Osa Peninsula (Península de Osa) is the second largest peninsula in Costa Rica. Nowadays, it is a protected biological treasury of Costa Rica. Peaceful, wild and remote, the Osa Peninsula is a dreaming paradise for nature lovers and keen adventurers.
It is described as a small version of the Amazon, renowned for its infinite beauty, abundant wildlife and of course for the famous Corcovado National Park. Surrounded by the Golfo Dulce bay and the Pacific Ocean, it offers massive trees in the secondary and primary rainforests, exceptional wildlife and welcoming locals in a safe area.
Divided in three districts (Puerto Jiménez, Drake Bay and Sierpe), the two biggest towns, or better-saying villages are Puerto Jiménez and Drake Bay. Both can be reached by plane, land transportation or boat. They are also the main departure locations for the excursions in Corcovado National Park as they provide basic facilities and a wide choice of accommodation. If you’re planning a trip to Costa Rica, including at least one destination of the Osa Peninsula is a must.
The Osa Peninsula offers a temperate climate all year round with an average temperature of 26°C. For the last decades, the most important local economy has been tourism, which keeps the towns alive most of the year. Worldwide renowned sustainable ecolodges of the Osa Peninsula have been mentioned in well-known magazines like National Geographic more than once due to their impressive commitment with the environment.
The first attention from people the Osa Peninsula had received in pre-Columbian time due to the high concentration of gold in mountainous areas. The communication with other regions occurred through Terrabada river. The region around the Osa Peninsula was rich with the needed resources: corn grows well in the area due to the mild climate, sandstone easy to obtain for art and construction, rivers quite common for freshwater and trade routes. No wonder, that such area tried to be captured in different wars, which caused depopulation in the 16th century.
One of the mysteries of local art are stone spheres from few centimeters to 2.5-meter size. The material which spheres are made from is not necessarily close to the site where it was found, which leads to an idea of the ideological or religious importance of the symbol. One of the possible applications of such spheres is territorial marking; the possible ones are connected to religious and mnemonical purposes, as well as a simple symbol of how rich the area is. The stone spheres can be done with simple stone tools in the pre-Columbian time leading to the end of certain speculative theories.
Needless to say, that the interest to gold kept up to recent times. In 1930th, when the actual volume of gold was recognized, the gold fever came to the region till 1980th. Multi-nationals mined gold from the river banks and mountain mines. In 1980th, Costa Rican government prohibited gold mining in the area, by getting the status of a national park to Corcovado region. The scares that gold mining activities left in the area won’t be recovered soon.
The biological importance of Corcovado cannot be underestimated. The park contains about ½ of biological diversity of the whole Costa Rica territory, and 2-3% of the world’s biodiversity. The most significant mangrove forests and wetland ecosystem in Central America are presented in the park and nearby areas. About 1.5% of plants species presented in the park are not found anywhere else. More than 10 thousand different insect species find their home in local rainforests. The rich diversity in trees can be compared to the whole of North American diversity. 500 species of birds have been identify in the area. 25 species of whales and dolphins live around the peninsula. About 140 mammal species have been detected in the park. No wonder that government had to make a sudden change from gold mining to ecotourism, to at least try to save the future of beauty of the area.
The local areas started using the principles of ecotourism. First of all, local communities try to conserve the biological variety by conserving forests. The sustainable use of biodiversity is possible to implement if proper ecological and biological educations and courses are given to local communities. The preserved diversity attracts tourists attention leading to a potential increase in salaries and happiness, which is an extremely positive cycle. It is hard to tell that everyone agrees with those methods, in 2017 there were meetings of poor people dependent on gold mining, who lost their jobs and couldn’t support their families properly (it has to be noted, that about 40 years have passed since that decision).
Our company provides with a huge variety of ecological and local tours in and around Corcovado area providing jobs to locals but most importantly helping to reduce illegal gold mining, hunting and logging, which offers new life opportunities and eco-education to local people.
Couples, families, friends, cruise ship travelers, we have a wide variety of activities for all difficulty levels. Starting with tens of wildlife hikes to horse riding in rainforests. On top of land tours, there are special marina tours directed to see ocean fauna.
