama City – city of skyscrapers paid for by the Panama Canal


Lago de Yojoa – sleepy, serene, and safe

Copán – powerful Mayan city and its Hieroglyphic Stairway

More of my favourite beaches:

Anse Source d’Argent, La Digue, Seychelles – is it the perfect beach?

Secret Lagoon Beach, El Nido, Philippines – the true setting of Alex Garland’s ‘The Beach’

Or visit my alluring beaches page.

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