Peninsula de Osa and Corcovado National Park… Magical places. It’s estimated that this part of Costa Rica holds up 2,5% of the biodiversity in the whole world and it’s believed that this is the most biological intense place on this planet. A destination on the bucket list of many travellers who visit Costa Rica. But… when you’re travelling through Costa Rica for just a few weeks, it can be quite overwhelming to figure out what’s the best way to discover this unique piece of Earth. There are many agencies in the region, each offering about 15 different types of tours and packages. Mostly, they are quite expensive and sometimes it’s immediately clear what you’ll get in return for your money, because you're not familiar with the region.
To help you out, we share our insider tips and experiences so you can enjoy your visit to Peninsula de Osa and Corcovado National Park to the fullest, in an authentic way and with the best price / quality ratio possible. In this article, we discuss the following topics:
Peninsula de Osa and Corcovado National Park itself are incredibly big, so you can imagine that there're many things to see and do. To simplify things, we divide Peninsula de Osa in two parts: Puerto Jimenez (in the South-East of the peninsula) and Bahía Drake (Drake Bay, located in the North West of the peninsula). First we give our insider tips about sightseeing and staying around Puerto Jimenez and Bahía Drake and in the last sections of this read, we tell you all about how to get from A to B to C to … on Peninsula de Osa with your own vehicle and by public transport.
We recommend you to start your visit in Puerto Jimenez and to then move on to Bahía Drake. The reason is that around Puerto Jimenez there are many opportunities to see wildlife and other interesting natural sights (almost) for free. If after visiting Puerto Jimenez and its surroundings you keep a craving for seeing more nature and wildlife, you will definitely find it around Bahía Drake. To enjoy the nature around Drake Bay to the fullest, it can be interesting to book a tour or two though. In this way, you can decide little by little if you find it worth it to spend more money or if you already feel satisfied by the amount of wildlife you have seen up to a certain point.
Sightseeing and staying around Puerto Jimenez
A good place to start off in Puerto Jimenez is ‘La Palapa Hut Nature Hostel & Campground’. Maybe it’s slightly more expensive to stay here than on an average camp ground or in a normal hostel, but the big advantage is that it’s surrounded by a lot of nature. Only by staying here, you have a great chance of seeing a lot of birds and other wildlife!
Puerto Jimenez town
Around Puerto Jimenez town you can find a lot of public places to spot wildlife. On the map and satellite pictures below, we show you a part of town where a lot of birds, iguanas and even crocodiles roam around…! Although the map doesn’t show any roads, there are walkable paths around this area, as you can see by the lines.
The spot marked with a blue circle is a small lagoon/swamp where crocodiles roam around. Locals feed them to be sure they show up when they take tourist over here. Normally the crocodiles are in the water. We saw a croc-mom with her babies!
Use your common sense walking around this area and be aware that wildlife can be dangerous. Observe and don’t touch or feed wild animals, even if they roam around in the city. Always be aware where you place your hands and feet. Reptiles use camouflage to hide themselves from potential danger or to attack by surprise.
Mangroves Puerto Jimenez
For us, the most interesting area around Puerto Jimenez definitely is the mangroves. The best option is to visit the mangroves with a local guide or someone who has experience in the area. You have to know exactly when the tide is low and when the tide starts to rise again. Only around low tide, it’s possible to visit the mangroves by foot. Once the tide starts to rise again, you have to immediately leave this area, otherwise you’ll get trapped and that can be very dangerous! At one point, you have to cross a river that’s very calm at low tide, but once the high tide starts to kick in again, it becomes quite rough. We’re sure you can ask at your hotel or hostel if they know someone who can accompany you on your adventure around the mangroves.
In the image below, you can see to which point you can walk. In the small red circle in the top left corner, we marked a tree that is reachable at low tide and makes up for a very unique photo location. The red line on this image marks the end of the hike, where you’ll encounter a bunch of typical mangrove trees, their roots forming an incredible arch over the river… You’ll have to walk the same way back to return to Puerto Jimenez.
As you can see in the pictures below, it’s so worth it to pay a short visit to this area. The landscape is so distinct from other types of landscapes and incredibly photo genetic. Put shoes that can get dirty or walk barefoot!