Corcovado National Park
Officially declared National Park in 1975, Corcovado is one of the richest biological regions in the World. Out of about 200 endangered species in Costa Rica, a considered number of them inhabit Corcovado, such as Baird’s tapirs, jaguars, geoffroy’s spider monkey, rey-crowned squirrel monkey, jaguarundis, white-lipped peccaries, hawksbill sea turtles, American crocodiles, giant anteaters and harpy eagles. Even if Costa Rica makes incredible efforts protecting wildlife and the varied ecosystems, the future of these animals is uncertain.
Coastal hiking routes and inland trails of Corcovado bring tourists into several tropical ecosystems where spectacular wildlife roams free in lowland, montane and highland cloud rainforests, palm grove, mangrove swamps and on Pacific beaches. Corcovado National Park has been ranked worldwide as one of the best national parks for its unrivaled biodiversity. Exuberant and unexpected new species are discovered all the time, making Corcovado a biological playground for National Geographic scientists among others.
With more than 45 thousand hectares of land bordered of several miles of large sandy and rocky beaches of the Pacific Ocean and protected wilderness areas, Corcovado National Park is the paradise of animal lovers, nature enthusiast and avid photographers. With its iconic animals in an incredibly thick rain forest, this preserved hot spot crawling with both day and night life utterly amazed by the wealth of its wildlife.
Hot and humid all along the year, trails are well marked, but rugged and wet in the rainy season. At night, the temperature may drop of a couple degrees, but it is normally always over 20º Celsius.
Depending on expectations, one day is usually not be enough. Families and older people, might opt for a two-day excursion around Sirena Biological Station starting their trip with a boat ride from Drake Bay. If you have only one day to spend in the park, either Sirena or La Leona sector are good options to see wildlife. Keen adventurers and experienced hikers can choose between several hiking and trekking options that are usually defined by the interests, location, difficulty level and budget. This remote area might be farther than expected, but visiting Corcovado National park is definitively worth seeing.
About the biodiversity
Diverse animals are commonly seen in Corcovado National Park indicating the wealth of wildlife.
are the four species of monkeys. The smallest one is the squirrel monkey. They travel in groups up to 500 members size. One of the unusual names they are called is “death’s head” monkeys due to the black and white face. White-faced capuchin monkeys are the second large and second most common monkey in Corcovado. The name came from the dark robes and hoods of Capuchin monks (Italy). Despite the cute appearance, capuchin monkeys clean the forest from almost everything they can eat – flowers, herbs, birds, baby coatis. Spider monkeys are a bit shyer, however quite common in the park too. Their hands are significantly larger than other species have, and their tail is used as an essential additional “hand”, leaving to the “spider” name. The howler monkey is one of the largest monkeys; every morning and a couple of minutes before the rain, they scream a loud roar in the jungle, leaving an unbelievable experience of wild nature.
Monkeys are not the only mammals who occupy trees. You can always find sloths looking for some fruits, flowers and tree leaves. Day time groups of coatis move to pick up fallen leaves and small lizards. Night time kinkajou cleans up the fruits and flowers.
On the ground, there are tapirs, large animals with horse-look-like legs, peccaries (wild pigs), armadillos with large armor plating’s and opossums, who looks more like a rat, but genetically way closer to kangaroo. All of them feed on small insects, reptiles, fruits, and leaves.
Bats are the most varied mammals in Corcovado national park. There are 200 mammals in Costa Rica, and 105 of them are bats! They can be found in shady parts of trees and caves. At night they mostly feed on insects and fruits, they are great pollinators (like bees). Bats usually recognize white flowers, which are opened night time.
There are two main mammal predators in the park: jaguar and ocelot. The main difference in between the two species is the size: ocelot is way smaller and reminds a very large “small cat” (1-meter-long, 10-15kg), while Jaguar is a definite large cat (2-meters-long and about 100kg). Jaguars hunt on about 80 different mammal species in the park including all the mammals above. Ocelot prefers smaller prey like small monkeys, reptiles.
