Once prevalent throughout the entire Costa Rican Caribbean, Great Green Macaw populations have declined alarmingly…
Today, I’d planned for us to take the short drive up Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast from where we were staying in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca to the small town of Cahuita, which is the gateway to Cahuita National Park – where I’d booked us on a snorkelling and walking tour of Cahuita National Park.
The drive to Cahuita took no time at all. It is not difficult to find your way around the town as it is tiny, and we quickly found the tour office of Willie’s Tours, which was no more than a shack. Karen had to use the bathroom, which was pretty sketchy and we got a warning about being careful of the mosquitos. Nobody wants their bum bitten.
Cahuita National Park was established in 1970 to protect a large coral reef off the Caribbean coast. Unfortunately, the reef is struggling for survival. An earthquake in 1991 lifted a large portion of the coral by about three meters (10 feet), some of it was exposed to the air and sun at low tide and rapidly perished.
The weather had been a little stormy which made the sea agitated. All this meant the snorkelling was off the agenda. We were offered our money back or just do the walking part of the tour. As we were leaving the area the next day we opted for the walking tour.
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.
As we were talking our guide arrived and we followed him down to the Park Station where there was also a dock. Although we were not snorkelling we were taking a boat to Punta Cahuita at the end of the peninsula. Our boat was pulled up onto a beach of sorts but was being pushed around by the swell of the sea. We had to climb over the side of the boat, which was high, as it bobbed on the waves. No easy task. They managed to find some steps and somehow we managed to scramble aboard and set off to Punta Cahuita.
Once out on the water, it was smooth sailing. The water was very shallow and even with our small boat, there was a good chance of running aground. Luckily, the captain of our boat was very knowledgeable of these waters. Another strange sight was large trees and bushes floating in the sea. Apparently, this happened during the last hurricane to hit the coast of Costa Rica.
Our journey continued and a few minutes later we reached our destination, Punta Cahuita. The boat pulled up onto the beach and we scrambled over the side. The plan was for us to walk the one and a half miles, with our guide Luis, back to the village of Cahuita.
The trail follows the beach line, the interior of the peninsula is thick rainforest (you would definitely need a machete in there and of course, there are snakes to contend with. Apparently, the beach line has been changing rapidly in recent years due to rising sea levels and powerful storms. You can only wonder what this might look like in a few decades’ time. Will there still be a peninsula here? In several places, the trail is actually along the beach. As you get closer to the village the trail becomes a lot more defined. It is a very flat and easy trail, and apart from the odd tree root and rock on the beach, it was easy to navigate.
Walking through Cahuita is a good chance to see wildlife. If you are really lucky, you might get to see an eyelash viper (we didn’t). More likely to be spotted are sea birds, such as cormorants and brown boobies and animals such as sloths, racoons and white-faced capuchin monkeys. The sloths are actually the hardest to spot as they don’t move very much, so it is great to have a guide along with you with a trained eye. Luis pointed out a couple of two-toed and three-toed sloths quietly hanging in the trees. The racoons are much easier to spot! Living in the United State we have seen many racoons, but the ones in Costa Rica hang out during the day. Back home this would be concerning as there is always a suspicion that a racoon out during the day might have rabies – no such worry here. A family of racoons passed us walking nonchalantly along the trail as if they were out for a morning stroll. A little further down the path, we met up with them again. They were on the beach, competing with the white-faced capuchins to steal peoples’ food and possessions. If you decided to spend time on a beach in Costa Rica beware that there are some little white-faced thieves lurking in the jungle, just waiting to pounce and steal from you (and not just food!). It is quite difficult to scare these monkeys away, they are quite ballsy, and can get aggressive. They will also bite if you get too close and they have big, spikey teeth!
After an hour or so, we reached Cahuita. By this time we were a bit peckish and took Luis’ advice on which restaurant to go to. I suspect it belonged to a cousin or some other relative of his. The waiter came over and asked whether we wanted to see a three-toed sloth. This sounded a bit dodgy, so I looked after the bags whilst Karen disappeared upstairs with the waiter. Would I ever see her again? In hindsight, this was probably not wise – but it turned out there was a mother and baby sloth hanging in the rafters of the restaurant. Karen did safely return, just in time for the arrival of our rice and beans (again) and Pilsen beer. Beer in Costa Rica is mostly lagers, and not our usual tipple (we prefer darker beers) but they were cold and refreshing. In fact, after three weeks in Costa Rica, we did get to quite like the local beer
The weather was deteriorating by the time we left Cahuita but I wanted to see if we could find some local waterfalls I had read about; the BriBri Sparkling Waterfalls.
Costa Rica is home to about eight main indigenous groups with the BriBri population being one of the largest indigenous tribes in Costa Rica. Located deep into the southern Caribbean region of Costa Rica, the BriBri indigenous people reside throughout the Talamanca Mountain range and southern islands isolated from others.
