The Osa Peninsula: A User’s Guide
|Paul is a geologist and engineer and publishes this newspaper. You may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org|
Not too many years ago it was hard to wind up on the Osa by chance. To get here at all, you had to both know something and be motivated. But things have slacked over the past generation. The gold is mostly mined, the rivers now twice bridged, the road just three years ago paved even, the air strip as well for its ten round-trip commercial flights daily plus charters, the slow-boat to Golfito blossomed into five speedboat round trips for brisk traffic all day long, back and forth across the gulf. The Osa is one of the farthest parts of the country from San Jose—whence all roads go—but you still need basic intent to wind up here.
Welcome then, since you are not here by accident, to the home of 2.5% of the planet’s plant and animal diversity. Welcome to the home of Corcovado National Park, the crown jewel of Costa Rica’s vaunted national park system. Welcome to the world’s hottest sailfish fishery. Welcome to the world’s tenth deepest gulf and the northern hemisphere’s largest mangrove swamp. Welcome to Costa Rica’s final frontier, its real rich coast, one of the rainiest places on Earth. Welcome one, welcome all.
If you have not done your homework up front, it does not matter; here’s your basic Osa bucket list:
Corcovado National Park. The incomparable Corcovado National Park has a wealth of wildlife that is so accustomed to human proximity that it is commonplace to see large animals up close, peccaries, tapirs, even pumas during visits into the park. Since February of 2015 visitors must be accompanied by guides, so this has made it more costly to visit the park. Nevertheless, it should be at the top of most visitors’ bucket lists. If you only have time for a single day visit, it’s best to sign up for a day tour from Drake. You can do it from Jimenez at the La Leona entrance, but it’s four hours of driving back and forth. Better to spend the night in Carate. Also there is a new one day trail from Dos Brazos that can be done from Jimenez. For 2-3 day overnight expedition, it’s best to outfit in Jimenez. No matter which option you choose, remember that the experience is somewhat grueling. You should be in good physical condition or pass on this. Be sure to bring a hat, plenty of water, proper footwear, and insect repellant for overnight trips.
Golfo Dulce Motor-boat Tour. The Golfo Dulce is a stunning body of water. It is reputed to be the tenth deepest gulf of the world and was famously labeled (spuriously as I am wont to remind) by Jacques Cousteau as one of four tropical fjords in the world. It is a gentle wintering ground for humpback whales, spawning ground for whale sharks, a destination for sea turtles, and home to a wealth of ichthyologic diversity. Motor-boat tours depart daily to explore this oracular body of water, and all of them include stop ins at one of our must compelling local attractions, the water-access only Animal Rehabilitation Center on the far side of the gulf. See and learn about a wide variety of animals under care, kinkajou, porcupine, ocelot, macaw. . .
Inshore / Offshore Sportfishing. You’ll have to dig around in your wallet for a half or full day sport fish. But you’re in prime territory. The blue water is normally less than 5 km off the cape, and there you can tie into sailfish, mahi mahi, wahoo, yellowfin tuna, and occasional blue marlin while trolling the rolling waters. I personally prefer inshore bottom fishing inside the gulf and along the shoreline, where you don’t know what’s on the other end of the line but might include: snapper, jack crevalle, amberjack, grouper, roosterfish, shark, African pompano, and snook near the river mouths.
Surfing. With three world class surf breaks in Matapalo, a few point breaks in the Drake region, and the longest right hand break in the northern hemisphere in Pavones, just across the gulf, the Osa region is a surfing mecca. Whether you muscle your own custom board down and follow swell reports religiously or are more casual, you’ll find your waves here. And if you’re just surf-curious, there’s a great surf school and bunny wave in Matapalo just waiting for you.
Kayaking. The gentle Golfo Dulce is an ideal environment for sit-on-top kayaking. But the confluence of mangroves and nearby daily porpoise migrations and world-class swimming beaches, all right off Puerto Jimenez, combine to make kayak tours a virtual requirement. It’s so good that three companies compete in this market alone just in Puerto Jimenez! Double up and make yours the combo mangrove dolphin-watch sunset kayak tour.
Birding. With over 845 species of birds that call the Osa Peninsula home, including the iconic scarlet macaw so abundant along all our coastlines, the Osa is one of the most productive birding regions anywhere. A number of birding specialist guides focus on different habitats, so serious birders can jump around the peninsula and take it all in and Sunday birders can settle on one and still have plenty of stories to tell back home.
Gold Tours. Placer gold mining is a key part of the Osa’s cultural identity. There remain widespread placer deposits, though all the rich ones outside of the park were mostly mined during our 1980’s gold rush. Still, there are a number of recreational gold mining tour operators that will allow you to see the techniques and mine the precious metal yourself. Not enough? You can go to tour active hand-mining operations and see how it’s really done.
Eco-tourism. Beyond the world-class and world-renowned eco-lodges in Matapalo, Carate, and Drake Bay, many local entrepreneurs have adopted the eco-tourism model for travelers with more modest budgets. Tour operators, bed and breakfasts, cabinas, transportation services dot the landscape, sustainable footholds in an economy that values nature in its place, displacing historical dependence on the raw resources of lumber, gold, and real estate as commodities. The Osa is an eco-tourism gold standard, and despite the meta-touristic navel gazing, our eco-tourism is a noteworthy attraction in and of itself, a model that is widely emulated, but of course, never fully rivaled.
My crystal ball suggests there will be fifteen thousand or so of you that will travel to the Osa in the next four months, from over 30 countries. Your interest in us is an important part of our economy, and for this we love you. We welcome you to come back again and again. I sometimes wonder who is the tourist, since we as a community get to learn as much about the world through you that visit us, arguably, as you get to learn about us and where we live. Well, maybe not, but it’s nice to think. While there is certainly a lot to do here, wildlife to see, trails to hike, fish to catch, gold to pan, the greatest resource we have is our society and its people. You’ll find through our own curiosity, good will and an eagerness to help or just to talk and learn. No matter where you are, you will find yourself welcome here. So, don’t be shy, even across a language barrier and beyond memories and photos, take home with you new friendships.
See for yourself what the pura vida is all about!