Osa Peninsula by NomadInMe.
The Osa Peninsula is the crown jewel of one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, Costa Rica. This infatuating country has seen a massive surge in eco-tourism in recent years. With a Caribbean and Pacific coast and 30 national parks, which cover over 25% of the country’s landmass.
You can see why it is one of the most popular places to visit in Central America. In this article, we will cover the key locations and parks in the Osa Peninsula. We will then cover the best places to stay, what to do, as well as getting to and from the Osa Peninsula.
The Osa Peninsula
The Osa Peninsula was dubbed “the most biologically intense place on earth” by National Geographic. Tucked away on the southern Pacific coast with a total landmass of only 700 square miles. You will find an unparalleled variety of flora and fauna. It is said to hold 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity.
Some notable statistics regarding Osa’s rich bio diversity:
- -The most significant wetland ecosystem and mangrove forests of Central America.
- -The largest remaining tract of lowland rainforest in Pacific Mesoamerica.
- -2-3% of flora found nowhere else in the world.
- -323 endemic species of plants and vertebrates.
- -The largest population of scarlet macaws in Central America.
- -More than 4,000 vascular plants.
- -More than 10,000 insects.
- -More than 700 species of trees (which is more than all the Northern temperate regions combined).
- -463 species of birds.
- -140 mammals, including 25 species of dolphins and whales.
- -4 species of sea turtles.
The Osa Peninsula’s biodiversity can be better understood by its fascinating geological history. Once an island in the Pacific Ocean. Osa merged with mainland Costa Rica about 2 million years ago, as a result of movement in the Pacific plate. This merging of landmasses, both home to unique species is one of the main reasons you can find such a spectacular variety of life.
This area in Southern Pacific Costa Rica is still sparsely populated. With small communities dotted along the coast and a distinct absence of mass tourism. You will not find any large all-inclusive resorts in this part of the world, but plenty of small eco-resorts and private villa rentals. The people that visit this remote part of Costa Rica tend to be more of an off the beaten path traveller. Those that are looking for adventure, nature, surfing and a chance to really reset the body and mind.
There are several distinct parts of Osa that make it so special.
Corcovado National Park
Corcovado National Park is, without doubt, the Osa Peninsulas most popular attraction. Corcovado covers around 164 square miles of the Osa Peninsula. It is by far the largest and most diverse national park in Costa Rica and perhaps Central America. It contains large swathes of primary rainforest, rising straight up from the rugged Pacific coastline. All 4 types of monkey found in Costa Rica can be found in Corcovado. In addition 2 and 3 toed sloths, a variety of big cats and the largest population of Scarlett Macaws in the country. You will also find more variety of trees than in the whole of the northern temperate regions combined.
The park consists of 2 main entrances, on the northern and southern sides. Drake Bay offers quick access to the park however is difficult to access itself. Alternatively, Puerto Jimenez on the southern tip of the Osa Peninsula is easily accessed with a commute to the park. This will vary in length depending on how deep into the peninsula you are. If accessing the park from Puerto Jimenez, you will find a variety of eco-lodges and vacation rentals up to Playa Carate, where the park is accessed.
Amount of visitors and duration of stay is restricted to Corcovado National Park. For people wanting to stay in the park overnight, permission must be granted and basic lodge style accommodation can be found. Guides are compulsory when entering Corcovado and tours can be organised in offices both in Drake Bay and Puerto Jimenez. A variety of trails are available in the park all varying in difficulty, length and duration. The coastal route is incredible but demanding with several river crossings.
Piedras Blancas National Park
Piedras Blancas National park was previously a part of the Corcovado National Park. Now separated it forms its own park but still under the Osa conservation area. An incredible expanse of rainforest that drops suddenly as a tropical fjord into the Gulfo Dulce. Piedras Blancas is Corcovado’s little brother with incredible biodiversity.
Being more accessible than Corcovado, Piedras Blancas had problems in its past with poaching and deforestation. However, the Costa Rican Government has invested in the protection and recovery of habitat. It is now widely known as the bird watching capital of Costa Rica’s national park system. Not only is it home to numerous tropical species of bird. It also acts as a halfway house for northern and southern migratory species.