The variety of birds and their coloration In Corcovado national park is amazing. Great Blue Heron comes to Corcovado National Park every September to May, roseate spoonbill is the only pink bird in the area. Wattled Jacana with a black back and red frontal shield is a rare bird in Costa Rica, the area around Golfito (wet pastures, lowland, marshes) is the only place where you can see it. Multiple species of vultures keep the park clean from recently died animals. There are hawks looking for small birds and mammals. Endangered Harpy Eagle can only be found in the Osa Peninsula nowadays. 18 different species of hummingbirds are attracted to tropical flowers in the park. Scarlet macaws can only be found in Corcovado and Carara park. Amazing Motmots with a special double-end tail and different colors screams their “hoop-hoop” song over the trees. Kingfisher is a beloved fish hunter by all photographers, the large, stout and pointed bills and high-contrast coloration makes them extraordinary pleasing on photos. The other bird with such high contrast colors and large bill is toucan, which can be found feeding on fruit trees.
Between de glistening Golfo Dulce bay and the biodiverse Corcovado National Park sits the seaside town of Puerto Jiménez, the largest and most developed of the Osa Peninsula, South Pacific of Costa Rica.
Puerto Jiménez features high-class activities given by local biological and bilingual guides such as bird watching, kayak in the mangroves, sport fishing, cultural tours, horseback riding, nocturnal walks and tropical hikes among others. In town, scarlet macaw parrots own the treetop of mango and almond trees, howler monkeys let you know they are around even before the sun rises and by the beach, there is a possibility of seeing dolphins jumping in the Golfo Dulce. Dazzling sunrise and sunset can be seen from the beach of Puerto Jiménez over the mountains of Pavones and Rincon.
Between 5:00 AM and 6:00 AM, especially in the high season, the town gets busy as tourists get ready for their daily adventures, taking the road towards Matapalo and Carate to stagger a variety of wildlife. Puerto Jiménez is the main access point for several tours in Corcovado National Park.
The local economy is mainly based on tourism and tourists keep the town alive pretty much all year around. With restaurants, banks, a hospital, grocery stores, an airport and hotels, the town has all the facilities anybody would need for its holiday.
How to reach Puerto Jiménez:
From San José, you can take the Pan-American highway and road 245 to reach Puerto Jiménez, it is all asphalted all the way. It takes a long 7-hour drive, but if you plan to visit the Country and make stops along the way, renting a car is the best thing to do. A 4WD vehicle is needed to explore the back roads of the Osa Peninsula and to get to certain remote places that are definitively worth it. If you visit the Country for the first time and your time is limited, we recommend you to fly to Puerto Jiménez and rent a car from there or vice versa. At the end of your trip, you’ll be able to leave your car at San José international airport or Puerto Jiménez and fly. There are car rentals in most cities of the Country with a wide variety of companies. In Puerto Jiménez, companies are Solid Rent a Car and Alamo Car Rental.
Daily domestic flights are offered from San José to Puerto Jiménez. Most of the flights are direct, but some may have a stop in Golfito, Drake Bay or Quepos. The flight duration is 50 minutes. National planes have a capacity of 8 to 15 passengers, and the plane does not fly very high, which give you an incredible view of the Pacific Coast and ocean. On a clear day, it is even possible to see both the Pacific and the Atlantic Ocean. The closer you get to this exotic destination the more exciting it gets. White sandy beaches, sinuous rivers, and lush greenery rain forests. Sansa Airlines and Skyway are the airlines who fly to Puerto Jiménez.
If you come from Panama or Golfito, the fastest and most convenient way to get to Puerto Jiménez is taking a 30-minute boat ride from Golfito. It is not a ferry; no car can cross the Golfo Dulce on a boat. The boat schedule departure times are the following:
Golfito to Puerto Jiménez:
- Monday to Friday: 7:00 AM – 10:00 AM – 11:30 AM – 1:00 PM – 3:00 PM
- Saturday: 7:30 AM – 10:00 AM – 11:30 AM – 1:00 PM – 3:00 PM
- Sunday: 7:00 AM – 10:00 AM – 11:30 AM – 1:00 PM – 3:00 PM
Puerto Jiménez to Golfito:
- Monday to Sunday: 6:00 AM – 8:45 AM – 11:30 AM – 2:00 PM
There is a direct bus from San José to Puerto Jiménez. The duration is 8 to 9 hours and the company is Transporte Blanco Lobo.
