At the far southwestern corner of Costa Rica is the Osa Peninsula, dangling lush and tempting from the mainland. It is off the beaten tourist path, well away from more popular, easily accessible destinations, such as Arenal and Tamarindo.
Travelers are encouraged to allocate at least four days (or better, a week) for the visit, especially if traveling overland. Almost everything—meals, transportation, accommodation—tends to be more expensive here than elsewhere in Costa Rica, particularly in the isolated community around Drake Bay, almost inaccessible to automobile traffic, but it is worth it.
The almost untouched peninsula is one of the most bio-diverse places on earth, a haven for flocks of gossiping macaws, troupes of mischievous monkeys, quiet dantas grazing their way through the rainforest, and all manner of big cats that you will only see if you are very lucky, though their tracks are everywhere. While fantastic Corcovado National Park is the Holy Grail for Central American travelers, this wealth of wildlife can be enjoyed almost anywhere on the pretty peninsula.
1) Find Your Place in Nature
You’ve left the overdeveloped beach towns with their high rise hotels far behind; the Osa Peninsula offers the sort of natural solitude that less-traveled souls will complain can no longer be found here in Costa Rica. Keep in mind that you’ll pay more for less here on the Osa, where infrastructure is limited and shipping costs high. Be prepared to do without hot water or air conditioning, even at top-end spots.
Budget travelers will do best in the old gold-mining town of Puerto Jimenez, with a handful of hostels and budget hotels about 40km (25mi) from the La Leona entrance to Corcovado; a few other inexpensive choices line the road to the park. Mid-range travelers to this side of the park could also “camp” (in wood-floored permanent tents) at La Leona, or stay at numerous good hotels in town or on the road; Luna Lodge, also in La Leona, is a standout.
Luxury lovers will find one of Costa Rica’s best hotels, Lapa Rios, just outside of Puerto Jimenez, but there are other upscale options here and in isolated Drake Bay, on the other side of the park. You can either fly directly to Drake Bay, or (better) take the Rio Sierpe to the shore, a beautiful riverboat ride through the rainforest. There are several mid-range and top-end lodges, such as elegant Aguila de Osa Inn, but don’t expect real five-star amenities out here in the ecological immaculate.
2) Take a Hike
Any lodge or tour operator on Osa can arrange guided hikes (or point out trails) through the rainforest. No matter where you stay, you’ll enjoy more beauty and biodiversity per square meter here than almost anywhere else on Earth.
Serious hikers are here for Corcovado National Park. Visitors can easily arrange day hikes into the national park from all three of its official entrances: San Pedrillo, accessible from Drake Bay; La Leona, 40km (25mi) from Puerto Jimenez; and Los Patos, close to wonderful Danta Corcovado Lodge. The classic hike, however, is across the park, between any two of the entrances, with an overnight at La Sirena Station. Most people choose to walk the beach trail between San Pedrillo and La Leona (be sure to check tidal schedules!), but those eager to take in the more difficult mountain hike start at Los Patos. Be sure to arrange a permit to stay at La Sirena before heading into the park.
3) Catch a Fish
While most travelers are here for the national park, Puerto Jimenez is also a popular sport fishing destination, with access to fisheries less depleted than those around more accessible Jaco or Tamarindo. Many sport-fishers book trips that include transportation between Puerto Jimenez and Golfito, another popular fishing destination across the gulf.
4) Catch a Wave
The truly epic surfing is actually across Golfo Dulce from the peninsula, in world-renowned Pavones. For a change of pace, however, you can catch a public boat to Puerto Jimenez and check out Osa’s own Matapalo, which catches the same waves amidst all the wondrous wilderness that surrounds Corcovado.
5) Scuba or Snorkel Isla Cano
If you’re staying in Drake Bay, it’s easy to book a tour to Cano Island, about 20km (12mi) northeast of the port. The 300-hectare (741-acre island) was an indigenous cemetery and later a pirate lair; some suspect buried treasure is still hidden amidst its attractive beaches and jungled interior. The real gems, however, are found in the living aquarium that is its isolated coral reefs, where visitors are welcome to scuba dive or snorkel for an unforgettable day in the sea.