In addition, you will find numerous waterfalls, rivers and hiking trails. Eco lodges make up a majority of the parks accommodation and the park is most easily accessed via La Gamba village. Many of the eco-lodges available can be accessed only by boat via Golfito or Puerto Jimenez. Casa Orquideas Jardin Botanico is a botanical garden in the heart of the national park. If staying in Puerto Jiminez, take a day trip by boat to see the huge variety of plants and orchids on show.
Terraba Sierpe National Wetlands
The Terraba Sierpe National Wetlands are found to the north of the Osa Conservation area. These snaking rivers and mangrove-fringed estuaries encompass and area of 66,850 acres of land and water. The wetlands make up one of the biggest mangrove systems in all of Central America. They are home to a wide variety of birds, reptiles, mammals and fish. Archaeologists have also been intrigued in this area as it contains artefacts that date back to the pre-Columbia era.
The town of Sierpe provides access to the network of rivers, a small ferry also transports visitors to Drake Bay, especially during the rainy months where roads can be impassable. On the southernmost rivers of Sierpe, you will find a handful of rental properties. Generally only accessed by boat, they make for a great location to explore the surrounding areas. Bird and wildlife watching is impressive here and it has some of the best fishing in the world.
Drake bay, which is aptly named after Sir Francis Drake who is believed to have stopped here during the 16th century. Lies on the Northern pacific tip of the Osa Peninsula and provides direct access to Corcovado National Park. This small protected bay is home to a modest community of locals and a number of lodges and small hotels. Like the Gulfo Dulce, the calm waters are frequented by humpback whales and their young.
This nature lovers paradise offers the tranquil setting needed, after a long day hiking the jungle trails in Corcovado. The endless sandy beaches are fringed with thick primary rainforest and only occasionally interrupted by rivers flowing out of the National Park. Drake Bay can be accessed by plane, once a day from San Jose. Alternatively by boat from Sierpe, through the snaking mangrove estuaries. Access by car is available although the track is un-made and some times impassable during the wet season.
The Gulfo Dulce and aptly named ‘sweet gulf’ is given its name from the large quantities of freshwater that run into it. This gives the gulf a sweet freshwater smell. It is referred to as one of the words 4 tropical fjords. On the mainland side of the Gulfo Dulce. The lush rainforest of the Piedras Blancas National park dramatically falls into the water to depths of up to 200 metres. National Geographic didn’t save all their compliments for Corcovado, referring to the Gulfo Dulce as “one of the ocean’s 20 wildest places”.
The marine life of the Gulfo Dulce is staggering. It is home to northern and southern hemisphere humpback whales. These spectacular animals travel from colder waters with their newborn calf’s and use the protected, calm waters as a nursery. This gives the area 2 distinct season for humpback whales, January and February for the Northern hemisphere migrations. Then August and September for the larger numbers in the southern hemisphere. Several different types of dolphin and porpoise can be observed in staggering numbers. I visited in September and saw half a dozen whales and a pod of 1000 plus dolphins. To learn more about swimming with humpback whales read this article https://nomadinme.com/swim-with-whales/.
Turtles, sharks and manta rays also call the sweet golf home. The Gulfo Dulce is a feeding ground for Pacific Green Turtles. Which, in turn, leads to the presence of sharks. Tiger Sharks are said to be present and a distinct population of juvenile Hammer Heads. Whale Sharks and Manta Rays are also seen regularly in February and March. If you are interested in learning more about Whale Sharks and swimming with them click here: https://nomadinme.com/swim-with-whale-sharks/.
Isla del Cano
Isla Del Cano is an island in the pacific about 10 miles west of Drake Bay and a part of the Osa Conservation Area. With 320 hectares of land and 5,800 hectares of sea, it is said to be some of the best scuba diving and snorkelling in the country. A variety of marine life includes manta rays, dolphins, false killer whales, sea turtles, whales, a wide variety of fish, and occasionally manatees. The Island is best-accessed from Drake Bay, where you will find dive and snorkel operators.
