Cahuita, Costa Rica’s laid-back chill-out Caribbean beach town

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Air plants grow on telephone wires in Cahuita

We never intended to go to Cahuita, but traveling is filled with happy coincidences and hastily-changed plans. After leaving Montezuma, our original plan was to head to Puerto Viejo on the east coast for a few days, then move on to Bocas Del Toro in Panama. But two things changed our plans: a hurricane named Otto and a guy named Cameron. We heard about the hurricane, at that point a tropical storm, while we were returning from Montezuma on the ferry. For a while we considered staying in San Jose but decided we’d check with the locals first, since they were more likely to know how dangerous the situation was. After arriving at the San José bus stop, we went to see how many people were waiting for the Puerto Viejo bus. There were loads of people, none of whom were concerned about the hurricane. Relieved, we bought our tickets and got on the bus with the locals, a group of hostel-hoppers, and one guy who didn’t seem like either—Cameron.

Cameron moved to Cahuita from the U.S. a few years ago and has become sort of a focal point in the community. He loves Cahuita and told us about how amazing it is, with great jungle hikes, beautiful beaches, and a national park. By the end of a six hour bus journey we were convinced that we should get off the bus with him instead of travelling on to Puerto Viejo. So we hopped off early and spent more than a week in this lovely seaside town.  This wasn’t intentional—we were planning to move on after a few days. But then tropical storm Otto became hurricane Otto, flooded parts of Panama and Costa Rica, and then moved northward and landward to hit Nicaragua. We figured we should stay put until things settled down.

For the family and friends, here’s the usual photo gallery. We are safe and sound (beacuse now we’re in Colombia and I’m two weeks behind on posts–see? Everything is normal).

For those of you travelling to Cahuita, or to Costa Rica’s east coast in general: don’t be deterred or freaked out if Costa Ricans warn you away from the east coast. It’s perceived as more dangerous than the rest of Costa Rica while actually being about the safe as the rest of the country. From talking with people, this perception seems to stem from racial-socioeconomic prejudices. But as usual, crimes of opportunity are the most prevalent, so don’t leave valuables exposed or unattended and use your common sense.

Cahuita Layout
Cahuita is a quiet, relaxed seaside town with a slow pace and wonderful people. It’s not the party-hearty destination that Puerto Viejo is, so if you’re looking for someplace away from the drink-till-dawn folks Cahuita is probably your place. The whole town is 5 streets that run towards the beach intersected by 3 streets running perpendicular, with roughly 20 restaurants and more than a dozen accommodation options. There are two main hubs of activity: the street leading into the national park and the Cahuita Bus Terminal. The street leading into the national park is where you can find most of the restaurants in the town, as well as tour guides and souvenir sellers. Cahuita Bus Terminal is where you’ll find buses to take you to other places, a bank and ATM, a post office, the cheapest grocery store in town, and the best fruit store in town.

Stay

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Hakuna Matata Hostel

We stayed at Hakuna Matata Hostel, located right next to the Cahuita Bus Terminal (but is surprisingly quiet). The owner is this old Italian guy, but he seems to have ceded the day-to-day of running the hostel to two younger Italian guys, Davide and Luciano. They were super chill and great to talk to. We got a private room for $30, which included use of a kitchen (which we used a LOT), a swimming pool (perfect for a midday dip), and all the hammocks we could want. There’s a ton of wildlife that hangs around the hostel, including birds and this little friend I found one morning in my boot:

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Look, buddy, if you’re going to stay, could you at least cough up a few hundred colones for the room?

Getting Around
We walked everywhere, although I think you can rent bikes at one place in town. There aren’t a lot of places you can’t get on foot. There’s also a lone guy who acts as a taxi—you’ll usually find him outside of the Bus Terminal, saying “taxi? Taxi?”

Do
Despite its size, there are tons of things to do in Cahuita! We couldn’t have been hurricane-stranded in a better place. Here are the highlights of what we did:

Old Reef Farm – This farm has over a hundred varieties of fruits growing on its grounds. Ramon, one of the co-owners, will show you around and let you have all the fruit you can carry for 10,000 colones.

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Tangerines at Old Reef Fruit Farm

Playa Negra – This local beach is a great place to jump in the waves and build castles in the black sand. It’s also where we passed most of the day of the hurricane, leading to some beautiful stormy shots.

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Hurricane weather at Playa Negra

Cahuita National Park – A huge national park that runs along the coast from Cahuita to Puerto Viejo, where you can see toucans, sloths, snakes, monkeys, and other wildlife. The hike is pretty intense, especially during high tide where it requires you to wade through a 3 ft deep river. Bring flip flops, as the paths are full of leafcutter ants that will bite you.

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Leafcutter ants struggle against the wind to reach their nest in Cahuita National Park

Jungle hikes – There are a few hikes that you can do around Cahuita that aren’t in the National Park, including one that goes to a waterfall. Contact Cameron or Ramón about these, as they’re hard to find on your own.

Send postcards – This is one of the few places we found a post office, so we seized the chance to send back our postcards. A fun fact we learned from Cameron: there are no addresses in Costa Rica! There aren’t even street names in most towns! Madness! Chaos! San Jose just got street names recently, which is why all of the streets are named by numbers (Calle 11, Avenida 7, etc.).

Eat
Our favorite soda (Costa Rican for diner/restaurant) in town was Soda Kawe, two intersections down from the national park entrance. The ladies running the soda are lovely, they have the best prices in town (2500-3500 colones per meal), and the food is excellent. The best thing to get the pollo casado – the pollo is a chicken perfectly marinated in Caribbean spices, and casado is the word for a standard lunch/dinner meal, which comes with rice, beans, and potatoes. Ask for it with “frycake” to get a tasty fried bread which you can use to soak up the tasty chicken juices:

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Comida tipica

If you happen to be there in town on a Sunday, you’re also in for a special treat. This is the only day of the week in which DelRita Patty has patties, which are a Jamaican specialty of flaky spiced dough wrapped around braised ground beef filling. They also have dessert patties, filled with baked banana or pineapple filling.

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The plantain patty

To find them, look for this sign: IMG_2052

…and this storefront:
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Lastly, if you’re travelling on the cheap like us, you’ll be eating most of your meals in the hostel kitchen. The cheapest grocery store is at the Cahuita Bus Terminal, where you can get bags of dried beans and dried rice for 600-900 colones each. Then pop over to the fruit store across the hall to grab some plantains and onions, and you’ve got almost everything you need to make comida típica (you can find our recipe for comida típica here).

In summary, Cahuita is a great place to spend a week relaxing in the sun, jumping in the ocean, and catching glimpses of animals in the jungle. If you go, say hi to Cameron for us!

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5 thoughts on “Cahuita, Costa Rica’s laid-back chill-out Caribbean beach town

  1. I,too, looked at that picture and liked the text underneath and your sense of humor. I had been very worried but Stoytcho’s dad almost convinced me that your experiences now are going to help you better manage your life later when you get back home.
    Also, it’s good to hear that there are good people everywhere. 🙂

    Like

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