From Costa Rica Travel Guide: Vacation and Travel tips
The South Pacific side of Costa Rica, specifically the Osa Peninsula, is an area of unparalleled rugged beauty. Jutting out approximately 30 miles into the Pacific, the peninsula protects Golfo Dulce from ocean swells and produces a marvelous natural harbor. With its extensive area of virgin lowland rainforest and the fact there are few cities or towns here, make the Osa Peninsula one of the most ideal ecotourism locations on the planet. With its picturesque beaches and rocky headlands, the Osa Peninsula is divided by streams and rivers that flow over volcanic cliffs on their way to the ocean. Majestic forests cover the hillsides and line the valleys of the peninsula and, undoubtedly, signify the final stronghold of nature and endangered animals and plants that are prevalent to Southern Pacific Costa Rica. This is definitely an intimidating, albeit impressive, wild place.
But probably best of all, the Osa Peninsula is home to Corcovado National Park and its sister, Piedras Blancas National Park. Corcovado is the largest single area of lowland tropical rainforest in all of Central America. Here you will also find scattered around the edges of the parks and along the shores of Golfo Dulce some of Costa Rica’s best nature lodges. In general, these lodges offer comfortable accommodations, adequate service, and tour guides that know what they’re talking about; and most are located in close proximity to the area’s numerous natural wonders.
But don’t think you’re just going to meander down into this area by chance. All this beauty doesn’t come easy as you must set aside some time (and planning) to explore this vast area and understand that it will be like no other adventure. The Osa Peninsula is far from San Jose, and many of the best places can only be accessed by plane or boat, although a 4-wheel drive, and some hiking will get you into some extraordinary surroundings as well. The cities of Golfito and Puerto Jimenez are still surrounded by jungle so not only is tourism a bit underdeveloped here (which is a good thing), you also won’t find any fancy resorts here that you would find for instance in Drake Bay.
The heat and humidity definitely comes into play here and is a bit much for many people, so you need to do some pre-planning if you’re looking to visit, and we recommend booking your rooms and transportation in advance.
Drake Bay is nestled on the western side of the Osa Peninsula between the dense jungle of Corcovado National Park and the waters of Bahia Drake. Actually, this little settlement is made up of two small towns: Agujitas, spread out along the southern shore of the bay; and Drake, a couple miles north. The bay itself, was named after the infamous British pirate, Francis Drake, who is rumored to have buried treasure here in 1579, somewhere along the bay’s extensive stretch of beaches. Whether there’s gold or not along the beaches, the bay itself is an ecological treasure chest. As a matter-of-fact, Drake Bay has changed little since the day Sir Francis docked here in the 16th century. Isolated from most of the surrounding area, the beach is made up of highly scenic rocky areas and coves and frequent rains nourish a very wet tropical forest rich in biodiversity. Specifically, Drake Bay is an area of crystal blue waters, pristine beaches, and lush jungle.
It’s remoteness from much of the surrounding commercial development that has taken place in much of its neighboring parts of Costa Rica is exactly the reason visitors are attracted to it. Drake Bay has become a ‘go to’ spot for eco-tourists seeking a genuinely secluded wilderness experience. Stretching south of Drake Bay are miles of isolated beaches and thick primary rainforest. Explorers will find tide pools, spring-fed rivers, numerous waterfalls, forest trails, and some of the best bird watching in the entire country. There are several all-inclusive eco-lodges around the area that cater to any adventures needs, whether it’s hiking, horseback riding, sailing, kayaking, etc. The lodges are moderately priced but fill up rapidly during the high (dry) season, so it’s important to book early.
The easiest way to access Drake Bay is by flying directly out of San Jose airport, into the small airstrip, appropriately named Drake Bay airport. The flight passes over Manuel Antonio National Park and provides a great aerial view of the South Pacific Coast en route to Corcovado. It is also possible to access Drake Bay by boat, which leaves out of Sierpe, near Palmar Norte. Although slower by boat, this option does allow the traveler a rare glimpse at some of the diverse ecology of the surrounding mangroves.
Corcovado National Park is an important sanctuary of biological diversity and endangered wildlife dominating the rugged Osa Peninsula. Protecting 100,000 acres of shallow lagoons, marsh, mangrove swamps, rivers, wet forest and low-altitude cloud forest, as well as almost 50 kilometers of sandy beach, Corcovado is one of Central America’s most unique and diverse ecosystems. Corcovado has even been considered by some to be one of the most biologically intense places on the planet.