Hanging bridges, rain forest trails, pristine beaches, and Pura Vida lifestyle probably best describe the coastal village of Drake Bay. The warm inhabitant will welcome you and help find your way around. Nature lovers will definitively fill their soul and find peace in the serenity of this remote area.
Travelers come to Drake Bay mainly to visit of Corcovado National Park and to do snorkeling or scuba diving at the Caño Island (Isla del Caño). Two places on the bucket list of more than one adventurers! Incredible mangrove, zip lining, night tours, whale & dolphin watching, and waterfalls are also important attractions in Drake Bay.
From Drake Bay, you can reach two official entrances of Corcovado National Park with well-marked trails and sandy beaches. Sirena Ranger Station can be accessed by boat only, the duration is about 75 minutes. Sirena is the only ranger station that offers meals, accommodation, WiFi and a souvenir shop of the whole national park. It is also the best station to visit for day tour and overnight trips for families and older people as most trails are flat, easy and full of wildlife. To visit San Pedrillo, there are two options from Drake Bay, you can either take a 40-minute boat ride or walk in trails by the coast for a 5-hour hike. Most of the people will do a guided day excursion at San Pedrillo going by boat, but you can also camp in San Pedrillo bringing tent, food and personal items. To fully know the trails and area, you can take the boat to San Pedrillo, spend two nights camping, do all the trails around the station, reach the waterfall Cascada Llorona and on the third day walk to Drake Bay.
Things you need to know about Drake Bay:
- There is no ATM or bank in Drake Bay. It is recommended to withdraw the money before arriving in the area as you might not be able to use your credit card everywhere and some restaurants, hotels or agency may charge a commission to use it. The closest ATM is in Puerto Jiménez and Palmar Norte.
- There is a handful of small accommodations from dorms to luxury hotels. However, if you plan to visit the area between December and April, book in advance.
- Popular restaurants are Los Coquitos, Claudio’s Grill, Restaurante Delicias and Drake’s Kitchen.
How to get to Drake Bay:
- From Sierpe, you can travel by boat via the river Río Sierpe located in the Terraba Sierpe National Wetlands, passing by the island Isla Violín. The boat ride takes about 1 hour in the labyrinths of lush mangrove and by the pristine coast of the Pacific Ocean. It is a fun and entertaining boat trip, where wildlife can be easily seen.
- This boat is not a ferry, cars cannot travel from Sierpe to Drake Bay on a boat like other places in Costa Rica.
- You will step out the boat on the beach, mostly in the water, as there is no dock in Drake Bay. Be prepared and remove your shoes, rolled up your pants and put your luggage in plastic bags if necessary depending on the weather and water conditions. The boat has a roof, you will be protected by the sun, but if it rains and you sit on the side or up front, you will get wet.
- The boat schedule from Sierpe to Drake Bay is at 11:30 AM ($15pp) and 3:30 PM ($20pp).
- Departure from Restaurante Don Jorge La Perla del Sur. The parking costs $6 a day.
- The boat schedule from Drake Bay to Sierpe is at 7:15 AM ($15pp) and 2:30 PM ($20pp)
- Departure is from the beach called Playa Agujitas which is the main beach of the village.
- No reservation is required to book seats in the boat. However, you should arrive 30 minutes before departure to buy your ticket.
- Driving to Drake Bay might be quite an extreme adventure. A 4×4 is necessary, not only a car that is high on wheels but a four-wheel drive vehicle. The road between Rincón and Bahía Drake is mountainous, not paved and there are rivers to cross. The distance between Rincón and Bahía Drake is 20 kilometers and the duration between one and two hours. In the rainy season, driving to Drake Bay is not recommended as rivers might be too high to be crossed by car, during the months of September, October and November avoid driving to Drake Bay.
