The Southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica, an expanse of tropical rainforest and untouched beaches, is an eco-traveler’s oasis. This is the place to see the country for all its natural glamour—Blue Morpho Butterflies, Macaws, Toucans, and all sorts of exotic jungle creatures abound and fill the air with their color and music. There is nothing like the enchantment of Drake Bay and the lush Osa Peninsula.
The experience of Drake Bay only comes to those willing to journey to find her, as the most reliable (and comfortable) means of arriving are via boat or small plane. We took the road less traveled, a 30k safari tour that plunged through rivers, hugged coastal mountains and crept over narrow and uneasy bridges. If you attempt it, consider yourself a member of Team Bad@ss, but be smart about it. We saw a tourist heading back to the highway on a tow-truck. When it comes to river crossings, it just makes sense to wait for a local, who would rather show you the way, than rescue you. This ride alone is a true pleasure for the adventurer—but only accessible in the dry season with a 4WD.
Twist and bend through the lush rainforest until you meet sparkling, crystalline water. You’ve found what National Geographic has called the most bio-intense area in the world—you’ve found Drake Bay. Rumor has it that pirates’ treasure is still hidden somewhere along the miles of beach coves that wind their way down the peninsula.
If you’re a treasure-hunter, you’ve come to the right place. Drake Bay is teaming with jewels. Birds of Paradise and Hibiscus flowers shoot up of their own accord, happily cluttered between Palms and under dense green canopies. Scarlet Macaws sail from jungle edge to mountain peak, always in their contented pair. Toucans, the best-known bird of Costa Rica, seem bursting with love for their secret garden. They sing through the misty morning air to wide-eyed travelers, “Look at me, look at me!” They hop from limb to limb, tossing their majestic beaks into the ocean breeze with each beckoning call. Oh, to be a bird in Drake Bay, Costa Rica…
San Josecito is a tiny slice of beach that captures so much biological diversity in one scintillating cove. There are no signs to lead you, just the warm assistance from locals (a man leading a white mare, two boys kicking a ball, a smiling teenage clerk in a tiny tienda). Trek over 2km of open, stunning coast and pierce the jungle to find the cove that may forever be etched in your memory as the most dazzling of them all. Trees bend and reach over to the shore, offering natural shade on the shelly grey sand. The sand itself is course and doesn’t stick to you–which makes for the best beach experience. Walk out to your shoulders into the gentle, tepid waves, and look down and see the soft ocean floor, as if peering through bath water. The climate is clear and warm, just like the bay.
We received a remarkable welcome from the beach-combing wildlife. A troop of Capuchin monkeys came to investigate our bags and our children, which made for a lot of pint-sized glee. A mother Capuchin carried her baby on her back, and we walked along with her while we wore our own sun-tired little ones. The white-faced dozen hopped along the jungle floor, chased each other up vines and eventually climbed out of sight… they were pretty casual and certainly fearless for wild animals.
Drake Bay is a cradle of marine, aviary and mammal life. Whales and dolphins can be spotted year round, and sea turtles journey here to make their nests. Humpback Whales breed and calve in the warm waters of neighboring Golfo Dulce. Mega pods of Spinner Dolphins greet boaters in twirling leaps. Coatis (long-tailed jungle raccoons) stroll across dirt roads and tiny kinkajous call the trees of Drake Bay their home. And the trees—oh the trees!—my eyes have seen cascades of enormous roots, imperial and vine-knitted trunks, and grand limbs that stretch up to meet the sea-blue sky. This is nature at its finest, quietly tucked in a place as untouched as you’ll find in Costa Rica.
If you are a dreamer, a nature-lover, a poet, or a person who just wants to break free—this is the spot where you will find whatever it is you’re looking for. This is bio-intense heaven on Earth.
If you do go…
Arrive via boat. Park your car at Las Vegas restaurant in Sierrpe, and hire a boat taxi. Short flights can be arranged from SJO airport as well. Only drive into Drake Bay during the dry season with an SUV and a wish for adventure.
Visit www.drakebay.info for more information. This is an organization devoted to protecting the wildlife of the Osa Peninsula. They offer whale/dolphin tours daily to raise funds.
Stay in one of the quaint, family-run hotels. We stayed at Casa de Miriam, just down the hill from Cabinas Manolo. There are several gorgeous hotels to choose from with amazing sea views and budget prices. We only stayed two nights, and it wasn’t enough time for all the activities we wished to do. Stay at least five days.
Eat all over the tiny town. Almost every hotel has an attached restaurant, and there are 5-7 places to eat in town (including sodas, cafés, a pizzeria and a sea food shack!)
Get online at the local restaurants and at some of the hotels. I was surprised how fast the internet was at Soda Delicias on the main street (outdoor office of your dreams).
Do a whale-watching tour. I asked around, and found the best prices to be through Sierra at the Drake Bay info link above. ($115/day, $75/half-day with a marine-biologist on board). Large groups of dolphins can be spotted all year, and whale-sightings are very common. Also consider hiking in Corcovado National Park and snorkeling at Caño Island.
Bring your camera (and charger!), bathing suit, sun block, bug spray, umbrella (even in the dry season) and children. We did use some bug spray, and left Drake Bay without one bite. Also bring enough cash to last your trip, as there is only one ATM, that might or might not be in service.
And if you do go, send me pics!