Cabo Matapalo Coastal Road
From Puerto Jimenez, you can take a public bus or drive by car to the South-East tip of Peninsula de Osa and explore the area of the Cabo Matapalo Coastal Road. Several paradisical beaches and waterfalls are awaiting you. We would advise you to park your car or get off the bus around Playa Sombrero and enjoy some ‘beach hopping’, a picnic and hiking around. Some of the hotspots to visits are: Playa Tamales, Playa Sombrero, Playa Pan Dulce, Playa Matapalo and King Louis Waterfall. There are several impressive trees, like Strangler Figs around this area too.
Keep your eyes open and your binoculars and snorkel ready at all times, because there’s a lot of wildlife around here. Monkeys, birds, reptiles, fish… It’s also very exciting to go for a walk around dusk and dawn, since a lot of animals get active around these hours. Bring a flash light or head lamp and search for the eyes of all kinds of animals reflecting your light!
In the dry season (December till April) it’s possible to wild camp on the beaches in this area. The most important thing to keep in mind is that there are no shops or public restaurants to buy food or water. It’s essential to prepare yourself well and take more than enough water and food to get you through the day and night. This is especially important if you plan to get to this area by public transport, since the bus only runs two times a day! You just don’t want to get in trouble. If you want things to be more comfortable, you can also choose to stay at one of the hotels / resorts that the area offers, or stay in Puerto Jimenez and visit this area during the day.
In Puerto Jimenez town, but also in the hotels around these paradisical beaches there are a lot of agencies offering guided tours to sector ‘La Leona’ of Corcovado National Park. It is NOT possible to visit Corcovado National Park without a guide and this has its reasons. It can be very dangerous and the paths aren’t marked very well. It's easy to get in trouble or to get lost.
Keep in mind that you have to be in a good physical condition to reach 'La Leona Ranger Station'. To get there you’ll have to walk for about one hour (3,5 km) from Carate (the last stop of the public bus) along the beach. The path inside this sector follows the beach and leads through parts of the jungle near the beach. Although it is a beautiful hike, we would advise you to book a tour to Corcovado National Park from Drake Bay instead of visiting sector ‘La Leona’ for several reasons. Read more about how and why in the next sections of this read.
Here we give a small impression of the things you can get to see in the Leona sector:
Sightseeing and staying around Bahía Drake
Bahía Drake... that place where you feel that everything slows down about 10 times... Best explored by foot, an oasis of wildlife, splendid sunsets. Take your time to immerse yourself in this unique patch of Costa Rica and live the best 'Peninsula de Osa experience'. If you're a fan of camping, we recommend you to set up base-camp at Camping Ganadito. This campsite offers the comfort of showers, bathrooms, a 'soda' (Restaurants with typical Costa Rican food) with delicious Costa Rican food and great sunsets.
Hike to Playa San Josecito
This amazing hike along the coastline is one of the best free attractions Costa Rica has to offer. Costa Rica's coastline stands out because of the 'beach meets jungle' aspect. This 8,5 kilometre long path represents exactly that special type of landscape that's so characteristic about Costa Rica. It's a great environment to spot animals of all kinds. Keep your binoculars and camera ready! Enjoy the hanging bridge along the first part of the hike, bring some snacks and drinks, picnic around (only leave footprints!) and take a swim (be aware of strong currents!). The complete hike takes about 5 hours without stops (8,5k to get to Playa San Josecito and 8,5k back!), but you can actually decide at any time to turn around and get back to Bahía Drake for a nice and refreshing smoothie at Restaurante Mar Y Bosque for example, where you have a great ocean view.
The Night Tour with 'Tracie the Bug Lady'
If you already believe that Peninsula de Osa is the place to be if you want to see a lot of nature and wildlife: there is more! Join the jaw dropping night tour by ‘Tracie the Bug Lady’ and get even more surprised about all the wonders Peninsula de Osa has to offer.
Tracie and Gíanfranco know the area and its nightly wildlife so well..! They have the magical ability to show you a new bug, frog, mammal, spider, insect, lizard, bat, you name it… literally every 5 meters of the walk. And, they know what they are talking about. With unrivalled enthusiasm, they tell all kinds of details about all the animals they find:
If you're lucky, they will be able to show you a very special type of animal... the ‘Velvet Worm’. They are, apparently, very rare and a unique part of the animal kingdom. There are many different types of Velvet Worms and among them there are for example Velvet Worms that give a placental birth… So technically they don’t fit into any subcategory of the animal kingdom… Read more about the Velvet Worm on Gíanfrancos blog.