- Daily flights are offered from the international airport of San José Juan Santa Maria in Alajuela. The duration is approximately 45 minutes.
Tourists who comes to the Osa Peninsula, don’t neceserly want to stay in the main towns, but many of them choose the most remote places of the area to be closer to nature. Here, are some of the favorite locations of returning visitors, snowbirds, volunteers and all the ones looking to escape developed touristic places.
Cañaza is located in Puerto Jiménez district, 15 kilometers from the town of Puerto Jiménez on road 245 in direction to La Palma. As the road is asphalted and mostly straight, it takes no more than 15 minutes to get there either from La Palma or Puerto Jiménez. Public transport travels back and forth several times a day. Cañaza has a short, but interesting history. It was established in 1976, because the State had to relocate part of the families that were evicted from the lands that today make up the Corcovado National Park. In the last decades, Cañaza grew up significantly. As the land of this zone is more affordable than the Pacific coast of the Osa Peninsula, expats made it their home, high-profile sustainable and luxurious rain forest lodges opened, creating employment to the people in the community, and locals started to offer authentic and cultural eco-tours such as a chocolate tour, an introduction to medicinal plants, a gold mining tour, horseback riding and a nocturnal hike.
Carbonera & Matapalo
Get a glimpse of the wildlife that is expecting you in Corcovado while staying in one of the several ecolodges of Carbonera or Cabo Matapalo. Popular for honeymoons and destination weddings, Matapalo is the place for romantic getaways along the bluffs and tucked away in the forest. No electricity or store, Carbonera only has one restaurant/bar, but dazzling nature and wildlife at the tranquil end of the Osa Peninsula. The closest town is Puerto Jiménez, 15 kilometers away (45-minute drive on a gravel road). Most of the lodges use solar energy and many of them provide all-inclusive stay either in the rain forest or by the beach. This remote area is so popular, that accommodation must be booked months in advance during the high season. Several visitors fell in love with these laid-back beach towns and come year after year to disconnect from their stressful life and fully enjoy the ecological experience of this almost untouched environment. The most popular activities in Carbonera and Matapalo are bird watching, rain forest hikes, waterfall rappelling, and strangler tree climbing.
From Carbonera up to the end of the road 245, there are no bridges on the way, which make the access challenging during the rainy season. Piro is a stretch of road between Matapalo and Carate where none profit companies dedicate to conservation and preserving the environment. Volunteers travel across the world to help on different eco-projects in Piro and the surroundings. Many of them help with the sea turtle conservation doing research and ensuring the good health and the ecological success of the sea turtles nesting.
Located at the end of the road, it takes about 2 hours (43 kilometers) to reach Carate from Puerto Jiménez. All hikes going to La Leona Station in Corcovado National Park start from this tranquil end-of-the-earth ocean view costal village. Spending a night in one of the several lodges to contemplate the unspoilt wilderness and a gazillion stars under a clear sky is definitively worth the experience. While some inhabitant would like to have a paved road, conservationists think the opposite way. They maintain their position that on a paved road, cars would drive faster and the wildlife would be more at risk of being killed in the street. The opinion of the people working with tourists is balanced as most agree with conservationists, but also think that tourism would grow if the access was easier and faster.
La Palma & Playa Blanca
La Palma is served with some facilities like small grocery stores and restaurants, but most importantly it is also located in the center of many attractions. Seven kilometers north of La Palma in direction to Rincon is the intersection to go to Drake Bay. The ranger station Los Patos is accessible by car taking a backroad of La Palma. The beach Playa Blanca located east of La Palma is quite an interesting one. Never crowded, this peaceful sandy beach will make you want to extend your stay. Experience the bioluminescence activity of its waters at night, fish from the dock or have a boat ride in the Golfo Dulce up to Esquinas river and take a kayak tour in the calm waters of the gulf. Only a few kilometers from Playa Blanca is Playa Colibrí, another great beach that has both sandy beach and mature mangroves. This mixt environment is favorable for rare species of birds, fish and the visit of sea turtles among others. On both beaches, you can enjoy amazing sunrise and the pristine colors of the sky after sunset.