On the island itself, you will find the ruins of stone spheres that were created by pre-Columbian civilizations. Several cdifferent civilisations were believed to have been present and between 700 and 1500 BC the island was used as a cemetery by the Chiriquis people.
Anglers come from around the world to fish the waters of Pacific Costa Rica. Fishing around Isla Del Cano is world-class and so is the water between it and the mainland. From snapper to Sailfish, the variety of species available is truly epic.
Where to stay in Osa Peninsula
A part of the Osa Peninsulas incredible natural beauty and raw, untouched feel, is thanks to the distinct lack of mass tourism. With so much on offer in Costa Rica, most of which more accessible than Osa. It’s easy to understand why mainly the extremely adventurous nature lovers make it this far. As a result, the main types of accommodation you will find are small eco-lodges or private villa rentals. Many of these or off-grid, relying on solar power and well water. This eco-tourism movement is incredibly important for the entire country and I strongly suggest that you take this in mind when booking for your Osa Peninsula vacation.
When offering advice on Costa Rican vacations, I find myself telling people to split their time to multiple locations. Hire cars are a really good idea but no essential. A trip to the Osa Peninsula is an adventure and hiring a 4×4 and exploring yourself, will add to that adventure. From experience, the best way to see the entire area would be a 14 day trip with 3 nights in the Puerto Jiminez area, Drake Bay, Sierpe and Piedras Blancas. If you are not so keen to move around so much the Puerto Jiminez area is the most centrally located.
Follow this link to find out about the best Osa peninsula vacation rentals https://nomadinme.com/osa-peninsula-vacation-rentals/.
Getting around Osa Peninsula
The Osa Peninsula is around a 6-hour drive or a 45-minute flight from San Jose. Hire cars can be picked up from Puerto Jiminez. During my multiple trips to the area, I have always driven from San Jose. However, the flight is fast and convenient and you get to see the country from a unique perspective.
The roads are paved all the way to Puerto Jiminez. However, the further you venture from there, the worse the road conditions will get. When driving around the peninsula you will find direction based on how many river crossings. Getting a decent SUV such as a Toyota Prado will be worth the money, especially in the rainy season which is April to November. September and October are the wettest months. Always ask locals about road conditions, especially when making the trip to Carate or Drake Bay. When visiting Piedras Blancas you can take a boat from Puerto Jiminez or Golfito, I recommend incorporating this into your whale watching excursion.
What to do in Osa Peninsula
Below is a list of the best things to do in the Osa Peninsula, many accommodations, will offer concierge services to help book trips. I will include operators that I can endorse.
Hike Corcovado National Park from the Southern and Northern gates
The Southern gates are located near Carate and tickets can be purchased and tours can be organised from Puerto Jiminez. The Northern gates and tickets can be found in Drake Bay.
for more information visit http://www.sinac.go.cr/EN-US/ac/acosa/pnc/Pages/default.aspx.
Go surfing at Mato Palo
Mato Palo along with Pavones are 2 of southern Pacific Costa Rica’s best surf breaks. Mato Palo is located west of Puerto Jiminez about a 30-minute drive along an unmade road with 2 river crossings, a 4WD is recommended especially during the rainy season (March – October).
Visit Ave Avul De Osa
Ave Azul De Osa is a federally licensed Avicultural compound, supporting conservation through captive breeding. The Owner of Ave Azul de la Osa, Patrick S. Dunn was director of Kauai Zoological Gardens and curator of birds for 8 years while managing the parrot park for near 17 years simultaneously. Now with Ave Azul he prevents endangered birds from extinction.
The superb parcel of land to which the attraction is based on features mature secondary rainforest as well as primary, which leads into the Corcovado National Park. For a small fee, you will gain access to the tracked land.
Patrick is passionate about birds, conservation and the Osa Peninsula and is a very warm and friendly man more than willing to share his wealth of knowledge. View their website for more information: http://www.aveazuldelaosa.com/
Walk the beaches of Playa Sombrero
Playa Sombrero is a beach 15 minutes or so West of Puerto Jimenez. Here you will find a number of authentic air bnb’s and rental properties. The coast is littered with palm and almond trees and being south facing provides a fantastic sunrise and sunset.