Corcovado National Park is located on the Osa Penisula where it receives over 200 inches of rain every year. Obviously, given its large amount of precipitation, the park houses a luscious region of thick rainforest. The park provides the perfect mix of ecological and biological treasures for a memorable excursion into one of the planet’s most rare and diverse areas.
The park was originally created during the ‘70’s in an attempt to save the area from the prospect of deforestation. Logging companies held land holdings within the area and these companies practiced techniques of clear-cutting trees, which allowed for enormous silt and soil run off. The erosion of the area’s soil content had critically damaging ecological consequences. Subsequently, the park was established and the area was protected from the logging companies.
The park has numerous hiking trails and rustic camping refuges. A guide is recommended. Less adventurous visitors can also enjoy the park on boat excursions. Within its expansive territory, visitors can observe the rick biodiversity of the last virgin natural area in all of Central America. Some 6,000 insects, 500 kinds of trees, 367 bird species, 140 mammals, 117 amphibian and reptile species, and 40 freshwater fish live here in coexistence. Tourists who keep their eyes open may see whales and macaws in Corcovado.
Corcovado has the good fortune to be fairly inaccessible. It is definitely a park only for those naturalists and visitors who are prepared to make a considerable commitment in time and energy. There are numerous all-inclusive eco-lodges located near the park which are the perfect base for visitors who are seeking to fully capture the ecological magic of this region. Some of the lodges run trips to local ecological research stations where visitors can observe and talk to professional ecologists at work. Corcovado National Park is the ideal destination to experience firsthand the ecologic and biotic diversity of Costa Rica.
The best thing about Pavones (besides the surfing), is that it has not become over-developed, like many other destinations in Costa Rica have. There are no big hotels, no Burger Kings, and barely any cars. In fact, until fairly recently, the only place for travelers to eat was the soda next to the soccer field, where surfers used to line up as though they were in a buffet line in Vegas. Life in Pavones is dominated by fishing boats, surfboards, and an easy-going attitude that seems to be quite contagious. Perhaps due to the lack of overdevelopment, the locals here are extremely friendly- the tourist-gringo division found in more developed tourist spots in Costa Rica does not seem to have been established here yet.
The major draw is the surf- boasting the world’s longest ride able left point break. The break is a fast and hollow, half-mile-long, left-breaking tube that has become legendary. When the surf is right, you’re in for a long, long ride- so long, that it’s easier to walk back through town to where the wave is breaking than to paddle back. The swells are most consistent during the rainy season, but you’ll find surfers here year-round. For those who aren’t interested in surfing, Pavones is a great place to kick back and catch up on some reading or stroll the beach, one of the most beautiful in Costa Rica. The beach stretches for some 20 miles and is shaded by palms and peppered by coconuts and fallen trees and also offers up some rocky coves and points that give Pavones a bit more visual appeal than Zancudo.
Pavones is a tiny village with few amenities, so for those looking for loads of activities and a partying nightlife, this is not your spot. That said, Pavones is a great place to kick back, chill and let others worry about life.
mainly, touristy. This is one of the country’s most isolated beach destinations and it’s quite refreshing to find a place that still retains its charm. Zancudo is fairly new as far as tourist spots go, but if you’re looking for a remote and low-key beach destination, then this is definitely your kind of place. The beach is long and flat with a few hotels and restaurants, but it’s the lack of action that is precisely the point of going to Zancudo. This is the place to escape the hustle and bustle of life anywhere else in the world. Since the beach itself is protected from the full force of the Pacific waves, it is one of the calmest beaches on this coast, and pleasant for swimming, particularly at the northern end of the beach. There’s a great view across the Golfo Dulce, and the sunsets are second to none.
Zancudo attracts young and old alike, pretty much anyone that wants to drop the energy level down a notch or two. It should be noted that there’s a mangrove swamp directly behind the beach, so mosquitoes and other annoying insects can be a problem, especially when the wind dies down- don’t forget the insect repellent or Avon’s Skin So Soft, no, really.
This is THE place to catch up on some reading, relaxing, chatting, board games, hanging out, horseback riding, and fishing. Just don’t tell anyone about it.