CABUYA: A laid-back Pacific beach town and a curious island of the dead


Cabuya is a small town (and an island — Isla Cabuya) on the beach just a few miles south of Playa Montezuma on the lower tip of the Nicoya Peninsula in the Province of Puntarenas.

The Puntarenas-Paquera ferry passing an island in the Gulf of Nicoya. Photo Jack Donnelly

Most tourists pass through Cabuya only because it is located at the entrance to the Cabo Blanco Reserve (La Reserva Absoluta Natural Cabo Blanco). The area is host to a substantial foreign community. As a travel destination, it deserves a closer look.

The name Cabuya comes from a plant belonging to the Agave family and the fiber that is processed from its leaves. The use of this fiber has almost vanished in Costa Rica. The only place still working with this fiber is a small collective in San Isidro de El Guarco near Cartago—La Cabuya Cuenta (Cabuya Matters). In other countries (e.g. Colombia) the fiber is still widely used and goes by other names such as fique.

The entrance to the cemetery on Cabuya Island. Photo Jack Donnelly

The interesting thing in Cabuya is that the plant they refer to as Cabuya is not Cabuya, but a bromeliad called Piñuela—commonly used as a living fence (cerca viva) due to its sharply pointed leaves and many spines. This is the plant that largely covers Isla Cabuya, the island cemetery. Locals are adamant that this plant is Cabuya—period. To make things even more confusing, they refer to a different plant as Piñuela—and use it to make baby food.

I will leave this debate to the locals and the botanists.

The Island of Cabuya—a cemetery since pre-Columbian times—lies several hundred yards off the coast. At low tide it can be reached on foot, although it is a rough rocky walk. There is also a company that offers access to the island by kayak at high tide—a three-hour tour. Finally, it is easy to hire a boat to take you out and pick you up—the fishing port is directly opposite the island.

It exhibits an elegant white arch at the start of the main trail and there are many tombs, old and new. The trails around the island are smooth and clear. Isla Cabuya is well worth a visit.


A Howler Monkey doing his thing–howling! In Spanish–Congo, Mono Aullador. Photo Jack Donnelly

Cabuya is just 2 kilometers from the entrance to Cabo Blanco Reserve. From the park entrance there are several trails that will take you through the forest and out to the point, Cabo Blanco. This is a great place to see Costa Rica in the wild.


In fact, there is a great deal of nature to be seen all around Cabuya. Monkeys are frequently visible in the trees overhead. Sea birds are very active at high tide when the bait fish are running—Brown Pelicans, Ospreys, etc. Black Iguanas—Garrobos—are everywhere.

Cabuya enjoys a rapidly evolving restaurant scene. There are several older places—I have not tried them all—and a couple of new places that are very promising. As with any unfamiliar place offering a lot of dining choices, I would carefully check the reviews. Or, you can just go and explore for yourself. I would suggest you go heavy on the seafood—it’s fresh and local.

If you are driving, the easy way to get to Cabuya is to take the ferry from Puntarenas to Paquera—I always love a little sea voyage. From Paquera the road to Cóbano is pretty good—it was being repaved on my last trip.


An Osprey (Águila Pescadora–Fishing Eagle). It’s also known as a River Hawk, Fish Hawk, etc. Please note the fish in its talons. Photo Jack Donnelly

After Cóbano, the rather rough stone (lastre) road takes you on to Montezuma and Cabuya. Depending on where you live and how much you like driving in Costa Rica, the trip can be broken up by spending a night in Puntarenas.


Cabuya is a little off the beaten path, but that’s part of its charm. It’s a great spot for a beach getaway with good food and some attractive wildlife.

The island cemetery is an oddity and makes for a great travel story. In short, Cabuya is a wonderful place to visit.