To learn more visit https://costa-rica-guide.com/stories/sendero-de-oro/golfo-dulce/.
Go Whale and Dolphin Watching in the Gulfo Dulce
An absolute must-do when visiting the Osa Peninsula is a boat trip in Gulfo Dulce. If not for the fantastic scenery and unique perspective you get from the water. For the incredible variety of marine life. Dolphins turtles and manta rays can be seen all year. Humpbacks whales from the northern and southern pacific are found in the gulf in great numbers. They can be seen virtually year-round with the best times being July to March.
I recommend Josh Sibley at Paradise Rocks. Based in Puerto Jiminiez he has a variety of boats and water-based tours. Click here for more information https://www.facebook.com/paradiserockscostarica/.
Take a boat to Piedras Blancas National Park.
Piedras Blancas National Parl is North of Golfito and across the gulf from Puerto Jiminez. Not only is the park full of rare orchids and a massive variety of bird species. The view from the water is amazing with lush green forest dropping straight into the deep waters. Josh at Paradise Rocks runs tours across the bay https://www.facebook.com/paradiserockscostarica/.
Play a game of football with the locals and watch a sunset in Drake Bay
Drake Bay is Osa’s quirky and charming beach town. Every evening the locals play a game of football on the town pitch. It has a great friendly and safe vibe and the sunsets are some of the best in the country. There is a limited option of bars and restaurants but most are attached to accommodation. Check out La Jungla Bar with its enchanting jungle views https://www.facebook.com/Bar-La-Jungla-Tureka-301984746486982/.
Swim with Manta Rays in Isla Del Cano
Isla Del Cano is accessed via Drake Bay and has superb diving and snorkelling. With many operators allowing guests to visit the island itself. You have a good chance of seeing manta rays here and your guides will be on constant lookout. For more information and to book a tour click here http://www.gringocurt.com/visitor-information/what-to-do-in-drake-bay/snorkeling/.
Go scuba Diving and listen to the Humpback Whales in Isla Del Cano
Isla Del Cano offers some of the best scuba diving in Costa Rica. Boats leave from Drake Bay and have a variety of site’s to suit all conditions. With so many Humpback Whales in the area, once you drop down the sounds of their songs will fill your ears. I remember the first time I heard whales underwater and it sticks with me as much as the first time I saw them. Check out Drake Divers https://drakediverscr.com/wp/?lang=en.
Take a boat ride and go bird watching in Terraba Sierpe National Wetlands.
A ferry throughout the Sierpe rivers is one of the best ways to get to Drake Bay. It is also an incredible experience in itself. These estuary’s and wetlands are the biggest in Central America and offer an abundance of wildlife. You can book tours and find out more information here: https://www.sierpemangrovetour.com/en/.
Catch your lunch in the Pacific Ocean
The waters around the Osa Peninsula offer world-class fishing. The Sierpe River and around Isla Del Cano offer everything from mangrove snapper to marlin. It’s no shock for boats to return having caught over a dozen species.
Try the local, fresh, ceviche
With all the fresh seafood in Costa Rica its no wonder the Ceviche is so good! As you can expect the Osa Peninsula is no exception to this with great seafood at every turn. Try Kaluna Bistro in Drake Bay. https://www.facebook.com/Kalalunabistro/.
Hike to King Louis Waterfall
You will find King Louis waterfall in the Mato Palo area. Just after the entrance to the beach, you will find a river. You follow the rough unmade path until you reach the falls. The hike is not overly demanding but it does involve some hopping across rocks. You can find a detailed description of the falls here https://www.costaricavibes.com/king-louis-waterfall/.
When planning a trip to Costa Rica, it is widely known that spending 2 or 3 nights in multiple locations can be very enjoyable and allow you to see more of the Country. Try pairing Osa Peninsula with Manuel Antonio, with a massive variety of things to do, its proximity to the airport and amazing national park and waterfalls. Follow this link to learn more about Manuel Antonio national park. https://nomadinme.com/manuel-antonio-vacation-rentals.
Have you visited to The Osa Peninsula? Share your experiences in the comments bellow!
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