A remote jungle paradise with intoxicating beaches
Miami is the jumping off point to Jeanette Kawas National Park, formerly known as Punt Sal. It was so renamed in 1994 after Kawas, an environmental activist who led the fight to preserve the area and was ultimately murdered because of it. After just a few hours here, you realize why she felt this was a place worth risking her life for.
Arriving on the park’s shoreline feels like washing up on a deserted island. The shout of howler monkeys greets you immediately upon reaching the sand, their outlines visible swinging through the thick jungle in front of you. A path leads from the water into the park, where you’re engulfed by vines, banana plants, and giant ferns.
After enough time in America, you begin to think this type of tropical landscape exists only in zoo greenhouses and the entrance to theme park rides. But as white-faced monkeys crawled out on branches to harass us, it dawned on me that this place is exactly what all of those were trying to recreate.
“This is all natural?” I asked my guide. He laughed at me with a hearty Caribbean guffaw.
“What you mean ‘real?” he responded.
“Like nobody planted any of this? It’s not landscaped?” I said.
“No,” he shook his head. “What you pay to make, we just have.”
At the end of the trail, we arrived at Punta Caribe, a spectacular stretch of secluded beach that was a popular hiding spot for pirates in past centuries. It’s a perfect cove of emerald cliffs that drop down into a bay of bright blue water. And because it’s only accessible by boat or a long hike through the park, most times you’ll be able to enjoy it with nobody but the monkeys.
On the other side of the point jutting out from Punta Caribe lies the coral reef at Cocalito. There is an old cliche about time having no meaning in the Caribbean, but Cocalito is so relaxingly intoxicating, you’ll spend an hour and a half drinking from a coconut in a hammock and won’t feel like you’ve been there a minute. Two families populate this small beach in front of the best snorkeling in the park. Each has a stand serving fresh, traditional food, that you can eat in a hammock or under a palm tree. Staring out from the beach at the horizon puts you in a trance of relaxation, even with the small children from the families scampering about. With no cell service and even less Wi-Fi, Cocalito is the definition of tropical disconnection.