Travelling along the main road between Cahuita and Puerto Viejo, road 256, there is a turning onto road 36 in the village of Hone Creek. If you travel to end of this road you will come to the village of Sixaola which lies on the border with Panama. After just a few miles there were signs for BriBri Sparkling Waterfalls, and we pulled into what looked like someone’s front yard. A kindly old gentleman pointed out to us where to park, there was not a lot of space, and we paid our fee of a few Colones. The trail down was steep and a little treacherous due to the rain, but luckily it was not long before we reached the bottom, where the river was running through a valley. As we walked we noticed a tiny red frog, which turned out to be a poison dart frog. Their name stems from poison contained in their skin that native Colombian tribes used for poison on their arrows. They just had to rub the arrows on their backs (sometimes while roasting the frog). When shot into their prey animal of choice, the poison would enter the blood circuit and paralyse it.
The BriBri Sparkling Falls have two drops, the smallest of which is just a few feet and it has a pool at its base. This was the first waterfall we reached. Onwards and upwards and onto the main falls. This waterfall was a lot higher and it too had a pool at its base with a small number of people in it. The weather was not marvellous so I suspect this is what kept the crowds at bay! As we looked at the waterfall we noticed a young man at the top of the falls, before we could work out what he was up to he leapt from his perch and splashed into the pool below. Unbelievable! He was soon out of the water and climbing up the cliff face like a mountain goat. We watched to see if he jumped again, but no. After this, I decided to brave the waters of the pond – and boy was it chilly! Karen, being far more sensible, decided not to venture in. Needless to say, I didn’t stay in the water for too long. We went down to the smaller, lower set of falls – this time we both got into the pool.
Planning your visit to Cahuita National Park
|Address:||Av. 71 215, Limón, Costa Rica|
For the Playa Blanca sector:
For the Puerto Vargas sector:
If you enter through the Playa Blanca entrance, next to the town of Cahuita, the fee is a voluntary cash contribution.
If you enter through the Puerto Vargas sector, non-resident foreigners and non-resident children pay $5.65 (VAT included), resident nationals ¢1,130 (VAT included) and children ¢565
Best time to visit Cahuita
The area’s climate is very unpredictable, but one thing is certain: it is often said that when the rest of Costa Rica is rainy, it’s time to head out to the dry Caribbean. The best months to visit Puerto Viejo are February to April and August to October.
Other things to do whilst in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
If you are looking for some adventure, Puerto Viejo offers so much: white water rafting the famous Pacuare river, off-road ATV driving, canopy zip lining through the rainforest, horseback riding on the beach or into the jungle, cycling, fishing, surfing, boogie boarding, stand-up paddling. You really won’t find it hard to make your time in Puerto Viejo full of excitement!
There are many animal and jungle tours in the area. If you are up to having up-close experience of the jungle at night, your local guide can take you into the forest after sunset, where you can experience the wildlife and noises of the jungle at dark! Or you may wish to spot Leatherback turtles nesting when visiting the local Gandoca National Park.
Here are some ideas of things to do during your stay in Puerto Viejo.
1. ARA MANZANILLO
Ara Manzanillo is a sanctuary for the endangered Great Green Macaw, which was once prevalent in the Caribbean coastal regions of Panama and Costa Rica. It is estimated that only 2500 now live in the wild.
The Ara Manzanillo project is one of the programmes aiming to reverse the decline of these beautiful birds. The birds are free-flying and not bound by any enclosures. They could leave if they wished. The sanctuary offers tours 2 times a day. This was definitely our favourite activity in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca.
2. JAGUAR RESCUE CENTER
3. SLOTH SANCTUARY
The Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica is the original rescue center for injured, orphaned and abandoned sloths. Founders Judy Avey-Arroyo and Luis Arroyo purchased the property to offer birding tours on the Estrella River. Originally known as Aviarios del Caribe, this 320-acre lush tropical lowland rainforest was formerly inhabited by banana plantations. The government of Costa Rica officially declared the property a privately-owned biological reserve in 1975.
4. WHITE WATER RAFTING ON THE PACUARE RIVER
Looking for a thrilling day out then, you must go on a Pacuare River rafting.
The Pacuare River is known as one of the best places in the world for white water rafting because of the number of rapids so close together. In fact, on this rafting tour from Puerto Viejo, you will actually go through around 50 rapids of a 29 kilometre (18 miles) section of the river. The rapids range from class II to IV, meaning you’ll have some really relaxing parts as well as a few more extreme sections.
Not only is it exciting, the Pacuare River is known as one of Costa Rica’s most beautiful rivers. You’ll even see waterfalls!
Where to stay in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
1. VILLAS DEL CARIBE
2. ROOTS FAMILY – BACKPACKER HOSTEL
3. RELAX NATURAL VILLAGE
Puerto Viejo is a laid back town and you will not find any big resorts here. If you are looking for a relaxing and luxurious stay, then Relax Natural Village is a good choice. Located just on the outskirts of town, this hotel has a resort feel being set in nature – and it’s quiet! All rooms are modern with luxury finishes you’d expect and it is right across from Playa Cocles beach. There is a large pool on site and breakfast is included in the room rate.