Another very interesting animal Tracie shows you during the night tour is the 'Trapdoor Spider'. This spider makes a tiny ‘house’ in particular types of dirt walls. Her house has a small door, where she hides behind and waits until an insect passes. With the speed of a lightning, she strikes and captures her prey… A fascinating way of hunting.
Make sure you get in touch with Tracie or Gíanfranco before you get to Drake Bay. Since their tour is so well done, it's hard to get a spot! On this webpage you can find the current information about making a reservation. The tour is a bit expensive, $40 per person, but you'll be sure to have a unique experience. You won't be disappointed!
Tours from Drake Bay to Corcovado National Park.
Well, if you're still not satisfied with the amount of nature / wildlife you saw after doing all these activities, there's still the option to book a tour to Corcovado National Park. As explained above, it's not possible to visit Corcovado without a certified guide. So if you're going to pay to get into the park, you want the value for money rate to be as good as it can get. We advise you to take a tour from Drake Bay because of several reasons:
First of all, you'll get to Corcovado by boat, which is already a very nice experience, and on top of that there's a good chance that you'll encounter dolphins or even whales on the way there... An average whale watching tour in Costa Rica costs around $80 per person, so if you indeed get to see whales on your way to Corcovado, you could perceive this as a 2 for 1 deal. In our opinion, this is a way more exiting way of approaching the entry of Corcovado compared to hiking along the beach for 1 hour to reach it, as would be the case if you would enter at 'La Leona Ranger Station'.
Besides, the paths around the ranger stations that you can visit starting off in Drake Bay (La Sirena, San Pedrillo) are a lot more versatile compared to the one around 'La Leona Ranger Station'. La Leona counts one linear paths that leads you through the jungle along the beach. Around La Sirena, there's a bigger network of trails with some paths that head more into the forest and some paths closer to the beach. San Pedrillo offers a circular path through the forest and along the beach and there's the opportunity to visit a waterfall.
Finally, there are many different tour options to choose from. If you would like, you cold roam around in Corcovado for 3 days and 2 nights. I f you're more on a budget, you could choose to do a day trip.
One of the best value for money tours we have seen so far is this tour with an overnight stay, operated by Corcovado Info Center. You'll visit both the areas around La Sirena and San Pedrillo, it includes lunch, dinner and breakfast, lodging at ranger stations 'San Pedrillo', 4 hikes of which one hike to the San Pedrillo waterfall and one early morning hike. You'll be accompanied by a bilingual, certified guide with telescope. We swear that this telescope is going to make the difference for your all over experience! Compared to other tours, the time you actually spend exploring Corcovado (compared to the you spend in the boat or eating) and especially the fact that you get to make a morning hike, makes all the difference. During the early morning, specific types of animals are more active and thus it's more likely to spot them.
If you're rather looking for a day trip, it might be interesting to visit this website and contact 'Biohostel & Environmental Center' (previously known as Drake Bay Backpackers). They offer a more budget friendly day trip to either San Pedrillo or La Sirena.
Diving or snorkelling around Caño Island
Well, if you're a snorkelling and diving enthusiast like us, you might already have read that 'Isla del Caño' is one of the best places in Costa Rica for doing these activities. We honestly feel that the experience at Isla del Caño varies from person to person.
Have you already been diving or snorkelling a lot in other countries with loads of coral and colourful fish around? Then you could feel that the value for money rate is a bit off here. If any type of animal encounter makes you jump for joy, then definitely go here!
We were more than happy to see a huge sea turtle, white tip reef sharks and a clown crab while diving around Isla del Caño. It's also likely to spot dolphins and other types of marine mammals on your way to Isla del Caño. We were lucky enough to spot a group of Pilot Whales!
A diving tour (two tanks) to Isla del Caño costs about $140 and a snorkelling tour about $85. So, it's up to you if you find it worth it to spend this money.
Travel logistics around Peninsula de Osa
Exploring Peninsula de Osa by car
The easiest and most flexible way to get around Peninsula de Osa and Costa Rica in general is to have your own vehicle. You must consider that it has to be a 4x4, since it's required to get to Bahía Drake. The road to Drake is a dirt road and you'll have to cross some rivers. Sometimes, during the rainy season it's not possible to get to Drake Bay by car, nor by bus. To prevent troubles, it's advisable to inform yourself well by asking locals if the road to Drake Bay is doable by the time you get there.
