It is probably one of the smallest national parks I’ve ever visited but it has a level of biodiversity that would make many larger parks weep…and Parque Nacional Cahuita is only a short stroll from Cahuita village making it one of the most accessible.
The park is divided between the ocean, which contains one of costa Rica’s few remaining living reefs, and tropical forest lined with white sand beaches, which hosts a wide variety of birds, reptiles, insects, crustaceans and mammals. Thanks to a high and rough tide we didn’t go snorkelling on the reef, but we hired a local guide and spent four leisurely hours walking the well-marked trails in the park.
I have never been so grateful to have a guide; within thirty minutes of entering the park we’d seen more biodiversity than we’d seen since being in the Amazon several months earlier: monkeys, sloths, agouti, snakes, crocodiles, birds and iguanas all made it onto our ‘spotted’ list. It costs US$20 for a guide, yet we met several people without guides who hadn’t seen a single animal.
Perhaps the highlight of the visit, if it can be described as that, was spotting the small but deadly snake, the Yellow Eyelash Viper – if you get bitten you have 2 – 3 hours to get to medical assistance before death. We would never have spotted this colourful and deadly bundle of fun, which is all the more reason never to go into the jungle without a guide, but once spotted it is hard to look away.
The park is also packed full of plants and insects. I saw a very pleased looking squirrel munching on a fresh almond plucked right off the tree. There are literally millions of leaf-cutter ants and, my old friends, mosquitoes. It was a brilliant experience, the park is free to enter (donations welcome) and you can use the beach and swim in the ocean after you’ve finished looking for wildlife.