Coming from Puerto Viejo, which is merely 25 minutes away by local transport, our first impression of Cahuita when stepping off the bus was along the lines of – “The town must be down that road somewhere.”
I mean, we arrived at the bus station, which is on the edge of town, but what we were about to discover was that town consisted of one main street that was 3-4 blocks long. And they’re small blocks.
Were we complaining? Not really.
Main Street and the centre of Cahuita
See the pic above? That’s the bustling heart of Cahuita. A supermarket, a handful of restaurants, an ice cream shop with about six flavours to choose from, a run down central park and a travel agency. To be fair, there are more restaurants and another supermarket, but that basically covers it.
Cahuita, for us, was about chilling out even more than we did in neighbouring Puerto Viejo. Not that we had much choice in the matter.
Aside from walking to nearby Playa Negra to get our feet wet or swing from tree branch on the beach, we swam in the pool where we stayed – Cabaña Cahuita. There’s the curiously-named Facefood right by the bus station; a friendly bakery that has some very tempting cakes, breads and excellent donuts. We’re kind of regretting not trying the epic sandwiches we watched them knock together.
If we weren’t chomping into donuts, were were sitting on a stool down on the main street at Batidos Cevicheria, a tiny canteen that does two types of ceviche – plain fish or mixed. It’s done Panamánian-style, meaning it’s pre-made and already curing in a tub in the fridge. The perfect cooling agent in this hot and humid climate.
Coffee and donut at Facefood
On the edge of town you can find its prized possession. Cahuita National Park. The country hosts numerous national parks, but this one reportedly trumps them all.
Thick, dense jungle that’s filled with wildlife and surrounding most of it is sandy or rocky beach. There’s just one trail that follows the shoreline, a very easy walk that virtually guarantees you to cross paths with white-face monkeys, sloths, raccoons, plenty of lizards and hermit crabs.
You may not see them, but you’re also bound to hear howler monkeys in the distance.
Anyone wishing to walk the trail can start at the registration office right by town. A small “donation” of $1 gives you entry and the trail basically leads around the shore and back to the highway.
We only went as far as the point, where we swam in the ocean and spotted two sloths dozing in a tree above the beach. Until a tour boat anchored and a gaggle of selfie stick-wielding gringos decided to kill the serenity.
A guided tour to Cahuita National Park includes a boat trip, snorkelling and drop-off in the park to spot animals. Expect to pay around for $65 for the tour.
La Fé Bumbata
What else is there to do in Cahuita? You could visit one of the nearby cocoa plantations and learn about how it’s grown, processed and turned into that chocolate you possibly adore.
Or you could eat more food.
The most popular place in town seemed to be Restaurante Cocos, a joint that dabbles in Tex-Mex, but for us the more interesting part of the menu is its Caribbean offerings, which are heavy in seafood. Try the Typical San José chifrito (3,200); a medley of rice, beans, pork, tomato, avocado, jalapeño and tortilla chips. Or go the arroz con pollo (3,900), one of the classics.
For more local food, head over the road to La Fé Bumbata, a much more low key set-up. Service is super friendly and their casados pollo (3,500) is one not to be missed. And the fact that it was delivered in containers by motorbike after we ordered it, means it’s probably cooked in someone’s home kitchen. No complaints here. I kinda wanted to seek out that kitchen and peer over the cook’s shoulder!
Park Hotel & Bar
Most people seem to booze at Restaurante Cocos or Ricki’s on the opposite corner, but if waterside drinks are more appealing, try Cahuita National Park Hotel. Find it by the small bridge that leads into the park entrance. They have a food menu, but drinks was all we needed as we chatted and watched the surf roll in.
Also on the main street is El Cangrejo Loco, which translates to The Crazy Crab. No crab on the menu here, but instead you’ll find a hodgepodge of pasta, paella, grilled meats and seafood and Spanish tapas. The wine-pouring is generous, thanks very much, and the food is home-style.
Right by Batidos Cevicheria is Baraka Bistro, probably the best meal we had in town. An Italian and French duo own and operate the bistro – he’s the chef and she’s the floor manager. Service is fab and the food is spot on. Expect to see French classics like like croque-monsieur, crêpes and tartare. Plus a few local dishes.
El Cangrejo Loco
The local bus runs from Puerto Viejo to Cahuita several times a day from the stop opposite Deelite ice cream shop on the waterfront. Tickets cost 750CRC and need to be purchased from the small office opposite La Parada cafe. Check the map for locations. Travel time is about 25 minutes.