If it's not, the only option you have is to go by boat. In that case, you can leave your car in Sierpe. The boats to Drake Bay from Sierpe take off over here. In Sierpe, there are places where you can park your car for several days. To get back from Bahía Drake to Sierpe, you'll have to book a ride on the boat back. In Bahía Drake town, you’ll find some agencies (for example over here) that can help you arrange a spot on the boat from Bahía Drake to Sierpe.
Exploring Peninsula de Osa by public transport
The bus connections on Peninsula de Osa can get you almost everywhere you want to be able to get, but you have to time things well and figure out at what time the buses pass in a certain place… It’s a bit more complicated but it can also be a very fun experience. These are the most important connections to get to the sights we have discussed above:
San Jose - Puerto Jimenez (this trip takes you approximately 8 hours). The bus in San José takes off at 8am and at 12am from this bus station in San José.
Puerto Jimenez – Carate (runs only 2 times a day!). You have to take the bus at this bus stop in Puerto Jimenez to get to the beautiful beaches at the South-East tip of Peninsula de Osa.
The schedule is as follows:
Puerto Jimenez – Carate 6am
Carate – Puerto Jimenez 8:30am
Puerto Jimenez – Carate 1:30pm
Carate – Puerto Jimenez 4pm
Be very aware of this bus schedule so you won’t get stuck in a place where you can’t spend the night. As explained above, there are no shops or restaurants to buy food or drinking water around the beaches at the South tip of Peninsula de Osa.
If you want to get from Puerto Jimenez to Bahía Drake by public transport, you should consider the following connections:
By bus: Puerto Jimenez – La Palma, La Palma – Bahía Drake, OR
By boat: Puerto Jimenez - Palmar Norte, Palmar Norte - Sierpe, Sierpe - Bahía Drake.
In La Palma, get on the bus to Bahía Drake. The bus stop to Bahía Drake in La Palma is located over here. We don’t know exactly at what time the bus to Bahía Drake runs from La Palma, but if you take the bus at 9am from Puerto Jimenez, there is a connection with the bus to Drake in La Palma after midday.
If the bus to Bahía Drake doesn't run due to heavy rains, you can still get to Bahía Drake by boat. The boats take off over here in Sierpe. The boat transfer costs around $20 per person. To get to Sierpe, you'll have to take the bus from Puerto Jimenez back to San José as described above and get off in Palmar Norte. In Palmar Norte you can take a 'collective taxi' ($5) to Sierpe. Ask around in Palmar Norte where you can find these collective taxis to Sierpe. A private taxi will charge about $20.
To travel from Bahía Drake to other parts of Costa Rica, you can hop on the bus back to La Palma. In La Palma, you can take the bus back to San José. If you want to get to Uvita or Dominical, you have to get off in Palmar Norte and change to the bus that passes in Uvita / Dominical.
From Bahía Drake, you can also get back by boat. In Bahía Drake town, you’ll find some agencies (for example over here) that can help you arrange a spot on the boat from Bahía Drake to Sierpe. It’s about $20 per person. It’s an interesting boat trip through the big river delta that connects Bahía Drake with Sierpe.
In the image below we marked the most important points of interest when it comes to getting to or getting out of Drake Bay:
Once you get to Sierpe town, don’t get overwhelmed by all the taxi drivers trying to sell you a ride to Palmar Norte (where you can take the bus to other destinations like Uvita). They will even try to grab your backpack and already lift it into the trunk of their pickup trucks! Decline friendly and first of all, walk into Sierpe town and try to inform, in a soda or a restaurant for example, where you can find the collective taxis to Palmar Norte ($5).
Some general tips for taking the bus in Costa Rica:
The best strategy to be sure about where to get on and off the bus and at what time they run, is to ask the bus drivers or locals. They always have the most up to date information and are willing to help you!
Another thing to take into account is that the bus stops in Costa Rica often aren’t the bus stops you’re used to. It can be ‘this corner’ or ‘in front of that bakery’… It can feel a bit uncomfortable at first, but that’s the way it is.
Always pay attention to the buses that pass. They have a sign that shows where they’re going. If your bus passes, make sure to wave at the bus driver.
We hope this article has provided you with enough information to have a unique experience at Peninsula de Osa. If you feel like adding your insider tips and tricks, feel free to share them in the comments below!