Caribbean: Cahuita, Tortuguero and Barra Del Colorado

The Caribbean coast is synonymous of carnival and joy. It’s main city, Limón, is rich in history and tradition.

Home to large banana plantations, Limón was established as the main port for the exportation of the fruit in 1870. It hosts historical buildings like the Black Star Line, the Central Market and the remains of a vital railway.

Limón has a variety of hotels, cabins and restaurants.

Delicious Caribbean cuisine includes rice and beans (mixed with coconut milk and served with meat), pan bom (sweet bread with raisins and fruits), pati (spicy meat patty) and much more.

To get to the coast, visitors need to go through the Braulio Carrillo National Park. The park’s evergreen rainforest, waterfalls, canyons and duo color rivers will make the first part of the two and a half hour drive a tour to remember.

Once visitors pass the park, the heavy air will be the sign that they have reached the tropical lowlands of the Atlantic.


The charming town of Cahuita is located Southeast of Limón.

The town is perfect to catch a tan under the sun, enjoy the blue sea, get caught in an unexpected downpour, stroll in the smooth sand, follow trails into the rainforest, and when night falls, feast on delicious Caribbean cuisine by candlelight.

In addition to its charm, Cahuita also boasts a national park which shares the same name. The park protects marine habitats for crustaceans, lobsters, turtles, moray eels, algae, sharks, mollusks and one of the most important coral reefs on the coast.

The park also protects tropical forests and mangroves. The vegetation is a mix of forest and litoral woodland with a variety of coconut palms, almond trees and beach grapes.

The tropical forest is home to basilisks, raccoons, sloths, green iguanas, white-faced monkeys, porcupines, armadillos and numerous birds like the blue heron, king fisher, sparrow hawk and many others.

Tortuguero and Barra Del Colorado

The Tortuguero National Park and the Barra Del Colorado Wildlife Refuge are part of the Tortuguero Conservation Area, approximately 124,000 acres of protected rainforest, natural pools, lagoons and beach ecosystems. This is one of the eleven conservation areas in Costa Rica, a very hot and humid tropical rainforest.

Tortuguero is literally a long strip of land between the Atlantic Ocean and the lagoons that form the famous Tortuguero canals.

In Spanish, Tortuguero means “a place where turtles abound,” quite appropriate for this turtle haven. Between July and October thousands of green turtles arrive on this 15-mile stretch of beach to deposit their eggs. But the green turtle is not alone as other endangered turtles come here to nest, including the hawksbill, known for its magnificent protective shell, and the Leatherback, the largest of the sea turtles.

The Tortuguero National Park, located in the northern Caribbean region, was created in 1975 and has the important mission to protect the largest green turtle nesting grounds in the western Caribbean. Surrounding the beach, much of the biodiversity found in the wet tropical forest has yet to be seen by human eyes.

The entire park is full of waterways, and this abundance of water is what makes everything so green. The sun does shine, however, and when combined with drops of drizzle, it reflects the land like a giant, magical mirror.

The region has one of the highest annual rainfall rates in the world and protects important species of flora and fauna – some endemic – including reptiles, birds, and the manatee (the largest mammal in Costa Rica).

Also in the Northern Caribbean, the Barra Del Colorado Wildlife Refuge is a great option to visit year-round. The ecology of the refuge is similar to that of Tortuguero’s, and both can be enjoyed in a single day aboard one of the many boat tours available.

The refuge is divided into two sections, Barra Norte and Barra Sur (north and south), each one located opposite from the mouth of the Colorado River.

As in Tortuguero, the canals reflect light and images of the forest, with scores of amazing creatures camouflaged within. Sometimes only an expert’s eye can see them, because their natural protection enables wildlife to disappear among their surroundings. But boat guides know where to look and are eager to share these hidden marvels with visitors.

Barra Del Colorado Wildlife Refuge offers monkeys, iguanas, fresh water turtles, frogs, basilisk lizards, oropendolas, toucans, Kingfishers, unique flowers, butterflies and much more.

For nighttime turtle sighting, visitors must be accompanied by a qualified guide.

There are a few biological stations inside the park, manned by scientists and volunteers who study the various wildlife species and keep the area as impact-free as possible. This is because the two zones, Tortuguero and Barra del Colorado, are among some of the most endangered ecosystems on the planet.

More Locations

Other gorgeous locations include Playa Negra, Puerto Vargas (part of the Cahuita National park), Playa Bonita (near Limón city), Puerto Viejo, Punta Cocles, Punta Uva and the Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge.

The Caribbean region is also home to indigenous reserves inhabited by the Bribrí and Cabécar communities. These communities are located on the coast and within the Talamanca Mountain range.

The Kekoldi Indigenous Reserve is open to visitors and it offers the opportunity to learn about the lifestyle of its indigenous residents.

Travel Tips

The trip to Limón from San José through the Braulio Carrillo Highway lasts about three hours. From Limón, Cahuita can be reached in 1.5 hours. A park checkpoint service is located in the town of Cahuita and park headquarters are found in Puerto Vargas. A 4-wheel-drive vehicle is recommended.

Visits to the indigenous reserve require permissions from the Talamanca Association for Ecotourism and Conservation, with offices in Puerto Viejo.

Since there are no roads that connect Tortuguero with other towns, visitors have two options. One option is to take a flight from San José (around 30 minutes). The second is to take a bus to Moín Port and then catch a boat ride. Most lodges, like the Pachira Lodge, offer complete package tours that include round-trip transportation from San José, lodging, meals and excursions.

The weather in the Atlantic is usually unpredictable so visitors should be prepared to enjoy sun or rain. Comfortable shoes and clothes for hiking, insect repellent, sun screen and raincoat are recommended.

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